On Ryan Howard and Lefties

Over at The Good Phight, John Stolnis wrote an interesting article about Ryan Howard‘s early success against left-handed pitchers, specifically in the walks department. Howard’s struggles against southpaws are well-documented, particularly here, so it’s been a welcome sight to see him laying off the low-and-away slop over the first 15 games of the season. Stolnis recaps Howard’s pinch-hit appearance against Braves starter Alex Wood, a lefty, in which the first baseman worked the count and eventually drew a walk, setting up Ben Revere‘s go-ahead RBI single to drive in Domonic Brown from second base.

It’s true: in the small sample of 62 plate appearances Howard is walking at a markedly higher rate (16%) than he had been dating back to 2008, including between seven and nine percent over the last two seasons. His 2014 walk rate is nearly as high against lefties (15%) as against right-handers (17%). The obvious question must be asked: is it sustainable?

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Jonathan Papelbon Doesn’t Think Velocity Matters Much. It Does.

Corinne Landrey has you covered on Jonathan Papelbon‘s start to the season overall. I’d just like to respond to something the closer said after Thursday afternoon’s game.

Papelbon was asked by the media about his velocity, which was measured in the low-to-mid 90′s during his save Thursday, after having registered in the high-80′s during spring training. While he hasn’t gotten back up to 95 MPH like he used to throw, seeing him consistently around 93 MPH has been a welcome sight.

Here’s what Papelbon had to say, via CSN Philly:

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Jonathan Papelbon Having a Good Start to 2014

What if Jonathan Papelbon has a good season?

I’ll wait for you to stop laughing.

C’mon, it’s not that funny.

During the third game of the season, Papelbon had a disastrous outing after entering the game in the 9th inning with a 4-2 lead. He retired only one of the seven batters he faced, gave up four hits and two walks including a bases loaded walk-off walk to Shin-Soo Choo. It was ugly and it seemed to confirm the doomsday narrative surrounding Papelbon at this point is career: his velocity has declined and without it he can’t succeed.

But then a funny thing happened, Papelbon dominated relief appearance after relief appearance. Look at Papelbon’s line this season, excluding the Texas disaster:

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The Phillies’ Bullpen Hasn’t Been Overworked

Among the many criticisms about the Phillies that have been tossed out there since the start of the season, the most recent has been that the starting rotation hasn’t been going deep enough into games, forcing manager Ryne Sandberg to rely on his bullpen more heavily and more frequently than he would like. Sandberg himself said as much in Bob Brookover’s column posted this morning:

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Chase Utley Is On Fire (Don’t Put Him Out!)

I don’t mean to alarm you, but Chase Utley is on fire. He’s hot, and I don’t mean aesthetically. Utley has hit safely in all eight games he as played in to start the 2014 season, and now has a 13-game hitting streak dating back to last season. In five of his eight games thus far, he has at least two hits; he’s had three hits in two games. Overall, he is enjoying a .469/.541/.750 slash line in 37 trips to the plate. Despite being a 35-year-old baseball player, it appears Utley still has plenty left in the tank.

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Roberto Hernandez’s Bat-Missing Game Was on Point

Roberto Hernandez allowed four runs (three earned) over five innings in last night’s start against the Brewers. Not a great start, not a bad start. Considering last night’s bullpen implosion in the eighth and ninth innings, Hernandez’s performance was about the ninth- or tenth-most interesting thing about the game. But broadcaster Tom McCarthy pointed out something after Hernandez had exited the game that made me go back and listen to make sure I heard it right:

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Patience Required with Phillies’ Young Bullpen

The Phillies’ bullpen was yet again a major factor in a loss. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Through eight games, it’s a sentence that is already getting tiresome to write out, particularly since the Phillies are coming off of a season in which they finished with the second-worst bullpen in the National League with a 4.19 ERA. Following last night’s five-run firebombing that put the game under lock and key for the Brewers, the bullpen ERA stands at 4.94.

A quick recap of the performances:

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Credit Where Credit Is Due: Ryne Sandberg Managed Well in Friday’s Win

We — or at least I — have spent many words criticizing the strategy of Phillies managers on this blog over the years. In my quest to be fair, I try to highlight the good as well as the bad, but there’s always some bias in what gets published. The bad gets your attention while the good slips on by unnoticed. Recently, I wrote about Ryne Sandberg‘s questionable decision-making in handling his bullpen. On Friday against the Cubs, his bullpen management was wonderful.

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Pitchers Changing Their Approach to Domonic Brown

In January, I wrote an article about how pitchers had altered their approach to Phillies left fielder Domonic Brown in the second half of last season. After Brown had a ridiculous month of May in which he hit 12 home runs and a productive June in which he hit six homers and drew 12 walks, opposing pitchers began throwing him more stuff low and away not unlike what happened to first baseman Ryan Howard.

The trend has continued in the early going as evidenced by these heat maps:

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