Opportunity Came A-Knockin’

Dave Rouleau of Baseball Digest Daily contacted me earlier today and expressed interest in having me write for their web site, and I happily accepted. He’d like me to focus on transaction analysis on the entire MLB with a daily article, and has a very loose leash on me, which is nice.

How that affects Crashburn Alley remains to be seen. If possible, I’d like to continue posting regularly here as well for my Phillies-specific and potpourri posts.

When their website is back up and running, make sure to bookmark their website and my section on there as well.

A Little This and That

I was planning to do a recap of every game but I realized that you can basically get a recap on any major baseball website and I was just burdening myself with unnecessary writing. I’ll just stick to the analysis that I don’t see being done.

That said, posts may be cranked out at a slower rate for the time being because I finally upgraded from Microsoft Office 2000 to 2007 and now I can use Pitch F/X data in Excel. So, I’ll be trying to learn how to correctly use and analyze that, and I’ll try to implement it into my analysis when possible.

To anyone who does have expertise with Pitch F/X, I will be needing any pointers I can get, so please drop some hints for me if you can (my contact information is listed at the bottom of this page). I’m really interested in learning how to create graphs like the ones Mike Fast has in this article about Johnny Cueto’s first start. I’ve also read his tutorial on building a database for Pitch F/X data, and while my mind went numb almost immediately, it does sound like a cool idea, but I know very little about Perl and MySQL, so that’s another call to any experts out there willing to lend a few pointers.

But enough about me and my shortcomings (that’s your cue to offer a hug).

Kyle Lohse

Remember how I was whining about the Phillies preventing themselves from signing Kyle Lohse? Yeah, well, this happened:

  • April 1 vs. Colorado Rockies: 5 IP, 0 R, 3 H, 3 BB, 3 K
  • April 6 vs. Washington Nationals: 7 IP, 0 R, 4 H, 1 BB, 2 K
  • Total: 12 IP, 0 R, 7 H, 4 BB (0.917 WHIP), 5 K

Yeah… and the St. Louis Cardinals signed him for one year at $4.25 million. Granted, he did face a Rockies lineup that has been struggling all season and a Nationals offense that isn’t expected to be much better than last year’s MLB-worst, but he’s pitched 12 innings without surrendering a single run. That’s impressive.

I will give credit where credit is due, however, and that’s to Adam Eaton. On April 5 in Cincinnati, Eaton held a decent Reds offense to three runs in 7 and two-thirds innings. He had nearly a 2-to-1 strikes-to-balls ratio, but he still managed to walk four. It’s an encouraging start from a pitcher almost everyone, myself included, gave up on a long time ago. If the Phillies can just get league-average production from Eaton, it’s a huge burden lifted off of the bullpen.

Pat Burrell

If the Phillies’ front office is thinking about letting Burrell walk when the season is over, they’re crazy. He’s started the season hitting 3 HR and driving in 9 runs in the first seven games, posting an OPS of 1.476.

On Monday night’s Baseball Tonight, Karl Ravech said, half-seriously, that people should be thinking about Burrell potentially completing the Philadelphia-themed MVP trifecta, since most people are predicting that if anyone is going to win it as a Phillie this year, it will be Chase Utley.

Since the Baseball Writers Association of America doesn’t really know how to factor in a player’s true defensive contributions, it is actually a realistic thought to imagine Burrell being named the National League MVP. Burrell is not at all fleet of foot, and as a result, his defense is burdensome. If the BBWAA knew of any of the metrics that display this fact in all its glory, there’s not a chance in hell that Burrell wins the award outside of a 60 HR, 150 RBI season.

It will be a shame if Burrell is forced to sign elsewhere after the season because he has indicated that he relishes playing in Philadelphia, so he’d probably be willing to take a hometown discount. If the Phillies do decide to lock him up for a few more years, they know what they’ll be getting, as Burrell is as consistent as they come. From 2005 to ’07, his slugging percentage ranged from .502 to .504 and his OBP ranged from .388 to .400; home runs from 29 to 32; doubles from 24 to 27, and all of this consistency comes while losing at-bats in ’06 and ’07 from Charlie Manuel taking him out after the sixth or seventh inning in a lot of games.

For me, though, the most satisfying statistic of his from 2007 is his 114 walks in just 598 plate appearances.

Jayson Werth vs. Geoff Jenkins

So far, Charlie Manuel has used the right field platoon as intended: Werth against left-handed starters, Jenkins against right-handers. However, Werth only has five at-bats in the Phillies’ first seven games. Granted, the Phillies have only faced one left-handed starter, and that was on Opening Day (Matt Chico of the Nationals), but you can’t just hold Werth for the lefty starter — you have to start him against a right-hander every now and then as well.

Geoff Jenkins is 33 years old and doesn’t appear to be getting any better, unsurprisingly. He’s been above-average over his career (115 OPS+) but in ’06 and ’07, he was just league average (101 OPS+ in both seasons). Definitely use Jenkins against right-handers only, but let him sit out one every now and then in favor of Werth.

Pedro Feliz

We saw this coming.

In 19 at-bats, Feliz has put up an uninspiring 22 OPS+ for the Phillies. That is not a misprint; that is a real, live, correctly calculated 22 OPS+. He has four hits — all of them singles — and one walk. There’s just nothing to say here. I know it’s early in the season, small sample sizes and all that good stuff, but… a 22 OPS+? Come on.

What we didn’t see coming is that he’d be a bottom-feeder defensively. Baseball’s best-fielding third baseman has sunk to the 12th out of 16 qualified NL third-sackers in Revised Zone Rating. It won’t stay that way forever, and I fully expect Feliz to climb his way back up, but it just illustrates how little value Feliz has to the Phillies right now. He’s worse than a black hole.

Brett Myers

What’s not to be concerned with? From the Phillies website:

Myers suspects he may have tipping his pitches, a problem he licked early in his career — which doesn’t mean it can’t re-occur.

[…]

“There were a few pitches that I had to question whether I was tipping or not,” said Myers, who added that he didn’t notice anything after looking at the game video. “They had good approaches. I’m not saying I was [tipping pitches]. I’m just saying they had good approaches.”

From the dugout, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel saw a pitcher whose fastball velocity appeared lower than normal. Myers normally throws in the 92-95 mph range. On Sunday, he reached 92 once, and mostly stayed in the 88-91-mph range.

Myers is way too important to the Phillies to have any extended stretch of bad pitching. Let’s hope he figures it out when he starts against the Chicago Cubs on Friday.

Three-Game Set at Shea

The Phillies begin a three-game series in Queens bright and early: a 1:10 EST start. Here are the pitching match-ups:

  • Tues. 4/8, 1:10 PM EST: Jamie Moyer vs. Oliver Perez
  • Wed. 4/9, 7:10 PM EST: Kyle Kendrick vs. Mike Pelfrey
  • Thurs. 4/10, 7:10 PM EST: Adam Eaton vs. John Maine

The first thing you should notice about the match-ups is that the Phillies get to miss Johan Santana, as expected.

Second, Adam Eaton starts a game at Shea Stadium, and that has boded well for him. His starts at Shea last season:

  • April 11: 7 IP, 2 ER, 4 H, 3 BB, 5 K
  • June 6: 6 IP, 2 ER, 5 H, 2 BB, 4 K
  • September 16: 4.2 IP, 5 R (4 ER), 7 H, 2 BB, 1 K

That last start aside, he was great in Queens last season. Over his career, Eaton has a 2.81 ERA in the Mets’ home ballpark and just over a 1.0 WHIP in 32 innings.

I’m Sorry You Have to Put Up with Her, Chicago

From the Chicago Tribune:

Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago) interrupted atheist activist Rob Sherman during his testimony Wednesday afternoon before the House State Government Administration Committee in Springfield and told him, “What you have to spew and spread is extremely dangerous . . . it’s dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists!

“This is the Land of Lincoln where people believe in God,” Davis said. “Get out of that seat . . . You have no right to be here! We believe in something. You believe in destroying! You believe in destroying what this state was built upon.”

Unlike a lot of attacks on atheists, this one is extremely amusing. At least most anti-atheists take time to construct an irrational argument, it seems like Monique Davis was saying whatever came to mind.

Some questions I had about her statements…

  • Atheists “spew and spread” what, exactly? How is this different from what religious people do? I would proffer that it’s not atheists who “spew and spread,” but religious people who do so. Flip through the Bible some time, and notice all of the scientifically impossible or incorrect statements, and all of the oppression to non-white land-owning males (1 Timothy chapter 2 for instance).
  • How is atheism dangerous? Atheism is simply the lack of belief in a deity. What’s so dangerous about that? Most theism is dangerous. Flip through the Bible again, and notice all of the instruction God gives to kill people (like Isaiah chapter 13). What people like Davis fear is that the newfound popularity of atheism is going to teach kids to think critically and ask questions for once, and once kids start doing that, (we hope) playtime is over for ignorant, intolerant, heavily-corrupt politicians.
  • Did you know that Abraham Lincoln was an atheist? It’s true.
  • Atheists have no right to testify in front of the House State Government Administration Committee? Someone’s going to have to direct me to that rule in the legislature. Or maybe someone will have to point Monique Davis to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
  • Atheists believe in destroying? Well, what exactly, do atheists believe in destroying? Let me help you out with that answer: nothing. Atheism is simply the lack of belief in a deity. No more, no less. Unlike theism, some of which does order some ancillary tenets to be accepted (like stoning disobedient teenagers, as is ordered in the Bible), atheism does not require any such tenets. In fact, you don’t even have to join a group to be an atheist! I know — that’s weird, isn’t it?
  • It seems like Davis thinks that belief in any deity is better than belief in no deities. Why? What difference does it make if I believe in Allah or if I am an atheist? Either way, I don’t believe in the “right” God, and according to Christianity, I’m going to hell for that.
  • What was Chicago built upon? Didn’t Al Capone do business in Chicago? How about Mayor Richard M. Daley?

Intolerant politicians like Davis should not be allowed to keep her seat. If you replace “atheists” in her statements with any other group — let’s say Asians — she’d be forced to make a public apology and resign from her position.

Her page on the Illinois General Assembly website lists the following contact information:

Springfield Office:
241-E Stratton Office Building
Springfield, IL   62706
(217) 782-0010
(217) 782-1795 FAX
 
District Office:
1234 West 95th Street
Chicago, IL  60643
(773) 445-9700
(773) 445-5755 FAX
Cook County

Even if you don’t live in Illinois (I don’t, obviously), call her office or write her a letter. This kind of ignorance is unacceptable from someone in a position of power in the government of a city.

A Call for Research

Study Shows Those Who Buy 3 Or More Pairs Of Sneakers Annually Are Natural Leaders

It’s been said you can tell a lot about a person by her shoes. And now, as CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole reports, shoes may also say something about who takes the lead in a crisis and who follows in another’s footsteps.

New research suggests those buying three pairs of sneakers a year are more likely to be walking in the shoes of a serious leader.

We must know how many pairs of shoes Derek Jeter and Aaron Rowand buy per year!

It is only when we get a hold of these figures that we can take Sabermetric research seriously. Seriously, think of SPARP — Shoes Purchased Above Replacement Player and its partner, LQ — Leadership Quotient. What is being divided, I don’t know, but until then, you calculator nerds continue holding down the couch springs in your mothers’ basements.

Chase Utley, Bullpen Shine in Rain-Soaked Win

Yeah, you read that right: the Phillies’ bullpen shined in a victory over the Reds! Starter Kyle Kendrick looked pedestrian, but was able to get out of some jams and limit the Reds to four runs. Afterward, the Phillies’ bullpen pitched four scoreless innings, allowing only one hit, no walks, and striking out three.

Phillies vs. Reds 04/04/08The game was originally slated for a 7:10 start, but was delayed more than an hour and a half due to rain (those of us in the Philly area were treated to some videos reliving the 1980 season). Nevertheless, the Phillies’ offense was on, as Chase Utley hit two home runs and drove in three runs, and Pat Burrell hit a first-inning two-run homer as well.

Kendrick allowed eight hits — three of which were doubles — and walked two in five innings. He did start the sixth inning, but walked lead-off hitter Edwin Encarnacion.

The second-most surprising element of the game, after the Phillies’ great bullpen performance, was that Pedro Feliz drew a walk! Even better is that he started the at-bat taking two strikes.

Ryan Howard isn’t looking particularly good so far this season, but there are 158 more games to play. He’s yet to get an extra base hit.

Aside from that, it was a relatively easy victory for the Phils, and it went almost according to plan. Manager Charlie Manuel would have preferred if Kendrick could have notched six innings instead of five, but Ryan Madson made up for it with two scoreless innings of relief. Both Tom Gordon and Chad Durbin were unavailable. Gordon has pitched in two out of the Phillies’ three prior games; Durbin had pitched in all three.

Tomorrow afternoon, Adam Eaton faces Aaron Harang for a 1:10 meeting.

Ryan Howard’s Days in Philly: Numbered?

ESPN’s Jayson Stark describes the Ryan Howard situation in Philly:

For one thing, the two sides haven’t spent 10 seconds talking about a deal since the arbitration hearing. For another, Howard and agent Casey Close continue to position him as an unprecedented player, who therefore deserves an unprecedented contract.

It shouldn’t be surprising that Howard is going to ask for so much money. He’s been a premier offensive threat in all of baseball since he won the NL MVP in 2005. However, if Stark’s description of Howard’s desires — “an unprecented contract” — are true, then it really is time to start thinking about moving him. Not this year, and not next year, but perhaps at the trading deadline in 2010.

The Phillies have control of Howard until after the 2011 season, so they can choose to continue to go year-to-year with him and pay him according to precedents. Even if the Phillies are forced to pay him something like $18 million in 2010, this would still be reasonable as opposed to locking up the slugger — who will be 30 at the start of the 2010 season — long-term for “unprecedented” big bucks.

Howard isn’t truly an unprecedented player. He’s a power-hitting first baseman with below-average defense, a weight issue that will always have a chance of recurring with a build like Howard’s, and inconsistent mechanics (compared to 2005 and ’06, he didn’t use left field nearly as much in ’07, for instance).

He does have great upside, but he’s not some legendary player. He’ll hit 45+ HR and drive in 125+ easily, put up a 1.000-ish OPS year in and year out, and draw about 70 unintentional walks every season. Players that productive are not a dime a dozen, but also not productive enough to warrant an “unprecedented contract.”

The Phillies should let some other team burden themselves with such a contract. Sell Howard while he’s still valued high. Keep him through his prime years (late 20’s) and dispatch of him and his burdensome salary demands immediately afterward. Without a stroke of genius and/or luck, they will not replace his production but they can make some creative moves (like moving Chase Utley to first base and calling up Adrian Cardenas to play second base).

Should the Phils trade Howard, they could ask for a king’s ransom and likely get it. I’m talking comparable to, or even better than what the Twins got for Johan Santana. If the trade is done right, the Phillies can set up their Minor League system for years to come while still keeping a highly competitive MLB roster. However, the problem is that when it comes to trading star players, the Phillies always botch it:

  • July 26, 2000: Curt Schilling is traded by the Philadelphia Phillies to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Omar Daal, Nelson Figueroa, Travis Lee, and Vicente Padilla.
  • July 29, 2002: Scott Rolen is traded by the Philadelphia Phillies with Doug Nickle and cash to the St. Louis Cardinals for Placido Polanco, Mike Timlin, and Bud Smith.
  • July 30, 2006: Bobby Abreu is traded by the Philadelphia Phillies with Cory Lidle to the New York Yankees for Matt Smith, C.J. Henry, Carlos Monasterios, and Jesus Sanchez.

In the Schilling deal, the Phillies got 1.5 league-average seasons from Daal, a half-season of slightly above league-average pitching from Figueroa, and 2.5 below-average seasons from Lee. Padilla is the only player in the deal that both stayed with the Phillies long enough to make it worthwhile, and be productive as well.

With the Rolen trade, Smith pitched less than 95 innings in three and a half seasons for the Phillies’ Minor League teams, and never made it to the Majors due to injuries. Timlin gave the Phils a half-season of league-average relief pitching. Polanco, as we all know, was a decent second and third baseman in his two and a half seasons in Philly.

The Abreu deal is clearly the biggest bust of all, but it was more of a salary dump than anything. None of the players acquired are likely to ever help the Phillies at the Major League level. Matt Smith had reconstructive surgery on his left elbow last season and it’s unlikely he’ll be able to help the Phillies out again. He did perform very well for the Phils in ’06 after he was traded, but he pitched a grand total of four Major League innings in ’07. Henry is a huge bust of a prospect. He’s never been above the A level, but his OPS has gone from .714 in ’05 to .692 in ’06 all the way to .560 last season. Monasterios, a pitcher, and Sanchez, a catcher, aren’t regarded very highly and neither are likely to make the Majors.

With Pat Gillick retiring from his position as GM of the Phillies at the end of the season, it becomes crucial that a capable mind is hired. The likely choice will be Ruben Amaro, Jr., who has been a typical yes-man who tows the party line. He’s currently the Assistant GM to Gillick, handling Q & A with the media about acquisitions, injuries, and the like. There’s no doubt that the Phillies’ ownership highly prefers Amaro over everyone else.

Mike Arbuckle is the Phillies’ Assistant General Manager, Scouting and Player Development, and is #2 on the totem pole behind Amaro for the soon-to-be vacant GM job. Like Amaro, he’s never been one to dance to a different drumbeat and he’s been loyal to the organization. Frankly, since he has so much experience evaluating players, he’d be more reliable than Amaro to make a trade of Ryan Howard.

Looking outside the box for a moment, Brian Cashman’s contract is up after the ’08 season. When Ed Wade was fired after the ’05 season, Cashman was one of the candidates the Phillies had on their list before they decided to go with Gillick, and he is no stranger to a big trade — remember Alfonso Soriano being sent to the Texas Rangers for Alex Rodriguez?

While the Phillies’ upper management may be coming to the realization that Howard’s days in Philly are numbered, they can still thoroughly research Gillick’s potential successors and successfully set themselves up for a franchise-defining trade in 2010.

In Defense of Jeff Brantley

In case you missed Wednesday night’s SportsCenter, the Cincinnati Reds had a thrilling come-from-behind victory when Edwin Encarnacion hit a game-winning three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning with his team down 5-3 to the Arizona Diamondbacks. That wasn’t the best part, though. Jeff Brantley, the color analyst for FSN Ohio, spends nearly the whole at-bat criticizing Encarnacion first for his lack of bunting ability, and later for not being “clutch.”

Fire Joe Morgan, expectedly, loved it. They have the clip up, so check out their post if you’d like to watch it.

Brantley: Encarnacion has struck out three of his last five AB’s, hasn’t hit the ball out of the infield, he had a terrible spring training, and after that pitch right there, like I said, you need to make sure he can bunt. I don’t think he can.

Brennaman: Well, there is no way they’re going to ask him, or at least you would assume there is NO way they’re going to ask him to bunt with two strikes.

One and two to Encarnacion. Breaking ball in the dirt. Count even now at two balls and two strikes.

See, that’s the problem when you ask a guy who has never bunted —

Brantley: Take him out of the game!

(Brennaman and Brantley talk over each other)

Brantley: Put somebody else in there.

Brennaman: If you believe in the bunt in this situation —

Brantley: You’re at home, you’ve got to tie the game.

Brennaman: That’s a “by the book” kind of thing. I don’t know if there’s anybody on that bench that you’re going to bring in and bat for Encarnacion.

Brantley: This guy is not a clutch hitter. He is not a clutch hitter.

Brennaman: His numbers would be contrary to that.

Brantley: He’s not a clutch player.

Brennaman: Two-two pitch.

(Encarnacion hits game-winning three-run home run, Brennaman is extremely excited)

Brantley: You called it! My goodness. I stand corrected, my friend! Wow!

[…]

Brantley: Boy, when I’m wrong, I love to be wrong like that, my friend.

For starters, yes, Brantley was proven wrong in that event that Encarnacion isn’t “clutch,” (humoring, for the moment, that “clutch” exists in some meaningful way). However, if “clutch” does exist, one event does not turn a player from “unclutch” to “clutch” (just ask Alex Rodriguez bashers). Brantley isn’t necessarily wrong that Encarnacion is not “clutch.”

Brantley is quick to admit his fault, though, and does so in a good-natured way. You have to respect this. A lot of those in the media would slowly tip-toe away from the situation or just completely deny it altogether.

Where Brantley definitively errs is using spring training statistics to back up his statement that Encarnacion isn’t the guy you want up at the plate at that moment. As has been stated numerous times in recent years, there is little correlation between spring training and regular season performance.

Also, bunting in that situation can and cannot be a smart move. Using last year’s Run Expectancy Matrix, runners on second and third with one out yields 1.44328 expected runs as opposed to 1.51044 expected runs with runners on first and second with no outs. However, bunting the runners over eliminates the double play and, obviously, gives the Reds a chance to tie the game up on almost any base hit to the outfield. In the context of that situation — down by two runs in the ninth inning at home — bunting is a winning play.

So, while Brantley probably should stray from the concept of “clutch” since it’s just one of those intangible elements for which its proponents have produced no evidence, he should be given leniency for being a victim of bad timing. Nothing he said was way off the mark, and he was cordial in admitting fault.