The Best Team Never to Win 90 Games

Looking at the Phillies’ records from present back to 2001 is interesting: not once have they won 90 or more games, but they’ve been in contention down to the very end in just about every season. They won 89 last season, and they’re at 89 now with five games left. Even better, the Phils have won 85 or more games every season since 2003. Could they be the best team never to win 90 games in a six- or eight-year span? They’d have to be up there especially if you add another qualifier — “never to win a post-season game.” Before last season, that qualifier would have been “never to make the playoffs.”

How much better is this year’s team compared to last year?

2008: 4.92 runs per game
2007: 5.51 runs per game (+0.59)

2008: 4.20 runs allowed per game
2007: 5.07 runs allowed per game (+0.87)

2008: 0.72 run differential
2007: 0.44 run differential (-0.28)

In the National League this season, only the Cubs are better in that respect.

How about a more in-depth look at the pitching?

2008: 4.26 starters’ ERA
2007: 4.91 starters’ ERA (+0.65)

2008: 3.29 relievers’ ERA
2007: 4.50 relievers’ ERA (+1.21)

Obviously, the biggest reason for the bullpen’s success is Brad Lidge, who has a 1.87 ERA and leads all relievers in WPA by far. Many are talking about Francisco Rodriguez as a viable candidate for the AL MVP, which is laughable, but if you’re going to include K-Rod, why not Brad Lidge? He’s certainly a much better candidate for MVP than Ryan “120 OPS+ compared to Albert Pujols’ 184 OPS+” Howard.

Is the post-season rotation improved over last season’s quintuplet of Hamels, Kendrick/Lohse (both in Game 2), and Moyer? The only difference is that Brett Myers will get Game 2 and, aside from his last start against the Marlins, has been immaculate since being called up from his demotion to the Minor Leagues.

The Phillies, as likely winners of the division, will end up playing the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first round of the NL Division Series. In his only start against the Dodgers this season, Myers scattered 9 hits over 7 shut-out innings while walking 3 and striking out 8.

Hamels pitched against the Dodgers twice this season with eerily similar results. He pitched 7 innings in both, gave up 5 hits in both, and allowed two runs in both. The only differences were in walks and strikeouts: 2 BB, 7 K in the first one, 0 BB, 5 K in the second.

The Dodgers haven’t seen Jamie Moyer this year.

Lastly, one more item to look at as it relates to the playoffs: the Phillies, with five games left, have one more turn through the rotation before the NLDS starts on October 1. Hamels on the 23rd, Myers on the 24th, Blanton on the 26th, Moyer on the 27th, and Happ on the 28th. That means that Hamels and Myers will have plenty of rest in-between starts, at 7 days apiece.

Things are looking pretty good. Right now, the pressing questions are, “Who is going to be on the mound when the Phillies clinch?” and “How can they celebrate better than Brett Myers did last season?”

Proof Charlie Manuel Reads This Blog

Yahoo! Sports: Happ to take Kendrick’s start for Phillies

Left-hander J.A. Happ, who has made only two starts this season, will replace Kyle Kendrick in the rotation for Wednesday night’s game against the Atlanta Braves.

Kendrick (11-9) allowed seven runs and six hits in 1 1-3 innings in a 10-8 loss to the Florida Marlins last Tuesday. He has allowed 13 runs in only 5 1-3 innings in two starts this month, leaving his overall ERA at 5.44.

Me, yesterday:

[…]if Kyle Kendrick gets one more start with the way he’s been pitching, it may hamper the Phils’ post-season chances. Since the start of July, he has a 6.58 ERA and a 1.9 WHIP to complement a lousy 3.9 K/9, 4.2 BB/9, and 1.4 HR/9. Shortening the rotation to four starters, or replacing Kendrick with J.A. Happ is a necessary use of strategy at this point.

That’s all the proof you need that Charlie Manuel is a Crashburn Alley reader.

Or that he (and/or others in the organization) just have common sense. You know, whatever. Same thing, really.

Tonight’s Game @ Atlanta

It’s a cliche at this point, but tonight’s game against the Braves is an emotional roller coaster, best illustrated by this FanGraphs chart:

Phillies @ Braves 09/16/08


Sombero: When a player goes 0-for-3 with 3 strikeouts.

Golden Sombero: When a player goes 0-for-4 with 4 strikeouts.

Platinum Sombrero: When a player goes 0-for-5 with 5 strikeouts.

According to Baseball Reference’s Play Index, there have been 109 instances where a player has struck out five or more times in a game, with the record being six (seven times).

One Patrick Burrell has gone 0-for-5 with 5 strikeouts tonight. Enjoy your new hat. Please come back next season.

UPDATE: Brad Lidge has topped his high-LI mark. It was previously the strikeout of Joe Mather in the ninth inning on August 3 (LI of 10.86) but his strikeout of Gregor Blanco to end tonight’s game had an LI of 10.87.

The LI and BABIP spreadsheets have been updated, by the way. I don’t know if anyone uses ’em but they’re fun for me.

Thoughts on the Phils’ Run

After his Milwaukee Brewers got swept by the Phillies in a four-game series at Citizens Bank Park, Ned Yost was relieved of his managerial duties. Many fans of the Brew Crew will tell you that it was a long time coming — Yost should have been canned a long, long time ago. I’m not going to discuss that here, though. It is interesting to note, however, that this is the third person to lose his job after playing the Phillies: starter Matt Morris, then of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Willie Randolph (technically it wasn’t directly “after” playing the Phillies, though it was a bit of punishment for last year’s epic collapse), and now Yost.

Want to play rough tomorrow, Bobby Cox? Bring it — I’m sure Frank Wren won’t have a problem with canning you.

Friend of the blog MattS (whom I quoted in my appearance on the Live from Gotham podcast) noted that had the Phillies at 69.1% to make the playoffs yesterday, up from 39.6% on Saturday. That’s significant. The Phils picked up all four games they trailed the Brewers by going into the four-game series, and also picked up three games on the New York Mets, including their loss tonight at the hands of the Washington Nationals (meaning the Phillies are now only 0.5 games behind in the NL East).

There are still a lot who doubt the Phillies, taking into account their recent offensive ineptitude and the somewhat unsurprising struggles the various members of the bullpen have had. Still, though, between the Phillies, Mets, and Brewers, the red pinstripes have the best average run differential (+0.72 per game). And even compared to the Brewers, the Phillies can feel good about their starting pitching with Cole Hamels and the resurgent Brett Myers, whose second-half performance is topped only by C.C. Sabathia.

After a bit of a grace period, the Mets’ bullpen appears to be back to hemorrhaging leads. Both of their recent losses to the Atlanta Braves were bullpen-authored. Since September 9, the bullpen has thrown nearly 17 innings (nearly an average of 3 innings per game) and put up an ERA of 8.10 and a WHIP of 1.80. Equally as unimpressive are the BB, K, and HR rates: 5.4, 5.4, and 2.2 respectively. The walk and HR rates are really, really high, and the K-rate is way too low, especially for relievers.

To what can we attribute the Phillies’ recent success (7-3 over their last 10)? The easy answer is starting pitching, as the only bad starts have come from Kyle Kendrick and Joe Blanton (Sept. 8). However, the offense has hit at least one home run in eleven straight games, their longest streak since July 22-August 6 (the Phils went 9-2). The Phillies’ offense is more dependent on power hitting than most other offenses, so if they’re not hitting home runs, they’re not going to score many runs any other way.

Additionally, the Phillies have an average .304 BABIP over those last ten games, a huge step up from the .269 BABIP they had in August and the average .231 BABIP they had going into the series with the Florida Marlins.

Let’s have an updated look at the teams’ remaining schedules…


9/16-18: @ ATL

9/19-21: @ FLA

9/22-24: vs. ATL

9/25: OFF

9/26-28: vs. WAS


9/16-18: @ WAS

9/19-21: @ ATL

9/22-25: vs. CHC

9/26-28: vs. FLA


9/16-18: @ CHC

9/19-21: @ CIN

9/22: OFF

9/23-25: vs. PIT

9/26-28: vs. CHC

The Phillies easily have the easiest remaining schedule. On the season, they’re 10-2 against the Braves, 6-9 against the Marlins, and 9-6 against the Nationals.

The Mets have the unfortunate circumstance of having to play the Cubs in a four-game series, but there is a silver lining for the ‘politans: the Cubs will probably clinch the division before the series starts, so they will probably not be facing the Cubs at full strength. On the season, the Mets are 10-4 against the Nationals, 6-9 against the Braves, 0-2 against the Cubs, and 9-6 against the Marlins.

The Brewers have it bad — real bad. Six whole games against the Cubs and at least three of them will be against the “try hard” or “pre-clinch” Cubs. On the season, the Brewers are 4-6 against the Cubs, 7-8 against the Reds, and 11-1 against the Pirates.

Should the division and/or Wild Card leads come down to the final series of the season and it’s within a game or two, the Phillies have only the Nationals to slay while the Mets have to fend off the pesky Marlins and the Brewers have to deal with the Cubs.

Last season, of course, the Phils went 2-1 in the last series of the season against the Nats, with Brett Myers closing out Game #162 which saw the Phillies clinch their first post-season berth since 1993. The Phillies also closed out the season against the Nationals in 2005, sweeping the three-game series.

If the Phillies win the Wild Card, they’ll face the Cubs in the Division Series with the likely match-ups being Hamels/Zambrano, Myers/Harden, and Moyer/Lilly.

If the Phillies win the East, they’ll probably face the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS though I’m not sure how the Dodgers will order the rotation. I’d assume they’d open with Chad Billingsley but manager Joe Torre might prefer veteran starter Derek Lowe in the opener (Lowe, of course, won the clinching game each of the ALDS, ALCS, and World Series in 2004 for the Boston Red Sox).

However, all of this talk of the post-season is much too hasty. There are still 12 games to be played. And if Kyle Kendrick gets one more start with the way he’s been pitching, it may hamper the Phils’ post-season chances. Since the start of July, he has a 6.58 ERA and a 1.9 WHIP to complement a lousy 3.9 K/9, 4.2 BB/9, and 1.4 HR/9. Shortening the rotation to four starters, or replacing Kendrick with J.A. Happ is a necessary use of strategy at this point.  It will leave a sour taste in my mouth if the Phillies lose either the division and/or the Wild Card by two games or less having allowed Kendrick to make two or more starts.

But I didn’t mean to dampen all that optimism with a bit of reality. The Phillies will steamroll their way through the playoffs, just like they did last year, right? Oops, there goes that self-defense mechanism. Just too used to getting shafted (read: Phillies, Wild Card circa 2003 vs. Marlins; circa 2005 vs. Astros).

What Are the Secrets to Jamie Moyer’s Success?

Jamie MoyerI originally posted this on the Flushing University forums, but I figured it was extensive, informative, and interesting enough to repost here. I was asked how Moyer, nearly at the age of 46 and throwing a fastball that barely tops 82 MPH, was able to find so much success this season.

I’ll just copy-paste my response:

. . .

He’s had a 5% increase in ground balls as compared to last year and his 44.2 GB% is the highest it’s been since at least 2001 (FanGraphs only tracks batted ball percentages as far back as 2002, though we can manually calculate them using Baseball Reference’s Hit Trajectory splits). As a result of throwing less fly balls in a stadium that helps push a lot of fly balls a lot further than they justifiably should have flown (Ed.: This is mostly due to the winds, not the dimensions of the ballpark), Moyer’s home run percentages have gone down as well. His HR/FB is at 9.2%, which is the lowest it’s been since 2005, when his home stadium was Yellowstone… excuse me, Safeco Field.

Moyer’s also been a little bit lucky on balls in play. With a 20.8 LD% and considering the 5% increase in ground balls, we’d expect a BABIP in the .325-.335 area, but it’s only at .295. He’s faced 739 hitters, so we’d expect the following amounts of hits…

.295 BABIP: 218 hits
.325 BABIP: 240 hits
.335 BABIP: 248 hits

So, he’s saved between 22-30 hits on the season because of his lower-than-normal BABIP.

Looking at FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), which looks only at events that the pitcher can directly control, we’d expect his ERA to be around 4.30. Compare that to his current 3.64 ERA and we see that the Phillies’ defense has saved Moyer about two-thirds of a run per game. That’s 19 runs over his 29 starts.

Lastly, Moyer has been throwing a lot more fastballs, believe it or not. According to FanGraphs, Moyer has had a 5.2% increase in the use of his four-seam fastball from ’07 to ’08 and a 5.7% increase in the use of his cutter. It looks like he ditched his slider, and he’s thrown his curve ball 2.0% less and his change-up 7.6% less.

So, based upon my research, I conclude the following have been factors in Moyer’s success:

  • More groundballs, less HR
  • Fortunate BABIP
  • Good defense behind him
  • Modified pitch selection

There’s a good chance that Moyer will be returning to the Phillies in ’09, so it will be interesting to see if these numbers hold, considering that the Phillies will generally be fielding the same defensive team. Burrell will probably be back, but if he isn’t, it only makes the defense better.

. . .

I’d like to add to that by pointing out that Moyer has given up significantly fewer extra-base hits. Moyer is on pace to allow 201 total hits: 138 singles, 39 doubles, 5 triples, and 20 home runs (.408 SLG). Last season, he allowed 222 hits: 131 singles, 57 doubles, 4 triples, and 30 home runs (.483 SLG).

And going back to the Hit Trajectory splits, I think it’s interesting to note the difference between 2007 and ’08.

Fly Balls, 2007: 39.4% .855 OPS
Fly Balls, 2008: 35.1% .731 OPS

Ground balls, 2007: 39.4% .492 OPS
Ground balls, 2008: 44.2% .459 OPS

Line Drives, 2007: 21.2% 1.765 OPS
Line Drives, 2008: 20.8% 1.644 OPS

The OPS is down across the board this season. The difference is at its highest on fly balls, most of which is due to the decreased home run rate, but as mentioned, hitters aren’t getting too many extra-base hits off of him. Surely the plus-arms of Pat Burrell, Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, and Geoff Jenkins help in the prevention of singles being stretched into doubles and doubles stretched into triples, but overall, hitters just aren’t hitting Moyer very hard, as evidenced by the 16.8% infield fly balls (IFFB) he’s induced, a 4.3% increase from last season and about 3% above his career average.

While it is surprising to see a 46-year-old up among the league leaders in ERA (16th in NL), Moyer’s success isn’t fluky. Considering that he’ll have essentially the same defense behind him in ’09 (assuming he doesn’t retire and returns to the Phillies), there’s very little that would cause Moyer to have a clunker of a season, considering that he doesn’t rely on much more than location and intellect when he’s on the mound.

. . .

I was just notified of an interesting and useful website: is a place where season ticket-holders sell and put “dibz” on post-season face value tickets for their particular team. Here’s the Phillies section.

Carlos Ruiz at Third Base?

Charlie Manuel just put Carlos Ruiz at third base in the ninth inning of tonight’s game against the New York Mets. Like, defensively.

Box score, a.k.a. proof that it actually happened.

I just have to ask Charlie Manuel, “Uh, what?”

Eric Bruntlett, a utility infielder, hasn’t been used yet. 4-5-6 hitters due up in the ninth, Brad Lidge/pinch-hitter (Bruntlett) is in the 7-hole. Charlie’s hoping for some baserunners, although maybe it’s not such a bad idea to have your reliever hit. After all, Clay Condrey did hit a double earlier in the game and scored on a Jimmy Rollins two-run home run.

Luckily, Ruiz didn’t have to do any fielding. Lidge got Carlos Beltran to ground out to Rollins and struck out Carlos Delgado and Fernando Tatis.

Let’s hope Manuel played his cards right.

UPDATE: Mets reliever Luis Ayala got the first two outs but Jayson Werth saved Manuel from criticism by getting a single to bring up Bruntlett.

Bruntlett tied the game with an RBI double. Charlie is a genius? (Intentional question mark.) Carlos Ruiz is robbed of a hit by Jose Reyes to bring the game to extra innings.

Speaking of updates, once this game is final, the BABIP and LI spreadsheets will be updated. Oh yeah, and I have an article up at Baseball Digest Daily on the Phillies possibly transferring their offensive ineptitude to the L.A. Dodgers.

UPDATE #2: This game is pretty freakin’ entertaining. Cole Hamels is pinch-hitting since the Phillies have no more bench players available. Runners on first and second with one out.

Hamels struck out looking.

UPDATE #3: Not going to update again until the game goes final but it’s in the 13th inning now, making this the longest game of the year for the Phillies. They’d played four twelve-inning games (04/10, 07/06, 07/11, and 08/08) previously. Still 7-7.

An interesting note, looking over the FanGraphs play log: only two line drives have been hit in the game. Carlos Delgado hit one in the fourth inning and Brian Schneider just hit one in the thirteenth inning; the Phillies have hit none. With 78 outs in 26 half-innings, that’s a LD% of 2.5%.

UPDATE #4: The game is close to ending. Shane Victorino led off the bottom of the thirteenth with a triple, so the Mets intentionally walked the next two hitters (Werth and Bruntlett) to get to pinch-hitter Brett Myers. Bases loaded, no outs for Myers.

He worked the count to 3-2 then struck out looking — a smart move not to swing, considering how high the probability of a double play was.

Coste wins it with a line drive over Carlos Beltran’s head (he was playing in, obviously). 8-7.Now we can sleep. BABIP and LI spreadsheets updated. The following chart comes courtesy FanGraphs:

Mets-Phillies 08/26/08

Oddly enough, there were only five events in the game that had a Leverage Index (LI) higher than 5.00. Three came in the eighth inning, one came in the eleventh, and obviously Coste’s hit in the 13th. All of them were while the Phillies were hitting.

Radio Appearance Today!, host of the radio program Live from Mickey Mantle’s, invited me to appear on their program as a guest this evening. As expected, we’ll be talking Phillies-Mets. If you’d like to listen in, click here. The show starts at 6 PM EST I believe, and I’ll be coming on at around 6:30.

You may recall that I was on a podcast earlier this year after being invited by the Toronto Blue Jays blog Drunk Jays Fans. Hopefully I’ll improve on that appearance.

UPDATE: Just got done talking with the guys on Live from Mickey Mantle’s and I have to say it was a pleasure to take questions from them. I had a lot of fun and I made it a point to throw in some jabs at the Mets. Hopefully I didn’t completely bomb on there and I provided some good insight. Click here if you’d like to listen to it. The clip is “MLB Rundown (Part I – NL).”

Top Phillies Moments of 2008

I got around to reminiscing about the Phillies’ offense — it’s been so long — and I started wondering what the top ten Phillies moments of 2008 were. Luckily, FanGraphs exists and has a statistic known as Leverage Index. You can read about it here, but the gist of it is:

A measure of how important a particular situation is in a baseball game depending on the inning, score, outs, and number of players on base, created by Tom Tango.

I went through each game log and logged each event with an LI of 5.00 or higher (there’s no significance to 5.00, it’s just a clean cutoff point). If you’d like to look at the box scores, you can click here; if you’d like to peruse the LI and other stats, click here; if you’d like to toy around with my Excel spreadsheet, click here (since I’m linking, I also have a spreadsheet of the Phillies’ BABIP by game, I’ll try to update them weekly).

Without any further ado, the top ten (actually thirteen) Phillies moments of 2008, according to LI.

  1. August 3 at STL: Brad Lidge strikes out Joe Mather with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth inning to save a 5-4 game. (LI: 10.86)
  2. August 3 at STL: Brad Lidge strikes out Nick Stavinoha with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth inning of a 5-4 game(LI: 8.78).
  3. July 6 vs NYM: Aaron Heilman gets Pedro Feliz to ground out with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth inning of a 1-0 game (LI: 7.80).
  4. April 22 at COL: Pat Burrell hits a three-run double off of Manny Corpas with one out in the ninth inning to put the Phillies ahead 8-6 (LI: 7.48).
  5. May 24 at HOU: Doug Brocail gets Shane Victorino to fly out to left field with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth inning of a 4-3 game. Pedro Feliz is thrown out attempting to score from third base by left fielder Darin Erstad (LI: 7.48).
  6. May 20 at WAS: Brad Lidge gets Felipe Lopez to ground out to Chase Utley with runners on the corners and to outs in the ninth inning to save a 1-0 game (LI: 7.30).
  7. August 3 at STL: With runners on the corners and one out in the ninth inning of a 5-4 game, Brad Lidge hits Cesar Izturis (LI: 7.19).
  8. April 3 vs WAS: With the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth inning of a 7-7 game, Tom Gordon gets Willie Harris to ground out to first baseman Ryan Howard (LI: 6.88).
  9. April 21 at COL: Carlos Ruiz hits a two-run double off of Brian Fuentes with the bases loaded and 2 outs in the eighth inning of a 6-5 game (LI: 6.88).
  10. June 11 at FLA: Kevin Gregg gets Jayson Werth to ground out to first base with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth inning of a 2-2 game (LI: 6.88).
  11. June 15 at STL: With the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth inning of a 6-6 game, Ryan Franklin gets Chase Utley to fly out to left field (LI: 6.88).
  12. June 15 at STL: With the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth inning of a 6-6 game, Russ Springer walks Pat Burrell to force in a run (LI: 6.88).
  13. August 8 vs PIT: Brad Lidge gets Jason Michaels to fly out to the catcher in the tenth inning with two outs and the bases loaded in a 0-0 game (LI: 6.88).

Only four of the thirteen events involve a positive event for a hitter (two doubles, a walk, and a HBP). Five are negative events for the Phillies (four by hitters). Brad Lidge is involved in four of them (three positive), including the top two, which have, by far, the highest LI, and this is a big reason why Lidge is the MLB leader in WPA for relievers.

Campaign Cheer

We Should Be GM’s and Hugging Harold Reynolds have created a flier that they are going to pass out during Tuesday’s Phillies game:

Campaign Cheer

Crashburn Alley is a proud supporter of the cause, of course. A revised version of the flier pictured above will be sent out later tonight showing CA’s support.

Fliers will be passed out at Citizens Bank Park for Tuesday’s game against the Washington Nationals with the pertinent information. If you plan to go to Tuesday night’s game, show your support by making snarky signs and showing “blind positivity so strong that it reverberates throughout CBP.”