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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Spotlight on David Dellucci 

At the risk of saying something that sounds insanely random, I’ve never liked the number two. I don’t like how it looks on players uniforms. And how often do sequels stink? (“City Slickers 2”?; “Basic Instinct 2”?) Good sequels will at least put theirs in roman numerals (e.g., “The Godfather, Part II”). And John Adams, contrary to David McCullough’s … well, “John Adams”, was a terrible President. Which number was he? #2.

And Derek Jeter is #2. ‘Nuff said.

With all of that said, I was prepared to dislike David Dellucci strictly because he wore the #2. That and he also played for the Rangers and seemed to me, after a cursory glance at his career stats, to be a one-dimensional slugger.

I have to admit that I couldn’t be more wrong. Dellucci is turning out to be a terrific player and I sincerely hope that the Phillies make a major effort to resign him in the off-season and bring him back as their starting right-fielder in 2007. If the Phillies make the playoffs as a wildcard I would credit Dellucci’s sterling play down the stretch as a major factor.

So what has David Dellucci done for the 2006 season? Let’s start with his sterling August performance thus far:

OBP: .519
SLG: .786
ISO: .381
GPA: .379
HR: 5
RBI: 12
BB/K: 10/5

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
Gross Productive Average (GPA): (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.
Isolated Power (ISO): .SLG - .BA = .ISO. Measures a player’s raw power by subtracting singles from their slugging percentage.
On-Base Percentage (OBP): How often a player gets on base. (H + BB + HBP) / (Plate Appearances)
Slugging Percentage (SLG): Total Bases / At-Bats = Slugging Percentage. Power at the plate.

This is an August that players dream about. Dellucci has gotten some real playing time now that Bobby Abreu has moved on and Charlie Manuel seems intent on resting Pat Burrell whenever possible. Dellucci has responded by delivering much-needed power to the Phillies lineup. Bobby Abreu, for all of his considerable skill at the plate, was not a power hitter. His ISO with the Phillies this season was just .157, well off the team average of .182, and off of the league average of .163. Thus far with the Yankees he’s continued this downward trend, lowering his ISO to just .114.

For all of Bobby’s talents you have to wonder if the Phillies aren’t better off with him out of top of the order and a player with Dellucci’s skills into the lineup. Bobby worked the count and got on base, but he never advanced runners home the way he ought to as the clean-up hitter. David is a power hitter who advances runners. It may be sacrilegious to say this, but maybe the Phillies offense is functioning better without Bobby than with him because now the Phillies won’t have an OBP machine hitting third or fourth, instead of first or second, which is where Bobby should have been hitting but didn’t want to. Now the Phillies have a powerful bat advancing the runners. Instead of drawing a walk when there is a runner on second, as Abreu might do, now Dellucci smashes a home run or a double and gets the guy around to home.

It is a theory. What is fact is that Dellucci is a terrific slugger. Check out his slugging percentages from the previous seasons:

2004: .441
2005: .513
2006: .634
Career: .455

Let’s take a look at ISO to see how powerful his bat has really been:

2004: .199
2005: .262
2006: .301
Career: .190

That is pretty good. What is even more impressive to me is the fact that Dellucci is slightly older than Abreu (six months), and yet while Bobby has seems to have lost power at the plate, Dellucci has discovered it.

However, Dellucci is not a one-dimensional player. He is rather adept at working the count and drawing walks. Note that this month he has twice as many walks (10) as strikeouts (5). Look at the last three seasons to see how skilled Dellucci is at drawing walks:

2004: .121
2005: .147
2006: .100
Career: .106

Walks per plate appearance (BB/PA): BB / PA = .BB/PA Avg

That is pretty impressive. Unlike a free-swinger like Aaron Rowand, for example, Dellucci understands the importance of working a count. Look at his pitches-per-plate appearance:

P / PA:
2004: 4.1
2005: 4.2
2006: 4.0

This season Dellucci is one of the Phillies most patient batters. He is tied for third on the team in pitches-per-plate appearance with Ryan Howard, just behind Bobby Abreu and Pat Burrell:

P / PA:
Abreu: 4.2
Burrell: 4.1
Howard: 4.0
Dellucci: 4.0
Utley: 3.9
Coste: 3.8
Rollins: 3.7
Nunez: 3.7
Bell: 3.7
Victorino: 3.5
Rowand: 3.4
Lieberthal: 3.2

The Phillies are, collectively, the third most patient team of batters in the NL, drawing 3.83 pitches per plate appearance. I think that patience is a major factor in why the Phillies are the best offensive team in the NL: no team wears down a pitcher better than the Phillies, drawing walks and forcing the opposition to exhaust themselves trying to get outs. What I like about Dellucci is that he is a “grinder”, someone who makes the pitcher work for his outs, but unlike Bobby Abreu, he doesn’t seem to sacrifice power to draw walks and lengthen at-bats.

The Phillies offense is arguably much more potent with Dellucci replacing Abreu: I looked at Runs Created per 27 Outs and I was surprised by what I saw:

Coste: 9.9
Abreu: 8.3
Dellucci: 8.2
Howard: 7.7
Utley: 7.5
Burrell: 6.1

Runs Created (RC): A stat originally created by Bill James to measure a player’s total contribution to his team’s lineup. Here is the formula: [(H + BB + HBP - CS - GIDP) times ((S * 1.125) + (D * 1.69) + (T * 3.02) + (HR * 3.73) + (.29 * (BB + HBP – IBB)) + (.492 * (SB + SF + SH)) – (.04 * K))] divided by (AB + BB + HBP + SH+ SF). If you use ESPN’s version be advised that it is pitifully is out-of-date, however. James adjusted RC after the 2004 season ended.
RC/27: Runs Created divided by outs made, multiplied by 27. Essentially what a team of 9 of this particular player would score in a hypothetical game.

The result changes if we work off of an alternative stat called BaseRuns:

Abreu: 7.20
Dellucci: 8.72

Base Runs:
A: H + BB + HBP – HR
B: (.8 * 1B) + (2.1 * 2B) + (3.4 * 3B) + (1.8 * HR) + (.1*(BB + HBP))
C: AB – H

Then simply divide B into B + C, then multiply A to the result and add D.

I will caution that while I like Base Runs, partly because it has an easier formula, it is a little more biased towards power hitting and Runs Created might give a more accurate and balanced picture of how a player contributes to his team.

Two last points before I wrap up. First, Dellucci’s bat is far more economical for the Phillies to have than Abreu’s. Here are their 2006 salaries:

Abreu: $13,000,000
Dellucci: $995,000

Bobby Abreu’s salary goes up to $15 million in 2007, so the Phillies made a smart, smart play by going out and pawning him off on the Yankees. Yes, it was little more than a salary dump, and the players the Phillies got in the deal may never turn out to be major leaguers, but the Phillies did the right thing by getting Bobby’s salary off the books. Dellucci is apparently a free agent in the off-season and apparently expressed disinterest in re-signing with the Phillies, but I think that the Phillies might be able to keep him. Even if the Phillies have to triple his salary for 2007, it would be worth it. They would get a player who could contribute 80% to 100% of what Bobby does for just 20% of the price.

Second, David Dellucci is a much, much better fielder than Bobby Abreu. I am going to quote, verbatim, The Fielding Bible’s assessment of Dellucci: “[He] plays without fear in the outfield will go to any length, even physical harm, to make a catch. He can play all three outfield positions but he profiles best in left field because of his poor throwing arm. He doesn’t cover enough ground for center and his arm is too weak for right.” So yes, Dellucci might be a better bet to replace Pat Burrell, but I bet he could play right in a pinch if the Phillies don’t deal Burrell in the off-season. (If they do I’d expect to see Dellucci in left, Victorino in right and Rowand in center in 2007.) There is little doubt that Dellucci would be a better right fielder, even with a suspect arm, than Abreu. Once more I will quote from The Fielding Bible, this time on Abreu: “[Abreu] has been accused of having lapses in concentration, fear of diving for balls or running into walls on the warning track, and just not giving a maximum effort in the field. He often gets bad jumps on the ball and in the past has let a lot of balls get in front of him.” All of this was said in an assessment that mocked baseball’s decision to award Bobby a 2005 Gold Glove. Phillies fans who have seen Abreu flounder in the field know this is correct and accurate. He is a terrible fielder. George Will once asked, in the context of why the Hall of Fame was reluctant to elect Richie Ashburn to the Hall, why a double denied on defense wasn’t as admired or appreciated as a double hit at the plate. When considering Bobby’s replacement, why not factor Dellucci’s enthusiasm on defense into the equation? He may not be the best right fielder, but he’s going to try and surely he couldn’t have done worse than Abreu did.

In the final analysis, I hope that the Phillies make a major effort to re-sign Dellucci in the off-season. He is a terrific player and is rapidly becoming a vital cog in the Phillies march (hopefully) towards the post-season.

The Phillies continue to hang in the wildcard race, advancing to third now, two & 1/2 games back of the Reds. Let's hope the Reds lose one of these days!

Indeed, the SPOTLIGHT really is on Dellucci with the recent injury to Rowand. Time to glow or blow...my vote for the 1st option!
I didn't find out about Rowand's injury into a few minutes ago, so this is definately big, big news for the Phils. With Dellucci in right, Victorino in center and Burrell in left, Dellucci is going to be even more important for the Phillies.
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