This Isn’t Looking Good… Or Is It?

Your 2009 Philadelphia Phillies bullpen, ERA’s in September:

  • Brad Lidge: 9.34 in 8.2 IP
  • Sergio Escalona: 7.38 in 3.2 IP
  • Tyler Walker: 6.51 in 9.2 IP

This isn’t looking good. Or is it?

  • Ryan Madson: 3.49 in 10.1 IP
  • Chad Durbin: 2.13 in 12.2 IP
  • Clay Condrey: 0.00 in 3.2 IP

Of course, Brett Myers, Scott Eyre and J.C. Romero are recovering from injuries with Chan Ho Park on the shelf, and Kyle Kendrick and Jamie Moyer out in the ‘pen as mop-up specialists. A year separated from sporting one of the most formidable, most organized, least-worrisome bullpens in baseball, the tables have turned and many Phillies fans are on the verge of needing A.A. for ninth innings what with all of the disarray.

Yet, even with that disarray, the Phillies are still middle-of-the-pack in most categories when it comes to the bullpen:

  • IP: 461, 19th out of 30 MLB teams
  • K/9 rate: 7.7, 15th
  • BB/9 rate: 4.12, 8th
  • K/BB rate: 1.86, 19th
  • HR allowed: 46, 22nd
  • WHIP: 1.388, 17th
  • BABIP: .291, 19th

It still looks decent with WXRL:

  • Madson: 2.25
  • Park: 2.08
  • Durbin: 0.89
  • Condrey: 0.39
  • Walker: 0.28
  • Escalona: 0.11

That’s right: the above six relievers — familiar faces here in September — have combined to contribute about six wins to the team. The only Phillies reliever with a WXRL in the negatives that is still on the roster is Lidge. Andrew Carpenter, Rodrigo Lopez, and Jack Taschner haven’t seen MLB action in a while.

Comparing this year to last year:

  • Phillies’ starters, 2009: 4.20 ERA with a .775 opponent OPS
  • Phillies’ relievers, 2009: 3.98 ERA with a .715 opponent OPS
  • Phillies’ starters, 2008: 4.23 ERA with a .756 opponent OPS
  • Phillies’ relievers, 2008: 3.22 ERA with a .703 opponent OPS

If we take Brad Lidge out of the equation, the ’09 bullpen ERA drops to 3.50.

Simply put, the bullpen isn’t nor will be as bad as it has shown or seemed to be in the last week or so. Brad Lidge has been the only consistently poor performer. The success of the Phillies’ bullpen in the post-season will largely rest on the successful comebacks of Myers, Eyre, and Romero as well as the remaining contributors staying with the status quo.

Teams have hiccups many times throughout the season. Sometimes the Phillies go through stretches where they don’t hit, or where their starters are absolutely terrible. The bullpen, as enigmatic as it has been, is also prone to such hiccups. It is simply part of the game and not a true reflection of the ‘pen’s true talent level, which is somewhere around average (above-average if we remove Lidge from the equation) — not bad but not great either.

How to Slump and Still Create Runs

Jayson Werth is in a slump that has encompassed his last 35 plate appearances. He looks completely lost at the plate, having notched only one hit in that span and struck out 14 times. There’s no way Werth has helped the Phillies at all during his slump, hitting fifth in the lineup, right?

Well, yeah, there is a way. He has drawn six walks and been hit by a pitch, and has also stolen one base in one attempt. That’s right, while Werth was hitting .042 prior to today’s game with the Brewers, his OBP was at .250. Further, Werth has driven in four runs: two with his only hit in 35 PA on September 22, and two more with productive outs in each of the last two games against the Brewers.

As an example, when Jimmy Rollins went hitless in 31 PA between June 19 and July 1, he only had an OBP of .129. Players like Werth, who can draw a walk (he’s second only to Chase Utley in that area), can continue to earn their spot in the lineup even when they’re taking some awful cuts at the plate.

They say speed never slumps. It does, but humoring that, neither does intelligence, and Jayson Werth has shown in his three years with the Phillies that he is a very smart hitter with his ability to work counts and draw walks. Werth will soon emerge from his slump, but in the meantime, Charlie Manuel can still feel justified in writing his name on the lineup card.

What If Jimmy Was Good All Year?

Let’s have a fun little thought experiment. What if July-to-present Jimmy Rollins had existed between April and the end of June? As we’re all aware of, Jimmy had a terrible first half, putting up a .572 OPS in 325 plate appearances. Since then, he’s hit for an .813 OPS in 372 PA.

The only tools needed for our experiment are:

I went ahead and plugged in all of the numbers — the Phillies’ batting order and their respective OBP and SLG. Then I selected the 1959-2004 model and clicked submit. This is easy!

The current Phillies lineup — including Rollins’ current level of production — comes out to 5.017 runs per game with the most optimal at 5.156.

For the second test, I simply replaced Rollins’ current OBP and SLG with that of his second half, .323/.490.

That lineup comes out to 5.183 runs per game with the most optimal lineup at 5.298. So, we can say that first-half Jimmy cost the Phillies .166 runs per game, or 13 runs over 81 games, a bit more than one win.

Should you have any questions about how the calculations work, click on the lineup analysis tool link above (or here) and click on the linked names after “Based on work by”. Cyril Morong’s article at Beyond the Box Score in particular is a great read.

Just for fun, I wanted to see how much better Carlos Ruiz has been than Paul Bako offensively. As above, the current Phillies line-up will score 5.017 runs per game. Replacing Ruiz with Bako brings them to 4.849 runs per game, a difference of .168, nearly the same difference between Good Jimmy and Bad Jimmy! Of course, it’s advantageous to rest a catcher so the total difference between the two catchers isn’t as large as the lineup analysis tool indicates. But it’s a fun thought experiment.

BDD: A’s Have A Bright Future

At BDD, I look at the many bright spots that made up the Athletics’ pitching staff this season.

Gio’s problem, as it is with so many other young pitchers, is control. He has walked 56 batters in under 99 innings, a walk rate of over five per nine innings. Hitters have been fortunate on balls in play with a .362 BABIP and they’re not swinging all that often. If he had enough innings to qualify, his 42.3 swing percentage would be tied for fourth-lowest in the Majors. Further, his 75.2 contact percentage would be tied with Tim Lincecum for fourth-lowest in baseball. When he’s around the strike zone, he is dominant.

Put Lidge on the Playoff Roster

Twitter was not a pleasant place for Phillies fans after Brad Lidge blew his eleventh save of the season last night. Among all the frenetic Tweets, it was not hard to get sucked into the delirium. Just about everybody is on board with kicking Lidge not just out of the closer’s role, but out of the bullpen entirely. Some think he shouldn’t make the playoff roster.

Lidge can still serve a purpose, although limited, as a reliever in the playoffs. In the NLDS last year, the Phillies’ starting rotation accounted for 71% of the innings; 58% in the NLCS, and 73% in the World Series.

In the NLDS last year, Lidge accounted for 9% of the innings as the closer. The next-highest percentage was 3% by Scott Eyre and Clay Condrey. Brad Lidge logged 11% of the innings and Ryan Madson 10% in the NLCS; J.C. Romero threw 11% of the innings and Brad Lidge 5% in the World Series.

The point of the above is to illustrate that Brad Lidge can be put on the post-season roster and will not truly screw up the Phillies’ chances to win all that often, if at all. As a closer in the playoffs last year, he only pitched in 9 and one-third innings in 14 games. Since Lidge also wouldn’t be a set-up guy (hopefully) and he isn’t an OOGY-specialist, he wouldn’t do much damage with the limited innings he’d be getting.

Further, Lidge should not be left off the post-season roster because of this:

  • 3 years/$37.5M (2009-11), plus 2012 club option
  • 2009:$11.5M, 2010:$11.5M, 2011:$11.5M, 2012:$12.5M club option ($1.5M buyout)

That’s the contract the Phillies signed him to last year. Based on his awful, awful season, he isn’t a tradable commodity anymore. No one will trade for him unless the Phillies strap a wad of million-dollar bills to his back. For better or worse, the Phillies are stuck with him. So, you don’t want to do anything that could cause unnecessary stress, such as leaving Lidge off of the post-season roster, and you also don’t want to place Lidge in situations he’s proved he’s unable to handle.

If Lidge is left off the post-season roster, he might — and remember, this is just a thought exercise — become a distraction either during the playoffs or during the off-season (he may, for instance, demand a trade). If Lidge is left in the closer’s role and blows yet another save or two in the playoffs, he may be done as a professional baseball player mentally and/or he may be the cheese that stands alone in the clubhouse.

It’s not a fortunate situation to be in, and as in the political spectrum, neither side has it 100% right. The Lidge-haters are wrong in that Lidge doesn’t need to sit home in October, and Charlie Manuel is wrong in that Lidge cannot be used in high-leverage situations. A simple demotion is all that is needed to both preserve the Phillies’ chances in the post-season and to preserve Lidge’s future in Philadelphia.

Dude

Dude… Brad, I just wrote a nice post about how I like the Phillies. And then you had to blow your eleventh save of the season. Just saying, is all.

  • Lidge has allowed at least one run in 29 of 63 (46%) appearances.
  • He’s allowed two or more runs in 15 (24%).
  • He’s allowed multiple hits in 20 (32%).
  • He’s walked at least one batter in 26 (41%).
  • He’s dead last in WXRL and it’s not particularly close. He’s #723 of 723. Lidge has a WXRL of -2.562. #722, Toronto’s Brian Wolfe, has a WXRL of -1.371. Yeah, Lidge has been twice as bad as the second-worst reliever in Major League Baseball.

What more does Lidge have to do to justify a demotion?

Tarp Memories

The Phillies have a lot to look forward to with a 95+ win season and a division title within arm’s reach. A World Series championship repeat could be in order. Just about everybody and their mother is having a great season, except for dear old Brad Lidge (and a slow start from Jimmy Rollins). However, as I watch the Florida Marlins grounds crew struggle putting the tarp on the field at Land Shark Stadium, I can’t help but look back.

The image to your right (courtesy Deadspin) depicts your Philadelphia Phillies helping out the Colorado Rockies grounds crew put the tarp on the infield at Coors Field back on July 6, 2007. Looking back, it was probably the best pseudo-baseball memory of the Phillies I can think of. While most people would have slunk back to the clubhouse for a few rounds of cards, the Phillies noticed the troublesome winds in Colorado were giving the Rockies grounds crew heaps of trouble. As you may expect, the tarp needs to be put on the field as soon as possible, otherwise it creates a lot more work on the back end when the tarp is lifted and the field is tended back to playable conditions. The Phillies personnel helped the grounds crew work through the troublesome weather conditions.

They did not stop a robber who was stealing an old lady’s purse, nor did they save two orphans and their kittens from a burning building, but they did show a rare act of human kindness from people we normally would not expect let alone require it from. In the world of American sports, we are used to the ingrates like Milton Bradley, Terrell Owens, and Michael Vick. Despite the underwhelming coverage of the good in the media, the ingrates are outnumbered by the kind-hearted, and such was especially the case that day.

In a cruel twist of fate, the Phillies were quickly dispatched by the Colorado Rockies in the NLDS that year, losing all three games. But it all worked out for the good guys when they won the World Series last year. Maybe nice guys don’t always finish last.

Looking back on that, I have realized that I don’t just love this Philadelphia Phillies team because they’re great baseball players who have a penchant for winning lots of “important” baseball games. I’m fanatical about the Phillies because they — for the most part — are made up of some of the nicest guys in the game. I can’t vouch that I’d feel this way if they were instead going through a Kansas City Royals run of abysmal failure, but it would soften the blow somewhat.

I find the tarp memories significant because I think I’ll be recalling them nearly as frequently as Chase Utley’s WFC exclamation, the NL East-clinching double play last year, Harry the K singing “High Hopes”, and Charlie Manuel yelling, “This is for Philadelphia!”

Take It Easy

I write this as the Phillies are trailing the Florida Marlins 3-0 in the seventh inning of the second game of the double-header, having won the first one. Prior to today’s games, Cool Standings gave the Phillies a 99.9% chance of winning the division and the Marlins and Braves were below 0.1%. The PECOTA-adjusted odds at Baseball Prospectus were a bit kinder to the NL East runners-up, giving the Phillies only a 99.75% chance of winning the division.

If you recall last season, the Phillies clinched on September 27 with a sweet game-ending double play that also clinched Brad Lidge’s perfect season. It is September 22 and the Phillies’ magic number after the first win today is down to five. With Cole Hamels, J.A. Happ, and Cliff Lee pitching in the next three days, it’s possible that the Phillies will clinch before this Saturday the 26th.

Even if means the Phillies don’t clinch the division by the end of the month (it won’t), it is a good idea to take it easy by resting the regulars. The Phils have five injured pitchers: Pedro Martinez, J.C. Romero, Scott Eyre, Brett Myers, and Chan Ho Park. J.A. Happ missed nearly three weeks after his start on September 2. It would be a shame to head into the post-season with anymore sore shoulders or stiff necks or strained obliques.

It is true that the Phillies went into the post-season last year on a serious hot streak, winning 13 of their remaining 16 games, and their hot streak continued on through the NLDS, NLCS, and the World Series. But they also finished 2007 on a roll as well, winning 13 of their final 17 games, and then they got swept by the Colorado Rockies in the NLDS. Small sample of course — what else would you expect — but momentum that baseball commentators so often refer to doesn’t seem to play a big role in the Phillies’ post-season success.

That’s why it benefits the Phillies to rest their important pieces as much as possible. The Phillies have played 150 games this season. Ryan Howard has played in 149, Chase Utley 146, Jimmy Rollins 145, Pedro Feliz 147, Shane Victorino 144, and Jayson Werth 147. Cliff Lee has made 32 starts, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton 29. J.A. Happ and Pedro Martinez are less than 100%. Ryan Madson and Chad Durbin have logged 72 and 63 innings in the bullpen respectively. Brad Lidge has appeared in 62 games and has had one hell of a stressful season.

For the next week-plus, rest them all. Let Kyle Kendrick and Andrew Carpenter make a start. Near the end of the season, let Martinez and Happ make one final start — with a strictly-enforced pitch count — to make sure they’re ready. Sergio Escalona and Tyler Walker can shoulder most of the bullpen work. Greg Dobbs, Matt Stairs, Ben Francisco, Eric Bruntlett, John Mayberry, Paul Bako, Miguel Cairo, and Andy Tracy can get some regular at-bats, which would benefit the former four as they would be on the post-season roster.

The Phillies were fortunate last year that they did not have to deal with many injuries. While they are also fortunate this year they are not dealing with the Mets’ infirmary, they do have to be careful with several pitchers. It would be a shame that the Phillies would lose a post-season game, or even a post-season series, if Jamie Moyer has to throw four-plus innings because J.A. Happ never quite healed from his oblique problem. Or because Ryan Madson ran out of gas because Charlie Manuel used him to pitch seven innings over the final twelve games.

It isn’t official yet; the Phillies haven’t won the division. But even if they play at a Washington Nationals level of baseball — that is to say, .333-ish — the Marlins would still need to go 12-0 down the stretch to surpass the Phillies. I’d sooner bet on getting struck by lightning. Do the right thing and take it easy for the final week and a half.

BDD: MVP Award Should Be Vaguely-Defined

At BDD, I revisit the Rosenthal debate from a different angle. Click here to read it.

Were we to take the voting out of the hands of the BBWAA and mechanically dole out awards, for instance, then how would MLB ever cultivate any interest in the awards? Would anyone stand around the water cooler and simply chirp agreement with The Award Machine (for to disagree with it you would be akin to a flat-earther)? Would writers and bloggers take the time to write a post about “it got it right again”?

Comparing the 1976-78 Phillies to 2007-09

With the Fightins on their way to a third straight division title, it is an appropriate time to compare the 2007-09 teams to the last trio of division champs, the 1976-78 Phillies.

Here’s a quick look at who manned each position (i.e. had the most plate appearances at the position) for those teams:

  • Position: 1976, 1977, 1978; 2007, 2008, 2009
  • C: Boone, Boone, Boone; Ruiz, Ruiz, Ruiz
  • 1B: Allen, Hebner, Hebner; Howard, Howard, Howard
  • 2B: Cash, Sizemore, Sizemore; Utley, Utley, Utley
  • SS: Bowa, Bowa, Bowa; Rollins, Rollins, Rollins
  • 3B: Schmidt, Schmidt, Schmidt; Nunez, Feliz, Feliz
  • LF: Luzinski, Luzinski, Luzinski; Burrell, Burrell, Ibanez
  • CF: Maddox, Maddox, Maddox; Rowand, Victorino, Victorino
  • RF: Johnstone, Johnstone, McBride; Victorino, Werth, Werth

Offensively, the current three-peaters are better than the the ’76-78 teams at first base (slight), second base (huge), and shortstop (huge); the ’76-78 teams had the advantage at catcher (huge), third base (huge), and left field (slight); and the teams had virtually identical production from their center and right fielders.

The following are the offenses’ league ranks in runs scored per game and total HR:

  • 1976: 2nd of 12 in RPG (4.75); 2nd in HR (110)
  • 1977: 1st of 12 in RPG (5.22); 2nd in HR (186)
  • 1978: 3rd of 12 in RPG (4.37); 3rd in HR (133)
  • 2007: 1st of 16 in RPG (5.51); 2nd in HR (213)
  • 2008: 2nd of 16 in RPG (4.93); 1st in HR (214)
  • 2009: 1st of 16 in RPG (5.05); 1st in HR (210*)

* Incomplete season, of course. Prorated total over 162 games is 231 home runs.

Unfortunately, the wealth of defensive statistics we have now aren’t available as far back as 1976, so we can’t compare the teams defensively. We’ll just have to leave that to speculation and debate.

The following chart plots the teams’ starting and relief pitching by ERA minus FIP. A negative number shows that the pitchers were worse than their ERA indicated and a positive number means they were better than their ERA indicated. It’s a very rough measure of luck.

Phillies pitchers of late seem to have been very, very lucky, especially relievers. Considering Brad Lidge’s perfect 2008 season, that may not be a surprise.

Here are the actual numbers, using ERA:

I was going to use ERA+ but it’s not as ubiquitous as OPS+ as it is a poor metric with which to evaluate relievers.

Simply put, the Phillies teams of the late 1970’s were better on the mound than the new kids.  Each of the 1976-78 reliever corps was better than the best 2007-09 corps from 2008. The same rule applies for starters as well. However, the gap between the two eras of pitchers would be closed with an adjustment for the respective leagues.

Lastly, we’ll look at each squad’s performance compared to its simple Pythagorean expectation.

  • 1976: 101 wins (Pythag: 104)
  • 1977: 101 wins (Pythag: 98)
  • 1978: 90 wins (Pythag: 95)
  • 2007: 89 wins (Pythag: 87)
  • 2008: 92 wins (Pythag: 93)
  • 2009: 86 wins (Pythag: 84)*

* Again, incomplete season. Prorates to 95 wins with a Pythag of 93.

The 1976-78 squads aggregately under-performed their Pythag by five games or an average of under two games per season, which is well within the standard error. The 2007-09 squads under-performed by three games, an average of one game per season. None of the teams resembled the 2007 Arizona Diamondbacks, who out-performed their Pythag by 11 games.

All told, there are actually a lot of similiarities between the teams. They hit first and pitched second, in order of importance. Actually, if we had reliable defensive metrics, we would conclude that they hit first, fielded second, and pitched third.

The contemporary Phillies are strong defensively up the middle with Ruiz, Utley, Rollins, and Victorino. So, too, were the late-’70’s Phillies with Boone, Bowa, and Maddox, the Secretary of Defense.