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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United States, Pennsylvania, Wexford, Christopher Wren, English, Michael, Male, 26-30, baseball , politics.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Focus on the Bench / Pinch-Hitting 

I had complained at the beginning of the season that the Phillies bench, previously a strength on the team, had virtually transformed over-night into a major weakness. Gone was Todd Pratt, the tough-nosed backup catcher. Gone was Jason Michaels, the dependable reserve outfielder who hit well and played all three outfield positions well. Gone was Tomas Perez, the backup infielder. Gone (midway through 2005) was Placido Polanco, the former starting second baseman who was a good glove and reliable bat off the bench.

To replace them Pat Gillick assembled Sal Fasano, Alex Gonzalez, Abraham Nunez, and David Dellucci and Shane Victorino. In my eyes, it is impossible to see how this group is anything but a downgrade.

Let’s start with a typical task of a bench player: pinch-hitting. Pinch-hitting is very difficult and the Phillies aren’t doing a particularly good job at it. In fact, the Phillies pinch-hitters are arguably the worst in the National League. The Phillies pinch-hitters hit .169 (23 of 136 At-Bats), which is dead-last in the NL. They were fifteenth in RBIs with just ten (two better than sixteenth-place Colorado), and dead-last in slugging percentage:

12. Mets: .317
13. Astros: .298
14. Rockies: .295
15. D-Backs: .286
16. Phillies: .274

The Phillies have primarily used three players as pinch-hitters: Nunez, Victorino and Dellicci. (Gonzalez has retired.) Dellucci has done well:

.268 BA, 11-for-41, with four doubles, two triples, a home run and eight RBIs. Dellucci’s slugging percentage as a pinch-hitter has been impressive: .537

Can’t say the same for Nunez and Victorino:

Nunez: .094 BA, .094 slugging percentage, 3-for-32 with no extra-base hits and one RBI.

Victorino: .231 BA, .231 slugging percentage, 6-for-26 with no extra-base hits and no RBIs.

This is clearly a phase of the game that the Phillies are really finding difficult. In all fairness to Pat Gillick, I should note that the Phillies weren’t that much better at pinch-hitting in 2005: .233 BA, with a .304 slugging percentage. Still, this seems like a team that has downgraded.

Specifically when it comes to playing positions in the field the bench looks lighter than it has in the past. Last week I talked in length about Nunez’s inabilities vis-à-vis David Bell, a player some have argued should replace Bell at third. I won’t rehash those discussions, but I think I showed that would be a lousy idea on the grounds that Nunez is a light-hitting utility infielder who would be a major downgrade from Bell offensively … mind you that Bell is a substandard hitter to begin with. Again, in all fairness to Gillick, I should note that Nunez isn’t that much of a downgrade compared to the light-hitting Perez, who had a .199 GPA last year, compared to Nunez’s .245. Nunez had a career year for the Cards and is probably the same player that Perez was. The point that I am making is that Nunez is no better than Perez, and Perez wasn’t much of a hitter to start. This is a position that the Phillies did not upgrade.

What about Victorino and Dellucci replacing Jason Michaels as the Phillies reserve outfielder?

I must admit that David Dellucci is having a decent season … okay, better than decent: .307 GPA, .278 ISO, with six home runs and seventeen RBIs in 100+ At-Bats. Michaels was an OBP machine (.399 OBP in 2005) without much power: .111 ISO in 2005. Dellucci is having a good season for the Phils off the bench.

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to 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)
SLG (Slugging Percentage): Power at the plate. (Total Bases / At-Bats = Slugging Percentage)
GPA (Gross Productive Average): (1.8 * .OBP + .SLG) / 4 = .GPA. Invented by The Hardball Times Aaron Gleeman, GPA measures a players production by weighing his ability to get on base and hit with power. This is my preferred all-around stat.

Victorino was picked up by the Phillies in 2004, so he wasn’t one of Gillick’s acquisitions. He has played extensively, and rather well, aside from his pinch-hitting:.259 GPA, .155 ISO … solid numbers … Defensively, Dellucci and Victorino seem to be capable gloves, at least comparable to Michaels.

With Mike Lieberthal returning to catching duties Sal Fasano returns to the role of backup catcher. Sal Fasano vs. Todd Pratt isn’t much of a fight. Fasano is a nightmare at the plate: .224 GPA, .143 ISO … Pratt may not have been much of a slugger (.394 slugging percentage in 2005), but he was a consistent bat. In his final season with the Phillies he posted a respectable .248 GPA. Fasano has been a terrible presence in the Phillies lineup. I hope Gillick casts him off quickly in the off-season.

Chris Coste, the 33-year-old rookie, is an interesting player, and has played alright in sparring duty. Coste has hit .242 GPA, with a .045 ISO. Coste has had some luck getting on base, but he’s displayed little power at the plate, with two doubles in fourteen hits and no home runs. Coste’s lack of power is a major hindrance at the plate. He has a nice biographical story, but he doesn’t add much to the Phillies roster.

In the final analysis, the Phillies bench is marginally worse off now that it was in 2005. What was a decent bench has become one of the worst in the NL. Bottom-line is that the Phillies are having real problems getting hits in pinch-hitting situations (makes you think that the Phillies might be better off batting their pitchers) and their bench has some real dregs on it (namely, Fasano and Nunez). True, the Phillies have a few bats, but they are few and far between. This team needs to upgrade the bench next year and add some depth to a thin unit.

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