Phillies Win A Statistically Improbable Game

As Jayson Stark will tell you, baseball is a great game because every day you have the chance to see something that has never happened before. Last night’s game against the Cincinnati Reds was as close to unique as we’ve seen in a long time.

19 innings. 26 position players and 15 pitchers used. 600 total pitches thrown. 155 total plate appearances. 73 pitches and five shut-out innings of relief from Danys Baez. Wilson Valdez, a position player, retiring the toughest part of the Reds’ lineup, including reigning NL MVP Joey Votto, and earning the victory when the Phillies won it in the bottom half of the 19th inning. One tenth-inning home run to break the tie, and another one in the bottom half to re-tie.

There was so much improbability involved in the game that I can only assume that Stark’s head exploded.

Recaps are boring so I’m just going to throw some trivia and stat nuggets at the wall.

  • The last time the Phillies played a game that went 19 innings or longer was July 7, 1993 against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
  • The last time a Phillies position player pitched was May 13, 2002 when Tomas Perez pitched a third of an inning in a 17-3 blowout loss to the Houston Astros.
  • The last time a position player earned a victory was August 22, 2000 when catcher Brent Mayne pitched a scoreless inning.

11 plays had a leverage index of 4.00 or above (meaning it was a really important play); only one of them involved a hit.

Pitcher Hitter Inn. Outs Base Score Play LI
Herndon Hernandez 11 2 123 4-4 Ramon Hernandez grounded out to pitcher (Grounder). 6.86
Masset Polanco 9 2 123 3-3 Placido Polanco reached on fielder’s choice to shortstop (Grounder). Jimmy Rollins out at second. 6.38
Masset Brown 9 1 123 3-3 Domonic Brown fouled out to catcher (Fly). 5.71
Fisher Ibanez 19 1 123 5-4 Raul Ibanez hit a sacrifice fly to center (Fly). Jimmy Rollins scored. 5.71
Halladay Bruce 7 2 123 3-3 Jay Bruce singled to right (Grounder). Miguel Cairo scored. Drew Stubbs scored. Joey Votto advanced to 2B. 4.66
Halladay Rolen 7 1 123 3-1 Scott Rolen struck out swinging. 4.66
Romero Phillips 11 1 12_ 4-4 Brandon Phillips picked off. 4.62
Romero Bruce 11 2 12_ 4-4 Jay Bruce walked. Joey Votto advanced to 3B. Scott Rolen advanced to 2B. 4.43
Masset Mayberry 9 1 12_ 3-3 Chase Utley advanced on a wild pitch to 2B. 4.31
Masset Rollins 9 1 _23 3-3 Jimmy Rollins was intentionally walked. 4.15
Fisher Howard 19 1 _23 4-4 Ryan Howard was intentionally walked. 4.15

Note that Jay Bruce’s solo home run in the tenth earned just a 2.30 LI and Ryan Howard’s solo home run to tie the game back up in the bottom half earned a 3.42 LI.

EDIT: Tango offers clarification with my above comment:

Note that the LI is assigned PRIOR to the event occurring.  It is a description of the state that the batter and pitcher find themselves.  So, Jay Bruce found himself in a state where the LI was 2.30.  What you “earn” are wins (not LI), meaning that in this situation, rather than a HR being worth around +.14 wins, they were paying off at about 2.3 times that.  (He earned +.342 wins.) The change in win expectancy is how much more relief the Reds fans got (and the level of despondency that Phillies fans experienced).  Ryan Howard’s HR spun things around the other way.

Prior to the walk-off sacrifice fly by Raul Ibanez, the Phillies’ highest win expectancy came in the sixth inning when Ibanez tripled off of starter Travis Wood. The Phillies’ lowest win expectancy was after Bruce’s solo homer.

The following chart plots each player’s leverage index (pLI) for the game along with their win percent added (WPA).

As you can see, there weren’t too many players that landed in the upper-right quadrant.

The Phillies were 1-for-13 (.077) with runners in scoring position. The Reds weren’t much better, at 3-for-15 (.200). The two teams combined to go 4-for-28 (.143). The Phillies left 16 runners on base; the Reds 17.

Finally, how about this whopper from ESPN’s Steve Berthiaume on Twitter:

Links to video clips from MLB.com:

  • Stutes strikes out the side in the 8th [Link]
  • Howard ties the game in the 10th [Link]
  • Romero picks off Phillips [Link]
  • Herndon escapes an 11th-inning jam [Link]
  • Baez’s five scoreless innings of relief [Link]
  • Valdez’s scoreless inning of relief in the 19th [Link]
  • Ibanez’s walk-off sacrifice fly [Link]
  • Valdez post-game interview with Sarge, gets pied by teammates [Link]
  • Charlie Manuel’s post-game press conference [Link]

Did you stay up for the entire game? Feel free to post your thoughts and any interesting statistical factoids in the comments.

Game graph courtesy FanGraphs.

On Trade Rumors

Rumors connecting the Phillies to Houston Astros outfielder Hunter Pence have been well-publicized by now. For that, I blame Eric Seidman. ESPN’s Jayson Stark nixed the rumors in his Rumblings & Grumblings column yesterday:

Meanwhile, continuing rumors of the Phillies’ interest in Pence appear to be exaggerated. Clubs that have spoken with the Phillies report they’re doing no more at the moment than compiling a shopping list of potentially available bats. But since their payroll is wedged right up against the luxury-tax threshold, they’ve been telling other teams they can only talk about hitters making no more than about half of Pence’s $6.9 million.

That blurb is a good examples of factors fans don’t consider when they cook up trade hypotheticals. Most trade rumors follow this pattern:

  • Team A is out of contention and have some expensive players they would like to send elsewhere.
  • Team B is in contention, needs one or more of those players, and is willing to spend money

Boom. Match.com‘d.

In reality, there are so many factors that go into a trade that make most hypotheticals uproariously unrealistic. ESPN’s David Schoenfield took a lot of heat for some suggested trade scenarios, but his were no more unrealistic than the rumors that constantly end up in Jon Heyman columns.

If you want to cook up a good trade rumor, you need to account for all of those factors.

  • Team standing. Mentioned above: is the team in question an obvious buyer or seller? If they’re in the middle, what are their contingency plans by July 31?
  • Team financial status. Also mentioned above: does the team need to clear payroll, or does it have the ability to add salary? Is the team at or near the luxury tax threshold?
  • Position(s). Position has a huge impact on the net return on a player as well as his eventual landing spot. Good players at premium positions tend to cost more, meaning they are less likely to end up on teams with lesser payrolls.
  • Service time. Is the player still under team control, earning close to the league minimum? Is he arbitration eligible? How many years of arbitration does he have left? Does he have 10-and-5 rights? Service time affects a player’s trade value significantly. Between two players of equivalent skill, the one earning less money will be a better trade commodity.
  • Contract stipulations. Does the player have performance bonuses (a.k.a. incentives)? Does the player have clauses (player, club, mutual)? Does he have a buy-out? Does he have a no-trade clause? If so, what kind (limited, full)? How many years are left on the contract? Teams with smaller payrolls have to factor in every little thing that could add more salary, so they pass over a perfectly good player simply because he earns an additional $1 million for winning an MVP award. Additionally, players with buy-out clauses give the acquiring team some wiggle room for taking on a risk.
  • Other team’s needs. Does the other team simply need salary relief? Do they need prospects? If so, at what level? Would they take lower-level prospects (higher risk, higher reward)? At what positions is the team weak? Teams that need salary relief tend to be much easier to deal with compared to those that are looking specifically for top-shelf talent at or above Double-A. Factoring in a team’s lack of depth at the Major League level can be a good way to gauge the likelihood of making a deal.
  • Skills. Is he a hitter? Does he have good on-base skills, or does he hit for power (or both)? Can he run the bases well? Can he play multiple positions? Is he left- or right-handed (or a switch-hitter)? Is he a pitcher? Is he a starter? Does he strike out a lot of hitters, or walk hitters infrequently (or both)? Is he a reliever? Is he left- or right-handed? Where has he traditionally pitched (mop-up, middle relief, lefty specialist, set-up, closer)? Can he pitch multiple innings? Does he have the ability to make a spot start if necessary?
  • Agent. Is the agent’s name Scott Boras? Has the agent had previous dealings with the team? Were they positive? For a while, the Phillies refused to deal with Boras as a result of the J.D. Drew fiasco. Agents that have a good rapport with general managers do a better job of making sure each side gets what they want.
  • History. Have the two teams dealt with each other recently? Were both sides vindicated for the transaction(s)? Astros GM Ed Wade may be gun-shy dealing with Ruben Amaro because he did not come out looking great in the Roy Oswalt trade. That may decrease the odds of a Pence/Phillies trade occurring.
  • Minor Leagues. Does the team have depth in the Minor Leagues? If not, for how long should they be expected to have a lack of depth? At what specific positions do they lack depth? Where is the bulk of their talent concentrated? If the team is linked in rumors to an outfielder, but have a glut of outfield depth at Triple-A, they probably will not make a deal for a Major League outfielder.
  • Manager. Does the manager have job security? Has he had past interactions with the other team’s player(s)? Although it wasn’t a trade, Charlie Manuel‘s past dealings with Danys Baez had an influence on the Phillies signing him as a free agent before the 2010 season.

There are numerous other factors to be listed, and the list is really endless, but the above should hit on most of the important ones. Most trade hypotheticals simply miss the target by ignoring these and other factors.

Measuring Chase Utley’s Impact

Hey, have you heard the news? Chase Utley is back. He will be making his 2011 debut today against the Cincinnati Reds, the culmination of a long and arduous battle back from patellar tendinitis. At one point earlier during his rehab, Utley needed to sit on a stool to field ground balls; today, he will be doing so freely in a Major League game.

With the offense struggling — it hasn’t scored more than three runs in a game since Friday, May 13 — getting Utley back is huge. As a team, the Phillies compiled a .306 wOBA, a shade below the .312 league average. The return of Utley, assuming good health, will be a boon to the offense. Pete Orr, who had a .258 wOBA, was optioned and Chase’s consistent playing time should significantly cut into the AB’s for Wilson Valdez (.254 wOBA) and Michael Martinez (.202 wOBA). Overall, the offense was nearly nine runs below average, which equates to one win.

We convert wOBA to runs with the following equation:

( ( Player’s wOBA – League average wOBA ) / 1.15 ) * Player’s PA

Using PECOTA’s 50th percentile projection, Utley is expected to post a .383 wOBA in 400 PA for the rest of the season, which amounts to nearly 25 runs, or two and a half wins. That is, uh, quite an improvement over Orr and Valdez, who combined to be nearly nine runs below average in 117 PA (-31 runs in 400 PA). In other words, getting Utley back and severely reducing the roles of his replacements should net the Phillies roughly five and a half wins theoretically. The 50th percentile projection assumes a career-worst season for Utley as well, so Utley could be worth more offensively if he’s back to his usual self.

Then there’s Utley’s defense. It’s no secret that Utley grades out as one of the best defensive second basemen in baseball (arguably the best pre-injury). In over 8,200 innings, Utley has saved 80 runs more than an average second baseman according to UZR (an average of one run above average per 102 innings). If Utley does not decline defensively, he should save about ten runs defensively. In 383 combined innings, the combination of Orr and Valdez have saved 1.4 runs less than an average second baseman would.

We have passed the one-quarter mark of the season. Still, the return of Utley could net the Phillies upwards of six and a half wins. Last year’s contest with the Atlanta Braves was decided by six games, and it figures to be much closer by the time October 2011 rolls around. Getting a healthy, productive Utley back could be the difference between playing October baseball and playing October golf.

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Performance and Results

One of the cool things about Sabermetrics is that it teaches you your own fallibility. Science requires a certain humbleness, to know your limits and to recognize yourself as a flawed being. True arrogance is taking what your untrained eyes see at face value, believing them to be infallible. It’s why the stat guys have had the “you should watch the games instead of looking at spreadsheets” line used as a weapon against them.

The area where I have seen the biggest contrast between the lying eyes and what actually happens is on the pitcher’s mound. DIPS theory has taught us that once contact is made with the baseball, the pitcher’s work is done; he has little to no control on what happens next — the rest falls on the defense, environmental factors, and good old fashioned luck. Many studies, including research that led to SIERA, have shown strikeouts, walks, and batted ball types to be the strongest predictors of future success and failure for pitchers.

Essentially, stats like SIERA separate performance from results. Even fans of traditional stats understand this concept. It is quite possible for a pitcher to have an outstanding performance, but get saddled with the loss for reasons out of his control — his lack of offensive support, bad fielding, bad luck, etc. Similarly, a pitcher can post great strikeout and walk numbers and wind up with poor results in a number of areas including ERA.

For example, those who looked at the 2010 ERA of Houston Astros starter Bud Norris (4.92) would have assumed he pitched badly and would have expected more of the same going forward. Those who looked at his 9.3 K/9, his 43 percent ground ball rate, and his 3.90 SIERA would have expected his ERA to come back down going forward. To wit, his ERA currently sits at 3.93. Even better, his SIERA is at 3.03. His 2010 performances were good; his 2010 results were bad.

Generally speaking, pitchers with good strikeout and walk rates and favorable batted ball splits stick around while the bad ones get weeded out. Adam Eaton had average rates for much of his career, but once they trended in the wrong directions, the Phillies were eager to pay him to not pitch for them.

One pitcher who seems immune to this thinning of the herd process is Kyle Kendrick. His Minor League numbers were decent, but prior to his promotion to the Majors in 2007, he had never pitched above Double-A. With one pitch (a two-seam fastball), it is not impossible to breeze through subpar hitting; doing so at the Major League level is an entirely different story.

Unsurprisingly, Kendrick has a 4.62 ERA in 508 and one-third innings with the Phillies. He has pitched from a number of roles with very limited success, none of it sustainable. He bought himself years of immunity with his 2007 season when he was called up and made 20 starts, earning a 3.87 ERA and helping the Phillies end their 13-year post-season drought. His SIERA was a much less inspiring 4.86 and he benefited from a .281 BABIP.

Kendrick earned a rotation spot in ’08, but posted a 5.49 ERA in 30 starts and one relief appearance. His SIERA was 5.23. He spent the ’09 season getting his first taste of Triple-A, trying to earn his way back to the Majors. He did just that, finishing with a 3.34 ERA for Lehigh Valley. The Phillies recalled him in September for a couple spot starts and mop-up relief duty. Kendrick again earned a rotation spot for the 2010 season. And Kendrick bombed, wrapping up the season with a 4.73 ERA and a 4.94 SIERA.

The appeal to the Phillies about the right-hander was his relative cheapness: he cost under $500,000 in each of his first four seasons. He was arbitration-eligible after the 2010 season, which meant a relatively significant increase in pay if the Phillies wanted to keep him around. The analyst who looks at performance rather than results would have seen the peaks as unsustainable and the valleys as par for the future course. The people who chose to pay him $2.45 million to avoid arbitration instead looked at results, viewing the peaks as future goals and the valleys as, well, valleys.

Kendrick’s results have been very inconsistent. 2007, good, but lucky. 2008, bad, but descriptive. 2009, good but with a very small sample size. 2010 bad, but descriptive. His overall performance — a 4.0 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, and a barely above-average ability to generate ground balls — did not yield optimistic projections. As an example, the following is a list of pitchers from 1996-2011 that have pitched at least 475 innings (starting 80 percent of games) and posted a K/9 at or below 4.5 and a BB/9 at or above 2.5.

Rk Player ERA SO/9 BB/9 IP From To Age W-L% ERA+ Tm
1 Mike Maroth 5.05 4.34 2.57 918.0 2002 2007 24-29 .427 87 DET-TOT
2 Kyle Kendrick 4.62 3.97 2.71 508.1 2007 2011 22-26 .585 93 PHI
3 Aaron Cook 4.41 3.78 2.75 1215.1 2002 2010 23-31 .543 109 COL
4 Kirk Rueter 4.33 3.77 2.83 1692.2 1996 2005 25-34 .561 96 TOT-SFG
5 Chien-Ming Wang 4.16 4.16 2.64 670.2 2005 2009 25-29 .679 108 NYY
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/22/2011.

Certainly not a list of pitchers I would pay $2.45 million or more to keep around when I have better pitchers (Vance Worley, Drew Carpenter, among others) waiting in Triple-A and eager to earn the Major League minimum, which is just over $400,000.

2011 has been yet another wild ride on the Kendrickmobile. If I were to give you the numbers 2.9 and 4.7 and asked you to match them up with K/9 and BB/9, you’d probably match the 4.7 to K/9 and 2.9 to BB/9, right? You would be wrong. Kendrick currently sits with a 2.9 K/9 and 4.7 BB/9. Even more interesting is that they are very nearly the inverse of Livan Hernandez‘s current rates. Yet he has a 3.28 ERA, and even with his spot start against the Colorado Rockies on Thursday, he appears to have completely avoided being eliminated at the bottom of the food chain.

No one doubts Kendrick’s selflessness in taking the ball in whatever role the team puts him in, nor his work ethic which allowed him to jump from Double-A to the Majors in ’07, then re-earn his job out of Triple-A two years later. He has never complained, never been a problem. He took a cruel joke as well as anybody could have. Unfortunately, those are not skills that translate into sustainable success on the mound. Jason Giambi didn’t discover the fountain of youth when he hit three home runs on Thursday; he ran into Kyle Kendrick (and Danys Baez).

Kendrick simply doesn’t have the skills necessary to enjoy consistent, sustainable success at the Major League level. He can improve, albeit unlikely at this stage of his career. The Phillies made a mistake keeping him around for such a relatively exorbitant price, and continue to make a mistake every day he is on the 25-man roster. The Phillies have dealt with quite a few injuries, but have several pitchers that should be ahead of Kendrick on the depth chart. I would love to be proven wrong about Kendrick, but the stats have shown me things I simply can’t unsee.

Caveat: As stated previously on the blog, I wouldn’t mind Kendrick used strictly as a ROOGY. Given how Charlie Manuel has used J.C. Romero, however, I don’t see that ever happening with any consistency. Additionally, paying $2.45 million or more for a ROOGY seems misguided.

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Pitching to the Corners; Links

At The Hardball Times, Lucas Apostoleris (@DBITLefty) did some data mining to find the pitchers who frequently hit the corners of the strike zone.

The information was quite interesting and confirmed a lot of what we already knew about the Phillies:

  • J.C. Romero loves to pitch inside to left-handers (11.7%)
  • Jamie Moyer loves to throw inside to right-handers (8.1%)
  • Roy Halladay works the inside corner to all hitters (6.3%)

More links from the Internets after the jump. Continue reading…

Bullpen Misuse Leads to Another Loss

Game is tied 1-1 going into the bottom of the ninth inning. You have the following relievers left:

That was the situation the Phillies faced tonight against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Charlie Manuel went with Baez to start the inning. Baez, who has not shown the ability to strike out Major League hitters at an acceptable rate. The first three Cardinals made contact, reaching on three singles to load the bases, something that happens against pitchers that can’t miss bats. If Manuel had not intended to use Madson to start the inning, he should have at least considered using Madson as a fire extinguisher — he should have been warming before Baez threw his first pitch to Ryan Theriot. In a situation where you’re pitching to the home team in the bottom of the ninth inning with runners on first and second with no outs, you want to achieve one of two goals: A) get a strikeout, or B) get a double play. Madson, with his elite strikeout and ground ball rates, can accomplish both better than nearly anyone in baseball, let alone on his own pitching staff.

Baez breathed a sigh of relief when he had the fortune of generating a ground ball from Matt Holliday that was hit directly at Jimmy Rollins, who threw to home for the force out. Lance Berkman, a switch-hitter, was due up next, so of course Manuel went with the most logical option: Ryan Madson J.C. Romero. Romero, who struggles mightily against right-handed hitters. Against Berkman, who has an OPS approaching 1.100 against lefties this season. Naturally, Berkman hit a screaming line drive to center field that went over Michael Martinez‘s head to end the game.

This isn’t just Monday-morning quarterbacking. Matt Swartz (@Matt_Swa) was doling out the strategy on Twitter before the inning even started:

With Pujols due up 3rd, Madson should be pitching the bottom of the 9th regardless of what happens in the top

Manuel’s misuse of the bullpen has been noted previously here, but to add a cherry to the dessert of analysis, check out this graph from Chasing Utley (@Phylan) from last week (click to enlarge):

If Madson is the best reliever in the bullpen (and he is, there is no counter-argument), he certainly isn’t being used as such.

I realize that it’s easy to pick on the manager and it’s even cliche at this point, but these are objective reasons why Manuel’s in-game decision-making has been unsatisfactory. His affable personality and clubhouse management are certainly great attributes to have in a manager; if Charlie would be a bit more discerning with his strategy, he could be a great manager.

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Charlie Manuel Unnecessarily Taxing His Pitchers’ Arms

The Phillies played their 40th game of the season last night against the St. Louis Cardinals. Cliff Lee threw 122 pitches, marking the 11th time a Phillies starter has thrown 110 or more pitches in a game thus far in 2011. For those of you keeping score, that’s 27.5 percent. Only the Houston Astros have been more taxing of their starters’ arms. The average Major League team has six 110+ pitch performances on record; the Phillies are at nearly twice that total.

Player Date Tm Opp Rslt App,Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR Pit GSc aLI
Roy Halladay 2011-04-24 PHI SDP W 3-1 GS-9 ,W 8.2 5 1 1 1 14 0 130 83 .852
Cole Hamels 2011-04-22 PHI SDP W 2-0 GS-8 ,W 8.0 4 0 0 3 8 0 126 79 1.245
Roy Halladay 2011-04-13 PHI WSN W 3-2 CG 9 ,W 9.0 6 2 2 2 9 0 123 74 1.553
Roy Halladay 2011-05-15 PHI ATL L 2-3 CG 8 ,L 8.0 8 3 3 2 7 1 119 59 1.339
Cliff Lee 2011-05-06 PHI ATL L 0-5 GS-7 ,L 7.0 9 3 3 1 16 0 117 62 .724
Roy Halladay 2011-05-10 PHI FLA L 1-2 CG 8 ,L 8.0 5 2 1 2 9 0 115 73 1.225
Cliff Lee 2011-05-01 PHI NYM L 1-2 GS-7 7.0 8 1 1 2 5 0 113 60 1.203
Roy Halladay 2011-04-07 PHI NYM W 11-0 GS-7 ,W 7.0 6 0 0 1 7 0 113 71 1.016
Cliff Lee 2011-05-16 PHI STL L 1-3 GS-7 ,L 6.1 6 3 3 6 4 0 112 53 1.416
Roy Halladay 2011-04-19 PHI MIL L 0-9 GS-7 ,L 6.2 10 6 6 2 3 1 112 31 .790
Cliff Lee 2011-04-02 PHI HOU W 9-4 GS-7 ,W 7.0 4 3 3 0 11 1 111 68 .710
Roy Halladay 2011-05-05 PHI WSN W 7-3 GS-7 ,W 7.0 6 2 2 0 10 0 110 67 .757
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/17/2011.

The pitch count debate is anything but finished. Current information is limited in scope and conclusions are very hazy. Some pitchers, like Roy Halladay, seem to be well-conditioned to throw as many pitches as necessary while others are gasping for air before they ever reach 100. And, of course, the 100-pitch marker is itself arbitrary. Why 100? Why not 103 or 98 or 112? You get the point.

Still, I think we can all agree that each pitch is riskier than its precedent. By exactly how much is anyone’s guess, but it is non-zero. If a manager has the opportunity to allow his starter to throw fewer pitches, he should take it, generally speaking.

That was very clear yesterday when Lee was having a lot of trouble locating his pitches, setting a career-high with six walks in six and one-third innings. Lee, of course, is known for his pinpoint control, leading the Majors in strikeout-to-walk ratio last year at 10.3, and led the Majors for this season, going into last night’s game at 9.1.

Lee needed 25 pitches to escape the first inning, and was at 86 pitches through four innings, at which point he had allowed five of his six walks. He should not have taken the mound for the fifth inning. Baseball purists and macho men reading this should experience heightened blood pressure after reading that sentence. Taking out your $100 million starter after 86 pitches and four innings?!

Yes. Eliminate risk. As it turns out, Lee had fairly easy fifth and sixth innings, allowing him to pitch into the seventh, but situations like that are why you have arms in the bullpen capable of pitching multiple innings. It is exactly the reason why the Phillies still carry Kyle Kendrick on the roster. If you are not comfortable using your relievers in that situation, then when are you comfortable using them? Why are they taking up a roster spot, instead of a more useful bench player?

One need only go to this page and search for “(P)” to get an idea of the risk involved. Is getting an extra two or three innings out of Lee, rather than the rarely-used bullpen, worth risking losing him to injury? Even if the risk of injury is one percent rather than, say, 40 percent, the answer is still a resounding “no”.

In the fifth inning until he was pulled in the seventh inning, Lee faced sub-1.00 leverage index situations with seven of ten batters, and of course the other three situations were his own doing — a result of his lack of stuff. Going into the seventh, the Phillies were facing four-to-one odds to win the game. Manuel either has a remarkable lack of confidence in his bullpen or was not cognizant of how much he was asking from his starting pitcher.

The average leverage index, for the games in which Phillies starters accrued 110 or more pitches, was 1.04. As the FanGraphs Saber Library explains, an average LI is 1.00, so it isn’t as if these starters are in super-important situations. And, lest we forget, it is May — we are just now arriving at the one-quarter mark.

Even when we look at the peak leverage index, the decision-making isn’t justified. The average max-LI for the 11 110-plus-pitch games is 3.07, with a max of 7.13 in Halladay’s start against the Washington Nationals on April 13. The rest fell under 4.00, with four registering under 2.00. The two most egregious over-uses both involved Halladay: on April 7 against the Mets, when Halladay pitched seven innings as the Phillies won 11-0; and April 19 against the Milwaukee Brewers, when Halladay went six and two-thirds innings as the Phillies lost 9-0.

If the starters being overworked were Joe Blanton and Roy Oswalt, to whom Phillies owe nothing in the long term, that would be somewhat justifiable. But the Phillies owe Halladay as much as $60 million from 2012-14, and Lee as much as $124 million from 2012-16. Winning regular season games in May is nice, but protecting long-term investments is more important.

Going into last night’s game, the Phillies led the league in average innings pitched per start by starting pitchers at 6.5 (roughly six and two-thirds innings). As a result, the Phillies had also called upon the bullpen the least, at 100 and one-third innings, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers by about eight innings.

We expected this situation to occur, given the hype around the starting rotation going into the season. When you have four legitimate aces, the bullpen will end up used less and less. There is, however, the smart way to ration innings and there is the dumb way. Thus far, I’m not so sure Manuel’s use of his starting rotation falls under the former category. Oswalt has his own health problems (recently, his back), while Halladay and Lee have not had the cleanest bills of health over their respective careers — both heading into their mid-30’s as well.

There’s a reason why you keep your Porsche(s!) in the garage and your Toyota parked on the street. One represents an investment; the other, convenience. You use the Porsche only on special occasions, not for everyday driving. Manuel should use his rotation and bullpen accordingly.

Statistical Odds and Ends

The Phillies mustered just two runs in yesterday’s loss to the Atlanta Braves, marking the 21st time this season that the Phillies have scored three or fewer runs in a game this season. As they have played 39 games, that comes out to 54 percent. There is a lot to blame for the lack of offense:

  • A league-wide drop in offense. The average NL team scores 4.18 runs per game, down from 4.33 last year and way below the 4.70-ish average for much of the 2000’s.
  • Injuries. The Phillies have been without Chase Utley and Domonic Brown all year, but have also had to endure injuries to Carlos Ruiz, Brian Schneider, and Shane Victorino as well. Their replacements have been unspectacular.
  • Bad luck. As explained here, the Phillies have been hitting the ball hard, but haven’t been able to find the open areas on the field. We should expect that fortune to even out somewhat going forward, but it hasn’t yet.
  • Opposing pitching. The Phillies have played the Braves nine times (23 percent of their schedule thus far), who have had the best pitching in the Majors thus far. The Marlins have the NL’s fourth-best pitching staff and have played five games against the Phillies (13 percent) while the Nationals are sixth and have played the Phillies six times (15 percent).
  • Bottom-third of the lineup. The 7-8-9 hitters (counting pinch-hitters but not pitchers) have collectively posted a .611 OPS, which is the second-worst in the league. The league average is .675. The Phillies’ 1-2 hitters have the best OPS in the league at .850 but have no one ahead of them to help advance around the bases either because it is the start of an inning or the bottom of the lineup did not produce.

To get an idea where the Phillies compare to the league average relative to past seasons, I used a formula very much like OPS+, only for the runs per game average. Simply put, I divided the Phillies’ average by the league average and then multiplied by 100. Above 100 is above-average; below 100 is below-average.

Year PHI RPG NL RPG RPG+
2001 4.60 4.70 98
2002 4.41 4.45 99
2003 4.88 4.61 106
2004 5.19 4.64 112
2005 4.98 4.45 112
2006 5.34 4.76 112
2007 5.51 4.71 117
2008 4.93 4.54 109
2009 5.06 4.43 114
2010 4.77 4.33 110
2011 4.26 4.18 102

This essentially accounts for the overall decline in offense. Relatively speaking, the 2011 Phillies offense is the franchise’s worst since 2002, just two percent better than the league average. Thankfully, the lack of offense is somewhat nullified by the great pitching staff.

Base Running

One factor that hasn’t contributed to the Phillies’ decline in offense is their base running. While their overall stolen base total (25) ranks eighth in the league and their 78 percent success rate is below that of previous years, the Phillies have actually improved in nearly all facets of base running. Using Equivalent Base Running Runs (EQBRR) and its components from Baseball Prospectus, we can see exactly how the Phillies have fared on the bases.

* 2011 numbers are prorated

GAR: Ground advancement runs; SBR: Stolen Base Runs; AAR: Air Advancement Runs; HAR: Hit Advancement Runs; OAR: Other Advancement Runs

Believe it or not, the best base runner on the team thus far has been Wilson Valdez. He has contributed 2.6 EQBRR thus far, ahead of Rollins at 2.3 and Victorino at 1.9. Due to his lack of playing time, Valdez has had less opportunities than the other two — 32 to Rollins’ 51 and Victorino’s 62. While Valdez’s base running has been nice, it isn’t nearly enough to make up for his other offensive shortcomings.

J.C. Romero and Kyle Kendrick

During the winter, I pointed out that Romero should be used strictly as a LOOGY — a left-handed, one-out guy:

Here are the facts, using Romero’s career splits:

  • vs. RHB: 6.8 K/9, 6.9 BB/9, .292 BABIP, 5.34 xFIP
  • vs. LHB: 8.2 K/9, 3.9 BB/9, .266 BABIP, 3.61 xFIP

Unfortunately, Charlie Manuel has not obliged, giving Romero the platoon advantage (LHP vs. LHB) in only 39 percent of his match-ups. While Romero hasn’t been abysmal, he has been anything but flawless. His walk and strikeout rates are equivalent at 4.8 per nine innings. Against the 16 lefties he has faced, his peripherals lead to a 2.39 xFIP. Against the 25 right-handers, his peripherals lead to a 6.20 xFIP.

Kendrick is in a similar situation. Despite his 1.83 ERA, he has not pitched well. His 6.40 SIERA is dead last among all Major League pitchers with at least 19 innings pitched. The handedness of the batter hasn’t mattered much this season, but for his career, Kendrick has a 4.11 xFIP against right-handed batters and a 5.46 xFIP against lefties. If Kendrick is to be used, it should be only against right-handed batters, even though the Phillies seem to value his ability to pitch multiple-innings.

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Phillies Prospects Q&A with Kevin Goldstein

One of the perks writing at Baseball Prospectus given me is access to Kevin Goldstein. There are a lot of prospect gurus on the Internet, but few are as widely respected as Goldstein. I asked Kevin if he could fit some time into his hectic schedule to answer a few questions about some Phillies prospects and he was more than willing to oblige. Enjoy the Q&A below, then do yourself a favor and check out Kevin’s writing and podcasting at Baseball Prospectus.

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1. Dom Brown is on his way back from a hamate bone injury. I’ve been quoting Keith Law, who said that it generally takes 12-18 months to regain power after such an injury. However, Brown hit 2 home runs immediately in Clearwater before jumping up to Lehigh Valley. Should Phillies fans be optimistic or pessimistic about Brown’s power?

I’d be quite optimistic, as he’s been driving balls consistently during his rehab. Keith is right, that’s generally the range, but there are players who got the power back right away, and unfortunately, there are some for whom it never returned. I still like Brown a ton, and think his big league struggles last year were more a result of an inability to adjust as a bench player than any sort of talent issue.

2. Vance Worley impressed a lot of people while filling in for Joe Blanton recently. Personally, I was impressed by his two-seam fastball, but did notice that his secondary stuff seemed lackluster. Is that an accurate portrayal of what he has to offer? Does he project any better than a back-of-the-rotaiton starter?

That’s dead on, what else can I say? He’s going to go 88-93 mph with his fastball, but he spots it very, very well and works both sides of the plate. He has a solid slider, and a slower, more slurvy version of it. His changeup is ok. More than anything, he’s a strike thrower and a battler and no more than an 4-5 starter.

3. Although his chances have been limited thanks to a hefty starting rotation, Michael Stutes has shown some moxie in his brief time up in the Majors. He was brought up as a starter, but made the transition to the bullpen last year with mixed results — lots of strikeouts, but lots of walks. Do you see him conquering the control issues? He seems like he could be a late-innings weapon if he manages to harness that control.

His control has never exactly been good in the minors, but it’s usually been manageable due to his ability to miss bats, and I think he’ll settle back into his four or so walks per nine rate of the past. That said, I think it’s more seventh-inning stuff than eighth or ninth.

4. Jonathan Singleton burst onto the scene last year, mashing 14 homers and 25 doubles as an 18-year-old in Clearwater. He came in playing first base, but after the Phillies extended Ryan Howard through at least 2016, he moved to the outfield. Can he play the outfield at a passable level? Even if he doesn’t, can his bat justify it?

I think he can become an acceptable left fielder, but let’s face it, that’s a very low bar. He’s a big dude, but he’s a good athlete for his size, and I think he’ll figure it out. I do think he got a little too much hype as a hitter, and still has some things to work out. He struggled down the stretch last year, and the Florida State League isn’t exactly helping his power, but we are not talking about a guy who hit 10 home runs in his first 41 games of the 2010 season and has hit five in 86 since. Pitchers have made adjustments on him, and now he has to adjust to the adjustments.

5. Recently, I wrote about the Phillies signing Jimmy Rollins to an extension, citing the dearth of depth at shortstop in the Phillies’ organization. The only name on anyone’s radar right now is Freddy Galvis. We all know he can field, but what are the odds he learns how to hit? Are there any other names out there in the Phillies’ organization we should be keeping an eye on when it comes to shortstop?

We have 420 games to evaluate Galvis, and we have a .234/.282/.300 line to show for it. He’s been consistently young for the level, but even with that mitigating factor I think it’s fair to say there are doubts as to him ever hitting enough to play every day. That said, he’s crazy good defensively, and if he ended up with some kind of Rey Sanchez career, I can’t say I’d be shocked. As for other shortstops in the organization, if you can’t say something nice . . .

6. In your opinion, who is the most underrated player in the Phillies’ system right now? The most overrated?

I’m not sure I want to go with Singleton here for the over-rated pick, but I do think it’s fair to say there are concerns and I do think people got way too excited about a two-month run and he still has plenty to prove. I also have questions about Sebastian Valle‘s long-term future until he gets an approach and improves his defense, but I do like his tools question a bit. As for under-rated, right-hander Julio Rodriguez continues to impress. Good frame, good fastball, good feel for his craft. I think he’s gone from a guy who a lot of people saw a s a future reliever to a possible starter.

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For players and topics that were not covered in our little Q&A, check out his take on the top-11 Phillies prospects from February as they may have been covered there.

Thanks again to Kevin for setting aside time to help shine some light on the Phillies Minor League system. Remember, Kevin covers the Minors extensively at Baseball Prospectus and also hosts the best baseball podcast around. Those are instant bookmarks for me, I’d suggest the same for you.