Tuesday, May 08, 2007
So it is somewhat ironic then that the Phillies real Achilles Heel right now – beyond their pitching woes – is the terrible play that the team is getting this year from their third baseman. Since Rolen left via trade during the middle of the 2002 campaign, the Phillies have been searching in vain for a solution for their woes at third base. First the Phillies played Placido Polanco, one of the players acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals in the Rolen deal at third. In the off-season the Phillies signed David Bell and brought him on-board. A strong fielder but a poor hitter, Bell struggled for much of his time in Philadelphia – ranking second in terms of grounding into double plays in 2005 – before getting dealt to the Milwaukee Brewers in 2006 midseason and leaving baseball thereafter. In Bell’s place the Phillies played Abraham Nunez, a light-hitting utility infielder who didn’t ground into as many double plays, but also proved to be utterly incompetent at the plate in nearly every other aspect.
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.
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 If you use ESPN’s version be advised that it is pitifully is out-of-date, however.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.
RC/27: Runs Created per 27 outs, essentially what a team of 9 of this player would score in a hypothetical game.
Fielding Percentage (FPct): (Putouts + Assists) / (Putouts + Assists + Errors). How often the player successfully handled the ball.
In the off-season the Phillies signed former Marlins and Brewers infielder Wes Helms to be their new third baseman. Nunez, a switch-hitter, was kept on to back Helms up. With the month of April done it is becoming clear that the Phillies have major issues with their two third basemen.
First, Helms. Theoretically Helms appeared to be a safe bet to improve over what Bell and Nunez did in 2006. Playing first base, third base and pinch-hitting for the Marlins in 2006, Helms hit ten home runs with 47 RBIs. Helms sabremetric stats looked similarly impressive. Despite the relative lack of playing time (just 278 plate appearances in 2006), Helms had 48 Runs Created, or 8.1 per 27 Outs. His .246 Isolated Power at the plate was very good and suggested that he’d led a powerful bat to the Phillies lineup to go with Pat Burrell, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley. Helms posted much, much better stats in 2006 than Bell and Nunez:
* Bell’s stats all as Phillie.
Oh, and Wes Helms hit .281 with Runners In Scoring Position (BA/RISP) in 2006, something that the Phillies struggled somewhat at, including Bell (.247) and Nunez (.211).
So Wes Helms must be doing a great job so far this season, right? Not even close. Take a quick gander at the numbers and prepare to be shocked:
Home Runs: 0
Runs Created: 4
Oh, and his BA/RISP: .147 … That is a .231 decline in his slugging percentage from .575 to .344, and a .180 point decline in his isolated power, from .246 to .066. Helms OBP declined .074 from .390 to .316. There are simply no words to describe what kind of a collapse this is on Helms part.
In retrospect, Helms numbers hid the fact that he was a little lucky in 2006 (26.3% of the balls he put into play were line-drives in 2006, and his batting average with balls put into play was .394, both abnormally high numbers) and difficult to predict. Remember, many of his at-bats were pinch-hitting opportunities.
But still, this is a major, major downgrade for the Phillies, going from the mostly light-hitting Bell to the entirely light-hitting Helms.
So what’s the solution? Play Abraham Nunez? Yeah, that’s not really an option …
Nunez has played a little so far this season and it hasn’t been good. In 37 plate appearances this season he’s 6-for-33 (.182) with just one double. His OBP is just .229, which is very low. Sadly, it is higher than his slugging percentage, which stands at a paltry .212. His Isolated Power stands at a laughable .030. Nunez, mind you, has never had any power to his swing:
Now little has Nunez contributed to the Phillies offense? His Runs Created stand at zero. He’s creating 0.2 per 27 Outs. It would take a team of nine Abraham Nunez’s five games to score a run.
Oh, and he has a .111 BA/RISP.
The reason why I don’t like Abraham Nunez is his propensity for hitting ground balls. About 74% of the balls he put into play this season were grounders, 62% last season. Helms is hitting a lot of grounders this season too – 49% – and as a consequence Helms and Nunez have ground into five and two double plays respectively. At this rate the Phillies third baseman will almost certainly ground into 24 or more double plays this season, just as many as David Bell did in 2005.
Defensively, I cannot say how well Helms is doing, although it does strike me that he’s made a lot of errors – four – already this season. Helms .930 fielding percentage is much worse than Bell’s .945 in 2006.
I think this is a major area of concern for the team. How can they continue to tolerate such lousy production from the third base position? This is something the Phillies will have to address, and soon.
Now that would make the headlines... wouldn't it?
We can only dream of having a great third baseman. Wes should solidify over the coming months. What worries me is just about the whole Phillies pitching staff!