Enter Offense; Exeunt Bullpen

Great timing, guys. I don’t think I could have timed it better myself. Wait three weeks for the offense to re-emerge while the pitching staff pitches mostly lights-out, then once the offense busts through the front door, the bullpen runs out the back and leaps out of a fifth-story window.

The win probability graph to the right (via FanGraphs) says it all. After Cole Hamels allowed three runs in the first inning (BABIP!) to start this afternoon’s ballgame against the Minnesota Twins, the Phillies had a 27.5 percent chance to win. That percentage moved all the way up to 93 percent after Raul Ibanez led off the bottom of the third inning with a solo home run to bring the score to 8-3. The Phillies looked like they had this game in the bag, but then they handed the game over to the bullpen.

It was 9-4 when Jose Contreras toed the rubber to start the top of the ninth inning. That’s fine. Teams in the exact same position — up by five runs with three outs to go — won 98.5 percent of the time. With the Phillies’ bullpen having pitched well through 65 games, it felt like the Phillies had a 100 percent chance to win.

The Twins rallied. Delmon Young singled and Jim Thome homered, bringing the score up to 9-6 and the Phillies’ chances down to 96.4 percent. That’s fine; the cat’s still in the bag. Contreras would walk Nick Punto before Brad Lidge would be called upon for three outs, a task he had handled rather well in 2010 after a nightmarish ’09. With Punto on third base and one out, Denard Span hit a line drive back through the middle. 9-7, 91 percent. That’s fine. Lidge rebounded and struck out Orlando Hudson. 96 percent. As Conan O’Brien would say, “Keep cool my babies.”

Last year’s American League Most Valuable Player award winner Joe Mauer represented the last of the Twins’ hopes to win the game. 96 times out of 100, teams down by two runs with two outs and a runner on second lost the game. And the Twins got their winning lottery ticket in the form of a Joe Mauer two-out ninth inning game-tying home run.

That’s fine. The Phillies get another at-bat and the top of the order is batting. Surely, they could scratch and claw for one more run after scoring nine. After Shane Victorino struck out, Placido Polanco and Chase Utley laced back-to-back singles. Prior to the Phillies’ offensive surge, singles accounted for over 70 percent of Ryan Howard‘s hits. If ever there was a time for a single, it was then. But Howard, having hit three home runs in his last two games, tried to plate three runs instead of one and struck out. Jayson Werth would follow suit, watching strike three dive across the plate for the final out. That’s fine. Hold ’em scoreless and win it in the 11th inning.

Charlie Manuel called upon Chad Durbin to pitch the tenth inning. That’s fine. Durbin has pitched well this year, rediscovering his control from 2008 that eluded him last year. He had a 3.06 ERA entering the game. After Contreras, he was the Phillies’ most reliable relief pitcher. Durbin’s first challenger was Drew Butera, a rookie with a .375 OPS in 42 plate appearances. In the Minor Leagues, he had a career .613 OPS and 21 home runs in 1,630 plate appearances. In a game full of statistical improbabilities, you can guess what happened. Butera hit a home run to put the Twins ahead 10-9. Durbin would continue to make Phillies fans squirm in their seats as he allowed two hits after getting two outs.

The score would have been 11-9 if not for an exquisite display of defense from Utley. With runners on first and second and two outs, Denard Span hit a grounder up the middle, seemingly destined for center field. Reminiscent of Game 5 of the 2008 World Series, Utley corralled the ball and threw home as Nick Punto (playing the part of Jason Bartlett) was tagged out. If the Phillies ended up winning, Durbin was treating Utley to a lavish steak dinner.

Leading off the bottom of the tenth for the Phillies was fan favorite Greg Dobbs. In what can only be described as a “professional at-bat”, Dobbs swung at the first pitch from Twins closer Jon Rauch, popping it up towards the visitors’ dugout. Mauer reached out and snagged it. One pitch, one out. Great plate discipline, Dobbs. Brian Schneider rolled over on a Rauch change-up, grounding out to first baseman Justin Morneau for the second out. At that point — down by one run, two outs, no one on base — teams lose 95 percent of the time. Ross Gload, however, played the role of hero and tied the game up with a line drive home run down the right field line. 10-all; the Phillies were back in this.

If asked to scan a list of the Phillies’ bullpen arms and rank them according to skill level, Danys Baez will always come out last. There is absolutely nothing to like about him unless you are easily excited by flat 94 MPH fastballs. His strikeout rate is just barely higher than Jamie Moyer‘s and his walk rate is nearly as high as his strikeout rate. And yet, there he was in the tenth inning beholden to prevent runs from scoring. Notice that is “runs” pluralized. While allowing one run is bad enough, the Phillies are capable of catching up as they did in the tenth inning. Baez, with a team-leading six “meltdowns” entering the game, would allow three runs.

Baez struck out Hudson to start the inning, but showed trepidation with Mauer before walking him. With a runner on first base (first base!), Justin Morneau was intentionally walked to bring up Jon Rauch. Rauch was not going to be pinch-hit for because the Twins were out of bench players. So with runners on first and second and one out, Rauch did what any pitcher is asked to do: he successfully bunted the runners over. With runners on second and third and two outs, the next two hitters due up were Delmon Young and Matt Tolbert. Young came into the game with an .838 OPS that included a near-.500 SLG and .302 batting average. Tolbert came into the game with a  .586 OPS and a .214 batting average, neither number too far away from his career average.

The smart baseball mind notices that, with first base open, Young — the clearly superior hitter — can be intentionally walked not only to bring up Tolbert, but to create a force play at every base. According to the run expectancy matrix from Baseball Prospectus, runners on second and third with two outs yields 0.59 runs on average while the bases loaded with two outs yields 0.85. That is not too high a jump considering that for the runner on first — Young, not a fleet runner — to score, Tolbert would have to get an extra-base hit. With a career .334 SLG, only 21 of his career 87 hits (24 percent) went for extra bases.

Instead, Manuel chose to let Baez pitch to Young. The Phillies paid for it as Young laced a grounder through the hole between third base and shortstop, snagged by Wilson Valdez but far too late for any out to be recorded. If the bases had been loaded and the ball was hit in the same spot, Valdez could have gone to second for an easy force out. Instead, the Twins took the 11-10 lead and Tolbert came to the plate and put the game away, driving two runs with a weakly-hit line drive to left field. The probability of winning went back below five percent. The Phillies were unable to rally once again, losing in embarrassing fashion. Once up 9-4 with three outs to go, they had lost 13-10.

Four Phillies relievers earned “meltdowns” (WPA of -.06 or lower):

Going into this afternoon’s game, the most meltdowns in one game by the Phillies’ bullpen was two, occurring three times: April 15 (Ryan Madson and Baez), April 20 (Madson and Contreras), and April 25 (David Herndon and Baez). And of the 1,009 Major League Baseball games played this year going into games on June 19, in only three of them (0.3 percent) did four relievers earn meltdowns:

If Phillies fans wanted to pull a Ray Finkle, they wouldn’t know which reliever’s name to scribble on the wall.

Because It Needs to be Said

Scott Mathieson made his return to the Major Leagues tonight against the Minnesota Twins. It did not go well. He allowed two runs on three hits and only recorded two outs. Based on that, one is bound to conclude that Mathieson struggled but that was not the case.

Delmon Young was Mathieson’s first obstacle. The right-hander got ahead 1-2 then tossed a fastball about a foot off the plate, hoping to induce a defensive swing, but Young laid off. On the next pitch Young grounded a low and inside fastball into the hole between third base and shortstop. Placido Polanco got leather on it but was not able to corral the ball allowing Young to reach safely with a single.

Mathieson got ahead of Nick Punto 0-2, then threw two high-and-away fastballs for balls one and two, an attempt to get Punto to fish and either swing and miss or pop the ball up. On the sixth pitch of the at-bat, Mathieson finally broke out a breaking ball. The curveball was down the middle but below the knees. Punto took a very defensive swing and was able to weakly ground the ball into right field for a single.

Danny Valencia, with runners on first and second and no outs, got ahead 2-0 but weakly fouled out to catcher Brian Schneider for the first out.

Denard Span worked the count 1-1 before hitting a line drive back up the middle, loading the bases with one out.

Orlando Hudson was Mathieson’s final batter. Perhaps nervous, Mathieson’s first pitch was a fastball in the dirt that skipped away, allowing a run to score and two base runners to advance. He rebounded and got ahead in the count 1-2, breaking out the change-up for a called strike two on the third pitch. He attempted to get Hudson fishing with a rising fastball but to no avail. Finally, he came back with a fastball which Hudson grounded to shortstop Wilson Valdez for the second out, allowing another run to score.

The tally? Three ground balls, a weak foul pop-up, and a line drive. All in all, I’d say Mathieson performed just fine.

Another complaint I expect to hear is that Mathieson is a one-trick pony, as 19 of his 22 pitches were fastballs. However, that is likely not to be the case going forward. When Mathieson came in, the score was 9-3 so the modus operandi is simply to throw strikes and get the game over with as soon as possible. Additionally, the kid was making his first Major League appearance since September of 2006. The orders were, likely, to simply pump fastballs to get his feet wet. Mathieson did each of his other pitches exactly once: his change-up, slider, and curve. So it was more of a trial run than anything.

His fastball looked good, maxing out at 99 MPH and averaging 96 MPH. I liked his use of the high fastball to induce bad swings. Unfortunately, the Twins are third in the American League in walks, so their ability to lay off of those high fastballs is to be commended.

I thought Mathieson pitched well despite the box score. If you tell me ahead of time that a pitcher will face five batters, inducing three ground balls and an infield pop-up, I’ll tell you that the pitcher should enjoy a lot of success.

Why Roy Halladay Will Not Win the Cy Young

Over the past few days, “Ubaldo Jimenez has been lucky” articles have been making the rounds. Matt Swartz penned a great one at Baseball Prospectus. Jack Moore of FanGraphs and Disciples of Uecker called one of Jimenez’s starts “unimpressive”. Joe Sheehan included Jimenez in a list of lucky pitchers in an article for Sports Illustrated.

Yeah, that .239 BABIP doesn’t have staying power, nor does his stranding of over 91 percent of base runners. Neither does the HR/FB rate at 3.8 percent — pitching his home games at Coors Field, no less. If I’m a betting man, I’m with Swartz and Moore and Sheehan — I’m betting on Jimenez regressing to that mean.

Still, Jimenez finds himself in waters charted rarely throughout baseball history. Including Jimenez, only four pitchers since 1980 won 13 games in their teams’ first 66 games according to Baseball Reference.

This is a Phillies blog, so why am I wasting so much time praising Jimenez? In mid-February, I wrote that Roy Halladay has a strong case as a Hall of Famer and that would only be helped by adding some more hardware to his mantle, be it a World Series trophy or MVP award, or a Cy Young award. Halladay, with a 2.36 ERA, has five complete games and three shut-outs including a perfect game to his credit in 2010. He is expected to be a heavy contender for the NL Cy Young award, awarded during the off-season. No other pitcher in baseball has compiled more Wins Above Replacement (WAR) than Halladay. Not even Jimenez.

I don’t write this to say that Jimenez is going to impede Halladay’s progress as a Hall of Famer — that would be ridiculous — but to highlight the one clear and present threat to some end-of-season hardware for Doc. We all want Doc to get his mitts on that hardware, right?

Jimenez currently has a 1.15 ERA and is on pace to accrue 248 and one-third innings by season’s end. That means he is on pace to hurl another 147 and one-third innings. In order for his ERA to cross the 2.00 threshold, Jimenez would have to allow 43 runs over those 147.3 innings (2.63 ERA). To cross the 3.00 threshold, Jimenez would have to allow 70 runs (4.27 ERA).

Halladay currently has a 2.36 ERA and is on pace to accrue 271 innings by season’s end, meaning he is on pace to hurl another 164 innings. Let’s say Jimenez finishes with a 2.00 ERA. Halladay would have to allow 32 runs in his next 164 innings (1.76 ERA) to match Jimenez. If Jimenez finishes at 3.00, Halladay would have to allow 62 runs in 164 innings (3.41 ERA) to match him.

By Sabermetric accounts, Halladay has thus far been the better pitcher. His 3.04 SIERA is vastly superior to Jimenez’s 3.47. Of course, we know that these awards are not dictated by Sabermetric merits but by the Baseball Writer’s Association of America who are tickled pink by won-lost records and earned run average. With Jimenez at 13-1 and Halladay at 8-5, if Doc wants to win the NL Cy Young award, not only is he going to have to pitch lights-out baseball (and that is certainly not an impossible task given his pedigree) but he is going to have to hope Jimenez falls off the proverbial cliff.

Davey Lopes Squeals on Chase Utley [Updated]

From David Laurila’s Prospectus Q&A with Phillies first base coach Davey Lopes:

David Laurila: You’ve received a lot of credit for the team’s improved baserunning in recent years. What have you done in that regard?

Davey Lopes: Actually, just getting them to pursue going first to third, and the guys that we feel have base-stealing ability—getting them to utilize their speed more. Over the last few years, it’s been pretty successful, but this year we’re a little bit slow for whatever reason.

DL: Slow in what way?

Lopes: The numbers. Mainly the stolen-base attempts are just not there like they have been in the last three years that I’ve been a part of the organization. One reason is that Jimmy Rollins is hurt and he’s our main guy as far as attempting to steal bases. Vic [Shane Victorino] is starting to pick it up. And Jayson [Werth]—and I use the term loosely—is not very aggressive at all, for whatever reason, this year. Chase [Utley] has been hampered by a little bit of a knee injury. That’s more than likely why our numbers are down, but it’s still confusing to me as to why they haven’t been as aggressive in attempting to steal.


DL: You mentioned that the team isn’t running as well this season. Is that reversible, or indicative of a team that is maybe getting a bit older and slower?

Lopes: Well, I wouldn’t say that it’s not reversible, but the only way that it’s going to get any better is to, a) Get Jimmy Rollins back and he’s healthy; b) The other guys that aren’t attempting to run need to start putting pressure on the defense by running. Now, I can’t force them to run. All that I can do is point out certain things, and then it’s up to them. But Victorino is starting to come along, and right now he is really the only one running, or attempting to steal, because Jimmy is hurt. Chase has had some problems with his knee, and Jayson has had a horrendous slump for the last month or so. So I think that once they just get back to hitting, and back to winning—these things help us win. When you get on base and the opposition presents you with an opportunity to steal a base—if we don’t capitalize, we’re only defeating what we’re built around.

Since May 25 (21 games), Utley is 12-for-76 (.158) with two extra-base hits (two doubles) and a .270 OBP/.184 SLG. A knee problem would certainly explain Utley’s offensive woes. However, by all accounts, he has played fantastic defense. His UZR/150 is at 16.3, just a bit higher than his career average 14.0. If Utley’s knee was truly problematic, we would expect it to also translate into poorer defense, no?

Perhaps the knee injury has simply forced Chase to alter his swing mechanics. From a Jayson Stark article at ESPN on June 4:

Once again this week, let’s check in with some of America’s most brilliant scouting minds:


On Chase Utley: “He looks like he’s not seeing the ball. He’s shooting the bat out like he’s just trying to make contact, instead of firing the bat out to try and drive it. It just looks like he’s not seeing it out of the pitcher’s hand, and that’s what’s always made him so good, why he hits left-handers so well. He just sees the ball so well. But not right now.”

The big difference in the spray charts (thanks, Texas Leaguers!) before and during his offensive slump are pitches he pulls down the right field line.

Also notable is that, in the smaller span of games, Utley has a similar amount of ground balls to the right side of the infield.

That Utley is nursing an injury should come as no surprise to anyone as he is well-known for hiding his wounds. Unfortunately, as bad as he has been hitting, the Phillies can’t afford to give him an extended period of rest as a lineup consisting of both Juan Castro and Wilson Valdez is begging for a shut-out.

UPDATE: GM Ruben Amaro disputes Lopes’ claim that Utley is injured. Via Jim Salisbury:

Amaro had a sharp response to Lopes’ comment on Friday afternoon.

“Davey Lopes is not a doctor. He’s not our spokesman. He has given out wrong information,” Amaro said in a telephone interview with CSNPhilly.com. “Chase is not injured. There is no injury. I will dispute what Davey says. That is false and incorrect information.”

Amaro, for the first time, did admit that Utley has dealt with some soreness in his knee. Amaro was not sure which knee was affected.

“He has had some intermittent soreness like any other player has over the course of a season,” Amaro said. “Guys get soreness in their wrists, their ankles. Pitchers get soreness in their shoulders after they throw. That does not mean they are injured. Every guy who puts an ice pack on is not injured.”

Amaro was asked if the team had administered an MRI on Utley’s knee.

“No,” Amaro said. “There is no injury. It is not an issue. I don’t even think he’s on our injury report.”

What’s Eating Joe Blanton?

Rob tackled the Phillies’ Blanton issue on his blog:

When Blanton pitched for the Athletics, he gave up relatively few home runs, just 0.82 per nine innings. But then Blanton joined the Phillies, and that number jumped to 1.35 over 2008 and ’09 despite the shift to a less powerful league (if only because of the pitchers hitting). This year it’s 2.1 home runs per nine. And it’s not just the difference in Blanton’s home ballparks. Since joining the Phillies, Blanton’s ground-ball rates have trended steadily and dramatically downward.

Essentially, everything that could go wrong is going wrong. Blanton’s striking out fewer hitters. He’s giving up more fly balls, and a higher percentage of those fly balls are flying over the wall.

Some of this will naturally self-correct. But some of it, maybe a lot of it, will not. Right now, without a major rebuilding effort, the best case for Blanton might be a decent No. 5 starter. Which would be fine, except the Phillies already have two of those.

Joe Blanton has a 7.28 ERA but a 4.82 SIERA. While a near-five SIERA is pretty bad — Blanton’s ranks 108th out of 140 pitchers with at least 47 innings — it is much, much lower than his ERA which leads us to conclude that Blanton has been the victim of some bad luck along with his poor pitching.

His BABIP so far is .332, even higher than Hamels’ was in his tumultuous 2009 season. Since he isn’t striking anyone out (averaging just under five K’s per nine innings), BABIP becomes more of an issue since hitters are putting more balls in play.

Additionally, while Blanton’s HR/FB rate is at about the same spot as it was last year, Blanton is allowing six percent more fly balls (and six percent less line drives). While pitchers don’t have much control over their HR/FB rate, they do have control over the amount of ground balls and fly balls they allow. 99 times out of 100, you love it when a pitcher reduces his line drive rate for more fly balls. That means the hitter is making poorer contact with the pitches. Unfortunately, hitters are enjoying a 2.7% higher BABIP on fly balls (.152 to .125) and a 2.3% higher BABIP on ground balls (.275 to .252) this year compared to last year for Blanton.

If Blanton wants to enjoy success between now and the end of the season, here’s what he can do:

  • Increase his strikeout rate from 4.98 per nine closer to where it was last year, at 7.51 per nine. Even getting it to 6.0 would be great.
  • Wait for his BABIP to regress.
  • Go back to inducing ground balls. His GB% was around 45% with the Oakland Athletics, but has been around 40% with the Phillies. It’s easy to say “just do it like you used to” as inducing ground balls relies on pitch movement as well as location. Blanton, who was on the disabled list with a strained oblique earlier this season, may not be able to generate the same movement and mastery of his pitches as he used to.

How Cole Got His Groove Back

Cole Hamels is back, ladies and gentlemen. What did he do to bounce back from a tumultuous 2009 season (and April 2010)?


Just as he did nothing to contribute to the swift descent following his impeccable 2008 in which he won the World Series MVP award, the Cole we have watched through 13 starts (12 if you exclude his rain-shortened outing in Atlanta on June 1) has similarly remained constant.

Sure, he added a cut fastball but it has been his worst pitch according to the pitch type values found on FanGraphs. He has actually reduced the use of his three other pitches in favor of the cutter and he still finds himself 11th in the National League in SIERA (among pitchers with at least 65 IP). In his latest start against the Boston Red Sox in which he allowed only one run over seven innings, 65% of his pitches were fastballs and 27% were change-ups. In fact, the fewer cutters Cole has thrown, the more successful he has been.

Hamels has beefed up his strikeout rate, averaging nearly one per inning and about one more per nine innings than in ’09 and ’08. His walk rate has hurdled above three per nine but it hasn’t meant much since he is stranding nearly 83% of base runners. The big key to his success — and this should come as no surprise if you have been reading this blog for a while — has been a regression in batting average on balls in play (BABIP).

In 2008 when he had tremendous success, his BABIP was .270, much lower than the traditional .300. In ’09 when he was painful to watch pitch, his BABIP was .325. This year, which has thus far met his ’08 and ’09 seasons somewhere in the middle, his BABIP is .308. Since pitchers don’t have much control over BABIP, the regression is simply due to Phillies’ defenders turning batted balls into outs and good ol’ fashioned luck. The extra strikeout per nine has been icing on the cake, as is his newfound dominance over left-handed hitters.

What else could have contributed to his success?

I noted after his second start in April that he may be toying around with release points but Pitch F/X guru Harry Pavlidis was helpful in reaching the conclusion that the machines were calibrated differently as the two starts were at two different ballparks. The calibration, though, seemed to only affect vertical measurement. Hamels has shifted his release point towards the left-handed batter’s box as the following graphs will illustrate:

The release point hasn’t made much of a difference though because hitters are making the same amount of contact and swinging and missing at similar rates as last year.

Season Contact% SwStr%
2006 72.3% 12.8%
2007 73.9% 13.6%
2008 76.9% 11.5%
2009 75.2% 11.9%
2010 75.6% 10.7%

Others will note the increase in velocity, as his fastball hit 94 MPH or higher 46 times in his most recent start in Boston. While it was great to see, his fastball hasn’t been like that all year as the velocity chart from FanGraphs illustrates.

For the third straight year, you can chalk up most of Hamels’ performance to BABIP luck. Just imagine how good he’ll be when his HR/FB rate (over which pitchers also have little control) regresses down from 16.5% to the more appropriate 10-11%. He has the potential to reach Nolan Ryan territory if he can kick the Twilight habit.

Graph of the Intermittent Time Period

Two graphs in two days? I must be on a roll. Actually, I meant to post this a few days ago but never got around to it. Last week at Baseball Daily Digest, I attempted to quantify the throwing arm of St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina by comparing their opponents’ base-stealing aggressiveness and success to the rest of Major League Baseball. The results were staggering — Molina is one hell of a catcher, as the charts and tables in the article illustrate.

So I decided to do the same for Carlos Ruiz, who is regarded as a good pitch-blocker and a great game-caller. You don’t hear much about his arm and there’s a reason for that: it’s average. Only in 2007 did he nab runners significantly above the National League average, 31% to 25%. Since 2008, he has been a few percentage points below average.

The following chart depicts a scatterplot with data going back to 2005. On the X-axis (horizontal), each teams’ opponents’ stolen base attempts — a.k.a. aggressiveness — is charted. Markers towards the left depict passivity. On the Y-axis (vertical), each teams’ opponents’ stolen base success is charted. Markers towards the bottom depict base running failure. So the further southwest the markers are, the better for the catchers.

Everything has been normalized into a z-score, which tells you how many standard deviations from the mean a particular data point lies. For instance, last year, opponents attempted to steal 132 times against the Phillies’ catchers. The average stolen base attempts against in the National League in 2009 was 128. By subtracting the league average from the Phillies’ number, and then dividing that difference by the standard deviation (25), we come up with our z-score of 0.16. That simply tells us that opposing teams ran against Ruiz and the Phillies at about an average rate.

2007 PHI 84 39 123 68% -0.26 -0.89
2008 PHI 109 34 143 76% 0.47 0.77
2009 PHI 95 37 132 72% 0.16 0.23
2010 PHI 34 10 44 77% -0.15 0.67

Numbers are accurate as of a day or two prior to the publishing of the Molina article on June 7.

Obviously, the methodology is not perfect as I use team totals instead of individual totals. This is simply because I lack database skills and it is too time-consuming to piece together data on all catchers over the last five or so years. Overall, however, this more than does the job at putting a catcher’s ability to control the running game into perspective.

Things Ruiz is good at doing: blocking pitches in the dirt, calling games.

Things Ruiz is average at doing: hitting, controlling the running game.

Things Ruiz is bad at doing: resisting ice cream.

Graph of the Intermittent Time Period

On Twitter (and at The Good Phight), I have been making plenty of jokes at the Phillies’ expense. For example, I have claimed, jokingly, that the offense of the 2000 Phillies squad — which finished 65-97 and dead-last in the National League in average runs per game at 4.37 — is better than the current amalgamation of hitters. The 2010 Phillies are 32-29 and rank eighth in the NL in average RPG at 4.46. I decided to investigate further and it turns out that I’m on to something. Really.

My offensive metric of choice was weighted on-base average (wOBA). If you’re unfamiliar with wOBA and would like to learn more, click this link or this link.

Numbers were compiled before Saturday’s 10-2 shellacking and Sunday’s 5-3 victory in Boston.

The 2010 offense, through 59 games, is only .004 better than the ’00 offense, hardly a difference. The only positions at which the ’10 team has a noticeable advantage are second base (Chase Utley vs. Mickey Morandini, Marlon Anderson, and Kevin Jordan) and center field (Shane Victorino vs. Doug Glanville). The notable advantages of the ’00 team are shortstop (Desi Relaford, Tomas Perez, and Alex Arias vs. Wilson Valdez, Juan Castro, and Jimmy Rollins), left field (Ron Gant and Pat Burrell vs. Raul Ibanez), and right field (Bobby Abreu vs. Jayson Werth). Additionally, the pinch-hitters on the ’00 team are significantly better than those of the present group.

The following graph depicts the Phillies’ year-to-year wOBA.

Of course, the ’00 Phillies were not only hurt by their league-worst offense, but also by their league-worst bullpen (5.72 ERA) and average starting rotation (4.39 ERA). The ’10 starting rotation has a 3.94 ERA and the bullpen 3.61. As such, the ’00 team’s Pythagorean winning percentage was .426 whereas the ’10 team’s is .542.

While the offenses are eerily impotent, the ’10 Phillies will not experience the same level of failure as the ’00 team simply due to pitching despite the recent efforts of Joe Blanton and Jamie Moyer.

At Baseball Daily Digest, I analyze the anatomy of a losing streak.

Contest: Win A Copy of “Beyond Batting Average”!

Lee Panas, author of the blog Tiger Tales, has been kind enough to pass along a paperback copy of his book Beyond Batting Average. The book will be awarded to the winner of this contest.

The contest: Predict the performance of the Philadelphia Phillies’ hitters in the next week (six games).

  • How many runs will the Phillies score between Tuesday, June 15 on the road against the New York Yankees through Sunday, June 20 at home against the Minnesota Twins?

There may be a tie, so the following predictions will be tie-breakers, in order.

  • Ryan Howard home runs:
  • Ground ball double-plays hit into by Wilson Valdez:
  • Raul Ibanez’s slugging percentage on June 21:
  • Hits by Greg Dobbs as a pinch-hitter (hits as a designated hitter will not count):
  • Extra-base hits (doubles, triples, and home runs) by Chase Utley:

Simply copy and paste all six predictions (the contest question along with the five tie-breakers) with your answers in the comments below. Provide an e-mail address that you check often that way there are no problems should you win.

In the event that two or more entrants leave identical predictions (very unlikely), the oldest entry wins. Entries are valid up until the first pitch of the Phillies-Yankees game on Tuesday, June 15.

The winner will be announced on Monday, June 21. If I do not hear back from you within 48 hours from the time of my e-mail, I will award the book to the runner-up. In order for the book to be shipped to you, I will need a valid shipping address. If you do not feel comfortable sharing this information with me, I can put you in direct contact with Mr. Panas.

If you do not win but are still interested in purchasing the book, click this link. There, you can preview the first 30 pages of Beyond Batting Average and purchase it either as a downloadable file or as a real book.

Phillies Should Shake Up Bench

With the offense slumping, many Phillies fans are begging for changes to be made. Demote Raul Ibanez, call up Domonic Brown; designate Greg Dobbs for assignment; give Ben Francisco more playing time; trade for Mike Lowell. Some of the suggestions are quite large in magnitude; others are nit-pick alterations.

As we found out at the end of May, the culprits for the Phillies’ offensive slump are Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Jayson Werth. Aside from trading Werth — something that won’t happen unless the Phillies fall completely out of the playoff picture — there isn’t much that can be done to reduce the impact the three hitters have besides changing their position in the lineup. So any major changes that are made, such as demoting Ibanez and promoting Brown, are unlikely to have a meaningful impact on the offense and there is the chance that any such moves could backfire both in terms of performance and in terms of money.

However, the Phillies can make a change, just for show, and it doesn’t have to have any real impact.

Charlie Manuel relies very heavily on his starting eight and as such, bench players are less meaningful to the Phillies. This is something free agents take into mind when deciding if they should sign with the Phillies — Ross Gload did so in the off-season when he decided to leave the Florida Marlins. He realized he would have less at-bats with the Phillies despite having the same exact role as he had in Florida, but he valued the opportunity to win a championship highly.

Since bench players are nearly invisible in Philadelphia, GM Ruben Amaro can kick Greg Dobbs, Juan Castro, and even Ross Gload to the curb and replace them with similarly cheap bench bats. Dobbs is owed $1.35 in 2010 before hitting his third year of arbitration. Gload earns $1 million this year and $1.6 million in ’11. Castro will make $750,000 and the Phillies can buy out the last year of his deal for $50,000 in ’11. These are not expensive players and the Phillies have a history of paying players to simply go away, see: Geoff Jenkins and Adam Eaton. The Phillies are paying $1.25 million and $500,000 respectively to keep them away.

After eliminating three players, we need some replacements. Who could they be?

  • Andy Tracy, 1B/3B (AAA): 36-year-old career Minor Leaguer who never got a real opportunity at the Major League level despite compiling good numbers in the Minors. Currently hitting for an .834 OPS for Lehigh Valley with a good walk rate. Has played first base exclusively while in the Phillies’ system, but has had experience at third base. Could easily replace Greg Dobbs.
  • John Mayberry, OF (AAA): Decent hitter with some power, but poor strike zone judgment has been his downfall. Had some Major League experience last year with the Phillies, but did not drop any jaws. OPS’ing just over .800 for Lehigh Valley. After Ben Francisco, the Phillies don’t have a reliable right-handed bat off the bench as Juan Castro is impotent offensively.
  • Cody Ransom, 3B/SS (AAA): Minor League numbers have been in decline since 2007 but he has consistently shown decent power with slugging percentages in the high .400’s from 2006-08. Has played mostly on the left side of the infield throughout his Minor League career but has played at third base almost exclusively for the Phillies this year, where he plays above-average defense according to Baseball Reference’s Total Zone fielding metric. Since Juan Castro has been poor with his glove as well as his bat, Ransom would likely out-produce him if given an opportunity.
  • Tagg Bozied, 1B (AA): Has bounced around in the farm systems of five teams before landing with the Phillies. Bozied has compiled some impressive power numbers, mostly in AAA. In AA Reading, he has a .909 OPS including a .535 SLG with 9 HR. Over 91 percent of his defensive innings have come at first base. As a right-hander he could spell Ryan Howard against a tough left-handed starting pitcher and otherwise replace Ross Gload. Bozied has a .933 OPS against southpaws over his Minor League career. The soon-to-be 31-year-old has never gotten the call to the Majors despite the prodigious power numbers.

Besides the obvious benefit of potentially striking lightning in a bottle with one of these replacements, the Phillies also send a positive message to fans — “Hey, we are just as frustrated about the offense as you are, and we’re doing something about it” — without making too much of an impact on the team. And if you believe in the “sending messages” theory in the clubhouse (I don’t), kicking Dobbs, Castro, and Gload to the curb could tell the rest of the squad that no one’s job is guaranteed.

The Major League minimum salary is $400,000 so calling on three of the above four players would cost roughly $1.2 million prorated over the remaining 105 games (about $1 million). That would put them a hairline over the $140 million payroll mark the organization set in the off-season. Essentially, swapping bench bats is a low-risk, medium-reward move with ancillary P.R. benefits. And personally, I would rather pay six guys (three of whom become unemployed) $4 million to OPS .700-ish than three guys $3 million to OPS .400-ish.