What to Expect in 2009 with the WFC’s

We’re slightly more than a month away from the regular season and a lot of us Phillies fans are excited at the prospect of enjoying an entire season where the Phils are referred to as “defending world champions.” Yes, expectations are high for the Phightin’s and with just cause — the team is virtually unchanged since Brad Lidge struck out Eric Hinske to clinch the World Series.

Realistically, though, the chances of a repeat World Series run are slim. The NL East is, believe it or not, stronger than it was last year. The playoffs are a crapshoot where the hottest team usually prevails as opposed to the best team.

What should we look for in the 2009 season? What should we least expect?

What to Expect

  1. A top-tier offense. The change from Pat Burrell to Raul Ibanez is a break-even exchange, although Ibanez does make the middle of the lineup lefty-heavy. Regardless, the Phils should once again score in the neighborhood of 800 runs and lead the league in home runs. Friend of the blog MattS from The Good Phight and Statistically Speaking projects the Phillies’ eight positional starters to put up a VORP of over 240, an average of 30 VORP per player. That is excellent.
  2. A rebound from Carlos Ruiz. He hasn’t had much to write home about in his first two full seasons in the Majors. Last year, he had an extremely low OPS at .620. Expect more than a 100-point increase in that OPS — the projections do. Why? We should expect a regression to the mean with his BABIP, which was a ridiculously low .237 last year. It should bump up into the high .270’s.
  3. A significantly worse defense. Oh, don’t worry — the Phillies’ defense will still be well above-average, but it won’t be nearly as good as it was last year, at +74 according to John Dewan’s Fielding Bible. The middle infield — Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins — made most of the contributions at +71; they were +25 in ’07. I’m going to call the ’08 defensive performances of Utley and Rollins a fluke, and expect the defense to regress from +74 down to the 30’s. That will still put the Phillies in the top-third of the Majors in defense.
  4. Phillies base runningSmart base running. The Phillies, collectively, were 136-for-161 (84.5%) stealing bases last season, and were 138-for-157 (87.9%) in ’07. What do those two years have in common? Davey Lopes was the base running instructor. But base-stealing success isn’t the only measure of such intellect. Baseball Prospectus has a metric called Equivalent Base Running Runs, or EQBRR. The Phillies had six players who added at least one run or more with their overall base running prowess.
  5. A better offensive season for Jimmy Rollins. After an MVP-caliber 2007 season with a 118 OPS+, Rollins regressed back to a 103 in ’08 — just about at his career average. Despite the lower numbers last year, there are two numbers that promote optimism: his lower strikeout rate and his higher walk rate. Before ’08, Rollins had never had a walk rate at 8%  or higher, and his strikeout rate had never been lower than 10.5%. Last year, those numbers were 9.4% and 9.9% respectively. His BB/K ratio went to 1.05, .27 higher than his previous career high. Rollins’ OBP was normal last season but he lost about 100 points in SLG — he hit 19 less home runs and 11 less triples. Expect Rollins’ power numbers to improve. Not to ’07 levels, mind you, but the projections see a SLG in the .460 area.

What Not to Expect

  1. A sub-130 OPS+ from Ryan Howard. For as pessimistic as I’ve been about Howard, there’s just no way — barring injury — that the big man will stay under 130 in the OPS+ department. He seems to have a natural BABIP in the mid-.300’s, so his .289 BABIP last year is lower than we would expect. Thus, we should expect a mean-regression in that department. Additionally, Howard faced a large number of left-handed pitchers last season. While a good portion of those were either unavoidable (i.e. left-handed starters) or intentional (LOOGYs), there is just no way 38% of Howard’s plate appearances will come against left-handers again, unless Charlie Manuel has a L-L-L in the middle of the batting order.
  2. Another perfect season from Brad Lidge. It’s hard to be perfect in save opportunities — that’s why it’s only been done twice in baseball history (Eric Gagne is the other). There was a whole lot of luck (and, yes, a whole lot of skill too) that went into Lidge’s perfect season, such as Shane Victorino’s amazing throw from center field to preserve a 4-3 victory. When Lidge does blow a save, he should and will be given a standing ovation.
  3. A solid 3-4-5 in the rotation. Despite the success that Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton enjoyed last season with the Phillies, don’t count on it happening again. I’m very pessimistic about Jamie Moyer and it goes hand-in-hand with my pessimism about the Phillies’ defense. Moyer, more than anyone else, relies on his defense to convert balls in play into outs, which it did excellently last season. If the defense is expected to significantly regress (I think it is), then Moyer should be expected to significantly regress as well. So, no 3.71 ERA for Moyer in ’09; I’d expect it to end up in the high 4’s. Both Blanton and J.A. Happ (who I expect to win the #5 spot) are projected to put up ERA’s in the low 4’s.
  4. Success from Chad Durbin. Before last season, Durbin had never experienced too much success at the Major League level in nearly 500 innings. But last season — more specifically, the first four months — Durbin was impeccable. He finished with a 152 ERA but tired as July turned into August. He induced a lot of weak contact (pop-ups in the infield) and had an abnormally low HR/FB rate at 5.9% (the average is around 10%). Of the Bill James, CHONE, and Marcel projections, only CHONE pegs him as putting up a sub-4 ERA.
  5. Action at the trading deadline. You might see the Phillies pick up a mediocre reliever or a 25th man for the bench, but I wouldn’t expect any significant roster shifts between the start of the season and August 31. No one that will be on the 25-man roster is both expendable and attractive to other teams besides Chris Coste. Additionally, the Phillies don’t have a pressing need to improve any one area. Expect the Phillies to be one of the quietest teams leading up to the July 31 deadline.

I Take It All Back!

Lacking about as much foresight as I did when I predicted a Rockies-Indians World Series in 2008, I showed some empathy for Adam Eaton in an article I wrote at Baseball Daily Digest on January 24.

I’m not going to go out and purchase a Phillies jersey with “Eaton” and his number 23 (I’m sure he meant no offense to His Airness) on the back. But I’m the charter member of his fan club if for no other reason than that I refuse to piggyback on a guy who, most likely, could stand to carry a lighter burden.

Lauber goes on to write that if the Phillies can’t find someone to pay $1 million for Eaton, they’ll release him, meaning that Eaton made his last appearance as a Phillie last July 27. I wish him luck whereever he ends up, and you should too.

I am resigning from my chair as the head of the Adam Eaton fan club because he pulled what is known as a “dick move.” He was released by the Phillies yesterday after months of unsuccessful attempts by the team to entice other organizations to take on a small portion of his salary.

Scott Lauber of Delaware Online caught up with Eaton to get his thoughts on his newfound freedom. I’m going to respond to the quotes FJM-style and you’ll see why I’ve absconded from the fan club.

I got off to a relatively good start and had nothing to show for it.

If “a relatively good start” is nearly 8 innings of three-run pitching for one game, then yeah… not bad. Good, in fact. But his ERA after the first game, 3.52, ballooned to 5.08 after his last start in April. The lowest his ERA got in May was 4.72 and got as low as 4.57 in mid-June.

That’s not, in any way, good. It’s below-average. In terms of grades, it’s a D-minus.

This day in age, it’s what have you done for me lately.

What Adam Eaton had done for the Phillies lately:

  • Throw nearly 162 innings of 6.29 ERA and 1.627 WHIP baseball in 2007.
  • Fail to go five innings in 4 of his 19 starts (21%) in 2008.

Regardless of leading the team in quality starts until the All-Star break, two starts later, three starts later, I’m cast off in the bullpen.

The All-Star Game was held on July 15 last season.

Quality starts (at least 6 IP, no more than 3 ER) for Phillies starting pitchers up to July 15, 2008…

  • Cole Hamels: 13 QS in 20 starts, 3.15 ERA in those 20 starts
  • Jamie Moyer: 10 QS in 19 starts, 3.95 ERA in those 19 starts
  • Adam Eaton: 10 QS in 19 starts, 5.71 ERA in those 19 starts

Eaton got his facts wrong. More importantly, it shows how weak the quality start is as a metric of performance. Despite having the exact same proportion of quality starts as Moyer, Eaton was almost two full runs per nine innings worse.

Also, Eaton’s recollection is wrong. Eaton made his last start prior to the All-Star break on July 12. He made two appearances out of the bullpen on the 26th and 27th before being demoted.

Granted, there were a lot of horrible games in there, but there were some good ones, too.

Eaton definitely had some good games in there, but he had far too many starts where the Phillies were just completely out of it as a result of his awful pitching.

More to the point, take a look at Eaton’s good starts (we’ll use quality starts) and the offenses he was facing (apologies for the poor image quality) …

Adam Eaton Quality Starts, 2008

Obviously, the last start was against an AL team, so that rank 14 is out of 14 teams. The average offensive rank of the teams he notched quality starts against was 9.6, or 10 if you round up. He faced a lot of bad offensive teams.

I haven’t pitched in the big leagues since whenever, July. And they say, ‘Well, go down and get in shape.’ Give me a [bleeping] break. What do you want me to say? You want me to swallow another pill? For what? Waste two weeks down here where I can go spend two weeks with my family? Yeah, sure, I’ll go up there for the World Series. Hey, I’m up on the float. ‘Boo, [bleep] you.’ Great. Would that be any fun for anybody? No. In that regard, not sharing it with my teammates. But it was nice to see them on TV. They’re world [bleeping] champs.

Points for the WFC mention.

Nothing he says here is really wrong, but his tact is just terrible. Any sympathy that he’s trying to earn is diminished with the way he’s illustrating his situation.

From his own description, it sounds like he was unwilling to put in the work to make himself better. Would you expect any team to let a player hang around who was actively being lethargic, especially one who had been piss-poor the previous two seasons while taking in a hefty salary? I, for one, would not. And it seems like the Phillies didn’t want him around either.

I can certainly understand Eaton feeling that “getting in shape” would have been futile but you can’t decline to do so and then expect any kind of a helping hand down the road.

. . .

Adam, good luck whereever you end up. I wish you the best.

But don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

A Not-So-Boring February Day

The Phillies kicked off the first of an exciting five-or-so weeks of exhibition games against the Pittsburgh Pirates yesterday. As expected, a lot of the regulars got some swings, throws, and jogs in before calling it a day, which eventually ended in an 8-2 loss. Newcomers Raul Ibanez and John Mayberry each had an RBI and Jeremy Slayden went 2-for-2 and scored a run. [Box Score]

Aside from the Phillies officially starting their quest as defending World Series champs, there were a lot of other games on the T.V. sets of Philly fans, as the Flyers played the Los Angeles Kings, the Sixers played the Wizards, and the Villanova Wildcats played the DePaul Blue Demons, and all of our guys walked off with victories.

The Sixers had been on a four-game losing streak since the second half of the season started. One loss came in knife-in-the-heart fashion, as Devin Harris threw a miracle shot in the air and sank a long three-pointer as time expired to put the Nets up 98-96. It’s at least the fourth time the Sixers have lost to a last-second shot:

  • January 3: Tony Parker two-pointer [Video]
  • January 19: Dirk Nowitzki two-pointer [Video]
  • February 3: Ray Allen three-pointer [Video]
  • February 23: Devin Harris three-pointer [Video]

I usually don’t care enough to write about the other Philly-based sports teams but it was quite a day… in that it wasn’t boring, and ended up being a rousing success. First time since WFC that I can say that.

Odds and Ends

  • There are still spots available for the Crashburn Alley fantasy baseball league. Two spots left. For information about the league and directions on how to sign up, click here.
  • For our Dream Draft at Baseball Daily Digest, we’re currently on Round 9 and should have another post up there shortly. Here’s my team so far (Round number in parentheses):
    • C: Russell Martin (2)
    • 2B: Chase Utley (1)
    • SS: Yunel Escobar (6)
    • 3B: Mike Moustakas (5)
    • CF: Shane Victorino (8)
    • RF: Matt Kemp (4)
    • SP: Chad Billingsley (3), Taylor Bumgarner (9)
    • RP: Carlos Marmol (7)
  • On Thursday, March 5 at 9 PM EST, you can catch me on the Pro Baseball Central radio show. This will be my third radio spot. Click here and here if you’d like to listen to my other two appearances with MetsToday.com and Drunk Jays Fans. Promise me you won’t laugh.

BDD: Tim McCarver Swings and Misses, Kinda

At Baseball Daily Digest, I test a claim of McCarver’s and find out his pitch was… just a bit outside.

I recently took a trip down memory lane by watching Game 5 of the 2008 World Series between the Tampa Bay Rays and Philadelphia Phillies again. Ahh, nostalgia. Little did I know that I was vulnerable to FOX color commentator Tim McCarver saying something interesting. I’m just as surprised as you are that McCarver had such potential.

Phillies right fielder Jayson Werth was facing Rays reliever Grant Balfour in the bottom of the sixth inning with one out and a runner on third base with the score tied 2-2. McCarver mentioned that Balfour was a good guy to have in given the situation because, with his high fastball velocity, he could induce an infield fly ball, which would prevent the runner on third (Geoff Jenkins) from scoring.

There are still spots open for the Crashburn Alley fantasy baseball league! Three spots are left. If you’d like to join, leave your e-mail address below or send a message to crashburnalley [at] gmail [dot] com.

BDD: Mets Have A Napoleon Complex

Once again at Baseball Daily Digest, I rip the Mets for running their mouths and still having nothing to show for it.

It’s official: the New York Mets have a Napoleon complex. In a span of a week, we have a hodge-podge of cognitive dissonance — bleating from the New York blue and orange that is comically weak.

I’m all for a rivalry, but know your place. The claims — usually made by junior high students — are akin to chest-puffing, or a guy buying a big house, a fancy car, and an expensive watch to make up for some… uh… certain shortcomings. The Mets are bordering on pitiful and, if they blow it for a third straight season, risk becoming squelched and irrelevant — hard to do in that media market.

Also, Round 5 of our Dream Draft is posted. I’ve made my pick for Round 6 already, though — I took Yunel Escobar.

C – Russell Martin
2B – Chase Utley
SS – Yunel Escobar
3B – Mike Moustakas
CF – Matt Kemp
SP – Chad Billingsley

Update, 02/20/09: I don’t feel like creating another post but Round 6 is up at Baseball Digest Daily. Round 7 will be up soon. I chose Carlos Marmol.

On another note, there are three spots left for the Crashburn Alley fantasy baseball league. They’re open for anybody, so if you’d like to join, leave your e-mail address in the comments or send a message to crashburnalley [at] gmail [dot] com.

Phillies Finally Have An Opening Day Ace

Cole HamelsSay what you will about Brett Myers, but the Phillies haven’t had a true ace take the hill on Opening Day since 1999 with Curt Schilling. Ten years later, the Phillies have a new guy they will be handing the ball to on Opening Day at least through 2012. Yes, that would be Cole Hamels, who will take the bump on April 5 at home against the Atlanta Braves. Charlie Manuel saw no reason to beat around the bush as he did last year, when he ended up selecting Myers for the opener.

Yeah, you might as well go ahead and pencil him in,” Manuel said. “I don’t think there’s any sense in me playing games. Go ahead, pencil him in.”

It’s been an ugly, ugly last nine years for Phillies openers.

Philadelphia Phillies Opening Day

The Phils have a .333 winning percentage in those nine openers, and their average starter doesn’t reach the sixth inning while giving up four earned runs. Oddly enough, two of their three quality starts in openers have resulted in losses.

Cole Hamels will be bringing his 145 ERA+, 1.082 WHIP, and 3.7 K:BB ratio from the ’08 season to the hill in the ’09 opener. This has to be as confident as the Phils have felt in a long time, and they’re hoping Hamels will imitate Schilling in the 1998 opener in New York against the Mets: eight shutout innings, nine punch-outs.

BDD: Mets All Bark, No Bite

At Baseball Daily Digest, I’ve questioned why the Mets’ new closer has taken it upon himself to declare the Mets “the team to beat” one season after Carlos Beltran did so with undesirable results.

Why does K-Rod feel it prudent to open his mouth with such a virulent recent history behind his team? Why does he think that his team of chokers is better than the team whose hands were around the Mets’ neck the last two seasons; the team that just won the World Series?

We may never know. But we do know that the phrase is now played out, like Stuart Scott’s “cool as the other side of the pillow” on SportsCenter. We know it’s unlikely to inspire a team that heard it all before and done nothing to back up any of the yapping they’ve done.

Sure, it’s more fuel for the fire of the rivalry, but how good is the rivalry, really? If the Mets were contestants on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? they would be this contestant. They are the Wilton Guerrero to the Phillies’ Vladimir. In the words of the Bloodhound Gang, they are the Baldwin brothers — not the good one, but the others.

Playing Pepper

I was contacted by Daniel Shoptaw of the St. Louis Cardinals blog C70 at the Bat. He’s doing a season preview of sorts, contacting a blogger for each Major League team and asking him or her five questions. I was the Phillies representative. Click here if you’d like to read my responses.

C70: Will the bullpen be as strong as it was last year?

CA: Unfortunately, no. There were a lot of things that went exactly right for the bullpen to be as strong as it was last year. Odds are Brad Lidge blows some saves next year, y’know?

J.C. Romero is going to miss about one-third of the season thanks to the unwillingness of the MLBPA and his team’s front office to stand by him.

Barring any further acquisitions, the only lefty in the ‘pen is Scott Eyre, which hampers the Phillies’ ability to find favorable pitching match-ups.

We’ll also be doing previews for each Major League team at Baseball Daily Digest starting March 1 with the Washington Nationals, and working our way down to the Tampa Bay Rays and Philadelphia Phillies at the end of the month.

BDD: Manuel’s Three Things

At Baseball Daily Digest, I’ve come up with three things Charlie Manuel should do to ensure another successful season for his Philadelphia Phillies.

Hamels went from 183 and one-third regular season innings and 6 and two-thirds post-season innings (190 total) in 2007 to 227 and one-third regular season innings and 35 post-season innings (262 and one-third) in 2008. That’s an increase of 72 total innings — more than double Verducci’s threshold! Even if you count the regular season only, that’s a 37-inning jump, which still qualifies.

As much as you hate to choose not to utilize your best starter, it might be smart for Manuel to make Hamels skip a start or at least push him back a few days, only against non-divisional opponents and ones the Phillies should have no problem dealing with (i.e. the Pirates or the Padres).