Welcome Back, Kendrick

Kyle Kendrick stepped out on the mound this afternoon making his first start of the season and his first appearance in over a month. After last night’s brutal loss to the New York Mets, KK was being looked to as one to stop the bleeding. Five innings and three runs allowed would have been fine from the savior from 2007.

The Mets did not know what they were in for.

Kendrick started off the game by striking out the side in the first inning. He would not strike out another hitter. Instead, he relied on his fielders to turn batted balls into outs and they did just that. It was a solid defensive performance all around, but particularly from the left side of the infield, Jimmy Rollins and Pedro Feliz.

Through seven innings, Kendrick had not yet allowed a run, and there was some speculation that Charlie Manuel would let him bat in the bottom half of the inning, given the problems the bullpen has caused lately. That held to be true. Kendrick did bat, and reached base on an infield single. In the eighth, Kendrick went back out and retired the first hitter he faced in Jeremy Reed. Five outs from a complete game shut-out.

Then, as it seems to happen lately, things fell apart yet again late in the game. Kendrick allowed a single up the middle to Angel Pagan, and very quickly got tagged by Anderson Hernandez, to quote broadcaster Chris Wheeler, “of all people.” Hernandez had only one home run on the season coming into the game. But two runs through seven and one-third innings is much better than anyone expected out of KK. He was pulled for a reliever and left to a standing ovation from the Citizens Bank crowd.

With J.A. Happ battling an oblique strain, Kendrick has emerged as, for better or worse, necessary back-up for the remaining 21 games. Should Happ’s injury knock him out for the rest of the season, Kendrick could make as many as four more starts and his performance today could be enough to assuage any fears about rotation depth, considering Jamie Moyer’s inconsistency as well.

Here’s a quick look at pitches that Mets hitters made contact with during Kendrick’s start today. This is from the catcher’s perspective.

He’s a bit too over the plate for my tastes and it’s not like he dominated a great offensive team — not to discount anything he did today. He threw 84 fastballs and 22 off-speed pitches (16 change-ups and 6 sliders), a ratio of about four fastballs per every five pitches. That’s just fine with a spot start as was done today, but for more sustained success, KK will need to introduce breaking pitches more often. Aaron Cook is the only qualified pitcher in the Majors who uses his fastball at least 80% of the time.

With the Marlins currently losing to the Nationals, the Phillies will likely have a six-game lead in the division going into tonight’s nightcap. If we imagine the Phillies dropping tonight’s game, they’d go to 81-61. And if we imagine the Phillies only playing .500 ball the rest of the way (10-10), that would put them at a 91-71 record. That means that the Marlins, who will drop to 76-67 with a loss today, would need to go 15-4 (.789) just to tie the Phillies. If the Phillies go 14-6 in their remaining 20, the Marlins would need to go 19-0 down the stretch.

I’m liking those odds.

Hasty Judgment

By no means was Jamie Moyer ever expected to rival Tim Lincecum for the NL Cy Young award this year. And by no means was he — nor should have been — expected to repeat last year’s FIP-defying season. So my reaction to his allowing the first four Mets hitters to circle the bases and the first five to reach base was a bit too much. Little did I know the BABIP gods would make things right again.

Here’s the first five Mets hitters in the first:

– L. Castillo doubled to shallow left
– F. Tatis singled to right, L. Castillo to third, F. Tatis to second advancing on throw
– D. Wright singled to shallow right center, L. Castillo and F. Tatis scored, D. Wright to second advancing on throw
– C. Beltran homered to deep center, D. Wright scored
– J. Francoeur singled

And this was the rest of the game:

– W. Valdez lined out to shallow right
– M. Pelfrey grounded out to third
– L. Castillo lined out to center

– F. Tatis fouled out to shallow left
– D. Wright grounded out to second
– C. Beltran lined out to third

– J. Francoeur popped out to right
– O. Santos grounded out to pitcher
– D. Murphy popped out to shortstop

– W. Valdez grounded out to pitcher
– M. Pelfrey grounded out to third
– L. Castillo flied out to right center

– F. Tatis singled to pitcher
– D. Wright lined out to third
– C. Beltran flied out to left
– J. Francoeur lined out to third

– O. Santos flied out to deep center
– D. Murphy doubled to center
– D. Murphy stole third
– W. Valdez grounded out to third, D. Murphy scored
– N. Evans grounded out to third

In short:

  • First five hitters: 0 outs, 3 singles, 1 double, 1 home run, 4 runs
  • Rest of the game: 21 outs, 1 single, 1 double, 1 run, 0 walks

Jamie got the job done after a rough start, and actually gave the Phillies a decent start given the circumstances. Not too many pitchers can get shelled to start a game the way he did and rebound for an otherwise quality start through seven innings.

Unfortunately, the Phillies’ bullpen could not lead Moyer to a victory, as the trio of Brett Myers, Chan Ho Park, and Ryan Madson combined to give up five runs in two innings of work en route to a 10-9 loss. Four of the five runs came courtesy two David Wright home runs, one off of Myers and one off of Madson.

[Tom McCarthy lazy transition]Speaking of hasty judgment[/Tom McCarthy lazy transition], let’s hold off on the pitchfork mobbing for a little while when it comes to Ryan Madson. He’s had very limited opportunities to close out games. Yes, he has not performed very well in those limited opportunities, but give the guy a chance to prove himself before citing his lack of a “closer’s mentality” or some such intangible.

The fact is, Madson has ridiculous stuff and will enjoy success against Major League hitters more often than not. Including this season, his xFIP has decreased significantly every season since 2006, hand-in-hand with a similarly-increasing strikeout rate. Give him a chance and don’t let your emotions guide your judgments as mine did during Moyer’s rough start today.

Another Phillies Myth Busted

After a disappointing 8-7 loss to the Washington Nationals on Thursday night, manager Charlie Manuel accused his Phillies team of playing down to their level of competition. Per David Murphy:

Afterward, Manuel lamented those struggles, saying the Phillies were guilty of playing down to their competition while falling to 79-59 and seeing their NL East lead drop to five games over second-place Florida.

So, I threw the Phillies’ stats in Excel and ran some numbers. The following two graphs show the correlation between opponent winning percentage and runs scored and runs allowed per game. If Charlie’s hypothesis is correct, we’d expect that as an opponent’s winning percentage increased, so to would run-scoring (first graph), and runs allowed (second graph) would decrease.

There is just about zero correlation in both graphs. The Phillies don’t play down to their opponents, and nor do they play up to them.

Maybe there’s a correlation in specific offensive categories like OBP and SLG?

  • OBP: .0001 r-square to opponent winning percentage
  • SLG: .0064 r-square to opponent winning percentage

For Phillies’ pitchers…

  • Opponent OBP: .0004 r-square to opponent winning percentage
  • Opponent SLG: .00002 r-square to opponent winning percentage

The final nail in the coffin is that there’s only a .0005 r-square between the Phillies’ winning percentage against teams this year and those teams’ real winning percentage.

BDD: All Roads Run Through STL… Again

At Baseball Daily Digest, I take a look at the powerhouse St. Louis Cardinals, who are eerily similar to the powerhouse Cardinals team of 2005.

While teams look at the young talent on the Los Angeles Dodgers’ roster (Kershaw, Billingsley, Kemp), the firepower in Philadelphia (Utley, Howard, Werth, Ibanez), and the pitching in San Francisco (Lincecum, Cain, Wilson), be sure not to overlook the St. Louis Cardinals.

On the Solo HR/RISP Hype

As you’ve probably gleaned, I get annoyed when people whine about the Phillies’ so-called struggles with runners in scoring position. Fact is, the Phillies have the highest OPS in the National League with runners in scoring position at .795. Apparently, the Phillies’ streak of solo home runs is yet more evidence that they are Ruthian with the bases empty and Bruntlettian with runners on.

After Jayson Werth’s home run last night off of the Nationals’ Tyler Clippard, the Phillies’ last 15 home runs had been of the solo variety, going back to August 29.

So I looked into the Phillies’ distribution of HR types and compared them to the National League average. Here are the findings:

  • Type: Phillies | NL Average
  • Solo HR: 59.2% | 58.4%
  • Two-run HR: 23.5% | 27.5%
  • Three-run HR: 13.3% | 11.2%
  • Grand slams:  4.1% | 2.9%

If you just lump all of the non-solo HR together, the Phillies are at 40.8% to the NL average of 41.6%. 0.8% is nothing to worry about. And, frankly, the Phillies’ distribution of HR types with runners on is good, since it’s skewed towards three-run homers and grand slams. They’re 4% below the league average in 2-run homers, but 3.2% up otherwise.

There is nothing to worry about with the Phillies’ offense. Yes, prior to the start of the series in Washington, they scored a combined 21 runs in 10 games. But that’s what happens when you run into good pitching. In those 10 games, they faced Tommy Hanson, Derek Lowe, Jair Jurrjens, Jonathan Sanchez, Brad Penny, Tim Lincecum, Wandy Rodriguez, Roy Oswalt, Bud Norris, and Brian Moeheler. Here’s where they rank in ERA (with the usual caveats about ERA).

Getting shut down by most of those pitchers is nothing surprising.

The real issue is with the bullpen. Three valuable arms are injured in J.C. Romero, Clay Condrey, and Scott Eyre. Then there’s Brad Lidge, who brings Phillies fans on the verge of a nightly aneurysm, and Charlie Manuel is only now starting to realize that he has better options out there. Just saying.

The offense is fine. The bullpen is not.

BDD: Chris Jaffe on Managers Part II

The latter portion of my interview with Chris Jaffe is up at Baseball Daily Digest. Here’s Part I in case you missed it.

I know he’s a pitching coach, but I’d love to get your take on St. Louis Cardinals’ pitching coach Dave Duncan. I hear — and see — that he works wonders. Do you buy it?

He’s done a great job.  Where does Dave Duncan end and Tony LaRussa begin?  I definitely give Duncan more credit for what’s happened to pitchers than his boss, but pitching coaches aren’t magic bullets and can’t be easily divorced from their surroundings (a statement that holds true for managers as well).  If you don’t believe me, ask your friendly neighborhood Orioles fan what he thinks of Leo Mazzone.

Cole… Why?

Philebrity shares with us some, uh, pictures of uh, yeah, that’s Cole Hamels. Click to enlarge.

If you want intelligent commentary on the above situation, well, I’m just speechless.

Wonder what J.A. Happ is doing. As Chris Wheeler would say, you know those left-handers are goofy.

BDD: Chris Jaffe on Managers

At Baseball Daily Digest, I was able to get Chris Jaffe, author of the upcoming book Evaluating Baseball Managers: A Comprehensive History and Performance Analysis, 1876-2008, to share his knowledge of managers in a two-part interview. Click here to read the first half.

Considering the incredible success the Phillies have had in recent years, where does Charlie Manuel rank on the list of the Phils’ best skippers? Who’s the franchise’s best, in your esteemed opinion? The worst?

Huh.  Well, by and large I think managers are underrated.

That said, I never thought that much of Charlie Manuel.  Hey – he’s the defending World Series champion manager and I’ll give him credit for that, but when it’s all said and done I’m not sure if he’ll go down as anything more than a latter-day Danny Ozark whose shit worked in one postseason.

The Smallest Violin Plays for Chris Coste

Chris Coste had it pretty good in Philadelphia. He was freakishly old for a rookie, which gave him plenty of fodder — and a title — for a book that became relatively popular. He’s been contacted about turning his life story into a movie in the vein of Vince Papale. For a catcher with a limited skill set (the ability to play below-average defense at five positions and about league-average offense), the Phillies have treated him very well by giving him his Major League break and about a million dollars in the process.

Realizing just how good Coste has had it, it makes the following all the more difficult to understand. From the Delaware County Daily Times:

[…] he never understood why his former employers felt the need to replace him. He also sounded off about Charlie Manuel, saying the manager’s decision to replace him with Carlos Ruiz when Brad Lidge came into pitch “killed” his reputation.

“My disappointment is after four years they never recognized that I was actually a way above average defensive catcher,” Coste said before starting against the Phillies Saturday.

With the caveat that catcher defense is extremely hard to quantify, it is still laughable that Coste ever was an above-average defensive catcher. Last season, Coste was near the bottom among all Major League catchers in throwing out base-stealers (42nd out of 58 at 15.4%). His replacement, Paul Bako, was much higher (21st at 26.7%).

He had a SLG-light .724 OPS in 118 plate appearances for the Phillies this season before getting shipped to the Houston Astros. His SLG was an Eric Bruntlett-esque .382. It is no surprise that when Coste’s bat went, so did he. He did not bring any value to the Phillies other than with his bat and his ability to circulate blood and breathe oxygen while wearing a catcher’s mask and mitt.

“When (Manuel) started doing that, Lidge had five wild pitches — four with Ruiz and one with me,” Coste said. “What that did, as much as I respect Charlie — and I respect him as much or more than any baseball person alive — is it gave Ruiz this image of best defensive catcher in baseball … we all know he’s awesome but it also killed my reputation … I’m not saying I was better than Ruiz by any means, but I was far better than I was given credit for.”

You know how when someone says, “I’m not trying to be offensive, but…” and they follow up with an incredibly offensive statement? That’s what Coste is doing, in a sense. “Charlie’s great, but…” or “Ruiz is great, but…” It’s a cover for insulting them.

Wild pitch records by catcher are darn near impossible to find, so I don’t know exactly how many of Brad Lidge’s pitches Ruiz and Coste saw. However, according to Coste’s own claim, Ruiz caught him much more. So, the four wild pitches to one isn’t really meaningful in the context of total pitches. And whether justified or not, if pitchers — and managers — feel more comfortable with another catcher, then that’s who they’re going to go with. Even if Ruiz is the absolute worst at blocking sliders, if Lidge believes he’s the best and it helps him more confidently throw his slider, then Ruiz should catch him.

It is interesting, having said all this, to look at the word Coste apparently used: faith. Charlie Manuel lost faith in Coste. One of the definitions of faith is “belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.” Yeah, that’s an accurate description of what happened because it appears that Manuel based his decision to go with Bako over Coste on facts.

Enjoy fourth place, Chris.

C’mon Charlie

Stop coddling Lidge. Demote him. Promote someone — anyone — to closer. Ideally Ryan Madson. Chan Ho Park would work. Maybe Brett Myers in a week or two when he gets re-acclimated to pitching to Major League hitters.

Lidge may only be blowing regular season games and the Phillies still have a sizable — and nearly unsurmountable — lead in the division, but he has the potential to cost the Phillies home-field advantage in the playoffs. As Matt Swartz of Baseball Prospectus pointed out, home teams win 54% of the time in baseball. The Phils were a game behind the Dodgers and Cardinals going into tonight’s game, and will likely be two out after the other games are finished.

If you recall last year, the Phillies were a perfect 7-0 at home in the playoffs. This year, the Dodgers are 42-28 (.600) at Dodger Stadium, and the Cardinals are 43-26 (.623) at Busch Stadium.

It is true that the Phillies have played better on the road this season (likely due to randomness), but the Phils will take the opportunity to win the bottom of the ninth as opposed to the top 100 times out of 100.

Lidge’s problems are not just based on the individual now; they are having a tangible effect on the Phillies’ post-season hopes. Charlie Manuel needs to stop sparing Lidge’s feelings and put a competent reliever in the ninth inning.