Phillies Make A Slight Upgrade

Phillies, Pirates Swap Catchers

The Phillies and Pirates completed a swap of catchers on Wednesday, with Ronny Paulino going to Philadelphia in exchange for Jason Jaramillo.

With catcher Lou Marson arguably the Phillies’ #1 prospect, Jaramillo was between a rock and a hard place. For whatever reason, the Phils seem committed to Carlos Ruiz despite shortcomings both on offense and on defense (at least that which we can accurately log).

Regardless of what the Phillies got, getting anything of decent value for Jaramillo was a win. The acquisition also frees up Chris Coste to be a third-string utilityman of sorts, as well as to become the primary right-handed hitter off the bench.

Marson will likely start the season at AAA with Ruiz once again the #1 catcher and Paulino backing him up. Don’t expect anything special out of Paulino, as he has a career 86 OPS+, which is about average for a catcher. If, for some reason, Paulino rekindles his 2006 ways and puts up a .360 OBP, the Phillies will have struck gold at a time when they could have panicked and overpaid for other well-known players like Mark DeRosa.

New GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has made two deals since taking over for Pat Gillick, and I’m happy to say he’s won both of them. The first, Greg Golson to the Texas Rangers for John Mayberry, may not have any noticeable impact but it was a deal simply worth making. Greg Golson didn’t appear to be the five-tool player everybody thought he could be and Mayberry, a power-hitting right-hander, could be useful down the road especially if there are injuries to any of the Phils’ outfielders.

Another aspect of the Paulino trade to consider is that it makes either Ruiz or Coste available to be packaged into a trade. The Phils are heavily rumored to be the third team involved in a trade that would send Jake Peavy from the San Diego Padres to the Chicago Cubs, with DeRosa coming back this way.

Recapping the action of the last 24 hours, the Yankees got C.C. Sabathia, the Mets got Francisco Rodriguez and are close to acquiring J.J. Putz, the Indians got Kerry Wood… and the Phillies got Ronny Paulino.

And that’s just fine.

On Relievers Blowing

Blowing leads. Get your mind out of the gutter, would you?

Baseball Think Factory’s Mike Emeigh did some research on relievers and their propensities for lead-blowing. The criteria:

Reliever performance when starting the ninth inning with a lead of three runs or fewer, 1954-2008, minimum 100 leads

Some Philly notables (note that these are overall career percentages):

Bold indicates the player is still active.

  • Brad Lidge, 10% (12th-best)
  • Ugueth Urbina, 10.8%
  • Todd Jones, 10.8%
  • Tom Gordon, 11.3%
  • Mike Williams, 11.5%
  • Billy Wagner, 11.7%
  • Jose Mesa, 12.6%
  • Roger McDowell, 12.9%
  • Dan Plesac, 13.3%
  • Ricky Bottalico, 14.2%
  • Mitch Williams, 14.6%
  • Jeff Brantley, 15.3%
  • Roberto Hernandez, 15.3%
  • Antonio Alfonseca, 15.6%
  • Mike Timlin, 16.4%

I eyeballed the list so I may have forgotten a few — let me know if you spot ‘em.

It’s interesting to note how many great relievers the Phillies had, but unfortunately it was when they were over the hill. This essentially proves that Ed Wade had a “veteran reliever” fetish.

I think they have a hotline for that now, actually. You call and Dan Plesac will talk to you over the phone about how he led teams with his veteranosity.

On a non-Phillies note, check out the total number of leads Mariano Rivera had relative to everyone else and his 9% BL. The only ones even close to him are Trevor Hoffman (10%) and Todd Jones (about 11%).

Lastly, it’s also interesting to note — on the Phillies’ list above — how many of them are members of the sports media. Todd Jones has been writing for The Sporting News (not sure if his retirement changes that), Dan Plesac will be on the new MLB Network, both Ricky Bottalico and Mitch Williams are analysts for Comcast Sportsnet, and Jeff Brantley covers Reds games.

Winter Rumors, Hopes

Let’s throw some links around and see what the Phillies are up to in their quest to improve the team and defend their World Series championship in 2009.

Nick Cafardo:

[The Phillies] have made an offer to [Derek] Lowe, who would be their No. 2 starter behind Cole Hamels, bumping Brett Myers. If not Lowe, they’d go after another starter who can be a No. 2 or 3. They would need a bat to replace [Pat] Burrell, and they’ll consider [Raul] Ibanez or a return of [Bobby] Abreu. Re-signing Jamie Moyer will also be on the burner.

Lowe and his ground ball tendencies — second highest GB% in the Majors behind Brandon Webb — would fit in well at Citizens Bank Park, but he’s in his mid-30’s (35 to be exact). There’s a lot to like about Lowe, though, besides the ground balls: in four seasons with the Dodgers, he never put up an ERA higher than 3.88 and his FIP has never wildly deviated from his ERA. None of his peripherals strike you with the notion that Lowe has gotten by on any kind of luck, and his strikeout rates the last two seasons have been his highest since 2001. Additionally, Lowe put up a walk rate under two per nine innings, always a good sign. The difference between 2007 and ’08 for Lowe in terms of pitch selection is less reliance on his fastball (-6%) and change-up (-7%), and more reliance on his slider (+13%).

I’ve gone over the Burrell/Ibanez comparisons, but Abreu is another name who fits into the “solid hitter, but an awful defender” genus. Unless one can be had for a seven-figure salary, none of them are worth it.

MLB Trade Rumors:

According to Ken Rosenthal, free agent southpaw Randy Wolf is open to all teams.  He won’t limit himself to the West Coast.  Wolf first revealed this info on September 26th.  Rosenthal wonders if a return to the Phillies could be in order if they don’t re-sign Jamie Moyer.

As much as I like Randy Wolf as a person, I have to say that I’d pass on him if he was willing to come to Philly, even relatively cheaply. There’s been no real consistency with any of his peripherals. Even projecting Wolf as a league-average pitcher is being optimistic. J.A. Happ can do the same job for less money and without the injury concerns.

Jayson Stark

The Phillies’ difficulties in re-signing Jamie Moyer have reached the stage in which Moyer has re-enlisted his former agent, Jim Bronner, to begin calling other clubs to see how much interest they would have in the 46-year-old left-hander. Sources indicate that while there continues to be mutual interest in having Moyer remain a Phillie, the two sides continue to haggle, purely over dollars.

As I mentioned before, don’t expect the 2008 version of Jamie Moyer to ever show up again. He benefited from a perfect storm of occurrences, especially a way overachieving Phillies middle infield. He’s so reliant on having balls in play turned into outs because he does not strike out a lot of hitters (5.64 per nine innings last season). Both the Bill James and Marcels projections see Moyer putting up a 4.23 and 4.58 ERA, respectively. I’m even more pessimistic.

David Murphy:

Phillies baseball personnel have been asking pointed questions about Twins outfielder Delmon Young, the former overall No. 1 draft choice of Tampa Bay, sources told the Daily News. Young is probably best known for a 2006 incident when he was suspended 50 games in the minor leagues for throwing his bat at an umpire. (See the video of the incident below.)

He was traded to the Twins after the 2007 season. The Phils are believed to be looking for a replacement for Pat Burrell, who is not expected to re-sign.

You often see one or two teams capitalize on the negative perception of a player, whether due to his personality (Milton Bradley), off-the-field issues (Josh Hamilton), or other circumstances. The Phillies typically haven’t taken these kinds of risks, especially with the credence given to team chemistry vis a vis their success.

The Phillies should continue with their risk-aversion, as Young simply isn’t worth it. He was one of the few fielders worse than Pat Burrell last year — negative 25 to Pat’s negative 20, according to the Fielding Bible —  and hasn’t shown good plate discipline. And with more than 1,400 plate appearances in the Majors, he’s been hitting balls hard less and less — an LD% that goes from 26.2% (only 131 PA) to 21.1% to 17.1% from 2006-08.

Young might appear to be the next “you never should have doubted me” player, but he simply isn’t worth it on his defense alone. Then you add in his unproven offense capabilities and, yes, his personality problems — you should be more willing to share needles than to gamble with Delmon Young.

Lastly, hold on to your hats…

Ken Rosenthal:

Both the Cubs and World Series champion Phillies have entered the fray to land the Padres’ ace.

[...]

But the Phillies threw their name into the mix later Monday, FOXSports.com‘s Ken Rosenthal reported. The Padres like some of the Phillies’ young minor-league pitchers, major-league sources told Rosenthal, but the talks are only in the preliminary stages.

Basically, if a deal can be made to acquire Jake Peavy, then that deal has to be made, even if it involves parting ways with Lou Marson.

The Phillies, being risk-averse, typically haven’t made huge off-season trades (Brad Lidge, Billy Wagner, and Kevin Millwood being the biggest three I can recall) and realistically probably don’t have enough to outbid the Cubs. It’s nice to see that the Phillies have indicated interest in Peavy, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

My Newspaper Column on Donovan McNabb

From time to time when baseball isn’t entirely on my mind, I look at the NFL. I’m as surprised as you are. As such, I formulated opinions on the whole McNabb saga that seems to be coming to an end here in Philadelphia. The Delaware County Daily Times thought enough of my opinion to publish it in a newspaper, infecting the minds of thousands of readers.

Click the thumbnail below to see the actual article, or you can click here for the online version.

McNabb article

Phillies Don’t Offer Arb. to Burrell and Moyer

David Murphy/Paul Hagen:

National League sources confirmed to the Daily News that the midnight deadline to offer arbitration passed with the Phillies passing on all four of their players eligible for free agency: Moyer, leftfielder Pat Burrell and righthanders Tom Gordon and Rudy Seanez.

As expected, Gordon and Seanez didn’t get arbitration offers. Almost as if to maintain some sort of equilibrium, the non-offers to Burrell and Moyer are equally as unexpected. Most people will react as if GM Ruben Amaro is crazy, and he very well may be, but let me be the first to defend his decisions here.

Burrell made $14 million last season and already declined a two-year, $22 million offer (an avg. annual salary cut of $3 million) from the Phillies. In arbitration, he was likely to make slightly more than the $14 million he made in 2008.

Moyer made $3.5 million last season and $10.5 million over his two-year deal with the Phillies. Because of his uniqueness as a 46-year-old pitcher, it’s hard to put an estimate on what he’d have been awarded in arbitration, but I’d say around $8 million.

Both Burrell and Moyer are Type A free agents, which means that if the Phillies had offered one or both arbitration and either declined, they would have been given two draft picks as compensation. The risk is that a panel of arbitrators will decide how much of payroll is dedicated to one or two players if they accept, and the Phillies’ front office may think they can do better than Burrell and Moyer at their likely prices.

Amaro and Co. felt that Burrell wasn’t worth two draft picks or $15-17 million, and Moyer two picks and $6-10 million. He’s not wrong.

There is an abundance of good-hitting corner outfielders in the free agent market, and the Phillies have strongly pursued two: Raul Ibanez formerly of the Seattle Mariners, and Rocco Baldelli, formerly of the Tampa Bay Rays. It makes sense to decline arbitration to Burrell if there’s been any indication of interest on either Ibanez or Baldelli’s part to accept a contract that is shorter in length and/or lower in salary.

Putting aside intangible arguments — Burrell is part of a winning clubhouse atmosphere, he enjoys playing in Philly and is used to the fans, etc. — for a moment, the only downsides to Ibanez over Burrell is that Ibanez would be another left-hander in a LH-heavy Phillies lineup, and he’ll be 37 in June. And the downside to Baldelli would be that he’d have to be part of a platoon considering his health condition.

Neither player has the on-base skills that Burrell has, particularly in drawing walks, and neither player has quite the power that Burrell has, either. Obviously, losing Burrell is a downgrade with either player offensively.

According to the Fielding Bible, Ibanez (-18) is about as poor a defender as Burrell (-20), and in the few defensive innings Baldelli has played in his career, he’s been about average as a CF according to RZR.

Putting it all together, how many wins is each player worth? Sky Kalkman puts both Burrell and Ibanez at just over two wins above replacement (WAR), and doesn’t have a listing for Baldelli. Considering that he’d be primarily facing left-handed pitchers (34.5% of the Phillies’ PA came against LHP)  if he joined the Phillies, he might be worth just over one WAR. Kalkman uses $4.84 million as the cost of one win from a replacement-level free agent, thus concluding that both Burrell and Ibanez are worth about $11 million per season. Again assuming, we might say that Baldelli would be worth $6-8 million.

What about Jamie Moyer? He was awesome last season and has been good for 190+ IP every season after 2000.

Don’t expect 2008 Moyer. His 3.71 ERA is much lower than his 4.32 FIP. That’s not surprising considering that the Phillies were the best defensive team in baseball (+74 according to John Dewan in The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2009). Can we expect the Phillies to be that good defensively in 2009? Don’t count on it. Using statistics from Dewan in the Annual, look at how much of a jump in defensive production occurs between 2007 and ’08.

Area: 2007 | 2008

Middle Infield: +25 | +71

Corner Infield: -2 | +7

Outfield: -5 | -4

Total: +18 | +74

Obviously, the middle infield — Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins — jumps out at you. Utley was, by far, the best defensive second baseman in baseball (his +47 was well ahead of second-place Mark Ellis at +26). Rollins led all shortstops at +23, just ahead of Yunel Escobar at +21. This, of course, according to the Fielding Bible.

Given Utley’s recent hip surgery, it’s reasonable to expect that Utley won’t be quite the defender he was in ’08.

The subtraction of Burrell (-20) might offset any regression to the mean by the rest of the gang, but not if he’s replaced by someone like Ibanez, who is nearly as poor a defender.

The point is that Moyer, whose batted balls were ground balls 44% of the time last season, benefited greatly from an overachieving middle infield that is bound to regress next season.

There’s also the fact that Moyer doesn’t have great numbers at Citizens Bank Park. In his career, he has a 4.60 ERA there.

The Phillies already have three of their rotation spots set with Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, and Joe Blanton. The other two can be filled internally with Kyle Kendrick, J.A. Happ, Adam Eaton (please don’t), Carlos Carrasco, etc. Or, now that the Phillies are not obligated to pay Burrell and Moyer about $25 million, they have the flexibility to go after a big name free agent starter like A.J. Burnett or Derek Lowe.

In the end, not offering arbitration to Burrell and Moyer is a good move, but only if Amaro has considerable fallback options so that the Phillies don’t start the season with both Kendrick and Eaton in the rotation and Geoff Jenkins as the everyday starter in left field.

What I’m Thankful For: Yankees Fans

With a hat tip to poster Squire at the Phillies forum Back She Goes, I direct you to a gem of a comment from Vito of New York City posted on an ESPN Chat with Jim Callis (press Ctrl + F and search for “Vito”):

Jim, I have come to the conclusion that cole hamels would look awesome in yankee pinstripes…do you think a deal involving ian kennedy and melky cabrera along with a lesser prospect like coke, would be enought to pry him away from philly?

The sentiment is so ignorant it’s not even deserving of an FJM-style bit-by-bit rebuke. It has to be a joke. No one with a room temperature IQ actually thinks like this, right?

According to this guy, this is what the Yankees’ Opening Day 2009 lineup will look like:

C – Joe Mauer
1B – Mark Teixeira
2B – Ian Kinsler
3B – Alex Rodriguez
SS – Derek Jeter
OF – Carlos Beltran
OF – Grady Sizemore
OF – Adam Dunn
DH – Manny Ramirez
SP – C.C. Sabathia

Speaking of giving thanks, David Cohen has a top-ten thanks list at The Good Phight. Because I know you were going to ask anyway, here are my top five after “Vito”:

  1. Chase Utley giving the FCC something to work on when he dropped an F-bomb on live television.
  2. Harry Kalas.
  3. Awesome blogs (see blogroll on the right-hand column).
  4. Cole Hamels putting the Phillies back on the map both on and off the field.
  5. Hilarious antics (from an observer’s perspective) following a World Series victory.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Update on Chase Utley’s Surgery

Per Scott Lauber:

Phillies second baseman Chase Utley had surgery on his right hip yesterday. The surgery was performed by Dr. Bryan Kelly at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. Utley had an arthroscopic debridement of his labrum and a bony lesion that was present. Dr. Kelly reported the surgery went well and the findings yesterday were consistent with the diagnostic studies performed prior to surgery. It is anticipated that he will have a four- to six-month recovery period as previously described.

Just so you don’t have to grab that medical dictionary, here are the definitions of those those big words:

  • Debridement: the removal of dead, damaged, or infected tissue to improve the healing potential of the remaining healthy tissue.
  • Bone lesion: abnormality of bone tissue.

Utley’s surgery went well and none of the procedures caused any setbacks. To quote Lauber again:

According to the good doctor, a debridement consists of little more than “trimming” the labrum, the best-case scenario for Utley. Based on the Phillies’ description of the procedure, and without knowing Utley’s speed of recovery (we’re guessing it’s pretty good), Kalman said it sounds “pretty reasonable” that Utley could be ready by Opening Day.

We hope Utley is ready by Opening Day, but even if he is, given the Phillies’ easy April schedule, letting him take it easy for another month (playing him lightly) would be an optimal strategy. In April, the Phils play just two teams (vs. Milwaukee and @ Florida) who had a winning record in 2008. They play the Braves, Rockies, and Padres three times and the Nationals six times. May opens with three at home against the Mets.

2009 Philadelphia Phillies Projections

Hop over to The Good Phight where MattS dishes out his projections for the current batch of Phillies in 2009. It’s one of the more thorough projection explanations out there.

Here’s a snippet of his explanation:

Rollins power went down this year, but he appeared to master the strike zone like never before, raising his BB% from 6.4% to 9.4% and his K% down from 11.9% to 9.9% since his MVP season.  His peripherals seem to strengthen this case—his Swing% went down from 42.9% to 39.7% while his Contact% when up from 86.9% to 90.8%.  However, this is mostly a higher (78.0%) contact rate on balls out of the strike zone, almost 10% more than the previous year, which was probably the cause of the .290 BABIP, lower than the previous years’ .303.  I expect a little bit of reversion on all counts: a .298 BABIP, an 8.4 UBB%, 11 K%.

Bad News for Chase Utley, Phillies

We have some bad news per Todd Zolecki:

Chase Utley will have right hip surgery, and will miss the next four to six months.

That means Utley will be back near the end of March at the earliest, missing almost all of spring training. And it could mean that Utley misses the first one-third of the season.

There may be a silver lining — the Phillies could try Jason Donald at second base instead of settling for Eric Bruntlett or a scrub free agent middle infielder. Donald is performing well in the Arizona Fall League: in 91 at-bats, his AVG/OBP/SLG line is .407/.476/.747.

The Phillies shouldn’t, and most likely won’t, overreact to the news, so don’t expect a free agent signing of Orlando Hudson or a trade for Dan Uggla (since the Marlins are going through yet another roster liquidation).

It’s mere speculation, but it seems like this was the play that hurt Utley. Justin Upton of the Arizona Diamondbacks took him out at second base to break up the double play. That game was on May 5. Up to that point, Utley had put up a slash line of .357/.432/.762. After that game, he had a slash line of .273/.363/.472. Still not bad, and this is not to say that Utley was going to OPS 1.200 the rest of the year, but it seems like the Upton slide was the play which hurt Utley’s hip.

This is further confirmed if we look at the ten games before and after the game: .333/.409/.590 before and .143/.225/.229 after. Reduce it to five games and it becomes .316/.409/.789 before and .059/.150/.059 after. In fact, it took Utley seven games after that slide to get a hit that was not a single — he hit a home run off of Tom Glavine on May 14.

If this is indeed true that Justin Upton is the culprit, then we can add him to a list similar to Steve Buscemi’s in the movie Billy Madison:

Somewhat of an Update

I apologize for the lack of meaningful content lately here at Crashburn Alley. I’ve been a bit busy with real life and it will probably stay that way until about mid-December. As usual, I’ll try and be faithful with Phillies and general baseball news. Just an FYI for anyone who may be constantly clicking the refresh button here like I am.

In the meantime, check out some interesting posts from some great blogs: