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 19, 2006

What About Brett? 

I’ve concentrated a lot of attention of late on the Phillies starting rotation: Jon Lieber, Cory Lidle, Gavin Floyd, Ryan Madson and, now, Cole Hamels. Brett Myers has gotten, for me, lost in the shuffle because he’s the one Phillies starter with a decent record. Lieber and Lidle, I’ve argued, do not deserve the scorn thrown at them, while Floyd and Madson largely do, I argued. Myers has skated by largely unnoticed to me.

So how is Brett doing? Let’s compare him to the Phillies:

Team: 1.04
Myers: 1.20

Team: 6.87
Myers: 7.18

Team: 3.26
Myers: 2.90

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).
Hr/9 – Home Runs allowed per nine innings.
K/9 – Strikeouts per nine innings.
BB/9 – Walks per nine innings.

Aside from home runs, Myers is out-pitching the team numbers. Generally speaking, he’s doing well, but nowhere near his current numbers. Look at the rotation by ERA:

Myers: 2.73
Lidle: 5.12
Floyd: 5.30
Lieber: 5.50
Madson: 7.18

Now look at with by FIP ERA:
Lidle: 2.95
Lieber: 3.35
Myers: 3.99
Floyd: 5.92
Madson: 6.14

Myers has benefited from some strong defense. I’m not saying that he isn’t pitching well. In fact, I suspect that the problem with his FIP ERA is that his home run totals are a little too high because he’s getting victimized by the Citizens bug: of the seven home runs he’s given up, five were at Citizens and two on the road, despite pitching (narrowly) more innings on the road (26 & 2/3 compared with 26). That’s interesting because the Phillies are doing pretty well with the long ball in 2006: allowing just 1.14 home runs per nine innings at Citizens, and 0.86 per 9 on the road. Brett is really struggling: 1.73 per 9 innings at home, 0.68 on the road. If he could learn to keep the ball in the park when at home, he’d be doing well.

I worry for Brett that he’s harkening back to his 2004 campaign when he surrendered 31 homers in 176 innings: 1.58 per 9 innings. For a ground-ball pitcher like him he gives up far too many long-balls.

Conclusions: I think Brett is pitching well, but he's in good company. Cory Lidle and Jon Lieber are doing just as well, if not better. Now with Cole Hamels in the rotation, the Phillies have a pretty fearsome foursome to throw at the opposition. Things are looking up these days.

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Flash Gordon: Our Hero 

I have to admit to being very surprised by the success Tom Gordon has had as the Phillies closer. I’ll quote what I said in my Season Preview:

the Phillies have definitely downgraded their closer, going with ex-Yankee Tom Gordon … Let’s face it, Tom Gordon is a poor replacement for a closer of Billy Wagner’s abilities. We’re going to miss Billy this season.

Well, how are Gordon and Wagner doing?

Wagner: 1.89 ERA; 11.84 K/9; 3.78 BB/9; 1.42 HR/9
Gordon: 1.53 ERA; 13.24 K/9; 3.06 BB/9; 0.51 HR/9

Advantage, Tom Gordon. Now here’s the kicker:

Wagner: 3.80 FIP ERA; +1.90 over real ERA; 8 of 11 saves converted
Gordon: 1.60 FIP ERA; +0.07 over real ERA; 13 of 14 saves converted

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).
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

Who could have guessed that not only would Tom Gordon be pitching better than Billy Wagner, but much better than Billy Wagner? I’m stunned. I would never have expected a 38 year-old pitcher with over 1,900 innings on his arm would be enjoying such a great season.

It isn’t that hard to pin-point a reason why: he’s striking people out. A lot. He’s K’d 26 of the 68 batters he’s faced (38%). That is a significant increase over his 2005 season: 69 strikeouts in 324 batters faced, 21%, or 7.70 per nine innings. I suspect that blistering pace won’t be maintained, but it is impressive nevertheless.

Gordon’s ability to keep the ball down is really serving him well right now: he’s given up just one home run in nine innings pitched at home and none in the eight and two-thirds on the road. This is an area where he has a definite advantage over Billy Wagner, a flyball pitcher.

Now, all of this isn’t to say that Billy Wagner isn’t having a good season either: the Mets are 12-5 in “close” games and Wagner is a factor there. Billy has actually increased his strikeout rate from last season too: he's K'd 25 of the 80 batters he's faced in 2006 (31%), compared to 84 of 293 in 2005 (29%). And Billy is a BIG upgrade over the Mets 2005 closer, Braden Looper: 3.34 BB/9; 4.09 K/9, 1.06 HR/9 …

But let’s face it: he’s not getting paid the big bucks to be an adequate closer. Tom Gordon is a big reason why the Phillies are 22-17, despite having been out-scored 187-190 this season. The Phillies are 13-10 in close games and are running three games ahead of the their Pythagorean win-loss record. They owe that to Tom Gordon.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Catchers & Defense: Some Thoughts 

I faulted The Fielding Bible for their decision not to attempt to deal with the impact a catcher has on a team’s defense. Playing catcher is a very challenging job because you spend most of the game squatting in the dirt with heavy pads on, drenched in sweat, blocking the plate, catching 95-mph fastballs, interacting with sometimes fragile pitchers, throwing out runners trying to advance … then you have to worry about batting and getting a hit … it is all a massive headache and to survive you have to be a pretty sharp guy. Little surprise that so many managers were also catchers: e.g., Joe Torre, Tony LaRussa.

Rating a catcher and his contribution to his team might be the holy grail of defense analysis. Today I am going to talk about two issues: durability, and holding runners.

First durability.

Innings Played / (Pct. of team’s innings)
Lieberthal (2005): 998 & 2/3 (69.6%)
Pratt (2005): 436 & 1/3 (30.4%)
Lieberthal (2004): 1104 (75.5%)
Pratt (2004): 333 (22.8%)

Pratt got more playing time in ’05 because Lieberthal is slowing down a little these days. Still, see how the rest of the league did:

Rest of the NL:
Matheny (Giants): 1122 (77.7%)
Ausmus (Astros): 1065 & 2/3 (73.9%)
Phillips (Dodgers): 724 (72.4%)
LoDuca (Marlins): 1033 & 1/3 (72.4%)
Barrett (Cubs): 1017 & 2/3 (70.7%)
Molina (Cardinals): 959 & 1/3 (66.4%)
LaRue (Reds): 914 & 2/3 (63.8%)
Miller (Brewers): 917 & 1/3 (63.8%)
Schneider (Nats): 926 & 2/3 (63.6%)
Snyder (D-Backs): 915 & 2/3 (62.9%)
Estrada (Braves): 823 & 1/3 (57.2%)
Piazza (Mets): 809 (56.4%)
Cota (Pirates): 681 (47.4%)

You can’t read too much into this because there are a lot of variables here like pitchers wanting a personal catcher (e.g., Gavin Floyd and Jon Lieber apparently prefer for Sal Fasano to catch their games), injuries, etc. Certainly it appears that Mike Lieberthal is still a pretty durable guy.

It doesn’t surprise me at all to see Mike Piazza at the bottom of the list.

On to stolen bases attempted:

Stolen Bases Attempted / SBA per 1,000 innings
Lieberthal (2005): 80 / 80.1
Pratt (2005): 28 / 64.2
Lieberthal (2004): 94 / 85.1
Pratt (2004): 32 / 96.1

This is a stat I keep track of because a catcher’s arm sometimes has a deterrent effect: teams won’t run on a strong-armed catcher except in situations where they can expect to succeed. So you might see a catcher with a 20% rate for catching base-stealers, but teams ran just 20 times on him because he’s so good. Then you might see a guy with a 25% rate, but teams ran on him 150 times because he’s so weak. Who contributes more to his team’s defense?

I think Lieberthal does a pretty decent job defensively. I don’t think teams tried to take advantage of opportunities against him. Now compare Lieberthal’s numbers to the rest of the league:

The Rest of the League:

Phillips (Dodgers): 97 / 125.3
Piazza (Mets): 95 / 117.4
LoDuca (Marlins): 118 / 114.2
Estrada (Braves): 84 / 102.0
Matheny (Giants): 102 / 90.9
Barrett (Cubs): 91 / 89.4
Schneider (Nats): 80 / 86.3
LaRue (Reds): 76 / 83.1
Miller (Brewers): 76 / 82.9
Cota (Pirates): 47 / 69.0
Snyder (D-Backs): 63 / 68.8
Ausmus (Astros): 57 / 53.5
Molina (Cardinals): 39 / 40.7

I think we can say that Phillips is a weak defensive catcher for the following reason: teams in the NL West were the least likely to steal a base in 2005: the average NL West team attempted 106.4 steals, and three of them attempted less than 100. The average NL Central team tried 138.6 steals. The average NL East team? 136.8. With baseball’s unbalanced schedule that means that the Phillies played a lot of games against teams that like to run: 75 against the NL East, 41 against the Central, and 31 against the West. (Interleague factors skew this a little.)

So the fact that Piazza, Lo Duca and Estrada rank #’s 2, 3 & 4 on the list isn’t surprising. Do teams in this division run because they are defensively weak? Or because there are good base-stealers in the division? (e.g., Carlos Beltran, Jimmy Rollins, Bobby Abreu.) Maybe a little of both.

One player that I think we can say is a very good defensive catcher is the Cards Yadier Molina: not only did he have just 39 attempted base-stealers in 959 & 1/3 innings, but he allowed just 14 to reach. Yes, he threw out 25 base-stealers – 55%! That’s good. Real good.

Mike Lieberthal is still a pretty good catcher. Sure he only caught 19% of base-stealers. That’s better than Piazza’s 11% and comparable to Lo Duca’s 21%.

Conclusions. Catching is the holy grail of defensive sabremetrics. If anyone can come up with a workable system and can suggest things that we can measure, I'd like to hear it. Until then, I'm going to stick up for Mike Lieberthal. He's a good catcher. Not great, but good.

Nice throw by Pat Burrell in last night's Brewers game, just a few hours after I got done questioning his defensive skills. This is a tough series for the Phils to win: the Brew crew looks tough.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Chase Utley: More Tools Than the Home Depot... 

I love the Home Depot. I spend a few hours in there a week fixing up my house (the perils of owning a 105 year-old house). They have a terrific selection of nearly everything that you need to do work around the house, every tool, every item you could imagine.

Like many fans and bloggers, I also love Chase Utley for what he is doing for the Phillies. Chase Utley is a favorite with the fans and especially with bloggers because he is virtually the complete package. Bloggers and fans love him because he is probably the Phillies most important player. Pat Burrell? Great hitter, but he can be inconsistent and has some holes in his defense. Bobby Abreu? Great hitter, but lacks in the power department and is more of a defensive nightmare than Burrell. Ryan Howard? Promising hitter (still needs improvement) but so-so defensively. Aaron Rowand? Great defender, but a so-so hitter. David Bell? (Snort!) J.Roll? Too inconsistent at the plate: doesn’t draw enough walks.

Chase Utley is the complete five-tool player: he can run, throw, field, hit and hit with power.

Tool #1: Chase can run. It is difficult to get a really perfect sense of how well Chase Utley runs the bases, but according to the Bill James Handbook, he was able to take the extra base about 44% of the time when given the opportunity, a pretty darn good percentage, especially compared with teammates like Pat Burrell (31%) and Ryan Howard (34%). Utley is just as good as speedsters like Jimmy Rollins (51%) and Bobby Abreu (48%). Chase also successfully stole 16 of 19 bases in 2005, so he’s got speed on the base-paths. Oh, and he never made an out on the bases in 2005.

Tool #2: Chase can field. Defensively, Utley basically rates well according to John Dewan’s The Fielding Bible: Utley ranked second amongst MLB 2B’s Plus / Minus rating at +26 (i.e., he made twenty-six more positive plays than negative ones). He even beat out Placido Polanco, the Phillies old second baseman, who had an excellent reputation for being a good glove. Utley’s Relative Range Factor was 1.073, which means that he generally makes many more plays than expected.

Tool #3: Chase can (probably) throw. The problem with Chase’s play at second is that he’s struggling with turning the double play: according to The Fielding Bible Chase ranked 34th of 36 2B’s in turning the double play. He’s good, but he needs to improve. Personally, I think he's got the ability, but he just needs to make it happen.

Tool #4: Chase can hit. I think we all knew that going into the 2005 campaign, but it was a surprise what a consistent hitter Chase turned out to be: he hit for power but he also got on base and created runs. The 2005 Bill James Handbook projected ...

HR: 24
2b: 36
Runs Created: 90
ISO: .203
GPA: .270

Chase actually hit ...

HR: 28
2b: 39
Runs Created: 102
ISO: .249
GPA: .304

What was impressive about Chase's performance was that he turned himself into a patient hitter at the plate: he had a .110 walks-per-plate appearance percentage, over double his .052 percentage in 2004. Chase saw the number of pitches per plate appearance jump from 3.82 to 4.02. He's a consistent threat at the plate to get a hit.

Tool #5: Chase can hit with power. Last year Chase's had a .249 ISO (ISO: Slugging Percentage - Batting Average, which essentially measures how many extra-base hits he has), second on the team after Ryan Howard (.279). This year he's right on the money again at .245. Consistently Chase has power at the plate, a rare skill to see in a middle infielder.

Conclusion: Chase Utley is the complete player and the most important on the Phillies. Chase gets on base, hits for power, is involved in the Phillies middle defense turning double plays and scooping in grounders, stealing bases and advancing on the basepaths. Chase is the Phillies MVP.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to Home Depot again...

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Monday, May 15, 2006

How Good Was the Phillies pitching? 

How good was the Phillies pitching this weekend? Playing in one of the friendliest ballparks to hitters, Great American, the Phillies turned in three sterling performances on the mound this weekend:

-Friday. Cole Hamels debut was a smashing success. I remembered Ryan Madson’s debut in 2004, when he surrendered six runs after facing just nine batters against the White Sox, and feared the same would happen to Hamels. It did not:

5 IP, 0 Earned Runs, 1 Hit, 5 Walks, 7 Strikeouts

Hamels actually took a no-hitter into the fifth. I’m a little perplexed at the walk ratio, but I’m very impressed by what I saw. Maybe the kid is going to be alright.

-Saturday. So after Cole turns in a stellar performance Jon Lieber tries to do him one better, taking a perfect game into the seventh. Look at the line on Lieber:

8 & 2/3 IP, 0 Earned Runs, 2 Hits, 0 Walks, 6 Strikeouts

A performance that was nothing short of spectacular. By the way, Lieber is continuing to have a great season: he’s allowed five home runs and five walks in just 52 & 1/3 innings: 0.85 per nine innings. His FIP ERA* is just 3.35, over two runs lower than his “real ERA”. When the Phillies play well behind him, he pitches very well.

* 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).
-Sunday. Hey, Brett Myers didn’t pitch a bad game, but then he wasn’t Hamels or Lieber:

7 IP, 1 Earned Run, 4 Hits, 2 Walks, 5 Strikeouts

A great performance in his own right.

Overall, the Phillies pitched thirty innings and surrendered just three earned runs, (0.90 ERA), walked twelve Reds (3.6 per 9 innings), allowed sixteen hits, and struck out 24 Reds (7.2 per 9 innings). All this against a team leading the NL in runs scored and on-base-percentage, was second in slugging percentage, home runs and isolated power. I have to admit to being shocked at how well the Phillies pitched, especially Hamels. I thought it unwise to have him make his debut in such a park friendly to hitters. I was wrong.

Tomorrow. I have no idea what I’m writing about. I’ve gotten behind in my blogging of late. Tune in for a surprise.

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