Athletics Series Preview with Dan Hennessey

The Phillies wrapped up a short six-game road trip against the Seattle Mariners and St. Louis Cardinals, splitting both series overall. They have returned home to Philadelphia to prepare for the Oakland A’s for another inter-league series. The A’s are a bit like the Phillies: strong with pitching, but have struggled offensively. The degree of struggle makes all the difference as the A’s have averaged just 3.6 runs per game while the Phillies average 4.1 per. To help preview what figures to be a pitching-heavy series, I caught up with Dan Hennessey (@DanHennessey31) of fellow Sweet Spot blog Baseballin’ on a Budget and asked him a few questions. He did the same with me, so trek on over to BoaB afterwards to check out my take on the Phillies.

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1. The A’s are coming off of a sweep of the San Francisco Giants, and are on a five-game winning streak overall. Just five games out of first place in the AL West, do you see the A’s being contenders going into the second half?

No.

The A’s, despite being just five games out, are chasing a more talented team, the Texas Rangers. Texas suffered through major injury problems this spring (Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, etc.) and still managed to hang onto the division lead. The A’s needed to take advantage of that stretch and didn’t capitalize. The rotation is now without four of its best six pitchers, and not a single hitter has even been average. As of a couple weeks ago, every single regular had underperformed his projections. I don’t think there’s any question that the A’s will be “opportunistic sellers” at the deadline this July.

2. A couple former Phillies are in the A’s starting rotation. How have Gio Gonzalez and Josh Outman looked so far this year?

Gio’s been terrific. He’s limiting walks, which have plagued him throughout his career, while continuing to strike out almost a batter per inning. He’s basically a two-pitch pitcher (fastball/curveball, very occasional changeup), but he’ll throw either pitch in any count and is commanding his fastball much better.

Josh Outman was the seventh stater coming out of spring training after missing the last year and a half after Tommy John surgery. Of course, he’s now the A’s third best starter and has pitched fairly well so far in his six starts. His strikeout rate is way down so far, and it’s only been 35 innings, but it’s something to watch going forward.

3. No regulars in the lineup have an OPS+ over 100. Is this a chronic problem? Can Jemile Weeks and Scott Sizemore help the offense?

Two of the A’s Opening Day infielders (Daric Barton, Kevin Kouzmanoff) are now in Triple-A; offseason acquisitions David DeJesus and Hideki Matsui have been mostly awful. Only Josh Willingham has come close to being productive. Sizemore and Weeks can help, but they’re average players at best, not the game-changing offensive forces the A’s desperately need.

4. Andrew Bailey recently made his return. How much does his return help the bullpen?

The bullpen performed well in his absence, but Bailey’s return helps to define roles. We saw with Brian Fuentes and Bob Geren that roles and expectations were not always communicated; that shouldn’t be a problem with Geren out and Bailey stabilizing the back end of the bullpen. Fuentes, Grant Balfour, Brad Ziegler, and Joey Devine have all been very good this year. A lot of them might find themselves on other teams come August.

5. Bob Geren found himself in hot water, but was fired two weeks ago. Do you think that was the correct solution to the team’s problems?

Bob Geren, for all the disfunction in the clubhouse, didn’t make a single out this season. The correct solution to the team’s problems would be to find hitters that, you know, hit, and to not have four starting pitchers go on the DL within six weeks of each other. Bob Geren wasn’t helping, but he certainly wasn’t hurting as much as some A’s fans suggested.

6. The A’s will draw Cole Hamels, Vance Worley, and Roy Halladay. Let’s ignore Worley for the moment: which of Hamels and Halladay is a better match-up for the A’s?

Hope for rain? The A’s struggle against even the most mediocre pitchers; they probably won’t have much of a chance against either ace. That said, I’ll say Hamels. The A’s are a right-handed heavy lineup (though the splits don’t suggest they’re that much better against lefties), and Halladay’s command and patience will likely be too much.

7. Grab your crystal ball and give us your prediction on how the series will play out.

Two of three for the Phillies, and it might not be particularly close. I’d say it’s more likely to be a Phillie sweep than a series win for the A’s.

. . .

Many thanks to Dan for his rather straightforward analysis of the A’s and what to expect in this series. Make sure to add him on Twitter and check out his blog for his thoughts on the A’s.

Links for Wednesday

The Phillies defeated the St. Louis Cardinals with an avalanche of runs in the eighth inning. The Cardinal bullpen completely imploded, allowing nine runs in relief of Kyle McClellan. Meanwhile, Roy Halladay was excellent as usual, but was unable to pick up his tenth win. It was his shortest outing since Opening Day, however.

Not much exciting stuff going in on Phillies-land at the moment, so today’s post will just highlight some of the great stuff found around the Internets. If you haven’t already, check out the official Crashburn debut of Jeff Barnes as he tries to see what the future holds for Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. Another recent addition, Paul Boye, makes the case for Cole Hamels as the starting pitcher for the National League in the All-Star Game.

You’ll want to check out this post, which links to a video of what I think is the funniest baseball-related video of all time. It’s probably not work-safe, so be warned.

Mandy Housenick and Marcus Hayes dropped stupid bombs on Daily News Live recently. @TonyIsDynamic did some great video splicing that you must see.

While Boye focused on Hamels’ All-Star hopes, I looked at Shane Victorino‘s. He has, surprisingly, been a tour de force in the Phillies’ offense.

Tune into Phillies 24/7 98.1 WOGL HD-4 with your HD radio today to catch the latest edition of “Stathead”, hosted by myself and Jeff Sotolanno. We talk about Victorino, All-Stars, right-handed bats to look for, and Jimmy Rollins.

If you’re the fantasy baseball type, I’ll be going over upwards of 10 starting pitchers you should be targeting. You can find that at Baseball Prospectus every Friday.

Finally, to end the self-promotion, I’ll be doing a live chat on Wednesday, June 29 with the guys at Fire Brand AL to discuss the Red Sox-Phillies series.

At Baseball Prospectus, Derek Carty crunched the numbers again to find out when various stats stabilize for both hitters and pitchers.

Tangotiger explains Wins Above Replacement (WAR) to the uninitiated. If you’d like to learn more about it, or if you’re skeptical of the stat, I highly recommend reading what Tango had to say.

At FanGraphs, Dave Cameron reviews Batting Average on Balls in Play. In another post, he arrived at a very shocking conclusion: Shane Victorino is better than Ryan Howard and has been over the past five-plus seasons. Would you have been behind a five-year, $125 million contract extension for the Flyin’ Hawaiian?

Colin Wyers, of Baseball Prospectus fame, has been one of the few that has been openly critical about the quality of data many of us use on a daily basis. This post from Lookout Landing is a prime example of Wyers’ complaint.

Drew Fairservice, a fellow ESPN SweetSpot blogger, analyzes the efficiency of the Phillies’ starting rotation for The Score’s Getting Blanked blog.

Zoo With Roy does the hard-hitting analysis, comparing Roy Halladay and Matt Holliday. I think we know who comes out on top.

At Beyond the Box Score, Bill Petti finds that Cole Hamels has been prettay, prettay, prettay good.

Eric Seidman of Brotherly Glove expects the Phillies’ bullpen to be young and cheap next year.

David Hale’s notes about the Phillies are always good, but I loved this bit:

Funny scene from the clubhouse today: Chase Utley was watching some game film and having a very in depth discussion with hitting instructor Greg Gross about his swing. Gross discussed the particulars of keeping his weight centered through his swing and a bunch of other technicalities I don’t understand. When they were through talking, Gross took about five steps to his left, where Domonic Brown was watching an episode of “Swamp People” on his iPad. Gross laughed and stopped to discuss the particulars of catching alligators, too. He’s a true Renaissance Man.

Phillies fan-favorite Logan Morrison of the Florida Marlins criticized Hanley Ramirez for being late to new manager Jack McKeon’s pre-game meeting.

At The Good Phight, Schmenkman allays concerns that the Phillies can only beat up on bad teams.

David Schoenfield claims that the American League is better than the National League. Given that the post has 2,316 comments, I’m guessing he caused quite a stir.

Phillies Nation got some nice pub at MLB.com.

Other stuff:

Crashburn writers on Twitter: @CrashburnAlley@Phrontiersman@Utley4God

Crashburn on Facebook

Centipedes are more of a threat than Iran and should be taken seriously.

The link dump will end with a couple of YouTubes. It’s the Internet, so how about a cat? I mean, a really awesome cat. If you’re not familiar with Maru, check out the plethora of videos on mugumogu’s channel.

Finally, let’s go with some music. I hadn’t been a fan of this type of music, but Parov Stelar is getting me into swing house.

If you liked that, other suggested tracks are Catgroove, Matilda, Let’s Roll, and Shine, all from his album Coco.

 

 

The Funniest Baseball Video of All Time

Not Phillies-related, but you’ll enjoy this. Some of it is probably not work-safe. The narrator in the video is playing 98 Koshien, which is apparently a Japanese baseball video game for the Playstation. I have the video started at what I thought was the funniest part, but you can click here to watch the video in its entirety.

(h/t @JeffMilnazik)

Now this next pitch is only used if your second baseman is not performing up to your standards. Just turn around, look him in the face, and start rubbing your nipples at him.

Marcus Hayes would be so proud.

I Award You No Points

To keep up with the times, Daily News Live had to up its daily dosage of stupid. They brought Marcus Hayes and Mandy Housenick on to talk about the Phillies. Apparently, the two were trying to set new personal highs.

Watch if you dare to risk a brain hemorrhage. Hat tip to @TonyIsDynamic for the hilarious video splicing.


Housenick: I think you should’ve DH’ed Chase. I don’t think Chase should’ve been playing second base. Not to mention — nobody wants to hear this — but Wilson Valdez has a better fielding percentage than Chase Utley. I’m not saying he’s a better player, but you’re not losing anything when you play Wilson Valdez [unintelligible] Chase Utley. I’m not saying he’s a better player —

Hayes: He’s a much better second baseman than Chase Utley, who’s average at best. I don’t care what kind of fantasy stats you want pull out and, you know, range statistics… Chase Utley is a go-to-his-left second baseman, period. I know he made one play this year to his right, but if you compare him to a guy like Brandon Phillips — that’s a second baseman.

More, uh, intellectually-honest takes on Utley’s defense:

What are these charts showing us? Against right-handed batters, Utley and Phillips look about the same. They both have minus plus/minus scores to their left. But their positive scores to their right more than make up for the difference. Both players appear to be shifting well over to the right when a right-handed batter is up. They have a harder time getting to the balls to their left, but there are fewer of those. They more than make up for the missed plays by making more plays on the greater number of balls to their right.

Now for the Left-Handed Batters side of the chart. It’s the whole key to Chase Utley. What appears to be clear from this chart is that both players are shifting left against left-handed batters, but Utley is going further. Phillips is missing plays to his right, but gets a few extra to his left. Utley is missing even more plays to his right, but is really making up for them on plays to his left. To the tune of +37, 30 more extra plays than even Brandon Phillips is making. That’s huge.

So what makes Utley so good? Simple answer: Positioning. And more specifically, positioning against left-handed batters.

Now keep in mind that not all left-handed batters are created equal. If you look at Defensive Positioning System in the Fielding Bible, you’ll see that. Utley has to vary his positioning by batter, even against different lefties, to maximize his performance. But, in general, the key appears to be that he is moving closer to first base against lefties than virtually any other second baseman in baseball. BIS Video Scouts, who watch every game and chart nearly everything you can imagine, have said the same thing. Utley has a strong tendency to position himself towards hitters’ pull side.

Tonight, the best player from 2007-9: 2B Chase Utley.

Consistent greatness is Chase Utley‘s calling card. His wOBAs from 2005 through 2009 have all been inside the range of .389 to .420. His UZRs during that stretch vary only from +9.8 to +20.5. In the last five seasons, Chase Utley‘s worst season, 2006, had him as a 6.8 WAR player. His best, 2008, he was an 8.1 WAR player.

For five seasons Chase Utley (38 total wins) has been just a smidgen less valuable than Albert Pujols (40.4 total wins) has been. Thank goodness that he is losing his mind in this World Series because hopefully now he’ll start getting more credit. He’s been close to the best player in baseball over the last half-decade and how many people would have included him in the top ten?

Single-season UZR isn’t totally reliable, but even if we go over the past three calendar years, Utley is still far and away the best defender at second base in baseball.

Utley has been the best defender at second base in four out of five seasons from ’05-09. That means he should have four Gold Glove awards, right? Wrong. The award was won by Luis Castillo in ’05; Orlando Hudson in ’06 and ’07; Brandon Phillips in ’08; and Hudson again in ’09.

The problem with fielding percentage is that it unfairly punishes players with good range and rewards players with poor range by ignoring range entirely. Hayes scoffed at the thought of range being a consideration in evaluating defense, but if a player simply stands at his position and doesn’t move left or right, his fielding percentage better be a clean 1.000. Players with more range get to more batted balls, but that also means their odds of misplaying the ball — simply by virtue of the scaling difficulty as the amount of ground covered increases — rise as well.

Dismissing fielding percentage isn’t a Sabermetric ideological thing, either; it’s a logic thing. Ben Jedlovec does a great job of explaining defensive stats in this article he published recently for ESPN:

Errors provide useful information. When the official scorer assigns an error, we know that the fielder has gotten to the ball and either bobbled it, made a bad throw or committed some other miscue on a play that would normally be made successfully. The fielder screwed up, and he should be penalized for it; hence, he is charged with an error.

However, there are well-documented issues with using errors to evaluate fielders. For starters, there is often room for disagreement in the official scorer’s ruling. Additionally, errors don’t appropriately account for a fielder’s range; if a shortstop is a step slow and doesn’t reach a ground ball through the hole, he’s not likely to be charged with an error, although other shortstops might have made the play.

I never thought I’d see the day where Intentional Talk would provide more intellectual commentary than Daily News Live.

Shane Victorino, Backbone of Phillies’ Offense

As Paul Boye pointed out in yesterday’s column, the All-Star break is fast approaching. The Phillies must complete six three-game sets before they are able to take that mid-July rest. In the time leading up to the midsummer festivities, the rest of us will start speculating on All-Star snubs. Or, if you’re like me, you will start petitioning for the inclusion of Adam Dunn in the Home Run Derby (even if he hasn’t been so great this year).

Once the All-Star rosters take shape, columnists will start campaigning in favor of the snubs, hoping to help them earn a last-minute online election to their league’s respective roster. Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports has already created a list of players he thinks will be snubbed. It’s a fairly comprehensive list, and quite reasonable. The factors that cause a player to be snubbed include the popularity of the team (e.g. Phillies vs. Marlins), the strength of the league at a particular position (e.g. the National League is quite strong at first base), and a player’s individual popularity (e.g. Tommy Hanson vs. Ryan Vogelsong).

One surprising inclusion on Passan’s list was Shane Victorino. Victorino certainly does not suffer from the same environmental detriments since the Phillies are and have been the class of the National League. The Phillies sold out the ballpark at the last home game for the umpteenth time, so they have had fans sending in ballots more than just about everyone else. However, Passan notes that the National League has a glut of worthy outfielders. Currently, 12 NL outfielders have a WAR of 2.0 or more — certainly some worthy names will be left off the roster.

But Victorino? He actually sits with the second-highest WAR (FanGraphs version) in the league at 3.7, just a hair behind Matt Kemp at 3.8. Of course, defensive data goes into WAR, which is less than reliable just 70 or so games into the season. Still, Victorino has the second-highest defensive marks with eight runs added (or saved, if you prefer). The only outfielder with a better mark is Gerardo Parra of the Arizona Diamondbacks at 11.0. Victorino also benefits from the newly-implemented base running runs (which differs from Equivalent Base Running Runs, or EqBRR, from Baseball Prospectus), earning an additional 2.4 runs, or roughly one-fourth of a win.

Then you look at the offensive stats and find the most surprising result of them all: Victorino has the fifth-best weighted on-base average (wOBA) among NL outfielders, at .392. Kemp, Lance Berkman, and Ryan Braun are the clear-cut leaders as all are above .400, but Victorino is not far behind them. Of the components of WAR that he directly controls (a.k.a. not league or positional adjustments), which are batting, fielding, and base running runs, Victorino’s offense accounts for over 58 percent.

Of Phillies with at least 110 plate appearances, only Victorino and Ryan Howard have an above-average OPS+, at 143 and 128 respectively. Per FanGraphs, the Phillies have been below average with -14 batting runs. To say the Phillies’ offense would be stagnant without Victorino would be a huge understatement. The following chart should drive that point home (click to enlarge):

Passan thinks Victorino will be an All-Star snub as voting concludes in the coming weeks. That very well may the case, but it would be unjust. Not only has Victorino been the backbone of the Phillies’ offense, he has been one of the most productive outfielders in the league, and he does it in a plethora of ways: with the bat, with his glove, and with his legs.

Cole Hamels: All-Star Starter?

As we’re now about three weeks away from the 2011 All-Star Game in Arizona, it feels about time for the focus on potential all-star pitchers to intensify a bit.

Assuming health, most starters should see another four starts before the festivities begin, so there’s still plenty of time for moving and shaking. As such, I’m not exactly stumping for Cole Hamels to be the first man on the mound come July 12. Yet. But his candidacy to be the first Phillies all-star starter since Curt Schilling in 1999 is a compelling one.

On the year, prior to Sunday’s start in Seattle, Hamels has logged 97.2 IP over 14 starts, striking out 97 and unintentionally walking 17 along the way. Striking out a bunch of batters is not new territory for Hamels, but the diminished walk rate (down 0.8 BB/9 from ’10 and 0.5 from his career rate) and greatly reduced home run rate – something Hamels has always struggled with prior to this season – have helped keep runs off the board more than ever.

Great. I’m sure this isn’t news to you, distinguished reader. Where, then, does Hamels rank among National League starters right now? Do his impressive numbers really merit starter consideration? Let’s take a preliminary look at some starting contenders and where Cole ranks among them. Again, being three weeks out means we’re bound to see some movement. Consider this an electoral primary of sorts, then.

Here’s Cole’s campaign platform within the National League Party:

  • Durability: His 97.2 IP is ninth in the N.L., and the most of anyone with 14 starts. With 6.2 innings Sunday, he could move into second place behind Roy Halladay.
  • Power: Those aforementioned 97 punch-outs are good for fifth, with an 8.94 K/9 that leaves him 10th.
  • Control: Cole’s 1.75 BB/9 is fifth in the N.L.
  • Unhittablenessosity: A new term I’ve coined for trademarking. Hamels is allowing just 6.54 hits per nine (third in the league) on a .260 BABIP, but a huge spike in ground balls induced could keep that from rising much higher. Cole has allowed just 27 hits in his last 44 IP, and only one home run in his past seven starts.
  • Peripheral Vision: Beyond his impressive 2.49 ERA, Hamels also resides among the leaders in xFIP and SIERA, solidifying his numbers as genuine. With a minimum of 60 IP, Hamels’s 2.51 xFIP ranks second in the league, and his 2.71 SIERA likewise ranks second. He’s also second in the league in both major versions of WAR.

Cole does still have some work to do. He trails Halladay in a number of the listed categories, but what fun is making a post for Doc’s starting candidacy? Well, actually, probably a bunch of fun. But I digress and harp on things too-obvious.

Cole Hamels is off to a flying start. He’s improved nearly every aspect of his game, from stuff to results, and looks to be on track to have a serious shot at starting the All-Star Game come mid-July.

Mariners Series Preview with Pro Ball NW

The Phillies travel to the West coast for some late-night baseball against the Seattle Mariners. The series will kick off at 10:10 PM ET with Roy Oswalt facing rookie phenom Michael Pineda. I caught up with two of the guys from Sweet Spot blog Pro Ball NW, Conor Dowley and Tayler Halperin, to shed some light on the M’s, who currently sit just a half-game out of first place in the AL West.

. . .

1. The Mariners have one of the few rotations in baseball that can go toe-to-toe with the Phillies’. In particular, people are fascinated with Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda. Can you give us a brief scouting report on those two?

Conor: Felix’s scouting report is pretty well known at this point. His fastball velocity isn’t what it was, but it’s still excellent and his command is fantastic when he’s on. Even when he’s not on, his curve and change are so good that those two pitches can get him through.
Pineda doesn’t have Felix’s polish, but his fastball is lethal, and the break on his slider only makes it harder to sit on. His changeup is still developing, but he had two distinct versions of it. The one he’s largely used this year is a power change not unlike Felix’s power change, sitting in the upper 80’s. Pineda’s version of the pitch is much straighter than Felix’s, however, and is not in my opinion as effective as the split-change he showed last year that was a devastating pitch at times. He doesn’t throw it as often as he did last year, but it’s drawn whiffs most of the time when he does.

Taylor: Felix Hernandez (he of the 2.6 WAR through 15 starts) is possibly the best pitcher in baseball.  He can throw his fastball, curve, change, and slider all for strikes (almost) all the time.  Excellent control and impeccable command.  He racks up groundballs, induces plenty of weak contact, and is 5th in all of baseball with 103 strikeouts.  He almost never gets flustered on the mound, and limits damage exceptionally well.  Oh, and he can throw up to 97 miles an hour when he wants to.  Despite having posted a lower ERA than Felix, Michael Pineda is not at his level.  Pineda throws a flaming heater and a nasty slider, but that’s about it.  Occasionally, he’ll throw his change, but that pitch is a work in progress.  Nonetheless, he’s been baseball’s best rookie hurler by an arguably wide margin (3.07 FIP) throwing only two pitches.  If his changeup develops nicely, Pineda will cement himself alongside Felix as one of the top 10 pitchers in baseball.

2. When will Erik Bedard break down again? He’s been great thus far, but do you anticipate more misfortune for the lefty? He seems to have always had a black cloud hovering over him.

Conor: I’m honestly a little bit surprised that Bedard hasn’t met with more difficulty. With how good he has been so far this season, e could break down tomorrow and I’d consider it to be a successful year for him. Bedard did have a rough go at the start of the year while he was still rebuilding his velocity and command, but he’s been awesome since he “found himself” in late April.

Taylor: Bedard appears to be healthy, as far as I can tell.  He even seems to be getting more dominant with every start.  He’s actually on pace to be worth over 3 wins above replacement, which is absolutely phenomenal for a fifth starter.  In any case, the French Canadian’s mechanics seem fine and he might net the M’s a sweet return should they decide to deal him at the deadline.

3. Ichiro, of the career .328 average, is hitting .258. Has he noticeably declined, or is it just a fluke?

Conor: Ichiro has visibly lost a step speed-wise, and it’s really shown up in the field. At the plate, however, I think it’s largely been poor luck. His BABIP on line drives has been far off his career rate, and he lives on those liners that drop in just past the infielders. He’s been coming around of late, with five straight multi-hit games, so hopefully the Ichiro of old is back to stay.

Taylor: Ichiro admittedly has looked lost at times this season.  He’s slugging only .325 and he has yet to club his first long ball of the season, but things are looking up for the Mariners’ beloved right-fielder.  He’s been hitting the ball superbly in the last 6-8 games, and I imagine his batting average will return to .300 by season’s end.  Sure, he’s getting older, but I don’t think Ichiro would just fall off a metaphorical/statistical cliff.

4. The Mariners’ home ballpark, unlike the Phillies’, is known for being pitcher-friendly. Do you expect the spacious confines of Safeco Field to provide a home-field advantage in this series?

Conor: While SafeCo limits right-handed power, it’s much friendlier to lefties. The Phillies have hitters that I think can really take advantage of that, so it wouldn’t shock me in the slightest if they put on a power show in this series.

Taylor: Honestly both the M’s and Phillies haven’t hit as well as they should be hitting in 2011.  I foresee three low-scoring games, and Safeco’s dimensions can only serve to further that.

5. Dustin Ackley was recently called up. What are your expectations for him at the Major League level in 2011?

Conor: I’m much more bearish than most M’s fans are. Where many seem to expect an impact bat right away, I’d expect a line more like .265/.385/.390 for the remainder of this season.

Too many people ate expecting Utley-like power from him, and that’s just not the kind of hitter that Ackley is. He is going to hit homers now and then, but they’re most often going to be the result of his patience. Every now and then, he’ll get just the right pitch that he can turn on and crank, but his natural strength and swing limit him to mostly just those. While pitches like that can be plentiful in AAA, they’re much harder to come by in the majors.

Taylor: I’d expect something around .250/.340/.390 with decent glove-work.  It’s not fancy, but getting on base 34 percent of the time is nothing to scoff at.  As for power, Ackley has the potential to hit 20 homers a year, but I really doubt he’ll tap into that potential in his first season.

6. Chone Figgins is dead-last in baseball with -1.1 WAR. Ichiro is right behind at -0.8 (tied with Raul Ibanez, oddly enough). How would you go about fixing the Mariners’ outfield?

Conor: The Mariners’ outfield is mostly fixing itself right now. With Ichiro finally coming around and Gutierrez returning to full health, that gives them a lot of leeway for the left field situation. Carlos Peguero gives them some thump and occasional clutch hits, but his defense and consistency leave much to be desired right now. Frankly, he’d be best served playing every day in AAA Tacoma right now.

Among current roster options, a platoon of Mike Carp and Greg Halman would probably be the M’s best bet right now. Both offer above-average power, and while Carp gives a better approach at the plate, Halman is the far better defender.  If the M’s were to upgrade any position on the trade market, it would be left field.

Taylor: Though I reference WAR in one of my previous answers, I’ll caution the reader by mentioning that WAR is screwed up by small sample sizes of UZR data.  Ichiro is not really a -0.8 WAR player.  He just isn’t.  Small sample sizes of UZR can wreak havoc on WAR tallies.  Now then, the Mariners’ outfield doesn’t necessarily need fixing.  I certainly wouldn’t mind if the team acquired a big bat with an average glove to play left, but Carlos Peguero has actually done a decent job so far.  If I were Jack Zduriencik (which I’m not, for the record), I would demote Peguero and let Halman platoon in left with Mike Carp for the time being, and if the team is still contending on July 15th, trade for the Orioles’ Luke Scott.  Then again, Halman still appears to have pitch recognition deficiencies, but he appears to be the best choice for the righty in the left field platoon.  As for center field and right field, Gutierrez and Ichiro will be fine (I think).  It’s best to let those two play every day.  Gutierrez is possibly the best defensive center fielder in the majors, and he hit 32 homers over the last two seasons, and Ichiro has racked up 200+ hits literally every season he’s been in the majors.

7. Grab your crystal ball and give us a prediction for this series? Who wins?

Conor: The M’s have played exceedingly well of late, but if they have to face Cole Hamels and Roy Osawalt, it’ll be hard to scratch out wins against them if they’re on. I see this going 2-1 in favor of the Phillies.

Taylor: I’ll go out on a limb and say the M’s win the series 2 games to 1, despite only scoring 7 total runs.

. . .

Thanks to Conor and Taylor for taking the time to talk about the Mariners. Make sure to stop by Pro Ball NW to see what they have to say throughout the series, and also check out Mariners Farm Review if you have the time. You can follow the PBNW crew on Twitter as well: @ProBallNW@C_Dowley, and @TaylorRobot.

Radical Pitcher-Usage Theory

The title is exaggerating, but in the discussion that ensued on my finger-wagging article about the misuse of Cole Hamels, reader and commenter Pete got the hamster wheel a-spinnin’. If you haven’t read the article, click here, or perhaps the following synopsis will suffice.

My argument was that Charlie Manuel was wrong to use Hamels with an eight-run lead going into the eighth inning, when the Phillies had a 99.7 percent chance to win. Many counter-arguments were made in the comments, such as that there was a double-header coming up where the bullpen would presumably be needed (the bullpen pitched a combined five innings in both games), or that Hamels needed to be “conditioned to throw more pitches”.

In reality, though, there is no counter-argument to the claim that using Hamels in that situation was unnecessary (sparing the obvious semantic debate about the definition of “necessary”). With two innings of regulation left and an eight-run lead, to abstain from using the bullpen implies that they were worse than a 36.00 ERA pitcher. I’m not exactly confident in David Herndon, but I trust him and his bullpen compatriots to not allow eight runs in two innings.

In the comments, Pete wrote:

Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems you are a step away from advocating for having pitchers pitch towards a certain expected win percentage? What percentage would that be? 99%? 95%? X%? Any way you fixed it, it would be a minor revolution in the game if managers started following this line of thinking (and probably the last straw for those people who already hate pitch counts and pitching towards anything other than a win). I can imagine a scenario where the Phillies score 10 runs in the top of the 1st inning and a newly Baer-schooled Charlie Manuel doesn’t send Hamels out to pitch the bottom of the 1st. I am imagining also that Charlie’s decision would be a misinterpretation of the Baer rule, but we better start preparing now to see Charlie muck it up.

I like that way of thinking. Not so static, but the overall principle makes a lot of sense. Contract stipulations (money, years, incentives, etc.) should — and do — play a huge role in player usage; this is one such case. Hamels has one more year of arbitration before he is eligible for free agency, and the Phillies will want to lock up a player of his caliber before he is able to test the open market. As much as it may pain the traditionalists, Hamels should absolutely be pampered, as should anyone else to whom the Phillies do or could owe a lot of money over many years (e.g. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, etc.). Protecting investments is one big factor in the current and continued success of a franchise.

As for specifics on when to yank a starter, it should be a case-by-case decision. The manager will need to assess a lot of details. By how many runs does my team lead? What inning is it? Do I trust my bullpen? Which relievers will I use? What are the long-term effects of employing this strategy? (e.g. does my bullpen need more time to recover?) How many runs can I expect my team to tack on before the end of the game?

As an example, according to Tom Tango’s “The Book”, the home team has a 16.7 percent chance to win if it is behind four runs entering the top of the second inning. The road manager should expect his team to score more runs, making things worse for the home team. After all, the average National League team averages 4.1 runs per nine innings, and even the worst team in the league averages 3.3 runs per nine.

The biggest problem here is the uncertainty. With the thousands of innings of data we have from the current season, we can make fairly accurate assessments about what to expect in the big picture. Unfortunately, in the span of eight innings, our ability to make correct predictions drops precipitously. In a vacuum, where average players play on average teams and they face similarly average players on similarly average teams, we can improve our odds, but since — as the traditionalists will tell you — baseball is not played in a vacuum, those eight innings are highly prone to all of the variables that makes it such a great sport. Temperature, wind, strength of the opponent, the lineups that are being employed, the opposing pitchers, etc.

In that first inning scenario, I am much more confident pulling Homer Bailey of the Cincinnati Reds since they are more likely to tack on more runs (4.9 per game) than the Atlanta Braves (3.3). I am much more confident pulling Hamels if I am playing the Houston Astros (allow 5.0 runs per game) than if I am playing the Braves (allow 3.3). If it is cold and the wind is blowing in, I would expect to score fewer runs, so I would be hesitant to pull my starter again. If my bullpen is bad like the Los Angeles Dodgers (4.84 ERA), I would lean on my starters, but if my bullpen is great like the San Diego Padres (2.44 ERA), I would be quicker to make a call to the ‘pen. Those are just the broad strokes; we haven’t even gotten into the specifics, such as pitcher batted ball splits, or batter/pitcher platoon match-ups.

So, you can see the initial problems with this practical use of starting and relief pitching. Many situations will not be as cut-and-dried as the Hamels situation, where you have just 0.3 percent left to ensure a victory. However, this would be a gigantic step in the right direction. It would, undoubtedly, reduce the number of superfluous injuries that occur to pitchers throughout the course of the season.

Maybe Hamels doesn’t finish off the last two innings of that game, but he also doesn’t leave the game with a back injury. If the injury had been more serious, he lands on the disabled list and the Phillies have to rely more on Kyle Kendrick, as well as Vance Worley. A rotation of Halladay/Lee/Oswalt/Hamels/Kendrick leads to fewer losses than Halladay/Lee/Oswalt/Kendrick/Worley. Theoretically, being highly risk-averse leads to more wins. With players to whom you are paying many millions of dollars over the course of many years, more wins over many years means a more successful franchise, happier fans, and increased revenue.

In summation, the above was a long way of saying, “Don’t use your starting pitching superfluously, especially if they’re important.” Want to run Kendrick out there with an eight-run lead in the eighth inning? Knock yourself out. But Hamels, or Halladay, or Lee? Protect them! The implementation doesn’t have to be nearly as scientific as I have described it; all that is required is a broad recognition of your team’s chances to win the current game, the side-effects of your decisions on games in the immediate future, and the overall health of your team in the big picture. Yes, it’s so easy, even a Charlie Manuel could do it.

Raul Failbanez (Alternate Title: .gifs!)

Yesterday was a good day for the Phillies. They swept both games of a day-night doubleheader against the Florida Marlins, which included a dramatic comeback in the ninth inning of the nightcap. To break up the run of super-serious analytic posts recently, enjoy some lol-worthy .gifs from Raul Ibanez and Ryan Howard.

Warning: lots of .gifs after the jump. If you’re on a slow computer, it may explode.

Continue reading…

Hamels Scare Should Provide A Lesson

I don’t brag about being right often; I prefer to let words speak for themselves. But I want to bring up the topic of unnecessary overuse of the starting pitching again to reinforce a point, because it’s very important* — at least, I think it is. Several times this year, Charlie Manuel has been criticized on this blog for some questionable decisions regarding the pitching staff. He redeemed himself recently, but I once again took umbrage with a Manuel decision during last night’s game against the Florida Marlins.

* Important inasmuch as anything about baseball can be deemed important.

The start of the game was delayed an hour and 15 minutes due to rain, meaning starters Cole Hamels and Chris Volstad had to make sure they stayed loose enough to take the mound later than they expected. Hamels was brilliant, holding the Marlins to one run and three hits through seven innings. Of the 99 pitches he threw, 17 of them caused batters to swing and miss (17 percent, a season-high), according to Brooks Baseball. Overall, he struck out six and walked one, while lowering his ERA to 2.49 and earning his ninth victory of the season.

Along with Hamels’ stellar performance came a surge of offense. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Domonic Brown combined for five home runs. The Phillies scored in every inning except the second and eighth. After the seventh, the Phillies were up 9-1. FanGraphs gave them a 0.3 percent chance to lose the game. The game was so over that the Marlins hadn’t faced a situation with a leverage index greater than 0.65 since the top of the fourth inning, when Logan Morrison led off with the score at 4-1.

Situations like that — eighth inning, up by eight runs — are why you have David Herndon on your roster. It is the typical spot for a mop-up reliever. In fact, if the Phillies had a slightly larger lead, using an infielder to pitch (ahem, Wilson Valdez) would have been justified.

A few weeks ago, I joined Spike Eskin and Chris Johnson on “What’s the Word?” on Phillies 24/7 HD radio. (You can listen to the entire segment here.) At the time, I had written two consecutive articles criticizing Manuel, so that was the basis of much of the discussion that morning. They asked for my thoughts on the risk-reward of pulling a pitcher too soon, to which I said, “I think you always err on the side of safety.”

Manuel did not err on the side of safety last night, as he sent Hamels back out to the mound for the eighth inning, to cinch that last 0.3 percent. On most nights, Hamels gets through the inning with little effort, and I look like a grouch on Twitter for whining about it. Unfortunately, the lack of caution last night came back to bite the Phillies. After walking Wes Helms to lead off the eighth, Hamels conferred with catcher Carlos Ruiz, then left the game with what would later be diagnosed as tightness in the middle of his back.

The good news is that Hamels is confident that he will make his next start — it is not a serious injury. It easily could have been, though, and it is a lesson to be learned for Manuel and anyone out there in the “rub some dirt on it” crowd. There is no reason to take unnecessary risks in mid-June with a division lead, and certainly not in the eighth inning of a game in which your team leads by eight runs.

Andrew Carnegie once said, “The wise man puts all his eggs in one basket and watches the basket.” The Phillies, who are paying a combined $67 million to their Opening Day starting rotation (40 percent of the team’s payroll), would be wise to watch their basket closely.

Hamels photo courtesy Ted Berg’s amazing “Embarrassing photos of Cole Hamels” gallery.