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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, June 23, 2006

Always look on the bright side of life... 

Tonight, Ryan Madson vs. Josh Beckett. Phillies vs. Red Sox. I simply am not expecting much from the Phillies in this series. The Red Sox enter tonight’s series having won six straight games. They are playing good baseball these days.

The Phillies come into tonight’s series really struggling. Three and ten in their last thirteen games. Ten games out of first place. David Bell and Jimmy Rollins continue to struggle. There is no fire, no spark to this team. I think the Sox could sweep the Phils. These are the times that try fans souls.

On the bright side, the Braves lost again and dropped to fifteen games out of first. Stick a fork in them, they are done.

Monday, I’ll lead-off with some thoughts on Pat Burrell, then a preview of the Orioles – Phillies series, and a review of The Mind of Bill James. I’m also working on posts about the Phillies pitching.

(3) comments

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Frustration 

Since defeating the Arizona Diamondbacks 7-3 on June 7, the Phillies have been in absolute free-fall: dropping ten of their last thirteen games. Right now the Phillies are nine and a half games out of first place, and quite frankly I don’t think it is possible for them to catch the Mets at this juncture. Yes, I think the Phillies are in the thick of the wildcard race, but you have to wonder about even that: their next nine games are road games against good AL East teams. Maybe .500 is a realistic goal for this team.

This is a frustrating team to root for. It has enormous talent and tremendous potential. And yet they sputter and stagger about. They have good pitching, yet they surrender runs by the bushel. They’ve been one of the best defensive teams in baseball for years and yet have played like shadows of their former selves this season. Packed with powerful bats, they struggle to score runs.

Last year I quit blogging the Phillies because I was tired of talking baseball and I was pessimistic about the Phillies future. I’ll continue to blog this season out and go well into the winter, but after that … I want to see some life from this team. They’re just sleep-walking right now.

(2) comments

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Offensive Efficiency & BaseRuns 

First off, please allow me to complain about ESPN.com: I used to rely on ESPN.com to get all of my stats and info. In their mission statement they say that they want to be every sports fan’s homepage, the place they go to get all of their information. It is hard to see how they are working to accomplish that task when they make nearly everything on their site for members (I’m not paying to get information – the internet is / should be about the free exchange of ideas) and when they delete information that I use from my blog. Case-in-point: ESPN no longer carries Runs Created on their team pages. Over a year ago they ditched team fielding stats. I can’t find team DIPS.

Don’t pretend that you want to be the biggest and best sports web site when you offer the same old vanilla stats that everyone else does.

Oh, and I noticed that according to ESPN’s glossary they use the old formula for computating Runs Created that Bill James did away with after the 2004 season because it had become grossly inaccurate. A little behind the times, are we ESPN?

Alright, a subject that has been fascinating me of late. Offensive efficiency. It feels like the Phillies should have scored more runs then they have this season. I’ve suspected that the Phillies haven’t been converting base-runners into runs with any success this season. Curious, I had intended to take ESPN’s Runs Created numbers and divide them into actual runs scored to determine how efficient the Phillies were to the rest of the NL.

Sadly, I couldn’t do that. (See, above.) So I decided to go another route. Compute Runs Created by myself? Here is the formula for Runs Created:

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

- then -

(A * B) / C

Yeah, I don’t have time to cull through all of that data and get the numbers and find out how many Runs Created all 16 NL teams have.

So I decided to use another metric: Base Runs (BsR). Base Runs is a stat developed by Dave Smyth and is utilized by baseball writers like Tangotiger. Proponents of Base Runs claims it most accurately models the way runs are scored and is more accurate than Runs Created, though that is a controversial statement.

Base Runs though has the virtue of having a simpler formula:

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

B / (B + C), then * A, then + D

Ta-da, Base Runs! Simple and elegant. So I ran through the numbers and here is what I got:

Runs Scored / BsR / Eff.
Arizona Diamondbacks: 331 / 317 / 104
San Diego Padres: 295 / 284 / 104
Los Angeles Dodgers: 364 / 354 / 103
St. Louis Cardinals: 339 / 330 / 103
San Francisco Giants: 326 / 317 / 102
Atlanta Braves: 335 / 327 / 102
New York Mets: 351 / 347 / 101
Philadelphia Phillies: 332 / 329 / 101
Chicago Cubs: 261 / 260 / 100
Houston Astros: 314 / 313 / 100
Pittsburgh Pirates: 312 / 314 / 99
Florida Marlins: 293 / 298 / 98
Washington Nats: 313 / 320 / 98
Cincinnati Reds: 345 / 359 / 96
Milwaukee Brewers: 325 / 340 / 95
Colorado Rockies: 303 / 320 / 95

Now all of this contains a few surprises. Here is what I thought about them …

Notice that four of the five most efficient offenses are NL West teams, though the Rockies are a notable exception to that! All four of those teams are batting very better (and in the case of the Dodgers, substantially better) than the league average for batting average with runners in scoring position:

BA / RISP
Dodgers: .311
Giants: .283
D-Backs: .281
Padres: .268
Rockies: .258
League: .265

-People have been lamenting at the Braves offensive struggles, but they really haven’t struggled much when you consider that they have a fairly efficient offense. Look at things this way Braves fans: what if your team started to struggle with batting runners home? The Braves could have one of the worst offenses in the majors.

-The Phillies aren’t really that bad off, are they? They haven’t been converting with runners in scoring position (.239 BA / RISP, “good” for 15th, better only than the Cubs at .230) but they’ve been more efficient at the plate than I thought.

Those there are some thoughts to chew over. I hope I enriched everyone’s day. I hope so, because my wrists are killing me from working that calculator to tabulate these numbers! ESPN: please bring back and update your stats!

More tomorrow. Ugh, my wrists…

(3) comments

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

State of the Phillies Defense... 

“Hitting is solid, pitching is liquid, defense is gaseous … [Defense] is damned hard to capture, formless, hard to see.”


-Bill James

Less than three weeks to go until the All-Star Break and we’ve gotten to the point where we can make a few judgments about the Phillies season this far: the Phillies pitching has been inconsistent, with flashes of brilliance followed by disastrous lapses; the Phillies are powerful and aggressive at the plate, but aren’t creating runs by getting base-runners and moving them on the way they have in the past; and the Phillies have absolutely collapsed defensively.

The quote above from Bill James nicely sums up a problem that I always grapple with whenever I talk about defense: it is darn hard to make any definitive statements because there is a lot of opinion and speculation there. The impact of the pitcher on defense is difficult to judge as well. Alright, so here are a few thoughts and facts to consider before we get started.

-Objectively speaking, the Phillies were pretty darn good on defense in 2005. They ranked second in Defense Efficiency Ratio (DER)* in the NL last year. 70.5% (.705) of the balls Phillies pitchers allowed to be put into play were converted into outs by Phillies fielders. The only team better? Houston, at .706 … The Phillies were .009 better than the league average of .694 … If you consider John Dewan’s Plus / Minus fielding system featured in The Fielding Bible, the Phillies were the best defensive team in 2005, with a plus / minus rating of +108 (i.e., the Phillies made 108 more plays than they were expected to), over twice as many as the second-place NL team, the Astros (+50). The top AL team, the Indians, were 39 plays behind at +69. The Phillies were Top Ten finishers in Plus / Minus in 2003 & 2004 as well.

* Defense Efficiency Ratio (DER): (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.


I think we can safely say that the Phillies were pretty good on defense.

-How are the Phillies doing in 2006? Not well. Currently they rank second-worst in the NL:

DER: Bottom Five
12. Colorado: .683
13. Milwaukee: .682
14. Arizona: .681
15. Phillies: .677
16. Pittsburgh: .668
League Average: .696

The Phillies are also tied with the Washington Nats for tenth in Unearned Runs Allowed, with thirty.

There is something up here. Why have the Phillies, consistently one of the best teams in the NL in fielding, come up short? Why are they struggling?
Well, I’m a little baffled. You’d assume that defense is a constant, so why the Phillies have had the major problems they’ve had is a little bit of a mystery. I’ll try to examine each player in turn:

1B Ryan Howard. Ranked second in the MLB in Plus / Minus for 1B’s in 2005. Zone Rating*, however rated him one of the worst 1B’s in the NL at .722 … This season: ranks eleventh of thirteen NL 1B’s in Zone Rating at .838 (NL leader is the Reds Scott Hatteberg at .885). Has nine errors, four more than the next NL 1B.

* 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.

Mid-term Grade: D. Howard should be playing better than this. He’s got good agility and footwork.

2B Chase Utley. Second in NL in Plus / Minus rating in 2005, middle of the pack in terms of Zone Rating. This season: ranks eight of twelve NL 2B’s in Zone Rating at .798 (NL leader is the Reds Brandon Phillips at .864). Has turned 46 double plays, tied for fourth-most in NL.

Mid-term Grade: C+. Looks like he’s improved turning the double play from 2005 and this range is the same.

SS Jimmy Rollins. Ranked fourth in the NL in Plus / Minus ratings. Middle of the pack in ZR too in ’05. This season: ranks seventh of fifteen NL SS’s in Zone Rating at .846 Has 48 double plays, third in the NL.

Mid-term Grade: B. He may be struggling at the plate, but I think J.Roll is still a valuable defender.

3B David Bell. Led all MLB 3B’s in Plus / Minus rating in 2005. (John Dewan anointed him as the man who should have won the NL Gold Glove instead of Mike Lowell.) Rated well with ZR in 2005. This season: ranks eleventh of fourteen NL 3B’s in Zone Rating at .779 (NL leader is the Giants Pedro Feliz at .859). Third in the NL in Range Factor at 3.03.

Range Factor: (Putouts + Assists) * 9 / IP. Essentially measures how much a player is involved in defensive plays.



Mid-term Grade: D. Looks like he’s slipping defensively.

CF Aaron Rowand. Led all MLB CF’s in Plus / Minus rating in 2005 by a wide-margin. Like with Bell, John Dewan anointed Rowand as the man who should have won the Gold Golve. This season: ranks eighth of thirteen NL 1B’s in Zone Rating at .880 (NL leader is the Marlins Reggie Abercrombie at .925).

Mid-term Grade: C. I was very critical of Rowand’s play early in the season and it looks like he’s coming around. He used to be dead-last or one of the worst. Now’s he’s in the middle and rising.

LF Pat Burrell. Ranked tenth of all MLB LF’s in Plus / Minus at +3. Rated one of the worst in baseball by Zone Rating. This season: ranks nine of thirteen NL LF’s in Zone Rating at .852 (NL leader is the Braves Ryan Langerhans at .957 … .957!).

Mid-term Grade: D+. Never that great, seems to be doing his usual below-average performance.


RF Bobby Abreu. The less said the better about Bobby. Despite earning the NL Gold Glove in 2005, he’s actually probably the weakest defensive player on the Phillies roster. This season: ranks sixth of twelve NL RF’s in Zone Rating at .873 (NL leader is the Padres Brian Giles at .921). That gaffe he committed back in May against the Mets at Shea under-scores his foibles in the field.

Mid-term Grade: D+. Same-old, same-old.

Conclusions: I think the Phillies problems lay with their corner defense. Where are the Phillies strong? Right up the middle: 2B, SS & CF. They are below-average in the outfield, which isn’t a big deal because they are typically below-average in their corner outfield. Their corner infield is a disaster. Ryan Howard needs to improve himself and get into a groove. Teams can survive having weak defensive first basemen, but they cannot survive having weak defensive third basemen, which is what is appears that they have with David Bell. Bell has traditionally been a strong defensive performer for the Phillies but he really seems to have slipped in 2006. Given that he’s a weak batter too, this show to me that he might be the Phillies biggest black hole on their roster.

-The Phillies pitching does enter into the equation here. The Phillies pitchers have surrendered a lot of line-drives this season, as people have noted to me in the past. Of sixteen NL teams they are tied for dead-last with the Pirates in line-drives allowed at 21% (i.e., 21% of the balls put into play are line-drives). According to The Hardball Times, a line-drive falls in for a hit 75% of the time, so when a team allows too many line-drives they are putting their defense at a serious disadvantage. The league average is 19%.

As a counter-point I’d note that this – line-drives allowed – doesn’t entirely explain why the Phillies are struggling defensively: they allowed more line-drives (22%) in 2005 and ranked dead-last in line-drives allowed last season too. And yet they still were nearly one of the best teams in the NL.

I said in my Season Preview that fielding was going to be crucial to the Phillies chances because good fielding could cancel out pitching struggles and equalize the Phillies: i.e., if they fielded well they’d no longer be a team that relied on out-hitting the opposition to win games. I’ve noted that the Phillies have struggled in moving runners over at the plate and that this was a major reason for why the Phillies batters were struggling to generate runs, well … fielding is becoming the Phillies principal Achillies Heel, worse than their hitting. The Phillies rank fourteenth in runs allowed. Only the Brewers and the Braves – the ATLANTA BRAVES! – are worse in the NL. The Phillies pitchers haven’t been bad. Their FIP ERA* (4.49), while worse than the league average (4.42), isn’t much off it and is better than nine other teams in the NL.

* 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).

Those are my thoughts on the state of the Phillies defense. Comments?


(12) comments

Monday, June 19, 2006

Know Thy Enemy: Phillies v. Yankees 

The Phillies square off with the evil empire tonight at 7.

Perhaps it has something to do with the inferiority complex people from Philly have about New York, but when the Mets or Yankees come to down there is more tension, more of a hatred. Maybe it comes from the tendency of New Yorkers to view the world as centering around their city (and Manhattanites as seeing little outside of their little island) that makes them so easy to dislike. And the Yankees are easy to hate: perpetually buying their championships, dominating the media, wallowing in their storied history.

The current team is a gallery of contemptible figures: over-rated and over-hyped Derek Jeter, a man sabremetricians take particular pleasure in needling and criticizing; Johnny Damon, who greedily abandoned the plucky Red Sox for the Yankees' big bucks; Alex Rodriguez, the greedy, self-absorbed metrosexual; Randy Johnson, the mercenary in search of a World Series title … I don’t like the Yankees. Nobody outside of Manhattan can.

The Evil Empire circa 2006 seems to be a diminished lot. They struggled out of the gate and have to deal with the fact that they:

1. Don’t even come close to having either the best or the second-best record in the AL.
2. Have extra competition for the AL East this year, in addition to the Red Sox, the Blue Jays are pretty good this season. Gotta love parity, don’t ya New York?

To be fair, the Yankees pitching has looked pretty decent thus far. Mike Mussina has really had a nice season for the Yankees, however Randy Johnson has really struggled since coming to New York: in his final year with the D-backs he had a FIP ERA of 2.18. His FIP ERAs with the Yankees: 3.77 in ’05 and 4.99 in ‘06. Mariano Rivera is great as usual, but the Yankees pitching seems a little weak.

Meanwhile, anyone noticed that A-Rod is in a major slump? One home run in June, his sole extra-base hit, and a .283 OBP for the month. With A-Rod slumping and Gary Sheffield out of the lineup, the Yankees have been relying on Jason Giambi. Giambi, much-maligned for his steroid abuse, has had a decent year with a .442 OBP and .621 Slugging percentage: .354 GPA, .347 ISO …

How do the Yanks match up to the Phillies? The Yankees have really become grinders this season: they lead the AL in OBP and are in the upper-middle for slugging percentage. Their pitchers have done well, but I cannot help but think that is party because they have improved tremendously in terms of defense in 2006.

The Phillies finally snapped their six-game losing skid. I'm still befuddled that they lost two of three to the D-Rays. That could sting in October. That said, I think the Phillies matchup well with the Yankees. The Yankees aren't really hitting for power and if Phillies pitchers can throttle Giambi, they can take care of the Yankees offense easily. Still, this is going to be a hard series for the Phillies to win.

Here is some news to cheer everyone up! I checked Baseball Prospectus’ website and according to them, the Phillies have an 8% chance of making the playoffs. The Mets? 97%! The Braves have just a 3.5% chance of making the playoffs.

I’ve been watching “The Revolution” on the History Channel and I couldn’t help but compare the Phillies and Yankees to the Colonial Army and the British Army. The British Army was a solid machine, generally thought to be the best in the world, fearless, well-equipped, while the Colonial Army was under-equipped, scrappy and rag-tagged. Washington described the Colonial Army’s camp as having a “mercenary” air to it when he arrived outside of Boston following the Battle of Bunker Hill. The Phillies have always had that mercenary, scrappy feel to them, haven’t they?

I’ve seen all three episodes of “The Revolution” as well as “Washington: The Warrior” on the History Channel and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them. Someone wrote recently that there are two phases from American History that people obsess over, the Revolution and the Civil War. Right now we are in the middle of a swell in interest concerning the Revolution: David McCullough’s “John Adams” , as well as his “1776” are part of a spate of books on the subject to have been released within the last few years. There have been a number of biographies of Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and the Founding Fathers generally put out in recent years, as well as several books talking about the Revolution. Right now I am reading George Leckie’s "George Washington’s War" , which is a very good, readable one-volume on the revolution. If anyone is interested I wanted to suggest two books: “The Cousins’ Wars” by Kevin Phillips and “The Crucible of War” by Fred Anderson.

Phillips is a political writer who started out as a political writer who famously forecast the rise of the Republican Party in 1967 with the book “The Emerging Republican Majority”, which stunned people by predicting that the Great Society would fail and give birth to a renewed conservative movement. Phillips was right, but progressively turned away from the Republican Party when it abandoned “sound money” principles in the 1980s in favor of Reaganomics and has since written a number of books and articles critical of the Republican Party’s embrace of theology and, particularly, of the Bush Family. “The Cousins’ Wars” looks at the English Civil War, the Revolution and the Civil War as being a conflict over faith. e.g., Phillips draws parallels between the divide between Low Church Loyalists to the King and High Church Parliamentarians in the English Civil War to the split in the American Civil War between Low Church Southerners and High Church Northerners. The eventual outcome of these three wars was the triumph of the core values of the Protestant faith. It is an ambitious book full of information and it will open your eyes.

"The Crucible of War" is fascinating. The author’s theory is that the French & Indian War, the conflict fought from 1755 to 1763, which was arguably started by George Washington in Southwestern Pennsylvania, placed the seeds for the Revolution by forcing the colonial armies to take a pivotal role in their own defense and it put the British treasury is so big of a hole that their decision to levy taxes after the war ran up against the colony’s newfound sense of independence and triggered the Revolution. It is a terrific book that I highly recommend, if only for Anderson’s work shattering the myths surrounding the climatic Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759: popular history credits General James Wolfe, whose daring assault on an undefended bluff led to the battle, as a hero and credits the British victory as the death-blow to the French in Canada. Not true, Anderson argues, and makes a compelling case that Wolfe knew he was dying and wanted to go out in a blaze of glory, so he launched the attack hoping to get killed, not hoping to win. Anderson also says that the Battle of Quiberion Bay, where the English fleet annihilated the French fleet off the coast of France, was the decisive battle of the war because it ensured that the French couldn’t re-supply their forces in Canada and had to quit. Anderson goes on to argue that the debt the British government had to enter to win the war led to the revolution because Parliament was forced to tax the colonies. The taxes, combined with the contempt regular British politicians and military officers showed the colonials during the war, gave birth to the revolution.

If anyone is interested, check out the links to those books.

Oh, I'd be remiss if I didn't point this out and gloat about it: anyone notice who is in dead-last in the NL East? The woefully under-manned Marlins? The Nats? Nope, the Atlanta Braves, the team "built to win" by their self-annointed genius G.M. They are mired at 30-40, fourteen games out of first place. Assuming that a team will need 90 wins to make the playoffs, that means the Braves are going to have to go 60-32 the rest of the way (.652). Good luck with that, Braves fans.

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