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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, July 21, 2006

Yeah, this is an important series... 

...a four game set with the Braves when the Phillies are desperately trying to claw themselves back into the playoff race. As I write this the Phillies are 13 games out of the division and 5.5 out of the wildcard. This weekend's series is vital to do well in (i.e., they need to win 3 of 4) because they need to leapfrog the Braves and make up a little ground. Can the Phillies do it?

Regardless of the outcome of the series I don't think the Phillies season is made or done for. They are hanging on the edge by a thread. Anything less than a split of the series would be a disaster for the Phillies however ... If the Braves sweep the Phils then I think I will declare the season to be over ... The battle to save the Phillies season starts tonight.

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Obligatory Cole Hamels Post 

I’ve been a pretty good skeptic about this Cole Hamels character. While all of the other bloggers were writing about Hamels with reverence and awe, and anointing him the second-coming of Steve Carlton – (blasphemy!) – I was standing on the sidelines armed with my quiet skepticism. Now that Hamels has put in several starts I think we can sit down and make a few observations about his season thus far.

First of all, I would say that there is a lot to like about Hamels and that he is pitching much, much better than his 5.44 ERA indicates. Check out his stats:

HR/9: 1.01
BB/9: 4.84
K/9: 8.87
ERA: 5.44
FIP: 4.32
DER: .693
WHIP: 1.52

Team averages:
HR/9: 1.19
BB/9: 3.40
K/9: 6.59
ERA: 4.82
FIP: 4.66
DER: .672
WHIP: 1.50

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
WHIP – Walks plus hits by innings pitched: (BB + H) / IP = WHIP
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: (HR * 9) / IP
K/9 – Strikeouts per nine innings: (K * 9) / IP
BB/9 – Walks per nine innings: (BB * 9) / IP

Yes, Cole is pitching better than his ERA indicates. Cole’s FIP ERA makes him probably the Phillies best starter:

FIP:
Myers: 4.31
Hamels: 4.32
Lidle: 4.41
Lieber: 4.49
Madson: 5.46
Floyd: 7.02
Team: 4.66

Unlike Cole, Myers is under-pitching his “real” ERA by 0.45 … But I do think that Cole is the Phillies strongest starter right now, which isn’t saying much to a certain extent because the Phillies starting pitching is terrible. There is a lot we don’t know about Cole and there is a lot of smoke and mirrors at work with his numbers. Consider: yes, Cole has a very nice and low 1.01 home runs per 9 innings, but bear in mind that 60% of the innings that he’s thrown have been on the road. I am willing to concede that the number of home runs Hamels has surrendered might lower than it looks however: he gave up his five home runs in three of his nine starts. In six starts he didn’t give up any home runs, and two of those starts were against the Reds at Great American Ballpark and against the Yankees. That’s not bad at all and that suggests to me that Cole might be a very difficult pitcher to go deep against, something that the Phillies need very, very much.

Cole gets a lot of strikeouts and that is something that I like to see, especially with the Phillies defense playing as badly as it is. If you can take care of business yourself, so much the better. It is worth noting that the decline in the Phillies defense means that five of the Phillies six starters are actually out-pitching their “real” ERAs. In the case of Jon Lieber, his FIP ERA is nearly a run lower than his real ERA. Cole’s ability to get outs without relying on the defense to make a play, the why Lieber and Lidle do, is a major strength right now.

What is disturbing to me is Cole’s inability to keep cheap base runners off the base paths, namely, his propensity for surrendering walk after walk after walk after walk. Initially, I had wondered if Hamels high walk rate was due to his inexperience in his first two starts, when he gave up nine walks in eleven and two-thirds innings. Since then Cole really hasn’t settled down, giving up fifteen walks in his last thirty-three and one-third innings, 4.05 walks per nine innings. Cole has given up at least two walks in eight of his nine starts.

Cole has a looooong way to go. I’d note that Jon Lieber, Cory Lidle, Brett Myers, Ryan Madson and even Gavin Floyd all have higher Quality Start* percentages than Cole:

Myers: .688
Lidle: .611
Madson: .429
Lieber: .333
Floyd: .273
Hamels: .111
Team: .425

* A Quality Start is a start where the pitcher goes six or more innings and gives up three or fewer runs.

I will say that I think Cole is the Phillies best pitcher, and if the Phils are still fighting for a playoff spot on the last day of the season against the Marlins, I am hoping that Charlie Manuel puts the ball into Cole’s hand. If Cole can work out that walk problem, he’ll be deadly. And maybe those Steve Carlton comparisons will be apt.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Focus on Cory Lidle 

I’ve been concentrating to much of late on the status and quality of the Phillies offense that I have utterly neglected to discuss the Phillies pitching staff. I’ve always been a big booster of Cory Lidle. The decision of the Phillies to add Lidle to the team in the fall of 2004 was an underestimated move. Lidle is a sinkerball pitcher that power hitters find difficult to take deep. Lidle, I was certain, would do a great job with the Phillies.

I have to say that I am mildly disappointed by Lidle’s performance with the Phillies. He’s mostly done his job: keeping the ball down and in the park. But he hasn’t quite been the performer that I expected. At the moment, for example, he is surrendering 1.21 home runs per nine innings. I think that is far too high for a groundball pitcher to be giving up. Let’s compare Lidle to the rest of the rotation:

Home Runs / 9 Innings:
Hamels: 1.00
Myers: 1.19
Lidle: 1.21
Lieber: 1.36
Madson: 1.58
Floyd: 2.31
Team: 1.19

As you might guess, the lower team number indicates that the Phillies bullpen has been pitching well and keeping the Phillies chestnuts out of the fire. Lidle is better than Lieber, Madson, and Floyd, but lags (slightly) Myers and Hamel. I have to admit to being impressed by Hamels, but that is another post … Still, I think Lidle is giving up too many homers. His career average is a stingy 1.00, and he gave up just 0.88 with the Phillies in 2005. Clearly, Lidle is off his game … Let’s look at walks surrendered:

Walks / 9 Innings
Lieber: 1.24
Lidle: 2.95
Myers: 3.39
Madson: 3.69
Hamels: 4.84
Floyd: 5.30
Team: 3.40

Much like Lieber, Lidle has a strong talent for not surrendering free base-runners. Lidle’s 2.95 is actually well off his career average of 2.33, and nearly an extra walk per inning compared to 2005 (1.95). Again, Lidle is off his game.

Lidle’s ERA is 4.95, but as many have shown before, ERAs depend on the quality of the defense playing around you, so a better stat to look at is FIP, or Fielding Independent Pitching. All FIP does is evaluate 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).

FIP – Fielding Independent Pitching
Myers: 4.31
Hamels: 4.32
Lidle: 4.41
Lieber: 4.49
Madson: 5.46
Floyd: 7.02
Team: 4.66

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
FIP – Fielding Independent Pitching: (13*HR+3*BB-2*K / IP) + League Factor HR/9 – Home Runs allowed per nine innings: (HR * 9) / IP
BB/9 – Walks per nine innings: (BB * 9) / IP

Lidle is out-pitching is “real” ERA by 0.54. The secret to why Cory has done decently well in 2006 has been his increased strikeouts. In 2005, Lidle averaged 5.90 strikeouts per nine innings. In 2006 he’s K’ing 7.21 per nine innings. That is a terrific turnaround. I’m not quite sure what is behind it, but it is working well for him. Despite Lidle’s struggles with home runs and walks, his FIP ERA is better than the team average of 4.66 and better than the league average of 4.57 …

I am disappointed by Cory Lidle’s performance in 2006, but I hold out hope that he will improve and get his 2005 groove back. As you can seen by Cory’s impressive FIP, he’s not pitching badly in many respects. Note that he’s tied for the team lead in quality starts with eleven in eighteen starts (Quality Start is a start where the pitcher goes six or more innings and surrenders three or less runs). I think Cory Lidle can do much better and when he starts lowering those home run and walk numbers, he will be a formidable pitcher.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

No Opportunities… 

As I said a little while ago the Phillies really have a major problem. No team in the National League has been worse at exploiting opportunities at the plate. At present, the Phillies rank dead-last in the NL in batting average with runners in scoring position (BA/RISP) at .242:

Brewers: .256
Nats: .253
Reds: .250
Cubs: .243
Phillies: .242
NL average: .268

The Phillies lethal inability to move runners over is only part of the problem. The team really isn’t getting the opportunities to move runners over. The Phillies have the second-fewest At-Bats with runners in scoring position (719) in the NL (the Cubs, with 715, are the only team worse). It is sort of a vicious circle: the fewer runners you get on base, the fewer opportunities you get to bat them home, and the worse you get at batting them home.

Curious, I looked to see how badly the Phillies had declined in terms of OBP from previous seasons. Read and weep:

2006: 11th in NL at .332
2005: 1st in NL at .348
2004: 2nd in NL at .345
2003: 4th in NL at .343
2002: 3rd in NL at .339

For the last four seasons the Phillies have been one of the top quarter of teams in OBP (last year they were the best and by a margin: .009 better than the Marlins), but the decline has been sudden and catastrophic. That decline in the Phillies ability to create opportunities and their batting with runners in scoring position has crippled their offensive production, despite the fact that the Phillies have one of the most powerful offenses in the NL: currently the Phillies are third in the NL in isolated power (ISO) at .173 …

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)

So what is the reason for the Phillies decline? I’m not entirely sure. You certainly cannot blame the Big Four of Ryan Howard (.341 OBP), Pat Burrell (.376 OBP), Chase Utley (.376 OBP) or Bobby Abreu (.447). Abreu’s OBP in particular is astonishing, better than his career high (.446 in 1999) and over thirty points better than his career average (.411). I shudder to think about how badly the Phillies offense would be doing without Abreu at the plate, so I hope those rumors about Bobby being dealt to the Detroit Tigers soon are false.

The fault lies with the supporting cast:

-Jimmy Rollins has an OBP (.323) that is far too low for a lead-off hitter. Ironically, Rollins has done some nice work to lower his strikeouts and make himself into a more patient hitter, but he’s just not there yet: J.Roll’s 3.58 pitches per plate appearance is worse than any other Phillie than Aaron Rowand (3.44) … The irony is that J.Roll really hasn’t done a bad job of drawing walks: his .080 BB/PA is actually pretty respectable. J.Roll’s real problem is that he isn’t hitting well: J.Roll’s BA/BIP is .271, worse than the team average of .294 and the league average of .301 …

-David Bell has been my whipping boy for a while now. In all fairness to Bell, his .334 OBP isn’t that bad. It is slightly better than the team average and right on the league average of .334 … Bell’s .091 BB/PA is also the team average, so he’s doing alright. Bell isn’t doing badly, but he’s still not doing that well …

-Aaron Rowand … well, just read yesterday’s post …

- Sal Fasano / Mike Lieberthal … Along with Aaron Rowand’s struggles, the Phillies have a major, major problem at catcher. Sal Fasano and Mike Lieberthal are really struggling at the plate. Their OBP’s are an identical .284, which one can only describe as absolutely terrible. Beyond terrible. The root of Fasano and Lieberthal’s problem is their inability to draw walks. Lieberthal’s BB/PA is a laughable .011 and Fasano is a .034 … The result is that the Phillies are getting terrible production out of their catchers. Lieberthal’s .284 would easily be his career-worst and nearly sixty points off his .339 career OBP.

Fasano is no surprise. Bottom-line, the man cannot hit. He may be a terrific catcher and he may enhance the team’s pitching staff and defense, but he can’t hit. His career GPA is .238 and his career OBP is .302 … .302! … At the moment the catchers are a major drain on the Phillies offense. Lieberthal’s GPA is a putrid .214 and Fasano’s not much better at .224.

Bottom-line: The Phillies aren’t getting the production they ought to from the supporting cast. The Big Four of Howard, Abreu, Utley and Burrell are fine, but the supporting cast isn’t getting the job done. J.Roll is having bad luck at the plate and needs to be more selective in what he swings at; David Bell is playing well by his standard, which is to say poorly by everyone else’s; Aaron Rowand is hitting badly and is too much of a free-swinger, and the Phillies catchers, Mike Lieberthal and Sal Fasano, are playing terrible baseball. In the off-season the Phillies need to address their problems at third and at the catcher positions if they are going to get back to being formidable in getting people on base.

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Monday, July 17, 2006

The Problem with Aaron Rowand … 

When the Phillies dealt to bring Aaron Rowand aboard, I was instantly in favor of the deal. Sending Thome to the White Sox enabled the Phillies to give the first base job to Ryan Howard, the younger and less expensive NL Rookie of the Year, and the Phillies got Rowand, the young, gifted centerfielder who would ably replace the Jason Michaels – Kenny Lofton platoon in the middle of the Phillies defense.

Rowand has largely been a disappointment, playing so-so in centerfield. Rowand’s biggest problem with the Phils has been with his bat. Simply put, adding Aaron Rowand has badly crippled the Phillies offense and might be one of the major reasons why the Phillies are struggling to score runs these days.

Here is what Rowand has done thus far this season:

Rowand / Team Average
OBP: .317 / .332
SLG: .434 / .429
ISO: .170 / .173
GPA: .251 / .257
Runs Created: 35
RC/27 Outs: 4.58 / 4.89

What the stats mean:
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. Here is the formula ESPN (where I get it from) uses: [(H + BB + HBP - CS - GIDP) times (Total bases + .26[BB - IBB + HBP] + .52[SH + SF + SB])] divided by (AB + BB + HBP + SH+ SF). ESPN’s version is out-of-date, however, I’d note. James adjusted RC after the 2004 season ended.
RC/27: Runs Created per 27 outs, essentially what a team of 9 of this player would score in a hypothetical game.
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)

Rowand is doing a little better than the team average in slugging percentage, but he’s under the team averages in on-base-percentage, isolated power, gross productive average, etc. So what is wrong with Rowand’s game?

A problem that I fretted about with Rowand has definitely surfaced this season. Rowand cannot draw a walk to save his life. Check it out:

Walks per plate appearance: BB / Plate Appearances, (BB / PA = .BB/PA Avg)
Bobby Abreu: .221
Pat Burrell: .166
David Bell: .091
Ryan Howard: .088
Chase Utley: .080
Jimmy Rollins: .080
Aaron Rowand: .038
Team: .091

The problem that Rowand has is that he isn’t a choosy player at the plate. Of all of the Phillies hitters, he is the least choosy:

Pitches per plate appearance …

Bobby Abreu: 4.49
Pat Burrell: 4.25
Chase Utley: 3.97
Ryan Howard: 3.92
David Bell: 3.66
Jimmy Rollins: 3.58
Aaron Rowand: 3.44
Team: 3.82

Not surprisingly, the players that are patient at the plate are the ones who draw walks and, hence, make consistent base-running threats. Rowand is not a patient hitter at the plate.

The scary thing about Rowand is that this is pretty much what he can do. I looked at his batting average with balls put into play and discovered that he was hitting .301, which isn’t as good as some players (e.g., Bobby Abreu: .365, Chase Utley: .343), but is much better than others (e.g., Pat Burrell: .278). the league average in BA/BIP is .301, so I suspect that Rowand hasn’t simply been an unlucky player. He’s doing pretty good when he puts the ball into play, but otherwise he’s simply striking out or making an out the seven of ten times he puts the ball into play. The problem here is this: without that ability to draw walks, Rowand is doomed to continue to be a substandard offensive threat. Pat Burrell is over four times more likely to draw a walk than Rowand (Burrell’s BB / PA is .166), so his struggles at the plate are salvaged by the fact that he’s learned to milk counts and get onto base, helping him work through his slumps while still being a threat.

In many respects this ought not surprise us: Rowand’s 2005 OBP was just .329, fairly close to his career average of .337, which is fairly inflated by Rowand’s .364 in 2004 … Rowand has never developed this skill at milking counts and being choosey at the plate. He’s a natural free-swinger. And therein lies the problem. Jason Michaels and Kenny Lofton weren’t the most dynamic of ballplayers, but they were consistent threats to get on base and create opportunities for Phillies batters:

OBP
Michaels: .399
Lofton: .392

Rowand’s addition to the Phillies lineup is essentially subtracting opportunities from the Phillies offense. They cannot generate runs anymore because they don’t have people setting the table, or people exploiting opportunities: Rowand’s batting average is a meager .246 with runners in scoring position. His Runs Created per 27 Outs declines to 3.95 … Bottom-line, at the end of the season we will be in a position to evaluate Rowand’s contributions to the Phillies defense more fully, however, at the present time you’d have to say that he has been a major drag on the Phillies offensive unit. Will Rowand’s defensive contributions out-strip his offensive detriments? I hope so, but I have to admit that I am skeptical.

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