Jamie Moyer’s Playing Career Likely Over

MLB Trade Rumors reports, via Dionisio Soldevila’s Twitter, that free agent left-hander Jamie Moyer injured his elbow during his latest outing in the Dominican winter league. It is the same elbow that forced him onto the disabled list in late July and means that, barring a miracle, Moyer’s playing career is over.

Moyer finishes his career as one of baseball’s most unique pitchers, having been a reliable hurler deep into his 40’s. He is the only pitcher in baseball history to strike out at least eight hitters in a game at age 47 or older. Moyer also became the oldest pitcher to throw a complete game shut-out:

Player Age Date Tm Opp Rslt
Jamie Moyer 47.170 2010-05-07 PHI ATL W 7-0
Phil Niekro 46.188 1985-10-06 NYY TOR W 8-0
Charlie Hough 46.160 1994-06-14 FLA STL W 7-0
Satchel Paige 46.075 1952-09-20 (2) SLB CHW W 4-0
Satchel Paige 46.030 1952-08-06 SLB DET W 1-0
Jack Quinn 45.076 1928-09-15 PHA CLE W 5-0
Jack Quinn 45.040 1928-08-10 PHA WSH W 8-0
Phil Niekro 45.023 1984-04-24 NYY KCR W 4-0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/7/2010.

Unlike many players even in their late 30’s, Moyer was remarkably effective and reliable as he aged. He made at least 32 starts in each of his age 40-45 seasons and would have done so in 2009 had he not been moved to the bullpen. Rounding up, Moyer averaged fewer than six innings only once in his 40’s (2009). In 2008, Moyer joined Phil Niekro and Charlie Hough as pitchers 45 or older who posted an adjusted ERA of 100 or better.

Player ERA+ Year Age Tm
Phil Niekro 123 1984 45 NYY
Jamie Moyer 118 2008 45 PHI
Charlie Hough 101 1993 45 FLA
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/7/2010.

Moyer’s most important contributions to the Phillies may not have come on the mound, however. Since he was sent to Philadelphia from Seattle, the crafty lefty made a habit of seeking out the young pitchers in the clubhouse and offering to talk shop. He was integral in Cole Hamels‘ progression, as noted by Jerry Crasnick:

When he dispenses advice, it’s more big-picture than baseball specific. “Keep your mouth closed and your ears and eyes open,” Moyer might say. Or he’ll discuss the importance of preparation. “The one day you slack off or fail to work hard, it becomes easier to slack off the next day,” Moyer tells Hamels.

When the two left-handers play catch, Moyer makes it a point to hold his glove across his body, because that forces Hamels to stretch his arm and get extra extension on his throws. It’s the kind of small, subtle detail that fosters good habits over time.

When Moyer hit the DL earlier this year, Hamels told reporters that the old man was a mentor not just to him, but to everybody on the pitching staff.

Even Raul Ibanez called Moyer a mentor:

Moyer, whom Ibanez calls a mentor and was one of the first people he called when considering signing with the Phillies last winter, sounds less like a teammate and more like a father listing criteria for his daughter’s suitors when he recalls what he liked about the young player.

“He was respectful, humble, even-keeled, responsible, hardworking,” Moyer says.

Moyer was, some might say, the Phillies’ second pitching coach after Rich Dubee. Many think he’ll be welcomed with open arms into coaching or managing once he officially calls it quits. It seems like a natural transition after defying the odds until he was nearly 50 years old.

Although he was not expected to be a part of the 2011 Phillies squad, Moyer earned millions of new fans in Philadelphia with his yeoman’s work ethic and community outreach. Whatever he decides to do now that his playing career is over, whether it’s coaching or continuing his charitable efforts, he will be remembered as one of baseball’s all-time great competitors and as an all-around great person.

Dom Brown’s Plate Discipline Against Southpaws

In yesterday’s post, we discussed Domonic Brown and why he should get regular playing time in 2011, rather than platoon with a right-handed hitter. The idea of platooning Brown stems from reliance on a small sample of chances against left-handed pitchers in which he struggled. In total, Brown faced lefties 14 times and saw 56 pitches — essentially four games’ worth of data.

His .069 wOBA against lefties was not impressive in the least, but you can chalk that up to small sample variance and an adjustment period between Triple-A Lehigh Valley and the Major Leagues. The left-handers in the Majors are significantly tougher to hit than those in the Minors.

Furthermore, as noted yesterday, Brown had a history of hitting well against lefties in the Minors.

Matt Gelb reported, as of his writing in late July, Brown had been hitting .318 against southpaws with Triple-A Lehigh Valley prior to his promotion. Bill Root made a similar observation for SI.com, saying, “Impressively, the left-handed power hitter has hit left-handed pitching at a .282 clip in his career; his ability to hit southpaws will only accelerate his learning curve in the majors.”

I went to look at some of those pretty heat maps from Baseball Anlaytics and I left feeling confident about Brown’s ability to progress.

As the top prospect in the Phillies’ organization, Brown was heralded for his elite plate discipline. Dave Huppert, manager of the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, said:

I am most impressed with his plate discipline and how he can cut down on his swing with two strikes.

In his Minor League career, he drew walks at a 10.5 percent clip, which is good for a Major Leaguer let alone a prospect. Plate discipline entails not only laying off unfavorable pitches, but swinging mostly at the favorable ones as well. The following heat map shows that Brown had a great idea of the strike zone, even against left-handers.

Almost all of the red is in the strike zone, and the blips outside are extremely small samples — individual pitches. The heat map above includes all pitches.

Against hard stuff Brown is almost exclusively in the strike zone.

By process of elimination, you can deduce where Brown swung at the soft stuff, but just for sake of completion:

Against soft stuff, Brown stayed mostly within the strike zone.  The two pitches inside — one by his ankles, one by his belt — are change-ups. The three pitches outside include two sliders and one curve.

Even with two strikes, Brown didn’t go out of his way to swing. Against all pitches with two strikes:

This approach is impressive for any player, let alone a young player with just 70 Major League plate appearances. Brown is already ahead of many of his hitting peers in terms of simply handling same-handed pitching. There is no reason to retard that progress by putting him in a platoon.

Dom Brown Needs 600 PA in 2011

As Phillies fans brace for the loss of right fielder Jayson Werth, they look towards a bright future that includes phenom prospect Domonic Brown. Brown was not impressive in his 35 games at the Major League level, finishing with a triple-slash line of .210/.257/.355. Even worse was his performance against left-handed pitching: .077/.071/.077 in 14 plate appearances.

Brown’s struggles can be blamed partially on his irregular playing time in August and September. He battled a quadriceps injury as well as reduced playing time, since Charlie Manuel refused to cut into 38-year-old Raul Ibanez‘s time on the field.

With the off-season bringing a flurry of rumors, many fans are speculating on platoon partners for Brown in 2011. SI.com‘s Jon Heyman writes that the Phillies have interest in re-acquiring San Francisco Giants outfielder Aaron Rowand or signing free agent Magglio Ordonez. David Murphy notes that Jeff Francoeur and Matt Diaz are lesser-known, cheaper options to join Brown in a platoon.

It seems like the platoon is a foregone conclusion. Why platoon Brown, the only prospect the Phillies have guarded, in his first full season in the big leagues? Why stifle his development? Why try to fix something that isn’t broken? Matt Gelb reported, as of his writing in late July, Brown had been hitting .318 against southpaws with Triple-A Lehigh Valley prior to his promotion. Bill Root made a similar observation for SI.com, saying, “Impressively, the left-handed power hitter has hit left-handed pitching at a .282 clip in his career; his ability to hit southpaws will only accelerate his learning curve in the majors.”

Why not platoon Ibanez, who has an OPS 90 points lower against southpaws than against right-handed pitching in his long career? Ibanez is older, much worse defensively, and has less to offer with his bat.

Another foregone conclusion seems to be that the platoon partner will come from outside the organization. Cash-strapped as it is, it would make more sense for the team to use Ben Francisco — who will likely be awarded less than $1 million in arbitration — in a platoon. Francisco has a career .350 wOBA against left-handers compared to Ibanez’s .330.

Platooning Ibanez and Francisco in left field allows Brown to rack up north of 600 plate appearances in 2011, which is exactly what he needs to develop into an elite Major Leaguer. By sheltering young players from environments in which they struggle, the problem is only exacerbated. Brown will never learn how to hit Major League lefties unless he is exposed to them. Sure, he may struggle, but this is the route the Phillies chose to take by coveting him as a prospect and being unable to budget in a new contract for Werth.

How Do You Replace Davey Lopes?

The Phillies and first base coach Davey Lopes were unable to come to an agreement on a salary, meaning that the base running guru will not return to the team for the 2011 season. Jim Salisbury reports:

“We just had a difference of opinion on what I felt my worth was,” Lopes said by telephone. “That’s all. It was a really tough decision because I loved my time in Philadelphia, I loved working for [manager] Charlie Manuel, and I have the utmost respect for everyone in that organization.

Already expected to lose right fielder Jayson Werth to free agency, the departure of Lopes will sting the Phillies.

Just how big of an impact did Lopes have? I tried to come up with an answer in a 2010 season preview at The Hardball Times, posted at the end of March.

With first base coach Davey Lopes, the Phillies’ base runners have been historically great. In 2007, Lopes’ first year on the job, the Phillies stole bases at an 88 percent success rate, setting an all-time Major League record. In ’08 and ’09, their success rates were 84 percent and 81 percent, respectively. From 2007-09, the Phillies were the most efficient baseball team in terms of stealing bases.

image

The team has also become more aggressive under Lopes. In the three years prior to his hiring, 2004-06, the Phillies were just in the top half to top one-third in the majors in terms of base-stealing aggressiveness (attempts to steal). With Lopes, from ’07-09, the Phillies have been in the top one-fourth to one-sixth.

image

While it is obvious that Lopes has made his runners attempt to steal second more often, he has also done the same at third base. Phillies runners have become more aggressive trying to steal third base.

image

It isn’t just blind aggression, either. From 2007-09, the Phillies successfully stole third base 85 percent, 89 percent, and 72 percent respectively, well above the 75 percent break-even point in two out of the three years.

Despite a rash of injuries this year, the Phillies still managed to place fourth in the National League in total steals with 108 (league average was 91) and continued to set the pace in efficiency with an 84 percent success rate.

It is commonly accepted that first and third base coaches are easily replaced, and for the most part they are. But Lopes was given a much larger-than-average amount of autonomy by Charlie Manuel, allowing him to leave his unique footprint on the team’s running game.

While in the Minor Leagues, Jimmy Rollins stole bases at a 76 percent rate. In his Major League career prior to Lopes, he stole bases at an 80 percent clip. Under Lopes, that success rate went all the way up to 88 percent. For Victorino, those rates were 72, 69, and 82 percent respectively (though, to be fair, the latter includes all of his time as a regular position player). For Utley, his success rates were 70, 82, and 92 percent. Jayson Werth‘s rates were, 81, 85, and 88 percent. In all cases, the Phillies’ four best base-stealers all improved under Lopes’ tutelage.

Sadly, there is no replacing the wisdom of Davey Lopes and the Phillies’ running game will suffer because of it.

If the disagreement in salary is over something relatively small like $50,000, the Phillies made a mistake in not relenting. Cutting Lopes loose over a relatively small amount of money is an error in judgment.

In Which Rational Philadelphians Headdesk

It’s Chase Utley overkill here at Crashburn Alley. But the “Utley sucks” meme has continued to spread and it must be stopped. Jack McCaffery shot the most recent salvo of stupid, titling his article “It’s time for Phillies to move Chase Utley to the outfield”. Take a minute to let that soak in. Really immerse yourself in the aura of that statement; respect the courage it took to actually send that to his editor; respect his editor for not returning the file back to McCaffery with “LOL” next to it.

I’m worried about beating a dead horse, as Utley has been covered fairly substantially here since the Phillies were eliminated from the playoffs. However, Twitter seemed to be in agreement that this article needed a good fisking, so here we are. You know the drill: his statements will be posted in bold; mine will follow in normal typeface.

Chase Utley has been haunted by one injury after the next.

In an article that will very clearly disparage Utley, this statement implies that the injuries indicate a flaw — something that is Utley’s fault. Utley landed on the 15-day disabled list twice in his career (broken hand in 2007, torn thumb ligament earlier this season). He’s never been on the 60-day DL. Since 2004, he’s missed a total of eight days for “day-to-day” woes.

I don’t think there’s any question that Utley plays hurt a lot, but he is not a medical case fit for an episode of House.

His defense at second base has gone from acceptable to poor.

Yes, if by “acceptable to poor” McCaffery means “elite to elite”. As this article detailed, there has been no better defensive second baseman in baseball since 2005 than Utley.

Even if you are skeptical of UZR, you can’t deny that ALL reliable defensive metrics are in agreement that Utley plays a mean second base. As mentioned in this article:

[Utley] is second to Mark Ellis in Revised Zone Rating (RZR) .862 to .842, has made the most Out Of Zone plays (OOZ) with 137, and racked up the most Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), nearly doubling the second-highest total of Ellis, 60 to 33.

And no, errors are not reliable. Oftentimes, defenders who have more range make more errors. If I play second base, my range is going to be super small because I’m unathletic and thus I will get to fewer balls. Therefore, I will have substantially fewer opportunities to make errors than someone like Utley. Utley has tremendous range. In terms of runs over the past three seasons, Utley leads all qualified second basemen with over 39 range runs. The runners-up are Mark Ellis and Brandon Phillips with 15.4 range runs.

His offensive production is deteriorating at troubling speed.

This “deterioration” has come at “troubling speed”? McCaffery’s next thesis: “Day turns into night way too fast”.

Despite his injury, Utley still finished the 2010 season tied in wOBA with Hanley Ramirez and Joe Mauer at .373. That’s pretty good company, no?

So exactly what was so outrageous again about the notion of moving Utley to the outfield earlier in his career?

1. He’s super good defensively at second base.

2. The Phillies had/have a glut of outfielders, including a top prospect in Domonic Brown they had sitting on the bench for two months last season because they had nowhere to put him.

3. Moving Utley to the outfield cuts into his value, much like moving Joe Mauer to first base. In calculating WAR, a second baseman is credited one-fourth of a win while a corner outfielder is debited three-fourth’s of a win, for a total of one full win.

Loosely based on the Alfonso Soriano-Robin Yount model, the idea was to provide full protection of Utley as a power hitter by minimizing his inning-to-inning physical stress.

Clearly, Utley wears down as the season progresses from his balls-to-the-wall style of play. The solution isn’t panicking and moving Utley to a corner outfield position; it’s giving him more days off during the season.

And even if his injury history cannot be directly linked to where he plays on defense, heightened physical wear is an accepted cost of middle-infield work.

Said another way, “And even if the facts go against my argument, I am going to restate my argument emphatically nevertheless.”

Now, McCaffery just randomly veers off into a tangent about Cliff Lee. How it’s related to Utley is not clear.

Here’s the deal, take it or leave it. This will be the last blast of the Cliff Lee trade. The topic may arise again in context, but this will be the last 15-yard-penalty pile-on.

Nonetheless, here it comes: From the moment that disaster struck the Phillies, the apologists hid behind one hope. None of it will matter, they kept saying, if the Phillies go to or win the World Series. Well, the Phillies didn’t do any of the above, and instead watched Joe Blanton go less than five innings of a pivotal NLCS loss.

Joe Blanton would have started Game Four of the NLCS even if the Phillies had kept Lee. If the Phillies went into the season with a rotation of Roy Halladay, Lee, and Cole Hamels, then GM Ruben Amaro never trades for Roy Oswalt.

By the way:

  • Oswalt, 2010 regular season: 2.76 ERA
  • Lee, 2010 regular season: 3.18 ERA
  • Oswalt, 2010 playoffs: 2.75 ERA (2.37 excluding his stint as a reliever in the NLCS)
  • Lee, 2010 playoffs: 2.51 ERA

If a World Series was supposed to make people forget Lee, then the lack of a World Series by rule had to supply the opposite effect.

People forgetting about Lee isn’t relevant. What is relevant is whether the trade was the correct move at the time. Many people have strong opinions veering on both sides, but a fair decision can’t be reached until we see the fates of the prospects (Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies, and J.C. Ramirez).

Although the prospects didn’t appear to pan out in 2010, they still have plenty of room to grow. And at the very least, the Phillies ended up getting a half-season out of a very good starter in Oswalt, who is under contract for at least one more season for $9 million. If the Phillies think he’s worth it in 2012, they have a $16 million club option they can pick up, or buy him out for $2 million.

What would have happened is the Phillies would have either felt too out of the picture and traded Lee at the trading deadline, or they would have let him walk in free agency as a Type A free agent and recouped one first round draft pick. For an easy comparison, here’s what the Phillies have and would have had in each scenario following the 2010 season:

  • Kept Lee: Halladay-Hamels-Blanton-?-? rotation in 2011; one compensatory pick (likely at the end of the first round, negating its value immensely)
  • Traded Lee: Halladay-Oswalt-Hamels-Blanton-? rotation in 2011; Oswalt under contract for a cheap price well below market value; Aumont, Gillies, and Ramirez; one compensatory pick when Oswalt walks after the 2011 or ’12 season

I don’t think you can make an argument that Lee would have been significantly better than Oswalt and kept the Phillies alive in the post-season. There’s the whole chaos theory thing, but also that Oswalt pitched just as well and arguably better both in the regular season and in the post-season.

It’s just one more reason why trading the dominant left-handed pitcher of his time for three minor-league nobodies is the worst big-league sports trade in Philadelphia history.

What a gross exaggeration.

  • January 27, 1982: Ryne Sandberg traded by the Philadelphia Phillies with Larry Bowa to the Chicago Cubs for Ivan De Jesus. As a Cub, Sandberg compiled nearly 58 WAR in a Hall of Fame career. In three seasons with the Phillies, de Jesus put up 2.7 WAR.
  • July 30, 2006: Traded by the Philadelphia Phillies with Cory Lidle to the New York Yankees for C.J. Henry (minors), Jesus Sanchez (minors), Carlos Monasterios and Matt Smith. Henry was a bust. Sanchez put up decent numbers last year in Clearwater. Monasterios is now a Dodger, having done nothing as a prospect in the Phillies’ system. Smith was a decent LOOGY for nine innings in 2006 but hasn’t been in professional baseball since 2008. Abreu, meanwhile, was worth 17.3 WAR since departing from Philadelphia. Yes, the trade was a salary dump more than anything, but it still is one of the most damaging trades in Phillies history.

You can add the Curt Schilling, Scott Rolen, and Ferguson Jenkins trades in there as well. The Lee trade is easily defensible and comes nowhere near the “worst big-league sports trade in Philadelphia history”. But whatever helps you sell newspapers, Jack.

Now, Lee rant aside, McCaffery spent a lot of time at the beginning of his column whining about Utley’s injuries, hypothesizing ways to cure his ailments. McCaffery wraps up his article contradicting everything he said.

Somehow, Brett Favre ignored a severe ankle injury and started his 292nd consecutive game Sunday. He’s 41.

So what does that say? It says that too many other pro (and college) athletes miss too much time with similar injuries because they’d rather be babied, talked about and massaged. That’s what.

Wouldn’t moving Utley to the outfield because of his injuries fall under the “babied” and “massaged” categories?

Furthermore, playing while hurt is exactly why Utley appears to have hurt the Phillies this year. There’s something to be said for machismo and pain tolerance, but to a point. Playing while hurt to the detriment of a team is dumb and the problem shouldn’t be exacerbated by sportswriters looking to place athletes in neat groups, like “babied” and “gritty”.

I would prefer Utley to admit when he’s not feeling 100%. I would prefer Charlie Manuel to recognize this even if Utley doesn’t say anything, and to give Utley more regular days off during the season. I would prefer that Ruben Amaro mandate extra days off for Utley. And I would prefer the media not to pat athletes on their (aching, sore) backs for refusing to take days off. I would appreciate it even more if those same sportswriters wouldn’t place those athletes in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t so long as the team doesn’t win a championship” quandary.

Chase Utley and Accountability

Chase Utley has been the subject of many discussions lately, including two posts here and a Marcus Hayes tangent in an online live chat for the Philadelphia Daily News. Among Hayes’ many criticisms of Utley, he called the second baseman “seldom accountable” and then “condescending and rarely accountable”, adding that he “hides from criticism”.

It wasn’t something that I felt worthy of even a snarky remark, as I felt it was simply an irate journalist trying to sully the good name of an athlete who wasn’t making his job easy. And that was probably the case and it is the case a lot of the time.

However, David Hale wrote a fair assessment of Utley’s accountability to the media and to the fans. I urge you to read it.

What stood out to me:

During my 14 weeks on the beat, I covered about 60 games. I would estimate that Utley made himself available to the media after about five of those games. When he does talk, he says nothing. He is vague and unresponsive to even direct, legitimate questions. He doesn’t necessarily lie, but he certainly glosses over significant parts of the truth at times.

[…]

We asked Charlie throughout the postseason about Utley’s health, and Manuel’s only response was, “He tells me he’s healthy.” Not that Utley would ever say anything different.

And this is where Utley’s lack of accountability with the fans hurts him. He came back from a serious injury to his hand, one that directly impacted his swing, two weeks early. He never quite looked right at the plate after that. But he also would never let on that his hand was still hurting or that he was having trouble recovering and getting his timing and strength back.

While none of the above should surprise you, it should help you understand the writers more when they bring this stuff up.

Still, is it relevant or newsworthy? It was Utley’s quiet demeanor and play-through-everything mindset that endeared him to fans and the writers in the first place. It seems awfully convenient that, following a disappointing showing in the post-season (and a disappointing regular season), that these qualities are now detriments. Why, when the Phillies won it all in 2008, did the writers never complain about Utley not talking? When Utley hit five home runs in last year’s World Series against the New York Yankees, how come no one questioned his accountability then? Even during his injury-riddled 2010 regular season, no one spoke ill of Utley.

But once the Phillies were out of the playoffs, Utley became a huge problem.

People need a scapegoat for losing. The writers went to Ryan Howard first, for having no post-season RBI and for taking that called strike three to end the NLCS, but stopped upon realizing he was one of the better performers in the post-season. Placido Polanco? The expectations aren’t high enough. Shane Victorino? Same thing. Carlos Ruiz? Fan favorite and he was never supposed to be relied on for offense anyway. And he called Roy Halladay‘s no-hitter. Raul Ibanez is old and overpaid and everybody realizes it. Jayson Werth was awesome. Bench guys were irrelevant.

By process of elimination, Utley was made the scapegoat. His lackluster post-season wasn’t enough to send him to the gallows, though, so that’s where all of these extraneous details come into play. Utley becomes the tragic hero so the Phillies’ 2010 eulogy has an interesting hook, and so that writers have intriguing stories to help sell newspapers, increase listener- and viewership, and attract page views. The flaying of Chase Utley has little to do with his individual performance and personality traits, and a lot to do with his team’s overall finish. Had the Phillies won it all, Utley’s muted personality would instead have been described as “quiet leadership” or that he was “leading by example”.

In science, it is considered bad form to make a conclusion, then go back and do research and run tests to bolster that conclusion. It should be considered — and I would argue is — considered bad form in writing to have two different storylines mapped out for the same result.

Shane Victorino’s Platoon Splits

In his five years as an everyday player for the Phillies, Shane Victorino has been an enigma. Despite some questionable plate discipline, he’s been a productive hitter. Despite some circuitous routes to fly balls, he’s played above-average defense in the outfield. Despite a career 45-point platoon split (in wOBA), he’s a switch-hitter. Despite being universally hated by fans of baseball’s other 29 teams, he is well-liked by Phillies fans.

Try and figure out Victorino and you’ll be left scratching your head.

There is, however, one group of people that have figured him out. As mentioned, Victorino has a drastic platoon split. Against right-handed pitching over the course of his career, he hit for a .323 wOBA, which is about average. Against left-handers, his career wOBA jumps to .367. By comparison, Ryan Howard finished the 2010 season with a .367 wOBA while Placido Polanco sat at .323. Against LH, Victorino hits like Howard; against RH, he is as impotent as Polanco.

A graphical look at Victorino’s performance by year:

Using the Baseball Analytics database, I found out why there is such a large gap in performance. The heat maps tell the story.

Against left-handers, Victorino has no problem hitting hard and soft stuff alike.

vs. LHP, hard stuff

vs. LHP, soft stuff

When Victorino faces right-handers, however, his performance drops significantly when facing softer stuff.

vs. RHP, hard stuff

vs. RHP, soft stuff

Victorino’s wOBA against soft stuff drops from the 90th percentile against left-handers to the sixth percentile against right-handers. While a lot of it is likely due to his left-handed hitting simply being weaker, right-handed pitchers also did a better job of keeping the ball low and away — a weak spot for almost all hitters.

vs. LHP, soft pitch frequency

vs. RHP, soft pitch frequency

This trend will not cease in 2011. The amount of fastballs Victorino saw dropped each season since 2007, from 67 percent to 64, 62, and finally 57 percent this past season. It would behoove Charlie Manuel to consider batting Victorino lower in the batting order against right-handed starting pitching, and perhaps bat him lead-off against left-handed starters. Victorino’s 45-point wOBA platoon split is significant, and over the course of nearly 3,000 plate appearances, it is certainly reliable information. This is information opposing teams have used and will continue to use. Barring Victorino magically learning how to hit a right-handed breaking ball, Manuel should adjust accordingly.

Phillies 2011 Job Openings

With nearly $144 million already on the books for the 2011 season, the Phillies’ off-season figures to be boring. 17 players are under contract with two others headed to their first years in arbitration (Kyle Kendrick and Ben Francisco).

A look at the “definites” currently on the 2011 roster:

Starters (8):

C: Carlos Ruiz
1B: Ryan Howard
2B: Chase Utley
3B: Placido Polanco
SS: Jimmy Rollins
LF: Raul Ibanez
CF: Shane Victorino
RF: Domonic Brown

Bench (3):

C: Brian Schneider
1B/OF: Ross Gload
OF: Ben Francisco

Starting Rotation (4):

SP: Roy Halladay
SP: Roy Oswalt
SP: Cole Hamels
SP: Joe Blanton

Bullpen (4):

CL: Brad Lidge
SU: Ryan Madson
RP: Antonio Bastardo
RP: Danys Baez

The Phillies need a bench player capable of playing the middle infield. With Greg Dobbs headed to free agency, the Phillies will also need someone who can handle third base. The fifth spot in the starting rotation is open for competition. Meanwhile, the Phillies figure to have heavy turnover in the bullpen.

Who are the likely candidates to fill the open slots?

Wilson Valdez seems like an obvious candidate to be brought back since he displayed maturity and understanding of his role on the team. It certainly helps his case that the fans grew to like him as well. Of the free agents who could fill the back-up middle infielder role, Willie Bloomquist, Adam Kennedy, and Akinori Iwamura seem like the only ones that would be willing to accept a paltry 150 AB’s. Cristian Guzman is also available but his precipitous decline since 2007 is concerning.

Among free agent third basemen who could accept a bench role with the Phillies, Melvin Mora is an intriguing option. He has been linked to the Phillies in the past in both trade and free agency rumors. His right-handedness is an appealing option since the Phillies are extremely lefty-heavy in the absence of Jayson Werth and Mike Sweeney. Garrett Atkins is a buy-low candidate but his rapidly vanishing offense is a strong deterrent along with his below-average defense at the hot corner. Atkins, though, is another name whose name has floated around in Phillies-related rumors through the years. Overall, though, the market for third baseman is thin with Adrian Beltre being the only impact player out there.

The Phillies are likely to fill their fifth spot in the rotation internally with Kyle Kendrick or Vance Worley. The organization showed depleted patience with Kendrick when he was sent down to Triple-A Lehigh Valley earlier in the season. Begrudgingly, he was quickly recalled in a hectic week that included Andrew Carpenter‘s ineffectiveness and the arrival of Roy Oswalt to Philadelphia. It is possible that the Phillies fill the #5 spot with a cheap free agent, but unlikely.

Likewise, the Phillies are probably going to round out most of the remaining bullpen spots with internal options. The team would like to have two left-handed relievers going into the season, which opens up a big opportunity for Mike Zagurski. However, there will be quite a few left-handed relief options available via free agency. Scott Downs seems to always be linked to the Phillies, but his Type A status is a huge deterrent as it means the Phillies would have to relinquish a draft pick to the Toronto Blue Jays. GM Ruben Amaro will probably sign at least one veteran left-handed arm to a Minor League contract with an invitation to spring training, simply as depth in case Zagurski has a disappointing showing in March.

Elsewhere, Scott Mathieson — who has successfully battled back from two Tommy John surgeries — finally has a legitimate shot at sticking around in the bullpen. Other candidates for bullpen jobs include David Herndon and the loser of the Kendrick/Worley battle in the starting rotation. Among the relievers from the 2010 team heading into free agency, Chad Durbin seems to be the only one with a decent chance of hanging around. However, this figures to be his last opportunity for a substantial contract, one which will not come from the Phillies.

This off-season will take the cake for the most boring in a long time. Do not expect the Phillies to make any big waves whether it’s with a signing or a trade. If placing bets, take the field for Jayson Werth and Cliff Lee. Going into spring training, the Phillies will be taking a long, hard look at their talent at the Double-A and Triple-A levels. As a result, 2011 figures to be a big year for the lower levels of the organization’s Minor League system as well, with plenty of opportunity for advancement.

One More Note on Chase Utley

So, this happened earlier today. It’s a live chat with Marcus Hayes of the Philadelphia Daily News. As I’m not a regular consumer of PDN material, I had forgotten that Hayes existed, but he put himself back on the map — not for the right reasons. Let’s highlight a few of his greatest hits from the chat:

[Comment From PhilliesPhan] Even though it will not happen phillies should consider trading Utley as he is a liability in the field and in the next 2 years he will need a new position such as first base because in the long run he will not be a second baseman. This money could be used as money to sign Werth, and maybe even trade victorino and move Werth to center and Brown to RF. [Hayes] Yes. But Utley has a [limited] no-trade [clause].

I would have gone with “No, Utley is awesome. Why would you trade him?” personally. I would have also dropped the banhammer, but that’s just me.

[Comment From Greg] What do you think about moving Utley to Left field after the ibanez deal is done? I’m worried about his Knoblauch yips. [Hayes] They tried him in the OF. He’s worse there. He’s a good first baseman, and that’s it.

I heard he’s also an elite second baseman.

[Comment From PhilliesPhan] It is funny that over the years Rollins and Howard get crucified in this city but Big Baby Utley gets nothing…… [Hayes] Yes. It is interesting. Except Utley is white. And he likes to curse in public. Imagine if Jimmy had done that?

*cough* Jayson Werth *cough* link

[Comment From Guest] the arrogance of jimmy and howard contribute to people being critical of them. they are the first to accept praise. chase does not look for attention so he does not get a lot of bad attention [Hayes] Chase hides from criticism. He hides from everything. Some leader.
[Comment From Guest] I love when journalists make claims with no proof. Offer any evidence? [Hayes] Are you blind, pal? You have two MVPs in town who get nothing but ripped. Rollins is worth more to this team hitting .250 than Utley hitting .300 with 30 dongs, simply because he can catch. And what have Howard or Rollins done that was remotely as vulgar and offensive as what Utley did after the parade? Evidence? World Bleeping Champions? Come on.

It goes on. For about five more comments or so, but I’d recommend stopping here since you’re probably hemorrhaging brain cells. Although you would miss some pretty entertaining race-baiting. Entertaining theater, for sure!

If you missed it, I wrote a lengthy defense of Utley earlier today. I thought I hit most of the important bases in terms of stats, but when I was farting around Baseball Reference’s Play Index, I came across this jaw-dropper: Since 2000, 13 Phillies have finished a season with five or more Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Chase Utley is responsible for five of them, including four of the top-five seasons.

Rk Player WAR/pos Year Age BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Chase Utley 7.7 2009 30 .282 .397 .508 .905
2 Bobby Abreu 7.1 2003 29 .300 .409 .468 .877
3 Chase Utley 6.6 2008 29 .292 .380 .535 .915
4 Chase Utley 6.6 2007 28 .332 .410 .566 .976
5 Chase Utley 6.2 2005 26 .291 .376 .540 .915
6 Jimmy Rollins 6.1 2007 28 .296 .344 .531 .875
7 Jim Thome 5.9 2003 32 .266 .385 .573 .958
8 Ryan Howard 5.8 2006 26 .313 .425 .659 1.084
9 Scott Rolen 5.8 2001 26 .289 .378 .498 .876
10 Bobby Abreu 5.8 2000 26 .316 .416 .554 .970
11 Chase Utley 5.7 2006 27 .309 .379 .527 .906
12 Jayson Werth 5.2 2010 31 .296 .388 .532 .921
13 Bobby Abreu 5.2 2002 28 .308 .413 .521 .934
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 10/26/2010.

Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard‘s MVP seasons made the list, but both finished ahead of only one of Utley’s seasons (2006).

In my article earlier today, I wrote:

I’m overreacting to one madman, but I’ve seen the way irrational sentiment can sweep through Philadelphia and it is not pretty.

I may have underestimated the power of ignorance in the mainstream media. After all, Christine O’Donnell is a legitimate candidate to hold office.

Utley is really freaking good at baseball. To say otherwise is to deny a basic truth, like saying that grass is not green and that the sky is not blue.

Chase Utley: Public Enemy Number One

For a long time, Chase Utley has been beloved in Philadelphia. Although he’s not much of a talker, he’s had quite a few iconic moments as a Phillie for what he’s said and done, baseball talent aside. Remember the 2008 All-Star Game where he was booed by New York fans? Or his great speech in Citizens Bank Park during the team’s victory parade? Utley may have been Harry Kalas’ favorite player this side of Michael Jack Schmidt, once exclaimingChase Utley, you are the man!” when he scored on an infield single. How about Utley’s historically great defensive play to nail Jason Bartlett at home plate in Game 5 of the ’08 World Series? Or his flipping the ball back with understated attitude, causing the benches to clear, after Jonathan Sanchez hit him with a pitch in Game Six of the NLCS?

Let Mac from the TV show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia sum up the love for Utley:

Unfortunately, the Phillies lost the NLCS to the Giants in six games, thanks in part to Utley’s .182/.333/.227 triple-slash line and multiple defensive miscues. Combine that with a career-low offensive output in the regular season which included a thumb injury that caused him to spend 49 days on the disabled list, the love for Utley is starting to dissipate.

The recency effect and Utley’s understated personality are causing people to forget about his elite production both offensively and defensively. Earlier this year, I made the case that Utley is, by far, the best defensive second baseman in baseball. Even factoring in his poor defensive showing in the post-season, I stand by that.

The various Sabermetric defensive stats tend to disagree with each other much more frequently than their offensive counterparts, but the one thing they do agree on is that Utley is an elite defender. Over the last three seasons, no one has a higher UZR/150 than Utley. He is second to Mark Ellis in Revised Zone Rating (RZR) .862 to .842, has made the most Out Of Zone plays (OOZ) with 137, and racked up the most Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), nearly doubling the second-highest total of Ellis, 60 to 33.

Offensively, over the past three seasons, Utley has the highest wOBA at .391, 18 points ahead of runner-up Dustin Pedroia. He has the third-highest speed score at 6.0, trailing Ian Kinsler and Brian Roberts.

Despite Utley’s place atop baseball as the best second baseman and arguably the second-most valuable player at any position, he is being bandied about in trade rumors. His down year in 2010 is being used as evidence of decline, the small sample of at-bats and defensive opportunities in the post-season as reason for the Phillies to shake things up, change the culture, and get back to the organization’s winning ways.

Leading the charge is radio host Mike Missanelli of 97.5 The Fanatic. You may remember Missanelli from his shouting match with Keith Law when the two were debating the merits of the large Ryan Howard contract extension. While I’m confident that he was trying to drive up the station’s listenership based on his previous actions and his reputation, his words do have a ripple effect in the baseball community. Some people actually view him as an authority in baseball analysis and will take his thoughts seriously.

I want to stifle the “trade Utley” crowd before it ever becomes a crowd. I’m overreacting to one madman, but I’ve seen the way irrational sentiment can sweep through Philadelphia and it is not pretty. It is ludicrous to consider trading Utley for a multitude of reasons, just as it was ludicrous to hand Howard a $125 million contract extension. As mentioned above, Utley is a rare breed of player, arguably the second-most valuable player in baseball. If Utley’s gone, who replaces him? Do you move Placido Polanco to second and sign a free agent third baseman like Adrian Beltre?

The Phillies have Utley under contract for three more years at $15 million apiece, decidedly below market value. Polanco will be in town for two more seasons and possibly a third if the Phillies are content with his level of production at the time. How much would it take to sign Beltre? Multiple years, and considering the type of season he had with the Boston Red Sox in 2010, the Phillies should probably expect to shell out upwards of $30 million. And that’s assuming that the Phillies can sign Beltre — they’ll have competition for the third baseman’s services, of course.

Additionally, the Phillies would be buying high on Beltre and selling low on Utley, two things that should be avoided in any walk of life. It would make more sense to trade Utley after, say, his 2008 season when he had a .915 OPS and had won a World Series. While Utley’s actual value may not have been drastically different, the perception of his value would have been. How much value would the Phillies be able to get out of Utley following a career-worst offensive season in which he was injured and ineffective in the post-season? And from whom could they get that value? While any team should jump at the chance to acquire Utley, the remaining $45 million on his contract is a burden on some teams, thus reducing his trade value even further. Other teams already have second basemen, and other teams consider themselves too out-of-the-picture to jump in the conversation.

Are the Phillies going to trade Utley? No. Absolutely not. But this wasn’t a response to the possibility of the trade, but to the environment that allows these ridiculous rumors to propagate. Philadelphia has run some athletes out of town and scared off potential free agent signings (Yankees fans may prevent a Cliff Lee signing, by the way). During the depression circa 1995-2002, that was somewhat understandable. On the heels of four consecutive NL East titles and one world championship, there is no need to be so irrational and reactionary.

The Phillies, and Chase, are fine.