BDD: Mets’ Murphy is a Mirage

At Baseball Daily Digest, I explain why the Mets’ starting left fielder is being overrated.

[...]what really jumps out at you about his brief Major League success is his unsustainable line drive percentage: 33.3%. The average LD% is around 20%.

Because he hit a lot of line drives, he was very fortunate on balls in play, reflected by his BABIP of .386. If we assume he’s a normal baseball player with a LD% around 20% give or take a couple of percentage points, we would expect his BABIP to naturally be as many as 50 or 60 points lower to the .320-.330 area. As such, his true level of production isn’t the .373 wOBA he had last year nor the .368 Bill James predicts for 2009; it’s likely much closer to the .330 that Marcel predicts.

How do the Phillies and Mets Stack Up? Part Deux

Unsurprisingly, my Phillies-Mets comparison got a lot of mixed reviews. I’d just like to add statistics to back up my claim that the Phillies have advantages in base running and defense, since I’ve seen a lot of people who seem to think that they’re actually advantages for the Mets.

I’ve harped a lot here about the Phillies’ +/- rating last season. It was at +74 last season; the Mets were at +43. That rating for the Mets is nothing to sneeze at — it’s very, very good. Their strength is in the outfield, particularly with Carlos Beltran. The Phillies’ defensive strength is in the infield, particularly the middle infield with Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins.

Numerous times I’ve said that that +74 should be expected to drop a bit in ’09 because, well, that’s freaking high. Add in that Utley is coming off of hip surgery — he may not be as mobile as he was last year, even though he did play injured for a majority of the season (my guess is that he was injured on Justin Upton’s slide attempt to break up a double play when the Phillies were in Arizona in May last year).

John Dewan recently wrote an article titled “What Makes Utley So Good?” Dewan concludes that Utley is usually in a great position to make plays. If his conclusion is valid — and I believe it is — then it’s not fair to label Utley’s fantastic defensive season aberrant. Sure, there will probably be a regression to the mean, but perhaps not quite as large as we think.

Here’s an overview of the 2008 season, using the +/- stats listed on page 72 of The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2009.

Middle Infield (Utley, Rollins; Castillo, Easley, Reyes):

  • Phillies: +71
  • Mets: -21

Corner Infield (Howard, Feliz; Delgado, Wright):

  • Phillies: +7
  • Mets: -11

Outfield (Burrell, Victorino, Werth; Tatis, Murphy, Chavez, Evans, Pagan, Anderson, Beltran, Church):

  • Phillies: -4
  • Mets: +75

As for base running, I’ll copy what I wrote in a comment on Baseball Think Factory:

Re: base running, the Phillies had six players last year who are returning in ’09 with an EQBRR of 1 run or greater. The Mets had seven last year, but only five are returning.

Phillies:

– Jimmy Rollins: 9.1
– Shane Victorino: 7.4
– Jayson Werth: 5.2
– Eric Bruntlett: 3.1
– Carlos Ruiz: 1.9
– Chase Utley: 1.2 (injury prone)

Mets:

– Jose Reyes: 8.3
– Carlos Beltran: 6.3
– Luis Castillo: 3.7 (old, injury-prone)
– Angel Pagan: 2.6 (buried on depth chart)
– Endy Chavez: 2.2 (went to Seattle)
– Damion Easley: 1.5 (unsigned)
– Argenis Reyes: 1.2 (buried on depth chart)

EQBRR, which stands for Equivalent Base Running Runs, can be found at Baseball Prospectus.
Hopefully that clears up how I concluded that defense and base running are advantages for the Phillies. Feel free to comment if you disagree and have some insight to share.

How Do the Phillies and Mets Stack Up?

On Pro Baseball Central on Wednesday night, we were debating which of the two teams had an advantage at each position. I decided to investigate a bit more, looking up projections from five different systems: MattS (from The Good Phight and Statistically Speaking), Bill James, CHONE, Marcel (all three can be found at FanGraphs), and ZiPS (from Baseball Think Factory).

I highlighted in olive green the pitchers’ best projections, and in yellow their worst.

Here are the starting pitchers. Apologies for the image quality, Microsoft Paint is the best I have at the moment.

Phillies and Mets starting pitching projections

If we go by each pitcher’s best projection, the Phillies’ top five is:

  • Cole Hamels: 3.24 ERA
  • Joe Blanton: 3.95
  • Brett Myers: 4.06
  • J.A. Happ: 4.11
  • Jamie Moyer: 4.23

Chan Ho Park has a slightly higher projected ERA but I knocked him off because Moyer is guaranteed a spot in the rotation. The Mets’ five:

  • Johan Santana: 2.76 ERA
  • John Maine: 3.96
  • Mike Pelfrey: 4.10
  • Oliver Perez: 4.22
  • Tim Redding: 4.61

I left Freddy Garcia off because I think pigs have a better chance of flying than he does in making the Mets’ starting rotation.

It looks like the Phillies have a slight advantage at every rotation spot except the #1 spot.

Here are the various projections for the relief pitchers.

Phillies and Mets relief pitching projections

I only have the projections for six relievers because the other two spots are up for grabs at the moment and there are too many competitors vying for them: Antonio Bastardo, Yorman Bazardo, Joe Bisenius, Dave Borkowski, Sergio Escalona, Mike Koplove, Justin Lehr, Gary Majewski, Drew Naylor, Blaine Neal, and Jake Woods.

With that said, the Phillies’ best six:

  • Brad Lidge: 3.19 ERA
  • Ryan Madson: 3.48
  • J.C. Romero: 3.53
  • Scott Eyre: 3.72
  • Chad Durbin: 3.72
  • Clay Condrey: 4.29

The Mets’ seven:

  • Francisco Rodriguez: 2.34 ERA
  • J.J. Putz: 2.59
  • Pedro Feliciano: 3.36
  • Brandon Knight: 3.44
  • Duaner Sanchez: 3.70
  • Brian Stokes: 3.86
  • Carlos Muniz: 4.42

The Mets have a better back of the bullpen and a very slight edge elsewhere, mostly because of J.C. Romero’s 50-game suspension.

Here are the starters at the eight positions for each team:

Phillies and Mets starting position player projections

The Phillies’ eight best projections:

  • Carlos Ruiz: .734 OPS
  • Ryan Howard: .963
  • Chase Utley: .922
  • Pedro Feliz: .744
  • Jimmy Rollins: .815
  • Raul Ibanez: .847
  • Shane Victorino: .794
  • Jayson Werth: .853

The Mets’ eight:

  • Brian Schneider: .696 OPS
  • Carlos Delgado: .863
  • Luis Castillo: .707
  • David Wright: .954
  • Jose Reyes: .834
  • Daniel Murphy: .849
  • Carlos Beltran: .885
  • Ryan Church: .825

The Phillies have huge offensive advantages at first and second base; the Mets have a huge advantage at third base and center field. The Phillies have a slight advantage at catcher and right field. It’s a wash at shortstop and left field although I think Ibanez is very likely to significantly out-produce Murphy.

Here are the team’s bench projections. I took the five players I thought were most likely to make the 25-man roster on Opening Day.

Phillies and Mets bench projections

The Phillies’ five’s best:

  • Matt Stairs: .808 OPS
  • Greg Dobbs: .788
  • Geoff Jenkins: .774
  • Chris Coste: .760
  • Eric Bruntlett .682

The Mets’ five’s best:

  • Nick Evans: .829 OPS
  • Fernando Tatis: .810
  • Ramon Castro: .785
  • Jeremy Reed: .724
  • Alex Cora: .686

I very much disagree with the Bill James projection for Evans — I think it’s extremely optimistic.

The Mets’ bench appears to be slightly better but note that Tatis could be getting a decent amount of playing time as a starter, so the Mets’ bench is more likely on par with the Phillies’ if not slightly behind.

Keep in mind that with the projections I’ve listed, defense and base running are not factored in, both of which are advantages for the Phillies.

Overall, it’s very close. A recap:

  • Phillies’ Huge Advantages: First base, second base, left field, defense.
  • Phillies’ Slight Advantages: Catcher, back of starting rotation, bench, base running.
  • Pushes: Shortstop, right field, non-CL and non-SU relievers.
  • Mets’ Slight Advantages: Ace starter, CL and SU relievers.
  • Mets’ Huge Advantages: Third base, center field.

The Mets have 5 players that garner them an advantage; seven players are pushes; the Phillies have 13 players that garner them an advantage (as well as defense and base running).

I’d say overall, the Phillies are the slightly better team. What do you think?

Pro Baseball Central Tonight [Updated]

If you have a few minutes free around 9:30 PM EST tonight, stop by Pro Baseball Central where I’ll be talking about the Phillies and Mets rivalry as well as spring training with Steve Keane and Joe McDonald. The show starts at 9:00 but I’ll be in around 9:30.

UPDATE, 11:10 PM: Just got off the phone — I was on the PBC show for an hour and a half. I certainly didn’t expect to be on that long but I had a blast debating Steve and Joe on the pros and cons of the Phillies and Mets teams, as well as comparing Cole Hamels to Johan Santana, and Brad Lidge to Mariano Rivera. Both sides got their necessary jabs in as well… but it was two on one! So unfair. Where’s Herb Dean when you need him?

We also got a bit into football and hockey, but the majority of the 90 minutes was baseball talk. The three of us made 2009 predictions and we’ll compare ‘em in October. Hopefully, they’re the ones eating crow, though I shouldn’t talk after predicting a Rockies-Indians World Series last year.

Once I figure out how to get a direct link to the show, I’ll put it up here. BlogTalkRadio has some clumsy navigation.

Thanks to Steve and Joe for inviting me and giving me a platform for my pithy opinions. I look forward to bragging at the end of the season.

BDD: Not So Funny Anymore

At Baseball Daily Digest, I’ve opined on the death of John Odom, a Minor League baseball player who was traded for ten baseball bats last season, then died of an overdose of multiple drugs several months later.

One of the more consistent lines of thought in moral theory is that an action is immoral if it causes some kind of unpleasantness for another person. I find it hard to believe that Calgary, which has claimed that the trade wasn’t made as a publicity stunt, thought that Odom would be met with nothing but positive and encouraging responses. The trade essentially said that Odom wasn’t worth another professional baseball player or even a medium-sized wad of cash; he was worth ten processed 34-inch-long pieces of wood.

Oftentimes it takes a tragedy for our error-prone ways to manifest. Dehumanizing athletes, who devote years to perfecting their craft, by trading them for next-to-nothing is a business practice that, hopefully, will now come to an end. It’s a shame it took the suicide of a multi-talented kid to reveal this to us.

What to Expect in 2009 with the WFC’s

We’re slightly more than a month away from the regular season and a lot of us Phillies fans are excited at the prospect of enjoying an entire season where the Phils are referred to as “defending world champions.” Yes, expectations are high for the Phightin’s and with just cause — the team is virtually unchanged since Brad Lidge struck out Eric Hinske to clinch the World Series.

Realistically, though, the chances of a repeat World Series run are slim. The NL East is, believe it or not, stronger than it was last year. The playoffs are a crapshoot where the hottest team usually prevails as opposed to the best team.

What should we look for in the 2009 season? What should we least expect?

What to Expect

  1. A top-tier offense. The change from Pat Burrell to Raul Ibanez is a break-even exchange, although Ibanez does make the middle of the lineup lefty-heavy. Regardless, the Phils should once again score in the neighborhood of 800 runs and lead the league in home runs. Friend of the blog MattS from The Good Phight and Statistically Speaking projects the Phillies’ eight positional starters to put up a VORP of over 240, an average of 30 VORP per player. That is excellent.
  2. A rebound from Carlos Ruiz. He hasn’t had much to write home about in his first two full seasons in the Majors. Last year, he had an extremely low OPS at .620. Expect more than a 100-point increase in that OPS — the projections do. Why? We should expect a regression to the mean with his BABIP, which was a ridiculously low .237 last year. It should bump up into the high .270’s.
  3. A significantly worse defense. Oh, don’t worry — the Phillies’ defense will still be well above-average, but it won’t be nearly as good as it was last year, at +74 according to John Dewan’s Fielding Bible. The middle infield — Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins — made most of the contributions at +71; they were +25 in ’07. I’m going to call the ’08 defensive performances of Utley and Rollins a fluke, and expect the defense to regress from +74 down to the 30’s. That will still put the Phillies in the top-third of the Majors in defense.
  4. Phillies base runningSmart base running. The Phillies, collectively, were 136-for-161 (84.5%) stealing bases last season, and were 138-for-157 (87.9%) in ’07. What do those two years have in common? Davey Lopes was the base running instructor. But base-stealing success isn’t the only measure of such intellect. Baseball Prospectus has a metric called Equivalent Base Running Runs, or EQBRR. The Phillies had six players who added at least one run or more with their overall base running prowess.
  5. A better offensive season for Jimmy Rollins. After an MVP-caliber 2007 season with a 118 OPS+, Rollins regressed back to a 103 in ’08 — just about at his career average. Despite the lower numbers last year, there are two numbers that promote optimism: his lower strikeout rate and his higher walk rate. Before ’08, Rollins had never had a walk rate at 8%  or higher, and his strikeout rate had never been lower than 10.5%. Last year, those numbers were 9.4% and 9.9% respectively. His BB/K ratio went to 1.05, .27 higher than his previous career high. Rollins’ OBP was normal last season but he lost about 100 points in SLG — he hit 19 less home runs and 11 less triples. Expect Rollins’ power numbers to improve. Not to ’07 levels, mind you, but the projections see a SLG in the .460 area.

What Not to Expect

  1. A sub-130 OPS+ from Ryan Howard. For as pessimistic as I’ve been about Howard, there’s just no way — barring injury — that the big man will stay under 130 in the OPS+ department. He seems to have a natural BABIP in the mid-.300’s, so his .289 BABIP last year is lower than we would expect. Thus, we should expect a mean-regression in that department. Additionally, Howard faced a large number of left-handed pitchers last season. While a good portion of those were either unavoidable (i.e. left-handed starters) or intentional (LOOGYs), there is just no way 38% of Howard’s plate appearances will come against left-handers again, unless Charlie Manuel has a L-L-L in the middle of the batting order.
  2. Another perfect season from Brad Lidge. It’s hard to be perfect in save opportunities — that’s why it’s only been done twice in baseball history (Eric Gagne is the other). There was a whole lot of luck (and, yes, a whole lot of skill too) that went into Lidge’s perfect season, such as Shane Victorino’s amazing throw from center field to preserve a 4-3 victory. When Lidge does blow a save, he should and will be given a standing ovation.
  3. A solid 3-4-5 in the rotation. Despite the success that Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton enjoyed last season with the Phillies, don’t count on it happening again. I’m very pessimistic about Jamie Moyer and it goes hand-in-hand with my pessimism about the Phillies’ defense. Moyer, more than anyone else, relies on his defense to convert balls in play into outs, which it did excellently last season. If the defense is expected to significantly regress (I think it is), then Moyer should be expected to significantly regress as well. So, no 3.71 ERA for Moyer in ’09; I’d expect it to end up in the high 4’s. Both Blanton and J.A. Happ (who I expect to win the #5 spot) are projected to put up ERA’s in the low 4’s.
  4. Success from Chad Durbin. Before last season, Durbin had never experienced too much success at the Major League level in nearly 500 innings. But last season — more specifically, the first four months — Durbin was impeccable. He finished with a 152 ERA but tired as July turned into August. He induced a lot of weak contact (pop-ups in the infield) and had an abnormally low HR/FB rate at 5.9% (the average is around 10%). Of the Bill James, CHONE, and Marcel projections, only CHONE pegs him as putting up a sub-4 ERA.
  5. Action at the trading deadline. You might see the Phillies pick up a mediocre reliever or a 25th man for the bench, but I wouldn’t expect any significant roster shifts between the start of the season and August 31. No one that will be on the 25-man roster is both expendable and attractive to other teams besides Chris Coste. Additionally, the Phillies don’t have a pressing need to improve any one area. Expect the Phillies to be one of the quietest teams leading up to the July 31 deadline.

I Take It All Back!

Lacking about as much foresight as I did when I predicted a Rockies-Indians World Series in 2008, I showed some empathy for Adam Eaton in an article I wrote at Baseball Daily Digest on January 24.

I’m not going to go out and purchase a Phillies jersey with “Eaton” and his number 23 (I’m sure he meant no offense to His Airness) on the back. But I’m the charter member of his fan club if for no other reason than that I refuse to piggyback on a guy who, most likely, could stand to carry a lighter burden.

Lauber goes on to write that if the Phillies can’t find someone to pay $1 million for Eaton, they’ll release him, meaning that Eaton made his last appearance as a Phillie last July 27. I wish him luck whereever he ends up, and you should too.

I am resigning from my chair as the head of the Adam Eaton fan club because he pulled what is known as a “dick move.” He was released by the Phillies yesterday after months of unsuccessful attempts by the team to entice other organizations to take on a small portion of his salary.

Scott Lauber of Delaware Online caught up with Eaton to get his thoughts on his newfound freedom. I’m going to respond to the quotes FJM-style and you’ll see why I’ve absconded from the fan club.

I got off to a relatively good start and had nothing to show for it.

If “a relatively good start” is nearly 8 innings of three-run pitching for one game, then yeah… not bad. Good, in fact. But his ERA after the first game, 3.52, ballooned to 5.08 after his last start in April. The lowest his ERA got in May was 4.72 and got as low as 4.57 in mid-June.

That’s not, in any way, good. It’s below-average. In terms of grades, it’s a D-minus.

This day in age, it’s what have you done for me lately.

What Adam Eaton had done for the Phillies lately:

  • Throw nearly 162 innings of 6.29 ERA and 1.627 WHIP baseball in 2007.
  • Fail to go five innings in 4 of his 19 starts (21%) in 2008.

Regardless of leading the team in quality starts until the All-Star break, two starts later, three starts later, I’m cast off in the bullpen.

The All-Star Game was held on July 15 last season.

Quality starts (at least 6 IP, no more than 3 ER) for Phillies starting pitchers up to July 15, 2008…

  • Cole Hamels: 13 QS in 20 starts, 3.15 ERA in those 20 starts
  • Jamie Moyer: 10 QS in 19 starts, 3.95 ERA in those 19 starts
  • Adam Eaton: 10 QS in 19 starts, 5.71 ERA in those 19 starts

Eaton got his facts wrong. More importantly, it shows how weak the quality start is as a metric of performance. Despite having the exact same proportion of quality starts as Moyer, Eaton was almost two full runs per nine innings worse.

Also, Eaton’s recollection is wrong. Eaton made his last start prior to the All-Star break on July 12. He made two appearances out of the bullpen on the 26th and 27th before being demoted.

Granted, there were a lot of horrible games in there, but there were some good ones, too.

Eaton definitely had some good games in there, but he had far too many starts where the Phillies were just completely out of it as a result of his awful pitching.

More to the point, take a look at Eaton’s good starts (we’ll use quality starts) and the offenses he was facing (apologies for the poor image quality) …

Adam Eaton Quality Starts, 2008

Obviously, the last start was against an AL team, so that rank 14 is out of 14 teams. The average offensive rank of the teams he notched quality starts against was 9.6, or 10 if you round up. He faced a lot of bad offensive teams.

I haven’t pitched in the big leagues since whenever, July. And they say, ‘Well, go down and get in shape.’ Give me a [bleeping] break. What do you want me to say? You want me to swallow another pill? For what? Waste two weeks down here where I can go spend two weeks with my family? Yeah, sure, I’ll go up there for the World Series. Hey, I’m up on the float. ‘Boo, [bleep] you.’ Great. Would that be any fun for anybody? No. In that regard, not sharing it with my teammates. But it was nice to see them on TV. They’re world [bleeping] champs.

Points for the WFC mention.

Nothing he says here is really wrong, but his tact is just terrible. Any sympathy that he’s trying to earn is diminished with the way he’s illustrating his situation.

From his own description, it sounds like he was unwilling to put in the work to make himself better. Would you expect any team to let a player hang around who was actively being lethargic, especially one who had been piss-poor the previous two seasons while taking in a hefty salary? I, for one, would not. And it seems like the Phillies didn’t want him around either.

I can certainly understand Eaton feeling that “getting in shape” would have been futile but you can’t decline to do so and then expect any kind of a helping hand down the road.

. . .

Adam, good luck whereever you end up. I wish you the best.

But don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

A Not-So-Boring February Day

The Phillies kicked off the first of an exciting five-or-so weeks of exhibition games against the Pittsburgh Pirates yesterday. As expected, a lot of the regulars got some swings, throws, and jogs in before calling it a day, which eventually ended in an 8-2 loss. Newcomers Raul Ibanez and John Mayberry each had an RBI and Jeremy Slayden went 2-for-2 and scored a run. [Box Score]

Aside from the Phillies officially starting their quest as defending World Series champs, there were a lot of other games on the T.V. sets of Philly fans, as the Flyers played the Los Angeles Kings, the Sixers played the Wizards, and the Villanova Wildcats played the DePaul Blue Demons, and all of our guys walked off with victories.

The Sixers had been on a four-game losing streak since the second half of the season started. One loss came in knife-in-the-heart fashion, as Devin Harris threw a miracle shot in the air and sank a long three-pointer as time expired to put the Nets up 98-96. It’s at least the fourth time the Sixers have lost to a last-second shot:

  • January 3: Tony Parker two-pointer [Video]
  • January 19: Dirk Nowitzki two-pointer [Video]
  • February 3: Ray Allen three-pointer [Video]
  • February 23: Devin Harris three-pointer [Video]

I usually don’t care enough to write about the other Philly-based sports teams but it was quite a day… in that it wasn’t boring, and ended up being a rousing success. First time since WFC that I can say that.

Odds and Ends

  • There are still spots available for the Crashburn Alley fantasy baseball league. Two spots left. For information about the league and directions on how to sign up, click here.
  • For our Dream Draft at Baseball Daily Digest, we’re currently on Round 9 and should have another post up there shortly. Here’s my team so far (Round number in parentheses):
    • C: Russell Martin (2)
    • 2B: Chase Utley (1)
    • SS: Yunel Escobar (6)
    • 3B: Mike Moustakas (5)
    • CF: Shane Victorino (8)
    • RF: Matt Kemp (4)
    • SP: Chad Billingsley (3), Taylor Bumgarner (9)
    • RP: Carlos Marmol (7)
  • On Thursday, March 5 at 9 PM EST, you can catch me on the Pro Baseball Central radio show. This will be my third radio spot. Click here and here if you’d like to listen to my other two appearances with MetsToday.com and Drunk Jays Fans. Promise me you won’t laugh.

BDD: Tim McCarver Swings and Misses, Kinda

At Baseball Daily Digest, I test a claim of McCarver’s and find out his pitch was… just a bit outside.

I recently took a trip down memory lane by watching Game 5 of the 2008 World Series between the Tampa Bay Rays and Philadelphia Phillies again. Ahh, nostalgia. Little did I know that I was vulnerable to FOX color commentator Tim McCarver saying something interesting. I’m just as surprised as you are that McCarver had such potential.

Phillies right fielder Jayson Werth was facing Rays reliever Grant Balfour in the bottom of the sixth inning with one out and a runner on third base with the score tied 2-2. McCarver mentioned that Balfour was a good guy to have in given the situation because, with his high fastball velocity, he could induce an infield fly ball, which would prevent the runner on third (Geoff Jenkins) from scoring.

There are still spots open for the Crashburn Alley fantasy baseball league! Three spots are left. If you’d like to join, leave your e-mail address below or send a message to crashburnalley [at] gmail [dot] com.