At BDD, I explain why instant replay is a great idea but it won’t solve the problem with home plate umpires.
The Drunk Jays Fans podcast is now up. Click here to listen to it. I come in a bit past the halfway point.
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:
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.
On Monday, I put up the fourth installment of The Ryan Report at BDD.
Last night, I attended the Braves-Phillies game at Citizens Bank Park and have the pictures to prove it. Click on the “Images” tap up top or click here to view them.
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:
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
Yeah, you read that right: the Phillies’ bullpen shined in a victory over the Reds! Starter Kyle Kendrick looked pedestrian, but was able to get out of some jams and limit the Reds to four runs. Afterward, the Phillies’ bullpen pitched four scoreless innings, allowing only one hit, no walks, and striking out three.
The game was originally slated for a 7:10 start, but was delayed more than an hour and a half due to rain (those of us in the Philly area were treated to some videos reliving the 1980 season). Nevertheless, the Phillies’ offense was on, as Chase Utley hit two home runs and drove in three runs, and Pat Burrell hit a first-inning two-run homer as well.
Kendrick allowed eight hits — three of which were doubles — and walked two in five innings. He did start the sixth inning, but walked lead-off hitter Edwin Encarnacion.
The second-most surprising element of the game, after the Phillies’ great bullpen performance, was that Pedro Feliz drew a walk! Even better is that he started the at-bat taking two strikes.
Ryan Howard isn’t looking particularly good so far this season, but there are 158 more games to play. He’s yet to get an extra base hit.
Aside from that, it was a relatively easy victory for the Phils, and it went almost according to plan. Manager Charlie Manuel would have preferred if Kendrick could have notched six innings instead of five, but Ryan Madson made up for it with two scoreless innings of relief. Both Tom Gordon and Chad Durbin were unavailable. Gordon has pitched in two out of the Phillies’ three prior games; Durbin had pitched in all three.
Tomorrow afternoon, Adam Eaton faces Aaron Harang for a 1:10 meeting.
ESPN’s Jayson Stark describes the Ryan Howard situation in Philly:
For one thing, the two sides haven’t spent 10 seconds talking about a deal since the arbitration hearing. For another, Howard and agent Casey Close continue to position him as an unprecedented player, who therefore deserves an unprecedented contract.
It shouldn’t be surprising that Howard is going to ask for so much money. He’s been a premier offensive threat in all of baseball since he won the NL MVP in 2005. However, if Stark’s description of Howard’s desires — “an unprecented contract” — are true, then it really is time to start thinking about moving him. Not this year, and not next year, but perhaps at the trading deadline in 2010.
The Phillies have control of Howard until after the 2011 season, so they can choose to continue to go year-to-year with him and pay him according to precedents. Even if the Phillies are forced to pay him something like $18 million in 2010, this would still be reasonable as opposed to locking up the slugger — who will be 30 at the start of the 2010 season — long-term for “unprecedented” big bucks.
Howard isn’t truly an unprecedented player. He’s a power-hitting first baseman with below-average defense, a weight issue that will always have a chance of recurring with a build like Howard’s, and inconsistent mechanics (compared to 2005 and ’06, he didn’t use left field nearly as much in ’07, for instance).
He does have great upside, but he’s not some legendary player. He’ll hit 45+ HR and drive in 125+ easily, put up a 1.000-ish OPS year in and year out, and draw about 70 unintentional walks every season. Players that productive are not a dime a dozen, but also not productive enough to warrant an “unprecedented contract.”
The Phillies should let some other team burden themselves with such a contract. Sell Howard while he’s still valued high. Keep him through his prime years (late 20’s) and dispatch of him and his burdensome salary demands immediately afterward. Without a stroke of genius and/or luck, they will not replace his production but they can make some creative moves (like moving Chase Utley to first base and calling up Adrian Cardenas to play second base).
Should the Phils trade Howard, they could ask for a king’s ransom and likely get it. I’m talking comparable to, or even better than what the Twins got for Johan Santana. If the trade is done right, the Phillies can set up their Minor League system for years to come while still keeping a highly competitive MLB roster. However, the problem is that when it comes to trading star players, the Phillies always botch it:
In the Schilling deal, the Phillies got 1.5 league-average seasons from Daal, a half-season of slightly above league-average pitching from Figueroa, and 2.5 below-average seasons from Lee. Padilla is the only player in the deal that both stayed with the Phillies long enough to make it worthwhile, and be productive as well.
With the Rolen trade, Smith pitched less than 95 innings in three and a half seasons for the Phillies’ Minor League teams, and never made it to the Majors due to injuries. Timlin gave the Phils a half-season of league-average relief pitching. Polanco, as we all know, was a decent second and third baseman in his two and a half seasons in Philly.
The Abreu deal is clearly the biggest bust of all, but it was more of a salary dump than anything. None of the players acquired are likely to ever help the Phillies at the Major League level. Matt Smith had reconstructive surgery on his left elbow last season and it’s unlikely he’ll be able to help the Phillies out again. He did perform very well for the Phils in ’06 after he was traded, but he pitched a grand total of four Major League innings in ’07. Henry is a huge bust of a prospect. He’s never been above the A level, but his OPS has gone from .714 in ’05 to .692 in ’06 all the way to .560 last season. Monasterios, a pitcher, and Sanchez, a catcher, aren’t regarded very highly and neither are likely to make the Majors.
With Pat Gillick retiring from his position as GM of the Phillies at the end of the season, it becomes crucial that a capable mind is hired. The likely choice will be Ruben Amaro, Jr., who has been a typical yes-man who tows the party line. He’s currently the Assistant GM to Gillick, handling Q & A with the media about acquisitions, injuries, and the like. There’s no doubt that the Phillies’ ownership highly prefers Amaro over everyone else.
Mike Arbuckle is the Phillies’ Assistant General Manager, Scouting and Player Development, and is #2 on the totem pole behind Amaro for the soon-to-be vacant GM job. Like Amaro, he’s never been one to dance to a different drumbeat and he’s been loyal to the organization. Frankly, since he has so much experience evaluating players, he’d be more reliable than Amaro to make a trade of Ryan Howard.
Looking outside the box for a moment, Brian Cashman’s contract is up after the ’08 season. When Ed Wade was fired after the ’05 season, Cashman was one of the candidates the Phillies had on their list before they decided to go with Gillick, and he is no stranger to a big trade — remember Alfonso Soriano being sent to the Texas Rangers for Alex Rodriguez?
While the Phillies’ upper management may be coming to the realization that Howard’s days in Philly are numbered, they can still thoroughly research Gillick’s potential successors and successfully set themselves up for a franchise-defining trade in 2010.
Before the bottom of the sixth inning in the third game of the season, the Phillies were pathetically averaging as many errors as runs: 7 in two and a half games.
The Phillies’ strengths last season — offense and defense — seemed to be their 2008 Achilles’ Heel. Nothing was going right and all of the bounces favored their opponents. Suddenly, in the bottom of the sixth inning, batted balls that were being caught previously were finding holes and dropping in front of fielders. They scored six runs in an impressive rally that consisted of no extra-base hits; rather, eight singles, a hit batter, and a wild pitch. Nine straight Phillies batters reached base before Chase Utley hit into a 3-2-3 double play to end the inning. A recap of the carnage:
Heading into the top of the seventh with their first lead since the bottom of the fourth inning on Monday’s Opening Day game, the Phillies asked their bullpen to be efficient. Ryan Madson responded, quickly retiring all three Washington Nationals hitters he faced.
They had a chance to pad their newfound lead when Ryan Howard singled and Pat Burrell doubled to lead off the bottom of the seventh, but the offense went back into hiding as Geoff Jenkins struck out, and Pedro Feliz and Chris Coste grounded out. Unfortunately, the Phillies had to ask their bullpen to hold onto a one-run lead, and as expected, they couldn’t do that.
Ryan Madson returned to the mound to start the eighth inning and promptly walked lead-off hitter Ronnie Belliard on four pitches. He got Felipe Lopez to lazily fly out to center fielder Shane Victorino, and Jesus Flores almost did as well, but the ball fell in the proverbial Bermuda’s Triangle between Jimmy Rollins, Burrell’s replacement in left field Jayson Werth, and Victorino.
With Rob Mackowiak, a left-handed pinch-hitter, announced, Charlie Manuel replaced Madson with J.C. Romero. Nationals’ manager Manny Acta countered by pinch-hitting Paul Lo Duca for Mackowiak. Romero appeared wild, not having thrown a true strike for the first five pitches, but Lo Duca helped him out by swinging 3-1 at what would have been ball four. Following suit as the previous two hitters, Lo Duca also lazily flied out to center, and the Phillies looked like they’d actually escape with the lead. Not so.
Cristian Guzman sharply hit a grounder just out of the reach of third baseman Pedro Feliz. Jimmy Rollins slid to try and keep the ball near the infield to prevent the tying run from scoring, but the ball instead deflected off of his glove towards foul territory, and that did allow Belliard to touch home plate. Lastings Milledge followed with another infield single to load the bases for the dreaded Ryan Zimmerman, already with two game-winning HR to his name. Luckily, the Phillies continued his oh-fer day, as he grounded out to Jimmy Rollins to end the inning at 7 runs apiece.
The Phillies loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the eighth but couldn’t push in the go-ahead run. Manuel elected to use Opening Day victim Tom Gordon to hold the game in a tie in the top of the ninth inning, and boy, does Gordon make it interesting. He started off well, striking out Austin Kearns, but Nick Johnson, after a great at-bat in which he started 0-2 and worked it to 3-2, reached base via a line drive that was just barely out of the reach of Utley’s glove. The next three at-bats went walk, fly out, walk, so the bases were loaded with two outs. Pinch-hitter Willie Harris came out to bat for reliever Luis Ayala, and everyone in the stadium held their breath as Ryan Howard cleanly fielded a grounder and flipped it to Gordon to end the inning, the game still tied at 7-all. Gordon had a scoreless inning! His ERA went down more than 100 points, from 135.00 to 33.75!
To mimic Seinfeld, yada yada yada, Phillies waste a Jenkins lead-off double in the bottom of the ninth, yada yada yada, game goes to extra innings, yada yada yada, Jimmy Rollins starts off the bottom of the tenth with a lead-off infield single. Victorino sacrifice bunts Rollins to second and Rollins, noticing that only shortstop Cristian Guzman would be able to cover third, raced him to the bag and did so safely, giving the Phillies a runner on third base with one out, and Chase Utley and Ryan Howard due up. Acta, for the second time in the game, ordered both of them to be walked, putting the pressure on Jayson Werth. Reliever Jesus Colome couldn’t find the plate and walked in the winning run on four pitches, giving the Phillies their first win of the season.
Kyle Kendrick will face Josh Fogg tomorrow night when the Phillies visit the Cincinnati Reds for a 7:10 start.
Game graph courtesy FanGraphs.