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, June 24, 2005

What's Wrong With Jon Lieber? 

… when asked to rank what the Phillies biggest off-season moves were, I didn’t hesitate to state that allowing Eric Milton to leave via free agency was a good decision, maybe the biggest. I also didn’t hesitate to praise their decision to sign Yankees hurler Jon Lieber to a three year deal. Lieber was a vastly under-rated pitcher who would thrive at Citizens, I believed. Now, nearly half-way through the 2005 campaign, I’m less than pleased with the decision. I tend to think Lieber will be fine, but if you were to ask me to grade the Phillies decisions in the off-season I’d grade Milton's walk an A and Lieber's signing a D.

Here’s why:

Lieber is currently a respectable 8-6, but his pitching stats reveal some problems:

ERA: 4.63
FIP: 5.47
WHIP: 1.31
K/9: 5.19
BB/9: 1.89
HR/9: 1.89

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I talk about defined:
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).
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.
G/F – Groundball-to-Flyball ratio.
Hr/9 – Home Runs allowed per nine innings.
K/9 – Strikeouts per nine innings.
BB/9 – Walks per nine innings.

He’s surrendered 20 home runs and walks in 95 and a third innings so far this season. To get some comparison I note that Lieber surrendered 20 homers and 18 walks all last season (176 innings) with the Yankees. So Lieber is off. Here is what he did with the Yankees in 2004:

ERA: 4.33
FIP: 3.94
WHIP: 1.32
K/9: 5.19
BB/9: 0.92
HR/9: 1.01

WHIP, K’s and ERAs are basically in-line with one another, but Lieber has almost doubled his walks and home runs allowed. As a result he's running badly behind his FIP, a stark contrast to 2004 when he ran ahead of it.

What is particularly striking to me is the fact that one of the reasons I felt Lieber would prosper with the Phillies, his ability to get opposing batters to hit groundballs, is something he's mostly retained:

2005 G/F ratio: 1.35
2004 G/F ratio: 1.43

Fairly constant. The Phillies have also given Lieber a lot of help defensively. Lieber left a pretty poor defensive alignment in New York and joined a team that plays some pretty good D:

2005 DER: .733
2004 DER: .677

Lieber's getting pretty good play behind him, so his struggles aren't based on team play. I hate to concede it, but Lieber's problem appears to be partly his environment. Unlike Eric Milton, whose struggles were never adequately explained by his ballpark then or now, Lieber really does struggle at home as compared with the road:

Road / Home
ERA: 3.83 / 5.56
WHIP: 1.18 / 1.47
HR/9: 1.74 / 2.06
BB/9: 1.74 / 2.06

Lieber has surrendered 10 home runs and walks on the road and at home each, but he pitched eight fewer innings at home than the road. As I said, environment is partly to blame, but not entirely. Lieber's walks and home runs are badly off what he did in 2004. It might be unreasonable to expect Lieber to duplicate his ridiculously stingey walk total from '04, but his home runs are far too high.

So what's wrong with Lieber? Citizens hasn't been a whole lot of fun for him, but he's clearly off. Was 2004 a fluke for him? Is he suffering through arm trouble? We'll have to wait-and-see. Let's hope Lieber starts on the road to recovery tonight against the Red Sox.

(11) comments

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Musings on Crash Davis.... 

One of my favorite scenes in the movie Bull Durham is the scene in which Kevin Costner’s Crash Davis reflects on the failure of his baseball career: .250 hitters like him didn’t make it and .300 hitters did, and why? Do you know what the difference is between a guy hitting .250 and a guy hitting .300 he asks Tim Robbins character? A hit. A single, solitary hit every week. A bloop fly falling in for a single.

i.e., Luck. The old timers (cough, Larry Bowa, cough) call it skill and stubbornly cling to the idea that .300 hitters are .300 hitters because they are skilled at what they do. Sabremetricians scoff and note that there is a fair amount of luck involved for some players. Some players are just luckier than others.

A nice stat I take a look at, from time-to-time, is BABIP, or Batting Average of Balls Put Into Play. It gives you an idea about how lucky a batter is. Here are the Phillies BABIP stats:

(Min. 100 Plate Apperances)
RF Abreu: .353
SS Rollins: .296
LF Burrell: .357
3B Bell: .298
2B Utley: .345
1B Thome: .279
C Lieberthal: .236
IF Polanco: .322
OF Michaels: .324
CF Lofton: .435
Team: .308
League: .299

There is a fair amount of luck out there for guys like Kenny Lofton. What is striking to me is how Jimmy Rollins continues to struggle. A .316 OBP doesn’t cut it for a leadoff guy, and he can’t chalk up his struggles due to bad luck at the plate. The sole Phillie really struggling at the plate with bad karma is Mike Lieberthal. I think he’ll improve, but it is appropriate that the Phillies hard-luck case is a catcher … just like Crash Davis.

For all you fantasy baseballers, you might want to drop Kenny Lofton from your teams. He’s not going to continue at his blistering pace.

So as you can see from above, the Phillies are slightly lucky. Here are the team BIBIPs:

Colorado: .312
Florida: .310
Philadelphia: .308
Washington: .307
Cincinnati: .305
San Francisco: .304
Chicago: .302
St. Louis: .300
New York: .299
Pittsburgh: .298
San Diego: .298
Arizona: .296
Los Angeles: .296
Milwaukee: .292
Atlanta: .286
Houston: .277
League: .299

I think it ought to be worrisome to Florida fans to see their team struggle while having some luck: if you think runs are hard to come by now…

Quick word on the pennant races. As I write this the standings are:

Washington: 41-30
Philadelphia: 38-33
Atlanta: 37-33
Florida: 34-33
New York: 34-36

If we were working off pythagorean win-losses, it would be…

Atlanta: 40-30
Florida: 36-31
Philadelphia: 36-35
New York: 35-35
Washington: 34-37

Quite a role-reversal. My thoughts are this: this pennant race is far from over. Any of these teams can win it and I think that the only team on borrowed time are the Nats. Buckle up, because we’ve got a heck of a ride!

(5) comments

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Alumni Profile: Eric Milton 

Admit it, you knew I'd get around to this topic sooner or later.

I’ve said that the smartest thing that the Phillies did in the off-season was an omission: namely re-signing Eric Milton. On paper Milton was the team’s ace: his 14 wins led the team, as did his 161 strikeouts. His high (4.75 ERA) was explained away by the fact that he pitched in a hitters park like Citizens.

Bloggers like myself snorted and laid into Milton: his road ERA (5.12) was actually higher than his home ERA (4.40) and he gave up more home runs on the road (23) than at home (20), in eight fewer innings. Worse, Milton benefited from strong defense behind him, so his “fielding independent” stats were much, much worse. I was happy to see him leave, cheered by the Yankees interest in him and dumbfounded when the Cincinnati Reds signed him. Great American Ballpark, along with Citizens, has a reputation for being a hitters paradise. Did the Reds realize what they had done when they signed Milton to their team, I wondered?

Evidentially not.

Eric Milton is a talented pitcher and clearly the Minnesota Twins and Phillies had high hopes he'd develop into a stud pitcher. The Twins and Phillies tried and cut the cord when they could. The suspect the Reds will seek to do the same. To say that Eric Milton is having a rough season is an understatement:

Win-Loss: 3-9
ERA: 7.82
WHIP: 1.71

What is an eye-popping stat to me are his home runs per 9 innings:

2005: 2.78
2004: 1.92
Career: 1.53

That is a tremendous jump. But if you think that Milton's struggles are a product of Great American, check this out:

Road: 10 home runs allowed, 29 2/3 innings (3.03 per 9 innings)
Home: 15 home runs allowed, 52 innings (2.60 per 9 innings)

Again, the argument that Milton is a victim of his environment (namely his ballpark) just untrue. It is a crutch Milton's defenders have falsely relied upon. The interesting thing to me is that Milton isn't pitching that appreciably worse this years rather than last: his FIP is 6.83, about a run and a half higher than last year's FIP.

There you go: the Phillies strongest offseason move was an omission.

(5) comments

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Road Ahead... 

A 12-1 home-stand, a 2-4 road-stand … sense the ebb and flow of the Phillies season? The Phillies are a formidable 22-11 at home and 16-21 on the road. Naturally teams play better at home than on the road, but the Phillies look especially lost when they travel on the road. I wonder if the psychological aspects of Citizens Bank weigh on their minds when they play in a place like Safeco Field or Petco Park.

I was curious about that so I played around a little and here is what I found out. Check out Home Slugging Percentage to date:

Slugging Percentage (Top 5):
1. Philadelphia: .480
2. Colorado: .479
3. Cincinnati: .473
4. Chicago: .468
5. Arizona: .466

The Phillies rank fourteenth in road slugging percentage (.361), a .119 variance. Check out Home ISO:

ISO (Top 5):
1. Cincinnati: .205
2. Chicago: .193
3. Arizona: .185
4. Philadelphia: .184
5. Milwaukee: .177

The Phillies are sixteenth of sixteen teams in road ISO (.110) … The conclusion that the casual observer would derive from that would be to say: “The Phillies benefit from the cozy confines of Citizens Bank Ballpark…” But check out statistics that don’t key off of Citizens, things like OBP:

Home OBP (Top 5):
1. Philadelphia: .379
2. Colorado: .369
3. Arizona: .354
4. Florida: .354
5. St. Louis: .353

The Phillies only rank seventh in road OBP (.329) …

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats defined:
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)
BB / PA (Walks per plate appearance): (BB / PA = .BB/PA Avg)

Now in the interest of full disclosure I’ll concede that the Phillies rank first in walks-per-plate-appearance on the road and at home, but there is little doubt that this team plays more aggressively and confidently at home than on the road. Watching the Phillies flail at pitches in the Seattle series gave me that clue.

The home confidence is going to come in handy in the coming weeks. From now until the end of July the Phillies play 22 of their next 29 games at home. Aside from a trip to Queens to face-off with the Mets and a four game set in the Three Rivers with the Pirates, the Phillies will be playing every game at home for the next month (until July 25). The team used the home-stand to vault from fifth to second place. They need to take advantage of this opportunity and bury the surprising Nationals. Circle July 8-10 on your calendars: the Phillies play a three game set at Citizens before the All-Star Break. I think that will be the date that will make-or-break the Phillies season.

A word about my blogging habits: I’ve fallen behind over the last few months in my blogging due to my job and home-buying. When I was studying for the bar exam I blogged to take my mind off the horrific test that awaited me at the end of the summer and I think the number-crunching helped me focus my mind. These days I have a lot less discretionary time, but I want people who write comments and email me to know that while I may take a few days to get back to you or if I don’t respond to comments, I do read what you have to say and take it into account. Comments, constructive or destructive, keep me going and interested. So please, keep ‘em coming.

(137) comments

Monday, June 20, 2005

D-fens, Part III 

Sorry for the delay in this post: I ended up getting busy doing painting last week and fell behind in blogging.

I don't have much to say about the Oakland / Seattle road trip than to note that I should have realized that the Phillies would have struggled more against the Mariners and A's because they'd be playing in pitchers parks against teams due for a break-out. The A's in particular looked dangerous going into the series. As badly as it went, I'm cheered by the fact we are still in second place.

So, defense. First, here are definitions for the stats I use:

Zone Rating (ZR): Is a stat which measures a player’s defensive ability by measuring plays they should have made. Admittedly, this is a stat left open to subjective opinions.
Range Factor (RF): (Putouts + Assists) * 9 / IP. Essentially measures how much a player is involved in defensive plays.

How does the Phillies outfield stack up?

Pat Burrell; Leftfield

I'm a big fan of Pat Burrell. I think he's done great things at the plate this season. But I won't argue anything aside from the fact that he's an average defensive outfielder. Right now his .879 ZR for left is fifth amongst 12 LF's. Burrell doesn't seem to have much of an arm: he's dead-last amongst LF's in Range Factor.

Mike Humphries Defense Regression Analysis (DRA) rated Burrell at -12, .i.e., Pat Burrell's glove-work cost the Phillies 12 runs. That is the worst amongst the seven LF's Mike looked at.

Bobby Abreu; Rightfield

Again, just as with Pat Burrell, I like Abreu, I like what he's doing at the plate, but Abreu is below-average defensively. Ninth amongst 12 NL RF's in Zone Rating. Abreu's arm is much better than Burrell's: he's 8th of 12 in Range Factor. Abreu was rated -4 in DRA, worst of the six RF's.

Kenny Lofton; Centerfield

It is a little difficult to rate Kenny Lofton because he's missed so much time at centerfield. Jason Michaels, the Phillies 4th outfielder, has actually logged more total innings than Lofton (310 to 272), though Lofton has played in center more (272 to 248).

If Kenny Lofton qualified with enough innings he'd be one of the best NL CF's: his 3.10 Range Factor would be first (current leader Bradley Clark: 2.78), and Lofton would rank 4th of 12 in Zone Rating. Not too shabby.

Bench: Endy Chavez and Jason Michaels. I find it difficult to rate Chavez because he's had so little playing time, but Michaels is playing fairly well. Michael is really the perfect 4th outfielder: tough bat off the bench, good glove. Can't ask for much more than that. Check out Fielding Win Shares per 1,000 innings:

Lofton: 5.88
Burrell: 1.71
Abreu: 2.43
Michaels: 5.16

Pretty good stuff.

Conclusions: The Phillies outfield defense is pretty weak. Burrell and Abreu are hitters and aren't particularly skilled at the art of defense. (Abreu in particular looks like he's thinking about his next at-bat more than playing right.) Lofton and Michaels are good outfielders, but the Phillies aren't blessed with strong outfield play. Good but not great.

Tomorrow, I have a few logs on the fire. I want to take a look at David Bell and take a look at some Phillies alums in the coming day, starting with my favorite (hah) pitcher, Eric Milton.

(2) comments

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