Starting Rotation Improvement

In last week’s article on the Phillies’ offense, the improvement of the starting rotation was brought up as an ancillary reason to be less upset about any potential decline in run scoring. Obviously, a full season of Roy Oswalt and Cliff Lee is superior to that of Jamie Moyer and Kyle Kendrick. The latter duo accounted for 50 starts last year; Kendrick finished with a 4.73 ERA in 31 starts and two relief appearances while Moyer had a 4.84 ERA in 19 starts before landing on the disabled list.

Overall, Phillies starters in 2010 combined for a 3.55 ERA in 1055 and one-third innings. How much better does the 2011 rotation figure to be?

Among the six starters last year who made 12+ starts, they combined for a 3.60 ERA. J.A. Happ, Vance Worley, and Nelson Figueroa accounted for six starts total and were not included. PECOTA projects the Phillies’ five to post a 3.44 ERA in 1,027 innings. The 0.16 difference is a little over 18 runs, or about two wins. However, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Oswalt are all expected to have worse seasons this year, while Joe Blanton is expected to improve.

If we remove the three constants — Halladay, Hamels, and Blanton — we can compare the 2010 and 2011 rotations.

Last year, Oswalt, Kendrick, and Moyer combined for 62 starts, 375 innings, and a 4.10 ERA (171 earned runs total). Oswalt and Lee are projected to make 62 starts, throw 419 innings, and post a 3.23 ERA (151 runs total). The difference is about two wins.

Meanwhile, Halladay, Hamels, and Blanton combined for 94 starts last year, throwing 635 innings, and posting a 3.30 ERA (233 earned runs). They are projected to make 89 starts, throw 608 innings, and post a 3.58 ERA (242 runs). The difference is about 10 runs, or one win.

Overall, an additional half-season from Oswalt, the subtraction of a half-season from Moyer, and the complete erasure of Kendrick adds about two wins. Half of that is negated by the expected regression of Halladay and Hamels.

Personally, I think PECOTA is a bit too pessimistic, especially with regard to Hamels. I don’t see him making only 29 starts and throwing only 184 innings, especially when Oswalt is projected to make 30 starts and throw 200 innings. I also don’t see Halladay’s K/9 dropping from 7.9 to 6.9. Those projections won’t tip the scales at all by themselves, but I think it is something worth pointing out.

Bet on the Phillies’ rotation being closer to two wins better as opposed to one win. It may seem insignificant, but Phillies fans should know better than to overlook the importance of an extra win.

Crashburn Alley Fantasy Baseball

March is a time for college basketball and bracket obsession for many people. For obsessed baseball fans, it’s fantasy baseball season. As such, I’m getting ready to reboot the Crashburn Alley fantasy baseball league, and there are open slots available.

As much as I’d like to have a league where every one of you can play, there are only so many spots available, and past participants will have preference before anybody else. However, I would like to open up the opportunity for frequent commenters to grab a seat. The remaining seats will be filled as I see fit, giving them to people that contribute frequently and positively to the discourse here. The selection process is not going to be objective by any means. Please don’t take it personally if you are not awarded a spot.

(By the way, if you participated in last year’s league and have not yet replied to my e-mail, please take this opportunity to do so before your seat is filled!)

Leave your e-mail, which isn’t made public, in the labeled box below. I will be using that e-mail to send information about the league. Please don’t sign up if you cannot attend an online draft on March 28 at 6 PM EST, and keep up with a team throughout the year. I do retain the power to transfer ownership of your team if I feel you have been inactive for too long.

While the league will certainly be competitive, the ultimate goal is to have fun. Please keep that in mind!

The settings:

TL;DR version: Traditional 5×5 roto, 14 players, both leagues, serpentine (“snake”) draft, draft pick trades are allowed. No buy-in.

BtB on the Phillies

Beyond the Box Score, one of the best Saber-slanted general blogs out there, had a couple of interesting articles involving the Phillies this week. One contained good news, and the other had bad news. I’d just like to highlight both of those articles with a little bit of commentary afterwards.

Lucas Apostoleris (@DBITLefty) compiled a list of pitches that induced the most swings-and-misses in baseball last year. It was not surprising to see who was #1. Among pitchers with 250+ swings, Cole Hamels‘ change-up induced whiffs the most, with a whiff rate of .480. Roy Halladay‘s curve ranked tenth at .427. In the 100-249 swing range, Ryan Madson‘s change-up ranked second at .645 behind Jonny Venters‘ slider at .656. I’ve been saying for a while that Hamels’ and Madson’s change-ups are among the best in baseball. It’s good to see that the statistics back this up.

Bill Petti (@BillPetti) investigated if the Phillies could still make the playoffs without Chase Utley. While he ended up concluding that they could, the article didn’t leave me feeling that optimistic.

So it’s feasible the Phillies could still make the playoffs (although it’s interesting that no team, regardless of runs allowed, has made the playoffs in the past 10 years by scoring less than 684 runs). But what if they don’t have a historic runs allowed year? What if they do no better than last year’s 640 runs allowed?

In that case, the Phillies would need to score 715 runs. If you remove Utley for the entire season you are now talking about finding another 154 runs. Unfortunately, Wilson Valdez isn’t gonna get you there.

I don’t buy the doomsday scenarios involving the Phillies’ offense. With horrendous production from Jimmy Rollins, all of the injuries, and a mediocre bench, the Phillies still managed to score 772 runs, second-most in the National League behind the Cincinnati Reds. Even losing Utley, I find it hard to believe that the Phillies don’t score 750+ runs. Many look at the trend of the Phillies’ run scoring over the past few years and conclude that the offense has been in steep decline, but that is not the case. Rather, the loss of runs is commensurate with a league-wide drop in offense. The Phillies have been at least one standard deviation above the mean in runs scored since 2006.

Year PHI RS Lg AVG St Dev
2006 865 771 51
2007 892 763 61
2008 799 734 62
2009 820 718 61
2010 772 701 58

A handy line graph to illustrate the trends:

The gap between the 2010 squad’s run production and the league average is about the same as it was in 2008 when they won the World Series. Now, going into 2011, the Phillies will be keeping many more runs off of the board with the best starting rotation in baseball.

Waiting for John Mayberry Jr.

We all remember John Mayberry Jr’s first Major League home run like it was yesterday. It was May 23, 2009 in New York against the Yankees, Mayberry’s Major League debut. Shane Victorino and Pedro Feliz had reached base on a single and a walk, and Andy Pettitte was laboring. On a 1-1 count, Mayberry pulled Pettitte’s offering into the right field seats. FOX, broadcasting the game nationally, thought they had locked the camera on his father, after all, he was black, wearing Panama paraphernalia, and was on the phone immediately after Mayberry’s homer — you know, dad stuff. We later found out that FOX had no idea what John Mayberry Sr. looked like.

That is really the extent of what we really remember about Junior. He has had 73 Major League plate appearances, showing decent power potential, but still the same flaws that persisted during regular playing time in the Minors: a lack of plate discipline, a lack of contact, an inability to hit breaking pitches, and problems with right-handed pitchers.

Plate discipline: Over his six-year Minor League career, Mayberry struck out 625 times in 2853 plate appearances, a 22 percent rate. While that rate wouldn’t place him among the Major League leaders, that rate only figures to increase with more big league exposure. In a very limited sample size, Mayberry struck out in 37 percent of his 73 big league plate appearances.

Contact: Mayberry’s peak batting average in the Minors came in 2006 with Single-A Clinton with the Texas Rangers organization.  He hit .268. Mayberry would need to go on a BABIP rampage to come anywhere close to .300.

Breaking pitches: Here’s what Matt Gelb wrote about Mayberry nearly a month ago:

The Phillies wanted John Mayberry Jr. to work on his most glaring weakness this off-season: hitting a breaking ball. So they sent him to the Mexican Pacific League.

Gelb notes that Mayberry had decent results in 144 at-bats, but the sample size is small — particularly when you eliminate fastballs — and he wasn’t exactly facing premier pitching talent. In the other small sample we have — his Major League at-bats — he posted a .357 OPS against “soft” stuff from right-handers, per data from Baseball Analytics.

Right-handers: At the Major League level, Mayberry crushed lefties to a .923 OPS in 44 PA, but managed only a .626 OPS against right-handers in 29 PA. With Minor League Splits gone by the wayside, there are no reliable sources for left-right splits below the Majors, unfortunately, but Mayberry does not hit right-handers well.

These are four issues that don’t go away magically over the course of one off-season. And yes, we are dealing with small sample sizes and data quality issues for sure. However, that little evidence leads us to conclude that Mayberry isn’t much of a Major Leaguer right now. PECOTA projects a .238/.294/.403 line for Mayberry this year — certainly not impressive numbers at all. That scant evidence is much greater than anything presented in favor of Mayberry being a productive contributor to the Phillies.

There are plenty of ways to go about addressing the Phillies’ outfield situation. Waiting for Mayberry isn’t one of them.

Potential Trade Target: Mike Cameron

Chip Buck of fellow Sweet Spot blog Fire Brand of the American League looked at potential destinations for Red Sox outfielder Mike Cameron. One of those teams, obviously, was the Phillies, given the loss of Jayson Werth and the injury to Domonic Brown. He quotes Sox beat writer Nick Cafardo, but also added:

By adding Cameron, the Phillies would accomplish three objectives: (1) they’d balance out their lineup by adding a right-handed power bat that works counts and draws walks; (2) they’d shore up their outfield defense in right field; and (3) they’d be afforded the opportunity to give Domonic Brown additional development time in AAA. Cameron’s relatively cheap ($7.5M) short-term contract makes him an ideal option for the Phillies as he gives them an opportunity to win now without sacrificing the future.

Cameron does not come without risk — he had abdominal surgery during the off-season, but he says he is healthy and ready to contribute. In 11 spring training at-bats so far, he has five hits including one double.

However, that risk is very much outweighed by the reward. Cameron is still an above-average hitter, particularly against lefties, against whom he has a .381 career wOBA. Furthermore, he still has the ability to play above-average defense. In 2009, he finished with the third-highest Revised Zone Rating (RZR) at .960, just behind leader Franklin Gutierrez at .965. His UZR/150 was not quite as flattering, but impressive nonetheless at +11.4.

Adding Cameron would allow Charlie Manuel to bench Raul Ibanez against left-handed starters. So, against lefty starters, the Phillies would have both Cameron’s .381 wOBA and Ben Francisco‘s .352. Currently, the Phillies have Ibanez’s .329 wOBA against lefties in the lineup, so Cameron would add about 50 points of wOBA.

Using the formula ( ( Player’s wOBA – League average wOBA ) / 1.15 ) * Player’s PA, we can find out the run differentials per 650 plate appearances and convert the differentials into wins. Last year, 62 percent of the Phillies’ PA came against right-handed pitching, so I will be using that proportion of 650 PA.

Current Lineup vs. LHP

  • Ibanez: ( ( .329 – .314 ) / 1.15 ) * 247 = +3.2 runs
  • Francisco: ( ( .352 – .330 ) / 1.15 ) * 247 = +4.7 runs

Current Lineup vs. RHP

  • Ibanez: ( ( .367 – .325 ) / 1.15 ) * 403 = +14.7 runs
  • Francisco: ( ( .332 – .311 ) / 1.15 ) * 403 = +7.4 runs

Current Lineup total: 3.2 + 4.7 + 14.7 + 7.4 = 30 runs, or 3.0 wins.

New Lineup vs. LHP

  • Cameron: ( ( .381 – .330 ) / 1.15 ) * 247 = +11.0 runs
  • Francisco: ( ( .352 – .330 ) / 1.15 ) * 247 = +4.7 runs

New Lineup vs. RHP

  • Ibanez: ( ( .367 – .325 ) / 1.15 ) * 403 = +14.7 runs
  • Cameron: ( ( .331 – .311 ) / 1.15 ) * 403 = +7.0 runs

New Lineup total: 11.0 + 4.7 + 14.7 +7.0 runs = 37.4 runs, or 3.7 wins.

Adding Cameron would add nearly a full win, 0.7 to be exact. By that fact alone, making a trade is worth it, but also because the Phillies will have adequate insurance in the event that Domonic Brown never fully recovers during the season, or if another outfielder succumbs to an injury. Let’s say Ibanez spends significant time on the disabled list. An outfield of Cameron-Victorino-Francisco is a lot better than Mayberry-Victorino-Francisco, isn’t it?

Ken Rosenthal notes that the Phillies are “tapped out”, which has been said frequently over the past two years, but has never turned out to be the total truth. The Phillies, however, could move Joe Blanton in a trade for Cameron. Blanton will earn $8.5 million in each of the next two seasons while Cameron will earn $7.25 million before becoming a free agent at the end of the season. There were rumors during the off-season that involved Blanton and the Red Sox that were never realized.

Over at Brotherly Glove, the new Phillies blog of brothers Eric and Corey Seidman, Eric expresses doubt that a deal for Cameron is worth it, but I disagree.

Raul and the Cliff

No, “Raul and the Cliff” isn’t the name of a new sitcom featuring Raul Ibanez and Cliff Lee. Rather, the title refers to the cliff from which the Phillies left fielder is supposedly going to tumble as a result of his relative old age (he’ll be 39 in June) and perceived proneness to injuries.

During the off-season, some — including myself — suggested reducing Ibanez’s playing time in favor of a platoon. It makes sense, since he is 40 points of wOBA better against right-handers than left-handers. However, the ultimate goal for many was simply to reduce his playing time overall, not to achieve optimal strategy or ensure that Domonic Brown got 600 PA in right field.

Contrary to popular opinion, Ibanez is far from toast. His 2010 season was disappointing, but only when compared to his ’09 season. Phillies fans are mostly familiar with him from the past two seasons and not from his time with the Kansas City Royals and Seattle Mariners, so it was only natural to make the comparison.

Ibanez finished ’09 with a .379 wOBA, a career high. His great numbers were buoyed by a .280 isolated Power, the sixth-highest in baseball that year, behind Albert Pujols, Carlos Pena, Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, and Mark Reynolds. Look at those six names and sing the Sesame Street song, “one of these things is not like the other”. Ibanez’s previous career high was .243 in ’02 and his overall career average is .192. There weren’t any flukes with Ibanez’s on-base skills; just his power.

His ISO dropped to .169 last year and his slugging percentage plummeted by more than 100 points. In 71 more plate appearances, Ibanez hit 18 fewer home runs than he did the previous year. His .793 OPS was his lowest since 2005, but given the drop in offense across baseball, Ibanez still finished with a .341 wOBA and a 112 OPS+.

Think about it for a second: isn’t it kind of amazing that a 38-year-old posted a 112 OPS+? It is — in the last 50 years, only 45 players age 38 or older have posted an OPS+ of 112 or greater, and many of them are among baseball’s best.

Rk Player OPS+ Year Age Tm BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Barry Bonds 263 2004 39 SFG .362 .609 .812 1.422
2 Barry Bonds 231 2003 38 SFG .341 .529 .749 1.278
3 Edgar Martinez 160 2001 38 SEA .306 .423 .543 .966
4 Willie Mays 158 1971 40 SFG .271 .425 .482 .907
5 Hank Aaron 147 1972 38 ATL .265 .390 .514 .904
6 Edgar Martinez 141 2003 40 SEA .294 .406 .489 .895
7 Frank Robinson 141 1974 38 TOT .245 .367 .453 .820
8 Frank Thomas 140 2006 38 OAK .270 .381 .545 .926
9 Willie Mays 139 1970 39 SFG .291 .390 .506 .897
10 Rico Carty 138 1978 38 TOT .282 .348 .502 .850
11 Dave Winfield 137 1992 40 TOR .290 .377 .491 .867
12 Darrell Evans 137 1985 38 DET .248 .356 .519 .875
13 Stan Musial 137 1962 41 STL .330 .416 .508 .924
14 Joe Morgan 136 1982 38 SFG .289 .400 .438 .838
15 Darrell Evans 135 1987 40 DET .257 .379 .501 .880
16 Carlton Fisk 134 1990 42 CHW .285 .378 .451 .829
17 Tony Gwynn 133 1998 38 SDP .321 .364 .501 .865
18 Willie McCovey 132 1977 39 SFG .280 .367 .500 .867
19 Reggie Jackson 130 1985 39 CAL .252 .360 .487 .847
20 Pete Rose 130 1979 38 PHI .331 .418 .430 .848
21 Eddie Murray 129 1995 39 CLE .323 .375 .516 .891
22 Rickey Henderson 127 1999 40 NYM .315 .423 .466 .889
23 Frank Thomas 125 2007 39 TOR .277 .377 .480 .857
24 Fred McGriff 125 2002 38 CHC .273 .353 .505 .858
25 Jeff Kent 123 2007 39 LAD .302 .375 .500 .875
Rk Player OPS+ Year Age Tm BA OBP SLG OPS
26 Ron Fairly 123 1977 38 TOR .279 .362 .465 .827
27 Andres Galarraga 122 2000 39 ATL .302 .369 .526 .895
28 Dave Winfield 122 1990 38 TOT .267 .338 .453 .790
29 Harold Baines 120 1997 38 TOT .301 .375 .458 .832
30 Dave Winfield 120 1991 39 CAL .262 .326 .472 .798
31 Graig Nettles 120 1985 40 SDP .261 .363 .420 .784
32 Gary Sheffield 119 2007 38 DET .265 .378 .462 .839
33 Graig Nettles 119 1983 38 NYY .266 .341 .446 .787
34 Pete Rose 119 1981 40 PHI .325 .391 .390 .781
35 Dave Parker 118 1990 39 MIL .289 .330 .451 .781
36 Brian Downing 118 1989 38 CAL .283 .354 .414 .768
37 Rafael Palmeiro 117 2003 38 TEX .260 .359 .508 .867
38 Paul Molitor 116 1996 39 MIN .341 .390 .468 .858
39 Darrell Evans 116 1986 39 DET .241 .356 .442 .798
40 Reggie Jackson 116 1986 40 CAL .241 .379 .408 .787
41 Davey Lopes 116 1983 38 OAK .277 .341 .423 .764
42 Joe Morgan 116 1983 39 PHI .230 .370 .403 .773
43 Steve Finley 115 2003 38 ARI .287 .363 .500 .863
44 Raul Ibanez 112 2010 38 PHI .275 .349 .444 .793
45 Carl Yastrzemski 112 1978 38 BOS .277 .367 .423 .790
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/8/2011.

When we talk about baseball players aging, we usually do so in very broad terms. Players with certain body types and skill sets will age differently than players with other types and sets. Just because a player is old doesn’t mean he is due to immediately fall off a cliff.

PECOTA projects Ibanez with a triple-slash line of .260/.330/.439, which is a slight decline from last year. A .770 OPS would fall right around the National League average for left fielders. I’m more optimistic than PECOTA on Ibanez’s future — I could see him falling between his 2008 and ’10 offensive performances (123 and 112 OPS+, respectively).

No matter where he ends up, one thing is for certain: reports of Ibanez’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.

Thinking About A Rollins Contract Extension

When the Phillies picked up his $8.5 million option, 2011 became a very important year for Jimmy Rollins. The 32-year-old is on the verge of free agency for the first time in his career, and it may be the last opportunity Rollins has to sign a significant contract.

Unfortunately, 2010 was the second consecutive disappointing season for the well-tenured shortstop, a fixture in the Phillies organization since 1996. His .719 and .694 OPS, respectively, were his worst since ’03 when he was still getting his feet wet in the Majors. Last year, he landed on the disabled list twice, both for calf strains. He was sidelined an additional 17 days in September due to a thigh strain.

With age and injuries against him, bettors are casting their chips elsewhere, leaving Rollins by himself to prove them all wrong.

For the Phillies, they are in an interesting predicament. Clearly, they have a team built to win now, but they are by no means all-in as prospect mavens rave about the high upside found within the farm system. The ultimate goal, however, is to win the World Series and no team is better equipped to accomplish that goal in the next few years than the Phillies.

Despite the high upside in the Minors, the Phillies have only one notable shortstop prospect: Freddy Galvis, a very light-hitting defensive wizard, who just finished his first full season at Double-A Reading at the age of 20. Losing Rollins to free agency would mean relying on Galvis, a yet-to-be-named free agent or trade acquisition, or career utilityman Wilson Valdez — certainly not a situation in which a World Series contender would want to find itself.

This is a perfect storm for both Rollins and the Phillies. Given his recent struggles, Rollins has very little leverage to bargain with, while the Phillies very much would enjoy keeping Rollins around. Given inflation, incentives, and Rollins’ increased stature (veteranosity), the Phillies would have to do better than the $8 million average annual value on his last contract. What would a realistic contract look like? We can check out those handed to other shortstops recently (all information from Cot’s Contracts):

  • Derek Jeter, New York Yankees: 3 years/$51M (2011-13), plus 2014 player option
    • 11:$15M, 12:$16M, 13:$17M, 14:$8M player option ($3M buyout)
    • signed December 6, 2010
  • Marco Scutaro, Boston Red Sox: 2 years/$12.5M (2010-11), plus 2012 options
    • 10:$5M, 11:$5M, 12:$6M club option/$3M player option ($1.5M buyout)
    • signed December 4, 2009
  • Stephen Drew, Arizona Diamondbacks: 2 years/$15.75M (2011-12), plus 2013 mutual option
    • 11:$4.65M, 12:$7.75M, 13:$10M mutual option ($1.35M buyout)
    • signed January 18, 2011
  • Alexei Ramirez, Chicago White Sox: 4 years/$32.5M (2012-15), plus 2016 club option
    • 12:$5M, 13:$7M, 14:$9.5M, 15:$10M, 16:$10M club option ($1M buyout)
    • signed February 3, 2011
  • Jason Bartlett, San Diego Padres: 2 years/$11M (2011-12), plus 2013 option
    • 11:$4M, 12:$5.5M, 12:$5.5M club option ($1.5M buyout)
    • signed January 10, 2011

Obviously, Troy Tulowitzki‘s mega-deal has absolutely no place in the conversation here. Overall, I think Jeter’s contract has the most salience to this discussion. Like Rollins, Jeter is the face of the franchise going into the late stages of his career. And, like the Phillies, the Yankees are a well-funded organization with no obvious replacement at shortstop in the short term.

The average annual value of $17 million on Jeter’s contract is more than double that of Rollins’ current contract. Rollins isn’t quite the marketing phenomenon that Jeter is, so there is less return on investment for the Phillies. What if we scale back Jeter’s contract a bit to $42 million over three years, with a fourth year option for $10 million and a $2 million buy-out?

Does that sound like a realistic contract extension for the Phillies’ shortstop? Or would you rather let him go to find a replacement in free agency or via trade?

Dom Brown Has Broken Hand, Out 3-6 Weeks

Via Jim Salisbury on Twitter:

[Domonic] Brown has a fractured hook of the hamate bone, says Ruben Amaro. These injuries typically require surgery. Did it on first swing of game

What and where is the hamate bone? Look for H in the following image from Wikipedia (click to enlarge):

The Wiki entry on the hamate bone also notes that such injuries are common baseball players. Wily Mo Pena (June 2006), Brad Nelson (2004 off-season), Dustin Pedroia (September 2007), and Chris Dickerson (June 2010) — among others — have had the bone surgically removed.

Pena was a promising young hitter, but hasn’t played in the Majors since 2008, when he posted a .509 OPS in 206 PA for the Washington Nationals. In ’09, he had marginal success for the New York Mets’ Triple-A affiliate, and finally bounced back last year with the Padres’ Triple-A affiliate, posting a .946 OPS in 159 PA.

Nelson never had more than a cup of coffee in the Majors. However, his ISO went from .180 in 2004 to .141 and .134 in the following two years after his hamate bone was removed. It wasn’t until ’07 that his ISO finally jumped back up to .207.

Pedroia’s ISO pattern is interesting. He played with the broken hamate bone in September, then had it removed in the off-season.

You can see that Pedroia started off the ’08 season with mediocre power, but gained it back by the end of the season. Is that a realistic timetable for Brown?

Prospect guru Keith Law of ESPN says “typical recovery time for power after a hamate injury is 12-18 months.”

I would go with Law’s theory rather than inferring from a small sample of cherry-picked (well, randomly cherry-picked anyway, if that’s possible) players. But at least in Pedroia’s case, there is some room for optimism.

The silver lining to Brown’s injury is that it almost guarantees that, when he is back to 100 percent, he will get regular at-bats in the Minors, rather than hitting every other day platooning in right field with Ben Francisco. Additionally, as Tommy Bennett of Baseball Prospectus noted on Twitter, the PECOTA projections for Brown and Francisco are nearly identical. The Phillies aren’t losing too much production now that they will most likely be using Francisco on an everyday basis.

Graph of the Intermittent Time Period

Update: Apparently, the entire Internet misinterpreted Baseball Reference’s splits. This comment on Beyond the Box Score (h/t Richard) illuminates the issue.

Mike Axisa, of MLB Trade Rumors and the Yankees blog River Ave Blues, dropped a couple of nice factoids pertaining to the incredible Greg Maddux:

Greg Maddux faced 20,421 batters in his career. Just 310 of them saw a 3-0 count. That’s roughly one every three starts. #insane [Link]

Actually, that includes IBB’s. If we only look at unintentional 3-0 counts, it’s 133 in 20,284 total batters. One every ~150 hitters. #nutso [Link]

With some control freaks in the Phillies’ starting rotation, I was curious to see how Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, among others, matched up.

TBF 3-0 Counts IBB Natural 3-0 Counts PA/UIBB
Blanton 5128 94 24 70 73
Lee 5922 85 12 73 81
Hamels 3885 70 24 46 84
Oswalt 8292 122 32 90 92
Halladay 9426 112 23 89 106
Maddux 20421 310 177 133 154

Maddux’s control was far and away better than anyone in the Phillies’ rotation.

In fact, if you prorated the Phillies’ hurlers’ natural 3-0 count rates over 20,421 PA — Maddux’s career total — the results are quite interesting.

Over 20,421 plate appearances, Halladay would have 25 percent more natural 3-0 counts than Maddux. Oswalt would have 44 percent; Hamels 57 percent; Lee 64 percent; and Blanton 81 percent.

The Phillies have acquired pitchers with great control, but Maddux was on another level. This, however, is just one small illustration of Maddux’s greatness. His Baseball Reference page, along with that of Pedro Martinez, is as close to Sabermetric pornography as you’re going to get.

Madson’s Evolution Gives Phillies Tough Decision

The following article was written with the intention of being published in the Maple Street Press Phillies Annual 2011. Unfortunately, it was cut for space reasons, so I am happy to re-publish it here, where you can read it free of charge.

Closers get all the glory. They are on the mound for the last out of a clinching game whether at the end of the regular season or in the post-season, ensuring their likenesses are plastered on the back pages of newspapers everywhere. The “save” statistic was created to measure, specifically, their success. Perhaps most importantly, closers are compensated significantly better than their bullpen compatriots.

In 2008, the Phillies may as well have had no one else in the bullpen behind Brad Lidge. The right-hander finished the season without a single blown save in 41 opportunities, a feat accomplished by one other pitcher in baseball history: Eric Gagne in 2003. His perfection carried into the post-season as he converted all seven of his save opportunities, helping the Phillies earn their first World Series championship since 1980.

The image of Lidge dropping to his knees, waiting to embrace catcher Carlos Ruiz will never be forgotten by Phillies fans for the rest of their lives. Ah, the perks of being a closer.

None of which means there aren’t other relievers who deserve accolades of their own. For the Phillies, the unsung hero in the bullpen has been – and will probably continue to be – Ryan Madson.

When Madson failed as a starter, the Phillies moved him to the bullpen in August 2006. Used mostly as a long reliever, he was as ineffective in the bullpen as he was in the rotation. Madson improved in ’07 but went on the disabled list at the end of July with a shoulder strain, ending his season.

He was ready to start the ’08 season on time and surprised a lot of people with how effective he was out of the ‘pen. Madson did not have awe-inspiring stuff — just a fastball that sat in the low 90’s and a change-up in the low 80’s. As Madson regained strength in his shoulder during the 2008 season, his average fastball velocity rose dramatically. In order, April through September, the average MPH of his fastballs were: 90.9, 91.5, 92.9, 93.1, 93.1 and 94.2. He threw his fastball 95 MPH or higher 23 times April through July, but 56 times in August and September.

Adding velocity made Madson’s fastball tougher to hit, but also made his change-up better. The average velocity differential between the two pitches went from 10 MPH in ’07 to 12 MPH in ’08. His strikeout rate skyrocketed as a result. The right-hander averaged 0.75 strikeouts per inning pitched in the first four months; then 0.93 in August and September. Madson finished ’08 with a 3.05 ERA, averaging 7.3 strikeouts per nine innings in 82 2/3 innings.

In the shadow of Lidge’s perfect season, Madson’s growth went mostly unnoticed. In fact, Madson was so under-appreciated that super-agent Scott Boras — known for his cunning ability to extract every last penny from Major League general managers — could only work out a three-year, $12 million contract, signed in January ’09 to avoid arbitration.

In relative obscurity, Madson continued to grow throughout the ’09 season. Meanwhile, it was a disastrous year for Lidge, who battled injuries and an inability to throw his slider for strikes. Madson, on the other hand, was nearly immaculate. He tossed a 1-2-3 inning 21 times out of 71 appearances in which he faced at least three batters, finished the season with a 3.26 ERA, and averaged better than a strikeout per inning.

Yet somehow, Madson came under fire. Lidge’s nightmare season forced Charlie Manuel to use Madson in the ninth inning for about a week in September. Madson got the job done, converting four saves in five opportunities. However, he allowed runs on consecutive days to the rival New York Mets: one run on September 11 with a three-run cushion, and (more alarmingly) two on the 12th with a one-run lead. Viewed as mentally incapable of handling the ninth inning, Madson returned to his eighth inning duties.

Although he took yet another stride as a reliever in 2010, an incident following a blown save on April 28 — his second blown save in eight days — in San Francisco cemented his reputation as a mentally weak reliever. Madson kicked a metal folding chair in frustration, breaking his big toe and sidelining him through July 7.

Madson rebounded from that tantrum. He averaged nearly 11 strikeouts and just over two walks per nine innings. His 4.9 strikeout-to-walk ratio was eighth-best in the Majors, joining Doug Jones (1994) as the only Phillies relievers with a 4.9 or greater K/BB ratio. Madson’s 2010 season is arguably among the best ever by a Phillies reliever.

Since the start of the 2009 regular season, Madson’s change-up has been among baseball’s best, ranking in the 96th or better percentile in batting average, on-base percentage, weighted on-base average (wOBA), strikeout rate, and contact rate. The following chart compares the change-ups of Madson and noted change-up guru Felix Hernandez over the past two seasons.

Change-up Percentile, MLB
Madson Hernandez
AVG 97 93
OBP 98 96
SLG 90 96
wOBA 96 97
K% 99 97
Contact% 99 88

Impressively, Madson pitches better when the spotlight is on him. In high leverage situations, he held opposing hitters to a .667 OPS, about 170 points lower than the OPS allowed to hitters in medium leverage situations. More importantly, Madson’s post-season dominance has been a key to the Phillies’ success. Since 2008 — his first taste of the playoffs — he has a 2.35 ERA and 3.7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in over 30 innings of work.

Still, Madson plays second fiddle, even as the Phillies prepare for a relatively large turnover in the bullpen. Lidge will continue to throw the glory innings and Madson will throw the thankless innings.

The reality is that Madson, in the eighth, tends to face the heavy-hitters. In 2010, the opposing 3-6 hitters in the batting order accounted for 48 percent of all batters faced by Madson while the bottom of the order accounted for 25 percent. Lidge faced the 3-6 hitters 39 percent of the time and the 7-9 hitters 36 percent.

The contracts of Madson and Lidge both expire after the 2011 season. Most likely, the Phillies will be choosing between the two. Lidge has a $12.5 million club option for 2012. If GM Ruben Amaro is wise, he will ensure that Madson is in Phillies red for at least the next few seasons. For the first time, the Phillies will be forced to acknowledge Madson’s greatness and they should, finally, reward him.