Mets Series Preview: Joe Janish

Fellow member of ESPN’s SweetSpot blog network Joe Janish was nice enough to get involved in a Q&A, previewing the upcoming series between the Phillies and Mets. His questions and my answers can be found at his blog Mets Today by clicking here.

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1. How much patience do the Mets have with Jose Reyes? He’s currently sporting a .550 OPS.

Plenty. Number one, because the guy was sitting on a couch for over a month — literally. The Mets have only themselves to blame for rushing him back; it was unrealistic to expect an athlete to return to world-class condition in one week after being completely sedentary for six weeks. Number two, there isn’t any alternative — the next-best shortstop in the organization that is anywhere close to MLB-ready is Ruben Tejada, and he isn’t as close as the front office would like you to think, and he is AT BEST another Anderson Hernandez. Reyes may struggle for a little while longer, but eventually he’ll get back into the swing of things. Though, we may not see it until the Mets are so far behind it won’t matter.

2. The Mets are near the bottom of the National League in a lot of offensive categories. Will the Mets be looking to acquire a bat at the trade deadline?

No. As bad as the Mets’ offense is, their pitching is worse — so if a deal is to be made, it HAS to be for an arm. The fact they have not given Chris Carter a shot to merely platoon with the offensively anemic Jeff Francouer suggests that they will “go with the horses they came with”. Other than right field, there isn’t really any position where there is an opportunity to make an improvement. David Wright, Jason Bay, Jose Reyes, and possibly Ike Davis are pretty much set for the season at their respective positions. As bad as Rod Barajas is, he’s doing what the Mets want — hit homeruns — and there aren’t many offensive-minded backstops available anyway. Luis Castillo is immovable, and again, the trade wire is void of second sackers with punch. Angel Pagan is filling in admirably for Carlos Beltran, and, yet again, a better-performing centerfielder would be hard to come by. That leaves Francoeur, but Mets seem intent on waiting out his slump.

3. Speaking of trades, do the Mets have the prospects to make a deal for Roy Oswalt of the Houston Astros?

Doubtful. The best they have to offer is Jennry Mejia and Fernando Martinez, but the fan base would go ape if either of those youngsters were moved. Further, I’m not sure the Astros would be interested in either of them.

4. After Johan Santana and Mike Pelfrey, the Mets rotation isn’t looking too good. Aside from a deal for a star pitcher like Roy Oswalt or Cliff Lee, how can the Mets patch up the back of the rotation?

It can’t happen from within, unless RA Dickey and Hisanori Takahashi pitch well above their heads. Even then, there’s still an empty spot in the rotation, assuming Oliver Perez doesn’t return there. The shortsighted decision to bring Mejia north as an MLB reliever rather than let him continue developing as a starter in the minors is biting the Mets in the butt very hard right now. The best the Mets have to turn to down on the farm include journeymen Pat Misch and Bobby Livingston and fringe prospects Tobi Stoner and Dillon Gee. The pickings are slim. Their best hope is that someone is willing to give up an MLB-caliber starter for Dan Murphy, because their trade chips are equally underwhelming.

5. The bullpen has been decent for the Mets so far, but do the high walk rates set off any alarms?

The bullpen did well in April, but Jerry Manuel’s pedal-to-the-metal “management” is already seeing its ill effects. Manuel has been managing for his job since Opening Day, and mixing and matching relievers as if every contest were Game Seven of the World Series (Fernando Nieve and Pedro Feliciano are first and second in the NL in appearances, and on pace to appear in 97 games by the end of the season). Add in the fact that John Maine and Ollie Perez rarely made it through (or to) the fifth frame of starts, and what you have now is a bullpen that is starting to break down now, and is poised to continue a downward spiral. Yes, the high walk rates are a major concern.

BONUS: Moyer-Dickey, Blanton-Takahashi, and Hamels-Pelfrey are the pitching match-ups. How do you see the series panning out?

Strangely enough, for all my negativity, I’m liking the Mets chances in this particular series — mainly because they’re missing Roy Halladay. Also, I think that there is an outside chance that Dickey’s knuckler could dance enough to keep the Phillies off-balance, and both he and Takahashi have the benefit of mystery right now — meaning, Phillies hitters and the scouting reports are not familiar with the two hurlers. As for Hamels-Pelfrey, I’m liking what I’m seeing of Pelfrey lately, and have yet to be convinced that Hamels can be the pitcher he was two years ago. With a little luck, the Mets could pull out two wins — and their 16-9 at home suggests they could get “lucky”. Oh, and it’s going to be more difficult for Mick Billmeyer to pick off the catcher’s signs from the sharp angle of Citi Field’s bullpen. 😉

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Tip of the cap to Joe for being unbiased about his team. Now let’s hope the Phillies can sweep the Mets!

Explaining Roy Halladay’s Futility

Phillies ace Roy Halladay, perceived by many to be the best pitcher in Major League Baseball, was knocked around to the tune of seven runs (six earned) in five and two-thirds innings yesterday in the series finale against the Boston Red Sox. Many in Philadelphia had yet to see Halladay as anything other than the epitome of perfection, so the shellacking was startling to say the least. Good pitchers don’t give up seven runs and fai to make it through the sixth inning, after all.

The Internet was instantly ablaze with excuse-making for Halladay’s first truly bad start as a Philadelphia Phillie. As expected, the most common explanation was that Halladay pitched poorly due to manager Charlie Manuel overworking him — he had thrown triple-digit pitches in eight straight starts and averaged over 122 pitches in his four starts prior to yesterday. If Roy Halladay was overworked, we would expect to see a decline in his velocity, no?

This table shows his average velocity on his three fastballs in each inning:

Inning FF FT FC
1 91.9 92.3 91.9
2 91.8 92.5
3 92.4 92.0
4 91.4 92.6 92.2
5 92.2 93.0 91.4
6 91.9 91.8 91.8
GM AVG 91.8 92.4 91.9
2010 AVG 92.3 92.4
91.2

FC = Cutter | FT = Two-seamer/sinker | FF = Four-seamer

While Halladay’s four-seam fastball was 0.5 MPH slower than his 2010 average, his two-seamer stayed the same and his cutter actually had more velocity.

In graph form:

The dip in velocity for his two-seamer in the sixth inning is likely going to catch the eye of many, but it dropped to about 91.8 which is only about 0.5 MPH slower than his 2010 average. Given the small sample size, this certainly should not raise any eyebrows. The standard deviation on his 2010 two-seamer is about 1.5 MPH.

While it is certainly rational to want to limit a star pitcher’s workload in seemingly meaningless games in May, Roy Halladay may simply be an anomaly. Last year, after three consecutive starts in which he threw 119, 117, and 117 pitches, he dominated the New York Yankees in his next start — a complete game victory on May 12 in which he allowed only one run on five hits and did not issue a walk. He also started off September with five straight starts in which he threw 111, 108, 112, 115, and 114 pitches. He finished September with three complete game shut-outs in six starts.

There are more rational explanations for Halladay’s struggles yesterday. Let’s examine them.

Randomness

A Crashburn Alley article that doesn’t cite random statistical variation? You’re not going to find it. J.C. Bradbury of Sabernomics introduced me to a great quote by Leonard Mlodinow, author of The Drunkard’s Walk:

We miss the effects of randomness in life because when we assess the world, we tend to see what we expect to see. We in effect define degree of talent by degree of success and then reinforce our feelings of causality by noting the correlation. That’s why although there is sometimes little difference in ability between a wildly successful person and one who is not successful, there is usually a big difference in how they are viewed.

When I read that quote, I think of Cole Hamels of course, but I also think it can be applied to Halladay’s performance yesterday. Halladay could throw the same exact pitches in the same exact locations to the same exact batters in the same exact situations and he will almost always experience drastically different results due to factors completely out of his control, even beyond BABIP and HR/FB%.

Boston’s Familiarity

The Boston Red Sox are very familiar with Roy Halladay since he spent so much time in the AL East as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays. Boston batters have compiled 1,159 plate appearances in 275 innings against him in his career. Going into yesterday’s game, eight members of the Red Sox had stepped to the plate at least 20 times against Halladay. Their book on Halladay likely resembles Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

Combining with “randomness” explained above, Halladay’s career 4.39 ERA against the Red Sox is a lot higher than his estimated 3.16 xFIP.

Halladay Was Not Good

Roy Halladay is human, after all. His start yesterday earned him a game score of 26 which is pretty bad. However, of his 297 career starts, he has finished 21 of them (7%) with a game score of 26 or worse. Of course, the distribution of those games is heavily weighted towards the beginning of his career in 1999-2000.

Cliff Lee, to be forever compared to Halladay in Philadelphia, started off his Phillies career with a 0.68 ERA through his first five starts. However, he slowed down at the end of August and into September. In three starts from August 29 to September 9, Lee allowed 17 runs in 15 innings. Was he fatigued? After all, he averaged over 112 pitches in his first five starts as a Phillie.

Red Sox Hitters Were Good

Simply put, a lineup consisting of Victor Martinez, Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Beltre, J.D. Drew, and David Ortiz is capable of hanging a lot of crooked numbers even on the best pitchers in baseball. Let’s not forget they hung five runs on C.C. Sabathia on Opening Day, four on Zack Greinke on April 10, and five on Francisco Liriano last Thursday. Credit the Red Sox for putting some good swings on Halladay.

Defense

The tenet behind metrics like xFIP and SIERA is that there are many factors out of a pitcher’s control. One of those factors is the conversion of batted balls into outs by the pitcher’s defense, hence DIPS: Defense-Independent Pitching Statistics.

Of the Phillies’ 28 errors, nine of them (32%) have come in games started by Roy Halladay. The defense simply has not played well for him. That was exemplified yesterday when Greg Dobbs let a ground ball through the five-hole. It was a sure inning-ending 5-4-3 double play, but it got through Dobbs into left field and allowed two Red Sox batters to score, increasing the lead to 3-0.

While there is merit to wanting to limit Halladay’s workload, there is no evidence that the 490 pitches he threw over his last four starts reduced his effectiveness yesterday against the Red Sox. As the great game of baseball goes, yesterday was a combination of a lot of different factors — randomness, most importantly. Sometimes pitchers have bad days and sometimes hitters have good days. There need not be a deeper causal relationship beyond that.

Graph of the Intermittent Time Period

A look at the pitching staff, comparing ERA to SIERA.

Pitcher ERA SIERA DIFF
Ryan Madson 7.00 2.86 4.14
Kyle Kendrick 5.66 5.00 0.66
Joe Blanton 5.06 4.43 0.63
Cole Hamels 3.92 3.38 0.54
Jamie Moyer 4.30 4.30 0.00
David Herndon 4.40 4.43 -0.03
Danys Baez 4.91 5.21 -0.30
Antonio Bastardo 2.35 3.04 -0.69
Jose Contreras 0.63 1.43 -0.80
Chad Durbin 2.76 3.69 -0.93
Brad Lidge 2.70 3.82 -1.12
Roy Halladay 1.64 3.02 -1.38
Nelson Figueroa 3.78 5.41 -1.63
J.C. Romero 3.18 4.92 -1.74
J.A. Happ 0.00 6.50 -6.50

The table is sorted by the difference between the two figures. The pitchers at the top are the “unluckiest” while those at the bottom are the “luckiest”. Any surprise that Cole Hamels and Ryan Madson are at the top?

(Click on the image to view a larger version.)

You can see a similar graph and analysis on the Tampa Bay Rays pitching staff in my latest article at Baseball Daily Digest.

The Big Truck Gets Big Outs

Since 1990, only three Phillies relievers with at least 50 IP have finished a season with an ERA below 2.00. Billy Wagner did it in 2005 with a 1.51 ERA, Rheal Cormier did it in ’03 with a 1.70 ERA, and of course Brad Lidge did it in ’08 with a 1.95 ERA. Even if we go back to 1980, only Tug McGraw (1.46 in ’80) and Roger McDowell (1.11 in ’89) are added to the list.

Jose Contreras, the Phillies’ de facto closer in the wake of injuries to Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson, has a chance to compile the best season by a Phillies reliever in the last 30 years. Big Truck, as Charlie Manuel likes to call him, currently sits on an ERA lower than his WHIP, 0.63 to 0.70 and he has a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 20-to-2. If the season finished today, Contreras would have the highest strikeout rate and the lowest walk rate among the Phillies’ best relievers since 1980 as he is on pace for 81 strikeouts and 8 walks in 58 innings.

Since 1980, among relievers who have pitched at least 50 innings, a mere 73 have finished a season with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 5.0 or higher. Contreras currently sits at 10.0, which would rank fourth-best in the last 30 years if the season ended today.

Rk Player SO/BB IP Year Age Tm G GF SV BB SO
1 Dennis Eckersley 18.33 57.2 1989 34 OAK 51 46 33 3 55
2 Dennis Eckersley 18.25 73.1 1990 35 OAK 63 61 48 4 73
3 Mariano Rivera 12.83 70.2 2008 38 NYY 64 60 39 6 77
4 Dennis Eckersley 9.67 76.0 1991 36 OAK 67 59 43 9 87
5 Jonathan Papelbon 9.63 69.1 2008 27 BOS 67 62 41 8 77
6 John Smoltz 9.13 64.1 2003 36 ATL 62 55 45 8 73
7 Doug Jones 9.11 80.1 1997 40 MIL 75 73 36 9 82
8 Rafael Betancourt 8.89 79.1 2007 32 CLE 68 15 3 9 80
9 Dennis Eckersley 8.45 80.0 1992 37 OAK 69 65 51 11 93
10 Dennis Eckersley 8.17 60.0 1996 41 STL 63 53 30 6 49
11 J.J. Putz 8.00 78.1 2006 29 SEA 72 57 36 13 104
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/21/2010.

It is fair to say that Contreras is putting up Eckersleyan numbers out of the Phillies’ bullpen. The big question is, “Is it sustainable?”

Contreras was recently moved to the bullpen, so we do not have a good sample from which to draw conclusions. The Colorado Rockies converted Contreras from a starter to a reliever in late September last year after a right thigh strain. There, he threw seven and one-third innings in five appearances during the regular season and two innings in two appearances in the Division Series against the Phillies. However, during his days as a starter, Contreras never finished a season with a K/BB ratio higher than 2.4.

The strikeouts-per-nine rate of 12.6 seems unsustainable but Contreras has added a significant amount of velocity to each of his pitches as a reliever. His four-seamer last year averaged 92.0 MPH; this year, 94.5. His ’09 two-seamer: 77.6 MPH; this year, 81.3. And his slider last year: 84.8 MPH; this year, 88.5. In a sample of merely 14 innings, it is possible that these velocities will regress. Contreras may tire as the season grows longer. (However, warmer temperatures should also increase velocity by a small amount.)

His walk rate also seems fluky at 1.3 per nine innings. Since 1980, there have been 59 reliever-seasons with at least 50 IP and a K/9 rate of 12.0 or higher. Under the same criteria, there have been only 31 reliever-seasons with a BB/9 rate of 1.3 or lower. Throughout his starting career, Contreras displayed good but not great control with a career BB/9 of 3.3.

Contreras has induced swings at exactly the same rate as he did last year, 44.1%. However, this year he is inducing about 7% fewer swings at pitches in the strike zone and nearly 9% more swings at pitches outside the strike zone. It is no surprise that hitters are making contact 16% less than they did in ’09.

Right-handers haven’t done anything against Contreras this year as they are hitting for a .227 OPS against him (excluding yesterday’s appearance). Left-handers have a more respectable .715 OPS. In 2009, right-handers hit for a higher OPS than lefties. The difference could, of course, be attributed to a fluke within a very small sample. However, there is a noticeable change in his release point both against RH vs. LH and between 2009 and ’10.

RHH, 2009-10:

LHH, 2009-10:

(Those two fastballs all by themselves on the right on the 2009 chart are likely due to the Pitch F/X data entrant forgetting to append a negative sign.)

Contreras actually toyed with his release point against right-handed batters throughout 2009. A look at his release points by month:

Pitch F/X data and charts via Texas Leaguers.

It looks like Contreras settled on a three-quarters release point and it has been working out well for him thus far. It may even explain the tremendous success he has been enjoying in 2010. His success probably isn’t due to the medifast diet.

Overall, Contreras’ ERA is clearly lower than we should expect based on how he has pitched, but he has pitched extremely well as his 1.51 SIERA displays. As the Phillies entered 2010 with Brad Lidge and J.C. Romero on the disabled list and Ryan Madson soon joined them, the Jose Contreras free agent signing may prove to be the most important to the team this season. Given his strikeout stuff, he has been by far the Phillies’ best option to handle high leverage innings as his conversion of six of seven shutdown opportunities has shown.

When Ryan Madson‘s broken toe heals, should the Phillies return him to the set-up spot and continue to let Contreras close? As big a Madson supporter as I’ve been, even I have to say that Contreras is the better option for the final three outs (assuming, of course, that leveraging relievers instead of putting them in pre-defined roles is out of the question).

Checking in with Brett Myers

Brett Myers is forever emblazoned in Phillies history as the pitcher who took a line drive off of his coconut and pitched a complete game anyway got the final out of the regular season in 2007, clinching the team’s first post-season berth since 1993. His tenure in Philadelphia was a rocky ride from the expectations as a first-round draft pick in 1999 (in the same class as Josh Beckett, Ben Sheets, and Barry Zito), to out-dueling Mark Prior in his Major League debut in 2002, to the domestic abuse incident in June 2006, to a switch from starter to closer and a shoulder injury in ’07, to a torn labrum in ’09, to his first taste of free agency during last off-season.

Myers’ pitching career as a Phillie is best summed up as “what could have been”. There was never any doubt that he had the stuff to be one of the dominant pitchers in baseball, but he was never able to put it together after a terrific 2005 season. He had displayed good stuff and more importantly good control during his four-year stint in the Minors from ages 18 to 21. However, in his first three years in the Majors, his strikeout rate left a lot to be desired and he had trouble finding the plate at times.

In 2005, he led an otherwise uninspiring starting rotation in ERA and found a way to miss bats when he added a cutter to his repertoire. He averaged under six strikeouts per nine innings in ’04; that number ballooned to 8.7 in ’05. Additionally, he finally fell under three walks per nine. His 3.43 SIERA was 11th-best in the Majors among pitchers who accrued at least 150 innings of work. Phillies fans were envisioning a one-two punch of Myers and mega-prospect Cole Hamels for years to come.

While Myers kept the success going in 2006, a shaky first three starts of the ’07 season and the health of Tom Gordon led the Phillies to convert Myers into a set-up guy and eventually a closer. He thrived out of the bullpen, compiling a 2.61 ERA while converting six saves and three holds in 18 appearances before a late May shoulder injury sidelined him for two months. He returned at the end of July and it was as if nothing had changed. He made 30 more appearances, compiling a 3.03 ERA and converting 15 saves. The season culminated in storybook fashion when Myers threw his signature knee-buckling curve to freeze Wily Mo Pena for the last out of Game #162. Myers tossed his glove as high into the air as he could, for the Phillies were going to the playoffs.

The Phillies were quickly dispatched by the eventual NL Champion Colorado Rockies in the Division Series, but the Phillies would make a return to the post-season. Myers did not play an integral role in the team’s regular season success, but he made a name for himself in the playoffs for peculiar reasons. Against the vaunted C.C. Sabathia of the Milwaukee Brewers, Myers saw a whopping 19 pitches in two at-bats. In the first at-bat, he drew a nine-pitch walk and was on base when Shane Victorino hit his never-to-be-forgotten grand slam over the left field fence. Myers flied out to right-center but not before forcing Sabathia to toss another ten pitches. In two at-bats, Myers by himself had forced Sabathia to throw what is about 20% of a typical pitcher’s workload.

Myers’ offensive prowess was on display in the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers as well. Against Chad Billingsley, Myers collected two hits in two at-bats and drove in three runs against the young right-hander. In his third at-bat against James McDonald, Myers weakly dribbled the ball down the third base line for his third hit of the game. In what would be his last hurrah as a Phillie, Myers tossed a quality start in Game 2 of the World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays.

2009 would prove to be a struggle as Myers battled injuries and ineffectiveness. In his ten starts before hitting the disabled list, Myers could only muster a 4.66 ERA. However, he worked extremely hard to return to full health and threw out of the bullpen in the final month of the season to mixed reviews. He also made two post-season appearances but was ineffective. Given his age, price, and history of inconsistency, the Phillies decided to part ways with Myers after the ’09 season.

Current Astros GM and former Phillies GM Ed Wade picked up Myers on a one-year deal. The 29-year-old right-hander has been one of the very few bright spots on a depressing Houston roster. Myers currently sports a 3.67 ERA and, while he doesn’t have the strikeout stuff he used to have with the Phillies, he has been inducing ground balls at a more frequent rate — not a bad idea with the Crawford Boxes within arm’s reach. He has been a workhorse for the Astros, averaging nearly seven innings per start. It is quite depressing to think about just how bad the 14-26 Astros would be without Myers.

Back in January, I wrote about why, despite Myers’ domestic abuse incident and public tirades, I would be rooting for Brett in his new hometown of Houston. I’m glad to report that he’s doing just fine. And hey, since there has been talk about the Astros cutting salary in the form of trading Roy Oswalt and/or Lance Berkman, maybe the Phillies could re-acquire Myers. He is earning only $3.1 million on the season, which would mean that he would cost between $1-2 million for the remainder of 2010. He also has a cheap $2 million mutual option for 2011. Myers would also be cheap in the terms of talent relinquished in a trade, since the Astros will need to require Myers’ new suitor to take on salary.

Cole Hamels is the Unluckiest Man on the Face of the Earth

A friend of mine has convinced both himself and me that he is the unluckiest person on the planet. He takes the poker game Texas Hold’em pretty seriously and has been playing at various card rooms including the casinos in Atlantic City. When I talk to him after a session, I usually get a report about how he was card dead for six hours or some fish donked off all his chips only to catch a two-outer on the river (translation: a bad player bet away all of his money due to poor decision-making only to be rewarded by catching one of the few cards in the deck that would help him).

I saw the misfortune in person when he and I, along with a mutual friend, made the 90-minute drive down to the Borgata in A.C. All three of us were seated at the same table by the floor manager and immediately dealt in. Both myself and my other friend folded our hands. The friend in question looks down at pocket aces, the strongest possible starting hand in Texas Hold’em. It’s been a few months, so I’m fuzzy on the exact details of the hand, but suffice it to say that a lot of money was put into the middle of the table before any of the community cards were dealt.

After the first three community cards were turned over (the flop), both my friend and his opponent’s chips were in the middle. My buddy flipped over his aces while the other guy revealed pocket jacks, a much inferior hand that will win only once every five times against pocket aces and only once every 20 times when the Jacks don’t connect with any of the first four community cards (flop and turn). The jacks, as expected, don’t hit one of the two remaining jacks to make a better hand on the flop or the turn. But, lo and behold, he hit his miracle two-outer on the river, the fifth and final community card. Mind you, this is the first hand my friend saw after sitting down at the table following a 90-minute drive. Suffice it to say, I then bought into his complaints of bad luck. (I realize that it isn’t even close to being on the list of worst bad beats of all-time; it’s just a case of confirmation bias.)

There is, however, one person on the planet whose bad luck could rival that of my friend.

Colbert Michael Hamels.

The 2008 World Series MVP, the lefty who had a 3.08 ERA during the ’08 regular season, is certifiably unlucky. It is said that Eskimos have a bunch of different words they use to say “snow” (which is not true); in Philadelphia, you need only one word for “unlucky” — Hamels. “Ah, poor John, he had no idea his house was built on top of an Indian burial ground. He got Hamels’d.”

Hamels’ unluckiness has, unfortunately, been perceived as a lack of or a decline in pitching skill. However, smart baseball people have found out what pitchers do and do not have control over on the baseball field. For habitual readers of the blog, you have seen me talk about this ad nauseam, but for those newer to Sabermetrics, let me briefly go over this again.

Pitchers have a lot of control over:

  • Their strikeout rate (K/9)
  • Their walk rate (BB/9)
  • Their ground ball and fly ball rates (GB% and FB%), including infield flies (IFFB%)

Pitchers have little control over:

  • The rate of batted balls are converted into hits and outs (BABIP)
  • The rate at which fly balls land beyond outfield fences (HR/FB%)

Let’s take a look at those stats. First, a chart of his strikeouts and walks per nine innings.

Note: K/9 and BB/9 averages are based on 2007-09 data from HEATER Magazine.

Essentially the same in 2008 and ’09. So far this year, he has had a large increase in strikeouts but also in walks. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is at its lowest in his Major League career (2.7; previous low was 3.0 in ’06). While the increase in walks is concerning, he is walking about as many batters as the average pitcher. The increase in strikeouts is encouraging since pitchers with high strikeouts tend to have a lower BABIP (see: Ryan, Nolan).

The following chart displays Hamels’ batted ball rates since 2006.

More encouraging signs: more ground balls and more infield flies. More ground balls means less fly balls which means less net home runs. More infield flies means weaker contact which means less hits (and less home runs).

As the above charts have shown, Hamels has either pitched similarly in 2009-10 as he did in ’08 or he has improved. Yet the results would not lead one to believe this. Have a look at his BABIP:

That is incredibly unlucky! Since pitchers have little control over BABIP, we expect Hamels’ to rest around .300 but it has been nowhere near that level since 2007. In ’09-10, it has been much, much higher than what we would expect despite his showing characteristics that would lead one to believe his BABIP would be lower than normal.

Hamels’ HR/FB% had been relatively normal, just a percentage point or two higher than the average. This year, however, he has been a bit unlucky on fly balls turning into home runs. It could be due to the small sample of 50 innings, but unlucky is unlucky.

Exactly how unlucky has Hamels been?

In 2008, when Phillies fans thought he was the next Steve Carlton, he actually out-performed his SIERA by more than four-tenths of a run. Last year, he under-performed his SIERA by nearly eight-tenths of a run, and has the same gap through 50 innings this year. All that, despite being essentially the same pitcher with the same stuff throughout most of his Major League career.

The verdict is in: Cole Hamels is the unluckiest man on the face of the Earth. Even my friend would agree.

As always, a gentlemanly doff of the cap to the great FanGraphs for the data.

Phillies Bullpen Report

Brad Lidge: Lidge has been placed on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to May 10, per Matt Gelb. He writes, “[Elbow] inflammation had not improved when Lidge played catch before today’s game.” Lidge had decent results in three and one-third innings, striking out three and walking one. For those counting at home, he had two shutdowns and no meltdowns. He has been throwing his slider a lot more instead of his fastball, which may indicate that he is still overcompensating for his ailing elbow.

Jose Contreras: The interim closer in the absence of both Lidge and Ryan Madson. He has been by far the Phillies’ most effective reliever to date. In 13 and two-thirds innings, the Cuban has struck out 18 and walked a mere two batters. Pick your ERA retrodictor; they all love his performance so far. Including today’s game, he has converted five shutdowns and one meltdown (the walk-off home run by Nate McLouth in Atlanta). There shouldn’t be any worries about him closing out games, but the Phillies are in a lot of trouble if he joins the weary and wounded on the disabled list.

Antonio Bastardo: Bastardo has been called up — again — now that Lidge is back on the DL. While he showed decent strikeout stuff in his short stint in the Majors earlier this year, he has struggled with control. He seemed like he was on the right path when his BB/9 was below 4.0 in his stops at AA, AAA, and the Majors last year. However, in five and one-third innings with the Phillies in 2010, he has walked four and struck out five. In his more recent stop at Lehigh Valley, Bastardo struck out eight and walked three in three and two-thirds innings.

Danys Baez: Despite possessing a fastball that reaches the mid-90’s and a curve that is 16 MPH slower on average, Baez has had a lot of trouble striking hitters out. He has issued seven walks and struck seven hitters out in 16 innings of work. His K/9 has been on the decline in every season since 2003. It’s hard to believe that someone still in his early 30’s could be finished, but Baez hasn’t pitched well and there is no indication that this will change going forward. The sooner the Phillies realize this and remove him from high leverage situations, the better.

David Herndon: Call him the Kyle Kendrick of the bullpen if you must, but he has been on the short end of the stick far too often this year. He went into this afternoon’s game against the Brewers with a 4.50 ERA but a .410 BABIP. The trend continued today as he allowed three of the four Brewers he faced to reach base on three hits. He doesn’t strike anyone out, but he rarely issues walks and two out of every three batted balls are on the ground. He has had at least a runner on first base with less than two outs 16 times this season. He has induced the ground ball double play six times.

Chad Durbin: Durbin struggled with control last year, averaging more than six walks every nine innings but he did increase his strikeout rate from 6.5 in 2008 to 8.0. Early in 2010, he has kept that strikeout rate but cut his walk rate nearly in half, down to 3.2 per nine. He has a 2.04 ERA in 17 and two-thirds innings, but he has benefited from a very low .200 BABIP. Some of the fortune is due to a change in his batted ball rates. In ’09, 18.5 percent of batted balls were line drives; only 10 percent this year. 39.5 percent were ground balls last year; 50 percent this year. The line drive rate isn’t sustainable, but if the Pitch F/X data is to be believed — and it has had some classification issues in the past — Durbin has been throwing his two-seam fastball a lot more often, which would explain the spike in ground balls induced. Thus far, he has logged five shutdowns and one meltdown.

J.C. Romero: As expected, Romero has been the least reliable member of the Phillies’ bullpen to date. He has walked four batters in three and one-third innings and, surprisingly, left-handed hitters have done most of the damage against him so far. Right-handers have managed just a .250 OPS in the very small sample while lefties have hit for a 1.250 OPS. Walks and an inability to retire lefties is an unacceptable combination from Romero.

Nelson Figueroa: Figgy hasn’t pitched since May 3 and it’s easy to see why he is likely to be the odd man out once J.A. Happ is taken off of the disabled list. Figueroa’s value comes from his versatility: the Phillies don’t have a lot of pitching depth, so he has the ability to make a spot start in the event of an injury — ski rental related or not — to be an interim starter in the event of poor performance, or to pitch multiple innings out of the bullpen. Despite my insistence earlier in the season that he was underrated, he has pitched poorly in his 14 and two-thirds innings with the Phillies after being cut by the New York Mets.

Scott Mathieson: Mathieson is my new obsession. In 16 and two-thirds innings with Lehigh Valley this year, he is averaging nearly ten strikeouts and just over two walks per nine innings. He has an ERA under 1 at 0.54 after finishing the 2009 season with similar production after returning from Tommy John surgery in late June. Mathieson is worth giving a shot while the Phillies have two key relievers on the mend in Lidge and Madson. However, as Matt Swartz of Baseball Prospectus pointed out, the Phillies may be inclined to keep his salary deflated due to his service time of two years and 71 days because settlement funding is not an option to pay players with. GM Ruben Amaro said last week that he doesn’t think any pitchers in the Phillies’ Minor League system are “ready to be called up.”

As much as I’d like to see Mathieson get his shot, the Phillies’ decision to keep him down to have an extra year of control before free agency is easily justifiable. If the Phillies continue to have health and performance issues, though, Amaro may be forced to turn to Mathieson, who Bill Conlin reports as hitting 98 MPH with his fastball.

Reliever SHUT MELT DIFF
Chad Durbin 5 1 4
Jose Contreras 5 1 4
Brad Lidge 2 0 2
Antonio Bastardo 1 0 1
Kenneth Herndon 2 2 0
J.C. Romero 1 1 0
Nelson Figueroa 2 2 0
Danys Baez 3 4 -1
Ryan Madson 2 3 -1

Brewers Series Preview: Jack Moore

The Phillies are in Milwaukee for a three-game series against the Brewers. You read that right: they are in Milwaukee. The series has not been moved to Philly but you can be damn sure the team will be trying to steal the Brew Crew’s signs. Jamie Moyer will open the series against former Phillie Randy Wolf; Joe Blanton will start game two against Chris Narveson; and Cole Hamels will hopefully wrap up a series sweep against Doug Davis.

I caught up with Jack Moore whose blog Disciples of Uecker is part of the ESPN SweetSpot blog network as well. You can also catch Jack’s work at FanGraphs. Jack’s answers to my questions are below; my answers to his questions can be found here.

. . .

1.The Brewers have put up double-digit runs in six games this season with a total of 87 runs (14.5 per game). In the other 28 games, they have scored 97 runs (3.5 per game). To what do you credit the offensive inconsistency?

This is a textbook case of selection bias. You’re never going to see a powerful offense (say, 5+ runs per game) keep their output between 4 and 7 runs for the entire season. What makes the Brewers offense so good is that they have the ability to bust out and score double digits on any given night. That said, there is a certain amount of inconsistency due to how right handed heavy the lineup is as well as how home run reliant the offense is.

2. What can the Brewers do to improve the starting rotation? After Yovani Gallardo, there is a lot of mediocrity.

They already cut Jeff Suppan from the starting rotation, which was a key move as far as improving the Brewers’ chances at the playoffs. His replacement, Chris Narveson, is a soft tossing lefty, but he has a very good changeup and he racked up 8 Ks in only 5.2 innings against a very good Arizona Diamondbacks lineup in his last start. Doug Davis has been pitching much better than his 7.56 ERA would suggest – he’s running a massive .415 BABIP, as seemingly every ground ball has found a hole while he’s been pitching. The problem is that there just isn’t any sort of #2 or better type talent in the organization beyond Gallardo, and I just don’t think there’s anything that can be done to solve that outside of a major move like a Prince Fielder trade.

3. Trevor Hoffman struggled in April but was able to nail down a save last Friday. Is he in danger of losing his job or are the Brewers attributing his lack of success to a fluke? If he does lose his job, who is most likely to take his job?

I think the Brewers are willing to ride Hoffman out, in part because of how ridiculously well he pitched last year. I doubt that he’s close to losing his job, although I do think he should be out – I wrote yesterday that I believe that Hoffman’s career is effectively over. If he loses the job, the next in line is likely Carlos Villanueva. Villanueva is currently running a ridiculous 11.17 K/9 that will probably settle around one per inning, and his changeup is an excellent pitch that can be used to neutralize left handed hitting. He also throws a slider and a curveball – all of his secondary stuff is very good.

4. Casey McGehee wasn’t an offensive powerhouse during his career in the Chicago Cubs Minor League system. However, he has burst onto the scene as one of the Brewers’ go-to bats, especially while Prince Fielder’s stick has been cold. Do you know if McGehee made any adjustments or received advice that led to his newfound success at the plate?

McGehee’s success is absolutely baffling to me. He burst onto the scene with a solid spring training in 2009 and as far as I know, nothing has changed since then. He somehow found some sort of power stroke after leaving the Cubs system – maybe a Brewers hitting coach found something with his swing, but that’s never been truly discussed or pointed out by the media around Milwaukee. This year, his walk rate has even seen a bump over 11%, which would go even farther towards cementing him as a legitimate major league hitter.

5. Speaking of Fielder, we have both been watching our first basemen hit the skids. Like Ryan Howard, Fielder has had trouble hitting lefties despite enjoying tremendous success against them over his career (.907 OPS against LH starters). Is he being pitched differently than in the past?

Fielder is a notoriously slow starter. He has a 120 wRC+ in April for his career against a 140 overall mark. He still has a .374 OBP, and despite his mammoth power only 10.8% of his fly balls are going for home runs. There’s no way that number stays that low – soon he should return to his career level of 20% – nearly twice that. As far as his struggles against lefties go, it doesn’t appear that Prince has really been pitched any differently – this might just be an example of how splits really aren’t predictive until we get a ton of data. Prince is still young, and we would probably be better off assuming that his splits are closer to those of the typical left handed batter than completely neutral as his current marks suggest.

6. Alcides Escobar hasn’t received good marks from UZR since he was called up to the Majors. Since he is not much with the bat, is this concerning? Do you disagree with his UZR rating?

I’m not worried at all. UZR is completely meaningless in this sample size, and I really wouldn’t even be concerned if he ran a negative UZR this season. Escobar’s hands haven’t been great so far, but that could just be nerves from his first season in the big leagues. He has absolutely tremendous range and a very good arm, and those two things will add up to a great defensive shortstop almost every time. As far as his bat goes, his ISO of .135 is much higher than I expected. He’s way too quick to post a BABIP below .260 like he is now, and his numbers should start to pick up soon. Something like .275/.320/.390 is not out of the question at all, and although that doesn’t sound very impressive, I’ll take it all day from a solid defensive shortstop.

7. The Brewers had a bad night on the bases against the Braves on Wednesday but are overall 24-for-28 (86%) on the bases. The Phillies have had similar success on the bases over the past few years for which we credit Davey Lopes. Is Ed Sedar, the Brew Crew’s first base coach, to thank or have the Brewers simply picked their spots exceptionally well?

Ed Sedar is amazing. He’s a big, tough looking guy, and then he opens his mouth and sounds like this (go to about 0:40). I’m not ready to give him credit for the Brewers discovery of the running game, however. Sedar has been around for a few years now, and the Brewers were only successful on 64.7% of steals last season and 73.9% in 2008. No, I think the real credit goes to the increase in team speed. J.J. Hardy was tremendously slow despite his fielding prowess, and he’s been replaced by the speedy Escobar. Mike Cameron had some speed but wasn’t exactly a base stealer. Carlos Gomez, his replacement, will miss this series with a shoulder injury, but he already has 6 SBs and hasn’t been caught yet. Ryan Braun has always been a solid base stealer, with a career 79% success rate (57/72). That gives three very solid options, and the Brewers are also generally good at picking their spots, which means you’re not going to see Prince or McGehee running ever.

. . .

A doff of the top hat to Jack for providing some insight into the Milwaukee Brewers. I am not looking forward to watching Ryan Braun hit against Phillies pitching. In his career, Braun has hit the Phillies harder (1.184 OPS) than any other team against which he has accumulated 70 or more plate appearances. With the top two offenses in the National League going at it, both teams may want to preemptively get their relievers warmed up.

Howard’s Power: Where Is It?

Ryan Howard signed a five-year, $125 million extension a few weeks ago. Many Phillies fans loved it, but number-crunchers winced at the thought of having a one-dimensional power hitter through his age-36 season. The prevailing thought was that it is not a good idea to pay so much money to the type of player that typically does not age well. No one, however, questioned that he would be productive in the early stages of the deal.

Presently, Howard has his batting average up to .290. Great, so that means an OPS of about .900?

.797, more than 150 points below his career average. His previous career-low in slugging percentage was .543; his 2010 SLG is .464. Over his career, 48 percent of his hits have gone for extra bases, but that percentage has dropped to 32.5 percent in 2010.

More disturbing is that, while he has cut his strikeouts by six percent, his walk rate has also been cut to nearly one-third of his career average 12.6 percent. He has had a significant loss in power with an isolated power (ISO) of .174 compared to his career average .300. 30 percent of fly balls hit by Howard have cleared the outfield fence over his career; only 16 percent have so far in 2010. Going into the season, there was roughly a 95 percent chance that he would have a HR/FB% between 19 and 31 percent, so he has thus far been defying the odds.

His last 10 hits have been singles and he continues to struggle against left-handed pitching.

What happened to Ryan Howard’s power?

It appears that, given his decreased walk and strikeout rates, Howard is simply trying to make more contact. The plate discipline stats at FanGraphs back this up. While his overall swing rate hasn’t changed much between 2009 and ’10, he has swung at pitches inside the strike zone nearly six percent less and more than eight percent at pitches outside the strike zone. Howard’s contact rate on pitches inside and outside of the strike zone have increased at about the same rate, six to seven percent.

Could southpaws be to blame for this? In 2009, 36 percent of his plate appearances were against lefties; 35 percent this year. While his performance against them continues to dwindle (.579 OPS this year), he has not faced them in any greater amount in 2010 than he has in the past. It is interesting to note that Howard swings a lot more at fastballs thrown by left-handed pitchers: 61 percent to 48 percent.

2009 was the beginning of the Breaking Ball Era for Howard. Between 2005-08, he saw between 51 and 58 percent fastballs; last year, he saw only 45 percent and that rate has held constant so far in 2010 as well. However, unlike last year, he is simply not hitting fastballs well at about one run below average per 100 fastballs. Having seen more than 200 fastballs this year, that puts him at more than two runs below average already.

It has been clear since his MVP season in 2006 that opposing managers are fearful of Ryan Howard. While he has been intentionally walked less and less, that has gone hand-in-hand with his increased plate appearances against left-handed pitchers. This is not a tactic soon to be abandoned.

Howard needs to take an approach similar to that of Barry Bonds, who gave him hitting instruction during the off-season: recognize how opposing managers and pitchers are (not) pitching to him, accept it, and wait for his pitch. It has been said that Bonds may have seen only one pitch throughout an entire at-bat at which he could reasonably swing. The same may hold true for Howard, what with all of the low-and-away sliders he has been seeing.

If Howard sees his pitch, great: hack away. Strikeouts are fine as long as he is generating his prodigious power to the tune of at least a .550 SLG. If Howard doesn’t see his pitch, great: take. Walks are fine as well.

What’s not fine is a power hitter to whom the Phillies owe $19 million this year and $145 million in 2011-16 turning into a singles hitter with evaporating plate discipline.

Charlie Manuel: What the hell? Keep Crying

The Phillies were accused by the Colorado Rockies and the New York Mets of stealing signs from the bullpen. Not surprising news, given that this has been par for the course over the past few years. Most managers would play it safe with a “no comment” but not Charlie Manuel. He gave us a gold mine of quotes when responding to the allegations.

Via Todd Zolecki:

“Absolutely no,” Charlie Manuel said of the accusations. “Absolutely (bleeping) no. Absolutely not.”

[…]

So why do so many teams think the Phillies are stealing signs?

[…]

“Because we beat them,” Manuel said. “That’s why. What the hell? Keep crying. I’m sure if they can steal signs they’ll steal them. And believe we will, too, if we can get them. Yeah, we will. Legally. If you’re dumb enough to let us get them then that’s your fault. That’s been in the game for a long time.”

For those comments alone, Charlie Manuel could run for mayor unopposed.

Remember when he was universally hated by Phillies fans in 2005 because he wasn’t Jim Leyland? Times sure have changed. Chuck can say and do whatever he pleases. It must be a nice feeling.

When asked about the allegations by the Mets, Manuel had a suggestion:

“Somebody ought to check on the Mets if they did (complain) because their … home record is out of this world and they’re losing on the road,” Manuel said. “That’s a good indication sometimes, if you want to know about signs and (stuff). When I see somebody is 17-2 at home and 4-12 on the road I kind of get concerned about that. That kind of crosses my mind.”

While I don’t quite buy Chuck’s logic (small sample size), I sure do appreciate the sentiment.

As far as I’m concerned, the Phillies are doing absolutely nothing wrong as long as they’re within MLB rules. Every team should be attempting to steal the other team’s signs and if they’re not, they’re not doing their jobs.

Tip of the cap to @Phylan for the awesome shot of Mick Billmeyer doing his job.

Finally, Crossing Broad gives us another reason to worship Chuck:

Now, you can take this one with a grain of salt, this is hearsay at its finest.  A source, who is rather connected, said Charlie Manuel attended dinner with Tommy Lasorda in New York the night before Game 1 of the WORLD SERIES.  According to source, who was in attendance, Charlie remained out late (1:30am, really Charlie?) and got very drunk.

Fair enough.

Here’s where it becomes the thing legends are made of.  When my source said, “Charlie, don’t you have a game in like 16 hours?”, Charlie replied “Fuck it. I have Lee pitching”.
Can we just give him his plaque on the Wall of Fame at Citizens Bank Park already? Hell, give him a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I don’t care if the quote is unverified!