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, June 16, 2006


Ground Into Double Play. There are no more feared words for a hitter in the baseball lexicon. A teammate got on base, did his job, and what did you do? You got him out. And yourself out.

Recently I’ve done some work comparing BaseRuns and Runs Created to one another. BaseRuns, if you missed by post a few weeks ago (click here), is an alternative method of computating a player’s contributions to his team. BaseRuns, developed by Dave Smyth, is usually held up by critics of Bill James’ Runs Created as being the most accurate method of forecasting runs scored. Here is the formula for BaseRuns:

A: H + BB + HBP – HR
B: (.8 * S) + (2.1 * D) + (3.4 * T) + (1.8 * HR) + (.1 * (BB + HBP))
C: AB – HR

(B / (B+C)) then multiply by A, then add D.

I’ve actually done some work and I’ve compared BaseRuns to Runs Created. Yes, it is very accurate. (And BaseRuns more accurately tracked the Phillies 2005 offensive output than Runs Created.) But there are things I like about Runs Created. Check out the formula:

A: H + BB + HBP – CS – GIDP
B: (1.125 * S) + (1.69 * D) + (3.02 * T) + (3.73 * HR) + (.29 * (BB + HBP – IBB)) + (.492 * (SB + SF + SH)) – (.04 * K)
C: AB + BB + HBP + SF + SH

(A * B) / C

Notice that Runs Created looks at things like base-stealing (benefits and detriments), intentional walks, sac flies and sac hits and strikeouts. What really intrigued me was that Runs Created keeps track of grounding into double plays. BaseRuns critics have argued that this is flawed before a lead-off hitter can’t possibly GIDP because he is leading off the first inning guaranteed that there isn’t a single base-runner on. That is a good point. I’ve felt funny about it because, to a certain extent, you are holding someone responsible for what another person does: how quickly that person gets to second base. Quick runners can get to second and turn a 6-4-3 double play into a 6-3 ground out with the runner advancing to second, or break up the relay and turn a 6-4-3 into a 6-4 fielders choice.

But I think that keeping track of grounding into double plays is important. They happen a lot and when they do, they are inning killers. Consider the followed scenarios. What happens to a team’s scoring chances when there is a runner on first with no outs and the batter grounds into a 6-4-3 double play?:

Runner on First, No Outs:
Run Expectancy Before GIDP: .9227
Run Expectancy After GIDP: .1160

Basically, the team goes from expecting to score a run that inning to expecting a one-eighth of a chance for a run.

Assume there is already an out:

Runner on First, One Out:
Run Expectancy Before GIDP: .5536
Run Expectancy After GIDP: .0000

A chance at half a run, and then no runs because the inning is over. Now assume that there are multiple base-runners:

Runner on First & Second, No Outs:
Before GIDP: .1.5204
After GIDP*: .3627

* Assuming the runner advances to third during the GIDP.

Sure, the runner was advanced to being just ninety feet from home, but look at the cost: from scoring a run and a half to a one-third chance of getting a solo run.

Okay, so you get the theoretical and practical issues in play here. How are the Phillies doing? Well, I must admit surprise. According to ESPN.com, the Phillies rank tenth amongst sixteen NL teams in grounding into double plays:

1. San Francisco: 67
2. Pittsburgh: 66
3. Chicago Cubs: 62
4. Los Angeles: 58
5. Colorado: 58
10. Phillies: 50

I would have thought that the Phillies would have been higher. What NL team has ground into the fewest double plays? The Mets with 35. Probably a big factor for their success.

Which Phillies have been getting into trouble with this? Check out the Phillies leaders:

Ryan Howard: 3
Chase Utley: 3
Aaron Rowand: 4
David Bell: 4
Bobby Abreu: 5
Jimmy Rollins: 8
Pat Burrell: 9

Given the fact that Chase Utley hits second and usually as Jimmy Rollins ahead of him, it probably isn’t a major surprise to see that he has so few GIDPs. What is a surprise is that Ryan Howard has so few. Who hits ahead of him? Pat Burrell. Pat Burrell was a terrible base-runner in 2005, advancing just 31% of the time he was on base and getting thrown out five times. Ryan Howard should have more of these.

Speaking of Pat the Bat, in addition to hitting like crap with runners in scoring position (see, yesterday's post), his 9 GIDPs are inexcusable. Chase Utley is a good base-runner, advancing 44% of the time and not getting thrown out in 2005. Bobby Abreu? Advanced 48% of the time and got thrown out just twice. So why does he have so many GIDPs? In fact, he’s tied for eighth in the NL with about four other players.

Now let’s talk about Jimmy Rollins. His eight are eye-popping and very interesting. Consider this: Jimmy Rollins lead-off sixty games for the Phillies. That means that out of the 294 plate appearances he has made in 2006, in 20% of them there was no chance of J.Roll hitting into a double play. And I'm sure that there were many, many others where he led off an inning. In fact, given how rarely pitchers get on base, that is remarkable that J.Roll gets to hit with runners on anyway. I know what you are going to say: “But Mike, wouldn’t J.Roll logically have a high GIDP because he hits in front of a slow-footed pitcher during games?” You’d think that would be a factor, but J.Roll had nine all of 2005. Why has he accumulated nearly the same amount in less than half the time?

So yet another reason why Jimmy Rollins is hurting the Phillies offense.

Thoughts on the Mets sweep of the Phils: this week's Phillies-Mets series was a mild disaster for the Phillies. Check that: major disaster. Now, it is way too early to annoint the Mets as the NL East champs, but you have to figure that if they go on to win this September, that this series might have been the tipping point. As I write this, the Mets own a nine and a half game lead on the Phillies and a whopping thirteen game lead on the Braves. That is going to be difficult - very difficult - to make up.

All that the Phillies can do is regroup and plan. They open a three game set with the D-Rays tonight. Let's hope these are three easy W's. Enjoy your weekend everyone. I’ll be back on Monday with more fun and exciting thoughts…

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Ryan Howard: Over-Rated? 

It is hard not to be impressed by Ryan Howard’s season thus far. Any threat of a sophomore slump seems to have fallen by the wayside as Howard continues a frenetic pace of his slugging. As I write this, Ryan Howard is third in the NL in home runs with 22, three behind Ablert Pujols (25). Howard is also third in the NL in RBIs with 54, eleven behind Pujols (65). He’s also fifth in the NL in slugging percentage (.621), again behind Albert Pujols (.751). He’s a near-lock to represent the Phillies at the All-Star game in Pittsburgh in a few weeks and I’d be stunned if he weren’t the starting NL 1B.

But something bugs me about the Phillies these days. As I mentioned yesterday and a few days ago, the Phillies aren’t playing to their potential and I wonder why. Why do the D-backs have a better record with half the talent?

I was paging through my old 2005 Bill James Handbook and I was re-reading James' notes on how the Runs Created formula had to be re-done to reflect changes in the game. James noted that the ’03 Red Sox weren’t as successful as they should have been, given how well they hit. James tagged the problem as being that the Red Sox weren’t advancing base-runners, and thus the actual team runs lagged behind their Runs Created. In fact, James generally found that to be the problem associated with the Runs Created formula.

Well, I was thinking about why the D-backs were winning and scoring more runs and the Phillies weren’t, despite the fact that the Phillies should be much more potent at the plate than the D-backs. I came up, in my post, with a solution to the problem: the D-backs were hitting very well with runners in scoring position. They were advancing runners in scoring position. The Phillies were / have not. Look at this:

Chase Utley: .375
Bobby Abreu: .333
David Bell: .277
Aaron Rowand: .275
Ryan Howard: .226
Pat Burrell: .211
Jimmy Rollins: .209

Ryan Howard doesn’t advance runners the way he ought to. He may hit towering home runs, but his contribution to the Phillies offense is far less important than Bobby Abreu and Chase Utley’s. When runners are in scoring position, Ryan Howard is more likely than anyone (except Pat Burrell and J.Roll) to come up empty

Now I think most people will hasten to note that Pat Burrell is sucking things up right now. Fair enough. He is. But Burrell has performed well at this in the past:

2005: .313
2004: .263

In both situations Burrell’s batting average rose when runners were in scoring position: +.032 in 2005, +.006 in 2004 … Not so with Ryan Howard. His .226 BA / RISP is not much better than his 2005: .241. This year and last, Howard has seen his BA fall with runners in scoring position: -.067 in 2006 and -.048 in 2005 when he won the NL Rookie of the Year award. So it doesn’t seem likely that Ryan Howard is just unlucky. He seems like he can’t drive runners home with any consistency aside from blasting a mega-home run.

Sure Ryan Howard is clubbing the heck out of the ball. But what is he doing when he doesn’t hit home runs? Not much. Of Ryan Howard’s 141 total bases, 88 – roughly 63% – are the product of his 22 home runs. Ryan Howard is feast or famine. And herein lays the problem: I think that power-hitting works better than “small-ball”. But the ability to advance runners from first to third and from third to home, is the sine qua non of modern baseball. Chase Utley, for example, gets just 36% of his total bases off home runs. He has more doubles than homers. And he’s hitting .375 with runners on second and/or third.

So I think that Ryan Howard is a little over-rated. I know I’ll get a lot of outraged mail, but I think that it is worth discussing. Thoughts?

(7) comments

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Phil Sheridan: Worry-Wart 

I wonder if it is in your contact when you become a sportswriter in the Philly area that you have to write an monthy column on how the Eagles/Phillies/Flyers/Sixers/Soul/Phantoms are in the middle of a massive collapse and that their season is doomed and that things are awful, blah blah blah. In that sense, Philadelphia has become the new Boston: the town where the sports fans hope and hope and hope but assume that their team will inevitably let them down. Well, the Patriots won three Super Bowls in four years and the Red Sox won the World Series after eighty-six years. Think positive.

This month’s “the sky is falling” / “the season is lost” column is courtesy of the Inquirer’s Phil Sheridan. (Click here to read.) I like his work (I particularly liked “The Big Foldo” from his column), I think he’s a talented writer, but I think Sheridan’s pessimism is unwarranted. Is the season lost? No. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the Phillies won’t catch the Mets for the NL East title. The last five NL wildcards had 89, 92, 91, 95 and 93 wins, an average of 92. Right now the Phillies are 33-31, so to go 92-70, they’d have to go 59-39 the rest of the season, a .602 winning percentage. Do-able. Very do-able. The New York Giants had to win 80% of their games down the stretch to take the pennant in 1951.

Now, Sheridan does make a good point about the Phillies losing the head-to-head matchups with teams they are competing with, but I think that is minor. You are going to beat some teams and lose to others. We could fixate on the fact that the Phillies went 0-6 against the Astros in 2005, or we could concentrate on the fact that the Phillies dropped a total of six games to the Reds and Pirates in 2005. If we had won one more of those six games, there would have been a one-game playoff for the wildcard. It’s just the law of averages. The Phillies have always played the Braves well, usually taking the season series 10-9 despite failing to capture the division title each year. We should consider ourselves lucky to play such a good team so tight.

This gets back to something I was mulling over a few days ago: why are the Phillies less than the sum of their parts? Why are the Phillies 33-31 and the D-backs are 35-29? By every measurable standard the Phillies are much more talented than the D-backs. And yet the D-backs sit atop a division where all of the teams are .500 or better and the Phillies struggle to keep up with the Mets in a division where three of the five teams are sub-.500 …

This is the question. I have some ideas I plan on expounding on, but I’ll leave everyone with the question instead of the answer … And I’ll note that Phil Sheridan shares the same name as a fiery Union General during the Civil War whose courage and fearlessness so impressed General Ulysses S. Grant at the Battle of Missonary Ridge (November 25, 1863, near Chattanooga, Tennessee) that he brought Sheridan with him when he went east to assume command of the Union Army. The next spring, during the Battle of the Wilderness, Grant listened to a fellow Union general nervously speculate that Robert E. Lee was poised to cut off their retreat and destroy the Army of the Potomac because the battle was going badly that day. The normally mild-mannered Grant angrily swore and told his officers to stop thinking about what Robert E. Lee was going to do to them. Let’s start thinking about what we are going to do him, he exclaimed. Despite the Union Army’s defeat at the Wilderness, Grant rallied his men and fought a series of battles that sapped the Army of Northern Virginia’s morale. The next year the war was over.

Have phaith, Phillies phans.

(2) comments

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Know Thy Enemy III: The Mets 

So what is up with my fixation on the Mets this season? (Click here for Part I, click here for Part II) Simply put, I suspected that the Mets were going to be the Phillies main competition for the NL East title this season and so far it looks like I’m right: the Braves are slip-sliding out of contention faster than I can spell words like “egocentric”, “self-aggrandizing” and “arrogant”, words I used frequently in my review of Braves G.M. John Schuerholz’s book.

So the NL East is fast shaping up to be a two horse race, with the Phillies straining to catch up with the Mets. Tonight’s three game set will be important because the Phillies have a terrific opportunity to make up some of the six and a half games they trail. Let’s look to see how both teams are doing head-to-head:

Pitching: The conventional wisdom is that the Mets have a much, much better pitching staff than the Phillies. They, after all, have Pedro and Tom Glavine. I don’t buy it. Statistically, the Phillies aren’t much off the Mets:

Mets: 4.16 (3rd)
Phillies: 4.37 (5th)
League: 4.40

* 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). Both teams have surrendered roughly the same number of home runs, but the Mets get roughly one more strikeout a game while the Phillies surrender a third of a walk fewer per game. The Phillies rotation has some holes but it is getting straightened out. I think Ryan Madson might hit his stride soon, and Cole Hamels has shown real talent (after walking 9 batters in his first two starts he’s allowed just four in his last two, easing my fear that he’s a walk machine). The big surprise has been the terrific play of reliever Tom Gordon, who has out-played Billy Wagner by a mile this season.

The success that the Mets have had has been in keeping the ball in the park and limiting the opposition in their efforts to advance extra bases. I think this illustrates that point well:

Slugging Percentage* Allowed:
Mets: .382 (1st)
Phillies: .448 (15th)
League: .424

* Slugging Percentage: Power at the plate. (Total Bases / At-Bats = Slugging Percentage)

Part of that has been the sterling play of the Mets fielders, especially compared with the Phillies:

Mets: .713 (6th)
Phillies: .680 (15th)
League: .697

* 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. The Phillies have really, really struggled defensively in 2006 and I am baffled as to why. The Mets are much better, though I am mildly surprised to now see them closer to the top in DER.

Offensively, there really isn’t a whole lot seperating the two teams.

Mets / Phillies / League Average
OBP: .332 / .333 / .334
SLG: .444 / .434 / .424
ISO: .181 / .178 / .162
BA RISP: .260 / .237 / .266
R/G: 5.24 / 4.98 / 4.78

What was significant to me as I jotted those numbers down was the fact that the Mets and Phillies are doing the same things well (hitting with power) and struggling at the same phases of the game (getting on base to a certain extent and hitting with runners in scoring position). The Mets have a slight edge across the board. They aren’t really playing up to their potential, but they are playing some good baseball. Carlos Delgado has been a major upgrade for the Mets at first, a position they struggled with in the past. Delgado, Wright and Beltran make a fearsome middle of the order, every bit as good as the Phillies foursome of Pat Burrell, Chase Utley, Bobby Abreu and Ryan Howard.

Conclusions: This will be a hard-fought series and the Phillies had better play well. They need to make up ground before the All-Star Break and they won’t get a chance to play the Mets again until August 4th. Win now, get some breathing room.

(3) comments

Monday, June 12, 2006

Odds 'N Ends For Today... 

Just some odds and ends today: a friend of my wife and I got married over the weekend and we are pretty worn out from the festivities.

Road Trip Post-Mortem: The Phillies went 6-5 on their road trip, splitting a four game series with the Dodgers, sweeping their three with the D-backs and dropping three of four to the Nats. Despite their poor performance in the Nats series, I’d have to say that the road trip was a success: emerging better than .500 having to play eleven games in eleven days is pretty good.

The Phillies have an interesting road to haul in the coming weeks. Tuesday they kick off a three game set with the Mets, whom they are currently six and a half games behind. After that they don’t play another NL team until the week before the All-Star break. Yes, it is time for inter-league play! The Phillies get the D-Rays, Yankees at home, the Red Sox (again), then they go to Camden Yards to play the Orioles and they visit the Great White North to play the Blue Jays. It used to be that you hoped the Phillies would play the AL Central, but no longer: the White Sox and Tigers own the two best records in the AL. (They’d own the best in the NL too, but the Mets are a game better than the Sox.) Sure, the Yankees, Jays and Red Sox are pretty good teams, but the D-Rays and Orioles are sacrificial lambs. I think the Phillies will fare well in inter-league play this season.

In the mood for a little Schaudenfreude?: I noticed that the Braves are slip-sliding away from contention. Ten games out right now, and they’ve lost nine of eleven games in the month of June. Maybe their G.M. should change the title of his book to “Built To Decay”. There isn’t a whole lot of good news for the Braves either: it isn’t as if they’ve been unlucky: they are batting above the league averages in batting average with runners in scoring position (.269 vs. .266) and batting average with balls put into play (.306 vs. .298). And their FIP ERA is lower than their “real” ERA. This team has had opportunities and it has played to its level of talent. But they haven’t been successful.

Meanwhile the Oakland A’s are en fuego. They’ve won nine of their last eleven and their last three wins were a sweep of the vaunted New York Yankees. Peeking at just the right time.

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