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Friday, September 22, 2006

Ten Games to Glory? 

The Phillies kick off a vital, vital, vital home-stand against the Florida Marlins this weekend. It is a little much to say that the Phillies playoff chances are riding on this series, but every game counts these days and the Phillies could do themselves a huge favor by wiping out the Marlins and removing them as a threat to sneak up at the end of the season and catch the Phillies for second and/or make the playoffs. (The former being much more likely than the latter.)

The Phillies send their best tonight, Cole Hamels. Cole won his last start, against the Astros, scattering three hits and four walks over seven and two-thirds of an inning, fanning eleven Astros. Cole has really come on these last months. He’s 5-3 with an ERA for August and September of just 2.54, and he’s striking out 9.37 batters per nine innings, allowing just 2.38 walks and 1.11 home runs with a 1.00 WHIP. Cole is progressing very well and seems to be handling the stress of this playoff race very, very well.

Tomorrow the Phillies send Jon Lieber. When I get a chance, I’ll have to remove that poll b/c is it pretty obvious that the 8-10 Lieber ain’t getting to twenty wins this season. In the Phillies rotation right now Lieber is the weak link. While his post All-Star ERA (4.64) is an improvement over the pre break ERA (5.47), he’s still extremely inconsistent and prone to giving up home runs. He’s surrendered two homers in each of his last three starts.

On Sunday the Phillies send Jamie Moyer. Gotta love this guy. He’s 3-2 with the Phillies with a 3.79 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP. I think the Phillies got exactly what they wanted when they dealt for Moyer in the off-season: a crafty veteran who could stabilize the rotation and give them a nice compliment to Cole Hamels.

If I had to predict how this series will unfold, I’d say that the Phillies will probably win Friday night and Sunday afternoon’s games, and drop the Saturday game, which will probably be nationally televised.

Other predictions for this weekend: Eagles over the 49ers 31-17, Ohio State over Penn State 38-7, and the Cincinnati Bengals over the Pittsburgh Steelers 20-17.

-Whatever happens in the next week I think we can safely say that the Phillies won’t go 9-1 and equal last year’s 88-74 mark, the team’s best record since they won 97 games and made the World Series in 1993. Let’s say the Phillies go 6-4 and that is good enough for the post-season (which it might be), then the Phillies will finish with 85 wins, their worst mark since ’02.

-If the Phillies do make the playoffs they will shrink the circle of teams that have failed to make the playoffs in the modern, three-division format era to the Nats/Expos, Pirates and Brewers.

-Fun with You Tube. I’ve been a late comer to the You Tube thing, but I discovered it the other day and I’ve been laughing my head off watching clips from The Daily Show and the Colbert Report. Two in particular made me chuckle:

Click here for a hilarious bit from Bush mangling the saying “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” Even if you are a Republican, you have to admit it was pretty funny, especially the look of panic that was on W’s face when he blanked on what to say.

Click here for a funny bit from Steven Colbert where he asks a prominent Georgia Congressman about his enthusiasm for the Ten Commandments and then stumps him when he asks him what they are.

And finally … click here for a nice compilation of Ryan Howard home runs. I had to end that on a baseball note.

Wildcard Watch! … Dodgers moved a half game up last night with their 5-2 win over the Pirates. No biggie. Let’s see what happens…

1. Los Angeles: 80-73
2. Philadelphia: 79-73 (0.5)
3. Florida: 76-77 (4.0)
4. San Francisco: 75-77 (4.5)
5. Atlanta: 75-78 (5.0)

Everyone enjoy the weekend!

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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Clutch Hitting: Another Look At An Old Problem 

There is no such thing as clutch hitting. Or at least that is an article of faith amongst sabremetricians – countless people have run the numbers and come back with the following response: clutch hitting is fictitious. Players don’t magically elevate their game and become supermen.

You can’t tell that to your average baseball fan or to a Yankees / Derek Jeter partisan, but that is one of the divides in baseball’s split between its Catholic and Protestant factions, between the old-schoolers and the numbers crowd.

The Phillies are doing a lousy job at hitting in the clutch – that is, hitting with runners in scoring position. Here is how badly they are doing:

BA / RISP
Los Angeles: .287
New York: .279
Atlanta: .278
San Francisco: .278
St. Louis: .276
Pittsburgh: .270
Colorado: .267
San Diego: .265
Arizona: .264
Florida: .264
Milwaukee: .262
Chicago: .260
Philadelphia: .252
Houston: .252
Washington: .250
Cincinnati: .247

While predictably the Atlanta Braves, the L.A. Dodgers and the New York Mets have some of the best offenses in the N.L., not-so-predictably the Phillies – thirteenth in BA/RISP – have the second-best offense in the N.L., scoring 5.29 runs a game (0.01 behind the Mets). The Reds, worst in the N.L., are above-average at 4.79 a game, compared to the league average of 4.76. Being successful at hitting in the clutch, with runners in scoring position, is not essential to a team being successful and not predictive of success either. The Giants, for example, are very good at hitting with runners in scoring position, but they have a below average offense: 4.65. Their problem is that they don’t get many runners on (.328 OBP, fourteenth in the N.L.) and they don’t hit for much power (.160 ISO, .003 off the league average).

So the Phillies are more than getting by without hitting with runners in scoring position. It doesn’t even appear that hitting well with runners in scoring position is a perquisite for success in baseball. It is hard to argue with the results: after all the Phillies are scoring nearly a half-run more than the league average every game despite being one of the worst teams in BA/ RISP. Can’t argue with that … The Mets hit twenty-seven points better than the Phillies with runners on second and/or third, but they score pretty much the same number of runs.

So which of the Phillies is struggling? Check it out:

BA / RISP:
Conine: .389
Coste: .375
Rollins: .308
Utley: .289
Lieberthal: .267
Victorino: .266
Rowand: .248
Howard: .243
Burrell: .225
Ruiz: .211
Dellucci: .193
Nunez: .193

And the departed …
Abreu: .320
Bell: .247
Fasano: .083

See this another way: “Clutch”, The Hardball Times analysis for how a player is hitting in clutch situations.

Rollins: +4
Coste: +3.4
Conine: +2.0
Ruiz: 0.0
Nunez: -0.5
Victorino: -2.0
Burrell: -3.6
Rowand: -4.0
Utley: -4.8
Dellucci: -4.8
Howard: -9.0

And the departed …
Abreu: +7.2
Bell: -1.2
Fasano: -4.5

A few things I want to touch on. First off, is there anyone more valuable to their team than Ryan Howard? I submit there isn’t and as you can see, Ryan has done a bad job hitting in the clutch. But will this impact the MVP voters? I doubt it, because Ryan Howard is valuable to the Phillies for his ability to blast mammoth home runs. This is the reason why the Phillies Big Bang offense is surviving their struggles in the clutch: they can score a run or two instantly with the swing of a bat. The Dodgers, a team that relies on their ability to advance runners and score with singles and doubles, are prone to slumps that the Phillies can ride out. This is the reason why the Reds did so well too despite struggling in the clutch.

This is a topic I discussed earlier in the year and I want to put to bed now. There is no such thing as clutch hitting, and – assuming for the sake of argument that it does exist – it isn’t vital or important for a team or a player to be good at it in order to be successful in baseball. Forget about clutch hitting. The Phillies can do without it.

Wildcard Watch! … What a big day yesterday was. With the Phillies winning against the Cubs and the Dodgers losing to the Pirates (the PIRATES?) again, the Phillies make the jump into a tie for the wildcard. If the season were to end today, the Phillies and Dodgers would have a one-game playoff … Today the Phillies have their final day off before they start on their stretch run to the playoffs. Ten games in ten days … Next up for the Phillies: three games against the Florida Marlins at Citizens.

1. Los Angeles: 79-73
1. Philadelphia: 79-73
3. San Francisco: 75-76 (3.5)
4. Florida: 75-77 (4.0)
5. Cincinnati: 74-78 (5.0)
6. Atlanta: 74-78 (5.0)

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Focus On The Bullpen 

At the start of the season few people would have expected that the Phillies bullpen would be one of the team’s strengths. No Billy Wagner, no chance. Surprisingly, Tom Gordon, the team’s much maligned closer, turned out to be one of the three Phillies to represent the NL in the All-Star Game. The bullpen turned out to be one of the team’s strongest attributes. Today I am going to take a quick look at the ‘pen.

First off, here is how the Phillies starters did thus far this season …

Starters:
ERA: 5.22 (14th)
OBP allowed: .345 (13th)
SLG allowed: .485 (16th)
K/9: 7.02 (2nd)
WHIP: 1.46 (13th)
K/BB: 2.29 (4th)
K: 640 (3rd)
BB: 280 (12th)

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.
G/F – Groundball-to-Flyball ratio.
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

I really don’t think there is a polite way to say it. They suck. Aside from their capacity to strike people out (thank you, Cole Hamels), they have done a pitiful job at nearly everything. The Phillies poor defense plays a factor here, but some things like their 280 walks, “good” for twelfth in the N.L., is purely of their doing, as is partly their slugging percentage allowed, which is dead-last in the N.L. It doesn’t get much worse than that.

Now compare the bullpen …

Bullpen: (NL Rank)
OBP: .335 (7th)
SLG: .417 (10th)
Saves Converted: 65% (5th)
K/9: 6.75 (13th)
WHIP: 1.38 (6th)
K/BB: 2.02 (7th)
K: 368 (8th)
BB: 182 (7th)

Notice a massive contrast in styles here. The power pitchers rearing back and hurling their 90mph fastballs in the rotation compared with the more finesse-oriented relief guys. The bullpen got a lot fewer strikeouts on average, but surrendered fewer walks, gave up fewer big hits and allowed fewer base-runners. As a consequence the Phillies have a much more effective bullpen than most teams. Here is the bullpen ERAs for all of the MLB teams:

Bullpen ERA:
1. New York: 3.09
2. San Diego: 3.37
3. Philadelphia: 3.81
4. Chicago: 3.95
5. Pittsburgh: 3.95
6. Los Angeles: 3.98
7. Houston: 4.01
8. St. Louis: 4.04
9. Colorado: 4.27
10. Arizona: 4.43
11. San Francisco: 4.43
12. Atlanta: 4.55
13. Cincinnati: 4.55
14. Washington: 4.56
15. Milwaukee: 4.70
16. Florida: 4.76

That is pretty good and bodes well for the playoff push over the next week and a half. Here now some of the individual players still pitching have done this season …

Tom Gordon. Many, including myself, scoffed at the start of the season when the Phillies signed Gordon to be their closer. He is 38 and coming off a long career where he had most recently been the Yankees set-up guy. Gordon did a nice job this season, especially prior to the All-Star Break. Check it out:

Saves/Opp: 29/33 (88%)
ERA: 3.27
FIP: 3.34
HR/9: 1.20
BB/9: 3.10
K/9: 10.83

That said, I’m not sure that the Tom Gordon Experiment is going to work after this season. Why? Well, after the All-Star Break Gordon was injured and threw just four and two-thirds of an inning in August and three in September. Since the break, he hasn’t pitched well:

ERA:
Pre-All Star: 2.17
Post-All Star: 6.00

In fact, Gordon has badly struggled since the end of the All-Star Break:

Pre-All Star: 0.96 HR/9 2.65 BB/9 11.09
Post-All Star: 1.80 HR/9 4.20 BB/9 10.20

He’s dramatically increased the number of walks and home runs allowed. It suggests to me that the original critics of the Tom Gordon Experiment might be correct after all, and that it just took some time for Gordon’s good fortune to run out.

Another disturbing trend I noticed in Gordon’s performance this season is the variance between his performance at home and on the road:

Home / Away
ERA: 4.67 / 1.78
HR/9: 1.67 / 0.71
BB/9: 3.67 / 2.49
K/9: 12.00 / 9.59
Innings: 27 / 25.1

Say what you want about Billy Wagner, but he was pretty consistent when he was a Phillie. Tom Gordon’s performance really suffers when you look at the difference between his abilities on the road and at home. Monday I said that the Phillies needed to invest serious money in a third baseman to replace Abraham Nunez. Well, the Phillies need to look on the market for a closer as well, because Tom Gordon is not going to be able to close games for the Phillies in 2007.

Ryan Madson. Ryan began the season in the starting rotation and at various points the Phillies tried to make Ryan into a starter. It was not to be. Ryan was, at times, shelled badly by the opposition and returned to the bullpen, only to be pressed into service again later in the season, only to be shelled again and banished to the ‘pen presumptively forever.

For many, the promise Ryan showed in his rookie season when he posted a 2.34 ERA and surrendered just six home runs and nineteen walks in seventy-seven innings of work … Ryan’s rookie stats looked even better when you realized that three of the six home runs allowed were in the disastrous two-thirds of an inning he pitched when he got his sole start prior to 2006 against the White Sox in Chicago. He pitched so well as a part of the Phillies bullpen that he posted nine win shares that season as a setup man. That is far more than I would have expected.

Here are Ryan’s stats as a reliever:

(as reliever)
Saves/Opp: 2/4 (50%)
ERA: 4.54
HR/9: 1.01
BB/9: 2.78
K/9: 8.33

I think it is worth comparing to how he did in 2004 and 2005:

2004 / 2005
ERA: 2.34 / 4.14
HR/9: 0.70 / 1.14
BB/9: 2.22 / 2.59
K/9: 6.42 / 8.17

I think his 2006 numbers are right on line with his 2005 numbers, so this is the sort of pitcher that the Phillies are likely to see in the future. I’m actually quite bullish on Ryan 2007 prospects for a few reasons. One, Ryan is pitching better than his ERA looks because he’s been on the raw end of bad defense from the Phillies. The Phillies have a .645 DER behind Ryan in ‘06, as compared to the .701 they posted in ’05. You can’t really blame Ryan for the drop-off either because he’s allowed fewer line-drives this season than last: 22.2% vs. 25.3%. Ryan’s FIP factors – the home runs, the walks and the strikeouts – are lower in 2006 than in 2005 as a reliever. I think that if the Phillies are looking to replace Tom Gordon as their closer in 2007, which they should, they shouldn’t have to look very far. I think Ryan will do the job.

Geoff Geary. Geary and Fultz have become the Phillies principal set-up men. Geary actually leads all Phillies relievers in innings with eighty-two and a third. I think that Geary has done a pretty nice job setting up Tom Gordon this season. Check it out:

Saves/Opp: 1/2 (50%)
ERA: 2.95
FIP: 3.39
HR/9: 0.55
BB/9: 2.08
K/9: 5.68

Geary isn’t much of a strikeout artist, but I like what he does. He’s a groundball pitcher. He has a 1.55 groundball / flyball ratio, which is pretty good.

Aaron Fultz. Fultz hasn’t done as well as Geary in his role as one of the Phillies set-up guys. Check it out:

Saves/Opp: 0/2 (0%)
ERA: 4.86
FIP: 3.63
HR/9: 0.95
BB/9: 3.65
K/9: 7.97

The problem I have with Fultz is that he has a groundball/flyball ratio of 0.95, i.e., he gives up more flyballs than he gets groundballs out of the batters. This is a lethal problem for a player to have when he pitches as Citizens. I expected, therefore, to see him struggle at home, but was surprised to see the exact opposite was true:

ERA:
Home: 3.98
Away: 6.46

I don’t really understand why Fultz has such a high road ERA, especially considering the fact that he has surrendered six of his seven home runs at home. I’m a little baffled by Fultz’s performance, other than to suggest that fielding might be a factor here: the Phillies have a lousy .663 DER backing Fultz up. Maybe they are fielding badly on the road? I don’t know, that is pure speculation on my part.

Fabio Castro. Castro is a young player the Phillies acquired from the Texas Rangers back on June 30. Just 21, he’s done a decent job this season for the Phillies:

Saves/Opp: 0/1 (0%)
ERA: 0.86
FIP: 3.52
HR/9: 0.43
BB/9: 2.14
K/9: 4.71

Castro’s numbers are good, but a little misleading. Castro has been the beneficiary of some terrific defense from the Phillies this season. The team has a .893 DER behind him. I didn’t know that a team could play that well behind a pitcher, let alone the Phillies this season. Another thing I worry about: Castro has a 0.79 G/F ratio. Yes, Castro has pitched well, but we’ll have to see what he does with this good start of his.

Rick White. White, who was acquired from the Reds off waivers turned out to be one of the Phillies best moves this season. Here is the reason why I like having Rick White on this team:

G/F ratio (relievers):
White: 3.22
Gordon: 1.59
Geary: 1.55
Madson: 1.22
Fultz: 0.95
Rhodes: 0.89
Castro: 0.79

Ta-da … Anyone who can get three out of four balls put into play to be hit on the ground is doing a great job. Here are White’s regular stats …

Saves/Opp: 0/0 (0%)
ERA: 4.55
FIP: 4.24
HR/9: 0.61
BB/9: 3.64
K/9: 5.16

Not great, but not bad either.

To me the bottom-line is this: the Phillies bullpen has performed well this season, but it has some holes. I think Tom Gordon’s success was largely a first-half thing and that he won’t pitch nearly as well down the stretch as the Phillies would like. I think there is a talented collection of guys there, but the Phillies biggest and most potent weapon in the ‘pen is Ryan Madson. Madson is the key to the bullpen and seeing where the Phillies go this post-season.

Wildcard Watch! … Nice victory from the Phillies over the Cubs, 4-1, last night. Naturally two people I ripped on Monday and Tuesday came up big for the Phillies: David Dellucci went 1-for-3 with a run scored and an RBI, and Abraham Nunez went 1-for-2 with two walks and two RBIs. Coupled with a Dodgers loss, the Phillies move within a game of the wildcard. That’s some good news. Really good. I’d feel more comfortable with the playoff picture if the Marlins, Giants and Reds fell out of it and made this into a two-team race. As it stands now the Marlins don’t have much of a shot, but never say never, especially since they play six of their last twelve games against the Phillies.

1. San Diego: 79-72
2. Philadelphia: 78-73 (1.0)
3. San Francisco: 74-76 (4.5)
4. Florida: 74-77 (5.0)
5. Cincinnati: 74-77 (5.0)

Stay tuned!!!

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Dellucci Post 

Ah, remember the heady days of August when the Phillies stunned the baseball establishment by dealing Bobby Abreu, Cory Lidle and David Bell and then proceeded to make a run on the playoffs, confounding the expectations of the media and, almost certainly, the Phillies own high command. The Phillies went 18-11 in the month of August, with some impressive victories over the Nationals, Cubs and Mets. After the Phillies elected to deal Abreu to the Yankees they also decided to sit Pat Burrell more often and rely on Shane Victorino and David Dellucci.

David Dellucci in particular had a terrific month in August, batting .314 GPA, .260 ISO with five home runs, fifteen RBIs, fifteen runs scored and eleven walks. Dellucci was a major reason why the Phillies led the National League in runs scored and most other statistical categories for the month of August.

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.
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 ((S * 1.125) + (D * 1.69) + (T * 3.02) + (HR * 3.73) + (.29 * (BB + HBP – IBB)) + (.492 * (SB + SF + SH)) – (.04 * K))] divided by (AB + BB + HBP + SH+ SF). If you use ESPN’s version be advised that it is pitifully is out-of-date, however. James adjusted RC after the 2004 season ended.

Dellucci has significantly slumped since then, with a .212 GPA, .116ISO with a single home run, one RBI, three runs scored and four walks. Dellucci contributed 16 Runs Created in August and three in September thus far. (Dellucci’s slump really began back on August 18th, with an 0-for-3 in a 6-4 loss against the Washington Nationals, so much of the month of August encompasses the slump.) Because of Dellucci’s slump the Phillies have dropped to seventh in runs scored for September and third in on-base percentage (down from first). These are big drop for a team that relies on its offense to win baseball games.

So what happened? First off, the Phillies have lost confidence in him and sat him too much. Yeah, yeah, he’s hurting the team with his play, but he also ignited the post-Abreu trade boom for the Phillies. He played big in some big series like the Phillies three victories back in mid-August over the Mets where he went 3-for-11 with two home runs, four RBIs and two walks. That was a big-time performance.

The Phillies need to play Dellucci more. Let him play through the slump. Another idea that I have is to work with Dellucci on retaining him for 2007. I suspect that the Phillies aren’t thinking about this – and in any case Dellucci might not figure in their plans for ’07 – but guaranteeing Dellucci that the Phillies want him to play leftfield for them next season might help relax him and give him confidence. Maybe Dellucci is thinking about making a positive impression on the free agency market and is worrying that his slump is affecting his market value. Give him a deal – he should be a cheap replacement for Pat Burrell in left – and let him play.

Update: I figured that I’d give everyone an update on some players that I’ve been following this season.

Chris Coste really slumped this month. In August he had a .313 GPA / .193 ISO. In September his numbers cratered: .163 GPA / .125 ISO. He’s struggling and is showing zero discipline at the plate: his pitches per plate appearance in September was a horrifically bad 3.03, compared with a superb 4.15 in August. Chris: BE PATIENT! Work the count, make the pitcher throw the extra pitch, and you'll get back to your September form.

Carlos Ruiz is making the most of his AB’s this month, with a .416 GPA and .533 ISO. Most of that is the fact that Ruiz hit two home runs in his eighteen plate appearances in the month, but that is still pretty good work, especially considering that before this month Ruiz had a grand total of ten plate appearances in the majors, the three games he caught for the Phillies against the Padres in July.

What a great decision it was to bring Jeff Conine to town. Forty years old and he’s hit a .279 GPA with a .143 ISO with the Phillies. He already has ten Runs Created this month! Contrast that with Abraham Nunez (see yesterday’s post). He’s most definitely not the Phillies first baseman / left fielder of the future, but he adds depth and a much-needed bat off the bench for the Phillies playoff prospects. Well done, Pat Gillick.

Wildcard Watch! … Leave it to the Phillies sweep a rival in a three game set and then lose 11-6 to the worst team in the NL. Memo to Charlie Manuel: if you want to keep your job, win the next two games, please … Anyway, the Phillies only lost a half game with the Padres moving back into the wildcard lead in their horrific loss to the Dodgers in L.A. last night. With just twelve games left in the season that margin of error is getting ever so smaller. The bad news for the Phillies is that the Padres play seven of their final thirteen games against the slumping D-backs, three against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and three against the St. Louis Cardinals. I tend to think the Padres will take at least seven of those games, maybe eight. The Phillies still have six with the Marlins, two with the Cubs, three with the Nats and a makeup with the Astros. I’d say that the Phillies will have to go 8-4 down the stretch to have a shot at the wildcard. I'd peg the magic number at 85-86 wins.

1. San Diego: 78-71
2. Philadelphia: 77-73 (1.5)
3. San Francisco: 74-75 (4.0)
4. Florida: 74-76 (4.5)
5. Cincinnati: 73-77 (5.5)
6. Atlanta: 73-77 (5.5)

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Monday, September 18, 2006

Focus on Abraham Nunez 

Lost in all of the attention over the Phillies decision to send Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle north to New York was the fact that the Phillies executed another trade around the same time, sending David Bell to the Milwaukee Brewers for a minor league pitcher. I complained at the time about the decision, noting that while Bell was a poor hitter he was an excellent third baseman and his likely replacement, Abraham Nunez, was one of the worst hitters I had seen. I decided to revisit the deal and see how both Bell and Nunez are doing …

Let’s start with Bell. The Phillies did not sign David Bell to be their everyday third baseman in 2003 for Bell’s bat (and if they did, they made a terrible mistake). David Bell has been a so-so hitter most of his MLB career and his three and a half seasons with the Phillies are no exception:
2003: .204 GPA / .088 ISO / 27 Runs Created
2004: .278 GPA / .113 ISO / 87 Runs Created
2005: .230 GPA / .120 ISO / 55 Runs Created
2006: .255 GPA / .100 ISO / 41 Runs Created

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.
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 ((S * 1.125) + (D * 1.69) + (T * 3.02) + (HR * 3.73) + (.29 * (BB + HBP – IBB)) + (.492 * (SB + SF + SH)) – (.04 * K))] divided by (AB + BB + HBP + SH+ SF). If you use ESPN’s version be advised that it is pitifully is out-of-date, however. James adjusted RC after the 2004 season ended.

Bell’s best season with the Phillies was in 2004, when he had a .363 OBP, hit eighteen home runs and batted in 77 runs. Here is a good look at Bell’s production via Runs Created per 27 Outs as a Phillie:

2003: 3.0
2004: 6.1
2005: 3.6
2006: 4.8

2006 was an up year for Bell again: he was hitting a respectable .345 OBP and had a nearly a 1-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio (38-to-32). His power was largely vacant – just six home runs – and he was hitting badly in the clutch – .247 – but he was doing better than he had in 2005.

Bell’s other benefit was his astonishing glove-work. In 2005, according to John Dewan’s Plus / Minus system, Bell led all MLB third basemen with +24 plays. In 2004 he was third at +22 and, despite missing huge stretches of the season with back problems, he was good enough for ninth with +6 plays. The Fielding Bible rates Bell as having “good range with good hands and footwork … [with] a quick release and good accuracy in his throws.” (See, page 162.) Bell is, simply put, one of the best defensive 3B’s in the game. Perhaps his sterling defense doesn’t erase his foibles at the plate, but they should be considered.

What made me apprehensive about dealing Bell was that Nunez, a light-hitting utility infielder, would be worse than Bell at the plate. To begin, I figured there would be a drop-off in terms of defense, but not a significant one. Nunez filled in for Scott Rolen at third in 2005 and did a good job: +9. How have Bell and Nunez done defensively for the Phillies. Here are their Zone Rating (ZR) numbers playing third for the Phillies and how Bell has done with the Brewers:

Bell (Brewers): .790
Bell (Phillies): .770
Nunez (Phillies): .777

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.

Not much of a difference. Here is Range Factor:

Bell (Brewers): 2.73
Bell (Phillies): 2.78
Nunez (Phillies): 2.45

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

I don’t believe that is a statistically significant difference, but Bell does have an edge. I think that we can safely say that there is little-to-no drop-off from Bell to Nunez. It is at the plate that I figured there would be a major difference between Bell and Nunez. Here are Bell’s stats with the Phillies and with the Brew crew:

Phillies / Brewers
GPA: .255 / .214
OBP: .345 / .292
SLG: .398 / .331
HR: 6 / 2
K/BB: 1.2 / 2.0
BA/RISP: .247 / .229

Slugging Percentage (SLG): Total Bases / At-Bats = Slugging Percentage. Power at the plate.
Batting Average with Runners in Scoring Position (BA/RISP): H/AB w/ runners on second or third.

Bell has slumped badly on being dealt to the Brewers … quite frankly he’s sort of an anchor on their offense. Cory Koskie, the injured Brewers third baseman they were looking for Bell to fill-in for the rest of the season while they tried to make the playoffs, hit .277 GPA, so Bell is a major downgrade. How is Nunez doing? Well ….

GPA: .187
OBP: .275
SLG: .253
HR: 2
K/BB: 1.9
BA/RISP: .193

There isn’t a single number there that is good. I’ll come back to that but I want to note the most astonishing stat: thus far this season Nunez has played in 107 games, had 300 plate appearances and logged 555 innings in the field. And he doesn’t have a single Win Share. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Bell has played just 38 games for the Brew crew and he’s already got a win share, even though he’s played badly. I think Ryan Howard picks up a Win Share every other game these days. Howard’s got 28 already and the season isn’t even over. Nunez has played so badly that he has a negative number. He has 1.5 Fielding Win Shares for his work at first with his glove, but he has -1.8 Batting Win Shares, for a total of -0.3 Win Shares. His Win Shares Above Bench are at -6. I can’t even fathom how terrible that is. Truly, I don’t think it could be worse.

The other numbers above reinforce all of that. A sub-.200 GPA? It is hard to believe that a non-catcher / pitcher could hit that badly and still get playing time. The Batting Average with Runners In Scoring Position (BA/RISP) is atrocious. It is amazing that the Phillies are continuing to lead the NL in most offensive statistical categories because Nunez is a virtual automatic 0-for-four every time he plays. Since 60% of his At-Bats are in the eighth slot, he’s really killing the Phillies offense because once the opposition gets past the Phillies #1-#7 hitters the #8 & #9 guys are virtually automatic outs. A Nunez At-Bat is an inning-killer.

For whatever his faults, David Bell is better than Abraham Nunez. He might be a streaky player, he might be a light hitter, but he plays good defense and he’s a better bat than Nunez by a mile. Look at Bell’s Win Shares with the Phillies:

Win Shares:
2003: 5
2004: 20
2005: 9
2006: 8

It is telling to me that despite struggling (Bell’s WSAB with the Phillies this season was a meager total of one), Bell has rolled up eight win shares to Nunez’s less-than-zero despite having just 40% more innings in the field and 22% more plate appearances. Bell has more Win Shares playing a few games with the Brewers than Nunez has all season!

I dearly hope that the Phillies intend to make finding a replacement for Nunez job number one in the off-season because the Phillies really need help at third base.

In the end was the decision to deal Bell the correct one? We’ll have to see if Wilfrido Laureano (the player the Phillies got for Bell) turns into any kind of a pitcher, but I doubt it. What did the Phillies do? They down-graded themselves at third base and got rid of a player who they weren’t planning on re-signing at the end of the season anyway for pretty much nothing in return. Huh? At the time I speculated that the team made a mistake and I stand by that. The decision-making process leaves a lot to be desired, and, frankly, if the Phillies miss out on the playoffs this downgrade might be a considerable factor. You can’t tell me that having Nunez in there won’t cost the Phillies a game or two down the stretch.

Tomorrow, a few words on David Dellucci.

Wildcard Watch! … I thought nothing would cheer me up after watching the Eagles blow a 24-7 lead and lose to the Giants 30-24 in overtime, but the Phillies mildly encouraged me with their weekend in Houston. When it is all said and done perhaps we will figure this as the decisive moment in the Phillies playoff run, but this can most definitely be said: the weekend sweep of the Astros was a major victory for the Phillies. Coupled with the Giants and Marlins struggles, the Phillies have moved out from the back to become the Dodgers prime foe for the wildcard … and speaking of which, the Padres moved into the NL West lead with a terrific victory in their series with the Dodgers. At the moment we have our sights set on the Dodgers … But the Phillies sweep of the Astros was a major victory and helps them gain some separation, plus it also knocks the Astros out of the running as well. Coming up they’ve got a three game set against the Chicago Cubs, the team with the worst record in the National League. Keep it going…

1. Los Angeles: 78-71
2. Philadelphia: 77-72 (1.0)
3. San Francisco: 74-74 (3.5)
4. Florida: 74-75 (4.0)
5. Cincinnati: 73-77 (5.0)

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