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Monday, December 04, 2006

Why the Fate of the 2007 Season Rests in the Hands of This Man 

TO: Aaron Rowand
FROM: A Phlogger
RE: 2007

The purpose of the this memorandum is to advise you of how important your play shall be for the Phillies 2007 season. Simply put – and not to put too big a burden on your shoulders – the Phillies will play as well as you play, so there are dificiences in your game that we believe you ought to remedy for the ’07 campaign.

Let me first start off by noting that you are a fan favorite. Philadelphia is increasingly a multiethnic, multicultural, cosmopolitan city, but the heart of its sports culture is the blue-collar everyman. Phillies fans thrive on the symbol of the tough guy driving for the ball as it falls in the gap, sliding hard into second base to break up the double play, etc. Why was Lenny Dykstra so loved? Why did Larry Bowa, for all of his detractors, have so many fans despite his lack of success as a manager? They were guys who stuck their necks out and fought hard.

Your toughness is without question. People love your gritty, blue-collar image and that made you an instant fan favorite. If you have a big season in ’07, you could really start to set yourself as an icon in this town, an heir to the great tradition of Phillies center fielders: Richie Ashburn, Garry Maddox, Lenny Dykstra … and now Aaron Rowand.

First off, you have to play better defense. The Fielding Bible, a document and methodology many in the sabremetrics community find persuasive and put a lot of stock in, rated your 2005 campaign very high, stated that you were the best defensive outfielder in ’05. Said The Fielding Bible: “[Rowand] shows excellent play in center utilizing great reads and good jumps. Rowand plays with reckless abandon … [Rowand] would run through a wall to make a play.” (Page 186) In addition to leading the MLB in plays with +30, The Fielding Bible also ranked you as one of the toughest outfielders to run on in ’05, allowing just .496 runners to advance, a little worse than Jim Edmonds (.410).

The hype from The Fielding Bible led many of us to assume that you’d be a Dyson vacuum cleaner in center for the Phils, hoovering in every ball that was hit into your area. Unfortunately we don’t have your plus / minus data for ’06, but we do know that you played much worse in ’06 than any other year. Consider your Zone Rating for center field for the last few seasons:

Zone Rating:
2003: .960*
2004: .921
2005: .939
2006: .857

* This was done in just 379 innings, your innings worked for the last three seasons have all been pretty similar: 1,019 in ’04, 1,368 in ’05, and 901 in ’06 …

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
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: (Putouts + Assists) * 9 / IP. Essentially measures how much a player is involved in defensive plays.
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)
Walks per plate appearance (BB/PA): BB / PA = .BB/PA Avg
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.

It doesn’t feel, looking at the stats, that you played as well as you did in 2005. Sure, your Range Factor was roughly the same … okay, it was actually exactly 2.57 in 2005 and 2006, but you ran behind your career averages for Zone Rating in center (.922) and Range Factor in center (2.68). Perhaps a lingering injury limited your range?

The Phillies felt the effect of your struggles on the team defensive alignment: once one of the best defensive teams in the game, the Phillies were one of the worst in 2006. They utilized nearly the same personnel this season as in last, so I tend to think that the decline in team defense is, at least partially, attributable to your struggles. Regaining your ’05 form might jolt the Phillies defense and give the pitching staff a much-needed boost.

Offense is really something that we want to discuss here, however. You had a dream of a season in 2004, hitting 24 home runs and 38 doubles with 69 RBIs and 94 runs scored. Oh, and you stole seventeen bases in twenty-two tries. We sabremetrics guys were deeply impressed that you hit a .298 GPA, with a .234 ISO. There was real power to your swing and you were a big part of the White Sox offense that season. You also only grounded into five double plays that season.

In 2005 you fell back to earth offensively, with just 13 homers, and 17 fewer runs scored. (Same number of RBIs.) The sabremetrics community noticed some problems: a .250 GPA and a .137 ISO. Your power number declined ninety-seven points. Disturbingly, you grounded into seventeen double plays in 2005, twelve more than in ‘04. When you joined the Phillies we all assumed you’d return to your 2004 form.

You didn’t.

You hit 12 homers with 47 RBIs and 59 runs scored. True, you played fewer games and had fewer At-Bats than in ’05, but your overall pattern suggested that you were going to replicate your ’05 campaign: you hit a .251 GPA, with a .163 ISO. You also grounded into another thirteen double plays. The overall effect of your offensive decline is best demonstrated with your Runs Created per 27 Outs:

2004: 6.88
2005: 4.53
2006: 3.97

2006 was not productive for you. Why?

First off, you were probably very lucky in 2004. Your batting average with balls put into play (BA/BIP) was .341, which was the eleventh-best in the league. The next season you declined to .319 and then to .297 in ’06. Maybe you were a little unlucky the last two seasons, or maybe you were just extraordinarily lucky in 2004. Maybe a little of both. Your .297 BA/BIP is roughly in line with the NL average of .301 in 2006, so I think you might want to shade towards “lucky in ’04” as the reason.

I think we might have detected a flaw in your game: you don’t take a lot of pitches. In 2006 you saw 3.4 pitches per plate appearance. The average NL player saw 3.76 in 2006, and the average Phillie saw 3.82. Working the count has a lot of advantages: drawing walks, fatiguing an opposing pitcher, forcing a better pitch. Of the 445 plate appearances you made in 2006, just 23 were with the count at 3-0 or 3-1, and you got on base 16 times in those instances. Working the count might help you draw more walks, which will make you a more consistent threat to get on base.

You are one of the worst Phillies at working counts and, not coincidentally, you are one of the worst at drawing walks.

Just look at the transition Pat Burrell made to his game: going from 4.03 and 4.09 pitches per plate appearance in 2001 and 2002, to 4.14 in 2003, the year he struggled; to 4.21, 4.27 and 4.32 the last three seasons. Each year Pat works the count a little more and becomes a better threat to draw a walk. Last season Pat was over four times as likely to draw a walk as you are: .173 BB/PA to your .041 BB/PA. That ability to draw walks allowed Pat to post a .388 OBP despite a shoddy .258 batting average.

The Phillies had the most potent offense in the N.L. in 2006, and we need to approach that level of production again in order to make a run on the N.L. East title once more. Simply put, we need you to improve. Aside from Wes Helms replacing Abraham Nunez at third, the Phillies are going to play ’07 with basically the same batting order that they played with in ’06. You will probably bat sixth or seventh, ahead of the Phillies catching duo of Chris Coste and Carlos Ruiz, and just behind the meat of the Phillies order, as well as Shane Victorino and Helms. The Phillies need you to help bridge the gap between the top of the order and the bottom, to make the Phillies a consistent threat to score, rather than leaving the team with a massive hole in the 7,8,9 slots where the Phillies have basically a zero percent chance of doing anything. Our advice: draw more walks, work the count and watch as good things happen. Regain your old form in center field. If you made yourself into a tougher out, and became that center field vacuum cleaner we all hoped you’d be, we’d all be happy. Meanwhile, keep up living up to that tough-guy personae we all love so much, and we will start mentioning you in the same breath as Maddox, as Ashburn, and as Dykstra.

My +/- in 2006 was less than +9 [the Bill James 2007 Handbook has a leaderboard for every position, and I wasn't on it]. According to David Pinto's PMR however [http://www.baseballmusings.com/archives/018503.php], I was still pretty good, though not as good as the Flyin' Hawaiian.

Can we just chalk it all up to injuries and being in a new league, new park?
I hate to say this but Rowand may never be the same. I think that since he ran in the wall(the best play of the year)and broke his eye socket that his vision is not the same as it was and that is affecting how he plays.
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