Saturday, November 13, 2004
As for the Phillies, maybe this will encourage them to try re-signing Kevin Millwood at a discount, or to pursue Derek Lowe or Carl Pavano. If the Yankees sign Milton hopefully their pursuit of Pavano will abate. At a minimum, the Phillies have to be happy to see $9 million in payroll float away.
Addition by subtraction ...
Friday, November 12, 2004
I completed Part 2 of my Year in Review and it will be published on monday but I will likely bump publication of Part 3 until after thanksgiving due to my interviewing. Part 1 was big, Part 2 was bigger and Part 3 will be the Titanic of posts.
I'm kicking around some ideas about how to revamp A Citizen's Blog, starting with a name change. I won't be moving to Typepad any time soon because I can barely justify free blogging with my schedule, let alone paying for it. In addition to the name change I might expand the blogroll again. If anyone has suggestions, please feel free to email me at email@example.com ...
Thursday, November 11, 2004
While I enjoy Prospectus’ work but I cannot justify paying for it. Whenever it is free like this, I gobble it up as quickly as I can … not sure I agree with their thoughts on the importance of re-signing Eric Milton though.
Elvis is back in the building! ... I'm happy to announce the return of Bill Liming's Phillies Fan. Bill's always insightful comments have been sorely missed these last few weeks. We all look forward to seeing what he's got to say...
Wednesday, November 10, 2004
Nice article from Sunday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette outlining the split between "red" Pennsylvania and "blue" Pennsylvania. This (Western) end of Pennsylvania is getting redder all of the time: Westmoreland, Lawrence and Greene Counties, for example, used to be Democratic strongholds but they voted for W last week. Meanwhile my old end of PA, the Southeast, is getting bluer. I was surprised to hear that Kerry came within 10,000 votes of winning my old home in Chester County, and he easily won Bucks, Delaware and Montgomery Counties, as well as Philly.
I'd count on this divide getting bigger: the Republicans have to credit the social conservatives for Bush's victory, so their stock in the Republican Party is going up. Count on them emphasizing social issues in statewide races now. They'll find that western PA is fertile ground for recruiting blue-collar ex-Democrats into the GOP.
As for the Southeast, Democrats are doing much better with educated voters and the Philly suburbs are full of educated, liberal-leaning professionals who drive SUVs, get coffee at Starbucks and have a "live and let live" attitude. This is a real big shift in Pennsylvania politics: back in 1990 the Republican candidate for Governor, Barbara Hafer, won just Montgomery County and lost every other county in the state. Now Hafer is a Democrat and people are talking her up as a Senate candidate against Santorum. (The phenomenon in 1990 of a pro-choice Republican running against a pro-life Democrat is something well never see again in our lives.)
Here are CNN's elections results for Pennsylvania.
The Philadelphia Inquirer's Mark Bowden has another article in the December issue of The Atlantic Monthly. It deals with the Iranian students who stormed the U.S. Embassy in 1979 and took the U.S. diplomats there hostage. It was interesting to see how those people had changed and how their view of the United States had altered in the quarter century since then. Typical Bowden article: always interesting, always well-written.
I don't list non-baseball sites in my blogroll, but if you want to check out an interesting web site, I highly recommend Harry Knowles Ain't It Cool News: Knowles gets gossip and inside info about all of Hollywood's big movies and TV shows before they debut. I read it every day.
Baseball ... Rivals in Exile are back on Hardball Times speculating about the future of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. Will it die? I doubt it, although Steinbrenner can inject a little heat into the mix if he were to sign Pedro to the pinstripes. I bet that the Red Sox will probably win the AL East in a walk next year: the Yankees are going to be in some trouble. Also at Hardball Times Steve Treder has an interesting piece on the Post-Brooklyn Dodgers.
In the AL race, Crosby was the consensus winner: getting 27 of the 28 first-place votes. Defensively, Crosby was probably as good or better than Gold Glover Derek Jeter (.870 ZR to Jeter's pedestrian .847) and he showed real power (22 home runs) at the shortstop position like Miguel Tejada, although his 141 strikeouts were very un-A's like.
It is worth noting that the A's Walt Weiss won the rookie of the year award playing shortstop for the 1988 team...
The vote was closer with Bay in the NL: 25 to 7 first-place votes over the Padres Kahlil Greene. Bay had a terrific year at the plate (.550 slugging percentage) and made Pirates fans forget about the team's decision to deal Brian Giles.
Meanwhile, Roger Clemens won his first NL Cy Young award and seventh overall. I do not agree with the writers call here: I think that the writers were probably seduced by Clemens 18-4 win-loss record, especially when compared with Johnson's 16-14. But Johnson had a better ERA (2.60 to 2.98), a better WHIP (0.90 to 1.16), more strikeouts (290 to 218).
Applying sabremetrics the difference is much more stark: Johnson's FIP ERA was 2.33. Clemens? 3.14. Johnson's DIPS ERA is 2.44 to Clemens 3.21. Plus, Clemens got nearly a full run more than Johnson did from his teammates.
The numbers don't lie: Randy Johnson outpitched Roger Clemens.
MLB announces the AL Cy Young on thursday. Let's hope they give it to the Twins' Santana.
Tuesday, November 09, 2004
The Phillies have reportedly expressed interest in Diamondbacks / Dodgers Centerfielder Steve Finley. A few thoughts:
- Finley is a terrific centerfielder and would fill the Phillies biggest defensive hole (provided that they re-sign Polanco). Given how often flyballs are hit at Citizens, an upgrade in centerfield could have a significant effect on the Phillies overall defense and the quality of the Phillies pitching staff. (See yesterday's post.)
- Offensively, he'd be a good fit: .272 GPA and just 82 K's to 61 walks, not bad for a guy who hit 36 home runs last year. I'd like his OBP (.333) to be higher, but he'd hit well for the Phillies in the two hole.
- The big minus here is his age. Finley will be 40 on opening day next year. The Phillies would be nuts to ink a long-term deal with him, but a one-year deal like the one they gave Millwood would make sense.
If the Phillies re-signed Polanco and got Finley they'd be in a good spot for 2005. I'm a little startled to see the Phillies move so quickly on the free agent front. This is usually a timid team when it comes to the off-season.
1. "Nationals"? Could MLB have saddled the team with a worse nick-name? I doubt it. The name sounds terrible, and it is too easily shortened to "the Nats". This team's karma follows it everywhere...
2. Lets have a nod to history here. Baseball is the sport where history plays the biggest role. No other sport is so mindful of the past. Why has baseball failed so spectacularly in Florida? I submit it is because the people there are wedded to their old teams, the old memories of glory that new baseball teams don't interest them ... So why not call these guys the Grays or Senators? Two names with tremendous history. In the case of the Grays, baseball can recognize the contributions of Negro League baseball.
According to the ESPN article, the decision was made in part because focus groups liked "Nationals" more than the other two names. Too bad.
Monday, November 08, 2004
- A lot more ink can be spilled about the Phillies batting and (especially) the Phillies pitching, so this will be done fairly quickly.
- This is a subject I'm interested in because it is so off the beaten path and it is so controversial. Hitting and pitching have definate, ascertainable outcomes that we can measure: e.g., Barry Bonds is a good player because he gets on base and hits home runs. Defense is subjective, open to interpretation and full of surprises. I've argued about defense many times on A Citizen's Blog, and the description of Bill James' 1977 complaints about fielding percentage in Moneyball were some of the best pages of the book. After I read those pages (p. 66-69, if you are interested), I realized the point of sabremetrics: challenging, to the core, the conventional wisdom of baseball.
As I said earlier, defense is subjective stuff: ZR, the stat I put the most faith in, is admittedly subjective (read below). But then few defensive stats aren't. DER is objective, but the conclusions we derive from them are (again, read below).
I begin by noting that the Phillies have never really had a reputation for being a defensive powerhouse. When I think of baseball defense, I'm immediately reminded of watching Ozzie Smith hoover in every ball within reach as a St. Louis Cardinal. John Kruk wasn't what you would call a defensive specialist at first base. I'm also reminded of an instance in which the Phillies defensive laziness cost them a game: Desi Relaford botched a double play opportunity against the Rockies with the Phillies holding a 3-2 advantage. Armed with the gift of a free out, the Rockies capitalized: scoring two runs and going on to win 4-3.
Defense can win games. It can be a significant factor. And it appears to be the new frontier in baseball.
The Phillies 2004 defensive alignment was good, but interestingly it wasn't as good as in years past. Consider the Phillies team Zone Rating for 2001-2004:
A marked decline from years past, although there is evidence to suggest that the Phillies may have been better than sixth place. We'll start by considering the Phillies overall DER:
DER (Defense Efficiency Ratio):
1. St. Louis: .711
2. Los Angeles: .711
3. Philadelphia: .703
4. Florida: .700
5. Chicago: .698
6. New York: .698
7. Milwaukee: .696
8. San Francisco: .696
9. Montreal: .695
10. San Diego: .695
11. Atlanta: .690
12. Cincinnati: .690
13. Houston: .686
14. Pittsburgh: .685
15. Arizona: .684
16. Colorado: .678
NL average: .695
DER measures how often the fielders converted balls put into play into outs.
As you can see, the Phillies were third in the NL (and in the majors) behind the Cardinals and Dodgers, .008 better than the NL average. Zone Rating, which as I said above is a more subjective stat, yields a somewhat different result:
ZR (Zone Rating):
1. Los Angeles: .866
2. St. Louis: .859
3. San Diego: .858
4. Florida: .858
5. Chicago: .857
6. Philadelphia: .851
7. Atlanta: .850
8. Montreal: .847
9. Cincinnati: .847
10. Houston: .841
11. Milwaukee: .840
12. New York: .838
13. Arizona: .836
14. San Francisco: .835
15. Colorado: .833
16. Pittsburgh: .831
Zone Rating is a stat developed by Stats, Inc., which measures the balls a player "should" have gotten to within their defensive "zone". I've had people criticize ZR as overly subjective and often wildly fluxuating, and they seem to have a point: the Cards and Dodgers rate 1-2 in DER and ZR, so why are the Phillies- #3 in DER -so much further down? I'm not sure why, but ZR has its advantages: unlike DER, a team stat, you can grade individual players and it removes DER's pitcher factor.
Oh, and as I said, DER has some problems, though it is more objective: how much a pitcher can help his teamates with DER is an open question. Certainly, a ground-ball pitcher is probably going to have a higher DER than a flyball pitcher because it is harder to hit the ball out of the infield than hitting line-drives into the outfield. But that said, DER is at least objective.
How else did the Phillies stack up defensively in 2004? They were second (.987) in the NL to the Dodgers (.988) in fielding percentage, second (4,388) to the Cubs (4,396) in putouts, thirteenth in the Bill James created stat of Range Factor (Putouts + Assists / Innings = Range Factor), and had the second fewest errors in the NL after the Dodgers (81 to the Dodgers 73).
So overall, the Phillies were very, very good, and the Phillies pitching clearly seems to have benefitted in 2004: the Phillies team ERA was 4.47, but their FIP, or Fielding Independent Pitching, ERA was much worse: 4.55. FIP measures how a team's pitchers would have pitched with an average defense behind them. (formula: 13 X HR plus 3 X BB minus 2 X K)/IP) FIP and DER suggest that with a more average defense behind them, the Phillies pitching staff would have had a much, much rougher time in 2004 than they already did.
So where were the strengths and weaknesses of the Phillies defense? The Phillies defense ranked 8th in outfield ZR and 5th in infield ZR. It was in the middle of the infield that the Phillies fielding shined: the Phils shortstops were 4th in ZR, their second-basemen were 6th and the Phils third-basemen were 5th.
The Phils first-basemen were 14th in ZR. Nobody will ever confuse Jim Thome with Doug Mientkiewicz: despite a sterling .994 fielding percentage, Jim Thome ranked 11th out of 12 NL first basemen with a .817 ZR rating, just ahead of the Padres Phil Nevin (.816) … Across the diamond, David Bell was 7th of 12 NL third basemen in 2004 in ZR, and 10th of 12 third basemen in fielding percentage. Thome and Bell were average defensively, at best.
The middle of the Phillies infield was a different story: Jimmy Rollins was the Phillies defensive standout in 2004: he logged all but 86 innings at short and finished with a .858 ZR, good for fourth in the NL. Rollins actually tied for first with the Rockies Royce Clayton in fielding percentage, beating gold golver Caesar Izturis by .001 Rollins also had fewer errors than Izturis (9 to 10). Though it went almost completely unmentioned, Rollins played terrific defense of the Phillies in 2004.
The issue of the performance of the Phillies second-basemen is a little more complex: second-baseman Placido Polanco is noted by most experts as a top-notch defender, however he only played in 109 games for the Phillies in 2004 due to an injury which limited his effectiveness. Here are Polanco's 2003 & 2004 stats:
2003 / 2004
ZR: .869 / .816
Fpct: .992 / .995
In many respects Phillies second-baseman-of-the-future Chase Utley turned in a better performance in 2004: .982 Fpct / .864 ZR. Few would support the idea that Utley was the better second baseman however: Polanco's anemic 2004 was likely attributable to his injury more than any other factor. A Phillies team featuring Utley will probably experience a defensive letdown at second base.
Meanwhile, Polanco's defensive skills make him a hot commodity on the free agent market: Aaron Gleeman recently annointed Polanco as the top free agent second-baseman in part due to his defense. This raises the question of whether the Phillies should make the effort to resign Polanco: is his defense worth it? Probably. Polanco and Rollins are the key to the Phillies defense: just 12 errors between them despite 1,193 total chances.
The Phillies 2004 outfield was collectively average: as noted, supra, they were just 8th in the NL in ZR. Pat Burrell was third of seven NL leftfielders in ZR and fielding percentage, while Abreu was fifth of eight NL rightfielders in fielding percentage and sixth in ZR. Neither are particularly bad, neither are particularly good: both make up for their defensive shortcomings with their bats. Not so in centerfield...
The Phillies lacked a true regular centerfielder in 2004: Marlon Byrd logged half the Phillies innings in center, despite being banished to Scranton, while Jason Michaels, Ricky Ledee and Doug Glanville made up the balance. Their stats:
ZR / Fielding Percentage
Byrd: .846 / .900
Michaels: .844 / .970
Glanville: .870 / 1.000
Ledee: .925 / 1.000
Collectively, Phillies centerfielders were eighth in ZR and seventh in fielding percentage. Byrd and Michaels, if their numbers qualified (they logged too few innings), would rank tenth and eleventh among regular NL centerfielders. Byrd of course, had a horrifically bad year at the plate: .287 OBP / .205 GPA, terrible numbers to go along with mediocre defense … Michaels fared better: .364 OBP / .262 GPA. The less said about Doug Glanville (.244 OBP / .172 GPA) the better … The Phillies best centerfielder was Ricky Ledee (.393 OBP / .298 GPA), whom the team dealt for reasons that (still) elude me.
Quick note: when grading center fielders the perils of ZR become evident: Gold Glover Jim Edmonds and Steve Finley rank #6 & #7 respectively in ZR, ratings that seem very low given their reputation as defensive wizzes. Doug Glanville would actually be rated a better centerfielder which seems, to say the least, unlikely.
Centerfield is a crying need for the Phillies, their biggest hole. Unsurprisingly, it is the most important position in the outfield:
2004 Total Chances: (Outfielders)
Michaels, despite putting up decent numbers at the plate in 2004, isn’t the answer and neither is Byrd, who’s poor defense in 2004 was coupled with a terrible season at the plate. This is a position that the Phillies badly need to improve at. Carlos Beltran is probably out of the question, but the Phillies should be able to track down a capable centerfielder.
Catchers: I hesitate to grade catchers because it is so difficult. They don’t field too much and a big part of their job is to aid the pitching staff. The biggest factor has to be their ability to hold baserunners on first with their arms: Mike Piazza, slugger that he is, is famously at the job, prompting his move to first base, a decision the Mets should have made five years ago. How did Lieberthal and Pratt do?:
Attempts / Stealers Caught / Pct.
Lieberthal: 94 / 20 / 21%
Pratt: 32 / 4 / 13%
Lieberthal ranks poorly here: ahead of just two NL catchers, and well behind catchers like the Pirates Jason Kendall (36%), the Cardinals Mike Matheny (29%), and the Expos Brian Schneider (50%). Luckily, this wasn’t a problem for the Philles in 2004: the catcher who teams seemed to run the most on was the Dodgers / Marlins Paul Lo Duca: 129 attempts, 27% caught. Lieberthal and Pratt are probably below average, but Lieberthal is a good hitting catcher, so he makes up his short-comings at the plate.
Conclusions: Jimmy Rollins had a terrific season in 2004 both at the plate and as the Phils shortstop. I would hardly categorize him as an elite shortstop, Rollins is nevertheless critical to the Phillies as the lynchpin of their defense and their leadoff man. The Phillies could do themselves and their pitching staff a big, big favor in 2004 by re-enlisting Placido Polanco at second and shuttling Utley to third base, where he’d probably be an improvement over David Bell. A Thome-Polanco-Rollins-Utley infield would be as strong offensively and better defensively than a Thome-Utley-Rollins-Bell infield.
As for the outfield, Abreu and Burrell, despite being average-to-below-average fielders, more than make up for their defensive short-comings with their bats. Centerfield is a black hole the Phillies need to fill, ASAP.
In case anyone is interested in reading a little more on defense, I recommend Michael Litchman's article on Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) at Baseball Think Factory.
Next: Part II - Pitching on November 15th.