Phillies/Nationals Series Preview IV

Hard to believe, but the Phillies will play the Nationals for their 10th, 11th, and 12th time this season. Seems like the only teams the Phillies play are the Nats and Marlins. Of course, that wouldn’t be a bad thing since they’re 7-2 against Washington and 4-2 against Florida.

The Phillies will send youngster J.A. Happ out for tomorrow’s start, but the Nationals will counter with a young guy of their own in Ross Detwiler, their first round pick from 2007 (selected immediately after Matt Wieters). He’s pitched well in limited action this season: in two starts against the Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles, he’s struck out ten, walked four, and allowed just three earned runs in eleven innings.

For some reason, the Phillies don’t seem to hit against pitchers they’ve never seen before. That’s just based on anecdotal evidence, of course, so that could be completely wrong.

Cole Hamels will oppose Shairon Martis on Saturday. In case the name doesn’t ring a bell, click here for a nice memory.

Moyer-Lannan in the series finale. Another poor outing from Moyer, coupled with Brett Myers potentially headed to surgery, could trigger the Phillies’ front office to start scrambling for some more starting pitching.

Ready for some numbers? If you’re new to the Crashburn Alley series previews, the numbers you’re looking at in the next two charts will show you the hitters’ OPS against the slated starting pitching of the opposing team, and the number after that one is the number of career plate appearances that hitter has against the starter. The names aren’t always accurate as teams make last-minute swaps, as the Marlins did when Burke Badenhop started yesterday in place of Hayden Penn. The numbers, however, are accurate.

Washington Nationals @ Philadelphia Phillies, May 29-31

Washington Nationals @ Philadelphia Phillies, May 29-31

The next two charts show you the starting pitchers’ success against the opposing team throughout their careers.

Washington Nationals @ Philadelphia Phillies, May 29-31

Washington Nationals @ Philadelphia Phillies, May 29-31

You hate to demand that the Phillies sweep, but it’s the freakin’ Nationals. They’ve been swept five times already this season, including once by the Phillies in a four-game series. Anything less than three wins is a disappointment.

Is This It for Brett Myers?

Brett Myers has a frayed labrumThe news ain’t so good, folks: Brett Myers may need surgery to fix a frayed labrum. Believe it or not, Brett has been the Phillies’ best starter so far this season despite leading the world in home runs allowed (17 in nearly 64 innings; an average of around 2.5 per game). His departure from the rotation would leave the Phillies’ terrible rotation in shambles. On the bright side, it may light a fire under GM Ruben Amaro to acquire that ace pitcher the Phillies, honestly, have needed for the last three years (with all due respect to Cole Hamels).

Erik Bedard, Roy Halladay, and Jake Peavy are the big names being linked in trade rumors. I, for one, would be completely shocked if any of the three ended up in Phillies pinstripes by August 1, as the Phils have historically been averse to making huge in-season trades where they are the ones acquiring the impact player. Can you think of any they have made in recent memory?

At any rate, what the Phillies will need to replace is part of the nearly 3.5 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) Brett has been worth in 2007 and ’08 combined. Acquiring any of the three aforementioned will satisfy that without question. There will be some others that may be available as well, like Matt Cain, Brandon Webb, and Aaron Harang.

Cross your fingers, folks, and don’t be afraid to say goodbye to some prospects. After all, this Phillies core only has another two years at the most where it will be this competitive, so it’s in the team’s best interest to forfeit some future talent to go for it all in each of the next two years.

Acquiring one pitcher, however, may not fix all that ails the Phillies’ starting pitching. What about Jamie Moyer, who’s been stinking up the joint (as expected)? Carlos Carrasco could get the call. He’s been pitching much better than his 5.81 ERA in AAA Lehigh Valley would indicate; he has 52 strikeouts and 13 walks (4:1 K:BB) in 48 innings. He’s probably been a bit BABIP-unlucky, which should fix itself should he get the call and have the Phillies’ spectacular defense behind him.

As far as Hamels, Happ, and Blanton, they simply have to go out there and pitch and fix themselves on the fly. Kyle Kendrick is the only other Minor Leaguer the Phillies would feel the least bit comfortable about putting into a Major League game for a start. In other words, he’s Plan Z. Don’t get to Plan Z (no offense to KK).

The Phillies-Nationals series preview will be up shortly.

Howard Commits First Error, Phillies Win Anyway

Ryan Howard... defensive wizard?It took nearly 395 defensive innings, but Ryan Howard finally committed his first error of the 2009 season in tonight’s game against the Florida Marlins. During the top of the ninth inning, reliever Chad Durbin — after getting the first batter, John Baker, to ground out — loaded the bases on a walk, a single, and another walk. Scott Eyre came in to try and put out the fire against lefty Ross Gload.

Eyre threw a slider and two fastballs outside the strike zone to fall behind 3-0 to Gload, then rebounded with two more fastballs for called strikes. Gload grounded the sixth pitch, another fastball, to Ryan Howard, and it looked like a sure-fire double play. However, what ailed him last year came back to bite him again: throwing to second base. He threw wide of second base (covered by SS J-Roll), which bounced well into left field and two Marlins came around to score, shortening the Phils’ lead to 5-2.

The stress wasn’t over, though. Brad Lidge came in to try and shut the door but he walked the first batter he faced to re-load the bases. With one down, Jeremy Hermida grounded out to Howard, who wisely chose not to try for another, more risky double-play; instead throwing to Lidge to get the out at first. On the play, the Marlins scored their third run.

Phillie-killer Wes Helms struck out, mercifully, to end the game and the Phils hung on for the 5-3 win.

The bright spots:

  • Joe Blanton threw seven extremely strong innings. Eleven strikeouts and only five hits and two walks allowed. Eleven strikeouts!
  • Shane Victorino rebounded from his poor ninth-inning decision last night with four hits, including two doubles and an RBI, in five at-bats.
  • Pedro Feliz continues to hit and drive in runs. Two more hits, two more rib-eyes. He’s now hitting .308.
  • Ryan Madson threw another scoreless inning of relief. When will he get a chance to close while the Phillies’ Rome burns at the end of games?
  • Despite the error, Ryan Howard has been playing exceptional defense at first base. Prior to tonight’s game, he had a 10.2 UZR/150 compared to 2.4 last year and 0.4 in ’07.

Vote For Manny 2009

Jason of the blog It Is About the Money, Stupid has created a campaign designed to help get the currently-suspended Dodgers outfielder voted in as a starter for the 2009 All-Star Game in St. Louis. Head over to the website for more information.

As you may expect, any campaign that brings to light the fallacy of the anti-drug fervor and MLB’s laughable drug policies is a worthy campaign. Crashburn Alley is a proud supporter!

Look for more on the All-Star Game from me at Baseball Daily Digest in the next week or two as voting starts to heat up. I’ll go ahead and say it now: how is Raul Ibanez sixth in voting among National League outfielders?

Shane, What Were You Thinking?

Shane Victorino, goatDown by two in the ninth inning, Shane Victorino works a lead-off walk against Florida Marlins closer Matt Lindstrom. With the homer-prone Matt Stairs pinch-hitting, Shane Victorino is not going to stray far from the first base bag. Or so you’d think.

Shane, for some reason, attempted to steal second with his team down by two runs in the ninth inning with a power hitter at the plate. And he was thrown out by catcher Ronny Paulino.

Why? There was no reason to run in that situation. None at all.

On the bright side of things, Ryan Howard crushed two home runs in the game: one well past the center field fence and one about ten rows back in left-center. That’s what Ryan Howard looks like when he’s locked-in.

The Phillies look to rebound against Marlins lefty Andrew Miller.  Joe Blanton will toe the rubber for the good guys.

Phillies/Marlins Series Preview II

The Marlins are in town for a three-game set with the Phillies, who are coming off of a very successful 8-2 road trip that went from Washington to Cincinnati to Bronx, New York. This upcoming series marks the 23rd, 24th, and 25th games against NL East foes, and the Washington Nationals will head to Philadelphia shortly as well. Against the NL East, the Phillies are 13-9 (.591).

The Phillies swept the Marlins the only time the two teams have squared off this season, April 24-26. In that series, the Phillies scored 26 runs and allowed only 9 in what appeared to be a turn-around for the Phillies’ starting rotation, which went 19 innings and allowed only 8 runs (3.79 ERA). As we have seen in the time since, that was just a mirage.

Jamie Moyer and Brett Myers, along with Joe Blanton, are slated to pitch against the Marlins in this series. The Marlins are very familiar with Moyer and Myers, who have pitched a combined 219 innings against them. The Phillies, on the other hand, have relatively little experience against the Marlins’ starters, just a mere 43 innings combined against Chris Volstad, Andrew Miller, and Hayden Penn*.

* I was hoping for another Hayden P.

As you can see, the top of the Phillies’ lineup does the most damage against the Marlins; Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth haven’t hit Volstad or Miller much at all. In case you haven’t seen these charts before, the first number is the hitter’s OPS against the particular pitcher, and next to it is the number of plate appearances that hitter has had against the pitcher.

Florida Marlins @ Philadelphia Phillies, May 25-27

On the other hand, the middle of the Marlins’ lineup pounds Phillie pitching. I propose the Phils not pitch to Hanley Ramirez unless the bases are empty.

Florida Marlins @ Philadelphia Phillies, May 25-27

Finally, the pitching:

Florida Marlins @ Philadelphia Phillies, May 25-27

Florida Marlins @ Philadelphia Phillies, May 25-27

The Phillies are 1.5 up on the Mets and Braves, and 5.5 up on the Marlins. The Braves are on the road in San Francisco, and the Mets are home against the Nationals. Simply winning two of three from the Fish would be just fine to keep pace while the Mets and Braves face weaker opponents.

Hopefully, this is the series where we see Ryan Madson moved into the closer’s role. I don’t think we can stomach another Brad Lidge crash and burn.

BDD: Starting Pitching Pro- and Re-gression

Sticking with my clumsy title, I take a look at the starting rotations that have changed for the better and for the worse in baseball.

Can’t say that this was a surprise. Everyone knew that Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton weren’t as good as they had shown in 2008 with the Phillies during their World Championship run. For some reason, be it awful location or just plain bad luck, the Phillies lead the National League by far in home runs allowed with 68. Arizona is in second place with 52 round-trippers allowed, and the average NL team has allowed 43 homers with a standard deviation of 10, meaning that the Phillies’ HR allowed lies two and a half standard deviations above the mean.

The Phillies/Marlins series preview should be up shortly.

Lidgerdemain

Baseball players are celebrities, rich and famous. Throw one pitch or swing one bat in a Major League game and you are on track for a lifestyle where you don’t have to worry about paying your bills if you play your cards right. All you have to do is not let the enormity of each situation get to you.

Don’t let the ninth inning trick you into thinking it’s more important than the third.

Don’t let the imprints of the microphone pressed against your chin make you think the fate of the free world rests on your next pitching performance.

Don’t let the raucous roar of the crowd pick you up and place you in the middle of the freeway with cars going 75 every which way, all in a blur.

Just go out and pitch.

Last season, Phillies’ relievers did just that. The unflappable bunch had the best bullpen ERA in the National League at 3.22. Any of the Phillies’ starters could have had a mediocre five-inning performance and Charlie Manuel had no problem tossing the ball to Chad Durbin, Ryan Madson, J.C. Romero, or closer Brad Lidge to keep the team in the game long enough for the offense to barge its way through the door to a victory.

Last season, Madson somehow got his fastball, which used to have to huff and puff its way to home plate, up to 97 on the gun. Romero was one of the toughest lefty relievers in baseball, and Lidge had one of the best seasons by a reliever in baseball history.

Essentially the same squad, sans Romero thanks to a 50-game suspension, returned for the 2009 season. The bullpen hasn’t been quite as good, but it’s been good as their 3.94 ERA indicates.

Lidge seems to be the only person who hasn’t shown up for the season yet, as he’s been battling knee injuries since spring training. After three straight scoreless appearances in Washington and Cincinnati that ended in the right-hander earning saves, Lidge has blown saves in each of his last two appearances against the comeback-prone New York Yankees. Prior to Lidge’s three scoreless appearances, he had allowed runs in six straight.

Overall, he’s appeared in 21 games. Only 10 have been scoreless. In six, he’s given up one run; in two he’s given up two; in two he’s given up three; and once he’s given up four.

Back on May 15, I suggested that Lidge needed to be put on the disabled list so that he could work out his issues without costing the Phillies games. That was a decision that seemed to be made easier by the fact that Madson has been utterly dominant since August of last season, and he certainly has the stuff to succeed moving from the eighth inning to the ninth inning.

Hopefully not too late, that idea seems to be picking up traction, but Charlie Manuel seems devoted to letting Lidge fix himself during Major League instead of Minor League games.

The Phillies have enough issues getting their starters through five innings; they can’t afford to worry about the ninth inning either. It seems like a no-brainer: Madson closes, while Lidge figures himself out. But who takes over Madson’s spot?

Clay CondreyClay Condrey. The guy you’ve heard of, but you can’t put a name to the face. Or perhaps you’ve never heard of him. He’s only put up a 3.26 ERA last season and a 2.19 ERA so far this season after yesterday’s 11-inning win against the Yankees in the series finale.

FIP hasn’t put him at anything more than an average pitcher, but nonetheless, he has consistently done whatever job was asked of him since the start of last season. Plus, he’s efficient, averaging only 14.5 pitches per inning in ’08 and 15 this season. What’s even more impressive is that he’s been put in pressure situations more frequently and has done even better. His average Leverage Index (aLI) last season was 0.47; this season, it’s 0.72. Not quite Brad Lidge territory (1.81 this season), but getting there.

Lidge to DL; Madson to closer; Condrey to set-up, at least until J.C. Romero returns from his suspension. Since Park is in the bullpen, you don’t really lose a right-handed long reliever, and you still have two LOOGYs in Scott Eyre and Jack Taschner. The only other business to be done is filling the last spot in the bullpen, and the Phillies can just call Sergio Escalona for the time being, so they also have a lefty mop-up guy along with Park.

Seems like the Phillies listened to me when I suggested calling up John Mayberry Jr., so maybe they’ll listen to me again. Of course, when you listen to me, you also run the risk of hearing me pull one of these:

[2008] World Series

Colorado Rockies @ Cleveland Indians: Cleveland wins in 6 games

BDD: Offensive Pro- and Re-gression

At Baseball Daily Digest, I clumsily title an article where I look at the most improved and the most regressed offenses in both leagues between last season and present time.

* Did you know that there’s not really a good antonym for “improved”? “Least improved” doesn’t work because it implies standing pat instead of actually getting worse. The English language has words for everything except this, apparently. I blame the English language for the clumsy title.

[…]

For as great as the infield has been offensively for the Rays, they have been getting awful production from their catcher (Dioner Navarro, 37 OPS+), center fielder (B.J. Upton, 54 OPS+), and designated hitter (Pat Burrell, 75 OPS+). How they’ve managed to lead the league in offense with three dead weights in the starting lineup is incredible.