Countdown to the Braves’ Whining…

If there’s one thing we can count on the Braves for nowadays — it certainly isn’t playoff appearances — it’s whining when things don’t go their way. There aren’t any quotes in the Associated Press recap that is used on most of the major sports websites like Yahoo! so we’ll probably have to wait until tomorrow to hear their bawling.

In case you’re wondering, here’s the story: the Phillies are down 2-1 with two outs and runners on first and second in the ninth inning when Chris Coste comes to the plate. The Braves’ bullpen, as we all know, isn’t reliable but they should have been able to get the last out. Coste swung at the first pitch — great at-bat! — and pops it up down the right field line. Kelly Johnson botches the catch and Eric Bruntlett (who pinch-ran for Geoff Jenkins, who walked) came around to score. Pedro Feliz, not the fasted runner around, was easily thrown out trying to score as well.

The Braves had been whining about pitches all game, as they usually do. Closer Brad Lidge came in for the tenth inning to try to nail down the ill-deserved win for the Phillies, but was in a jam. After Brian McCann struck out, Josh Anderson slapped a single past shortstop Jimmy Rollins. Gregor Blanco laid down a nifty bunt that he just barely eked out (remember that one, Bravos) and Anderson raced to third base. Lidge wasn’t paying attention to the runners and, as a result, Blanco took second base to remove the double play.

Lidge got the second out by striking out Greg Norton, leaving the Braves’ hopes of a comeback to Yunel Escobar. Lidge’s first pitch was a high slider over the plate that was called a strike; Escobar made a frowny face and yapped at the umpire before stroking the next pitch into center field. Anderson scored easily; Blanco was safe and the game would continue without a perfect throw from Shane Victorino. Unfortunately for the Braves, Victorino’s throw was perfect: a laser right to Chris Coste who expertly caught the ball and applied the tag in about the same motion. It was very, very close but Blanco was called out, correctly, as replays will show. Escobar and manager Bobby Cox argued it (justified) to no avail.

Now is the time to sit back, let the results of the game sink in, and drift off to sleep. Tomorrow, some of the Braves will make some snide comments about how lucky the Phillies are (or how unlucky they are) and whine about the umpiring, par for the course with the Braves when they play the Phillies.

For their sake, I hope they prove me wrong.

Manuel Sends the MVP a Message

The Phillies took 3 of 4 from the Reds thanks to a Cole Hamels complete game shutout, improving their home stand record to 8-2. With a nine-game road trip through Georgia, Florida, and Missouri looming, there was a bit too much tension in the air, especially for a team that’s as hot as the Phillies are.

Scott Lauber writes,

Manuel did, in fact, bench Jimmy Rollins in the fifth inning today, two innings after he didn’t run out a pop fly that wound up being dropped in shallow left field by Reds shortstop Paul Janish.

[…]

This could’ve been an explosive situation at the end of an otherwise wildly successful 8-2 homestand. But Manuel didn’t embarrass Rollins, and Rollins took full blame for what happened.

It takes some gusto — to put it kindly — to bench the reigning NL MVP. Manuel is way down on the list of managers most likely to be a disciplinarian with one of the team’s most vital players, but as Philadelphia radio personality Howard Eskin learned last year, Manuel can “get angry.”

As Manuel said, there’s not too much to talk about. Rollins owned up to his mistake of not running out a routine fly ball and isn’t going to hold any grudges, and Manuel didn’t roast his player in front of the media. For a situation that could have been explosive at one of the worst possible times — in the middle of a hot streak — both handled it like true professionals and now the focus is on tomorrow night’s Moyer-Hudson match-up in Atlanta.

Say what you will about Manuel’s in-game tactics, but he deals with the personalities on his roster as expertly as anyone in the game.

. . .

Conversely, Phillies Assistant GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. took questions on 610 WIP on Tuesday and handled that poorly, as I talk about at Baseball Digest Daily. He was asked about signing Cole Hamels to a long-term contract and his answer was a swift kick in his own mouth.

Also at Baseball Digest Daily, I talked about some issues I have with the All-Star Game and offer up some solutions.

Jose Valverde Not As Tough As Brett Myers

Houston Astros closer Jose Valverde was hit by a line drive — indirectly — off of the bat of Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Pedro Feliz. The line drive hit his glove first, then hit the right side of his face.

Jose ValverdeValverde flopped to the ground after being hit and laid there as assistant trainer Rex Jones, manager Cecil Cooper, catcher J.R. Towles, and all of the infielders came out to assist him.

After being examined, he demanded to stay in the game to finish off the ninth inning. Valverde had allowed a lead-off single to Pat Burrell, who advanced on center fielder Michael Bourn’s fielding error. He then retired Geoff Jenkins on a weak grounder up the middle before the RBI single from Pedro Feliz hit him in the face.

After persuading Jones and Cooper that he was well enough to pitch, he allowed a single to the first batter he faced, Carlos Ruiz. Pinch-hitter Chris Coste, hitting for pitcher Ryan Madson, feebly struck out, leaving it up to Jimmy Rollins to attempt to the game with two outs. Rollins came through with a line drive double to right field, but it was impressively cut off by Hunter Pence, and Feliz was held at third base as a result. Shane Victorino couldn’t get a hit, instead flying out to Bourn in center field.

When Valverde was hit, I was instantly reminded of when Brett Myers was hit in the head with a Michael Barrett line drive in the second inning of a game against the Cubs in Chicago on May 8, 2005. Not only did Myers stay in to finish the inning, he pitched an eight-inning complete game, allowing only two runs on five hits and a walk while striking out ten. If you want to watch it, click here to go to the May 2005 highlights page on the Phillies’ website, go down to May 8, and click on one of the videos for “Myers hit.”

The line drive goes right off of Myers’ head and ricochets all the way out into left field with momentum to spare. If you watch the video, you’ll notice that Myers doesn’t even hit the ground; he gets right back up. Myers’ only mistakes in the game were solo home runs to Neifi Perez and Aramis Ramirez in the fourth inning. The Phillies were stymied by Carlos Zambrano, getting only a Bobby Abreu solo home run off of him.

Valverde, on the other hand, got the save, but allowed two runs on four hits in one inning of work, and he held up the game after getting hit by a line drive that was first deflected.

Myers vs. Valverde

Sorry, Jose, you just aren’t as tough as Brett Myers. Thanks for playing.

Now to find some way to set up another line drive to hit Myers in the head so he can start pitching as well as he did back on that day in May ’05…

Natural reflex
Pendulum swing
You might be too dizzy
To do the right thing

Rush, “Stick It Out”

BDD: Ryan Report; Also: Rush References!

The fifth installment of The Ryan Report is up for your amusement at Baseball Digest Daily.

As a result of the Blue Jays pwning the Phillies in the recent three-game series in Philadelphia and my losing a bet with the guys at Drunk Jays Fans, I have agreed to make Rush references in a week’s worth of posts. There is one in Ryan Report #5 but for your viewing pleasure, here is the video for Tom Sawyer:

Jayson Werth FTW, Literally

Jayson Werth: 3-4, 3 HR, 8 RBI

Jayson Werth FTW!

Werth hit three home runs Friday night in the inter-league opener against the Toronto Blue Jays en route to a 10-3 win. Two of his homers came against Jays starter David Purcey: a three-run home run to open the scoring in the second inning, and a grand slam that gave the Phillies an 8-0 lead in the third inning. Werth tacked on a solo home run off of Jesse Litsch in the fifth inning.

His eight RBI in one game tied a Phillies club record. According to the Phillies website:

The last Phillie to collect eight RBIs in a game was Mike Schmidt on April 17, 1976, in Chicago. The other three were Willie “Puddin’ Head” Jones (Aug. 20, 1958), Gavvy Cravath (Aug. 8, 1915) and Kitty Bransfield (July 11, 1910).

Werth’s eight RBI in one game is one more than his right field platoon mate Geoff Jenkins has all season (Werth has been playing in center field recently, however). Similarly, his three homers in one game is more than Carlos Ruiz, Shane Victorino, and Jenkins have all season.

His night left him with a season total of nine homers, which ties him with Pat Burrell and Ryan Howard for second-most on the team, and his eight RBI bumps him up to 26 on the season, third most on the team behind Chase Utley and Burrell.

Werth’s recent play may give Charlie Manuel food for thought regarding the platoon with Jenkins that was supposed to be utilized. Starting on May 13 in the series opener with the Atlanta Braves, Manuel put Werth in center field and Victorino in right field, which appeared to be a response to some poor defense on Victorino’s part in the previous series in San Francisco. Werth hadn’t played center field much throughout his career, logging 40 games and about 259 innings at that position going into 2008, but has already played 22 games and about 179 innings there so far this season. Jenkins thus far has been disappointing, getting on base below a .300 clip and not showing any power with his .345 SLG.

Answering Murphy’s Question

David Murphy, pretty much the only Philadelphia Daily News journalist that is even tolerable (Murphy is great), wrote a blog today asking the question, “How much does Rollins mean to this team?

Before I get into that, let me do my usual thing of linking you to my latest work at Baseball Digest Daily:

Shameless self-promotion aside, let’s get to the question. I’ll go through what he said in his blog and write my response to it.

[…] I’m convinced that Jimmy Rollins is one of those rare athletes whose presence really can invigorate a team. It’s why I disagree with those who say he shouldn’t have been MVP last year.

Well, unless Rollins’ intangibles can essentially add 30 OPS+ points either to himself or to his team (or both) and turn his defense from mediocre to above-average, there’s no justification for Rollins getting the MVP award last season. It was really between David Wright, Chipper Jones, and Chase Utley.

As to his “presence,” I don’t think there’s any question that he has a positive effect on his team, but that effect is minuscule as we are talking about professional Major League Baseball players — the highest caliber in the world. If they need to be in Rollins’ presence to feel excited about playing, or to be energized in the 7th inning in a getaway game, then it’s likely we’re not talking about MLB players.

But beyond that, I’m convinced his presence made his teammates better. Not in a concious [sic] way. Jayson Werth and Greg Dobbs didn’t walk up to the plate thinking, “I’m going to single now because Jimmy Rollins is here.”

The only other way this works is subconsciously then, and there’s really little difference between the two as both are unprovable.

There’s no question the Phillies are a better team with Jimmy Rollins at shortstop instead of Eric Bruntlett, and they’re better with Rollins leading off so Shane Victorino can hit second, Geoff Jenkins or Werth can hit sixth, Pedro Feliz seventh, and Carlos Ruiz eighth (Murphy explains this later).

That much is tangible, though. Rollins is light years ahead of Bruntlett offensively. The lower in the order Feliz hits, the less outs he makes (he is an outs machine). Bruntlett was hitting second and has an OBP of .308. While Shane Victorino hasn’t been any better (.305 OBP) he has a much higher ceiling and the more you pair him with Rollins at the top of the batting order, the less outs there will be when Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Pat Burrell come to the plate, which creates a lot of opportunities to score runs.

But there’s just something about this offense, this team, when Rollins is in the line-up. Everything clicks. Shane Victorino gets to hit second instead of first. That’s where he belongs. Werth gets to hit sixth and bring some speed to the middle of the order. Pedro Feliz gets to hit seventh. Carlos Ruiz gets to hit eighth.

The “Everything clicks” Murphy cites is tangible, as explained above. If he’s going for the intangible — that, in a vacuum, everyone in the lineup is better when Rollins is in there than when he is not — then it’s simply a “God of the gaps” argument, which is basically saying “If we don’t know, then [preconceived notion — in this case, intangibles] is the answer.”

How many times over the past month has the leadoff spot come up with two out in an inning? When Rollins is that leadoff guy, there’s a real potential for something big to happen. In fact, it’s expected.

“He always tells me just to get on,” pitcher Cole Hamels said.

Hamels got on the eight with two out, and Rollins hit a huge home run.

This is a cherry-pick. Why is Rollins somehow a better candidate when there are two outs? Granted, he has a 1.067 OPS with two outs, but that’s in a small sample size: 10 plate appearances. Last season, Rollins’ OPS dropped with every out recorded: 0 outs, .945; 1 out, .867; 2 outs, .768. And given his mediocre OBP (.331 career; .344 last season), I have more confidence in Jayson Werth (.351 career OBP; .404 last season) to extend an inning with two outs. In fact, Werth’s OPS with two outs was better than Rollins’ at .797.

I asked Hamels if we make too much of the impact Rollins brings to the entire team.

“Absolutely not,” he said.

What do you expect him to say? He’s not about to trash his own teammate.

Here’s another thing I think. And again, it’s just me thinking. But me thinking thinks that Rollins returning will help Ryan Howard too. I don’t think the first baseman would ever admit it, but there was more pressure on him with Rollins out. And that may have affected him. Last year he hit .223 when Chase Utley was down. He put some good swings on the ball tonight. Scored a run.

There are a lot of hasty generalizations here. Tangibly, Rollins will help Howard because it’s more likely Rollins will be on base than his replacement (Bruntlett) would have, so when Howard bats, there will be less outs and runners on base, which means Howard will see more predictable fastballs.

Secondly, Ryan Howard did not hit well when Chase Utley was injured because the Phillies played a lot of teams with good pitching:

  • July 30-August 2: Chicago Cubs, 2nd-best pitching in NL
  • August 3-5: Milwaukee Brewers, 9th-best pitching in NL
  • August 10-12: Atlanta Braves, 3rd-best pitching in NL
  • August 14-16: Washington Nationals, 10th-best pitching in NL
  • August 21-23: Los Angeles Dodgers, 6th-best pitching in NL
  • August 24-26: San Diego Padres, best pitching in NL

Understandably, the Phillies went 9-10 against those teams, and 6-3 against teams with bad pitching staves (4-2 vs. Pittsburgh Pirates’ 3rd-worst pitching, 2-1 vs. Florida Marlins’ worst pitching).

Ryan Howard was helped by Jimmy Rollins because he had some good swings and scored a run? Howard scored 8 runs in 18 games (1 R every 2.25 G) without Rollins and 10 runs in 19 games (1 R every 1.9 G) with Rollins — very little difference.

Howard has had some good swings lately, he’s just been a little unlucky (.211 BABiP). His two good swings last night came in his third at-bat against starter Pat Misch with just over 57 total innings of Major League experience, and in his one at-bat against reliever Tyler Walker who is league-average (102 ERA+ this season, 97 career ERA+).

Rollins’ return to the Phillies makes his team better because he’s better than his replacement Eric Bruntlett, not because he’s energetic or motivational or clutch.

Opportunity Came A-Knockin’

Dave Rouleau of Baseball Digest Daily contacted me earlier today and expressed interest in having me write for their web site, and I happily accepted. He’d like me to focus on transaction analysis on the entire MLB with a daily article, and has a very loose leash on me, which is nice.

How that affects Crashburn Alley remains to be seen. If possible, I’d like to continue posting regularly here as well for my Phillies-specific and potpourri posts.

When their website is back up and running, make sure to bookmark their website and my section on there as well.

A Little This and That

I was planning to do a recap of every game but I realized that you can basically get a recap on any major baseball website and I was just burdening myself with unnecessary writing. I’ll just stick to the analysis that I don’t see being done.

That said, posts may be cranked out at a slower rate for the time being because I finally upgraded from Microsoft Office 2000 to 2007 and now I can use Pitch F/X data in Excel. So, I’ll be trying to learn how to correctly use and analyze that, and I’ll try to implement it into my analysis when possible.

To anyone who does have expertise with Pitch F/X, I will be needing any pointers I can get, so please drop some hints for me if you can (my contact information is listed at the bottom of this page). I’m really interested in learning how to create graphs like the ones Mike Fast has in this article about Johnny Cueto’s first start. I’ve also read his tutorial on building a database for Pitch F/X data, and while my mind went numb almost immediately, it does sound like a cool idea, but I know very little about Perl and MySQL, so that’s another call to any experts out there willing to lend a few pointers.

But enough about me and my shortcomings (that’s your cue to offer a hug).

Kyle Lohse

Remember how I was whining about the Phillies preventing themselves from signing Kyle Lohse? Yeah, well, this happened:

  • April 1 vs. Colorado Rockies: 5 IP, 0 R, 3 H, 3 BB, 3 K
  • April 6 vs. Washington Nationals: 7 IP, 0 R, 4 H, 1 BB, 2 K
  • Total: 12 IP, 0 R, 7 H, 4 BB (0.917 WHIP), 5 K

Yeah… and the St. Louis Cardinals signed him for one year at $4.25 million. Granted, he did face a Rockies lineup that has been struggling all season and a Nationals offense that isn’t expected to be much better than last year’s MLB-worst, but he’s pitched 12 innings without surrendering a single run. That’s impressive.

I will give credit where credit is due, however, and that’s to Adam Eaton. On April 5 in Cincinnati, Eaton held a decent Reds offense to three runs in 7 and two-thirds innings. He had nearly a 2-to-1 strikes-to-balls ratio, but he still managed to walk four. It’s an encouraging start from a pitcher almost everyone, myself included, gave up on a long time ago. If the Phillies can just get league-average production from Eaton, it’s a huge burden lifted off of the bullpen.

Pat Burrell

If the Phillies’ front office is thinking about letting Burrell walk when the season is over, they’re crazy. He’s started the season hitting 3 HR and driving in 9 runs in the first seven games, posting an OPS of 1.476.

On Monday night’s Baseball Tonight, Karl Ravech said, half-seriously, that people should be thinking about Burrell potentially completing the Philadelphia-themed MVP trifecta, since most people are predicting that if anyone is going to win it as a Phillie this year, it will be Chase Utley.

Since the Baseball Writers Association of America doesn’t really know how to factor in a player’s true defensive contributions, it is actually a realistic thought to imagine Burrell being named the National League MVP. Burrell is not at all fleet of foot, and as a result, his defense is burdensome. If the BBWAA knew of any of the metrics that display this fact in all its glory, there’s not a chance in hell that Burrell wins the award outside of a 60 HR, 150 RBI season.

It will be a shame if Burrell is forced to sign elsewhere after the season because he has indicated that he relishes playing in Philadelphia, so he’d probably be willing to take a hometown discount. If the Phillies do decide to lock him up for a few more years, they know what they’ll be getting, as Burrell is as consistent as they come. From 2005 to ’07, his slugging percentage ranged from .502 to .504 and his OBP ranged from .388 to .400; home runs from 29 to 32; doubles from 24 to 27, and all of this consistency comes while losing at-bats in ’06 and ’07 from Charlie Manuel taking him out after the sixth or seventh inning in a lot of games.

For me, though, the most satisfying statistic of his from 2007 is his 114 walks in just 598 plate appearances.

Jayson Werth vs. Geoff Jenkins

So far, Charlie Manuel has used the right field platoon as intended: Werth against left-handed starters, Jenkins against right-handers. However, Werth only has five at-bats in the Phillies’ first seven games. Granted, the Phillies have only faced one left-handed starter, and that was on Opening Day (Matt Chico of the Nationals), but you can’t just hold Werth for the lefty starter — you have to start him against a right-hander every now and then as well.

Geoff Jenkins is 33 years old and doesn’t appear to be getting any better, unsurprisingly. He’s been above-average over his career (115 OPS+) but in ’06 and ’07, he was just league average (101 OPS+ in both seasons). Definitely use Jenkins against right-handers only, but let him sit out one every now and then in favor of Werth.

Pedro Feliz

We saw this coming.

In 19 at-bats, Feliz has put up an uninspiring 22 OPS+ for the Phillies. That is not a misprint; that is a real, live, correctly calculated 22 OPS+. He has four hits — all of them singles — and one walk. There’s just nothing to say here. I know it’s early in the season, small sample sizes and all that good stuff, but… a 22 OPS+? Come on.

What we didn’t see coming is that he’d be a bottom-feeder defensively. Baseball’s best-fielding third baseman has sunk to the 12th out of 16 qualified NL third-sackers in Revised Zone Rating. It won’t stay that way forever, and I fully expect Feliz to climb his way back up, but it just illustrates how little value Feliz has to the Phillies right now. He’s worse than a black hole.

Brett Myers

What’s not to be concerned with? From the Phillies website:

Myers suspects he may have tipping his pitches, a problem he licked early in his career — which doesn’t mean it can’t re-occur.

[…]

“There were a few pitches that I had to question whether I was tipping or not,” said Myers, who added that he didn’t notice anything after looking at the game video. “They had good approaches. I’m not saying I was [tipping pitches]. I’m just saying they had good approaches.”

From the dugout, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel saw a pitcher whose fastball velocity appeared lower than normal. Myers normally throws in the 92-95 mph range. On Sunday, he reached 92 once, and mostly stayed in the 88-91-mph range.

Myers is way too important to the Phillies to have any extended stretch of bad pitching. Let’s hope he figures it out when he starts against the Chicago Cubs on Friday.

Three-Game Set at Shea

The Phillies begin a three-game series in Queens bright and early: a 1:10 EST start. Here are the pitching match-ups:

  • Tues. 4/8, 1:10 PM EST: Jamie Moyer vs. Oliver Perez
  • Wed. 4/9, 7:10 PM EST: Kyle Kendrick vs. Mike Pelfrey
  • Thurs. 4/10, 7:10 PM EST: Adam Eaton vs. John Maine

The first thing you should notice about the match-ups is that the Phillies get to miss Johan Santana, as expected.

Second, Adam Eaton starts a game at Shea Stadium, and that has boded well for him. His starts at Shea last season:

  • April 11: 7 IP, 2 ER, 4 H, 3 BB, 5 K
  • June 6: 6 IP, 2 ER, 5 H, 2 BB, 4 K
  • September 16: 4.2 IP, 5 R (4 ER), 7 H, 2 BB, 1 K

That last start aside, he was great in Queens last season. Over his career, Eaton has a 2.81 ERA in the Mets’ home ballpark and just over a 1.0 WHIP in 32 innings.