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, February 16, 2007

Waiting for the Weekend 

Snow, ice ... I had to call off work on Wednesday due to the terrible weather in the Pittsburgh region. Yesterday I couldn't take not having TV so I took a ladder and went on my roof to clear the ice off my satellite dish. I'm tired and looking forward to a nice weekend at home.

Yesterday I participated in my third (I think) Podcast with the crew of Philly Sports Talk Now. Devoted to the Phillies upcoming season, I had a lot of fun talking about the Phils with Jim Dogg and Rich, and I hope that everyone will scope out the show here.

Meanwhile, over at The Hardball Times, Jeff Sackman put together a system for ranking teams minor league organizations. Read it here. It is very interesting stuff, chiefly because Sackman comes to the conclusion that the Phillies are, overall, the tenth-best organization in baseball, and fourth-best for pitchers, something that ought to excite and intruige Phillies fans. The list ranks only the Mets (8th) ahead of the Phillies in the N.L. East, with the Braves (25th), the Marlins (26th) and the Nats (dead-last) well-behind. I think the information strongly suggests that the Braves dynasty is dead and done. With no more talent in the pipeline the current team is going to whither on the vine of mediocrity this season.

The best farm system was the Dodgers.

Next week a focus on the Phillies bullpen.


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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Antonio Alfonseca 

As some of you might have noticed, I haven’t been posting as often as I typically do. Winter weather and job stresses have kept me a little behind the curve, added in with the fact that I’ve already discussed, ad naseum, many of the major topics of the upcoming season. In the lead-up to the new season I’ll be posting 3-4 times a week instead of the typical 5 days a week, and I’ll have a consolidated Season Preview post that I’ll put up the week before the season kicks off and leave there for a week without any follow-ups.

Today’s topic … and this will be a bigger focus of mine in the coming days … is the bullpen and the Phillies new acquisition, Antonio Alfonseca.

A ten-year veteran of the MLB, Alfonseca was once a top-flight closer but is currently looking to rehab his career with the Phillies. If successful I am sure he’ll parlay his success into a long-term deal, but in the here and now his career is sort of on the line.

Alfonseca broke into the majors during the Marlins historic World Series victory in 1997. For the next seven seasons Alfonseca got a lot of work, pitching 60+ innings a season, good work for a reliever. In 1998 he saved eight of fourteen chances for the historically bad Marlins, and then saved 21 of 25 the next season. From 2000-2002 he was a full-time closer. In 2000 he saved forty-five of forty-nine chances for the Marlins. His 45 saves ranked him first in the N.L. The next season he saved 28 of 34 chances for the marlins before leaving for the Cubs in 2002.

His career took an ill turn in Chicago. He blew nine of his twenty-eight save opportunities in 2002 and saw his ERA spike. Since 2002 he hasn’t had a single save, returning to the role of set-up man. Since ’02 he’s blown seven save chances. His ERA has spiked:

1999: 3.24
2000: 4.24
2001: 3.06
2002: 4.00

His he struggled in Chicago:

2003: 5.83
2004: 2.57
2005: 4.94
2006: 5.63

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).
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

Alfonseca has bounced from team-to-team since. He spent ’03 with the Cubs, playing on the team that blew the NLCS in historic fashion to his old team, the marlins. The next season he rebounded and posted a nice ERA as the Braves set-up guy (recording a career-high 13 holds), but his return to the Marlins didn’t work out (1-1, two blown saves, 4.94 ERA). Then he played for the Rangers last season. The numbers aren’t encouraging:

HR/9: 1.69
BB/9: 3.93
K/9: 2.81
ERA: 5.63
FIP: 6.39

I haven’t a clue what sort of numbers he’ll post with the Phillies but I am not encouraged. From where I sit, he’s got lots of issues with his pitching (when you issue seven walks to five strikeouts, you are really struggling as a pitcher), and isn’t a good bet to return to his old 1999-2002 form. On the other hand, if he rebounds than the Phillies got to steal a great set-up guy and potential fill-in closer for next to nothing. I guess we'll see.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Emerging Consensus... 

The emerging concensus on the Phillies is that they've improved, but that their biggest question mark is their new rotation. Click here for some conventional wisdom. Oddly, I've noticed that the Phillies are getting a lot of ink suggesting that they, and not the Mets, are the team to beat in the N.L. East. We'll see how all of this plays out with spring training, the real sign that winter is coming to an end, around the corner.

When Sports Illustrated publishes their baseball preview issue - the definative word on the new season - I'll wager $5 that the Phillies will top the charts in the N.L. East.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Nunez v. Helms 

As I’ve noted, in broken record fashion in the past, the Phillies had a terrific defensive but horrifically offensively challenged third baseman the last several years with David Bell. Now, after three and a half years, the David Bell era is over and the Phillies move ahead with Abraham Nunez and Wes Helms as their prospective third base duo. The Phillies seem set to have Helms as the starter and back him up with Nunez, though I suspect that Nunez will get a lot of playing time in 2007.

Both right-handed hitters, Helms and Nunez have a few similarities. Both were used as utility infielders in 2007 by their respective teams. Nunez played 74 games at third, pinch-hit 41 times and played second and short a half-dozen times each. Helms pinch-hit 52 times, played 89 games at first base and another 24 at third for the Florida Marlins.

Here is how Bell, Nunez and Helms fared playing third in 2007:

Field Pct. / Range Factor
Bell: .945 / 2.78
Nunez: .959 / 2.66
Helms: .938 / 2.86

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
Fielding Percentage: (Putouts + Assists) / (Putouts + Assists + Errors). How often the player successfully handled the ball.
Range Factor: (Putouts + Assists) * 9 / IP. Essentially measures how much a player is involved in defensive plays.
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.
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.

Take some of Helms numbers in context: after all, he played a fraction (94 & 1/3) of the innings that Bell (781 & 1/3) and Nunez (632) did. Still, it suggests that he’ll play alright at third. Nunez is an individual whose reputation rests squarely on his ability to field the ball. The Pirates and Cardinals, his two previous teams, did not sign him for his ability to hit the ball. He’s the ultimate utility infielder. I suspect that his performance at third in 2007 was rather poor, and that even here Helms will be either an upgrade or simply no worse.

Helms will be a massive upgrade over Nunez offensively. There really is no good way to dress up Nunez offensive output. It is horrible. Let’s start with the raw stats. Nunex hit .211 with two home runs and 32 RBI in 322 At-Bats. Look a little deeper into the numbers and the picture is actually worse: Nunez GPA was just .205 in 2006. .205!!!! His On-Base Percentage was .303 and his slugging percentage was a mind-bogglingly awful .273. Nunez Isolated Power at the plate was just .062 … He had just 14 extra-base hits in those 322 At-Bats. Nunez contribution to the Phillies offense was pretty much nil. He had 27 Runs Created in 2006, and if you break that down by how many Outs he made, then you discover that he scored 1.98 per 27 outs. An entire team of Abraham Nunez’s would scored basically 2 runs a game, or 321 over the course of a season. The Phillies actually scored 865.

In fact, it is a minor miracle that the Phillies led the N.L. in runs scored with Nunez playing in half of their games. To be a successful offense with that anchor on the team? They are doing something very right.

One interesting fact I discovered: Jason Weitzel of the excellent Beerleaguer argued that Nunez addition helped the Phillies lineup by putting someone with speed in and removing the slow-footed David Bell, who grounded into a lot of double plays. Nunez, in contrast, with his speed, avoided hitting into double plays and benefited the Phillies offense. Initially I thought that this argument had merit: Bell had ground into 11 double plays in 324 At-Bats in 2006 with the Phillies, while Nunez hit into 7. Then I discovered this stunning gem of a stat: in 2006, of the balls put into play by David Bell, 44% were grounders. Of the balls that Nunez put into play, 62% were ground balls.

I firmly believe that Nunez was extraordinarily lucky that he did not ground into more double plays in 2007. In reality, he ought to be absurdly prone to hitting into the 6-4-3 double play. Maybe Nunez’s speed and base-running skills enabled him to avoid the 6-4-3 (Bill James did rate Nunez a good base-runner at +3, while Wes Helms was a -4), but I doubt it. Based on Helms batted ball stats I think the Phillies can rest easy: just 38% of Helms batted balls were grounders (the league average was 44%, by the way), and he hit line-drives 26% of the time.

I think the Phillies offense will operate much, much smoother in 2007 with the addition of Wes Helms to the Phillies lineup. I am looking forward to seeing the overall improvement that the team will show thanks to their third base upgrade.

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