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Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Newbies... 

I thought one of the most exciting things to emerge from the 2006 season were the contributions from several new players on the Phillies roster. The Newbies, and by that I principally mean Chris Coste and Carlos Ruiz, did a nice job in 2006 of contributing to the Phillies lineup. I think the fear that the Phillies farm system wasn’t producing players to enter the lineup and contribute is unfounded and these players convince me that the Phillies have good players in the pipeline. Today I plan on talking about Coste & Ruiz and add some comments about players like Michael Bourn, Chris Roberson and Danny Sandoval.

(No Cole Hamels, even though he belongs in the Newbie group, because I think we’ve talked about him enough of late.)

See a bunch of numbers and are 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.
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 If you use ESPN’s version be advised that it is pitifully is out-of-date, however.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 per 27 outs, essentially what a team of 9 of this player would score in a hypothetical game.

Chris Coste. The real-life Crash Davis. Chris Coste has a great story of perseverance: a career minor leaguer who stuck with it, doggedly, to finally achieve his dream. I am deeply impressed by Coste, who basically spent the last six years stuck in Triple-A, trying to get over the hump and play in the big leagues. From 2000-2002 he was a member of the Buffalo Bisons, the Triple-A farm team for the Cleveland Indians; in 2003 he played for the Pawtucket Red Sox, then moved on in 2004 to the Indianapolis Indians, the Pittsburgh Pirates Triple-A team; then he joined the Scranton Red Barons in 2005 and finally broke through to the Phillies in 2006 after playing all of ’05 and part of ’06 in the Red Barons uniform.

When Coste arrived in Philadelphia he made the most of his opportunity, hitting .295 GPA with a .177 ISO in 65 games as a Phillie. On a team that hit badly with runners in scoring position (.255), Coste hit .356. Coste also had 36 Runs Created, which works out to be 6.99 Runs Created per 27 Outs. Aside from his inability to draw walks – just ten in 213 plate appearances, a .047 BB/PA, one of the worst on the team and the major flaw in his game – Coste did everything well in 2006. He hit well when it counted, he supplied much-needed power down the lineup and plays a tough defensive position. With the Phillies unlikely to bring back Mike Lieberthal and with the team expressing basically zero interest in Mike Piazza, Chris Coste and Carlos Ruiz (see, below) seem destined to share the catching duties in 2007.

Carlos Ruiz. Unlike teammate and fellow catcher Coste, Carlos Ruiz had a more traditional rise through the majors, starting in 2000 when he joined the Gulf Coast League (GCL) Phillies in the rookie league ball, and then slowly, steadily, worked his way up. Ruiz cracked the Red Barons lineup in ’05 and returned in ’06 before joining the Phillies, where he caught 24 games as a catcher in 2006, thirty fewer than Coste, the team’s primary catcher with Lieberthal out and Sal Fasano stinking up the joint.

Ruiz significantly improved his performance during the ’06 campaign in Scranton from what he had done with the Red Barons in ’05:

GPA / ISO / K/BB / Runs Created / RC27
2005: .274 / .158 / 1.6 / 57 / 5.70
2006: .301 / .198 / 1.3 / 73 / 7.17

Ruiz’s improvements helped him succeed in Philly:

GPA / ISO / K/BB / Runs Created / RC27
‘06 (Phillies): .251 / .174 / 1.6 / 10 / 4.74

Like Coste, Ruiz hit well with runners in scoring position: .304 …

As I noted above, the Phillies seem poised to give Coste and Ruiz a shot at platooning the catcher position in 2007. I am rather excited to see what Coste and Ruiz can do with a full season. Both are talented players who will do a good job next season. I think that Ruiz and Coste’s impressive performances in 2006 during the Phillies playoff run were a major, major reason why the Phillies got back into the playoff race after waving the white flag of surrender at the end of July.

Chris Roberson. I suspect that Roberson will stay with the Phillies as their fifth outfielder, behind Aaron Rowand, Shane Victorino, Pat Burrell and Jeff Conine. At the age of 27, Chris Roberson has very patiently been climbing the rungs of the Phillies minor league organizations. Roberson’s career began in ’01 when he joined the Gulf Coast League (GCL) Phillies, then he kept going, joining the Phillies short-season single-A team in Batavia in ’02, the Lakewood Blue Claws in ’03 and the Clearwater Threshers in ’04, the Phillies two Single-A teams; then advancing to the Double-A Reading Phillies and the Triple-AAA Scranton Red Barons in 2005 and 2006 respectively.

Roberson’s calling card is his speed and he’s got lots to burn. Check out Roberson’s steals and attempts:

Steals / Attempts (Success)
’01 (GCL): 6 / 8 (75%)
’02 (BAT): 17 / 25 (68%)
’03 (LAK): 59 / 75 (79%)
’04 (CLR): 16 / 28 (57%)
’05 (RDG): 34 / 48 (71%)
’06 (SCR): 25 / 34 (74%)
Career: 157 / 218 (72%)

Generally speaking, he was pretty impressive on the base-paths. Unfortunately, Roberson has a problem common with speedsters that keep them from getting on the base-paths: he strikes out a lot. Roberson strikes out far too much to be a success in the major leagues. He needs to become a reliable contact hitter who can put the ball into play and leg out hits. The more he strikes out, the fewer times he puts the ball into play, the less likely he is to get on base, and unless he gets on, Roberson’s impressive speed is worthless. Check out Roberson’s strikeout / walk ratio:

K/BB ratio:
’01 (GCL): 1.88
’02 (BAT): 1.96
’03 (LAK): 1.89
’04 (CLR): 2.63
’05 (RDG): 2.80
’06 (SCR): 2.48

Roberson’s struggles remind me of another Phillie, Jimmy Rollins, who struggled a lot with cutting down on the strikeouts and putting the ball into play. J.Roll worked with Tony Gwynn prior to the 2004 season and made a major effort to become a contact hitter rather than a free-swinging, K-artist. Check out the effect:

J.Roll: K/BB
2001: 2.25
2002: 1.91
2003: 2.09
2004: 1.28
2005: 1.51
2006: 1.40

As a consequence J.Roll has become a much more dangerous hitter. After having 96, 72 and 76 Runs Created his first three seasons, J.Roll has had 108, 100 and 114 Runs Created since then. Roberson could benefit from a little tutelage from J.Roll.

Incidentally, Roberson strikeout out nine times and drew no walks with the Phillies in 2006. Roberson’s GPA for the Phillies was just .157 and he hit with basically no power whatsoever: .049 ISO, the product of one triple on eight-for-forty-one hitting. Roberson also stole three bases and wasn’t caught.

Will we see Roberson with the Phillies in 2007? I suspect so: the team seems set with Burrell, Rowand and Victorino as their starting outfield and with Conine filling in as a power-hitter pinch-hitter or as a reserve. They need a fifth outfielder and it seems to me that Roberson would provide a little speed off the bench and give the team options. The problem Roberson has is that the Phillies also have Michael Bourn (see, below), a very similar player to Roberson in their system and they seem poised to make Bourn their center fielder of the future. Roberson hardly made the choice between him and Bourn easier when he played so-so baseball for the Hermosilio Orange Growers in the Mexican League this winter, being thrown out eight of the thirteen times he attempted to steal a base.

Michael Bourn. Will Michael Bourn play with the Phillies in 2007 or return back to the minors? I suspect that Bourn will return to Triple-A and join the Ottawa Lynx in the International League because there just isn’t room for him in Philadelphia. He’s too similar a player to Chris Roberson. In the long run, however, Bourn is going to be a better player than Roberson.

Bourn played a very little bit with the Phillies in 2006, going 1-for-8 with three strikeouts and a walk. Bourn actually started the 2006 campaign in Double-A Reading, playing with the Reading Phillies. Bourn hit .249 GPA in Reading and was elevated to Scranton, where he actually hit even better, .273. Bourn’s OBP was .350 in Reading and .368 in Scranton. Bourn showed good skills in drawing walks, getting 36 in Reading and 20 in Scranton. Check out Bourn’s K/BB ratio and contrast that with Roberson:

K/BB ratio:
‘03 (BAT): 1.22
‘04 (LAK): 1.04
‘05 (RDG): 1.95
’06 (RDG): 1.86
’06 (SCR): 1.65

Much more of a contact hitter than Roberson. Much more of a solid bet to get on base than Roberson.

What was really impressive about Bourn is his speed on the base-paths. You wouldn’t know that from the fact that he was caught stealing two of the three times he tried in 2006 with the Phillies, but Bourn was a speedster. Here are his stolen bases in 2006:

Steals / Attempts / Pct.
Reading (RDG):
30 / 34 / 88%
Scranton (SCR): 15 / 16 / 94%
Total: 45 / 50 / 90%

That’s pretty darn good. Speed is Bourn’s strength and he’s got it to burn. Scope out Bourn’s minor league base-stealing stats:

Steals / Attempts / Pct.
‘03 (BAT): 23 / 28 (82%)
‘04 (LAK): 57 / 63 (90%)
‘05 (RDG): 38 / 50 (76%)
’06 (RDG): 30 / 34 (88%)
’06 (SCR): 15 / 16 (94%)
Minor League Career: 163 / 191 (85%)

I am very impressed, and I think that Bourn would give the Phillies a good speedster for the 2008 season. With Bobby Abreu gone, the Phillies sole threats to run and steal bases are Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley. Even with Abreu in the lineup for 2/3 of the season the Phillies stole just 92 bases, eighth in the N.L., but just fourth in the N.L. East, where the Mets stole 146, the Nationals stole 123, and the Marlins stole 110. (The Atlanta Braves, those slow, plodding tortoises, bring up the rear with 52 steals, worst in the N.L.) If Roberson is dealt or is sent back to the minors, expect to see Bourn join the Phillies this season, but I see Bourn joining the outfield in 2008 and possibly supplanting Jimmy Rollins as the Phillies lead-off hitter.

Danny Sandoval. Poor Danny Sandoval. With several talented middle infielders coming up through the Phillies system, his days with the Phillies organization seem numbered. I’d be very surprised to see Sandoval play much with the Phillies in 2007, beyond a few games here and there pinch-hitting, especially with Abraham Nunez poised to return to the role of utility infielder with Wes Helms now aboard as the Phillies full-time third baseman.

At the age of 28, Sandoval has been fighting to get his way into the majors for years. He entered the minors nearly a decade ago and has played twice in the majors, having two At-Bats in ’05 and 38 in ’06. Once a speedster, Sandoval struggled to be an effective base-stealer once he hit Double-A ball. In 2002 Sandoval played in Double-A and stole 39 bases in 63 tries (62%). The next two seasons he tried 32 steals, succeeding 21 and 22 times respectively, still playing Double-A ball. In 2005 he went to Scranton and tried 22 steals, succeeding just 11 times. Since then base-stealing has been a memory: in 2006 as a member of the Reading Phillies and Scranton Red Barons, Sandoval attempted just four steals (succeeding three times) despite getting on base 110 times during that time-span. Contrast that to the 22 steals he attempted in 153 times on base with the Red Barons in ’05.

It is not really clear what kind of impact or contribution Sandoval could make in 2007. He’s not a speed threat, he’s not a slugger (.025 ISO as a Phillie, .073 as a Red Baron), and he’s not an OBP machine who can set the table: .279 OBP as a Phillie, .288 as a Red Baron.

I will say in his defense that he did alright with his K/BB ratio in 2006: drawing four walks to three strikeouts. Maybe there is hope for Danny in the future …

I’d define the Newbies like this: Carlos Ruiz and Chris Coste were thrown into the Phillies lineup because of the weakness of the team’s catching situation and performed admirably. They will do well in '07 and give the Phillies good production from the catching slot. We also got decent looks at Chris Roberson, Michael Bourn and Danny Sandoval, and we can say for certain that Roberson and/or Bourn will figure into the Phillies plans for 2007 and 2008. The future for Danny Sandoval is very mixed after his ’06 campaign and we’ll have to see if he’ll be back as a Phillie.

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