Begrudgingly Addressing the Howard-Pujols Rumor

If you were away from the Internet today, you missed the big rumor. Per ESPN’s Buster Olney:

[…] according to sources, an idea has been kicked around the Phillies’ organization internally, with discussions about proposing a swap of slugger Ryan Howard for St. Louis superstar Albert Pujols.

Hold on to your hats, folks.

It’s not fully clear whether the Phillies actually have approached the Cardinals with the idea, and even if St. Louis were to seriously consider such an offer[…]

In other words, don’t expect this trade to actually happen.

The last time we bloggers called B.S. on a trade rumor, we got burned big time by Ken Rosenthal. However, as The Yankee Universe noted on Twitter, the difference is that “we knew Roy was getting traded, just not for what”. There has been no real momentum in Ryan Howard trade talks (except by yours truly) and this is really the first legitimate mention of an Albert Pujols trade.

Overall, the pieces don’t add up to make this rumor realistic. The Cardinals recently signed outfielder Matt Holliday to a seven-year, $120 million contract. That was a good will gesture on the part of the Cardinals organization to show Pujols that they are committed to putting a competitive team on the field year after year. Pujols, of course, will be a free agent after 2011 and the Cardinals want to do as much as they can to convince him to stay in St. Louis and perhaps even take a hometown discount.

The Cardinals payroll currently sits at about $90 million going into 2010. Holliday and Pujols, at $17 million and $16 million respectively, represent about 37% of the Cardinals’ total payroll. That percentage only figures to increase when Pujols does eventually re-sign. That may sound like bad economics but the Cardinals wouldn’t have signed Holliday to that contract if they didn’t feel like they could make a legitimate pitch to Pujols to keep him in St. Louis.

As for the Phillies, it doesn’t make sense from their end either. Both Pujols and Howard are free agents after 2011 and both are expected to strike big in free agency if they aren’t re-signed. Both will net their teams a first round draft pick and a sandwich pick if they sign elsewhere. Pujols, clearly the better player, will make $2 million less than Howard this year and $3 million less in 2011. While it appears that the Phillies would save money, they likely would have to send money along with Howard to offset the difference.

Presumably the Phillies would want to sign their first baseman to a long-term contract. They are much more likely to accomplish this with Ryan Howard than with Albert Pujols, who may join Alex Rodriguez in the annual $30 million salary club.

This is all without mentioning the obvious chasm in value between the two players. Last year, Howard was worth 4.8 Wins Above Replacement according to FanGraphs. He has accrued about 19.5 WAR since 2006, an average of about 5 WAR per season. Pujols was worth 8.5 WAR and has been worth 33 WAR since 2006, an average of 8.25 per season. Whether the Cardinals and Phillies value their first basemen in this fashion is unknown, but it seems ludicrous to think that anyone would put Howard anywhere near the pedestal upon which Pujols rests.

Adding to the lack of realism of this rumor is the Jayson Werth situation. Werth is a free agent after this season and the team will decide if they can afford to re-sign him and if they will choose to offer him a contract. If Werth doesn’t re-sign, then the Phillies will have to re-sign Ryan Howard or they will face the prospect of having two significant holes to fill in two consecutive years (and only one can be filled with Domonic Brown, an unproven quantity). GM Ruben Amaro has been very stingy with the length of contracts he offers to players, adhering to a limit of three guaranteed years.

Losing Werth (avg. 4.5 WAR) + trading Howard (avg. 5 WAR) + trading prospects + sending cash for 3-4 years of Albert Pujols (avg. 8.25 WAR) simply isn’t worth it. For the amount of money that the Phillies would have to pay Pujols, they could re-sign Werth and Howard while clearing salary by trading Shane Victorino, for example (which has the added effect of losing a lesser player in creating a job for Domonic Brown).

What the Cliff Lee/Roy Halladay mega-deal showed us was that Amaro is very cognizant of his Minor League system and isn’t willing to mortgage the long-term goal for short-term gains. Simply put, if Amaro was the type to trade Howard, cash, and two top prospects to St. Louis for Pujols, Lee would still be wearing Phillies pinstripes in 2010.

Besides, what kind of a season do you think Brad Lidge would have with Pujols in the clubhouse?

Programming Note: NL East Previews

It’s March and that means team previews are popping up around the baseball blogosphere. If you haven’t been following along, there’s a new one every day in March at Baseball Daily Digest and they’ve been great so far. Personally, I like to nail a bunch of birds with a few stones, so I’m going to be interviewing some of my favorite bloggers around the NL East for thoughts on their teams going into 2010. Here’s what it will look like (hopefully):

On Friday, I’m hoping to get a bunch of Phillies bloggers together to tackle a bunch of questions. I already have about 15 bloggers signed up, but there’s no limit. If you have a Phillies blog (doesn’t matter how big or small) and would like to participate, send an e-mail to CrashburnAlley [at] Gmail.com and let me know. Include your blog URL so I can link to it.

As for me, I’ll have a couple Phillies previews popping up at Baseball Daily Digest and The Hardball Times at the end of the month as well as providing a short blurb for ESPN’s Rob Neyer. Stay tuned for that.

Placido Polanco Doesn’t Need Your Pity

When speaking about a woman, saying “she has a great personality” is interpreted as “she’s ugly”. It’s a weak compliment, and it’s weak because there isn’t much else to compliment. The baseball equivalent is to laud a player by saying that his contributions don’t show up in the box score, for they are intangible (and thus can never be disproven). David Eckstein can barely hit the ball out of the infield, but he’s gritty and scrappy and has heart.

Baseball traditionalists use stats to compliment a player truly worthy of praise. Hank Aaron’s 755 career home runs; Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak; Cal Ripken’s 2,632 consecutive games played, etc. are prominent examples. Even if one is completely ignorant of Sabermetrics, people still default to numbers, which makes the praise of a player’s intangibles all the more transparent. If a player is good, his numbers are cited. If his numbers aren’t brought up, then he probably wasn’t that good.

John Finger of CSNPhilly.com recently wrote an article praising Polanco, saying that his contributions can’t be found in stat form. It’s amusing because Polanco is not in need of the assistance. He’s been a second baseman with a career .761 OPS. Not exactly Chase Utley numbers, but he’s been about average offensively at a premium defensive position. He also happens to have been a very, very good fielder at second base.

This is not David Eckstein we’re talking about, he of the career .358 slugging percentage; he of the noodle arm who must muster all of the strength in his body to toss the ball to first base.

This is Placido Polanco. Among second basemen in the 2000’s, there have been just 20 player-seasons in which a player has racked up 500 or more plate appearances and struck out 46 or fewer times. Polanco is responsible for six of them (30%). Three of the top-five slugging percentages belong to him. He doesn’t strike out much and can hit for some power (despite being quoted as saying he can’t in Finger’s article).

At second base, where he has racked up nearly 8,500 innings, his UZR/150 is at an even 10.0, meaning that for every 150 opportunities, Polanco will make ten more plays than the average second baseman. At third base, a position he hasn’t played regularly since 2002, he has a 9.9 UZR/150.

As for base running, Baseball Prospectus thinks he’s been a boon as well. Using EqBRR (definition), he’s been at 1.3, 3.0, and 0.8 over the last three years. Pedro Feliz, on the other hand, was at -5.6 and -0.7 in 2009 and ’08 with the Phillies.

Bringing it all together, FanGraphs values him at 28 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) since 2002, an average of about 3.5 WAR per season. In that span of time, he’s been worth $100 million ($12.5 million per season) and been paid a meager $31.6 million (about $4 million per season). On average, Polanco has been worth about three times as much as he’s been paid, meaning that the Phillies and Tigers have really gotten their money’s worth with him.

Among all second baseman over the past three years, only Chase Utley (23.6 WAR), Dustin Pedroia (15.7), and Brian Roberts (12.5) have been more valuable than Polanco (11.4).

Finger writes, “there’s just something the grizzled baseball men see in Polanco that defies measurement.”

This is insulting to Polanco! The numbers beautify his contributions on the baseball field. No, he’s not the “three true outcomes” basher that have been popularized by Sabermetrics, like Adam Dunn. However, would a “grizzled baseball man” claim that Polanco was more valuable than both Ryan Zimmerman and Jose Reyes in 2007? More valuable than Carl Crawford and Derek Jeter in ’05?

It’s true that there may be some facets of Polanco’s game that aren’t quantified on Baseball Reference or FanGraphs or Baseball Prospectus. I’m sure he’s great in the clubhouse. However, to focus on those aspects instead of what is staring you right in the face — his average offense, his incredible defense at second base, his ability to run the bases intelligently — is to completely misunderstand and underestimate Polanco’s value on the baseball field.

Polanco does not need the window dressing compliments reserved for the David Ecksteins of the baseball world. He’s been good enough to throw his hat in the ring with the best in the game.

Despite being complimentary of Polanco here and admitting that GM Ruben Amaro signed Polanco for well under market value, I still remain a critic of the signing. I don’t like signing an aging player to a multi-year deal to play a position he hasn’t played regularly since 2002. I don’t like paying $6 million on average for Polanco when Chone Figgins, who has more upside, was signed for $9 million on average.

To criticize the signing is not to criticize the player, however. We can say, at the same time, that the Phillies should not have signed the fourth-most valuable second baseman of the past three years to a below market contract. We can recognize Polanco’s value while still being critical.

. . .

My first entry at Baseball Prospectus should be up at 9 AM EST today. Click here and it should be at the top at that time.

EDIT: Here it is.

I am currently working on Phillies previews for The Hardball Times and Baseball Daily Digest. Both should run at the end of the month. Additionally, ESPN is also asking for my input on the Phillies. Stay tuned for that. I’ll provide appropriate links as they become available.

Formidable Opponent: The #5 Spot

Jamie Moyer, 47, is recovering from three off-season surgeries on three torn groin muscles, the meniscus in his right knee, and pooled blood in his abdomen. His 2009 was forgettable as he finished with a 4.94 ERA and was removed from the starting rotation in favor of Pedro Martinez. As a mop-up reliever, Moyer was successful with a 1.93 ERA and a 5:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. That compares favorably to his 5.34 ERA and 2:1 K:BB as a starter.

Kyle Kendrick, nearly half Moyer’s age at 25, spent most of his time in AAA Lehigh Valley last year. He rebounded from a rough 2008 season in which he started 30 games and posted an ERA of 5.49. With Lehigh Valley, Kendrick posted a 3.34 ERA in 24 starts. He had made four sporadic appearances with the Major League club between June and August, but earned a larger role in the bullpen when he was called up prior to his September 13 appearance against the New York Mets. In 21 innings, including two spot starts, Kendrick earned a clean 3.00 ERA and became a key contributor in an otherwise blase Phillies bullpen.

Both pitchers have bolted out to good starts in spring training. In five innings — all against the New York Yankees — Kendrick has allowed a meager two hits. He has yet to walk a batter and has struck out two. Moyer has only started in B-games thus far, but tossed three scoreless innings and allowed just one hit against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Who should win the #5 spot? It’s a debate that can only be settled with an adversary who matches my wit and intelligence: myself! In a complete rip-off of the Formidable Opponent segment from The Colbert Report, I will debate myself about the #5 battle.

. . .

Jamie Moyer should win the spot. He’s 47 and has ton of baseball experience under his belt. Kyle Kendrick has only started one game in the playoffs while Moyer has started in eight.

Experience doesn’t always equate with skill. While the projections don’t peg either as being particularly good, CHONE favors Kendrick’s ERA over Moyers, 4.88 to 5.13. Ditto PECOTA, 4.93 to 5.68. Looking back to last year, SIERA also favored Kendrick in his limited time to Moyer, 4.28 to 4.74.

Well, the Phillies are paying $6.5 million to Moyer this season while Kendrick will make about $500,000 and is under team control for at least three more years. They’re not going to pay Moyer that much to pitch out of the mop-up role in the bullpen when Kendrick can simply be sent down to Lehigh.

Ruben Amaro has shown he won’t assign jobs based on salary. Last year, the team paid Adam Eaton and Geoff Jenkins a combined $15,583,333 to not play baseball in Philadelphia. This year, they’re paying Jenkins $1.25 million and Eaton $500,000 to stay out.

What about when the Phillies promised Chan Ho Park he would start when they signed him last year? He was awful as a starter, his ERA was 7.29 before going to the bullpen.

Exactly — Park was ineffective so he moved to the bullpen. Even if the Phillies award him the #5 spot out of spring training, Moyer won’t have much room for error with Kendrick breathing down his neck. Moyer winning the job out of spring training doesn’t mean much; it especially doesn’t mean that the Phillies will refuse to remove him from that role if he falters.

Both Ruben Amaro and Rich Dubee have said that Moyer is the favorite to win the #5 spot out of spring training.

There are likely a couple components to that: 1) they are throwing the old man a bone as he was miffed about his demotion last year; they don’t want Moyer to sulk in spring training, and 2) they don’t want to demotivate either player; in this case, Kendrick would have a goal to strive for, and Moyer won’t feel like he’s at the end of the line.

Even if that’s true, isn’t it better for the Phillies to simply give the spot to Moyer and let Kendrick get another year of seasoning in the Minors? As you mentioned, he’s only 25 and he doesn’t exactly strike fear in the hearts of opposing batters. Working on adding new pitches — he’s been Roy Halladay’s shadow during spring training, working on a cutter — would be best for him in the long run, especially since he hasn’t even hit arbitration yet.

Does Kendrick really fit in with the team’s long-term plans? A pitcher who averages under four strikeouts per nine innings isn’t exactly the type of pitcher you pencil in the rotation three years from now. I think the Phillies and Kendrick both benefit if he wins the #5 spot, or at least if he eats up the lion’s share of starts out of that spot in the rotation. He can build up his trade value to other teams, something which Moyer cannot do with his age, recent ineffectiveness, and injury concerns. If J.C. Romero isn’t able to be relied upon in the bullpen, the team could use Kendrick to acquire a LOOGY at the trading deadline. Only Antonio Bastardo, of the Phillies’ in-house LOOGY candidates, showed a significant platoon split with a 4.02 FIP vs. right-handers and a 2.24 FIP vs. left-handers over his Minor League career.

If you trade Kendrick this July, presumably after a good first-half of the season, then you’re just putting Moyer back in that spot anyway but with fewer reliable fall-back options. You’re not going to insert Jose Contreras in the rotation unless he’s been bombing as a reliever, and then after him you have Ryan Vogelsong who hasn’t thrown a pitch in the Majors since 2006.

Kendrick doesn’t have to be traded. If he’s pitching well — let’s say a 4.50 ERA — then you can just keep him there for the duration of the season. Since he’s a free agent after the season anyway, the Phillies could pay the remainder of Jamie Moyer’s salary and ship him to another team in exchange for a LOOGY or a C-grade prospect. I would imagine, however, that the market is much drier for Moyer, which is why I suggested trading Kendrick if he pitches well.

I don’t like the idea of giving up on Kendrick, even though I don’t think he should win the #5 spot over Moyer. Moyer’s story, actually, is a good reminder of why shouldn’t just give up on young pitchers. Moyer had two good seasons out of nine before being sent to Seattle in 1996. With his nine full seasons in Seattle, he finished with a sub-4.00 ERA six times. The Cubs, Rangers, Cardinals, Orioles, and Red Sox all had Moyer at some point and tossed him aside. You know that Kendrick is making a concerted effort to improve, so is it that crazy to think he can’t improve on his sub-4 K/9 rate? The Phillies don’t necessarily need him now but they may next year or two years from now.

But will the Minors do Kendrick any good? He has over 300 innings of experience in the Majors with a track record of success despite his 4.66 career ERA. Will going back to AAA, where he threw 143 innings last year, do him any good? He can learn while simultaneously pitching out of the back of the Phillies rotation. He won’t be chastised for poor performances unless he puts up Adam Eaton-esque numbers. I think the Phillies are in a similar situation with Kendrick as the Eagles are in with Kevin Kolb. If you see him contributing to the team in the future, then you need to use him now and let him take his lumps. If not, then Kendrick/Kolb are owed the chance to start elsewhere.

. . .

The arguments in summation:

  • Moyer should win because it allows Kendrick more time to develop his secondary pitches, gives the Phillies more depth, and justifies the $6.5 million they will be paying him this year.
  • Kendrick should win because he is the better pitcher by all of the advanced metrics, the Phillies can build up his trade value and acquire another player who can contribute elsewhere, and Moyer is simply unreliable due to his age, recent ineffectiveness, and injury concerns.

Which argument makes the most sense to you? Speak out in the comments below.

2008-09 Phillies Knocked On Wood

Jeff Zimmerman (@JeffWZimmerman) at Beyond the Box Score has done some fantastic studies of injuries using a now-defunct database. Fortunately, he has uploaded a spreadsheet of his own which I will use as the basis for some of my observations about the Phillies and injuries.

As recently as 2007, during the short-lived Freddy Garcia era in Philadelphia, fans were mocking Pat Gillick and others in the front office for the epic failure of a trade with the Chicago White Sox. Not only did the Phillies trade former first-round draft pick Gavin Floyd (along with Gio Gonzalez) to acquire Garcia, but they did not require him to take and pass an MRI examination.

Why is that important?

On June 6, the Phillies were in Kansas City for an inter-league game against the Royals. Freddy Garcia started the game and was out before most fans could settle into their seats. He could only record five outs in between allowing nine base runners, six of whom scored, on seven hits and two walks. Shortly thereafter, Garcia was placed on the 60-day disabled list with labrum and rotator cuff problems which required surgery.

After the loss that night, the Phillies dropped to one game over .500 at 31-30 and appeared headed for another typical Phillies season in the 2000’s: 85+ wins but no playoffs, this time thanks to a rash of injuries. In ’07, the Phillies dealt with injuries to Garcia, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth, Jon Lieber, Tom Gordon, and Brett Myers.

How quickly things change. The Phillies, of course, would clinch the NL East division on the last day as the Mets dropped their final game at home to the Florida Marlins. The Colorado Rockies steamrolled over the Phils in the NLDS en route to a World Series appearance, but the Phillies were nonetheless rejuvenated.

In 2008, the Phillies avoided the injury bug in a magical season that culminated in the franchise’s second World Series championship and first since 1980. Perhaps the biggest factor in that was the collective avoidance of the injury bug. Seven of the eight regulars logged at least 400 at-bats, four starters started at least 30 games, and four relievers appeared in 70 or more games.

Similarly, in ’09, when the Phillies returned to the World Series but lost to the New York Yankees in six games, the team tip-toed once again around the injury bug. Seven of the eight regulars logged 500 at-bats or more this time around. The team, overall, was healthy enough to earn the Dick Martin award from Baseball Prospectus:

[…] this isn’t a fluke. The Phillies three-year and five-year averages for both days and dollars lost to the DL are among the many reasons this team is taking home the trophy this season. In just the third year after taking over from long-time trainer Jeff Cooper, Sheridan’s staff is a relatively new one, but it’s already considered one of the best in the business.

[…]

As Sean Engelhardt’s graphic so clearly shows, the Phillies are doing more than keeping players healthy—they’re saving their team and adding wins and dollars to the bottom line. In fact, for many teams, it could be the difference between making the playoffs or not.

Jeff’s spreadsheet contains the injury-related data for all 30 teams dating back eight years to 2002.  The data pertinent to the Phillies:

Team Year Salary Lost Total Salary Salary % DL Days DL trips
PHI 2002 $7,550,278 $57,954,999 0.13 441 6
PHI 2003 $2,915,917 $70,780,000 0.04 455 10
PHI 2004 $10,138,333 $92,919,167 0.11 470 11
PHI 2005 $14,868,982 $95,522,000 0.16 354 7
PHI 2006 $12,777,778 $88,273,333 0.15 569 8
PHI 2007 $19,693,256 $89,428,213 0.22 884 15
PHI 2008 $5,859,611 $97,879,880 0.06 736 9
PHI 2009 $11,879,018 $113,004,046 0.11 570 10

Only the 2002-04 Phillies rival the 2008-09 squads in terms of injury cost relative to payroll, and those earlier teams didn’t have anywhere near the caliber of players. Considering the players the Phillies have had the last two years, it makes the feat all the more impressive.

How important is staying healthy? I used Jeff’s data to create a scatter plot comparing each team’s win total from 2002-09 with its corresponding % of salary lost to injury.

It may seem common sense, but it is also fleshed out by the data. Win totals are negatively correlated with % of salary lost to injury, or in other words: better teams stay healthy. The Phillies have done a good job of that this decade, but especially during the past two years, considering that in 2008, 6 of the 8 regulars were between 27 and 29 years old and 4 of the 6 starters were between 23 and 27 years old.

When people look back on the Phillies of the late two-aughts, many will fondly remember the power of Ryan Howard, the all-around game of Chase Utley, and Brad Lidge’s perfect season. However, what shouldn’t be forgotten is the team’s health, due in some part to luck, some part to the effort of the players to stay in good shape, and in some part to the diligence of the team’s training staff. Health has played a significant role in the recent success of the Phillies.

An example of the converse would be last year’s New York Mets. They used 29 different position players and 24 different pitchers. The ’08 Phillies used 22 and 18 respectively; the ’09 Phillies used 19 and 22 respectively.

Jamie Moyer, Brad Lidge, and J.C. Romero have each had surgery during the off-season but all three figure to be ready by mid-April and healthy for the rest of the regular season, knock on wood. The 2010 Phillies can get back to the World Series for a third straight time — and become the first National League team to accomplish the feat since the 1942-44 St. Louis Cardinals — so long as their key contributors punch in their 500 at-bats, 30 starts, or 50 relief appearances.

BDD: A Theory on the Acceptance of Sabermetrics

At Baseball Daily Digest, I try to put myself in the shoes of a casual fan looking at Sabermetrics.

Despite the popular claim that you can always see something new in a baseball game, there are finite events that can occur on the baseball field. They have been neatly categorized into buckets such as safe or out; ball or strike; ground ball, fly ball, or line drive; single, double, triple, or home run; fastball, change-up, slider, and so on. That makes the data much easier to collect and analyze than in other, more prevalent areas of science. For instance, we know surprisingly little about the human body despite the incredible advancements that have been made over the years. Yet the research of neurosurgeons is never called into question by the average person, but the research of Sabermetricians is constantly taken to task. Sabermetric research has been very thorough and very convincing to many people, resulting in sea change in the philosophy found in baseball front offices.

Roy Halladay Ushers in 2010 Baseball

Spring training is finally upon us, and you know what that means: nothing. Not trying to curb your enthusiasm, but there’s not much to be gleaned from spring training performances. Still, it’s baseball and we’ve been without it for far too long — four months, not that I’ve been counting.

The Phillies hosted the New York Yankees this afternoon at Bright House Networks Field in Clearwater, Florida in the official spring training opener, a rematch of the 2009 World Series. It was sunny, about 50 degrees, and a 20 MPH wind persistently pushed balls in and towards right field.

C.C. Sabathia got the start for the Yankees and Roy Halladay took the bump for the Phillies. As a result of the starters, the Phillies rested lefties Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Raul Ibanez while the Yankees gave right-handers Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez the day off.

Halladay was flawless, pitching two perfect innings and faced one batter over the minimum as a result of an errant throw to first base by Placido Polanco. The Phillies’ new ace came out throwing strikes, as he struck out three and had his sinker in top form against the Yankees.

Kyle Kendrick followed Halladay with nearly as effective an outing, pitching two scoreless innings while only allowing one base runner and striking out one. His sinker,  like Halladay’s, was doing its job. Kendrick has become Halladay’s apprentice this spring training. In an interview with broadcasters Tom McCarthy and Gary Matthews, Kyle said he’s been striving to improve his change-up and cut fastball to supplement his two-seam fastball and there’s no better right-hander in the league to ask about two-seamers and cutters than Roy Halladay.

Jose Contreras took over in the fifth inning. He didn’t look as sharp as his predecessors Halladay and Kendrick, but he had good command of his curve ball and used it to notch three strikeouts in two innings of work. He did allow two hits but otherwise held the Yankees in check.

Andrew Carpenter got his two innings of work in the seventh and eighth innings. He worked the outside corner successfully to punch out two batters and allowed only one hit.

Sergio Escalona took the hill in the ninth with the Phillies staked to a 1-0 lead, but a couple of seeing-eye singles, a hard-hit single up the middle, and a high-chopper down the first base line with incredible spin allowed the Yankees to take the lead with two runs in the ninth. Escalona’s line looks bad — four hits and two runs in an inning of work — but he did not pitch poorly.

Overall, Phillies pitchers allowed two runs on eight hits in nine innings of work, but they struck out ten, did not walk a batter, and did not allow an extra-base hit.

Some other observations from today’s spring training game:

  • Placido Polanco looked uncomfortable defensively at third base, but he still has a month to learn the ropes.
  • Loved seeing Jayson Werth work the count several times today. He drew two walks and worked a full count in his final at-bat (I think, correct me if I am wrong; MLB Gameday isn’t up so I can’t verify this).
  • Brian Bocock took some good cuts in his four at-bats. He had two hits and drove the ball up the middle consistently.
  • Freddy Galvis came in to play second base late in the game and immediately had to field a grounder to his left and make a quick throw to first base to get the out, which he did with relative ease. If he can find a way to improve his bat, I’d love to see what he can accomplish at the Major League level.
  • Andrew Carpenter, despite allowing only one base runner in his two innings, was hit hard as he missed his spot on several occasions. First day of spring training, though, so nobody — besides Roy Halladay — is going to be perfect.
  • Domonic Brown’s swing looks, at least to the naked eye, to be very similar to that of Raul Ibanez. I wonder if he’s talked with Raul at all, or if that’s just a coincidence.
  • Quintin Berry took a gamble when he scored from first on a game-tying RBI double by Paul Hoover in the ninth inning. It’s spring training, so why not gamble? However, I wasn’t able to see if the third base coach put up the stop sign and Berry ran through it, or if he was given the green light. There was only one out so I’d think that Berry would have been asked to stop at third base, but again — spring training, so you never know.

Finally, per Todd Zolecki:

The Phillies will visit to the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday at 1:05 p.m. in Dunedin, Fla, with left-hander Cole Hamels making his Grapefruit League debut. The two clubs will also play a “B” game at 10 a.m. at Bright House Field. Left-hander Jamie Moyer will start that game for the Phillies.

Yay, baseball!

Image courtesy Yahoo! Sports / Al Messerschmidt, Getty Images (Link)

Finding An Utley in A Haystack

I happened to be perusing Baseball Reference earlier. Okay, I didn’t “happen” to find myself there, as I hang around BBref like teenagers hang around convenience stores… but I came across the amateur draft in the year 2000. Why is 2000 special? Well, that was the year Chase Utley was drafted 15th overall by the Philadelphia Phillies. Utley has gone on to have a fine career, has established himself as the game’s best second baseman, and he may find himself in the Hall of Fame when all is said and done.

The glaring theme with the 2000 draft was how few of the first-rounders panned out into productive Major Leaguers. 17 of the 40 (42.5%) never reached the Majors. Of the 17, only five were still active in 2009. Eight were out of professional baseball after 2007. Four went back to independent league baseball.

Of the 23 who did reach the Majors, 17 were still active in 2009. Of those 17, only 13 were still active in the Majors last year.

14 of the 23 are pitchers, only nine of them have thrown 100 or more innings at the Major League level. Five of the 14 pitchers have compiled a negative wins above replacement (WAR) total over their careers. Six of the 14 have compiled 1 WAR or more in the span of their careers.

Nine of the 23 are position players, only four of them have compiled 1,000 or more plate appearances at the Major League level.  Five of the nine position players have compiled a negative WAR total over their careers.

Overall, this is what the draft class of eventual Major Leaguers looked like:
(click to enlarge)

Utley has compiled more WAR in his career than the #2, 3, and 4 players (Gonzalez, Wainwright, Baldelli) combined. The Phillies could just as easily have passed on Utley. The Mets, with the 16th pick after Utley was picked 15th by the Phillies, selected Billy Traber. The Pirates took Sean Burnett 19th. The Phillies could have soured on Utley’s size and then lackluster defense and taken Traber, or Burnett or Phil Dumatrait, or someone else.

Hardly any of these picks have turned out well and the biggest successes have emerged with a team other than the one that selected them. Adrian Gonzalez was drafted by the Florida Marlins but was sent to Texas in the Ugueth Urbina deal, then sent to San Diego in the Adam Eaton/Akinori Otsuka trade. Adam Wainwright was sent to St. Louis as part of an exchange that brought J.D. Drew to Atlanta.

It’s not as if the other teams don’t draft well; it’s just that 2000 was such a poor draft for just about everyone but Ed Wade and the Phillies. In 2001, Joe Mauer, Mark Prior, Gavin Floyd, Mark Teixeira, Casey Kotchman, and David Wright were all taken in the first round. In 2002, B.J. Upton, Zack Greinke, Prince Fielder, Jeff Francis, Scott Kazmir, Nick Swisher, Cole Hamels, James Loney, Denard Span, Joe Blanton, Matt Cain, John Mayberry, and Mark Teahen were selected in the first round.

Looking at the five or so Major Leaguers from the Class of 2000 who have gone on to have productive Major League careers, it is quite breathtaking that not only did the Phillies have one of the five, but the far and away best of the five in Chase Utley.

Baseball Prospectus: The Davey Lopes Effect

I have penned a guest article for Baseball Prospectus, detailing the effect Davey Lopes has had on the Phillies’ feats on the base paths.

The Phillies have won the NL East in each of the last three seasons. They won it all in 2008 and were two wins away from repeating in ’09. Aside from their ability to mash the baseball, the Phillies have been known as one of the most aggressive and efficient base-running teams in all of baseball, thanks in large part to the hiring of first base coach Davey Lopes prior to the ’07 season. It is common knowledge that Lopes, a prolific base-stealer in his playing days (557 bags in 671 attempts, 83 percent), has helped the Phillies’ baserunning by lending his wisdom to the players. For fun, we will test that theory to see how accurate it truly is.

It has been pointed out that I was too absolutist with my conclusions, and that is correct. I’m not sure if that will be edited but I wanted to point it out here anyway. At any rate, I hope you enjoy it.

More Thoughts on Trading Ryan Howard

In baseball, a five-tool player is one who excels at hitting for average, hitting for power, baserunning skills and speed, throwing ability, and fielding abilities.

Let’s play a game. You are the general manager of a Major League Baseball franchise and you are faced with the burden of choosing between Player A and Player B. You may only keep one.

  • Player A is a four-tool player who was worth between 4.5 and 5.0 WAR last year and averaged about 4.5 WAR over the past three seasons
  • Player B is a one-tool player who was worth between 4.5 and 5.0 WAR last year and averaged about 4.5 WAR over the past three seasons

The decision is obvious, right? Clearly you’d take the four-tool player. No questions asked. When one (or even two) of Player A’s tools aren’t useful, he can still rely on his other tools to contribute to the team. When Player B’s only tool falters, he becomes a detriment to his team.

Time to attach names to the faces. Player A is Jayson Werth, who I think we can all agree is a four-tool player (power, base running, throwing, fielding). Player B is Ryan Howard, who I think we can all agree is a one-tool player (power). In case you’re not convinced…

  • Average (not a tool for either player), 2007-09: Werth, .276; Howard, .266
  • Power (SLG), 2007-09: Werth, .494; Howard, .565
  • Base running (EQBRR), 2007-09: Werth, 8.7; Howard, -11.9
  • Throwing: Can’t really compare an outfielder’s arm to a first baseman’s but I don’t think anyone will disagree with the statement that Jayson Werth has a great arm and Ryan Howard does not. Howard has committed 20 throwing errors as a first baseman in his career; Werth has never committed a throwing error as an outfielder, and he has accrued 29 assists.
  • Fielding (UZR/150), 2007, ’08, and ’09: Werth (as OF), 35.3+35.3+3.4; Howard, 0.4+2.4+1.2

I recently suggested that, after the 2010 season, the Phillies should trade Howard to create enough payroll space to sign Werth to a contract extension. If you take the time to peruse the comments left on the article, you can see that a lot of fans balked at the suggestion. Both Werth and Howard were worth about the same in terms of Wins Above Replacement (WAR) last year; Werth has had the higher WAR average from 2007-09. And Werth, of course, is a much more versatile player. That’s not to say that Werth is the more valuable player, but that his value is spread out into more areas which in itself has value.

Both players bring with them some concerns. With Werth, the question is whether or not he can sustain his recent level of production going forward. Personally, I think you can set your watch to Jayson as he has finished each of the past three seasons with an OPS between .861 and .879. Others are worried about the wrist issue that plagued him prior to his time with the Phillies but that has not come back on the radar at any time in the past three years.

As for Howard, those of us who use statistics have compared him to past sluggers who did not age gracefully. In his age 26 and 27 seasons, Baseball Reference thinks his closest comparison is Norm Cash, which is not an upsetting comparison — he was a very productive hitter. However, Howard is compared to Cecil Fielder in his age 28 season. Fielder flamed out in 1997 at age 33 and was out of baseball entirely one year later. Richie Sexson is Howard’s best comparison for his age 29 season. Sexson hit the skids in 2007 in his age 32 season and was out of baseball entirely one year later.

A lot of casual baseball fans are skeptical of these comparisons and the raised eyebrows are not unwarranted. I cannot think of many baseball players who really fit the Ryan Howard mold, and those I can think of are Hall of Famers like Willie Stargell and Willie McCovey. There is a lot of bias in there, though, as I will be primarily reminded of players who made a positive impact (for instance, try to remember anything former Phillie Dave Doster has ever done on a baseball diamond), and my Phillies fandom also biases my perception. Still, I think Stargell and McCovey are better comparisons than Fielder and Sexson.

In addition to the unpredictable aging process, Howard has performed gradually worse against left-handed pitchers and he’s been seeing them gradually more — a bad trend:

  • 2006: 225 PA vs LHP, .923 OPS
  • 2007: 246 PA vs LHP, .826 OPS
  • 2008: 265 PA vs LHP, .746 OPS
  • 2009: 252 PA vs LHP, .653 OPS

Howard’s walk rate has also decreased from 16.5% in 2007 to 11.6% in ’08 to 10.7% in ’09.

So, both players have some question marks going forward and they are questions that the Phillies’ front office will have to answer when deciding to keep both, neither, or one of the two players. Personally, if I have the opportunity to clear a large amount of payroll space, re-sign a similarly-valuable but more versatile player, and acquire Major League talent and/or prospects by trading Ryan Howard (who is owed $20 million in 2011), I’m going to do it in a heartbeat.

As for moving Utley to first, a few commenters have come up with alternatives that still involve trading Howard. Instead of shifting Utley to first base, Raul Ibanez would instead move from left field and Domonic Brown would take his place. Ibanez is a free agent after 2011 though, so the Phillies would have to either shift another player to first base or sign a slugger via free agency. I actually like this idea better than the one I originally proposed especially due to its Occam’s Razor nature.

I know fans wanted — and still want — Ruben Amaro to pull out all the stops and go for another World Series in 2010, the future of the franchise be damned, but I imagine most would opt for a much more conservative strategy if they were responsible for balancing the ledger. Amaro’s job is not just to put together a competitive roster in 2010, but ensure that he and his successors are able to do so down the road as well. Ultimately, trading Ryan Howard may chip away a percentage point or two in terms of probability of winning it all in 2011, but it makes future Phillies teams much more likely to have that same shot down the road. Losing Jayson Werth after 2010 and Howard after ’11 is simply not worth gunning for another championship.

To put it simply: keeping Howard until he leaves via free agency — resulting in Werth leaving after 2010 to free agency — is gambling. The “keep Howard” strategy mortgages future assets in attempt to increase present assets. It’s not a good strategy because baseball’s post-season is a crapshoot. The team with the best record in the Majors has won the World Series just twice in the 2000’s: the ’09 Yankees and the ’07 Red Sox. Since the inception of the wild card in 1995, the World Series has been won by a wild card winner four times: the ’04 Red Sox, ’03 Marlins, ’02 Angels, and ’97 Marlins. Having the best team does not ensure anything in the post-season.

Successful gamblers know when to stop rolling the dice. That time would be after the 2010 season when Ryan Howard’s trade value will be at its highest (assuming he has a typical Ryan Howard year) and the Phillies can wait no longer to retain Jayson Werth.