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Friday, August 18, 2006

Mets - Phillies Series Recap 

Back on August 3 I said that this week’s Mets – Phillies series would either make or break the Phillies season. Well, it certainly didn’t break it. Thanks to some inspired pitching the Phillies improved their standings with the series (for the most part) and made real improvement towards making the playoffs.

Here is a quick recap of the series…

Monday Night. Phillies 13, Mets 0.

No Bobby Abreu, No Pat Burrell, No problem. Perhaps the most impressive Phillies victory I have seen this season and perhaps last season as well. The Phillies score six runs in the first inning and drive Pedro Martinez from the mound in the second-shortest start of his career (Pedro did two-thirds of an inning back in ’95). Aside from Cole Hamels, every Phillie in the starting lineup scores a run. Even the weak-hitting Abraham Nunez, David Bell’s successor at third base, goes 2-for-4, with a run scored and three RBIs. Jimmy Rollins has the most impressive night at the plate, going 3-for-3 with two walks, three runs scored and three RBIs.

But the star of the evening was Cole Hamels. Up against the best offense in the National League, pitted against the Cy Young Award winning Martinez, Cole Hamels hurled a masterful game, scattering four hits over eight innings, striking out nine batters and not allowing a walk. Earlier in the week I compared Hamels performance to Roger Clemens or Curt Schilling. Let’s compare it to Steve Carlton. That was a dynamic performance. The Mets Big Three of Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran and David Wright go 1-for-8, No Walks, No RBIs, and Delgado and Beltran are lifted from the game when it became a lost-cause.

So at the end of the evening the Phillies had improved their position:

NL East: W-L (Games Behind)
1. Mets: 71-46
2. Phillies: 57-60 (14)
3. Braves: 55-62 (16)
4. Marlins: 55-63 (16.5)
5. Nats: 51-67 (20.5)

But more importantly, they stayed in the wildcard mix:

NL Wildcard
1. Reds: 61-57
2. Padres: 60-58 (1)
3. D-Backs: 59-59 (2)
4. Rockies: 58-60 (3)
5. Phillies: 57-60 (3.5)

Tuesday Night. Phillies 11, Mets 4.

The Phillies jump out to an impressive 11-2 lead by the end of the fourth inning on the strength of home runs by Shane Victorino and David Dellucci. It was an impressive night for the Phillies offense, which got thirteen hits and drew six walks. Aside from Aaron Rowand, who went 0-for-4 with a sacrifice fly, all of the Phillies starters managed to get a hit. Even Randy Wolf went 2-for-2 with a double and two RBIs.

Aside from Jose Reyes hitting three home runs and driving in four runs, the Mets were once again throttled by the Phillies supposedly inferior pitching. The Big Three of Beltran, Delgado and Wright went 0-for-9 with two walks, no RBIs and no runs scored. In the two games the Big Three were 1-for-17 with no runs or RBIs.

Randy Wolf pitched a sterling game, allowing just two home runs to Jose Reyes, while scattering a total of four hits over seven innings of work. It was Wolf’s first decision of the year and just the fourth time he pitched in 2006. The Phillies played terrific defense as well, turning three double plays and converting 22 of the 26 balls put into play into outs.

The end of the day found that the Phillies had cut the Mets advantage to thirteen games:

NL East: W-L (Games Behind)
1. Mets: 71-47
2. Phillies: 58-60 (13)
3. Braves: 55-63 (16)
4. Marlins: 55-64 (16.5)
5. Nats: 52-67 (19.5)

But more importantly, the Phillies made up some ground in the wildcard race:

NL Wildcard
1. Reds: 61-58
2. Padres: 60-59 (1)
3. D-Backs: 60-59 (1)
4. Phillies: 58-60 (2.5)
5. Rockies: 58-61 (3)

Wednesday Night. Phillies 3, Mets 0.

Another spectacular performance from the Phillies much maligned pitching staff. Jon Lieber was the star of the evening, hurling a complete-game shutout, scattering just five singles in nine innings. Impressively Lieber struck out four Mets and didn’t walk a single batter. Lieber managed to retire the Mets with just 91 pitches, 65 of which were strikes (in contrast the Mets Tom Glavine threw 114 pitches in seven innings and just 69 were strikes). The performance was the type that I personally expected Lieber to make when he signed with the Phillies prior to last season: he controlled his pitches well, kept “cheap” base-runners (i.e., bases on balls) off the base-paths and threw ground balls. Of the nineteen balls put into play by the Mets, eleven were grounders. That reliance on the fielders and that pin-point control of the strike zone were the reasons why the Phillies signed Lieber and took a chance on him. It was a spectacular performance.

The Phillies mustered just three runs, but they were enough. The star of the night, after Lieber, was the 33-year old rookie Coste, who went 3-for-3 with 2 RBI and a run scored.

The loss continued to shrink the Phillies deficit in the NL East race. Prior to Monday’s game it was fifteen games. Now it was down to twelve.

NL East: W-L (Games Behind)
1. Mets: 71-48
2. Phillies: 59-60 (12)
3. Marlins: 56-64 (15.5)
4. Braves: 55-64 (16)
5. Nats: 53-67 (18.5)

The wildcard race unfortunately didn’t get tighter because the Reds defeated the slumping St. Louis Cardinals 7-2. So the Phillies stay in fourth, two and a half games back:

NL Wildcard
1. Reds: 62-58
2. D-Backs: 61-59 (1)
3. Padres: 60-60 (2)
4. Phillies: 59-60 (2.5)
5. Rockies: 58-62 (4)

Thursday Afternoon. Mets 7, Phillies 2.

After performing so well in the first three games of the series, the Phillies starting pitching finally broke down. Scott Mathieson was shelled for six runs in just four innings of work. It was a depressing end to what had been a terrific run by the Phillies pitching staff, which had surrendered just two runs in the previous twenty-seven innings (0.67 ERA). In contrast the Mets, John Maine held the Phillies in check, surrendering just two runs.

The Mets were able to rebound and win the game because their Big Three of Delgado, Beltran and Wright finally hit, going 7-for-13 with five RBIs. Delgado hit two home runs and a triple, while Beltran added a home run and a double. Here is how the Big Three did in the series:

Games 1-3: 3-for-28 (.107 BA), 2 walks, no runs, no RBIs, no extra-base hits
Game 4: 7-for-13 (.538), four runs, five RBIs, five extra-base hits

Despite hitting six home runs in the series the Mets managed to score just eleven runs.

The upshot of the final game moved the Phillies back a little:

NL East: W-L (Games Behind)
1. Mets: 72-48
2. Phillies: 59-61 (13)
3. Marlins: 56-64 (16)
4. Braves: 56-64 (16)
5. Nats: 53-68 (19.5)

They also squandered a chance to make up ground on the Reds, who lost to the Cardinals 2-1 yesterday:

NL Wildcard
1. Reds: 62-59
2. D-Backs: 61-60 (1)
3. Padres: 60-61 (2)
4. Phillies: 59-61 (2.5)
5. Rockies: 59-62 (3)

In the final analysis, it must be said that the series was a major victory for the Phils. They moved closer to the Mets and made up a little ground in the wildcard race, but more importantly they showed that they can beat the Mets, and that their starting pitching can be pretty good. Let’s see if they can carry this success into this weekend’s series with the Nats. See everyone Monday.

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Since Bobby Left… 

A few weeks ago I prematurely waved the white flag of surrender on the Phillies season after they elected to deal Bobby Abreu and others away. What chance did they have, I figured, if management was already conceding defeat on the season and 2007, and was already looking forward to 2008? I must admit to being pleasantly surprised. Since the trading deadline passed, the Phillies have been red-hot, jumping back into the wildcard hunt and slicing down the gap between them and the wildcard from seven and a half games to just two and a half.

I was curious about how the Phillies have done offensively since the deal and I was very surprised by what I found. Yes, Bobby Abreu was a terrific hitter for the Phillies and they will miss his bat, but since dealing Abreu the Phillies have led the N.L. in scoring by a wide margin with 99 runs to the Dodgers 75. Yes, they have been the best, the most dangerous, team in the NL since the end of the day on July 31.

The Phillies have also led the N.L. in OBP, Abreu’s bread-and-butter, by a wide margin: .384 to the Dodgers .375. Despite losing Abreu’s patient bat, the Phillies were tied for second in the N.L. in walks with 61, just four behind the equally red-hot Dodgers. The Phillies also led the NL in slugging percentage. In August, the Phillies had have bettered the opposition in home runs 24 to 17, in OBP .384 to .300, and in slugging percentage .502 to .404 …

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
Gross Productive Average (GPA): (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.
On-Base Percentage (OBP): How often a player gets on base. (H + BB + HBP) / (Plate Appearances)
Slugging Percentage (SLG): Total Bases / At-Bats = Slugging Percentage. Power at the plate.

The long and the short of it is this: no one man is above the play of the team in the sport of baseball. I was stunned when the Seattle Mariners made the playoffs in 2000 after dealing Ken Griffey Jr., to the Reds and getting what seemed like little in return. I was even more stunned when they let A-Rod walk and proceeded to win 116 games in 2001. When Bobby left, other Phillies started to pick up the slack:

In the month of August Jimmy Rollins hit six home runs and had a .734 slugging percentage as well as a .473 OBP. J.Roll’s GPA has been an ungodly .396 in August.

Ryan Howard might battle his way into the MVP race if he keeps his torrid pace up: in August he has hit six home runs, twenty-three hits, nineteen RBIs, with an OBP of .493 and a slugging percentage of .729. His GPA is a Barry Bonds-like .404 …

Other stellar performers include David Dellucci: 16-of-38 with ten walks, .540 OBP, .842 slugging percentage, .454 GPA, five home runs and twelve RBIs), and Shane Victorino: 13-of-45, .375 OBP, .643 slugging percentage, .330 GPA, two home runs, two triples, four doubles and eleven RBIs. Considering that the Phillies are counting on Victorino and Dellucci to replace Abreu and (probably) Pat Burrell in 2007, then I would have to say that the Phillies future is bright.

The decision to deal Bobby Abreu and the success the Phillies have had since then might spur further change in the offseason, i.e., it might hasten the departure of Pat Burrell. Pat has declined somewhat in the month as well, hitting just one home run with five RBIs, and going 10-for-39 at the plate. With Dellucci and Victorino playing so well in the outfield, perhaps Pat’s days are numbered.

Last night's game was a real jewel for Jon Lieber. This is the sort of game that I thought he'd be hurling every week when the Phillies signed him prior to the '05 season: he threw lots of groundball outs, struck a few guys out and didn't allow a single walk. 71% of Lieber's pitches last night were strikes. Today Scott Matheson goes for the sweep at 1:05. If the Phillies win today they will have a tremendous amount of momentum for the wildcard run. Sweeping the best team in the NL will do that.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Why The Phillies Can't Phield 

A little over a week ago my good friend Tom recently argued on his blog, Balls, Sticks ‘n Stuff, that I had latched onto the poor play of the Phillies defense like a dog gnawing on a bone and that my belief that the Phillies had suffered a collapse on defense this season was wrong. In support of his argument, Tom submitted that the Phillies pitching staff was allowing too many line drives, and since three-quarters of line drives automatically fall in for hits, you can’t entirely fault the Phillies defense for their performance this season when the Phillies hurlers allow too many line-drives.

The primary flaw with Tom’s analysis is simply this: yes, pitchers do influence a team’s DER ratios by how many line drives they allow. The problem is that the ’06 Phillies pitchers aren’t really allowing many more line drives than the ’05 Phillies pitchers did, and the ’05 Phillies were second in the NL in DER. The ’06 Phillies are fifteenth last I looked. The difference between the ’05 and the ’06 teams is something like thirty points, which is enormous. If there was a big upsurge in the number of line drives allowed by Phillies hurlers, I’d be in agreement with Tom.

But there isn’t.

E.g., Brett Myers. In 2005 Brett Myers allowed 23.1% of the balls put into play off him to be line-drives and the Phillies bailed him out by converting .724 of those balls into outs. In 2006, Brett has improved, allowing just 17.7% of the balls put into play as line-drives. If Tom were correct, then the Phillies DER for Brett Myers should be higher than 2005’s .724.

It isn’t. It is .696 …

Jon Lieber? Same thing. He cut down on line-drives from 21.5% to 20.6%, and yet the Phillies DER behind him went down from .722 to .698. Ryan Madson? The same once more: 25.3% to 22.2%, DER fell from .701 to .653.

To be sure the result is not unform: Cory Lidle dropped his line-drives slightly and the DER behind him went up this season slightly. But the point is this: the Phillies pitchers are allowing as many (or fewer) line-drives and the quality of the Phillies defense, quite frankly, sucks.

The Phillies have declined from the second-best defense to second-worst. Such a decline, so sharp and drastic, is really only explained by the decline in play of the Phillies fielders, not their pitchers. And that decline is a dramatic one. There is scant evidence to suggest any other factors in play here. You certainly cannot fault the Phillies pitchers for the decline, after all, they are pitching the same way they have in years past (or better) and the Phillies have been ranked #2, #3 and #4 in DER over the last three seasons.

Tom also faulted me for using Zone Rating, a mildly subjective stat that rates the plays a player makes in his “zone”. Yes, ZR is subjective and imperfect. But it is the only real stat I have to measure a player’s contribution on the field. And ZR makes it clear that there isn’t a single Phillies near the top or even middle of his position in fielding in the NL. The evidence is clear: the Phillies are playing lousy, lousy defense.

The bottom-line is that the Phillies fielders must bear the brunt of the scorn on this matter: they did so well with the balls the Phillies pitchers allowed to be put into play in the past, why not now? I suggest it is due to a change in the Phillies defensive alignment (i.e., adding Aaron Rowand) and an overall decline in the quality of play from several players.

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New Faces II: Cole Hamels, Danny Sandoval & Scott Matheson 

As I noted last week there are some few faces on the block with Chris Roberson, Chris Coste and Carlos Ruiz now starting to get some real playing time on the Phillies roster. After playing so long with a static roster with familiar faces (Pat Burrell, Bobby Abreu, David Bell, Mike Lieberthal, Jim Thome), the Phillies have seen a lot of their farm talent move up and start playing big in the majors. In 2004 and 2005, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, two products of the Phillies system, have moved up to become All-Stars. Coste has played well and Roberson and Ruiz seem to have promising futures as bench players for the Phils in 2007 and beyond.

I thought I might focus on a few other newbies who might be making a splash on the Phillies roster in the coming days and years, specifically, Danny Sandoval, Shortstop; Scott Matheson, Pitcher; and Cole Hamels, Pitcher.

Danny Sandoval. Shortstop.

I feel bad for Danny Sandoval, the Scranton Red Barons shortstop. He plays the same position as Jimmy Rollins, the Phillies entrenched shortstop, and he’s just six months younger than J.Roll. At the age of 27, he’s taken just five major league at-bats. His pro prospects, simply put, aren’t promising.

Take a look at Sandoval’s minor league stats and you get an idea as to why his pro career prospects seem to be fading:

2006 / 2005
OBP: .289 / .379
SLG: .328 / .436
ISO: .072 / .105

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
Isolated Power (ISO): .SLG - .BA = .ISO. Measures a player’s raw power by subtracting singles from their slugging percentage.
On-Base Percentage (OBP): How often a player gets on base. (H + BB + HBP) / (Plate Appearances)
Slugging Percentage (SLG): Total Bases / At-Bats = Slugging Percentage. Power at the plate.

Danny seemed to take a major step backwards in his 2005 production. He isn’t a consistent threat to get on base: in 2006 he drew just 14 walks in 344 At-Bats. In 2005 he drew 31 in 390 At-Bats. He doesn’t draw enough walks to demonstrate that he’d be a consistent threat to get on base. When you are hitting below .300 in terms of OBP in the minors, you have problems.

Another problem is that Danny doesn’t seem to add much speed or power to a team’s offense. Look at the speed issues: in 2006 he hit 68 singles and drew 14 walks, and yet he attempted just 2 steals. In 2005 Danny was more aggressive on the base-paths, attempting 22 steals after hitting 102 singles and drawing 31 walks. The problem was that Danny was caught in 11 of those 22 attempted steals.

Danny adds nearly no power to a team’s lineup: having a .072 ISO is terrible. Of his 88 hits in 2006, just 20 went for extra-bases and 17 of those were doubles. If you aren’t a consistent hitter, if you don’t hit for power and if you don’t have speed, then you are offering little to your team on offense. Maybe Danny is a terrific fielder – I can’t say – but offensively, he contributes little. Don’t expect to see Danny Sandoval sitting on the Phillies bench in 2007, unless J.Roll suffers a major injury. He won’t be playing in the majors.

Scott Matheson. Pitcher.

With all of the hype surrounding Cole Hamels and the talk about the struggles Ryan Madson and Gavin Floyd have been through, it isn’t surprising to see that Scott Matheson has been lost in the middle.

At the moment Scott’s numbers look pretty pedestrian: 4.85 FIP ERA (compared with the team average of 4.71), 5.2 strikeouts per nine innings (compared to the team average of 6.6), 3.5 walks per nine innings (above the team average of 3.4), etc. His minor league stats suggest that he’s got more to offer:

K/9: 9.55
BB/9: 2.49
HR/9: 0.41
WHIP: 1.02
ERA: 3.32

More stats 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

What is surprising to me was how short Scott’s stay with the Red Barons was: just 21 and two-thirds of an inning worked. I complained about Cole Hamels brief stint with the Red Barons, but he threw 23 innings of work. The Phillies trusted Scott enough to have him jump Triple-A ball and get into the majors.

Will Scott be one of the Phillies five starters next season? Assuming the team gambles on Brett Myers and keeps him for 2007, he’ll have a shot to be the No. 4 starter after Cole Hamels, Jon Lieber and Myers. Scott’s competition are Gavin Floyd, whose career has a big question mark next to it; Ryan Madson (ditto) and Randy Wolf, whom the Phillies would probably like to deal in the off-season.

I am hopeful Scott delivers a strong performance Thursday against the Mets. In the future though, I'd say that I can see Scott in the majors in 2007 as one of the Phillies starters.

Cole Hamels. Pitcher.

I’ve been a skeptic on Cole Hamels in the past: too much hype, I objected, too much pressure on him to be the next Steve Carlton. However, I am willing to admit that he’s looking more and more like he’s going to live up to the hype and maybe be the best pitcher the Phillies have had since #32. Cole Hamels might get his number retired one day. I really like what I see. Monday Night'sdominating performance over the Mets suggests that he is going to be the ace pitcher this team hasn't had in a long, long time.

First scope out FIP ERAs amongst the starters:

Hamels: 3.97
Myers: 4.09
Lidle: 4.58
Lieber: 4.58
Madson: 5.29
Floyd: 6.98

Cole’s 3.97 (this number predates Monday's performance, by the way) is much better than the team’s 4.71 or the league average of 4.55. Clearly, he’s doing something right. Namely, he’s striking a lot of guys out (10 per every nine innings, or more than one every inning), and he’s starting to get a handle on his walks allowed, something I’ve faulted him for. Simply put, you can’t hope to be a successful pitcher for the Phillies if you allow a lot of “cheap” base-runners. By striking the opposition out and by keeping guys off the base-paths, Cole Hamels is doing a great job and keeping the ball away from the Phillies fielders, who are doing a lousy job this season.

Check out another reason why I am starting to warm up to Cole: he doesn’t allow many line-drives. In fact, while the Phillies as a team are allowing 20% of the balls to be put into play to be line-drives, Cole is allowing just 16%. That is the best percentage on the team amongst pitchers with at least 20 innings of work. The low number of line-drives is helping the fielders behind him: they are converting .697 of the balls put into play into outs, better than the team average of .679, but still pretty peutrid.

As the days do by, I am increasingly enthusiastic about Cole’s chances of making it in the majors and being the sort of “money” pitcher that the Phillies have been looking for. He’s the Phillies best pitcher right now. He’s a guaranteed lock to be the Phillies Opening Day starter. And he’s only getting better.

I was at Steve Carlton Night in 1989 and I remember Harry Kalas remarking that Steve Carlton was the brightest light in the Phillies darkest days, noting that the ’72 Phillies were a terrible team that lost nearly every night, but when #32 took the mound they expected that they would win. Carlton won 27 of the team’s 59 games in 1972. I look at Cole Hamels and I think that regardless of how awful the Phillies look, when he takes the mound they’ve got a good chance to win. I’m objecting to those comparisons to #32 less these days because they are looking more apt, more on-target, more appropriate.

He’s the Phillies biggest new face.

The Phillies took game two in dramatic style, jumping out to an 11-2 lead by the end of the fourth inning and holding on for a 11-4 win. Yet again the starters did well, seven of the eight got a hit. Randy Wolf even went 2-for-2 and scattered four hits in seven innings of work. Not bad at all. Tonight, Jon Lieber vs. Tom Glavine.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Pity Pat?: Focus on Pat Burrell 

It is hard to pity a guy who is going to make $10 million bucks this season, but I do pity Pat Burrell. If Pat played in New York with the Yankees or Mets, he’d be a superstar, a fixture in the endorsements, a darling of the media. Instead, he plays in Philly, where people talk smack on his game and complain that he isn’t the second-coming of Mickey Mantle. Is Pat Burrell over-paid? Sure. Is he over-criticized? Definitely. With the season coming down to the wire he’s probably the Phillies most important player, the one who needs to shine in order for the Phillies to make the playoffs.

To start, I am surprised to still see Pat wearing a Phillies uniform: I was certain he’d be dealt at the trading deadline and apparently he nearly was to the Orioles, but the deal got nixed. Does dealing Pat make sense? Yes it does, and I won’t be surprised to see him playing somewhere else in 2007, because while he is a great player, his $10 mil salary is too much. As great as Bobby Abreu and Pat Burrell are, the Phillies can’t afford to pay them $25 million dollars next season. I personally expect to see Pat end up in Boston with the Red Sox for 2007, where he could replace Manny Ramirez and get spelled as a DH every so often. Given how much the Red Sox value OBP and their need to get rid of Manny, it would be a great fit.

That said, Pat is going to be vital to the Phillies pennant push. The thing I like about Pat is that he is a grinder who wears a pitcher down. Look at how sees the most pitches in an Plate Appearance:

Bobby Abreu: 4.47
Pat Burrell: 4.23
David Dellucci: 4.03
Ryan Howard: 4.01
Chase Utley: 3.89
David Bell: 3.66
Jimmy Rollins: 3.63
Shane Victorino: 3.45
Aaron Rowand: 3.40

As a consequence, only Bobby Abreu was better at drawing walks:

BB / PA:
Abreu: .208
Burrell: .160
Howard: .121
Dellucci: .093
Bell: .088
Utley: .078
Rollins: .078
Victorino: .049
Rowand: .043

Walks per plate appearance (BB/PA): BB / PA = .BB/PA Avg

That ability to milk a plate appearance and force the pitcher to work hard to get an out is going to be vital down the road as the Phillies are coming up against pitching staffs full of guys who have thrown 200+ innings and are starting to feel like their arms are giving way. With Bobby gone, Pat has become the team’s grinder.

Pat is also a powerful bat. People forget that he had 117 RBIs in 2005. He’s got some strength at the plate. He’s second on the team in Isolated Power. He’s got just as much pop as Chase Utley and Ryan Howard:

ISO / HR / 2B / RBI
Howard: .329 / 39 / 16 / 102
Utley: .223 / 21 / 33 / 74
Burrell: .252 / 23 / 15 / 71

Isolated Power (ISO): .SLG - .BA = .ISO. Measures a player’s raw power by subtracting singles from their slugging percentage.

Without Pat in the lineup, the Phillies would really be struggling to create runs: with their anemic batting average with runners in scoring position (BA / RISP), they rely on power to score runs. Without Pat and his 23 home runs, the Phillies would be struggling to score runs.

I won’t defend Pat’s struggles w/ BA / RISP however. He’s done a lousy job hitting with RISP: .237, off of the team average of .248, which is, of itself, the worst in the NL. This is a phase of the game where he seems to struggle and I suspect his tendency to take pitches plays a role here. He’s drawn 29 walks w/ RISP, whereas Chase Utley seems to be a little more aggressive and has just 10. Chase, incidentally, is the only Phillie hitting well w/ RISP: .340

Aggressiveness can be a virtue at certain junctures of the game …

So Pat is a valuable bat for his power and his ability to grind. I also note that he’s had a lot of success in his career against the Mets. With this four game series looming so important to the Phillies and with another series coming up later in August again the Mets, Pat’s ability to hit Mets pitching is paramount: last year he hit six home runs and had 14 RBIs against the Mets. For the simple fact that he’s a Mets-killer, the Phillies should consider themselves lucky that he’s still on the roster.

That said, I have to admit that I’m seeing the end of the road for Pat Burrell as a Phillie. They cannot continue to keep paying him eight figures, and this season he isn’t playing nearly as well as he did in 2005. Check out Pat’s Runs Created per 27 Outs and Win Shares Winning Percentages for the last three years:

2004: 5.7 / .509
2005: 7.3 / .720
2006: 6.2 / .577

Runs Created (RC): A stat originally created by Bill James to measure a player’s total contribution to his team’s lineup. Here is the formula: [(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,in case you try to use it. James adjusted RC after the 2004 season ended. I got these numbers from The Hardball Times. Runs Created per 27 outs is essentially what a team of 9 of this player would score in a hypothetical game.

I think 2005 was Pat’s last great statistical season. He’s be a solid 90 Runs Created, 30 Home Run, 95 RBI player for 2007, but the Phillies can’t afford to pay him $10 million bucks. You can see the slow decline of Pat Burrell’s skills starting, but he’s still a good player. If the Phillies make the playoffs, I suspect that the lion’s share of the credit will be his.

Well, you could not have asked for a better start to the Phillies – Mets series than with the Phillies 13-0 butt-kicking of the Mets last night. Simply put, it was the most impressive performance I saw from the Phillies in 2006 (and maybe 2005 as well). They were able to drive Pedro Martinez from the mound in the first inning and score at-will for the rest of the game. Most impressive was Cole Hamels, who scattered four hits over eight innings, didn’t walk a single batter and K’d nine Mets. That was a masterful performance and the kind of pitching line that you’d expect to see from Roger Clemens or Curt Schilling. Spectacular start. Let’s see how they do tonight.

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Monday, August 14, 2006

The Week Ahead: Armageddon 

A few weeks ago I have fingered this week’s Mets – Phillies series as being the pivotal moment of the Phillies season. I still stand by that, even though any chance that the Phillies had to catch the Mets has long-since fallen by the wayside. The Mets are the 2006 NL East champs. Nobody can catch them. Not the Phillies. Not the Braves. Not the Fishstripes. Not the Nats. Fifteen games with just forty-five or so to play is insurmountable. Not even the 1951 New York Giants had the close a gap like that in so short a time (the G-men closed a 13-game gap with 48 to play).

So the race is on for the wildcard and the Phillies really need to win these games. The Mets are beatable, no doubt. Had Jon Lieber not thrown away that toss to first last weekend the Phillies might be sitting in first place for the wildcard, because that loss seems to have taken a lot out of the Phils. But the point is that the Mets are hardly invincible. They are a beatable team. Not very, because they are clearly the best team in the NL right now, but they are beatable.

Why are the Mets winning? They are, simply put, the most balanced team in the NL right now. They lead the NL in scoring at 5.39 runs per game and they allow the third-fewest, at 4.54, just behind the Pads (4.49) and Rockies (4.41). Nearly every contender in the NL was serious flaws: the Dodgers are streaky, the Reds are getting by with a lot of offense and little defense or pitching, the Cardinals have the second-worst pitching in the NL (4.87 FIP, as compared with the Phillies much-maligned staff and their 4.71), the Astros, Pads and Rockies have no offense, and the Giants have Barry Bonds. The Phillies have the Reds problem: they are all offense and no defense. The Mets excel at offense, they have the fourth-best fielding team in the majors, and their pitching staff is sixth, but they are much, much better than the league average (4.42 vs. 4.55 FIP ERA). The Mets are, essentially, the deepest and most balanced team that the NL has to offer. The chances of a replay of the 2000 World Series, the subway series between the Mets and Yankees that made the NY-obsessed sports media giddy way back, is a possibility.

Can the Phillies win? Sure. Offensively, the Phillies are pretty similar:

Runs Per Game:
Phillies: 5.13
Mets: 5.39
N.L. Average: 4.78

Isolated Power:
Phillies: .182
Mets: .187
N.L. Average: .163

Gross Productive Average:
Phillies: .264
Mets: .265
N.L. Average: .258

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
Gross Productive Average (GPA): (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.
Isolated Power (ISO): .SLG - .BA = .ISO. Measures a player’s raw power by subtracting singles from their slugging percentage.
On-Base Percentage (OBP): How often a player gets on base. (H + BB + HBP) / (Plate Appearances)
Slugging Percentage (SLG): Total Bases / At-Bats = Slugging Percentage. Power at the plate.
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.

Aside from …

BA / RISP (Runners in Scoring Position)
Phillies: .248
Mets: .274
N.L. Average: .266

The Phillies are, incidentally, the worst in the NL at batting average w/ RISP. I have no clue why, but they are terrible when they have opportunities to bat their guys home. I looked through the AL and I only found one team worse, the Oakland A’s (.240). Bad luck? I suspect that the answer is that teams that rely on power offenses tend to struggle with “clutch” situations, while teams that rely on “clutch” hitting tend to go into run-outages when the hits don’t fall. E.g., the Dodgers were playing well and leading the N.L. in BA/RISP and then struggled badly after the All-Star Break when the hits stopped falling. As I write this the Dodgers still lead the league in BA/RISP at .288, but they were doing much better (over .300) before the break. Teams that rely on power offense, like the Mets and Phillies, tend to survive “bad luck” struggles better.

There is a world of difference between the Phillies and Mets in terms of defense and pitching. Bottom-line, the Mets are keeping people from scoring the Phillies aren’t:

Runs Allowed:
Phillies: 5.10
Mets: 4.54
N.L. Average: 4.90

Phillies: 4.71
Mets: 4.42
N.L. Average: 4.55

Phillies: .679
Mets: .704
N.L. Average: .691

There is really no phase of the game where the Phillies are doing well here. While some have argued that the Phillies pitchers have hurt the fielders ability to make plays by allowing line-drives, I’d note that Phillies pitchers allow roughly the same number of line-drives as the Mets (20% to 19%), and yet the Mets are much, much better (.025 better) at converting balls put into play into outs. In the past the Phillies fielders have labored with a pitching staff that allows a lot of balls to be put into play and still managed to rank second, third and fourth in the N.L. in DER in 2005, 2004 and 2003 respectively. While the Mets are playing good defense, the Phillies aren’t.

But all isn’t lost. The Mets are way in front and have little to play for these next few weeks. The Phillies are in the thick of a wildcard race and know that they need to win to stay alive. Add in the fact that this series is at Citizens, and you’d think that the Phillies might have a slight edge going into this series. We’ll see. Tonight is the big matchup: Cole Hamels vs. Pedro Martinez.

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