Monday, November 20, 2006
I’ll talk a little more about McNabb and the Eagles over at The Bird Blog, but rest assured that the Eagles season is finished. No playoffs. .500 is what this team is shooting for. In the next six games they have to play the Indy Colts, the Carolina Panthers, the entire NFC East on the road (Cowboys, Redskins and Giants) and the Falcons. Getting three wins is going to be a major achievement. Another 6-10 finish is likely.
The Cubs apparently inked a major eight-year deal with Alfonso Soriano worth $136 million bucks. $17 million a year. I doubt that the Phillies could have realistically gone that high, committing that much money over such a lengthy period of time. The deal might have made the Phillies a winner in the short-term, but in the long term the Phillies would have been regretting that deal. Now the Cubs seem committed to spending money like drunk sailors to reverse last season’s humiliating six-place, worse-than-the-Pittsburgh-Pirates-finish. I sincerely doubt that the Cubs can go from worst to first that quickly, even with a new manager and a brand spanking new outfielder like Soriano.
So where does all of this leave the Phillies? No Soriano. Not that the name has been mentioned much, but Nomar Garciaparra is off the table, having inked a two-year deal in L.A. to return to the Dodgers. The last remaining big-time free agent is J.D. Drew, which is to say that the Phillies are out of options because negotiating with Drew and his shark of an agent, Scott Boras, is not an option given the bad blood between the two sides. Count on George Bush breaking bread with Saddam Hussein before that happens.
Now watch as the Phillies to shift their focus towards signing Mike Piazza to catch and play part-time in the outfield for 2007, and for the Phillies to try and bring back Randy Wolf and upgrade the pitching staff. But make no mistake: Soriano’s signing brings Pat Gillick’s 2007 plans to a crashing halt. This will be a rough season.
More on the Eagles later on today at The Bird Blog. Now for Part II of my 2006 Season in Review.
-Another year goes by, another complaint about the quality of the Phillies pitching. It feels like a frustrating cycle that the Phillies have been locked into, even before they started playing at Citizens Bank Ballpark. The Phillies just haven’t pitched well in years. Since 2002 they have ranked ninth, eighth, thirteenth, tenth and eleventh in ERA in the National League. Aside from ’03 they’ve been a second-tier team pitching-wise for years. The great Phillies teams that went to the World Series were built around their starting pitching: the Wiz Kids and Robin Roberts and the ’80 Phillies and Steve Carlton. The ’93 team had a great corps of pitchers, including Curt Schilling. Until the Phillies revamp their pitching staff, they are going to be stuck in neutral.
Here is how bad the Phillies pitchers were in 2006:
Team FIP ERA: 2006
1. Los Angeles: 4.12
2. Houston: 4.21
3. San Diego: 4.22
4. Arizona: 4.32
5. New York: 4.36
6. Milwaukee: 4.39
7. Colorado: 4.41
8. Pittsburgh: 4.47
9. San Francisco: 4.52
10. Florida: 4.54
11. Atlanta: 4.57
12. Philadelphia: 4.59
13. Cincinnati: 4.65
14. St. Louis: 4.77
15. Washington: 4.85
16. Chicago: 4.86
League Average: 4.49
Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to 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: (HR * 9) / IP
K/9 – Strikeouts per nine innings: (K * 9) / IP
BB/9 – Walks per nine innings: (BB * 9) / IP
Alright … notice anything interesting? Perhaps the fact that the Colorado Rockies had a better team FIP ERA than the Phillies? Yes, the Rockies, a collection of no-name pitchers playing 50% of their games in the mile high altitude pitched better than the Phillies did. Either that humidor was really working this year or the Citizens Bank excuse is wearing real thin. The Phillies can and should pitcher better than that. They’d better.
How did the Phillies do in 2006? Well, they ranked fifth in terms of strikeouts, so the Phils did have success in getting strikeouts last season thanks to Brett Myers and Cole Hamels. However, the Phillies also ranked eleventh in terms of walks allowed and, most problematically, fifteenth in terms of home runs allowed and sixteenth in terms of slugging percentage allowed. As usual ,every season the Citizens Bank problem has to be discussed. Once more I note that Citizens friendliness towards home run hitters is not a crutch the Phillies pitchers can lean on. The 2006 Phillies ranked eleventh in the N.L. in home runs allowed on the road and eleventh in slugging percentage allowed on the road. They did not get the job done. Again.
Originally I assumed that the Phillies problem in 2006 would be that they were going to have difficulty holding onto leads thanks to a shaky bullpen. I was wrong. They had quite the opposite problem: always falling behind and playing catch-up. The 2006 Phillies starting pitchers ranked fourteenth in terms of ERA at 5.08, while the Phillies relief corps ranked third in ERA at 3.79. We’ll start with the Phillies biggest problem: their rotation.
The Starting Rotation. Twelve different players started games for the Phillies in 2006. I’ll discuss Aaron Fultz (one start) in the bullpen section, along with Eude Brito (two starts). Ryan Madson will be counted as a starter because he hurled seventeen starts, fifth-most on the team prior to being moved to the bullpen.
The Phillies starting rotation fluxuated by Jon Lieber and Brett Myers were constants all season long, joined later on by Cole Hamels. The three started the most games for the Phillies and generally speaking pitched well. Ryan Madson, Gavin Floyd and Scott Mathieson all tried to join the rotation but were forced to go thanks to poor performances. The late Cory Lidle was dealt to the Yankees, while Randy Wolf and Jamie Moyer joined the team late in the season.
We’ll talk about each person separately:
Brett Myers. Naturally, this will be a season that Brett Myers will want to forget, and I'd like to note that the Phillies as a team displayed stunning insensitivity towards the victim, Kim Myers, in particular and the issue of domestic violence in general. That said, Brett did pitch well in 2006, just like in 2005. After Cole Hamels, he was probably the Phillies best starter.
FIP ERA: 4.17 (+0.26)
Myers posted the fourth-best strikeout rate in the N.L., but tied for fifth in the N.L. in home runs allowed (depressingly, he was tied with Mr. “It’s Outta Here!” himself, the Cincinnati Reds Eric Milton). Allowing home runs seems to be a problem Brett has. Look at his numbers for the last three seasons:
Oh, and if you are wondering, in the full season that Brett pitched for the Phillies before the team moved to Citizens, in 2003, his home runs allowed per nine innings were just 0.93.
As much as I dislike Brett for what happened in Boston, I have to admit that the team would be foolish to deal him. He’s young (just 26), he’s got great stuff on the mound and he gets the job done. After Cole Hamels, Brett’s FIP ERA is best amongst the starting pitchers.
Cole Hamels. Cole Hamels was easily the Phillies best pitcher in 2006. Hamels went quickly from rookie sensation to staff ace this season. Let’s take a quick look at Cole’s stats:
FIP ERA: 3.96 (-0.12)
Where to begin? It is hard not to be impressed by what Cole did in 2006. Had he posted enough innings to qualify, he led have led the N.L. in strikeouts per nine innings over the Padres J. Peavy at 9.56. What really impressed me was how Cole became such a dominating pitcher down the stretch. He lowered his ERA after the All-Star Break from 5.44 to 3.39, and Cole’s ERA for August and September was just 2.59. He really cut down on his walks rate, from allowing 4.84 per nine innings before the break to allowing just 2.46 per nine.
Look at the line-drive percentages: 17.7% of the balls he allowed to be put into play were line-drives, the best amongst the starters:
Why is that significant? Well, assuming that 75% of all line-drives fall in for outs, then a pitcher who doesn’t allow line-drives helps his defense by making lots balls put into play into routine outs. Cole didn’t allow the opposition to do much with the ball and helped the Phillies defense immensely. The only Phillies pitcher with a better Defense Efficiency Ratio (DER) than Cole (.714) was Jamie Moyer (.753).
The only thing I didn’t like about Cole’s performance last season was the fact that his groundball to flyball ratio was 0.97, easily one of the worst amongst the starters:
Is that a big concern? Well, it didn’t hurt Cole much in 2006 – his home ERA was 3.97, lower than his 4.17 road ERA – but it might just come back to bite him in the butt next season. Cole’s home runs allowed at home were much higher than on the road: 1.53 vs. 1.10.
Still, the future is very bright for Cole Hamels and I expect him to slide into the role of team ace without a second thought next season.
Jon Lieber. I’ve said this, time and again, and I am worried about gnawing on this like a bone, but I really felt that the Phillies made an extremely savvy move in 2004 when they inked Lieber to a three deal deal for $7 million a year. I was bitterly disappointed by Lieber’s performance in 2005, when he went 17-13 with a 4.20 ERA. I was unhappy with two facts: Lieber wasn’t quite as stingy with walks allowed in 2005 (1.69) as he had been as a Yankee in 2004 (0.91). Lieber also surrendered 33 home runs to opposing hitters, a major factor in his 4.20 ERA.
Still I had held out hope that he would rebound with a better season in 2006 after he finished so strong in ’05. That … really did not happen at all. Lieber surrendered a greater number of home runs per nine innings pitched (1.45 to 1.36) than he did in 2005 and was a much less effective pitcher in 2006 than 2005:
FIP ERA: 4.60 (-0.33)
The thing that I like about Jon Lieber is his control. It is scary good. Over the last three seasons he’s surrendered 1.37 walks every nine innings. The average MLB pitcher gives up twice that, at least. He’s a little like Robin Roberts, the great Phillies pitcher I profiled in my Wiz Kids series. His 1.29 walks per nine innings was the best in the N.L. in 2006.
The problem that Lieber has been having is that he’s not keeping the ball down and he’s allowing a lot of line-drives. I can’t really fault Citizens much for that either, because his home runs rate is only marginally better on the road than at home: (1.39 vs. 1.49). Lieber still gets hitters to put the ball on the ground, but he’s had less success at it since he became a Phillie:
2006 was the second year in a row he surrendered a line-drive rate approaching 22%: he allowed 21.7% in 2006 and 21.5% in 2005. Lieber isn’t doing his fielders any favors with that line-drive rate: since he doesn’t strike many people out, Lieber can’t allow that many line-drives when the ball is put into play. The Phillies do a good job behind him, so this is pretty much Lieber’s problem.
To illustrate the lack of success Jon Lieber has had as a Phillie is evident from the fact that he’s logged just fifteen wins shares in the last two seasons. Perhaps Jon Lieber will have a spectacular season in 2007, his walk year. I doubt it, but it might happen. Then the Phillies decision to sign Lieber, a move I applauded two years ago, will be proven wise. As it stands, I think it was a bad move.
Cory Lidle. The late Cory Lidle was included as part of the deal that sent Bobby Abreu to New York to join the Yankees. Many people loudly complained that the Phillies got the raw end of the deal when they surrendered Cory Lidle, one of their starters in the run towards the playoffs, in order to make that deal happen. I just don’t see it. Cory Lidle’s final season with the Phillies was good, but certainly not spectacular by any stretch of the imagination. He was a good pitcher, but easily replaced.
Here were Lidle’s stats:
FIP ERA: 4.68 (-0.06)
Good but not that great. Lidle managed to increase his strikeouts significantly, from 5.9 in 2005 to 7.04 this season. It is hard not to be impressed by that. The problem that Lidle had in 2006 was that he gave up many more home runs and walks per nine innings than in the past. Lidle’s FIP ERA had been a run lower in 2004 and 2005: 3.52 and 3.60, which tells me his pitched much better for the Phillies in the past than he did in the present. So when the Phillies threw Lidle into the Abreu deal I think people were wrong to believe that the Phillies got fleeced: Lidle wasn’t pitching well.
So was trading him a mistake? I think not, but the deal is rendered moot by what happened a few weeks ago when he died in the plane crash, though you have to think and speculate that he may not have died that day in New York had he not been dealt to the Yankees. It is impossible to know, but you have to wonder how life might have been different …
Ryan Madson. The Ryan Madson experiment had a lot of ups and downs in 2006, but mostly downs. When Ryan Madson joined the Phillies in 2004 he had a terrific season and led most phloggers to think that he was going to be very special for the Phillies. Two abortive attempts to make Ryan into a starter in 2006 were met with abject failure. Here were Ryan’s stats:
FIP ERA: 4.93 (-0.76)
Ryan is a situation where I suspect he was the victim of his own problems: namely his propensity to allow line-drives probably directly affected his awful, awful DER.
There is no question that Ryan is a better reliever than a starter:
2006 Starter / Reliever:
ERA: 6.28 / 4.50
HR/9: 1.49 / 1.02
BB/9: 3.69 / 2.66
K/9: 6.08 / 7.77
I think the move back to the bullpen will solidify the Phillies ‘pen and help Ryan reclaim his career.
A major problem Ryan has to contend with has been his slide towards allowing flyballs:
I actually would not be surprised to see the Phillies rely on Ryan as their prime setup man or even their closer in 2007.
Gavin Floyd. Will the Gavin Floyd reclamation project succeed? I am not sure, I suppose we’ll have to see how Floyd does in the Arizona League this winter. Certainly a once-promising career was waylaid in 2006:
FIP ERA: 7.08 (-0.21)
After pitching well in limited action in 2004 and pitching a sterling game against the St. Louis Cardinals in 2005, Gavin Floyd’s career seemed to come unglued. He got shelled in his remaining games in 2005, ending the season with a 10.04 ERA. His strikeout/walk ratio was barely 1:1 in 2005 (17 K’s, 16 BB’s), just like in 2006 (34 K’s vs. 32 BB’s). As you go up and down Gavin Floyd’s stat-lines there is basically nothing to reassure you that his career stands much of a chance of being rescued. He gave up 14 home runs in 2006, in just 54 & 1/3 innings of work. He allows more flyballs than groundballs (0.97 G/F ratio). In the last two seasons he allowed nearly as many walks as he’s logged strikeouts: 48 to 51. Most damningly, after getting two Win Shares in 2004, Floyd posted -3 in 2005 and -1 last year, leaving him with -2 career Win Shares.
Maybe Gavin will turn his career around, but I’d put money on not seeing Gavin Floyd in a Phillies uniform ever again.
Jamie Moyer. The Phillies picked up Moyer in a September deal to try to give the rotation a solid, experienced starter to clam everyone down. Here is what Moyer did:
FIP ERA: 4.64 (+0.61)
I have a lot of puzzles over Moyer’s stats. 23.1% Line-Drives? That’s bad. Really bad. .753 DER? That’s really good. This is a situation where you can say that good defense can really rescue a pitcher from himself: allowing so many line-drives and having such a good DER means that the Phillies fielders bailed Moyer out a lot.
Moyer’s walk and home runs lines are interesting. He surrendered eight home runs and seven walks as a Phillie. Rare that a player not named Jon Lieber can do that. Unfortunately I suspect that the future for Jamie Moyer as a Phillie is not bright: in 2004, 2005 and 2006 his FIP ERA exceeded his real ERA and his real ERA hasn’t been that hot for a while. I’m not overly impressed by Moyer’s 1.03 groundball/flyball ratio either. Moyer seems like a pitcher who will get slammed in 2007.
Randy Wolf. I don’t know what the future holds for Randy Wolf. Based on his record his return from Tommy John surgery was a success, but there are lot of problems with Wolf’s record:
FIP ERA: 6.39 (+0.84)
Randy gave up a lot of home runs and a lot of walks: 13 and 33 in just 56 & 2/3 innings of work in 2006. Maybe he’ll get that under control in 2007, but I doubt it. Randy just did not pitch well last year. Another problem Randy has is that he’s a flyball pitcher. Check out his groundball/flyball ratios for the last three seasons:
I just don’t see how Randy Wolf will be able to survive with the Phillies in 2007 or why the team would want his back. Sure Randy has a nice resume from the last several seasons, but I think the team needs to be realistic.
Conclusions: The Phillies starters, with the exception of Cole Hamels and Brett Myers, were a major disappointment in 2006. They were amongst the worst in the N.L. in allowing home runs and walks and forced the Phillies to struggle to score runs to stay in ball games.
Meanwhile, the Phillies bullpen, which was precieved as a weakness going into 2006, actually turned into a strength:
Starters / Relievers
ERA: 5.08 / 3.79
FIP ERA: 4.84 / 4.22
HR/9: 1.50 / 0.95
BB/9: 3.01 / 3.41
K/9: 7.09 / 6.88
WHIP: 1.43 / 1.40
Ryan Franklin. I doubted the sanity of GM Pat Gillick when he decided to bring aboard Ryan Franklin. A flyball pitcher – he surrendered 33 and 28 home runs in 2004 and 2005 despite playing in a pitcher’s park with the Mariners – he was an awful candidate for success with the Phillies. Then Gillick and Charlie Manuel minimized the damage by sending Franklin to the bullpen and elevating Ryan Madson to the rotation. The result?:
FIP ERA: 5.69 (+1.10)
Where to begin? Too many home runs, not enough walks and he still benefited from great defense behind him. Bizarrely, the Phillies sent him to the Reds, who seem to have a fetish for home run-oriented ex-Phillies (see: Milton, Eric).
Aaron Fultz: Most people don’t appreciate this, but the Phillies have a good crew of setup men clustered around Tom Gordon, the Phillies closer. One of them is Fultz:
FIP ERA: 3.68 (-0.86)
Things I like about Aaron Fultz: he typically gives up fewer than one home run per nine innings. He gets strikeouts.
Things I don’t like about Aaron Fultz: he is a primarily flyball pitcher:
Interesting thing about Aaron Fultz: even though he surrendered nearly the same number of line-drives in 2006 as in 2005 (22.7% to 22%), the Phillies played much worse defense behind him in 2006: with a .665 DER compared to a .793 DER in 2005.
Geoff Geary. Geoff Geary doesn’t earn nearly as much as other Phillies pitchers ($350,000), but he’s a terrific set-up pitcher:
FIP ERA: 3.48 (+0.52)
Geary allowed quite a few walks, but generally kept the ball in the park and got a lot of K’s. After Tom Gordon he’s the Phillies best bullpen hurler.
Rick White. Rick White, meanwhile, joined the Phillies from the Reds and greatly impressed me.
FIP ERA: 4.40 (+0.06)
He actually cut his home runs allowed in half from his days as a Red. His walk numbers are a little high, but I’d generally say that he did a nice job in 2006.
Tom Gordon. Much to my surprise, Tom Gordon turned in a nice performance in 2006 as the Phillies closer.
W-L: 3-4 (34 Saves, 5 Blown Saves)
FIP ERA: 3.86 (+0.52)
Do things about Tom Gordon’s 2006 campaign make me nervous? Definitely. Gordon allowed twice as many line-drives in 2006 as he did in 2005 (11.6%). His home runs allowed were also up from his days as a Yankees, although that might be product of pitching at Citizens’ as opposed to Yankee Stadium. Gordon’s stats tailed off in the second half and Gordon himself will be 39 next season, so I am skeptical about the long-term viability of Tom Gordon as the Phillies closer, but in the here and now, he did well.
As many of you probably noticed, this section lacks a lot of my detail and passion that I usually write with. I’ve really begun to see the Phillies pitching staff as being a depressing issue for the team to deal with: with all of the talent they’ve got, they should be putting together better numbers, but here they are. This is the team’s achillies heel, the issue that is keeping them out of the big dance. Cole Hamels did great in 2006 and will hopefully be a force now and into the future. Brett Myers, if he turns a corner in his personal life, could be a force. But the Phillies have a mess after them: they have evidentially staked their fortunes to guys like Moyer, Lieber and the like. The Phillies rotation just isn’t strong enough. Yes, it did improve late in the season, but not enough, and that was largely due to Hamels putting things together.
The pitching staff needs to be much stronger next year. Much stronger.
Tune in tomorrow for offense and general conclusions.
Jamie Moyer - word from most sabremetricians I've heard is that Moyer is the classic outlier whose performance cannot be reasonably predicted by standard statistical rules of thumb. His numbers season on season have been erratic the last two years, but the NL's lack of familiarity with his pitching style give him an advantage, and he *will* pitch 7 innings a game easily (if he's let). He maintains good control and good WHIP - both better than Lieber. As a number 4/5 (and ideally he should be a number 5) he is fine as a pitcher and given a) his unpredictable nature and b) the NL's lack of familiarity with him, I expect a solid season out of him, although he will give up homeruns.
Randy Wolf - I'm still torn on him. Signing him is a gamble, no doubt. You correctly identified control as the major issue, but word on post-tommy john surgery is that contol is traditionally the last thing to return. Any of the games I saw fitted to a consistent pattern - good first two/three innings but a lot of pitches with control getting worse as the game went on. His K/9 were still good.
Tommy John is a new lease of life, and you'd have to assume (as compared to Adam Eaton, say), that Randy Wolf in all other respects will be free of injury concerns in 2007 (barring the usual horrible freak accidents which destroy player's careers). Had we not signed moyer, I'd be more for signing Randy. We have though, so I think wolf is more of a problem - wolf's control is too much of a gamble. IF we were to acquire a younger decent starter through a trade and losing lieber, then I would take the gamble knowing that 1-3 were in good shape. But it's still a gamble.
As a comedy character from the UK often says 'Yeah, but, No, but . . .'
Finally, I will differ with your assessment that the offseason is now a bust. Gillick and Manuel have stressed the importance of pitching and recognised that the FA market was an unlikely place to source that. But several teams have shown interest in rowand, and I'd hope that (possibly with lieber thrown in) we could get some pitching in return for a trade.
Soriano simply cannot have been the sole target for acquisition in the offseason - although gillick's preference for consistently evaluating and acquiring players on the basis of their athleticism is something I would question, he has shown himself to be a prudent man and to have put all his off-season eggs in one basket is entirely out of character.
Don't give up on the Phillies yet, I have a feeling Gillick will do something very creative. I had to write that to at least keep me frying crying about the Birds...
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