Glengarry Greg Gross

The Phillies are run-averse at the moment, as they have failed to score more than four runs in every game since April 9 against the Atlanta Braves. The cold streak culminated in a disappointing 4-0 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks last night. Ian Kennedy threw a complete game shut-out, an accomplishment that not even Roy Halladay has achieved yet.

The Phillies players were downtrodden last night, but the coaches were irate. Greg Gross threw a tantrum in the clubhouse and gave one of the most compelling speeches in the franchise’s history. I was the only journalist granted access to the clubhouse during this debacle. Below is the transcription. There is some salty language, so please don’t read if you are easily offended.

. . .

Greg Gross: You’re talking about what? You’re talking about — bitching about that pitch you missed, some son of a bitch fielder got lucky, some pitch you’re trying to corkscrew, so forth. Let’s talk about something important. They all here?

Charlie Manuel: All but one.

Greg Gross: I’m going anyway. Let’s talk about something important. Put. That coffee. Down. Coffee’s for hitters only. You think I’m fucking with you? I am not fucking with you. I’m here from downtown. I’m here from Amaro and Montgomery. And I’m here on a mission of mercy. Your name’s Ibanez? You call yourself a hitter, you son of a bitch?

Raul Ibanez: I don’t gotta sit here and listen to this shit.

Greg Gross: You certainly don’t pal, ’cause the good news is you’re fired. The bad news is you’ve got, all of you’ve got just one week to regain your jobs starting with tonight. Starting with tonight’s game. Oh? Have I got your attention now? Good. “Cause we’re adding a little something to this month’s hitting contest. As you all know first prize is the Phillie Phanatic hot dog gun. Anyone wanna see second prize? Second prize is a set of batting gloves. Third prize is you’re fired. Get the picture? You laughing now? You got scouting reports. Amaro and Montgomery paid good money, get their names to hit them. You can’t hit the pitchers you’re given, you can’t hit shit. You ARE shit. Hit the bricks pal, and beat it ’cause you are going OUT.

Shane Victorino: The scouting reports are weak.

Greg Gross: The scouting reports are weak? Fucking scouting reports are weak. You’re weak. I’ve been in this business 15 years…

Raul Ibanez: What’s your name?

Greg Gross: Fuck you. That’s my name. You know why, mister? You drove a Hyundai to get here. I drove the Phillie Phanatic’s eighty-thousand dollar go-kart. THAT’S my name. And your name is you’re wanting. You can’t play in the man’s game, you can’t hit them – go home and tell your wife your troubles. Because only one thing counts in this game: Circle the bases which are lined. You hear me, you fucking scrubs? A-B-C. A-Always, B-Be, C-Connecting. Always be connecting. ALWAYS BE CONNECTING. A-I-D-A. Attention, Interest, Decision, Action. Attention – Am you paying attention? Interest – Are you interested in scoring runs? I know you are, because it’s hit or walk. You hit or you hit the bricks. Decision – Have you made your decision to swing or take? And Action. A-I-D-A. Get out there – you got the pitches coming in. You think they came in to get out of the rain? A guy don’t throw a pitch over the plate lest he wants you to hit it. They’re sitting out there waiting to give you the runs. Are you gonna take it? Are you man enough to take it? What’s the problem, pal?

Raul Ibanez: You – Gross. You’re such a hero, you’re so successful, how come you’re coming down here wasting your time with such a bunch of bums?

Greg Gross: You see this bat? You see this bat?

Raul Ibanez: Yeah.

Greg Gross: That bat made it to first base more than you. I had a .372 on-base percentage in my career. How often’d you get on base? You see pal, that’s who I am, and you’re nothing. Nice guy? I don’t give a shit. Good father? Fuck you! Go home and play with your kids. You wanna work here? Hit! You think this is abuse? You think this is abuse, you cocksucker? You can’t take this, how can you take the abuse you get in an at-bat? You don’t like it, leave. I can go out there tomorrow with the materials you’ve got and go 2-for-3 with a walk. Tomorrow! In two hours! Can you? Can YOU? Go and do likewise. A-I-D-A. Get mad you sons of bitches. Get mad. You want to know what it takes to win games? It takes brass balls to win baseball games. Go and do likewise, gents. Runs are out there. You pick them up, it’s yours. You don’t, I got no sympathy for you. You wanna go out in that game tonight and hit, HIT. It’s yours. If not, you’re gonna be shining my shoes. And you know what you’ll be saying – a bunch of losers sittin’ around in a bar. ‘Oh yeah. I used to be in the Majors. It’s a tough racket.’ These are the new scouting reports. These are the Greg Gross scouting reports. And to you they’re gold, and you don’t get them. Why? Because to give them to you is just throwing them away. They’re for hitters. I’d wish you good luck but you wouldn’t know what to do with it if you got it. And to answer your question, pal, why am I here? I came here because Amaro and Montgomery asked me to. They asked me for a favor. I said the real favor, follow my advice and fire your fucking ass because a loser is a loser.

Requested: Your Feedback

I am interested in receiving from feedback from you, my lovely readers, regarding this blog and some new ideas. I created a brief survey for you to take when you have a couple minutes to spare. Click here to take it.

A while ago, I used to participate in ESPN live chats during Phillies games. I found them fun and a great way to interact with Phillies fans and readers of the blog. Unfortunately, I had to stop participating because I consolidated my electronics — I bought a TV that doubled as my computer monitor. So I can’t watch TV and use the computer at the same time without it being an inconvenience. However, I am probably going to purchase a cheap laptop some time in the near future, and I’m thinking about doing live chats here on the blog. Part of the survey gauges your interest and preferences with such an endeavor. Please be honest!

If you have any additional questions or comments related to improving the blog, feel free to drop a note below or send it to my e-mail, CrashburnAlley [at] Gmail [dot] com. Constructive criticism is encouraged.

Should Roy Halladay Have Thrown 130 Pitches?

Roy Halladay pitched excellently against the San Diego Padres on Sunday afternoon, striking out 14 hitters in eight and two-thirds innings. The ninth inning had a similar feel to the ninth in his start on April 13 against the Washington Nationals. In both games, Halladay was working on a shut-out, but had a high pitch count going into the final inning. Both times, Charlie Manuel opted to let his star pitcher attempt to finish the game, and in neither case did he accomplish that goal.

Halladay led the league in complete games in each of the past four years, and in complete game shut-outs in each of the past three years. If there is one pitcher in baseball conditioned to such a heavy workload, it’s Halladay. He has thrown 110 or more pitches in each of his previous four starts, and did so in 17 of his 33 starts last year.

Those who think Halladay should be out there in the ninth inning with a high pitch count in a close game usually lament the current era of baseball for “pampering” pitchers. However, it’s less about pampering and more about risk-aversion and protecting assets. Managers and pitching coaches who hold their pitchers to pitch counts are being cautious, and the Phillies should be just as cautious. After all, they have Halladay signed through 2014 potentially, as well as Cliff Lee through 2016 (potentially), and both Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt through 2012 (potentially). Assuming all options are exercised, the Phillies have $263 million committed to their four best starters, and that’s without accounting for Hamels’ final year of arbitration.

If the Phillies had no solid options behind Halladay, and if the game was close, I could understand sending Halladay back to the mound with 113 pitches. According to FanGraphs, though, the Phillies had a 97 percent chance to win when the top of the ninth inning ended. Furthermore, despite that Jose Contreras went on the 15-day disabled list, the Phillies had two reliable arms that could have gotten three outs in Ryan Madson and Antonio Bastardo. The Phillies get nothing extra from letting Halladay finish the game. Halladay gets the extra notch in the “CG” and “SHO” columns on Baseball Reference, but the Phillies risk a lot (fatigue, injury) for nothing in the regular season in April.

Entering yesterday afternoon’s game, the Phillies had the third-highest total innings pitched by starters, behind the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves (both had two extra games in hand). The Phillies had the lowest total innings pitched by relievers.

It’s not just Halladay that is getting overworked early by Manuel. Hamels threw 126 pitches through eight shut-out innings against the Padres on Friday, a game the Phillies won 2-0. He entered the eighth with 109 pitches. There is just no reason to have him out there, and Hamels did appear fatigued. His fastball usually sits around 91 MPH, but averaged just 89.5 MPH in the eighth inning.

Jose Contreras, recently placed on the disabled list, needed 20 or more pitches to get through four of his eight one-inning appearances. He had pitched in five of the Phillies’ seven games from April 15-21, throwing a total of 81 pitches.

I know I’ve been very critical of Manuel over the years. The Phillies have been very successful under his leadership. Every player that has passed through Philadelphia since 2005 has sworn by him. There’s something to be said for the way he deals with his players, and maybe that’s enough to outweigh his strategical miscues. While failure to abuse a platoon match-up will only lead to one loss maximum, overworking starters can lead to multiple losses and even to injuries — effects that can be felt years down the road. Being mindful of pitch counts isn’t “pampering” pitchers; it’s being smart and putting your team in the best position to win as many games over the long haul as possible.

A Game for the Armchair Scouts

If there’s one group Saberists don’t like, it’s the people who back up their outlandish claims with “I watch the games”. Being able to pinpoint minute details in baseball players is a skill that takes years to master — that’s why professional scouts are so universally revered.

I came across an interesting game called “the eyeballing game”. You are asked to accomplish various tasks using your mouse and your eyeballs. For instance, the first task is to slightly adjust a shape to make a parallelogram. Click here to play the game. When you finish, you should have a greater appreciation for just how imperfect your eyeballs are, and why we should always defer to the facts and figures when possible.

(h/t Back She Goes)

My results:

  • Parallelogram: 2.8
  • Midpoint: 2.2
  • Bisect angle: 8.4
  • Triangle center: 5.5
  • Circle center: 4.0
  • Right angle: 10.5
  • Convergence: 4.1
  • Average error: 5.36

Odds and Ends After Thursday’s Win

Ryan Howard went 0-for-5 with four strikeouts against the San Diego Padres on Thursday, the 19th time he has struck out four or more times in a game. Click here for the rest.

Roy Oswalt wasn’t sharp, but the Padres came into the night with the second-worst offense in the league, averaging 3.33 runs per game. Even worse, they had been shut out four times in 18 games. Oswalt and the Phillies’ bullpen made it five.

Antonio Bastardo was impressive. Charlie Manuel needed him to pitch multiple innings to allow Ryan Madson a night off, and Bastardo looked very sharp. Despite allowing a walk and a hit in one and one-third innings, he struck out two batters in impressive fashion, bringing his K/9 up to 12.4. His 4.5 BB/9 won’t fly over a larger sample of innings — if Bastardo can improve his control, the Phillies may have yet another late-innings weapon in the bullpen to go along with Madson and Jose Contreras.

David Herndon was, as usual, not impressive. As depressing as this is to realize, he is a poor man’s Kyle Kendrick. Herndon has struck out only two hitters while walking five in eight innings of work. There really is no reason why the Phillies should be carrying him on the roster, especially since they seem intent on keeping Kendrick around.

Contreras needed 26 pitches to get through the ninth inning. A tight strike zone didn’t help, but it marked the fourth appearance in which Contreras needed 20 or more pitches to get three outs. Thankfully, he is five-for-five in save opportunities. Maybe a day off will let him recharge the ol’ batteries.

Overall, Phillies hitters did a much better job of working counts, making the starting pitcher throw more pitches, and getting into the opposing team’s bullpen earlier. Previously, I had written that the Phillies were doing poorly in that regard, but they forced Padre pitchers to throw 174 pitches to 42 hitters, an average of 4.1 pitches per batter. Phillies hitters drew seven walks in total, a season-high.

The Phillies improve to 12-6 with Cole Hamels slated to start tomorrow against Clayton Richard at 7:05 ET.

SIERA Through 17 Games

Last year, Matt Swartz and Eric Seidman came up with a great pitching metric called SIERA, or Skill Interactive Earned Run Average. It is a lot like FIP and xFIP, but it specifically accounts for a pitcher’s batted ball skills, as well as his strikeout and walk rates. Last year, Roy Halladay led all of Major League Baseball in SIERA at 2.93, although that was significantly higher than his 2.44 ERA. Cliff Lee finished fourth; Cole Hamels 11th; and Roy Oswalt 14th. After the Phillies signed Lee in the off-season, I wrote, “The Phillies have one-third of baseball’s top-12 pitchers from 2010” (at the time of the writing, Oswalt was 12th; there may have been slight tweaks in the Baseball Prospectus database that altered the rankings slightly).

The fearsome foursome could certainly make up one-third of baseball’s top-12 (or 14, if you’d prefer) in 2011 as well. It is still too early in the season to tell, though. In fact, Baseball Prospectus has not yet posted the 2011 SIERA leaderboard (here is last year’s). I, however, am curious and used my handy-dandy spreadsheet to take a quick look. Here are the inputs:

Name TBF SO BB GB ofFB ifFB
Halladay 117 25 5 45 22 3
Lee 132 28 4 37 32 8
Oswalt 71 14 4 26 16 5
Hamels 73 18 5 22 12 1
Blanton 80 14 4 31 12 3

TBF: Total Batters Faced; SO: Strikeouts; BB: Walks; GB: Ground Balls; ofFB: Outfield Fly Balls; ifFB: Infield Fly Balls

The output, in SIERA, which is scaled to ERA:

  • Halladay: 3.18
  • Lee: 3.24
  • Oswalt: 3.70
  • Hamels: 3.13
  • Blanton: 3.65

Perhaps surprisingly, Hamels has been the best of the bunch so far, contrary to his 4.32 ERA. He is the victim of a .367 BABIP, pitching quite well otherwise — getting a lot of swings and misses, being stingy with the free passes, and inducing a bunch of grounders. My Cy Young pick for the National League, Hamels is in for some regression in the BABIP department, but it should be slightly counter-balanced by his home run rate, as the lefty has yet to allow a round-tripper.

Least surprisingly, Halladay came within a hair of first place in the Phillies’ rotation, in terms of SIERA. Not quite the swing-and-miss maven, Halladay instead found success in rarely issuing walks and getting ground balls in bunches. He is the odds-on favorite to once again lead the Majors in SIERA. Should that happen, expect yet more hardware to appear on Halladay’s mantle in the off-season.

Lee rounds out a tightly-packed top-three. His strikeout and walk rates are better than Halladay’s, but lags behind in SIERA due to his sub-40 percent ground ball rate — roughly 13 percent lower than Halladay’s. He has been a bit BABIP-unlucky, so you should expect his 3.91 ERA to drop quite quickly.

Blanton ranks fourth, perhaps surprisingly. He has actually been quite good: his 7.3 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, and 54 percent ground ball rate are excellent, especially for a #5. Blanton is the most unlucky of the Phillies’ five, sitting with a .373 BABIP and the highest HR/FB rate on the team (13 percent).

Oswalt, who has recently been bothered by back problems, is in fifth. His strikeout and walk rates are good, as is his ground ball rate, but are not quite as good as that of Hamels, Halladay, and Lee when taken together. Additionally, Oswalt has been BABIP-lucky. His .240 BABIP should eke its way towards .300 in future starts, but it would be nice if Oswalt could continue his nice streak of luck that started when he joined the Phillies last season.

Finally, let’s have a quick peek at SIERA for the Phillies’ eighth- and ninth-inning guys, Ryan Madson and Jose Contreras.

  • Madson: 2.26
  • Contrears: 2.53

Both have been great thus far. The Phillies are fortunate to have two extremely good arms pitching in most of the high-leverage innings.

Note: I used batted ball data from FanGraphs, which had not yet updated with information from Wednesday’s games. As such, I went into the play-by-play from yesterday’s afternoon match against the Milwaukee Brewers and interpreted the data myself. The data is subject to human error, which could be significant given the small sample sizes. If any errors are spotted, feel free to point them out in the comments.

Phillies Drop Another Series Opener

The Phillies dropped yet another series opener, this time against the Milwaukee Brewers — their fifth consecutive series-opening loss out of six. The offense continued to struggle, scoring only three runs through 12 innings against Shaun Marcum and the Brewers’ bullpen. The Phillies’ hitters showed better plate discipline, but their nine hits were all singles and they drew only three walks in 50 plate appearances (six percent). They couldn’t mount any offensive threats in extra innings before Kyle Kendrick punted the game in the 12th inning.

I took umbrage with two more of Charlie Manuel’s decisions tonight.

The first problem was using J.C. Romero to start the ninth against pinch-hitter Erick Almonte, Rickie Weeks, and Carlos Gomez. They are all right-handed hitters. I’ve written about why Romero should be used strictly as a LOOGY before — he is absolutely terrible against right-handed hitters (5.33 xFIP) and effective against lefties (3.58 xFIP).

It turned out that using Romero didn’t kill the Phillies as Romero got two outs and narrowly missed a third on an infield single by Gomez. However, Romero came up limping and left the game with a right calf strain. A completely avoidable injury in hindsight, but the egregious offense wasn’t that Romero was injured unnecessarily, but that he was used against right-handed hitters.

The second problem was bunting with a runner on first and no outs in the bottom of the ninth inning with Wilson Valdez at the plate. When I tweeted this, many people responded that Valdez is a double-play machine. I’ve joked around with that on Twitter many times, but the reality is that the GIDP’s are a minor side effect of his ground ball tendency. The run expectancy with a runner on first and no outs is 0.87, which lowers to 0.66 when you give up an out to move that runner to second base. A bunt eliminates the roughly 25 percent chance that Valdez gets a single, which could potentially mean a first and third with no outs (run expectancy: 1.70), or better.

Valdez does hit a lot of ground balls — 60 percent over his career, entering tonight. 154 of his 776 career plate appearances have come with a runner on first base. Only 21 of them ended in a double play (14 percent), so the GIDP threat wasn’t a huge issue.

I have one more gripe, and that’s with the fact that Kendrick is still on a Major League roster with nearly 500 innings under his belt, despite his inability to miss bats (career K/9 is barely above 4.0) and a barely above-average ability to induce ground balls (46 percent) and prevent hits (career .291 BABIP). His career xFIP is 4.72, yet was given $2.45 million by the Phillies in avoiding arbitration. That, when the Phillies have a horde of good, cheap arms capable of handling Kendrick’s low-leverage role in the bullpen, including:

Kendrick’s punting of tonight’s game was extremely frustrating and entirely predictable. However, it really isn’t his fault. The Phillies have had ample time to evaluate him and have wrongly concluded that he is capable of succeeding at the Major League level. Kendrick didn’t steal $2.45 million from the Phillies; they gave it to him. I’m guilty of directing my frustration at him, but it should really be directed at the front office. Kendrick is doing his best in a tough environment, which just isn’t enough.

With the last few posts being rather pessimistic towards the Phillies, how about a tip of the cap to Joe Blanton, who rebounded from two tough starts to begin the season by throwing seven innings of two-run baseball tonight? He’s the forgotten one (literally) among the Phillies’ starters, and is the victim of low expectations, but will be more than capable of holding his own every five days.

Graph of the Intermittent Time Period

This is the first Graph post of the 2011 season. Hooray! Sadly, it’s not a particularly encouraging graph. I’ve complained about the Phillies’ plate discipline on several other occasions here on the blog, but it’s worth pointing out until the problem is fixed. The Phillies haven’t scored more than four runs in a game since they scored 10 runs against the Atlanta Braves on Saturday April 9.

Here’s a graphical look at the Phillies’ overall plate discipline:

In only four of their 14 games have the Phillies beaten the 2010 National League average of 3.83 pitches per plate appearance. The current league average is 3.77; the Phillies’ overall team average is 3.59. Only three players are better than the average: Jimmy Rollins (3.91), Ben Francisco (3.89), and Carlos Ruiz (3.83).

As of this writing (after Sunday’s games, but before Baseball Reference updated), the Phillies are third in the National League in on-base percentage at .349, but .298 of that comes from batting average. The Cincinnati Reds led the league in batting average last year at .272, and the NL average was .255, so we should expect the Phillies’ average to fall even further down. Subsequently, their OBP and thus their run-scoring, will suffer as well — unless they start drawing walks.

In last week’s post examining the Phillies’ power potential, I talked about how much the absence of Chase Utley and Jayson Werth will be felt, and that is just as true in terms of on-base percentage as well. Werth has a career .365 OBP and Utley is at .380. One of Utley’s unique on-base skills is his propensity to get hit by pitches. He led the league from 2007-09 with 76 total plunks, looking quite Biggio-esque in the process. The HBP’s represented about 10 percent of Utley’s total times on base, which is quite significant.

Charlie Manuel has been known as a miracle worker when he gets his hitters in the batting cages, but plate discipline is not something that can be learned overnight. If the Phillies don’t fix this problem soon, we could be in store for offensive droughts we haven’t seen since May 22-27 last year, when they were shut out in four of five games.

Another Head-Scratcher from Charlie

On Tuesday, I wrote a bit about Charlie Manuel’s curious decision to pinch-hit the right-handed John Mayberry against a right-handed reliever, rather than the left-handed Ross Gload. Manuel has never been known for his in-game decision-making, but he laid another egg tonight against the Florida Marlins.

With the Phillies up 3-2 in the seventh inning, Manuel started the inning with lefty J.C. Romero against the left-handed-hitting Logan Morrison. Good decision. Morrison beat out an infield single, not really Romero’s fault though it would have been nice if his arms were a couple inches longer. With several right-handed hitting Marlins due up, Manuel went out to the mound to get Romero, and brought in Danys Baez. Again, can’t really fault him for that.

However, only Antonio Bastardo was warming up in the bullpen. Ryan Madson was in the bullpen with a sweatshirt on, just hanging around and acting all cool. Baez, as expected, worsened the situation, walking Gaby Sanchez, and allowing a single to John Buck to load the bases. In what looked like the start to an improbable wriggle out of a tough spot, Donnie Murphy popped up to second baseman Pete Orr. The situation, however, worsened when former Phillie Greg Dobbs dumped a single to left field, scoring Morrison and Sanchez, putting the Marlins ahead 4-3. Madson was nowhere to be found. Manuel strode out to the mound, removed Baez, and brought in Bastardo, who ended the threat.

In the eighth inning, Madson took the hill with the bases empty and retired the Marlins without a problem. Jose Contreras pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning as well.

So, you’re in an important spot in the ballgame. You need outs, particularly ones that don’t involve the ball being put in play. You can choose from these pitchers (2010 stats):

K/9 BB/9 xFIP
Madson 10.9 2.2 2.75
Baez 5.3 4.3 4.80

It makes complete logical sense to go with the guy with half the strikeout rate and twice the walk rate. [End Bizarro world logic.]

On the offensive side of things, I was extremely disappointed yet again with the Phillies’ plate discipline. Marlins pitchers threw 129 pitches to 38 batters, an average of 3.4 pitches per plate appearance. Roy Oswalt saw 11 pitches in his two at-bats before he was removed with back problems.

Coming into tonight’s game, the Phillies had seen the second-fewest pitches per plate appearance in the National League at 3.61, just ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers at 3.59. They trailed the rest of the National League in walks with a paltry 28 in 460 plate appearances (6.1 percent).

Overall, it was not a great night of Phillies baseball, but hopefully they can continue their trend of dropping the first game of the series, then winning the remaining two.

Today: Draftstreet.com $150 Free Fantasy Baseball Challenge

If you missed it Wednesday, you still have time to sign up for Draftstreet.com‘s $150 fantasy baseball freeroll, exclusive to Crashburn Alley readers. The top five places will earn cash. All you have to do is set up a fantasy baseball roster for tonight’s games. Setting up your team isn’t as easy as it sounds, as you’ll have to balance your roster within a $100,000 budget. Grabbing Halladay at $16,000 means you may have to sacrifice quality elsewhere on your roster.

Have fun with it, and feel free to share your results here in the comments.

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