Use That Arm Delicately

The Phillies swept the Braves in Atlanta once again, carried by starter Cole Hamels, who went eight and two-thirds innings, struck out seven and only allowed one run courtesy a ninth-inning, two-out RBI double from Brian McCann. He was one out away from a complete game shut-out, and it was obvious that manager Charlie Manuel was going to let Hamels attempt to get it. Was it a good decision?

We know that managers make decisions based around the ability to achieve a statistic. This is especially evident with the save. Most managers will only use their closers to start the ninth inning with a lead of three or fewer runs per the save criteria in the MLB rulebook. Some managers like to give their pitchers the ability to get that “CG SO” at the risk of throwing more pitches than necessary, putting strain on the pitcher’s arm and increasing the risk of injury.

Cole Hamels has had a colorful injury history, and if he goes the entire 2008 season without getting injured, it will be his first. Last season, Hamels averaged 99.6 pitches per start; it was nearly 102 before he got injured in mid-August. Looking over his 2007 game logs, here are the breakdowns for his pitch counts in his 28 starts:

Fewer than 100: 10 (36%)

100-109: 7 (25%)

110-116: 11 (39%)

Hamels is averaging 104 pitches per start this season. Here are the breakdowns for his 18 starts this season:

Fewer than 100: 5 (28%)

100-109: 6 (33%)

110-119: 4 (22%)

120-125: 3 (17%)

Going into his start in Atlanta, Hamels ranked 13th among all Major League starters in Pitcher Abuse Points, a statistic formulated by Baseball Prospectus that is, based on the title, self-explanatory. The 125 pitches needed in his eight and two-thirds innings against the Braves aren’t going to make Manuel’s use of Hamels look any better.

Thankfully, Manuel was smart enough to remove Hamels once the possibility of a shut-out was gone and didn’t keep him in just because there was only one out left.

Hamels is scheduled to make two more starts before the All-Star break — on the 8th vs. St. Louis and on the 13th vs. Arizona — and we have to hope that Manuel wises up between now and then regarding his use of Hamels. With Brett Myers pitching in Triple AAA and J.A. Happ subsequently taking his place at least for now, a 45-year-old Jamie Moyer, a thus far lucky Kyle Kendrick, and perennial underachiever Adam Eaton in the rotation, the Phillies can’t afford to lose Hamels to injury or to have him pitching at a lower level simply because Manuel wanted him to get some extra notations in his line score.

Fun With All-Star Rosters

I came up with what I think should be the 32-man rosters for this year’s All-Star Game in New York. Feel free to critique mine and/or post your own rosters in the comments.

American League

C – Joe Mauer, MIN
1B – Jason Giambi, NYY
2B – Ian Kinsler, TEX
SS – Michael Young, TEX
3B – Alex Rodriguez, NYY
OF – Josh Hamilton, TEX
OF – J.D. Drew, BOS
OF – Grady Sizemore, CLE
DH – Milton Bradley, TEX

C – A.J. Pierzynski, CHW
1B – Justin Morneau, MIN
2B – Brian Roberts, BAL
2B – Dustin Pedroia, BOS
3B – Evan Longoria, TBR
3B – Joe Crede, CHW
SS – Jhonny Peralta, CLE
OF – Manny Ramirez, BOS
OF – David DeJesus, KCR
OF – Carlos Quentin, CHW
OF – Johnny Damon, NYY
OF – Magglio Ordonez, DET

SP – Cliff Lee, CLE (starts All-Star Game)
SP – Justin Duchscherer, OAK
SP – Felix Hernandez, SEA
SP – Roy Halladay, TOR
SP – Joe Saunders, LAA
SP – John Danks, CHW (replaces SP Shaun Marcum, TOR)

RP – Francisco Rodriguez, LAA
RP – Joe Nathan, MIN
RP – Joakim Soria, KCR
RP – George Sherrill, BAL
RP – Mariano Rivera, NYY

Team Counts… TBR: 1; BOS: 3; NYY: 4; BAL: 2; TOR: 1; CHW: 4; MIN: 3; DET: 1; KCR: 2; CLE: 3; LAA: 2; OAK: 1; TEX: 4; SEA: 1.

National League

C – Brian McCann, ATL
1B – Lance Berkman, HOU
2B – Chase Utley, PHI
SS – Hanley Ramirez, FLA
3B – Chipper Jones, ATL
OF – Nate McLouth, PIT
OF – Pat Burrell, PHI
OF – Jason Bay, PIT
DH – Adrian Gonzalez, SDP

C – Geovany Soto, CHC
1B – Albert Pujols, STL
1B – Mark Teixiera, ATL
2B – Brandon Phillips, CIN (replaces 2B Dan Uggla, FLA)
SS – Jose Reyes, NYM
3B – David Wright, NYM
3B – Aramis Ramirez, CHC
OF – Carlos Beltran, NYM
OF – Corey Hart, MIL
OF – Ryan Ludwick, STL
OF – Xavier Nady, PIT
OF – Kosuke Fukudome, CHC

SP – Edinson Volquez, CIN (starts All-Star Game)
SP – Tim Lincecum, SFG
SP – Ben Sheets, MIL
SP – Dan Haren, ARI
SP – Brandon Webb, ARI
SP – Cole Hamels, PHI
SP – Aaron Cook, COL

RP – Brad Lidge, PHI
RP – Billy Wagner, NYM
RP – Jon Rauch, WAS
RP – Kerry Wood, CHC
RP – Takashi Saito, LAD

Team Counts… PHI: 4; FLA: 1; NYM: 4; ATL: 3; CHC: 4; STL: 2; MIL: 2; PIT: 3; HOU: 1; CIN: 2; ARI: 2; LAD: 1; SFG: 1; COL: 1; SDP: 1.

Interleague Is Over, So Is June

That was brutal. Before the first game of the series in Florida on June 10, the Phillies stood at 39-26, 13 games above .500 and 3.5 games ahead of the Florida Marlins. Since then, the Phillies have lost six straight series, including all four inter-league series. After last night’s loss to the Texas Rangers, the Phillies are now 44-39, 5 games above .500 and only one game ahead of the Marlins. Luckily, they’ve gone 5-13 over their last 18 and only lost 2.5 games in the standings and still standing atop the division.

It’s not like the Phillies expected to go on a 15-game winning streak, but everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Ryan Howard went back to flailing at outside breaking pitches, Chase Utley went into a cold streak, and Brett Myers may have started his last game for the Phillies after his 2+ inning, 5-run performance on Friday.

In inter-league play, the Phillies’ offense put up an AVG/OBP/SLG line of .207/.287/.354. In those 12 games, the Phillies only got 30 extra-base hits and only 10 of them were home runs. They scored a total of 39 runs, which averages out to 3.25 runs per game. The Phillies racked up a lot of strikeouts — 94 to be exact — but that is to be expected, as the bulk of those K’s came from Howard (19), Pat Burrell (14), and Chase Utley (10). Conversely, the Phillies didn’t walk too much; just 41 of them in 428 plate appearances — certainly an out-of-character performance.

The one good thing found among all of these statistics is that So Taguchi was only given two plate appearances in which he, expectedly, did not do anything. It’s only a matter of time until he’s traded or designated for assignment.

The starting pitching wasn’t any better. The Phillies’ starters pitched 71 innings, allowed 74 hits, 29 walks, 41 runs, 15 HR, and struck out 60 for a WHIP of 1.45, an ERA of 5.20, and per-nine rates of 7.6 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, and 1.9 HR/9.

Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer were decent (though the Phillies lost all three of Moyer’s games), while Brett Myers, Kyle Kendrick, and Adam Eaton were awful.

The bullpen was the one bright spot, posting a 2.91 ERA in inter-league play despite a high 1.60 WHIP. Unfortunately, Brad Lidge didn’t get too many opportunities to pitch, notching only one save in three scoreless innings of work. Tom Gordon, who complained about a bad shoulder, only pitched one inning, unsuccessfully. Ryan Madson got the bulk of the work, pitching nearly 30% of the innings given to the bullpen, and put up a 2.70 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in his ten innings.

If you’d like to peruse the Phillies’ inter-league numbers, feel free to download my spreadsheet (an .xlsx file).

Overall, the Phillies gave up 37 runs and allowed 57 in inter-league play, which gives them an expected record of 5-7 over those 12 games. Instead, they went 3-9. It was a tough part of the schedule for the Phillies, as they played two first-place (at some point among those 12 games) teams in the Red Sox (50-34) and Angels (49-33), along with the Athletics (44-37) and Rangers (42-41).

July is a very important month for the Phillies and it may have been a good thing that they’ve underperformed and gotten their bad luck out of the way against the American League (read: teams that don’t matter) because the entire month, aside from a six-game stretch from July 8 to 13 against the St. Louis Cardinals and Arizona Diamondbacks, features games against divisional opponents: six against the Braves, seven against the Mets, three against the Marlins, and three against the Nationals.

The Phillies were fortunate that, while they posted a 12-14 June record, none of their other divisional opponents did much better. The Marlins went 11-16 (4-8 in inter-league), the Mets went 13-14 (7-6 in IL), and the Braves went 11-16 (6-6 in IL). Their awful play in June didn’t hurt the Phillies as much as it appeared to, and now they have July as a great opportunity to separate themselves from the pack.

More on July…

The Trading Deadline

Despite his nickname, “Stand Pat” Gillick, the Phillies GM probably won’t sit on his hands until August 1. My analysis leads me to believe that the Phillies only need a couple spare parts: a league-average starting pitcher (like Kyle Lohse last season) and a left-handed relief pitcher. Many are speculating that the Phillies want to trade for C.C. Sabathia or Erik Bedard, but they simply don’t have the prospects that would tantalize the Indians or Mariners.

I still remain steadfast on being against trading for Erik Bedard, but I’ve come around on C.C. Sabathia.

Some other big names that could be available are A.J. Burnett (Blue Jays), Aaron Harang (Reds), Bronson Arroyo (Reds), Greg Maddux (Padres), and Jarrod Washburn (Mariners).

Of that list, I personally am only interested in Harang and Maddux; Harang would likely be nearly as expensive as Bedard. As for Maddux, there will probably be a line for his services, with the Cubs at the front.

Brett Myers

You may recall that, back on May 15, I suggested that something needed to be done about Myers. I listed a few scenarios in which they could minimize Myers’ damage, but, instead, they have done nothing between then and now. In his eight starts since I wrote that article, Myers has made eight starts, pitching 48 and one-third innings (averaging 6 per start) with a 5.77 ERA and a 1.56 WHIP. The Phillies have won only one of those starts (May 30 vs. the Marlins).

At this point, it’s hard to imagine that the Phillies’ organization isn’t thinking long and hard about doing something with Myers. It would be absurd if they weren’t discussing reasons why Myers should not make his next start. The problem with trading Myers, to go along with his poor on-field performances and his off-the-field incidents in the past, is that he’s expensive. He’s owed $8.5 million for this season and $12 million for next season.

If the Phillies want to trade Myers to another team, they’ll either have to eat a good portion of Myers’ remaining contract to get something worthwhile in return, or they’ll have to ask for next-to-nothing while another team takes on the bulk of his contract. Why another team would take an underachieving, expensive head case with off-the-field problems is beyond me, but the Phillies should hope to find one such sucker (what’s the number for Seattle’s front office?).

The best option, in my mind, remains the move-him-to-the-bullpen option. I previously suggested that Myers set up for closer Brad Lidge, but opposing hitters have a 1.255 OPS against Myers in the first inning. Obviously, there’s a difference between the first inning of work for a starting pitcher and the first inning of work for a relief pitcher, but it shows that Myers isn’t getting hit when he loses his stuff later in the game when batters are more familiar with him.

I’d move Myers into the mop-up role, which Clay Condrey currently owns. Condrey gets designated for assignment, while the Phillies either call up a pitcher (preferably J.A. Happ) or trade for one.

Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game

The Phillies have three hitters among the top-eight in the NL in home runs. Chase Utley is tied with Dan Uggla for the league lead with 23; Ryan Howard has 20; Pat Burrell has 19. Utley should be a lock for the Home Run Derby if he agrees to do it and Howard should get an invite as well. Burrell would be a long shot.

As for the All-Star Game, Utley and Brad Lidge are locks. Burrell should be a lock, but given how awful fan voting is (Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome, and Ken Griffey, Jr. inexplicably are the top-three vote-getters), he may be a long shot to make the team. Ryan Ludwick, Jason Bay, Nate McLouth, and Xavier Nady are four nearly as deserving outfielders who may push Burrell out.

Cole Hamels should be a lock to make the All-Star team, but is a fringe candidate. His 1.03 WHIP is second-best among qualified starters and his 103 strikeouts are third-best.

Ryan Howard, despite his very slow start and continuing struggles (and historic strikeout pace), could make the team as well on account of his high HR and RBI totals.

BDD: Randy Johnson a LOOGY?

No, get your mind out of the gutter. I’m not talking about spit; I’m talking about turning Randy Johnson into a lefty-specialist relief pitcher.

You know what else I’m talking about? Whether or not the Phillies are better off without Aaron Rowand.

Hey, guess what else I will shamelessly self-promote? My thoughts on starter Jamie Moyer.

I haven’t been putting much up here because the Phillies’ recent tailspin has me in a funk as well. After the three-game series in Texas, I’ll analyze just how damaging the month of June was for the Phils. Hint: It wasn’t pretty.

While I’m thinking of it, I’d like to take advantage of my platform here and pimp Bridging the Statistical Gap, written by Eric Seidman of FanGraphs, The Hardball Times, Baseball Prospectus, and MVN. If you’re thinking about delving into the world of Sabermetrics, Eric’s book is a great place to start, and it’s a good reference tool for those who have already taken the dive.

Elsewhere, Chase Utley was on a podcast recently for EAS.com. If you’re into health and fitness, Utley offers up his approach. I believe I’m beyond repair, but for those of you who can walk from your doorstep to your mailbox without getting winded, check it out.

See Ya, George

If you haven’t heard it yet, I regret to inform you that one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th and 21st centuries has died. From Yahoo! via Reuters:

[George] Carlin, who had a history of heart and drug-dependency problems, died at Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica about 6 p.m. PDT (9 p.m. EDT) after being admitted earlier in the afternoon for chest pains, spokesman Jeff Abraham told Reuters.

I have never been one to idolize people. I didn’t idolize my parents or any relatives or friends, and certainly never any celebrities, even athletes. The one exception, though, was George Carlin. I would be willing to wager that, aside from my mother, Carlin has had the single greatest influence on my life. A lot of my philosophies were sparked by watching Carlin’s stand-up routines, reading his books, and reading/listening to his interviews.

Carlin is a big reason why I became an atheist, and why I don’t vote, and why I will always question authority figures. I regret to think of what my life would be like had I never been introduced to Carlin’s work. I’m sure Carlin reached millions of other people just as he did with me, and there is no question that he has had a remarkable influence on American society from the 1960’s until the late 2000’s.

If you’re not familiar with Carlin, I urge you to familiarize yourself with his work. His last book, When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops? is a comedic gold mine. He has a ton of CD’s and DVD’s of his stand-up material, none of which is dull and unfunny. I suggest the DVD George’s Best Stuff, a compilation of his well-known bits.

Normally, I wouldn’t blog about the death of a celebrity because, well, that’s life, but I feel the need to share the huge impact he had on my life and urge my readers to experience the refreshing rush of rationality that Carlin brought with his material. Carlin exemplified everything that was right with American society and exposed what was wrong.

It’s a shame because there doesn’t appear to be any performers out there willing to take the torch, so to speak. Bill Maher comes the closest, but he doesn’t come close to Carlin.

To relate this to sports, being that Crashburn Alley is a sports blog, here is a clip of his bit, “Baseball vs. Football.”

Oh, Philly fans…

Rich Hofmann of the Philadelphia Daily News (don’t worry, I think he’s one of the good guys) has a great column on Pat Burrell, aptly titled, “Stats show Pat Burrell’s been steady since 2000.” As if to prove Bob Costas and Buzz Bissinger right about comments left on articles on the Internet, the commenters on Hoffman’s piece have come out to display some of the most mind-numbing ignorance I’ve read in a while.

While quoting and critiquing comments is a waste of time and doesn’t have anywhere near as much importance as doing the same to a member of the MSM, I think it’s a good look into what the average Phillies fan really thinks of Burrell and how they really think about baseball. Without further ado, I’ll quote some gems in the comments.

let us not forgot the huge slumps and lack of clutch hits we become accumstomed too over the last 8 years.

Burrell’s career OPS, first half: .852

…career OPS, second half: .869

…March/April: .881

…May: .930

…June: .770

…July: .856

…August: .896

…September/October: .826

His overall career OPS is .859, so we can see that only May and September are clearly below, and July is just around it. He had a really bad first half last season, and his entire 2003 season was awful, but the numbers clearly show that Burrell is pretty consistent month-to-month.

What the stats don’t show is the amount of men on base in Burrell’s career

Plate appearances with runners in scoring position: 1,577.

OPS with RISP: .866

Would you say Ryan Howard is having a great year? If just look at this RBI and homers you would say “yes.”

I don’t think anyone will argue that, at this point in the 2008 season, Ryan Howard is having a great season. However, he’s made some vast improvements considering how awfully he started the season.

if Howard were just batting a marginal .260 with only 20 less strikeouts (which would still put him near the league lead in KO’s) he probably have 20-25 more RBI’s and the team a couple more wins.

Yes, you read that right. This person thinks that for every strikeout you don’t have, you get 1 or 1.25 more RBI as a result.

What I want broken down is Burrell stats in clutch positions. RISP, with two strikes, did the majority of home runs and RBI’s come with the Phillies having a substantial lead in the game.

At least he asked, instead of making baseless assumptions as most Phillies fans do when it comes to Burrell. His OPS with RISP is above.

OPS w/ two strikes: .619 (Derek Jeter, Mr. Clutch, has a .652 OPS with two strikes; most players do not have great success with two strikes)

The rest of his clutch statistics can be found here. Notice that they’re all around the same area — very little deviation. His worst OPS is in tie games (.819) and his best OPS is, oddly enough, when there are two outs and RISP (.885).

I just want a player who is consistent even if they produce less runs.

Wow. This borders on a Joe Morgan level of ignorance. At least he spelled “consistent” correctly; Morgan doesn’t even do that part well.

As Mark Twain once said, “There are three kind of lies; lies, damn lies and statistics.”

Facepalm.

He rarely bats with the bases empty and he plays in Citizens Bank Park.

Plate appearances with the bases empty: 2,534. He’s had 5,036 career PA, so more than half of his PA have come with the bases empty. When the bases are empty, he’s put up an .834 OPS.

As for Citizens Bank Park playing a factor…

OPS at home: .864

OPS away: .855

There’s a slight difference, but it’s so small it can be attributed to randomness, essentially.

You can get numbers to prove anything you want, but in this case, they don’t make a case for him being any kind of star player.

You cannot get numbers “to prove anything you want.” You can manipulate them, but that would be intellectually dishonest and a slight against the user, not on statistics.

“Star player” is a subjective term. If we could all agree on what really constitutes being a “star player,” then we wouldn’t even need to argue about it. His career 120 OPS+ isn’t anything that hasn’t been done before. However, as I wrote for Baseball Digest Daily at the beginning of May, Burrell has had four All-Star-caliber seasons and is definitely deserving this year. So, five of his nine seasons have been worthy of an All-Star spot, even though he’s never been. While All-Star nominations are not a great way of determining a player’s value, I think it lends credence to Burrell’s being a “star player.”

How many runs does his defense cost the Phils when pop flys turn into doubles.

According to Baseball Prospectus, Burrell has been 7 fielding runs above average (FRAA) this season. Over his entire career, he’s -21 FRAA over 8.5 seasons which comes out to about -2.5 runs per season, or about a quarter of a win per season. So, evey four seasons, Burrell costs his team one win defensively. Not much at all.

Get ready for this one. This is “facepalm” times ten.

But he is disrespectful, not indifferent, to the media and fans. Since last season he has used the opening bars of Don Henley’s “Dirty Laundry” as his “coming to bat” music. Its lyrics (written while Henley was seeing tabloid headlines about his messy divorce) are clearly contemptuous of the media. For a ballpalyer to use it in that manner is also insulting to the home fans. He should change to something else.

Fail.

But wait, there’s more!

And it is a fact that a 3-run HR when you’re already up by 5, or a 2-run HR when you’re down by 7 usually turn out to be meaningless events (anyone remember Abreu The Great?) But, since you believe these “facts” have some form of meaning due to the players numbers being padded, it only proves my point that you can have numbers support whatever argument you choose. The problem with baseball statistics are that no unique numbers exist or are maintained that calculate the events that were “difference makers” in the outcome of games. In other words, the HRs or RBIs that made a difference, not just grand totals that include the not so meaningful ones.

He’s right that no specific data is kept for every event. Burrell doesn’t get marked down for that walk-off two-run home run he hit against the Giants on May 2. He doesn’t get discredited for grounding out to shortstop in the seventh inning with runners on second and third and one out.

However, as Eric Seidman of FanGraphs points out, “Based on his win probability statistics, Burrell has a higher WPA (4.48) than anyone in the sport. Additionally, his WPA/LI of 2.94 ranks second and his clutch score of 1.29 deems him the third clutchiest player in the major leagues.”

If you’re unfamiliar with WPA and LI, you can find definitions here.

Well, those were all of the ignorant comments there. Surprisingly, there were some well-reasoned comments there as well, which disproves Costas and Bissinger’s assumptions that all comments are mean-spirited and ignorant. However, I think it’s safe to say that the comments section there represents a decent cross-section of typical Phillies fans, and it’s a shame that people are so wrong about one of the best players to put on a Phillies uniform.

Adam Dunn and Milton Bradley are really the only interesting free agents that may be available after the season. If the Phillies don’t have either of the two in their future plans, it behooves them to try very hard to get Burrell to sign a three-year extension.

BDD: Willie Freed

Willie Randolph was finally fired, though he certainly didn’t deserve it. That’s not the interesting part of the story, though. They fired him at 3 AM EST after making him travel coast-to-coast. I discuss Omar Minaya’s cowardice at Baseball Digest Daily.

Jerry Manuel is the interim manager of the Mets. It’s a humorous coincidence that he has the same last name as the Phillies’ manager. Maybe Minaya thought there was something to the name that would bring success. Too bad their Manuel has had exactly two seasons over .500 as a manager (out of six seasons) while the Phillies’ Manuel has had six out of seven (including this season).

As a Phillies fan, it’s nice to watch another organization implode upon itself, but I can’t help but feel sorry for Randolph along with Rick Peterson and Tom Nieto, who were also fired. I’d be angry if I was forced to take a long flight from the East coast to the West coast with the idea that I’d at least be there for a few days (they’re on a six-game road trip), only to meaninglessly manage one game, succeed (the Mets beat the Angels 9-6), and get canned.