BDD: Pedro F/X

At Baseball Daily Digest, I thumb through Pitch F/X data to analyze the debut made by Pedro Martinez for the Phillies.

It’s interesting to look at — from the first base view — how similar his change-up and slider are, especially considering they only differ by about two MPH. Obviously, looking at the bird’s eye view, his change-up moves towards a right-handed hitter while his slider tails towards a left-handed hitter. Most pitchers would love to have even one pitch that moves as well as that; Pedro has two, one for lefties and one for righties.

As expected, Pedro was at around 87 MPH with his fastball — definitely not the hard-throwing Pedro we came to love in the late-1990’s when he was with the Boston Red Sox. However, as Jamie Moyer proved last season, you don’t need to throw hard to succeed if you have intelligence, and Martinez might know a thing or two about pitching.

Jamie Should Be Upset

Per David Murphy:

In an off-the-cuff statement that lasted several minutes while sitting in the stands at Wrigley Field, the veteran lefthander said he felt “a little disheartened” and “a little bit like I’ve been mis-led” after the Phillies informed him that they were giving his spot in the rotation to Pedro Martinez.

“I most certainly do not want to be a distraction,” Moyer said. “I’m not happy with the decision the Phillies have made.”

With a 5.47 ERA and 1.508 WHIP through two-thirds of the season, should Moyer be surprised that he lost his spot in the rotation? Probably not.

Is the Phillies’ brass justified in demoting Moyer? Absolutely.

Is Moyer’s anger justified? Yes.

Aside from being the oldest player in Major League Baseball, and being a famously great teammate and pseudo-coach, Moyer is at the root of it all a human being. Any man who is told that he’s not good enough to do his job anymore should and most likely does feel emasculated. It’s not a stats thing. If Moyer studied his Baseball Reference page for a couple minutes, he’d probably agree with Ruben Amaro. But it doesn’t mean Moyer should lay down and take it.

As explained at The Good Phight, there are some economic factors that went into the decision-making as well. Moyer stands to make $250,000 for every successive ten innings he accumulates starting at 150, and he’s at 123 now. He has averaged about five and two-thirds innings per start, so he’d need about five more starts to reach the 150-inning mark. With this demotion, it’s highly unlikely — barring injuries or absolutely, stunningly-awful performances from Pedro Martinez — that he reaches those markers.

Now, by defending Moyer’s anger, I’m not criticizing Amaro’s decision. It was the right decision to make, aside from using a platoon with the #5 spot in the rotation, as I suggested at Baseball Daily Digest. Performance-wise and economics-wise, it puts the team in a better position to win.

In Boston, we saw a similar reaction to a veteran player getting pushed out of his role when the Red Sox released John Smoltz. Upon hearing the news, Smoltz apparently left the team without even clearing his locker. If Moyer and Smoltz weren’t upset, you’d have to call into question their spirit of competition; if they didn’t care, then what motivation was there prior?

I’m expecting this event to polarize Phillies fans and analysts alike, and that’s not going to be fun to read, listen, or watch because both sides are right.

Technical Issues

For the last couple days, I’ve been unable to access Crashburn Alley due to a problem with my ISP (Comcast) being unable to connect to the server that handles this website, which is somewhere in Seattle and hosted by Qwest. So, I apologize if you were affected by the technical issues.

While that issue appears to be over, I’m having some technical issues of my own with my computer. I’m making some upgrades and things aren’t going as smoothly as I had hoped. This shouldn’t last too long, but if there’s a lack of posts, that’s why. Right now, I’m looking at a purplish screen partially as a result of the screws not retracting properly.

I apologize for the inconvenience, regular posting should resume once I get these technical issues wiped up.

Phillies/Marlins Series Preview IV

The Marlins come into town and they have to feel pretty good about missing J.A. Happ and Cliff Lee who both pitched excellently in their starts Wednesday and yesterday, respectively. Happ threw his second complete game shut-out of the season and Lee allowed only one run in seven innings in his first start at home in Philadelphia. The Fishies will face Joe Blanton, Cole Hamels, and notorious Fish-killer Jamie Moyer.

The Atlanta Braves are in Los Angeles for three against the Dodgers, so it’s a great opportunity to widen the gap between the Phillies and all of the wannabes in the NL East. It’s also feasible that by next Thursday, the New York Mets — who do have the luxury of facing the worst of the NL West in the next six days — will be closer to the Washington Nationals than to the Phillies. You know, just throwin’ that out there.

Obviously, the big issue surrounding the Phillies concerns the starting rotation and what to do with Pedro Martinez on the horizon. With Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton, and Cliff Lee guaranteed spots, that leaves the last two to J.A. Happ, Jamie Moyer, and Martinez. Well, actually, there’s only one left now with GM Ruben Amaro’s public comments:

“Happ’s not going anywhere. He’s not going out of the rotation,” Amaro said. “He deserves to stay in the rotation. He’s pitched very well. He’s probably been our most effective starter.”

One spot between Old Man Moyer and Pedro. As you’re already aware of, I think I have a cure for the issue, but assuming the Phillies braintrust is still in limbo on the issue, Moyer’s start in the series finale may actually be an audition, a last-ditch effort to stay in the rotation. It couldn’t come against a better opponent: Moyer has a career 2.83 ERA against the Marlins in over 95 innings pitched. Most of the Marlins’ regulars hit poorly against him, including Dan Uggla, Cody Ross, Jorge Cantu, Nick Johnson, and Jeremy Hermida.

Believe it or not, the Phillies may still not know what to do with Moyer and Martinez at the end of the series. And that could be a problem considering that the bullpen is close to having too many deserving participants. Chad Durbin and J.C. Romero should be back in about a week, and Brett Myers could be making his long-awaited return to action after his labrum issue.

With 23 roster spots understood, there are two spots left for Martinez, Kyle Kendrick, Rodrigo Lopez, Tyler Walker, Brett Myers, and Clay Condrey (if he returns).

Obviously, Lopez is easy to cast aside and Kyle Kendrick can go back to the Minors. Tyler Walker can go. Condrey, Myers, and Martinez for two spots. They can keep Condrey sidelined until September 1 until rosters expand, and there you go, problem solved. Now you just have to find roles for everyone that keeps them satisfied.

Ugh, who knew signing Pedro Martinez would create so many headaches!

All right, enough speculating. Here are the hitting and pitching charts for the series. Click each table if you’d like to see it in better quality.

Hitting

Pitching

If the Phils take two of three from the Marlins and the Braves lose two of three, they’ll be 8 and 8.5 games ahead respectively, quite a lead to overcome. The Phillies have six games with the Braves this month and four with the Mets. If they play their cards right, they can firmly step on the throats of their NL East foes by the end of the month.

Interview: How Bad Is Eric Bruntlett?

Eric Bruntlett hasn’t been good this season. Or ever, for that matter. He has an OPS+ of 7 and a career average OPS+ of 64. He’s in Abraham Nunez territory, for crying out loud. Not only is he incapable of hitting, he’s a mediocre base runner and he’s a below-average fielder at every position he’s played for the Phillies this season. And yet there he is, with a nameplate above his locker every day.

I talked with the authors of the blog Fire Eric Bruntlett — Steve, Max, and Tommy — to dive a little deeper into the issue.

. . .

So, you’ve been keeping tabs on just how bad Eric Bruntlett has been for the Phillies. Can you put his ineptitude into perspective for us?

Steve: Eric Bruntlett has been very very very bad.  I literally groan or yell every time I see him in the game.  He’s clearly incompetent at the plate and at the very best a mediocre fielder.  He got so much playing time last year simply because he was faster than Pat Burrell, who is the slowest outfielder this side of Gary Sheffield.  His plate skills are so bad that John Mayberry Jr. had 1 less hit and 4 more HRs in 30 less at-bats.  Ben Francisco should have more hits as a Phillie this year than Bruntlett in 2 weeks.

I will say his defense is half decent.  He doesn’t make too many errors, but he sure as hell isn’t anywhere near Jimmy Rollins or Chase Utley’s level in the infield and might be right around Matt Stairs’ level in the outfield (which is not saying much).  Thank god the Phils got Francisco with Cliff Lee, so we don’t have to see much more of Bruntlett in the outfield.  It’s scary to think that if Jimmy or Chase goes down this guy is the one who is going to replace them.  I’m convinced that the only reason Houston traded Brad Lidge to the Phils is so they could get rid of Eric Bruntlett.

Max: There are many jokes we’ve made on the site as to how amazingly bad he’s been this season as well as his entire Phillies career. For example, one of my favorite stats to describe how awful he has been is that until he doubled on Sunday, he was neither batting nor slugging his weight. (batting average before Sunday: .123, slugging percentage: .185, weight 193)  We also frequently joke that since he doesn’t actually do anything on the field, the Phillies have also hired him to do the janitorial work, pick up the dry cleaning, hire an escort service, complete the team’s contract killings, etc.

Tommy: It is scary really. Everytime he comes up to the plate and they flash his batting average on the screen, I have to do a double take. I say to myself, or to whoever is unlucky enough to be in the room with me, “Is he really THAT bad?” I didn’t even think that guys with his batting average were allowed in the Majors. Honestly, I think there should be a minimum for BA. So if a guy drops under .150 and has 50+ at bats, he should be forced to the minors.

Where does Brunt rank among Phillies’ utility infielders of this decade? You know, Tomas Perez, Alex Arias, Abraham Nunez and such.

Steve: I’ve thought about this and I like Tomas Perez the best of this bunch.  Tomas had some clutch hits and was at worst a fun player that kept the locker room loose.  Abraham Nunez is the second best here; he was garbage at the plate, but solid on defense.  I don’t really remember Arias, but I see that he hit .293, .303, and .187 while he was here, which is all better than the .217 Beardo hit last year and .133 he’s hitting this year.  Bruntlett is one of the worst utility men I’ve ever seen in a Phillies uniform.

Max: My opinion on Bruntlett compared to other players is very simple: put him up against anyone in Phillies history or on a Major League roster today, and that guy beats Bruntlett. There is only one exception to this rule: he is better than Adam Eaton, which we’ll have up on our site today (Wednesday). TO address each player individually, in his six-year Phillies career, Perez hit .249. That’s better than 4 of Bruntlett’s season averages since 2005. Perez even hit .304 in 2001. Arias spent 3 seasons in Philly. During the first two, he hit .300 in 480 at bats. In fact, in 1999, when he hit 4 homers and drove in 48, in that season alone, he eclipsed everything “Beardo” has done in his career since 2006. It was only his 2000 season, where he hit .187 that was a disappointment. Nunez is the only one who even comes close to how awful Bruntlett is. The only reason Nunez’s stats look worse than the actually are was because he became the full-time third baseman after David Bell was traded. As the starting third baseman, he hit .244 in 213 at bats — two-thirds of his total at bats on the season — and raised his average 64 points.

Tommy: He is the worst. As far as guys this decade go, Tomas Perez was and is a personal favorite. I have a foul ball that he hit. I caught while in the 500 Level at the Vet. We were sitting directly behind the plate. I treasure that ball actually. That may make me seem sad or whatever, but I do. I have a case for it and everything. I do not believe there is such a story for anything hit by or related to Eric Bruntlett. If we were basing this question off of the “Beard,” then he’d be first. But you know what, with his horrid BA, the “Beard” just isn’t cool anymore.

Which Phillies pitchers would you prefer get a pinch-hitting opportunity instead of Bruntlett? Or, maybe the question should be which pitchers should not get that opportunity ahead of Brunt?

Steve: All Phillies pitchers should bat ahead of Brunt!  In all seriousness, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Joe Blanton, Jamie Moyer, and Chan Ho Park should all bat ahead of Bruntlett.  Cole’s had some nice hits in his career, Lee had some great hits in his debut last week, Joe the Lumber’s got a little power, Jamie Moyer is an expert bunter so at least any potential runners will advance, and Chan Ho has more homers than Bruntlett this year.  J.A. Happ and the rest of the bullpen shouldn’t bat ahead of Bruntlett though, I’ll give him that much.

[Ed. Note: Happ’s double last season was his third hit of the season, or more than 25% of Bruntlett’s total for the season. Even Happ should get a PH spot ahead of Brunt.]

Max: Here’s the list of pitchers who have higher batting averages this season than Bruntlett’s .133: Cole Hamels, .139. Hamels also has a higher slugging percentage than Bruntlett. Chad Durbin, .200. Despite being a reliever, he can still get a hit more often than Brunt. Cliff Lee, .500. It took Lee all of one game to surpass Bruntlett on the batting average chart, even though in his career, prior to that game, he was hitting .063, 2-32. Chan Ho Park, .154. Chan Ho has even done sometihng that Beard has failed to do all season, despite having over six times the at bats: hit a home run. Brett Myers, .222. As a matter of fact, Myers and Park not only have a higher batting average, but also a higher on-base and slugging percentage, and thus, a higher on-base-plus-slugging, too. I would rather Charlie use all of those guys as a pich-hitter before he threw Beard up there.

Tommy: Honestly, when Myers comes back, let him pinch hit. I mean, the rotation and pen are full. If there are no other injuries, then just let him be a utility player. He proved it in the playoffs last year that he can hit and knows how to take pitches and work the count. So Myers gets my vote.

Brunt attempted nearly 150 stolen bases in his Minor League career. He’s attempted under 40 in his Major League career. His Minors OPS is only sixty points higher than his Majors OPS. He can’t hit, he can’t field, and he rarely attempts to accomplish anything on the bases. What do you think the justification is for his spot on the Phillies’ Major League roster?

Steve: It’s hard to believe that he attempted that many steals in the minors.  I think he attempts to do so little on the basepaths because he’s happy to even be on base and not sitting on the bench.  I have no idea why he’s on the Phillies’ major league roster.  I’m assuming it’s because he’s quiet and can technically play every position and makes the league minimum.  My personal theory is that he does Charlie’s laundry and any other odd jobs that are asked of him.  I don’t think his defense is nearly good enough to justify his roster spot, but clearly someone does.

Max: That is a very good question that I don’t think anyone knows the answer to, except the front office. Steve has speculated that he has some kind of blackmail against the team. I’d say that it’s so much to keep him around as a player but for the odd jobs I mentioned above. He could be the illegitimate son of a higher-up in the Phillies organization. The answer can really only be speculated about by us fans.

Tommy: Blackmail. He’s got something juicy on the owners, or he cut a deal in his contract that says as long as he keeps the beard he keeps his job. But in actuality, I think it has something to do with him only making $800,000. But then again, you get what you pay for.

One of Eric Bruntlett’s comps on Baseball Reference is Bill Pecota. Obviously, the PECOTA projection system from Baseball Prospectus was named after him. If BP made another projection system named after Brunt, what would it measure?

Steve: It will project how badly one will play based on how good their beard is.  Or maybe it will measure how often one will get to play despite there being no logical reason for him to be on the team.

Max: The projection system would be called the “Brunt Bunt,” and it would measure the likelihood of a player to successfully reach base on a bunt, assuming that no errors are made. For example, Rollins or Victorino would have high “Brunt Percentages” because naturally, they’re faster than most of the team. On the other hand, Ryan Howard’s “Brunt Percentage” would be low, of course, because he’s on the slower end of the team. I think that Bruntlett himself would also have a low Brunt Percentage, because even if it was a perfectly-placed bunt, I’m sure he would find a way to mess it up. That’s just what he does. He messes things up. Whether he trips on the chalk or on his bat, or even just gets tired running the 90 feet, because of the rarity of his usage, no matter what, he would always find a way to get himself out.

Tommy: The ratio of Beard to Batting Average. I mean, Bruntlett rocks the full look and doesn’t do anything, and Werth goes with the Soul Patch thing and is an All-Star. There has got to be something to that… and PECOTA is just the guy for the job.

. . .

Thanks to Steve, Max, and Tommy of Fire Eric Bruntlett for taking time away to answer some questions. Personally, it was fun reading their responses.

I’m sure Eric Bruntlett is a good person — and smart too, as he went to Stanford — but he’s taking up a perfectly useful roster spot that could be given to someone more productive. Heck, call up Miguel Cairo, he couldn’t do much worse, could he?

Among hitters with at least 90 plate appearances, Bruntlett has the lowest OPS of them all, ahead of second-worst Diory Hernandez by a good 17 points. According to FanGraphs, he’s been worth one full win below replacement and cost the Phillies $4.6 million. That’s grounds for a firing.

Stay Happ-y

J.A. Happ has thrown his hat in the ring for the National League Rookie of the Year award. Heading into tonight’s game, he had three games in which he had thrown seven innings and allowed no runs, including one complete game shut-out against the Blue Jays on June 27. The Phillies were just looking for a win on the heels of a three-game losing streak. Anything resembling a quality start after what Jamie Moyer gave them last night.

They got nine shut-out innings in which Happ allowed just six base runners on four hits and two walks. He struck out ten Rockies, besting his season-high of seven.

The top of the third inning was as sticky as it got for Happ when, with two outs, Jorge De La Rosa singled and Dexter Fowler doubled to put runners at second and third base.  Happ rebounded to notch one of his ten punch-outs.

94 of Happ’s 127 pitches were fastballs (74%). He notched eight of his ten strikeouts on fastballs and nine of ten strike threes were swinging strike threes. Happ’s last pitch, a fastball for called strike three, was his fastest pitch of the night at over 94 MPH.

Courtesy Brooks Baseball, here’s a great look at Happ’s repertoire from a bird’s eye view and from the first baseman’s view. Click the image to enlarge and enhance it.

Bird’s Eye

First Base

Looking at the bird’s eye chart, look at how close his slider and change-up (which he threw 20 and 11 times, respectively) stay until the ball is about 25 feet away from home plate. If you look at the first base chart, you can see that they end up in a similar spot as well (low). He has a similar release point for both pitches, so they are extremely deceptive. This will be critical for Happ as he relies less on his fastball as he gains more Major League experience.

The above chart shows all of the fastballs Happ threw tonight. The large orange circles indicate swinging strikes — all up in the strike zone, about belt-high or above. The smattering of green diamonds in the lower-left of the strike zone are called strikes, illustrating that when Happ wasn’t trying to induce swinging strikes, he was pounding the ball in to right-handers and away to lefties.

Ten of Happ’s 14 starts have been quality starts, including eight of his last nine.

With the Phillies trying to figure out what to do with the starting rotation, Happ’s success is making the decision-making process extremely difficult.

My solution: a platoon with the #5 spot in the rotation between Jamie Moyer and Pedro Martinez.

BDD: The Jamie Moyer Cure

At Baseball Daily Digest, I find a cure for Jamie Moyer’s struggles.

I’ve been hearing fans say that Moyer is finished and that the Phillies should kick him out of the rotation. Nonsense. Most pitchers rely on their fastball first and their off-speed stuff second, so when their fastball goes, they go. Moyer is the opposite; his stuff doesn’t change much. His fastball has averaged the same velocity since 2007 and has only lost about 1.5 MPH since 2002. Randy Johnson, he of an unmatchable fastball back in the 1990’s, has lost about 4.5 MPH off of his in that same time span.

Phillies/Rockies Series Preview II

Following a tough 3-4 road trip that included losing three of four to the San Francisco Giants, the Phillies return home to continue another NL West match-up with the Colorado Rockies. In the four games in San Francisco, the Phillies scored a grand total of 10 runs, not all that surprising when a strikeout-prone, home run-happy team enters a very pitcher-friendly ballpark. And have to face Tim Lincecum. I heard that guy is pretty good or something.

The Rockies, meanwhile, are a half-game ahead of the Giants for second place in the NL West and first in the NL Wild Card. They’ve won four in a row, which includes a sweep of the Reds in Cincinnati. Despite having the second-best offense in the NL, it’s their pitching — normally bad — that has given them the necessary boost to compete for a playoff spot.

Yes, everyone in the lineup has an OPS+ of at least 90, but they also have three starters with an ERA+ of at least 115 and closer Huston Street has been one of the most effective closers in all of baseball.

The Phillies are lucky in that they get to miss the Rockies’ best starters in Jason Marquis and Ubaldo Jimenez, instead having to face Jason Hammel, Jorge De La Rosa, and Aaron Cook. J.A. Happ will start the second game of the series for the Phils. He may be nearing the end of his starting role of the Phillies with Pedro Martinez not too far away from being inserted into the rotation. Cliff Lee will close out what is hopefully a series sweep in his second start as a Phil.

To the career numbers. Click each table if you want a better-looking version of it.

Hitting

Pitching

If you’re looking for something to look forward to, I should have an interview up with the guys from Fire Eric Bruntlett within the next day or so. That should be fun.

Essential Reading

The Faster Times elaborates on the fundamental philosophies behind the anti-PED arguments. Great, great explanations. Grab your Philosophy 101 notebook from college.

After reflection, we may be left only with the vague or nagging sense that performance-enhancers are wrong, and that something creepy is going on. At every moment of our lives, we are each faced with the question “what should I do?”. When that ballplayer is faced with a decision whether to take certain chemicals that might allow him to continue to do what he loves, or provide for his family’s long term financial security, and he is wondering if using them is wrong, he should hear more than “it just is.”

If time allows me to, I’ll have a Phils-Rockies series preview up today.

Dominance in San Francisco

Tim Lincecum, as usual, had another stellar start for the San Francisco Giants tonight against the Phillies. He wasn’t unhittable, but as they say, “bend but don’t break.” Lincecum was able to wriggle out of any rough spots he faced and was otherwise dominant. This, of course, came one night after a nearly as dominant performance in Cliff Lee’s debut with the Phils.

Lee allowed one run in nine innings, struck out six and walked two, throwing 109 total pitches. Lincecum pitched eight shut-out innings, struck out eight and walked one, throwing 117 total pitches. I thought it’d be interesting to look at — but not necessarily compare — the two starts using Pitch F/X data.

First, a glance at what their pitches actually look like, thanks to Brooks Baseball.

As usual, with all of the images, you can click to enlarge and/or enhance the quality.

Tim Lincecum: Top and Side View

Cliff Lee: Top and Side View

The overall look at their pitches.

Tim Lincecum

Cliff Lee

How They Got Strike Three

Tim Lincecum

Cliff Lee

Four of Cliff Lee’s six strikeouts were called strikes, whereas seven of Lincecum’s eight were swinging strike threes.

Here’s a look at their overall strikes.

Tim Lincecum

Cliff Lee

What jumps out at you is that none of the Phillies swung and missed even once at Lincecum’s fastball. Then you look at his change-up and see seven swinging strikes. His fastball averaged about 92 MPH and his change-up 83, so it’s no surprise that his change-up was very effective.

Lastly, here’s a look at the pitches that actually found a bat.

Tim Lincecum

Cliff Lee

All four of the hits (two doubles, two singles) Lee allowed came on sliders. Three of the seven hits Lincecum allowed (all singles) came on change-ups; three came on fastballs and one came on a curveball.

Generally speaking, Lee’s game plan is not to get swings-and-misses, but to simply throw the hitter off-balance to induce weak contact. While Lincecum does induce weak contact, his M.O. is to miss bats as frequently as possible, and with an average 9 MPH differential between his fastball and change-up, that’s going to happen frequently.

Lee and Lincecum are great examples of how pitchers can be completely dominant with very different repertoires and approaches.

Addendum: In case you’re having trouble with the acronyms, here’s a list for you:

  • FF = Four-seam fastball
  • FT = Two-seam fastball
  • CH = Change-up
  • CU = Curve ball
  • SL = Slider
  • SS = Swinging strike
  • CS = Called strike