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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Friday, April 28, 2006

Book Review: Tales From the Phillies Dugout 

When Ken Burns Baseball premiered on PBS in ’94 a relative of mine asked me if they had talked much about the Phillies. No, I replied, though the team was mentioned in passing as being one of the teams that harassed Jackie Robinson in 1947 and that Curt Flood sued to prevent a trade to the Phils in '69. No mention of the ’80 team or the memorable ’93 squad, no Wiz Kids, no ’64 meltdown … Baseball was fixated on a few teams: the Dodgers, the Giants, the Yankees, the Red Sox and, to a lesser extent, the Mets. Other MLB teams outside of New York and Boston barely rated a mention. (It is the major fault I have with Burns otherwise outstanding documentary.)

The Phillies don’t exactly have the most rousing history. The team’s most memorable moment was probably the ’64 team’s collapse on its way to a sure pennant. When I picked up Tales From the Phillies Dugout I liked how the book described the team: “It was often last, but seldom dull.” There has been a lot of disappointment and sorrow in the Phils history, but Philly isn’t the home to baseball-loving intellectuals like New York or Boston, a factor that accounts for why the Phils aren’t celebrated more in the annals of baseball history. But this team has a fun history, and Tales does a great job giving us the whole story.

Phillies fans curious about their franchise’s long and tortured history will enjoy this book because it will open their eyes to the Phillies fun (or should I say “phun”?) history. There are a lot of great stories in the book, from tales of Gene Mauch’s temper to Bunning’s perfect game to the general highjicks that permiated the team locker room. I enjoyed all of the stories, and I like how the authors made each one a little snippet: you can read a few stories in a minute or two. My only fault with Tales is that stories of the ’93 Phillies, arguably the most colorful team since the Cardinals Gashouse Gang of the 1930s, were in short supply, I found. Perhaps the authors wanted to not skew towards too many '93 stories.

There are a lot of great stories included and I thought that Tales From the Phillies Dugout was a really fun book to relax with and read.

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Don't Look Now... 

...but the Phillies are a half game ahead of the Braves for second place at 9-11 (to the Braves 9-12), with another game against the Rocks on-tap, followed by a three-game set against the Pirates this weekend. I think they'll end the month at 12-12, a pretty decent record. 60% said the Phillies would end the month with record better than .500 ... looks like they might be right.

Nice win against the Rocks last night, though I think we need to address the poor quality of the Phillies defensive play and the effect it has on the Phillies pitching.

Enjoy today! More tomorrow!

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Spotlight on: Bench Production 

The quality of a team’s bench is always an interesting topic and a little difficult to evaluate. Players contribute in many ways, from being positive clubhouse influences to filling particular roles.

At the moment I’d categorize the Phillies bench as less capable than last year’s version, which featured Placido Polanco for half the season part of a platoon with Chase Utley, and Jason Michaels as a part of a platoon with Kenny Lofton in centerfield. Subbing for Mike Lieberthal was the veteran Todd Pratt. Polanco and Michaels were super-subs, very dependable bats off the bench and Pratt was a great catcher.

Since then the team has dealt Polanco to the Tigers to clear room for Utley, dealt Michaels to the Indians to acquire Arthur Rhodes for the bullpen, and cast-off Tomas Perez, the team’s long-time backup infielder, and Pratt. In other words, the Phillies bench is entirely new. I also think it is basically a down-grade from what it was. More on that later.

Alex Gonzalez IF / Bats: Right

Gonzalez is a classic journey-man infielder. In 2004 alone he played for the Cubs, Expos and Padres before moving on to the Devil Rays as their third-baseman for last year. Gonzalez is a career .234 GPA hitter with little power to speak of: he’s a career .149 ISO. He doesn’t draw many walks (.068 BB/PA in 2005), and he strikes out a lot for a utility infielder (74 K’s in 349 ABs.)

Alright, 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)
BB / PA (Walks per plate appearance): (BB / PA = .BB/PA Avg)
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.
Runs Created: A stat originally created by Bill James to measure a player’s total contribution to his team’s lineup.

So far this season, Gonzalez is batting .083 (1-for-12) with one walk and two runs scored. He’s oh-for-six as a pinch hitter this season.

Defensively Gonzalez career lives and dies by his glove. The Fielding Bible says of him: “For years, Gonzalez was of the better defensive shortstops in baseball. He made a nice conversion to third base in 2005, kind of similar to A-Rod’s switch in 2004. [He] showed good instincts and reactions in his first season at the hot corner and has a strong and accurate arm to help him with the longer throws from third.” (page 164). The data doesn’t exactly back that up: Gonzalez finished 17th in Plus / Minus is 2005, at 0. His bunt defense left something to be desired too: .437, good for 21st amongst 27 3Bs.

Abraham Nunez IF / Bats: Switch

The Phillies are counting on a lot from Nunez, apparently planning on having him platoon with David Bell, the Phillies weak-hitting third baseman, often. Nunez has played five or so games at third so far this season.

Nunez is a good, jack-of-all-trades kind of infielder to have on the team: in 2005 he played 98 games at third base, 22 at second, 21 at shortstop, and pinch-hit 25 times. Nunez is also your classic light-hitting utility infielder: of the 120 hits Nunez had in 2005, 100 were singles (five home runs, thirteen doubles and two triples). In 2005 he had a .245 GPA, with a .076 ISO. He’s a career .223 GPA / .078 ISO hitter. He posted his career high in Runs Created with 54 and Win Shares, with 12 (double his next-best, six with the ’01 Pirates), in 2005. He is, when you consider that 2005 was probably a career year for him, simply put, not much of an offensive presence at the plate. I hope the Phillies don’t plan on making this platoon a permanent arraignment. Though I often criticize Bell’s skills at the plate, the ’06 Bill James Handbook rates him as a more dangerous threat:

'06 Prediction:
Nunez: .230 GPA / .085 ISO
Bell: .242 GPA / .135 ISO

So far this season Nunez is hitting .217 OBP (4-for-22, with a walk), with a .227 slugging percentage. He’s oh-for-five pinch hitting.

Again, like Gonzalez, Nunez is really a defensive presence: In 2005 his Plus / Minus rating was +9, ranking him tenth of twenty-seven third baseman. Far behind David Bell at +24 I might add. If you compare Relative Range Factor, Bill James’ reworking of his classic Range Factor stat to be more pitching / ballpark neutral, Bell again edges Nunez: 1.079 to 1.055 … Alex Gonzalez was 1.047, so it is interesting to note that the Phillies have three good-to-great defensive third baseman on the roster.

Nunez bunt defense was an average .492, ranking him fifteenth of 27 3Bs. Bottom-line, Bell is a better bat and better defender than Nunez. I'm not a fan of David Bell, so if I am making that argument, then I suggest that this platoon idea is pretty bad.

Shane Victorino OF / Bats: Switch

I find it really difficult to evaluate Shane because a lot of the data on him is incomplete. He only has 90 MLB At-Bats, and 73 of those were in 2003 with the Padres. (He had none in 2004 and just 17 with the Phillies in 2005.) He has a career total of one MLB Win Share.

He hit .303 GPA, .224 ISO with 18 home runs, 16 triples, 25 doubles and 99 Runs Created with the Scranton-Wilkes Barre Red Barons in 2005. He went five-for-seventeen with the Phils with four Runs Created in 2005. The Bill James Handbook thinks he’ll be a decent bat: .250 PA, .148 ISO in 81 games with 32 Runs Created.

Defensively I have next to no data to evaluate, though I note that he’s played seven games (10 and 1/3 innings) as a defensive sub in leftfield so far this season, subbing for Pat Burrell late in the game (though I think Burrell has an unfair and inaccurate rap as a poor defensive player). He’s played another eleven or so innings in center. So apparently he’s pretty decent.

David Dellucci OF / Bats: Left

The Phillies dealt for Dellucci later in the spring to strengthen what was shaping up to be a pretty weak bench. On paper Dellucci is a strong player: in 2005 he hit 29 home runs, had 81 Runs Created, with a .293 GPA and .262 ISO. Dellucci had 15 Win Shares, an good total (Pat Burrell had 24 in ’05, Bobby Abreu had 25). He looks like a powerful bat off the bench and a capable fill-in if Burrell or Rowand or Abreu go down.

I’m more skeptical: ’05 was largely a career year for him. The ’06 Bill James Handbook projects Dellucci to hit 20 home runs, with a .269 GPA, 61 Runs Created and a .210 ISO. He’s a slugger. Note that he had more home runs than doubles and triples combined in ’05: 29 vs. 22 (17 doubles and 5 triples). I’m not saying that he’s no-good – I actually think he’s got a good eye: he draws a decent amount of walks – but he’s not going to replicate those numbers again.

Defensively, Dellucci earns some praise in The Fielding Bible for playing “without fear … [because he] will go to any length, even physical harm, to make a catch.” However, The Fielding Bible goes on to note that Dellucci has a weak arm and limited range, limiting his effectiveness to leftfield, where he played 47 games in 2005. (Dellucci played three in center, three in right, pinch hit 16 times and DH’d 64 times.)

As a pinch hitter Dellucci was 3-for-10 with a walk and two home runs in 2005, a pretty good showing. He might be the Phillies best bat off the bench.

Sal Fasano C / Bats: Right

Ah, the saga of the journeyman catcher. I wouldn’t expect to see Sal Fasano hitting off the bench much because he isn’t much of a bat: he’s a career .238 GPA hitter. In 852 career at-bats he’s pinch hit four times, going oh-for-four with three K’s. He is a hitter of last resort.

Conclusions: The Phillies have a weaker bench then they have in a while. No longer are there bats like Placido Polanco and Jason Michaels waiting in the wings to give the Phillies a hit in a late-inning. So far I think it shows: Phillies pinch hitters are 4-for-32 with a .132 BA. That is, by the way, worst in the NL. Last year the Phillies were seventh at .233, the year before that sixth at .244 … We'll see how this effects the team later on in the season or if there are any injuries in the near future.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Citizens: Thoughts and Reconsiderations Reconsidered 

Citizens Bank’s friendliness to team offense, and in particular home runs, has been a constant topic amongst Phillies fans. The conventional wisdom has been that Citizens Bank is one of the most extreme hitters parks in the major leagues. Naturally, being someone who loves to shatter conventional wisdom, I entered the fray with many arguments for why Citizens reputation is over-rated. (Click here for the original article. And click here.) Well, before I give my latest thoughts on the subject, here are some numbers to chew over:

Citizens Bank: 2005 Park Factors
Home Runs: 119
Runs Scored: 111
Batting Average: 109
Doubles: 108

I’ve taken these numbers from the 2006 Bill James Handbook, my favored tool for park factor information because, unlike ESPN’s numbers, Bill James subtracts inter-league games that skew numbers because of the use of the DH.

The numbers essentially mean that it was 19% easier to hit a home run at Citizens than an average park, 11% easier to score a run, 9% easier to get a hit, 8% easier to get a double. James takes what teams hit at Citizens, multiplies the numbers and compares it to what they hit elsewhere. A 100 is a neutral number. 99 and below skews to the defense, 101 and above skews to the offense.

Before I compare anything else, scope out the old 2004 numbers I got from the ’05 book:

Citizens Bank: 2004 Park Factors
Home Runs: 123
Runs Scored: 109
Batting Average: 101
Doubles: 90

The thing that got me, as I chewed over the numbers, was how consistent those numbers – especially Home Runs and Runs Scored – are from 2004 to 2005.

2004 / 2005 difference:
Home Runs: -4% in ‘05
Runs: +2% in ‘05
Batting Average: +8% in ‘05
Doubles: +18%

Aside from Home Runs, they all went up. Check out the rankings from 2004 and 2005 for Citizens as compared with other NL parks:

2004 vs. 2005 (of 16 parks)
Home Runs: 3rd / 3rd
Runs Scored: 3rd / 3rd
Batting Average: T-5th* / 2nd
Doubles: 13th / 6th

* tied with two other stadiums (PNC Park & Busch Stadium) for fifth.

Initially I had argued that Citizens wasn’t a hitters park so much as it was a home run hitters park: the BA factor was a negligible 101, Doubles were a pitching-friendly 90, and the 109 Run Scored Factor I chalked up to the formidable 123 Home Runs Factor the park had.

I’m willing to soften my position here because the year-two data reinforces the argument that Citizens is a pitcher-killing park. Home Runs and Runs Scored remained constant, but Batting Average and Doubles jumped in a big way. I had expected the numbers to remain constant, or to decline a little. I hadn’t expected them to move in the other direction.

To me the batting average data is the smoking gun: I chalk up runs scored to home runs, but the batting average is a killer because that doesn’t really rely on how close the fences are, or how favorable the wind is in centerfield. Batting average indicates that a place is favorable to get a hit, to get on base, to prolong an inning, to get a chance to score. Initially my argument had been that while Citizens was favorable to home run hitters, it wasn’t a “hitters park” like Coors Field where offense across-the-board benefits from the park. Sure, you can hit home runs, but regular hits and things like doubles were hard to come by.

I was wrong. So far. The two-year data indicates that Citizens is a nice place to be a hitter: the ball carries for home runs, and it drops enough for regular hits. I’m curious about what the 2006 data says, and then I think we can issue a definitive statement about Citizens effect on the Phillies offense. Until then let the debate rage on …

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Book Review: The Bill James Handbook 2006 

“Isn’t this stuff available on the internet?"

My wife asked me that when I told her that I wanted The Bill James Handbook 2006 for my birthday two weeks ago. Yes, baseball stats are abundantly available on the internet. For free. So why plunk down $19.95 for a book containing 70-80% of stuff I could get off ESPN.com?

Simple. The Bill James Handbook is the only source for all of the information that is relevant to a baseball fan like myself because the book doesn’t merely contain information, it contains the essence of sabremetrics, the rigorous analysis of numbers telling the observer the ways a player contributed (and how well) to his team’s fortunes. No other source, either in books or on the ‘net, contains more information about the game. This is the bible of the sabremetrician.

I waited a little later to get the Handbook this season (the '05 was a Christmas gift from my wife, and I did get the Handbook for my B-day), but it was definitely worth the wait. Baseball Info Solutions, also the author of the excellent Fielding Bible, has done great work once more. As usual, the core of the book is the career register for active players, updated to include the 2005 campaign. Flip ahead a little and you get to the really fun info: park factors, manager stats and player projections.

I trust James Park Factors more than any other source, including ESPN’s Park Factors page, because James deletes inter-league games that skew numbers because of the use of the designated hitter in AL parks. As always, this year’s park factor numbers will be heavily scrutinized by bloggers and pundits eager to argue about Citizens Bank.

I also love James player predictions section, which this year include pitcher projections. I note that James begins the projections by noting how badly it failed to predict how the Phillies actually turned out in 2005.

Last year the big thing with the 2005 Handbook was James decision to re-do his classic Runs Created stat to give a more sophisticated analysis of how a player contributes runs to his team by emphasizing the idea of advancing runners. This year the big addition to the handbook is James base-running analysis. This is one of those things in the game that tend to be over-looked but are very important. e.g., when I was in little league, during one of the rare times I got on base, I was called out running to second on a pop fly to the centerfielder. Assuming it would be caught, I remained at first. Naturally, it wasn’t (that happened a lot in little league), and I was forced out at second. Bad base-running.

James analyzes all sorts of situations: opportunities to advance from first to third, from second to home, from first to home, and overall how often the individual scored when he got on base, along with the number of times he was thrown out. The numbers for the Phillies yielded some interesting facts. e.g., here is the overall percent of times a Phillies base-runner advanced when he had the opportunity:

Rollins: 51%
Rowand: 50%
Abreu: 48%
Utley: 44%
Bell: 35%
Lieberthal: 35%
Howard: 34%
Burrell: 31%

Some grist for the mill.

This sort of thing is something that is always evolving, always changing and the Handbook is the only place where you can get this stuff. To me, the eight or nine pages dealing with base-running is the poetry in numbers. They tell me volumes about how players perform on the field and they make me think critically about the game that I love.

After I explained all that to my wife, she smiled. And I got the Handbook for my 29th birthday.

Read and enjoy.

Notes: Sorry for the lateness of my post yesterday. I tried publishing at 7 as usual but there was some sort of problem with blogger.

I'm mildly amazed that there was only one home run hit yesterday. Nice 6-5 win to kick off a four game set against the Rocks. I'm eager to see what Gavin Floyd does tonight: he's given up eight earned runs in roughly eight innings at Citizens so far this season. I want to see him get off to a good start and the Rocks are a good team to do that against.

Tomorrow: I'd wade back into the debate over Citizens Bank Ballpark. Should be fun.

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Monday, April 24, 2006

Player Profile: Aaron Rowand 

I thought this comment from Scott McAdams, a White Sox fan and writer of The Daily Grinder, was worth repeating:

Trust me---we're going to love Thome this year but you're going to LOVE Rowand now and for years to come. Wait 'til the first time he runs into the wall to make a spectacular catch. The guy has NO FEAR. He's got a nice bat, too.

Scott made that comment two weeks ago with reference to my criticisms of GM Pat Gillick's decision-making. The sole personnel decision that I approved of in my post was Gillick's decision to send Jim Thome to the South Side of Chicago in exchange for Aaron Rowand and two prospects. The deal was daring, aggressive and dramatically improved the team, simultaneously upgrading the centerfield position, clearing space for Ryan Howard (getting the Phillies nine years younger at first base) and restocking the farm system. For all of my criticism of Pat Gillick, this has been his best move as GM.

Scott was right: we may miss Jim Thome, but Aaron Rowand is going to be a fixture in centerfield for the Phillies for a long, long time to come. But is all of the talk about Rowand hype, or is he the real deal?

Certainly when Rowand came over to the Phils, people pointed out the similarities to another Phillie who played centerfield, Lenny Dykstra, AKA Nails, AKA The Dude. Lenny Dykstra was always a fan favorite because he was a hard-nosed, no-nonsense blue collar gamer. He’d run with abandon, slide hard into second and always give (pardon the cliché) 110% on the field. As Robert Gordon and Tom Burgoyne write in More Than Beards, Bellies and Biceps:

Dirt-covered, tobacco-stained, and gritty, [Dykstra] was the prototypical throwback.

(Page 208-209.) How alike to Dykstra is Rowand?

Fielding. As I've said, probably ad nauseum, 2006 is the Year of the Glove for the Phillies. We'll sink or swim based on how the Phillies do fielding-wise. Getting to the ball, minimizing pitching mistakes, throwing out advancing runners. I've think we've gotten a taste of Rowand's abilities in this arena on April 12th, when he made a nice play to help throw out Brian McCann at home plate to enable the Phillies to hold on to a 7-5 victory against the Braves. (Okay, yes, McCann is a slow, plodding catcher should shouldn't have been waived in, but still. It was a nice play!)

There are many metrics to evaluate an outfielder. Here are fielding win shares per 1,000 innings, comparing Rowand to Kenny Lofton and Jason Michaels.

Rowand: 5.56
Lofton: 5.12
Michaels: 6.30

Not really the best metric, but it gives you an idea. Next is Zone Rating, my preferred all-around defensive stat until Plus / Minus came along. The nice thing about ZR is that the data for it is released during the season, whereas we need to wait until the end of the year to find out the Plus / Minus numbers.

Amongst ten regular AL CFs, Rowand ranked second 2005 in Zone Rating:

Reed (Sea): .943
Rowand: .939
DeJesus (KC): .923
Wells (Tor.): .911
Matos (Balt.): .909

Rowand did much better than the Michaels - Lofton platoon:

Lofton: .876
Michaels: .882
Team CF: .884

As I noted in my Fielding posts (and I hesitate to mention them again for fear of boring some of you), but The Fielding Bible's John Dewan is very high on Rowand. Rowand led MLB CFs in Dewan's Plus / Minus system at +30, 2 better than the Blue Jays Jeremy Reed. Rowand also ranked fourth in CF arms, allowing just .496 baserunners to advance (Jim Edmonds was best at .410). Rowand did so well in center that Dewan thinks he should have been the AL Gold Glove in center, as opposed to Vernon Wells.

How is Rowand doing this season? Not so well according to ZR: .743, which ranks him dead-last amongst NL CFs. Yeah, that number stunned me too. At .743, he isn't even remotely close to the Cubs Juan Pierre(.952), or even to the aging Jim Edmonds (.842). I don't know what's going on here, but that is disturbing.

Hitting. Rowand isn't a great bat. He's good, but not great. He had a career high .361 OBP and .544 Slugging percentage in 2004 (.298 GPA), but those numbers seem to have been an anamoly. Last year's .329 OBP / .407 SLG (.249 GPA) were low, but closer to Rowand's probable production over the long-term.

Those are okay numbers, but what I really don't like how low Rowand's bases-on-balls percentage are: .050 walks-per-plate appearance (BB/PA) in 2005, and .056 in 2004. He doesn't draw walks the way he should. So far this season he's gotten 2 walks in 68 At-Bats. Too few, which is why his OBP (.361) is largely a product of his batting average (.324), not patience at the plate.

According to the 2006 Baseball Prospectus, Rowand should hit .260 GPA (.333 OBP, .444 SLG), and .164 ISO, with 16 home runs, 72 RBIs and 30 doubles. The 2006 Bill James Handbook rates Rowand as being good for: 74 Runs Created, 16 HRs, 32 doubles, .334 OBP, .438 SLG (.259 GPA, .160 ISO). Not bad. Probably the same production that the Phillies would have gotten out of Jason Michaels.

Let's get back to that Dykstra comparison: in Dykstra's two full seasons (1990 & 1993) as the Phillies CF he had OBPs over .400: .418 in '90 and .420 in '93. Dysktra's BB/PA in '93 was .167, and .130 in '90.

At the plate, Rowand isn't even remotely close to the player that Dykstra was. Lenny Dykstra was an OBP machine who had a little power to burn (19 home runs in '93). Rowand seems too inconsistent a player to compare to Dykstra at the plate. As for his fielding, we all know what a great fielder Lenny Dykstra was and I am assuming that Rowand's current ZR rating is a fluke. At least, I hope it is. But until then we should probably hold off on the Rowand-as-The-Dude comparisons.

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