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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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United States, Pennsylvania, Wexford, Christopher Wren, English, Michael, Male, 26-30, baseball , politics.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Thanks Aaron Rowand... 

-Last night's 2-0 five-inning victory over the Mets is courtesy of Aaron Rowand, whose first inning catch on Xavier Nady's flyball almost certainly saved the game for the Phillies. I'm reminded about what The Fielding Bible said about Rowand: "Not always the fastest or smoothest defensive center fielder, Rowand more than gets the job done nonetheless ... Rowand plays with reckless abandon ... he would run through a wall to make a play."

Yep. Saw that last night.

-Looks like Shane Victorino will be getting a little bit of playing time with Rowand likely gone to the DL for a while. I'm eager to see how Shane will play.

-Tonight, Cole Hamels vs. the Reds. Not that I'm in the business of second-guessing management ... actually I think I am, but I question the wisdom of sending a rookie out to pitch his first game on the road, and against a team leading the NL in OBP, slugging percentage, isolated power, and runs scored, in a park that was rated the second easiest park to score a run or hit a home run in. Great American had the same park factor when it comes to runs as Citizens and it had a worse park factor when it came to home runs. I think this is shaping up to be a disaster.

See you all monday!

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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Odds 'N Ends 

-Tom Glavine turned in one of the best individual performances I’ve seen for a pitcher: not only did he stymie the Phillies for seven innings, but he also drove in two runs himself, going two-for-two with two RBIs, two runs scored and a walk.

-So after I get done praising Cory Lidle for his sterling performance so far this season he gets shelled for eight runs in two innings and didn’t get a strikeout or a home run. Ouch.

-What is wrong with the Phillies fielding? They committed three errors last night and allowed three unearned runs.

-The Phillies are bringing up Cole Hamels this Friday. Massive mistake. They let Gavin Floyd pitch too early and look where its gotten him: he’s really struggling right now. I hope they keep Hamels in the bullpen and use him sparingly until he gets some experience, but he’s slated to start tomorrow against the Reds. I hope this doesn’t screw him up.

-I’m happy to hear Ryan Madson is returning to the bullpen. Ryan just hasn’t had any luck as a starter, so I am happy to see that the bullpen can get a little help. Maybe this will cut down on the number of times that Ryan Franklin needs to pitch.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Shattering Misconceptions: Which Phillies Starter Is Pitching Well... 


Monday I talked about what a great season Cory Lidle is having, despite the near-universal opinion from pundits that the Phillies are struggling in their pitching department. As I said, Lidle isn’t the only Phillies pitcher to being playing unfairly under a cloud. Jon Lieber, Gavin Floyd and Ryan Madson are all under a cloud too. The only pitcher getting by with praise is Brett Myers and no wonder: his 3.11 ERA is easily the best of the starters.

Is Myers really pitching well? (He certainly did last night in the Phils win.) Are Lieber and Flody and Madson really stuggling? Let’s look:

Jon Lieber. Conventional stats: 2-4, 6.60 ERA

Throw those numbers out the window. Don’t believe them. Jon Lieber is doing exactly what the Phillies paid him to do when they signed him from the Yankees in the fall of 2004: keep the ball in the park, don’t allow walks, and throw ground balls:

FIP ERA: 3.63
FIP variance: -2.69
HR/9: 1.03
K/9: 5.77
BB/9: 1.03

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
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.
Hr/9 – Home Runs allowed per nine innings.
K/9 – Strikeouts per nine innings.
BB/9 – Walks per nine innings.

Lieber has allowed the same number of home runs as walks (5) in just forty-three and two-thirds innings. That is a phenomenal performance so far, but it is what the Phillies have expected from him. In 2004, with the Yankees, he gave up just 18 walks in 176 innings, as compared to 20 home runs.

Look at the contrast between the two halves of Lieber’s season last year:

Pre-All Star / Post
Record: 8-8 / 9-5
HR/9: 1.86 / 0.84
K/9: 5.58 / 6.72
BB/9: 2.10 / 1.26

It looks like Liber took the strong finish he had to the 2005 season and kept it going for 2006. The problem is that the Phillies haven’t played well for Lieber:

DER: .651

They simply aren’t converting the balls put into play into outs. That is what’s killing Lieber. Bottom-line: Lieber is pitching well. Let’s move on …

Gavin Floyd. Conventional stats: 3-2, 6.16 ERA

I am much less inclined to defend Gavin Floyd. You have to worry about a Rick Ankiel factor at work here. Gavin Floyd is a talented pitcher and I think we all assumed great things were in the offing for him when he blanked the Cards last year, but he’s really, really struggled and continues to struggle.

FIP ERA: 6.17
FIP variance: +0.01
HR/9: 2.05
K/9: 5.58
BB/9: 4.99

Aside from his first start of the year, against the Dodgers, Gavin has surrendered at least one home run in all of his starts. Even in the Dodgers game he pitched poorly, being driven from the game in the third inning. There really is nothing good to say here: the walks are horrifically bad, as are the home runs. He really isn’t getting many strikeouts either, because he’s running behind Jon Lieber in that department and Lieber isn’t a strikeout pitcher. Gavin’s struggles are a big reason why the Phillies are leaving Cole Hamels in the minors until he’s good and ready. I think that’s a wise decision.

Ryan Madson. Conventional stats: 3-1, 6.82 ERA

Like Floyd, I am less inclined to defend Ryan Madson than Jon Lieber.

FIP ERA: 5.38
FIP variance: -1.44
HR/9: 1.19
K/9: 4.45
BB/9: 4.75

In two of Madson’s three victories the Phillies scored nine and ten runs, and in one of his no-decisions, the Phillies scored seven runs late to erase a 5-1 deficit against the Marlins and win 8-5.

I am very disappointed in Ryan’s performance, but I hold out hope that he’ll pull things together. It blows my mind that he’s given up more walks than he’s gotten strikeouts (16 vs. 15), but I think it is a good sign that he’s only given up four home runs in thirty and two-thirds innings.

Ryan will pitch better. We need to hope that Gavin pulls things together.

In the final analysis, I’d state that the conventional wisdom on the Phillies pitching staff is (mostly) wrong: yes, Gavin Floyd and Ryan Madson are struggling. But Jon Liber and Cory Lidle are pitching well and are helping Brett Myers out (more on Brett tomorrow). It is a mild surprise that the Phillies have turned in such a nice performance on the mound thus far this season: we are above the league average in FIP and are out-pitching the vaunted Braves by a half run: 4.05 to 4.56 … So much for the conventional wisdom that the Phillies are struggling in their starting pitching…

That was a great game last night between the Mets and Phillies. Sure, Tom Gordon nearly blew it and doesn't deserve that "W" next to his name, but a win is a win, particularly against a good team sending its ace pitcher to the mound. I expect tonight's game between Tom Glavine and Cory Lidle will be a pitchers duel. These are the No.1 and No.3 FIP pitchers in the NL. I expect the game to be decided 2-1 or so. Hopefully the Phils can run the winning streak to ten.

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Know Thy Enemy: The Mets 


Any discussion of the Mets feels like we should be playing Darth Vader’s March from The Empire Strikes Back in the background. (Da-da-da, da-de-da, da-de-da...) The Mets, not the bland and forgettable Braves, are the Evil Empire of the NL.

I grudgingly give the Mets credit for assembling a pretty darn good team in Queens. When the Mets began their spending spree after the 2004 season I remembered when the Mets spent big bucks after the ’01 season and saw their team utterly implode in '02. ("We got Mo Vaughn! How can we fail?") Has history repeated itself?

No. The Mets have made some shrewd deals and are playing some good baseball. Going into today's game the Mets are 21-10. Ironically enough they had the Phillies record, 17-14, at this point last year. The Mets are scoring runs, pitching well and playing good defense. This is a strong team. Probably the best in the NL right now.

We’ll have to see if their mega-deal with Carlos Beltran is a wise investment over the long term, but this season Beltran is playing well: .316 GPA, .315 ISO … I like the fact that he is hitting for power and still has more walks than strikeouts. The Bill James Handbook thinks Beltran will end his career with around 400 home runs and 400 steals …

Carlos Delgado is to me, the piece that completes the Mets puzzle. Delgado is a terrific bat and gives the Mets what they’ve been lacking: a power-hitting first baseman. In 2005 the Mets First Basemen had a slugging percentage of just .391 and an OBP of .303, both worst in the NL. The Mets also ranked dead-last in Runs Created per 27 Outs for 1Bs and thirteenth in isolated power (ISO).

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)
SLG (Slugging Percentage): Power at the plate. (Total Bases / At-Bats = Slugging Percentage)
RC/27: Runs Created per 27 outs, essentially what a team of 9 of this player would score in a hypothetical game.

This season? The Mets 1Bs are third in RC27, second in ISO, seventh in OBP and third in slugging percentage. Delgado is giving the Mets a major presence in the middle of their lineup and has given David Wright and Carlos Beltran protection.

In terms of pitching, the Mets have been a mild surprise: you expect Pedro, today's starter, to be the Mets stud pitcher and he’s continuing to live up to the hype. Tom Glavine is a surprise however: he’s leading the NL right now in Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) in the NL ahead of the Phillies Cory Lidle and his old teammate, Greg Maddux. Glavine is forty this season, but he’s turning in a great performance after some shaky years after he left the Braves.

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).

Glavine is a big reason why the Mets pitching staff is leading the NL in team FIP.

Billy Wagner has been a decent acquisition as their reliever, but I think he might be starting to slow down. (Eight walks and three home runs allowed in seventeen innings? Shame, Billy.) No doubt his accusations that the Phillies hated him and Pat Burrell called him a "rat" will fire the Phils up even more to face him.

The Mets staff is also benefiting from some strong performances from the Mets position players in the field. The Fielding Bible’s Plus / Minus system put at the Mets at -20 in 2005, twenty-second in the MLB. The Mets were weak everywhere in 2005, and that was with super-fielder Doug Mientkiewicz playing first. This year, however, the Mets seem to be playing some solid defense. Delgado might be a downgrade at first defensively, but I don’t think that is a big deal because I don’t think he is as bad as his reputation suggests. Overall, I think the Mets are better because Cliff Floyd and Carlos Beltran are healthy. At the moment the Mets are +13 and are fifth in Defense Efficiency Ratio (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.

Do the Mets have staying power? I doubt it. Sure Pedro and Glavine are throwing well, but the Mets rotation is pretty weak. The Phillies actually have a deeper rotation than they do: I'd rather have Cory Lidle as my No.3 starter than Steve Traschel, and Ryan Madson is better than Victor Zambrano any day of the week. I'd actually give a slight edge to the Phillies in the pitching department and I suspect that once the Phillies break out of whatever fielding slump (dead-last in DER, dead-last in Plus / Minus) they are in we'll have the better defense as well. Offensively, the Mets are pretty formitable, but I think that the Phillies are a little deeper here too.

The Phillies enter the game with an eight game winning streak, the team's best since 1991, when they won 13 in a row. I think the Phillies will surprise most people and take two out of three games here. Let's see.

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Monday, May 08, 2006

Cory Lidle: All-Star? 

If this is May, then it must be time to rag on the Phillies pitching staff. As usual the pundits are looking for blame for the Phillies sluggish start and the team’s ERA (4.62, thirteen of sixteen NL teams) makes the pitching staff a ripe target for abuse. Aside from Brett Myers, the pundits are assailing Cory Lidle, Jon Lieber, Ryan Madson and Gavin Floyd for their performances. Certainly there have been some uneven performances, but one pitcher in particular who doesn’t deserve abuse: Cory Lidle.

Cory Lidle joined the Phillies via a trade during the 2004 season. Most people didn’t really think much of the deal, as Lidle didn’t have very sexy stats: Lidle was 7-10 that season wit a 5.32 ERA with the Reds. He was also a bit of a journeyman pitcher, having played for the Mets (’97), the Devil Rays (’99 – ’00), the A’s (’01 – ’02), and the Blue Jays (’03) before starting the ’04 campaign with the Reds. However, I felt that the Phillies had made a shrewd decision to bring Lidle in. He had tools that made him an outstanding pitcher for Citizens Bank Ballpark: namely the capacity to get guys to hit ground balls:

Lidle’s secret is that he throws a lot of curveballs and off-speed pitches. According to the Bill James Handbook, Lidle threw 615 pitches in 2005 that were clocked at less than 80 mph (22% of his total pitches), ninth in the NL. Lidle relies heavily on his curve, which he throws 18.8% of his pitches. All of which means batters constantly hit the ball to the infield and constantly ground into double plays: in 2004 Lidle ranked tenth of all NL pitchers in groundball-flyball ratio at 1.63 … In 2005 Lidle actually improved on that, ranking eighth in the NL at 1.95. Lidle also ranked tenth in the NL in inducing double players per 9 innings: 1.02 per 9.

Despite starting 50% (or so) of his games at Citizens Bank, Lidle is pretty stingy with the home runs:

With Phillies: Home Runs per 9 innings…
2004: 0.43
2005: 0.87

For comparison, here are the team rates for those seasons:
2004: 1.31
2005: 1.18

That’s pretty great. Lidle is a terrific pitcher at controlling the strike zone. See how few walks he surrenders per 9 innings?:

BB/9: Lidle / Team
2004: 2.45 / 3.08
2005: 1.95 / 3.05

Lidle may strike many hitters out, but he keeps them from getting cheap walks and from going yard. Lidle got three strikeouts per walk in 2005: 121 K’s to 40 BB’s. The ratio improves actually to 3.45 to 1 if you eliminate the five intentional walks Lidle issued in 2005.

I know what you are thinking: hey Mike, if Cory Lidle is so great, why is he giving up over four runs a game? Fair enough, lets look at his 2006 stats to see why he’s having such a great year and you’d never know it:

HR/9: 0.98
K/9: 9.33
BB/9: 1.47

There you go. He's striking people out, he's keeping the ball from leaving the park and he's keeping baserunners off the basepaths with cheap walks. He's doing them so well that his 4.17 ERA ought to be much, much lower: Lidle's "real" ERA according to DIPS should be a paltry 3.07. Yes, Lidle is out-pitching his "real" ERA by 1.10 runs. That is third best in the National League, behind just Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine.

Lidle's problem is that the Phillies are still mired in a defensive slump: they aren't getting to balls and making outs the way that they ought to. Lidle's BABIP is an atrocious .333, worst in the NL after Jon Lieber's .335. Don't blame the Phillies pitchers because the fielders are dead-last in Defense Efficiency Ratio (DER) at .655 (NL average: .703), and that they were -38 in Plus/Minus.

Naturally Lidle won't be selected to the All-Star game in Pittsburgh. To the average observer he doesn't look like anything special on the mound. You, reader, know better: Lidle is having a great season. He's doing everything that a pitcher should: striking people out, keep them off the base-paths and keep the ball out of the bleachers. Well done, Cory. Well done.

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
ERA – Earned Run Average: (Earned Runs * 9) / IP = ERA
DIPS – Defense Independent Pitching Statistic: 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). I usually use The Hardball Times FIP - basically the same stat - but for some odd reason their pitching statistic interface is down this morning.
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.
K/9 – Strikeouts per nine innings.
BB/9 – Walks per nine innings.

Break up the Phillies!: That is eight in a row heading into the big three game series against the Mets and former Phillie Billy Wagner. The big thing here is that the Phillies have a major opportunity to make up ground on the Mets and bury the Braves, who are already eight games out. I'll preview the series tomorrow. This is The Big One!

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