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.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

What's Wrong With the Phillies?, Part II: Pitching 

As I noted yesterday, a phantom issue has sprung up this season around the Phillies. They are struggling at the plate to drive runners in. Irrelevant, I say. The real issue – if offense is even an issue at all – is the cold weather causing the Phillies to hit fewer home runs. And in any case, they are still one of the best offensive teams in the league despite royally sucking things up with runners in scoring position. The same hold true for 2006. Last night’s 11-4 annihilation of the Houston Astros illustrates that, I think. The Phillies got twenty hits off the Astros, but importantly seven of those were for extra-bases (four doubles, a triple and two home runs). The Big bang saved the Phillies from a co-co outing from Adam Eaton, who surrendered four runs on six innings of work. The bullpen, I’d be remiss in noting, gave up no runs in three innings of work.

Stop. We are about to talk about a lot of numbers and before I let you go and get confused about what I’m talking about, here are the stats I refer to defined:
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

The real issue, I say, is the terrible job the Phillies pitching is doing. At the moment the Phillies Fielding Independent Pitching is 4.51, which is awful. Second-worst in the N.L. after the Mets … okay, I need to explore one topic before we go back to the Phillies. As I write this the Phillies and Mets appear to be two-vastly different teams on the mound. The Mets team ERA is just 2.50, best in the N.L. by far. The Phillies 5.35 is the worst, also by far. The Phillies FIP, however, is actually better than the Mets. While the Mets are #1 in ERA, they are also #16 in FIP. Why the disparity? The Mets have been stunningly good in the field, converting .777 of the balls their pitchers put into play into outs. The league average is .702. Last year the N.L.’s best team at DER was the Padres at .714. The Phillies are the worst at .673. I’d like to blame the Phillies foibles here on the weather – the Mets adjusted to it well and the Phillies have not, thus producing the disparate results – but I have no proof to back that up. The bottom-line is that the Phillies have been unlucky and the Mets have been stunningly lucky. Mark my words: the Mets are going to start giving up a LOT of runs and they are going to start struggling to keep their leads. That six game lead over the Phillies is going to melt away … As I said, the Phillies are the victims of some terrible, terrible pitching. The Phillies hurlers have given up 1.3 home runs per game, nearly twice the league average of 0.78. Their .472 slugging percentage against is basically an obscene total.

These facts explain why the Phillies are two games behind their Pythagorean Win-Loss total (i.e., if you go by the runs scored and runs allowed, they’d be expected to do two games better than their current record), and why they are 1-6 … yes, one win in seven tries … in “close” games, i.e., games decided by one or two runs.

The Rotation: at the moment the Phillies starting rotation ranks thirteenth in terms of ERA at 4.76. The issue is their propensity for surrendering home runs and walks. The Phillies starters rank twelfth in terms of slugging percentage allowed. The starters are also getting quality run support as they rank fifth in the N.L. in run support. Interestingly the Phillies starters lead the N.L. in strikeouts: 8.42 K/9.

So who is pitching well? Cole Hamels (2-0, 2.57 ERA), as is Jamie Moyer (2-1, 3.05). Jon Lieber looked good in his first start of the season (five & 2/3 inning, no runs, one hit, one walk and five strikeouts). Meanwhile, Adam Eaton has been a disappointment (2-1, but with a 6.46 ERA), as has Freddy Garcia (1-1, 4.66 ERA). Brett Myers got shelled in two of his three starts and is now in the bullpen. Hopefully a solid performance from Lieber will continue and Garcia will find his stride. Then the Phillies rotation will look good.

The Bullpen: Technically the Phillies bullpen doesn’t have bad stats when you first look. Their 3.65 ERA is actually pretty respectable. However, the Phillies bullpen ranks twelfth in strikeouts (6.19 K/9) and fifteenth of sixteen teams in slugging percentage allowed (.439, compared with .443 the Giants relievers have allowed). The Phillies have also only converted on three of six save opportunities, tied with the Cubs and Astros for second-worst in the N.L. (The worst, the Nats, with two saves in five tries.)

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that Tom Gordon (5.68 ERA) is struggling as the Phillies closer and the Phillies efforts to groom Brett Myers to be the closer will start bearing fruit soon. Ryan Madson also struggled badly (4.63 ERA). The rare ray of sunshine for the Phillies has been Alfonso Alfonseca (ten and 2/3 innings, one run allowed, 0.84 ERA). Expect to see Alfonseca start functioning as the primary set-up man with Geoff Geary (2.70 ERA), setting up Brett Myers for the save. Tom Gordon’s days as a Phillie are numbered.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk a little about the Ottawa Lynx.

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