BDD: Alexei Ramirez is Overrated

At Baseball Digest Daily, I conclude that the second baseman of the Chicago White Sox is overrated:

The future doesn’t portend well for Ramirez, either. Among all Major League hitters with at least 300 plate appearances in 2008, Ramirez had the third-highest percentage of swings at pitches outside the strike zone (O-Swing%, found at FanGraphs). Not surprisingly, Ramirez brings up the rear among AL 2B in pitches per plate appearance at 3.27. Iwamura led the way at 4.14.

Those metrics both match up with his low walk total — 15 unintentionals in 509 PA (FanGraphs lists his BB% at 3.6% which ties for the sixth-lowest walk rate in the Majors). The kid simply has an extremely poor idea of the strike zone. That can be fixed, of course, but not without some hard work and dedication.

Another disappointing metric is his line drive rate, 16.6% in 2008. A higher line drive percentage is positively correlated with success because line drives have a much higher probability of leading to hits (.718 BABIP) than ground and fly balls (.237 and .142 BABIP, respectively). And, obviously, hitting a line drive means that you did some or all of the following: picked up the ball out of the pitcher’s hand, read the rotation on the ball, and had good mechanics in putting a swing on the ball (among others). Using the +.120 method of finding an expected BABIP ( LD% divided by 100 plus .120), we find that he even slightly overshot his otherwise average 2008 BABIP of .296.

BDD: 2008 Review, Xbox 360 Style

At Baseball Digest Daily, I’ve reviewed the 2008 season, highlighting the achievements as if they were made on the Xbox 360.

If you’re feeling generous, click here to hop over to U.S.S. Mariner. Dave Cameron is one of many bloggers up for a $10,000 scholarship. He has a big lead right now but nothing’s ever certain, so reward him for his awesome blog with a vote. U.S.S. Mariner has all the details.

Analyzing the Phillies’ Latest Trade Dream

Rumors have it that the Phillies are pursuing Colorado Rockies left fielder Matt Holliday with vigor. Per CNNSI:

Any teams interested in acquiring Holliday understand that they will be getting him for only one year. Several teams have shown interest, including the A’s, Mets and Rays, but so far it appears the Phillies may have the best chance among those teams.

Just think about the headlines should a trade be completed… “Phillies trade Adam Eaton to Rockies for Holliday” … “Phils Acquire Holliday, Send Geoff Jenkins Packing” … “Phillies’ bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer sent to Colorado for Holliday” …

Just kidding — that’d be awful. Billmeyer is awesome.

That’d be nice, though, wouldn’t it? Of course, the Rockies aren’t stupid and would get their money’s worth in trading one of the game’s best hitters. CNNSI suggests the Rockies would want Shane Victorino back along with some youngsters, namely Lou Marson, Jason Donald, or Carlos Carrasco.

Would the trade be worthwhile? Holliday would simply be a one-year rental unless new GM Ruben Amaro plans on locking him up long-term, but he has to deal with the ballooning salaries of a number of arbitration-eligible players including Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels. In other words, Holliday would be a Phillie for one year and one year only.

It wouldn’t be worth it if the Phillies gave up one of their starting outfielders (Jayson Werth, Victorino) to acquire Holliday, an outfielder himself. It’s particularly useless in giving up Victorino because he plays the premium outfield position, has great speed, and above-average defense with a great throwing arm. Victorino was only slightly less valuable than Holliday in 2008, all things considered (not that we should expect Victorino to string together a bunch of ’08 seasons in a row). Additionally, the Flyin’ Hawaiian is going to be cheap at least for the next couple seasons as he enters arbitration: he made just under a half-mil in ’08; Holliday is due $13.5 million in ’09.

In terms of prospects, Jason Donald would be the easiest to relinquish since he’s roadblocked at shortstop by Jimmy Rollins, and probably wouldn’t translate well at another position, defensively speaking. The Phillies would have nowhere to play him anyway; the infield is set with Howard, Utley, Rollins, and Feliz/Dobbs/Bruntlett.

The Phillies’ Minor League system isn’t deep at the top (at the AAA and AA levels) and Carrasco is both the system’s best pitcher and the closest to being Major League-ready, unless you count J.A. Happ. If the Phillies go into ’09 with a rotation of Hamels-Myers-Blanton-Moyer-Happ (with Kyle Kendrick picking up mop-up duty in the bullpen, or working on his stuff in AAA), they have to hope that no one struggles or gets injured as there would be very little from which to choose from as a replacement — just Kendrick and Adam Eaton.

If you recall back to late-July, the Phillies were inquiring about several players including Holliday, but almost every team wanted catching prospect Lou Marson. Correctly, the Phillies declined every request for Marson. Let’s be honest: despite his amazing World Series performance, Carlos Ruiz should not be an everyday starting catcher, and Chris Coste isn’t much better and won’t be around forever. Good catchers are hard to come by, and the Phillies have a legitimately good catcher in Marson — Amaro should put a big, red “not for sale” sign on him.

Assuming a trade does get worked out — and this is why the off-season is awesome: very few of the trade rumors pan out — how much value would Holliday bring to the Phillies? Baseball Prospectus put him at 9.5 Wins Above Replacement Player last season. Their replacement level is very low, so he’s not actually worth 9.5 WARP in today’s game. Pat Burrell was worth 6 WARP. In-house replacements — some combination of Geoff Jenkins, Greg Golson, and Greg Dobbs — would likely significantly under-perform both totals.

Unlike Burrell, Holliday has some range in left field. Even playing in one of the most spacious outfields among all Major League ballparks, Holliday posted the third-best RZR among qualified LF in the Majors, behind only Carl Crawford and Fred Lewis; Burrell ranked dead last on that list.

Holliday’s most surprising statistics of 2008 weren’t his OPS and RZR; it was his stolen base total and success percentage: 28 and 93.3%, respectively. He’s a big guy — 6’4″, 235 according to his B-R page — so it’s impressive that he not only steals that many bases, but does so at such a high success rate (70-75% is considered to be around the break-even point where stealing bases becomes a worthwhile endeavor).

We haven’t even talked about the offense yet, and already I’m starting to salivate — are you? In his five seasons in the Majors, his OBP has increased every single season and his SLG did until last season, but it was still impressive.

Matt Holliday OBP and SLG, 2004-08

There is a concern: Holliday, over his career, has been much better at Coors Field — a very hitter-friendly ballpark — than on the road: a 1.068 OPS at home to .803 on the road. There is good news: Citizens Bank Park is also hitter-friendly, and less spacious, so the Phillies would essentially be getting the Matt Holliday we all know and love.

Food for thought: Holliday’s overall offensive numbers might be suppressed a bit since he plays in the most pitching-heavy division in baseball: the NL West, with such names as Brandon Webb, Dan Haren, Jake Peavy, Chris Young, Derek Lowe, Tim Lincecum, and Matt Cain. He’d move to the NL East, where you really only have to worry about Johan Santana, who is left-handed (Holliday has an .892 OPS against lefties in his career). The only non-Phillie, non-Santana starting pitchers in the NL East to post an ERA under 4.00 in 2008 were Ricky Nolasco, Jair Jurrjens, Mike Pelfrey, and John Lannan.

A trade for Holliday makes sense if we assume that the Phillies’ starting rotation is fine, and it is as long as Moyer re-signs. The Phillies, otherwise, are one twisted ankle or index finger blister away from having to send Kendrick or Eaton to the bump — that alone should be enough to scare GM Amaro into pleading with Derek Lowe to come to Philadelphia. As I mentioned in this entry, the Phillies realistically will only have about $20 million with which to address the 25% of their roster that is still questionable.

Matt HollidayIf Moyer cheaply re-signs — something like $8 or 9 million for one season — with the Phillies, that would leave them with enough salary flexibility to afford Holliday, and the other pieces (5th OF, middle relief) are fixable with cheap players that will be laying around in February and March, or in the system. And the most realistic best-case scenario is that the Rockies take a deal like Happ-Carrasco-Golson, or — even better — they take on Geoff Jenkins as well to offset about $7 million in salary. Worst case scenario is Amaro sending Marson and Ryan Madson and/or Victorino to the airport, Colorado-bound.

It’s highly likely Matt Holliday won’t be wearing a Phillies uniform when spring training rolls around, but it’s fun to dream about. While we’re dreaming, can you imagine what the Phillies’ SB numbers would look like with Holliday?

No Need for Retroactive Ed Wade Praise

It wasn’t long ago when the phrase “Fire Ed Wade” was a regular part of the Philadelphia lexicon. In fact, a website under that exact title was created and laid out in great detail the extreme failure in his eight years as general manager of the Phillies. He was one of the most reviled people in Philadelphia for many reasons, but mostly for completely botching the trades of Curt Schilling (to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Travis Lee, Omar Daal, Vicente Padilla, and Nelson Figueroa) and Scott Rolen (with Doug Nickle to the St. Louis Cardinals for Placido Polanco, Mike Timlin, and Bud Smith).

On a semi-related note, I wonder if the 1998 Phillies featured the worst 6-4-3 combination in baseball history: Desi Relaford (65 OPS+), Mark Lewis (73 OPS+), and Rico Brogna (97 OPS+). 1999 was excruciatingly bad as well, featuring Alex Arias (93 OPS+), Marlon Anderson (61 OPS+) and Brogna (94 OPS+).

Given the Phillies’ recent success that involves a lot of players drafted under Ed Wade (did Wade analyze them himself, or was he just the guy who either gave a thumbs up or thumbs down?), and Pat Gillick’s classy move to give him credit, the hate has dissipated. That the Phillies just won a World Series doesn’t make Wade’s eight-year tenure any better. It may make you hate him less, but he was still that incompetent.

Wade’s biggest flaw was his inability to put together a decent bullpen. In only three out of his eight years did a Phillies reliever log 25 or more saves (Jose Mesa, 2001-02; Billy Wagner, 2005). Oftentimes, Wade opted for experience over tangible skill, which explains why pitchers like Tim Worrell, Roberto Hernandez, and Mike Williams found homes in the Phillies’ bullpen. But above all, Wade’s bullpens were just awful. And just think that in 2001-02 and 2004-05, Wade had a competent closer (Mesa and Wagner, respectively).

Philadelphia Phillies Bullpen ERA under Ed Wade, 1998-2005

It didn’t end there. He wasn’t just bad at making trades and putting together a bullpen, he was too happy to sign old, declining players to large contracts:

  • Mike Lieberthal: 3 years, $23.5 million (2003-05, ages 31-33)
  • David Bell: 4 years, $17 million (2003-06, ages 30-33)
  • Jim Thome: 6 years, $85 million (2003-08, ages 32-37; the Phillies paid the White Sox $22 million over the length of the remaining contract after trading him before the 2006 season)
  • Jon Lieber: 3 years, $21 million (2005-07, ages 35-37)

If it hadn’t been for the free-spending New York Yankees, the Phillies would have been saddled with another expensive contract of Wade’s: the five-year, $64 million contract given to Bobby Abreu in 2003 with a club option for 2008. But because of how expensive Abreu was, GM Pat Gillick couldn’t get much in return for Abreu and Cory Lidle, settling for Matt Smith, C.J. Henry, Jesus Sanchez, and Carlos Monasterios. Only Smith has contributed at the Major League level.

Another aspect of Wade’s teams was the Mets-like ability to choke it all away in September (my inspiration for the name of this blog — the Phillies’ tended to crash and burn in September until recently):

  • 2001: Finished 86-76, 2nd in NL East, 2 GB Atlanta; 7 GB Wild Card-leading Houston; 15-13 in September and October
  • 2003: Finished 86-76, 3rd in NL East, 5 GB Wild Card-leading Florida; 26-29 in August and September including losing 7 of their last 8 games (three against Florida)
  • 2005: Finished 88-74, 2nd in NL East, 1 GB Wild Card-leading Houston (swept by Houston Sept. 5-7 including this soul-crushing loss)

If there’s one thing that those Phillies teams and the New York Mets of the past two years have in common (besides Billy Wagner), it’s an unreliable bullpen. In today’s state of baseball, nothing will help you choke away a division or Wild Card lead faster than a shoddy relief corps. And for the Phillies’ late-season choking, we can blame Ed Wade.

Yeah, it’s cool that Wade gave the thumbs-up on drafting Pat Burrell, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Ryan Madson, etc. but when you consider everything he was responsible for, it’s hard to find anything for which to praise him. A World Series trophy earned three years after his firing doesn’t change that.

Four Months of Business for the Phillies

As content as everyone must feel seeing the 2008 World Series flag flapping in the wind at Citizens Bank Park, the focus is still directly ahead and no one is going to rest on his laurels. The Phillies have plenty of work to do if they want to continue to play at an elite level in 2009. Already, they’ve declined the options of Tom Gordon and So Taguchi.

The following players are arbitration-eligible (2008 salary in parentheses):

  • Joe Blanton ($3.7 million)
  • Eric Bruntlett ($0.6 million)
  • Clay Condrey ($0.42 million)
  • Greg Dobbs ($0.44 million)
  • Cole Hamels ($0.5 million)
  • Ryan Howard ($10 million)
  • Ryan Madson ($1.4 million)
  • Shane Victorino ($0.48 million)
  • Jayson Werth ($1.4 million)

That’s a total of about $19 million. Using JFLNYC’s payroll estimates for 2009, we could see that total jump up to about $33 million. Most notably, Howard is likely to jump up to $15 million and Hamels to $5 million.

On the books are:

  • Adam Eaton: $8.5 million
  • Pedro Feliz: $5 million
  • Geoff Jenkins: $6.75 million
  • Brad Lidge: $11.5 million
  • Brett Myers: $12 million
  • Jimmy Rollins: $7.5 million
  • J.C. Romero: $4 million
  • Matt Stairs: $1 million
  • Chase Utley: $11 million

That’s a total of over $67 million.

The Phillies also control Carlos Ruiz, Chris Coste, Kyle Kendrick, J.A. Happ and all of the other prospects you saw, mostly at the end of the season. Those four and the others are likely to make around a half-million each.

Add that all up and you come to about $90 million.

Phillies free agents include: Pat Burrell, Jamie Moyer, Scott Eyre, Tadahito Iguchi, Chad Durbin, and Rudy Seanez.

This leaves holes in left field, two starting rotation spots, a back-up infielding spot, and three bullpen slots including a LOOGY. In other words…

C: Carlos Ruiz
1B: Ryan Howard
2B: Chase Utley
3B: Pedro Feliz
SS: Jimmy Rollins
LF: ?
CF: Shane Victorino
RF: Jayson Werth

Bench: Eric Bruntlett, Chris Coste, Greg Dobbs, Geoff Jenkins, Matt Stairs, ?, ? (if Amaro chooses to fill in the hole in LF by either just plugging in Dobbs and/or Jenkins, or to shift LF and RF around, there could be another need for a back-up outfielder, potentially Greg Golson)

Starting Pitching: Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Joe Blanton, ?, ? (could be filled by one or two of Happ, Kendrick, and Eaton)

Relief Pitching: Condrey, Lidge, Madson, Romero, ?, ?, ? (could be filled by all or one or two of Happ, Kendrick, and Eaton)

The Phillies’ payroll was over $98 million on Opening Day 2008, but we can expect an increase, between $105 and $110 reasonably speaking. So, that gives the Phillies around $20 million with which to fill the hole in left field and the holes in the rotation and in the bullpen. Given the lack of salary room, we can cut out a few free agents, especially now that Pat Burrell declined the Phillies’ offer of two years and a total of $22 million (which, on average, would be a pay cut).

On the list of free agent outfielders whom the Phillies should have interest, we can cut out Adam Dunn, Raul Ibanez, and Manny Ramirez. Factoring in that the Phillies are looking for a solid right-handed bat to replace Burrell’s, that would naturally exclude all but Ramirez anyway.

Realistically speaking, if the Phillies don’t re-sign Burrell, they’re going to have to fill in the hole in left field either via trade or from within the organization (Jenkins, Dobbs, Golson).

As for starting pitching, there are some attractive options, such as C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Ryan Dempster, Derek Lowe, Mike Mussina, Oliver Perez, Andy Pettitte, and Ben Sheets. Almost all of these pitchers are going to earn salaries in the double-digit millions. If the Phillies can’t re-sign Jamie Moyer, the Phillies should either take a big gulp and dump close to all of their available salary room on one of those starters (probably Derek Lowe, given his ground ball tendencies that would mesh well in a fly ball-friendly hitter’s ballpark), or accept a rotation that includes Kyle Kendrick and J.A. Happ (and sending Adam Eaton to the pacific ocean in a deep-sea diving bell).

As for the bullpen, the Phillies have all of their main pieces intact, so it’s just a matter of finding some cheap, quality arms if they can’t re-sign Chad Durbin or Scott Eyre. Dave Cameron of FanGraphs noted that Jeremy Affeldt would be a bargain, and he should definitely be on the Phillies’ radar. Other free agent relievers the Phillies should be interested in are: Joe Beimel, LaTroy Hawkins, Will Ohman, Darren Oliver, and Dave Weathers.

The Phillies have to focus on about 25% of their roster for 2009, and if they can do that adequately, they should have a great shot at defending their World Series championship. One thing’s for sure: we won’t be hearing the New York Mets or their fans saying anything at all about the Phillies, will we, Carlos Beltran?

World Fuckin’ Champions!

Chase Utley is already super-cool, but he wasn’t just satisfied being the serious, extremely productive second baseman on the Phillies. Referencing his “Boo? Fuck you!” outburst when he was booed in New York during the All-Star Game this season, Utley came to the microphone in Citizens Bank Park after the parade, and before a packed house, uttered, “World Champions… World Fuckin’ Champions!”

Here’s proof (let’s hope it stays up on YouTube):

Can You Believe It? A Championship in Philly!

The storylines that surrounded the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies going into and advancing further in the playoffs were numerous and unique. If you had no allegiances to any of the other teams or to a Phillies rival, I would think it’d be hard not to pull for the Phillies. Unlike a lot of other teams, all of the players are extremely likable — I’ll pause to let you struggle to come up with an unlikable Phillies player — and there are no bad eggs in the bunch. When you look back and realize that the biggest offender was Jimmy Rollins for getting stuck in traffic, you know you were watching a team and not a group of individuals, as cliche as that sounds.

Going into the season, there was the specter that it was GM Pat Gillick’s last season, and left fielder Pat Burrell would be a free agent after the season. Furthermore, there was plenty of irrational doubt surrounding Brad Lidge as a result of his post-season failures with the Houston Astros. And you had New York Mets center fielder Carlos Beltran mouthing off:

To Jimmy Rollins: We are the team to beat.

Rollins, unrelated to Beltran’s words, had another prediction one season after correctly branding the Phillies “the team to beat.”

We’ll win probably 100 games[...]

Granted, he was talking about the regular season, but with their World Series clincher last night, that brought their overall total (regular season + playoffs) to 103.

During the season, you had Utley’s candidacy for NL MVP in the first half — an attempt to make it an MVP trifecta after Ryan Howard won it in 2006 and Rollins won it in ’07. Cole Hamels pitched worthy of Cy Young consideration but because of some bad luck and some amazing pitching from Tim Lincecum and Johan Santana, he got overshadowed. Jamie Moyer, 46 years old, theoretically had the biological clock ticking, counting down to the end of his baseball career. Brett Myers struggled as a starter after being used as a closer in ’07, was sent down to the Minor Leagues voluntarily, and came up and gave the Phillies additional firepower to blast into the playoffs. The rival New York Mets once again required the Heimlich maneuver in September to the glee of the Phillies and their fans.

During the playoffs, Shane Victorino and Charlie Manuel experienced some unfortunate circumstances involving deaths in their respective families, yet never lost sight of the goal nor lost their focus. Victorino did nothing but get important, timely hits (the grand slam off of C.C. Sabathia, the two-run home run in the Phillies’ comeback against the Dodgers’ bullpen in Game 4 of the NLCS, and the two-run single in Game 5 of the World Series). Manuel continued to correctly pull all the right levers and press all the right buttons and rarely had a decision backfire.

That the Phillies sealed the deal at home means so much. All season long, their celebrations were somewhat muted whether it was clinching a playoff berth, winning the division, the NLDS, or the NLCS. As soon as they won the World Series, they deserved to completely pop the cork on their bottled-up emotions. It would have been somewhat sour if they had clinched in front of a Tampa Bay crowd that only recently decided to come out and watch baseball.

The Phillies were one of the best teams when they played at home: 48-33. That record was only beaten by two other teams: the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers, and tied with the New York Mets. Furthermore, the Phillies never lost a home game in the playoffs: they took seven out of seven at Citizens Bank Park.

Leading up to the World Series, Comcast Sportsnet ran a lot of retrospectives on the 1980 World Series-winning Phillies team, and I continue to wonder what the 2008 retrospective video will look and sound like (narrated by Harry Kalas, of course — make it happen!).

Personally, the Phillies’ World Series championship didn’t completely sink in until I just now looked at their franchise encyclopedia on Baseball Reference. I’m always on BBRef, and I know that something is for real when it shows up on that website. For instance, Ryan Howard didn’t really hit a home run until I see the updates on his player page (Irrational? Absolutely!). Similarly, the Phillies didn’t really win the World Series until I saw the “WS” as you can see here:

Philadelphia Phillies on BaseballReference.com

It’s true — they won. They really did it. And you have to feel absolutely thrilled for everyone involved, especially Harry Kalas, who never had the privelege of broadcasting a Phillies World Series clincher in his life (he was not allowed in 1980 because of some awful policies that were very quickly changed thereafter) until last night. If you want to see and hear the Kalas call (as well as see fellow broadcaster Chris Wheeler go nuts), click here for a YouTube video.

Now we have the off-season to look forward to, but it’s going to be a while before the euphoria of the Phillies’ World Series championship wears off. The economy can continue to tank and I know I’ll still be feeling good as long as I can watch World Series clips on a never-ending loop — kind of like this, but only good.

Ahh…

That’s a sigh of relief. We kind of need it after 25 years, you know?

I’ll be writing more on this soon, I just wanted to get a post up and allow anyone who wants to discuss it to do so here in the comments.

This was an amazing baseball season and I want to thank all of my fellow bloggers, readers, and friends in the media for making it fun to watch and discuss. Now, we look forward to the offseason, and I’ll not only be covering the Phillies here, but I’m hoping to do some general MLB off-season coverage for Baseball Digest Daily. John Brattain and I will likely be teaming up once more for a “Why the Phillies Won It All” article at The Hardball Times.

Crashburn Alley is now ironic: the Phillies certainly didn’t crash and burn this season.

Yahoo! Sports: Phillies World Series photo gallery.