Michael/Male/26-30. Lives in United States/Pennsylvania/Wexford/Christopher Wren, speaks English. Spends 20% of daytime online. Uses a Fast (128k-512k) connection. And likes baseball /politics.
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Friday, April 29, 2005


I'm sort of busy today (house stuff), but I wanted to call everyone's attention to a terrific article from ESPN's Jayson Stark talking about the Phillies foibles.

I should be back Monday, so stay patient while I replace my Comments Pages. Enjoy this weekend's series with the Fish. I hope to see some solid play from Thome this weekend.

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Thursday, April 28, 2005

Busy Day... 

An abbreviated post for today because my wife & I are closing on a home tomorrow:

-I will be re-vamping the Comments pages tomorrow. I haven't a clue why they crapped out, but I've been thinking about replacing them with Haloscan for a while anyway. No time like the present.

-I'm pleased to note that ESPN has started to restore fielding stats to their main stat page. As of now they have sortable player stats. I'm looking forward to the team stats when they become available. I promise a big write-up on the Phillies anemic defense on that date.

-Amaze anyone else that the Phillies are 15th in ISO and slugging? Were it not for the Pittsburgh Pirates, we'd really be in trouble.

-Another strong performance from Myers last night. This guy is having a great year. Phillies fans, sit up and take notice....

(69) comments

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

David Bell: Bad Hitter, Good Fielder 

I've never been particularly high on David Bell. I think the Phillies seriously over-paid for his services when they signed him from the Giants in 2002. I don't think he's a good hitter - he isn't powerful at the plate and he doesn't get on base with great frequency. And I didn't even mention his injury problems. For those reasons I've argued that the Phillies should sit Bell in favor of Placido Polanco, who played third after coming to the Phillies in the Scott Rolen deal in 2002.

My rationale was that Polanco and Bell made the same salary, had roughly comparable batting numbers and Polanco was a better glove, an important fact given that the Phillies had restocked with groundball pitchers in the offseason, which put defense at a premium this season. Based on the Phillies mediocre DER through their first twenty games, I assumed that an examination of Bell's Zone Rating numbers would bolster my argument that the Phillies should end the Polanco-Utley platoon and install Polanco at third.

Naturally I was wrong.

Don't get me completely wrong: Bell is having an awful year. As I write this he's hit one home run in 73 AB's with six doubles and eight RBI's. His .219 BA / .278 OBP / .342 SLG is laughably bad. In fact, Bell's '05 OBP is worse than his '03 campaign (.296) where he played some awful, awful baseball. If we were going by offense, I think Polanco is a better hitter: .352 OBP ... OK: his SLG is .298- a product of having just two extrabase hits -but he's getting on base and producing runs.

But Bell is excelling at one phase of the game: fielding. Right now Bell is third in the NL in Zone Rating for thirdbasemen, the stat from Stats, Inc that I rely upon so much to gauge a player's fielding. Bell's .865 ZR is pretty stellar stuff, just behind Scott Rolen and Chipper Jones, two pretty fine fielders. Sure, people might object to what I've said and note that Bell has four errors so far this season, but I think that Bell is playing some pretty good D at the hot corner.

I put a lot of faith in ZR because is does a good job measuring a player's total contribution to team defense.

The results made me ponder an interesting thought: what if David Bell is actually a strong defensive player? What if Bell made up for his short-comings at the plate with good glove work. As George Will argued in Men At Work, a double denied on defense is worth just as much as a double hit at the plate.

Bell's ZR stats don't help that argument: he was middle of the pack (.775). However Dave Pinto's Probalistic Model of Range (PMR) rated Bell as a strong fielder: Bell made 377 outs (projected: 355.71) in 2004. Those 21 extra outs aren't recorded in Bell's batting stats, but they represent a significant contribution to the team's fortunes.

So maybe Polanco wouldn't be the best choice for the job: Bell might be struggling at the plate, but he's a strong fielder (at least so far this year) and he's hitting with a little more power than Polanco (which is what this team needs right now). Keep Bell's glove at the hot corner. He's the best we've got.

(6) comments

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Here’s why the Marlins are winning … 

… and we aren’t:

The Marlins excel at defense and pitching and the Phillies don’t.

Let’s go to the numbers:

Phillies / Marlins (NL Rank, of 16 teams)
ERA: 5.38 (15) / 2.34 (1)
DIPS: 4.92 (14) / 3.78 (3)
FIP: 4.90 (14) / 3.54 (3)
WHIP: 1.43 (10) / 1.09 (1)
SLG: .494 (16) / .307 (1)
DER: .683 (12) / .759 (1)

What the stats mean …
WHIP – Walks plus hits by innings pitched: (BB + H) / IP = WHIP
ERA – Earned Run Average: (Earned Runs * 9) / IP = ERA
FIP – Fielding Independent Pitching: (13*HR+3*BB-2*K / IP) + League Factor Evaluates a pitching by how he would have done with an average defense behind him by keeping track of things that a pitcher can control (walks, strikeouts, home runs allowed) as opposed to things he cannot (hits allowed, runs allowed). DIPS is basically FIP, but w/ a more complex formula.
DER – Defense Efficiency Ratio: (Batters Faced – (Hits + Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) / (Batters Faced – (Home Runs, Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) How often fielders convert balls put into play into outs.

Offensively the two teams aren’t that far apart: the Marlins are scratching out runs without the benefit of much power and the Phillies are relying on Pat Burrell to supply them runs. Both teams have absurdly low slugging percentages and ISO (SLG - BA = ISO) numbers.

So the difference is at the pitching and defense level. The Marlins starting rotation is fearsome:

Josh Beckett: 1.00 / 2.07
Dontrelle Willis: 1.50 / 3.08
A.J. Burnett: 2.40 / 2.90
Al Leiter: 5.66 / 5.49

Beckett, Willis and Burnett have 3 of the top eleven DIPS ERAs in the NL right now. The Phillies are doing much worse:

Jon Lieber: 2.73 / 5.00
Randy Wolf: 6.38 / 4.07
Brett Myers: 1.71 / 2.93
Lidle: 3.86 / 3.70

Myers is actually doing well (ninth in the NL) but Lieber is struggling with the home runs and doesn't strike guys out. Wolf & Lidle are doing ok. The bottom-line is that while the Marlins hurlers are being backed up by fabulous defense, so their pitchers are confident and are mowing down opposing batters left and right. The Phillies pitching staff is struggling in many respects and have had to deal with sloppy defense behind them (e.g.):

Jimmy Rollins (PHI): .827 ZR (12th of 15 NL SS’s)
Alex Gonzalez (FLA): .917 ZR (2nd of 15 NL SS’s)

(Although I admit to my amazement that David Bell is actually leading NL 3B’s in ZR, despite three errors. Maybe sitting him isn’t such a great idea.)

Most people in the MLB world think that building a team around pitching and defense is simple and cost-effective. Hard to argue with the Marlins approach, especially given that the Phillies have the fourth largest payroll in the MLB ($93 million) and the Marlins are eighteenth ($60 million).

Maybe the Phillies should take some notes?

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Monday, April 25, 2005

The Week That Wasn't... 

Getting hammered by the Mets, dropping a game to the Rockies and getting slaughtered by the Braves in Atlanta. No, it was not a good week to be a Phillies fan. A cursory look at the numbers (note: I wrote this Sunday before the completion of the Atlanta massacre) tells the tale:

FIP: 4.90 (14th)
DIPS: 4.92 (14th)
K/9: 5.94 (10th)
ERA: 5.38 (15th)
DER: .683 (13th)
Runs: 79 (tied, 6th)
Slugging percentage: .388 (13th)
Home Runs: 15 (10th)
ISO: .129 (14th)
XBH: 46 (10th)

What the stats mean:
ISO (Isolated Power): .SLG - .BA = .ISO. Measures a player’s raw power by subtracting singles from their slugging percentage.
OBP (On-Base Percentage): How often a player gets on base. (H + BB + HBP) / (Plate Appearances)
XBH: Doubles + Triples + Home Runs
BB / PA (Walks per plate appearance): (BB / PA = .BB/PA Avg)
K/9 – Strikeouts per nine innings
ERA – Earned Run Average: (Earned Runs * 9) / IP = ERA
FIP – Fielding Independent Pitching: (13*HR+3*BB-2*K / IP) + League Factor Evaluates a pitching by how he would have done with an average defense behind him by keeping track of things that a pitcher can control (walks, strikeouts, home runs allowed) as opposed to things he cannot (hits allowed, runs allowed).
DIPS – Defense Independent Pitching Statistic: Basically FIP, but a more complex, park-adjusted formula.
DER – Defense Efficiency Ratio: (Batters Faced – (Hits + Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) / (Batters Faced – (Home Runs, Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) How often fielders convert balls put into play into outs.

There are few phases of the game wherein the Phillies are excelling. They aren’t scoring runs, they aren’t hitting home runs or doubles, they aren’t keeping guys off the base-paths, they aren’t playing good defense, and they aren’t striking guys out. They are failing at almost everything.

The Phillies are doing three things well: not issuing walks (tied for second-best in walks allowed), steals (12 of 13, best stealing percentage in the NL, although they are just fourth in the NL in steals behind the Astros with 20), and drawing walks (third-best walks-per-plate-appearance and OBP in the NL):

Steals: 12 of 13 (92%)
BB Allowed: 46 (2nd)
OBP: .366 (3rd)
BB/PA: .108 (3rd)

So things are grim. To say that the Phillies have gotten off to a rough start is an understatement. Nobody would have expected a lineup featuring Pat Burrell, Jim Thome, Chase Utley and Bobby Abreu to be thirteenth in the NL in slugging. I also expected more from the pitching staff, and in particular the bullpen. Lieber and Myers are both pitching well, but the staff has gotten hammered badly of late.

But nobody should panic yet. Scope out the standings:

NL East
Florida: 11-7
Braves: 10-8 (1.0)
Mets: 10-8 (1.0)
Nationals: 9-9 (2.0)
Phillies: 8-10 (3.0)

A three game lead this early in the year is statistically insignificant. Phillies fans should console themselves with this thought: we’ve gotten lucky, or rather, the Marlins (our competition) have been unlucky. Check out what the standings would look like based on Pythagorean win-loss records:

NL East
Florida 14-4
Atlanta 11-7 (3.0)
Mets 11-7 (3.0)
Phillies 7-11 (7.0)
Nationals 7-11 (7.0)

In other words the Phillies could be seven games back just eighteen games into the season. The Phillies are 3-2 in “close games” (defined as games decided by 1 or 2 runs on Hardball Times website), while the Marlins are 2-4. If the Marlins record reflected their Pythagorean record, the Phillies season would be in serious trouble. As it stands right now, the team is probably fine. Three games is a single series, and the Marlins have faded in the summer months in seasons past.

Solutions: Let’s wait to see how Thome starts to do. This team isn’t crushing the ball the way they ought to, so there is a lot of blame to go around: Thome, Abreu and Bell all have slugging percentages below .400. The three have 17 XBH’s in 19 games combined. Pat Burrell has hit more home runs (5) they have combined (3). We expect Abreu to be more of an OBP kind of guy and we forecasted Bell’s foibles at the plate, but Thome’s struggles have been epic. He’s never looked this awful before and he is a traditionally slow starter. When your leadoff man is out-slugging you (Rollins: .364 v. Thome: .350), you are in trouble.

I’d like to see the Phillies … (as I slip into armchair quarterback mode) … make Chase Utley a full-timer and bump him up to fifth in the batting order behind Burrell. The only other guys on the team hitting the ball with any authority are Kenny Lofton (with a rather eye-popping .175 ISO), Pat Burrell (.284 ISO) and Chase Utley (.219). If the Phillies want to see Placido Polanco in the lineup let’s drop David Bell for a while until his back heals and put Polanco in.

Interesting fact: I was scanning The Hardball Times stats and I noticed something very interesting. The most unlucky team in the MLB right now are the Milwaukee Brewers: at 6-11 they have lost all six close games and their Pythagorean record should be 9-8. Here are the current NL Central Standings:

St. Louis: 11-5
Chicago: 8-9
Cincinnati: 8-9
Houston: 8-9
Pittsburgh: 6-11
Milwaukee: 6-11

Here are what the Pythagorean records should look like:

St. Louis: 10-7
Houston: 10-7
Milwaukee: 9-8
Chicago: 9-8
Cincinnati: 7-10
Pittsburgh: 4-14

I think the Brew crew is going to play .500 ball this season.

And anyone else shocked (and a little smug) with how badly the Yankees look? They have the worst defense in the AL (by far, I might add) and the tenth best pitching staff in terms of FIP ERA. They are still potent at the plate (though their batting average with balls put into play – BABIP –is .312, better than the AL average of .299, which suggests they’ve been a little lucky at the plate), but they look pretty much exactly like last year’s model: all offense and no defense. At this rate I think the Red Sox are going to crush them for the division title and I’m intrigued by how this might embolden small-market also-rans like the Blue Jays and Devil Rays to get into the mix and compete with the Evil Empire instead of selling off players.

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