BDD: Managers of the Year

At Baseball Daily Digest, I make my selections for AL and NL Manager of the Year.

One of the current projects of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance is award balloting, done in a style similar to that of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Every “area” will have votes cast by its blogger representatives. From the Philadelphia region, myself and the crew at Fire Eric Bruntlett will be voting on all of the awards. Regions with more representatives will have the votes split up, with some voting for MVP, others for Cy Young, and so on. It’s a great and intriguing project, so make sure to stop by the BBA website for the final tallies.

NLDS Game 3 Postponed

From the Phillies website:

Snow began falling Friday night in the Denver metro area as the temperature dropped to 17 degrees in the Mile High City overnight, breaking the record low of 25 for the date, set in 1905. Coors Field was blanketed in snow by Saturday morning, and the white stuff was expected to keep coming down into the day, predicted to dissipate by the 7:37 p.m. game time. Since Coors Field is the only field in the Majors with an underground heating system, the snow might have been cleared away.

The cold is another matter, though.

Denver awoke to icy roads, multitudes of accidents on the highways and snow all around, with the updated forecast for the scheduled 7:37 p.m. game time calling for a temperature of 26 degrees — which would have been by far the lowest for a postseason game in history.

Due to the extra day of rest, Charlie Manuel switched his Game 3 starter. Initially, it was Pedro Martinez because, in Game 2, he used starter Joe Blanton for more than an inning and J.A. Happ got hit on the shin with a line drive. Happ will, in fact, start Game 3 tomorrow.

Some relevant reading material for your perusal:

Jayson Stark tweets:

No team ever started lefthanders in every game of a 5-game LDS. ’97 Mariners did it in a 4-gamer vs Bal: Randy, Moyer, Fassero, Randy again

With the Phillies starting Happ in Game 3, Cliff Lee will likely start Game 4 and Hamels will go in Game 5 if necessary.

BDD: Suddenly, A-Rod Is Clutch

At Baseball Daily Digest, I examine the concept of clutch as it pertains to Alex Rodriguez, who has become Mr. Clutch this year.

If clutch is an ability then it should be somewhat consistent, but as the above graph shows, such is not the case. Generally, a clutch player should not be unclutch (and vice versa), especially over a long period of time and with a sufficient sample size.

To justify A-Rod’s unclutchness, one may cite examples of clutchness (such as his ‘07 and ‘09 seasons) as aberrant, or mere statistical variance. But isn’t that the case anyway? That is what we would expect of just about every Major League Baseball player. To say that a player’s clutchness can vary from year-to-year is to devalue the very concept of clutch. It is contradictory.

BDD: Twins Have Themselves to Blame

At Baseball Daily Digest, I suggest that umpire Phil Cuzzi did not cause the Twins to lose that game to the Yankees.

Yes, left field umpire Phil Cuzzi missed a call, but did the call cause the Twins to lose? Let’s imagine Mauer does get his justified double. Do the next two hitters — Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer — necessarily follow up with singles? Not so, if you buy into the butterfly effect. Kubel and Cuddyer singled following a Mauer single; there is no reason to assume that they would have singled following a Mauer double. They could have just as easily struck out back-to-back, or Kubel could have been hit in the ribs by a fastball and Cuddyer could have had a laser pointed in his eyes by a fan, causing him to ground into a double play.

The Good and Bad, So Far

The World Champion Phillies can’t be feeling great on their way to Colorado with the Division Series tied 1-1. Although they did lose one game in every playoff series last year, they never lost a game at home, winning all seven games at Citizens Bank Park against the Brewers, Dodgers, and Rays. While the Rockies deserve a lot of credit for playing a mostly clean game of baseball yesterday, the Phillies are kicking themselves for several mental lapses that occurred throughout Game 2.

It’s not all bad, though, as we’ll find down in a recollection of the first two games. Let’s start with the good the Phillies can be inspired by:

  • The second-half of the regular season was not kind to Raul Ibanez, hampered by a groin injury. His second-half OPS was nearly 250 points lower than his first-half OPS, 1.015 to .774. However,  he has caught fire in the NLDS with four hits and four RBI in eight at-bats. According to FanGraphs, he has added .115 and .105 WPA in Games 1 and 2, respectively. Even better, he has only left stranded one Phillies runner in his eight at-bats.
  • Like Ibanez, Jayson Werth found himself in a slump late in the season. He had only one hit in a span of 32 at-bats between September 19 and 26. In eight plate appearances, Werth has three hits (a single, triple, and home run) and a walk, and has driven in two runs.
  • What else can be said about Cliff Lee? He’s another Phillie who hit the skids to finish the season, but rebounded in a great way in Game 1 against the Rockies and Ubaldo Jimenez. Lee pitched the first complete game by any Phillies pitcher in their current three-year post-season run, and a CG was never more important than this year, with all of the mayhem in the bullpen. Lee was masterful, allowing only six hits and one run in nine innings while striking out five and walking none.
  • Scott Eyre and Ryan Madson looked absolutely dominant against the Rockies in Game 2. Eyre pitched the seventh inning and didn’t allow any hits, but did allow an inherited runner to score on a fly ball by Dexter Fowler, who had a great approach. Otherwise, Eyre made Carlos Gonzalez (who had three hits in three at-bats against left-hander Cole Hamels) look like the rookie that he is, and induced future Hall of Famer Todd Helton to pop out weakly to Jimmy Rollins.

    Madson cut through the Rockies like butter. He needed only seven pitches to get through three hitters in the top of the ninth, and all seven pitches were strikes. Carlos Gonzalez swung at Madson’s first pitch and popped up to Rollins. After taking a first-pitch low-and-inside change-up for a strike, Fowler swung at two more low-and-inside change-ups and was back on the bench quickly. For as bad as Eyre made Helton look earlier, Madson made him look even worse. Helton saw three straight fastballs — 93, 96, and 97 MPH consecutively — and took a called strike three.

    With J.C. Romero injured and Brad Lidge thinking he’s going to use a cutter in the playoffs, Eyre and Madson are critical under the assumption that the Phillies don’t get any more complete game gems like they did from Lee in Game 1.

The bad:

  • Before I criticize Cole Hamels, I’d like to offer my congratulations as the Hamels family is adding another member. In Game 2, he pitched like a husband whose wife could go into labor at any second, and it’s certainly understandable. Still, he gave up four runs in five innings.

    He threw eight curveballs out of 83 pitches, but they weren’t particularly effective curveballs. Three were taken for balls, three were taken for strikes, and the Rockies were 2-for-2 when they swung at it: Carlos Gonzalez singled, and Yorvit Torreabla smoked one over the left field fence for a two-run home run that boosted the Rockies’ lead to three runs. The curve is easily Hamels’ worst pitch but he supposedly keeps it in his repertoire to keep hitters from sitting on his fastball and change-up (Nash equilibrium). Perhaps Hamels needs his curveball, even as bad as it is, to keep his other pitches working. However, I would not be sad to see him scrap that curve.

  • As I detailed after the Phillies’ loss, Brett Myers‘ performance in Game 2 may have punched his ticket out of Philadelphia.

    He’s a free agent after the season and he rarely has a clean inning when he has come in as a reliever. Considering his wild boy demeanor and proneness to off-the-field incidents, get a good look at Myers while you can — it’s unlikely he’ll be back in Philly next season unless he’s willing to take a pay cut (he’s making $12 million this season, the last leg of a three-year, $25.75 million contract).

    Myers was wild and ineffective in his two-thirds of an inning of work. He was fortunate that Antonio Bastardo was able to fool pinch-hitter Jason Giambi with the bases loaded. Myers loaded the bases by allowing a double and walking two batters (one intentionally to set up a double play).

On a related note, it would be nice to see Chase Utley catch fire. He’s not having a bad series, but he is just 2-for-8 with two singles and three strikeouts. Utley finished the season hitless in his final 18 plate appearances and, in a broader range, got only three hits in his final 41 PA.

Horseshoes and Hand Grenades

For the first time since the 2007 NLDS, the Phillies have lost a post-season game in Philadelphia. After five innings, the Phillies trailed 4-0 against Aaron Cook, thanks to a lackluster start from last year’s nearly unhittable NLCS and World Series MVP Cole Hamels. The Phillies did make it close in the sixth and eighth innings, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, as they say.

Cook’s sinker was so effective that he notched 12 of his first 13 outs via ground ball or strikeout. The two line drives that ended the fifth, hit by Greg Dobbs and Jimmy Rollins, perhaps foreshadowed the struggles he would experience in the sixth. In that sixth inning, the Phillies scored three runs and Cook abandoned his sinker entirely, as the following chart illustrates.

As for Hamels, he got hurt mostly by right-handers on pitches in the middle of the plate or inside:

As was the case yesterday, Carlos Gonzalez was the only left-handed hitter who had any success against the Phillies’ left-handed starter. He had two hits against Cliff Lee yesterday, and three hits in three at-bats against Hamels today. Overall, Rockies left-handers went 2-for-11 yesterday and and 5-for-13 today.

The Phillies, meanwhile, have been unable to get any momentum going in the first three innings. In two games, the Phillies have only hit four singles in the first three innings and only Cliff Lee, following a stolen base, has been in scoring position in the first one-third of the game.

The Rockies’ fifth and winning run was scored when Dexter Fowler hit a two-strike fastball to deep right field, scoring Ryan Spilborghs from third base. Spilborghs reached when he doubled to left field off of Joe Blanton. He was allowed to advance when Joe Blanton made a poor decision to throw to third base, instead of first, on a sacrifice bunt attempt, the second such poor decision in the game.

Tension mounted in the eighth when Brett Myers, in typical Brett Myers fashion, allowed the first two runners to reach base without the dignity of a hit. Troy Tulowitzki hit Brett Myers’ first pitch well beyond the left field fence, but it was slightly foul. Myers, perhaps intentionally, hit Tulowitzki on the elbow with a fastball. Ian Stewart followed up with an eight-pitch at-bat that resulted in a walk. Myers was bailed out on a smart defensive decision by Miguel Cairo and a key lefty-on-lefty strikeout of Jason Giambi by Antonio Bastardo.

This outing by Myers may have punched his ticket out of Philadelphia. He’s a free agent after the season and he rarely has a clean inning when he has come in as a reliever. Considering his wild boy demeanor and proneness to off-the-field incidents, get a good look at Myers while you can — it’s unlikely he’ll be back in Philly next season unless he’s willing to take a pay cut (he’s making $12 million this season, the last leg of a three-year, $25.75 million contract).

Although Blanton surrendered a run in relief, the Phillies’ bullpen performed well today. The Spilborghs double was not well-hit, just well-placed. Myers did not inspire confidence but Scott Eyre and Ryan Madson looked unhittable and Antonio Bastardo made Jason Giambi look ridiculous on a couple off-speed pitches. J.A. Happ initially came in relief but had to leave when Seth Smith hit him on the leg with a line drive. X-rays came up negative, fortunately.

So the Phillies head to Colorado with the Division Series tied 1-1. They will be facing Jason Hammel in Game 3. As of this writing, no pitcher is listed on the Phillies’ website to oppose him. However, since Blanton pitched in relief today and J.A. Happ had to leave with an injury, Pedro Martinez seems to be the only legitimate option to make a start. In his career, Martinez has a 3.40 career ERA in the post-season and 2.84 in the division series.

Game graph above courtesy FanGraphs.

No Cliff-Hanger Today

“Should Cliff Lee start Game One?” I asked. Lee himself answered with a resounding, “Of course. What are you — stupid?”

After a shaky start to the game through the first two innings, Lee went into cruise control and held the Colorado Rockies scoreless through eight and two-thirds innings. He never threw more than 17 pitches in an inning and finished with 114 through all nine.

Lee was in control and very economic with his pitch selection. He started out ahead against 25 of 32 Rockies hitters. In addition to complete and utter dominance on the mound, Lee notched himself a hit, a stolen base (the only Phillies pitcher to steal a bag in a post-season game), and a sacrifice bunt.

Lee’s opponent on the mound, Ubaldo Jimenez, was equally as dominant and economic, throwing only 34 pitches through the first three innings. I was watching the game with a friend of mine and he asked me what the Phillies need to do to beat Jimenez. I told him that the Phillies needed to work the count and make Jimenez work for his outs.

In the first inning, both Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino took the first pitch but swung at the second pitch. There may have been something in the scouting report that indicated that Jimenez is vulnerable after the first pitch, but it wasn’t working. It wasn’t until the fifth inning that the Phillies took more than three consecutive pitches and that’s when the floodgates opened.

Jayson Werth, who sees the most pitches per plate appearance among all Major Leaguers, took five straight pitches and eventually worked a walk. Raul Ibanez took three of the next four pitches before doubling down the right field line, and Pedro Feliz followed with a fundamentally-sound ground out to the right side to move Ibanez to third. Ruiz hit a line drive single to right field that allowed Ibanez to score easily, and Ruiz advanced to second on a fielding error by Brad Hawpe.

In the sixth inning, Jimenez essentially eliminated all of his pitches except his fastball and change-up, and the Phillies hitters took advantage. In succession, Chase Utley singled, Ryan Howard doubled, and Jayson Werth tripled, signaling the end of Ubaldo’s night. Jimenez had thrown for a lower percentage of strikes in the fifth and sixth innings as a result of the Phillies becoming more patient and working the count.

  • 1st inning: 66.67% strikes (9 pitches)
  • 2nd: 80% (10 pitches)
  • 3rd: 60% (10 pitches)
  • 4th: 75% (8 pitches)
  • 5th: 51.43% (35 pitches)
  • 6th: 54.55% (11 pitches; left after facing three hitters and recording no outs)

Did the game play out as we expected? Let’s look back at the preview.

  • The Phillies will throw out two lefty starters against the Rockies’ lefties gaining the platoon advantage while the Rockies will use two righties against the Phillies’ lefty mashers. In the batter/pitcher match-ups, the Phillies have a nice advantage here.
    • Rockies left-handed hitters went 2-for-11 (Carlos Gonzalez got both hits in 4 AB) against the left-handed Lee.
    • Phillies left-handed hitters went 5-for-10 against the right-handed Jimenez.
  • The keys to the match-up […] Jimenez’s use of his slider
    • The Phillies hit .300 against his slider today.
  • …it is pivotal that their lefty relievers — Franklin Morales and Joe Beimel — are able to successfully retire the likes of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Raul Ibanez.
    • Joe Beimel allowed an RBI single to Raul Ibanez, the only hitter he faced.
    • Franklin Morales got Utley to foul out and Howard to hit into a line drive double play.

So far, so good. However, I will gladly eat crow for the statement I made yesterday:

Meanwhile, we learned yesterday that the Rockies are the second-best team in the Majors at hitting the cutter, which is Lee’s second-best pitch. Compound that with Lee’s recent struggles — a 6.13 ERA in his last seven starts — and we aren’t inspired with confidence.

I’ve never been more happy to be wrong.

Game graph above courtesy FanGraphs.

BDD: Division Series Predictions

At Baseball Daily Digest, you can check out all of our predictions for the opening round of the playoffs. Three of the four series are pretty easy picks; the only tricky one is the Angels-Red Sox series.

By the way, if you haven’t checked it out, stop by the Baseball Bloggers Alliance website. We’ll be doing end-of-season award voting next week. Crashburn Alley and Fire Eric Bruntlett represent the Phillies and we’ll be voting on all of the awards. Be sure to stop by for our takes on the MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, and other awards.

Phillies Getting Phingered

* Before you say it, I totally realize and agree that replacing the letter f with ph stopped being cool back in 1991. But I needed an easy way to allude to that Tom Green movie. It’s all about the title, bro.

The Phillies are slated to begin their quest for a repeat World Series championship in, oh, a couple hours. Yes, it’s noontime here in Philadelphia and with those two hours to kill, let’s be pedantic. Let’s whine about some stuff.

First order of business, per The Fightins per NBC Miami: Little girl steals from Ryan Howard via legal system.

Ryan Howard hit his 200th home run in Florida in a game against the Marlins back on July 16 against Chris Volstad. A girl — presumably it’s the one you see in the video — ended up with the baseball. As baseball players are wont to do, Ryan Howard asked for his milestone home run ball back and in exchange, he would give the girl an autographed baseball. Fair deal, it seems, no? The girl took the deal.

Apparently, she told her family about it and this induced outrage. Dollar signs started floating down and liquidating down a drain appeared before her parents’ eyes. They did what most rational people do when they realize that their 12-year-old daughter did a good deed for another person: they called a lawyer, who, according to NBC Miami, “then filed a lawsuit to get the ball back, claiming it was Valdivia’s ball and that Howard took advantage of the little girl”.

If you’re Ryan Howard in this situation, what do you do? Do you give up a memento of all the hard work and success you’ve earned throughout your baseball career? Or do you publicly war with a 12-year-old girl over a baseball? It’s a no-win situation for Big Brown, so he just gave the ball back to the girl’s family and left it at that.

When the mainstream media goes through its ritual bashing of Philadelphia fans, keep this fiasco on the front burner. Philly fans may be passionate and may consume seven too many adult beverages at Citizens Bank Park, but I’d be hard-pressed to believe that anyone, from a city built on the concept of hard work and delayed gratification, would be petty enough to hire a lawyer for the sole purposes of acquiring a baseball that may sell for a few hundred dollars on eBay.

At any rate, kudos to Ryan for taking the high road, even if it meant parting with a nice memento.

The other piece of whine-worthy news comes via Scott Lauber.

Cole Hamels doesn’t like the 2:37 PM EST start time for the NLDS games in Philadelphia.

I don’t think it’s fair. I definitely don’t think it’s fair for the fans because this is all about home-field advantage or just baseball in general. I understand TV ratings, but I think, at the end of the day, most players would rather play when they’re both comfortable, and that’s kind of what we’re trained at, either 1 o’clock or 7 o’clock, and I think that’s more fair for us than the TV ratings because, truly, I don’t think we mind as much for TV ratings.

Aside from entering into the World’s Longest Run-On Sentence contest, Cole has a point. Most people reading this blog will be doing so after they get home from work at 5 o’clock. Many people will be unable to watch most or all of the first two games of the NLDS due to work or other obligations.

Additionally, if it is true that “most players would rather play when they’re both comfortable” — in other words, that most players perform better at ritual times — then that is something MLB should strive to avoid. Hamels’ claim certainly could be backed up by science.

So, we have two problems here:

  • By having these early start times, MLB is effectively alienating a good portion of its viewing audience.
  • Players, supposedly, play better when the start time is common, i.e. 1:00-ish or 7:00-ish.

While MLB is certainly beholden to its broadcasters (FOX, TBS, etc.), it is also beholden to its extremely large consumer base and the last thing they want to do is alienate them by preventing them from seeing the games due to early start times, or by putting out a sub-par product since players aren’t used to the start times. Hamels’ comments at first glance seem like a prima donna athlete whining again, but they actually have merit. MLB should take those comments into consideration when they think about how they can improve next year’s post-season presentation.

You Might Be A Mets Fan If…

…instead of asking you to recall players or accomplishments of yore, the in-game trivia question simply requests that you name one current member on the active roster.

With a hat tip to the series of tubes: