Friday, April 06, 2007
Well, that just figures.
The ’07 Phillies opened the campaign with a 0-3 start to the Atlanta Braves. Yesterday’s game was a fiasco from start to end. Eaton went just four and two-thirds, surrendering eight runs (seven earned), on seven hits and four walks. Astonishingly, the bullpen actually successfully shut the braves down, holding them to a pair of hits and a walk while striking out nine Braves for the rest of the game. Expect to see a lot more of Antonio Alfonseca in the future after the struggles of Gordon and Madson in the first two games as Charlie Manuel searches for a solution.
As for Charlie Manuel, people will predictably assail his decision-making, asking why he chose to leave Brett Myers in on Opening Day to face Edgar Renteria. I wouldn’t fault Manuel at all, he’s a smart guy who made a solid decision on opening day: your pitcher is virtually unhittable, so why not leave him in and see what he can do against a light-hitting shortstop?
The weakness of the 2007 Phillies lies in their porous bullpen. That’s pretty apparent, so I’d expect to see Pat Gillick move immediately to shore up this weak point. Yesterday, for example, they acquired minor-leaguer Francisco Rosario from the Toronto Blue Jays for cash. Perhaps Gillick will try to deal Aaron Rowand to the Padres again for Scott Linebrick?
So the Phillies are off to an 0-3 start. You can’t put too much stock into the opening series of the season. The Pittsburgh Pirates are 3-0 right now and does anyone expect them to win the N.L. Central? Take a deep breath and relax Phillies fans. The season is a marathon, not a sprint.
So what is next for the Red Pinstripes? A trip to Florida to duel with the Marlins, themselves 2-1. Going tonight for the Phillies is Jamie Moyer, exactly the tonic the Phillies need, a veteran pitcher who will be unfazed by the yelling and screaming and will concentrate on what the Phillies really need: a win.
Have a nice weekend, everyone!
Thursday, April 05, 2007
Well, let’s recap yesterday’s game by noting what the Phillies did right:
-Cole Hamels was as good – or better – than advertised. Locked in a pitching duel with Tim Hudson, Hamels was dominant, going seven innings and striking out eight Braves while allowing just four hits and a walk. Mind you, Hudson pitched a nice game too – seven innings and he surrendered just one run, a solo shot off the bat of Carlos Ruiz – but Cole Hamels simply annihilated the Braves lineup. Based on the performances of Myers and Hamels, the Phillies rotation might just be as strong as it was advertised.
-Ryan Madson and Tom Gordon are the goats of yesterday’s game. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Madson is the first pitcher since 1977 lose both of his team’s first two games of the season.
-Let’s hope this newfound enthusiasm for team speed is tempered with some caution. With the Phillies leading 1-0 in the eighth, Jimmy Rollins draws a walk and attempts to steal third base. Rollins is safe and advances to third on the bad throw to second. The play made sense: there was one out, Shane Victorino was at the plate and you had your best base-stealer at first. Nice, aggressive move. Shane Victorino walks up to the plate and promptly doubles Rollins home, a play that may or may not have been possible thanks to Rollins decision to steal second base. Chalk one up for small ball. But then – with Ryan Howard – at the plate, Victorino makes the bone-headed decision to attempt to steal third base. He was thrown out. Sure, when you advance runners from first to second you are making a huge play. They go from being 270 feet away from home base to being in scoring position. However, stealing third base is pretty pointless, especially with Ryan Howard at the plate. According to the scoring matrix, a team with a runner on second will score 0.7026 runs an inning, while a team with a runner at third will score 0.9790. In this instance Victorino was caught, so the Phillies run expectancy dropped to 0.1160. That’s the problem with small ball – trying to be “aggressive” (Victorino’s explanation for trying to steal third) can end up shooting yourself in the foot. By running and getting caught, Victorino just took an at-bat away from the Phillies lineup at a critical juncture of the game.
Naturally, Ryan Howard draws a walk and Chase Utley doubles. Had Victorino been sitting on second base the Phillies would have led the game 3-0, and still would have had another out left with Chase Utley sitting on second (assuming that Ryan Howard would be tagged out at home) and Tom Gordon’s ninth-inning melt-down would have been less damaging, something that the Phillies could have weathered.
-Great to see Carlos Ruiz play and even better to see him play as well as he did.
Blame for this loss, simply put, sits on the shoulders of three players – Victorino, Gordon and Madson. The rest of the Phillies did their job.
Tonight, Adam Eaton makes his long-awaited debut with the Phillies. Just took him eleven years to do it.
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
First Hudson. No doubt that the braves thought they were robbing the A’s blind when they acquired Hudson after the 2004 season. The oldest and most solid of the “Big Three”, Hudson seemed like a sure bet to become the Braves ace. To that point, Hudson had been a solid starter:
Win-Loss / ERA
1999: 11-2 / 3.23
2000: 20-6 / 4.14
2001: 18-9 / 3.37
2002: 15-9 / 2.98
2003: 16-7 / 2.70
2004: 12-6 / 3.53
Total: 92-39 / 3.30
Since then he’s gone 14-9 with a 3.52 ERA in 2005 and 13-12 with a 4.86 ERA in 2006. Compared with what he did as a member of the A’s, Hudson has been a major disappointment as a Brave.
It strikes me that a lot of Hudson’s failure is intertwined with the relative lack of success the Braves have had defensively in the recent past. In 2006 the Braves were a below-average defensive team, finishing with a .689 DER, .004 under the league average. Why is that important? Hudson is an extreme ground ball pitcher. How extreme? Of the balls he allowed to be put into play, nearly three-fifths – 58% – were ground balls. The league average in 2006 was 44%. Just 24% were fly balls, well under the league average of 37%. The result is that Hudson is a pitcher who relies on the strength of the rest of his team to get the job done. He struck out 15% of the batters he faced in 2006, under the league average (17%). The problem is that not only are the Braves a weak fielding team, they are arguably one of the worst defensive infields in baseball. According to John Dewan’s Plus / Minus data, the Braves were +15 as a team in 2006, but were +63 in the outfield, far and away the best in baseball. Their infield was a combined -48, the worst in the National League. The fact is that Tim Hudson will only be an effective pitcher when the Braves play better defense in the infield. While Phillies fans probably wanted Edgar Renteria playing for the Phillies after Monday’s game, I submit that Renteria, a poor defensive infielder these days, is a major obstacle to the Braves success. With a shortstop of such limited range and ability, how can the Braves hope that Hudson will return the investment that the Braves made in him?
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
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
Cole Hamels is virtually the anti-Hudson. Coming on like a burst of flame in 2006, Hamels struck-out 26% of the batters he faced, much more than the league average or Hudson’s. When the ball was put into play Hamels allowed it to be a fly ball more than a grounder (43% to 39%). While this might not auger well for Hamels pitching in a hitters park, his capacity to aggressively challenge hitters and mow them down is impressive.
Even more impressive is the adjustments Hamels made in 2006 after getting called up in May from the farm system. Look at the differences between before and after the 2006 All-Star Break:
ERA: 5.44 / 3.39
WHIP: 1.52 / 1.11
HR/9: 1.00 / 1.44
BB/9: 4.84 / 2.46
K/9: 8.87 / 10.37
Hamels numbers are even better when you factor out a rough July and concentrate on his August and September. I am optimistic that Hamels will continue to slice through National League hitters like he did in 2006. Naturally, teams have had time to study his delivery and will adjust to him, however, Hamels has also had time to adjust to N.L. hitters and ought to be prepared to take the Braves down tomorrow.
Oh, I looked up pitcher projections in the Bill James Handbook and it predicts that Hudson will pitch well in 2007, going 15-10 with a 3.75 ERA. Unfortunately the Handbook doesn’t contain a prediction for Hamels because it lacks sufficient data, but I suspect it would have good things to say. With such a strong outing from Brett Myers on Monday, I am hopeful that the Phillies revamped rotation can continue to impress.
My call: a 3-2 Phillies victory, with Hamels going seven strong innings.
Tuesday, April 03, 2007
-Jimmy Rollins is off to a hot start, hitting his first home run of the year, going 2-for-5 yesterday.
-Brett Myers pitched a nice game, going seven and two-thirds of an inning and surrendering just three runs (okay, there are two home runs in there), while getting nine strikeouts and giving up two walks. Myers looked great and really dominated a dangerous Braves lineup at times. Seventy of Myers 106 pitches yesterday were strikes. Nice.
Obviously there is a lot to dislike: the bullpen effectively lost the game, the team blew scoring chances, etc. Look on the bright side: the Braves couldn't muster any offense without the long ball. Out of their seven hits, three were home runs.
Predictably there will be a lot of second-guessing of Charlie Manuel for leaving Brett Myers in to face Renteria in the eighth inning. In this age of pitch counts and coddling starters, it is a little refreshing to see the manager give his guy the ball and say: "Get 'em." Letting your starter go 7, 8 innings is as old school as baseball strategy gets these days. More like the days of Robin Roberts than Trevor Hoffman. Disagree with me, but I don't think that Charlie Manuel made the wrong call by leaving a starter having a strong day in to face a light-hitting shortstop with nobody on.
That'll do it for our Opening Day post-mortem. Now, I have a couple of thoughts on the Phillies 2007 Roster. I predicted that the Phillies starting lineup would be:
SS – Jimmy Rollins
RF – Shane Victorino
2B – Chase Utley
1B – Ryan Howard
LF – Pat Burrell
CF – Aaron Rowand
3B – Wes Helms
C – Rod Barajas
Well … Flip Helms and Rowand and I got the call right on the money. I actually like the way Manuel has constructed the Phillies lineup a little better: Helms will be a better, more potent, threat at the plate than Rowand.
Next, the Bench. I predicted that the Bench would look like …
OF – Jayson Werth
OF – Chris Roberson
IF – Danny Sandoval
IF – Abraham Nunez
C – Carlos Ruiz
IF/ C – Chris Coste
In actuality …
OF – Jayson Werth
OF – Michael Bourn
IF – Greg Dobbs
IF – Abraham Nunez
C – Carlos Ruiz
IF/ C – Chris Coste (?)
I was certain that Roberson and Sandoval would be a part of the Phillies roster as they traveled north. I am delighted to see that they are not. Sandoval, a poor performer and fairly old (28) career minor leaguer, was passed over in favor of Dobbs, a talented (if light-hitting – just two career home runs) player from the Seattle Mariners who has more of an upside.
I am particularly delighted by the Phillies decision to offer the job of the fifth outfielder to Bourn, a talented speedster with a much greater upside than Roberson. Theoretically Roberson, the more senior and experienced player should have been offered the job while Bourn, who played just 38 games of Triple-A ball, should have been sent to Ottawa for “seasoning”. Instead the Phillies made a bold decision to give the job to Bourn. Bourn is a much, much faster player who is a better threat to get on base and to supply some speed to the Phillies on the base paths. In 2006 Bourn had a higher On-Base-Percentage (OBP than Roberson did in Scranton (.368 vs. .349), and was a better base-stealer (15 of 16 vs. 25 of 24). This is a great move by the Phillies brass and really shows a lot of boldness. Rather than play cautiously and give the job to Roberson they are going to roll the dice and give Bourn a shot. Well done.
I put a question mark next to Coste, because I think/hope the Phillies are ultimately going to give the final roster spot to Coste, who is currently on the 15-Day DL for a minor muscle ailment. Expect Coste, a real jack of all trades (catcher, infielder), to be #25 on the Phillies roster.
The pitching staff …
Projected / Opening Day
Cole Hamels / same
Brett Myers / same
Jamie Moyer / same
Freddy Garcia / Zach Segovia
Adam Eaton / same
Jon Lieber / Clay Condrey
Ryan Madson / same
Geoff Geary / same
Fabio Castro / Matt Smith
Alfonso Alfonseca / same
Tom Gordon / same
Basically what I expected. Injuries to Lieber and Garcia have required the Phillies to bring in some help, particularly Segovia, a highly talented minor-leaguer who is actually slated to start for the Phillies on Sunday against the Florida Marlins. Segovia pitched in Double-A Reading in 2006, so skipping a season in Ottawa and getting to start in the bigs would be a major moment for Segovia.
Today is an off-day. I'll be back to preview Cole Hamels v. Tim Hudson tomorrow.
Monday, April 02, 2007
But we’ll start by scoping out tonight’s Phillies – Braves matchup. To my surprise the Phillies send Brett Myers to the mound tonight instead of Cole Hamels, the player I figured that the Phillies would make their Opening Day starter. Expect big things from Myers, whom many are projecting to be a Cy Young Award candidate in the wake of his strong performances at the beginning and end of 2006. He’ll be matched up against John Smoltz, the Braves ancient warhorse and the last player still on the roster from the 1991 World Series team.
Myers will pitch fine in 2007: 12-7 with a 3.91 ERA. Myers had a 3-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio, which is tremendous. Myers struck out 23% of the batters he faced and, when he allowed a ball to be put into play, he was more likely to have it be a harmless grounder than anything else: he allowed 46% of the balls put into play to be grounders, compared to the baseball average of 44%. Myers may not be the Phillies best pitcher … I think that honor goes to Cole Hamels, who also had a 3-to-1 K/BB ratio, but also struck out a greater percentage of opposing players – 26% – and improved dramatically as the season wore on … but he’s a sure bet, a veteran of five seasons with the Phillies who has experience. Myers also pitched the Braves well in 2006, going 1-1 with a 3.55 ERA in five starts against them, striking out 32 Braves in 33 innings of work.
(The Phillies are slated to send Hamels to the mound on Wednesday to face off with Tim Hudson.)
Smoltz, Myers counterpart, didn’t pitch the Phillies nearly as well, earning no-decisions in his two starts with a 3.86 ERA. Advantage: Phillies.
The Phillie hit the Braves vaunted pitching well in 2006, hitting 23 home runs and scoring 104 runs in 18 games. The Braves, in contrast, hit 28 home runs, but scored just 84 runs because they mustered just a .297 OBP against the Phillies pitching, while the Phillies got on base at a .368 clip. Naturally Ryan Howard hit the Braves well, hitting six home runs with 15 RBIs, as did Jimmy Rollins: 4 home runs, 14 RBIs. Aaron Rowand hit them surprisingly as well, with two home runs and a .348 OBP.
Aside from the departed Adam LaRoche, nobody hit the Phillies pitching well in 2006 on the Braves side, so offensively the Phillies figure to have an edge here as well.
Alright, enough speculation. Play Ball!