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Friday, May 25, 2007

Moyer Article 

Coincidentially, my friend Rob Blackstein posted an article about Jamie Moyer on his website that I think is well-written and contains many insights. I guess great minds think alike! Click here for it.

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The Incomparable Jamie Moyer 

When Jamie Moyer broke into the Major Leagues in 1986 with the Chicago Cubs, future teammate Cole Hamels was just three years old. Ronald Reagan was President of the United States and a massive wall in Berlin divided the free world from that of the oppressed. Twenty-one years, 3,408 innings, 527 starts and 220 victories later, there he will be tonight, taking his place in the rotation again to throw to the Atlanta Braves. The Incomparable Jamie Moyer, about to pitch another game.

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.
G/F – Groundball-to-Flyball ratio.
HR/9 – Home Runs allowed per nine innings: (HR * 9) / IP
BB/9 – Walks per nine innings: (BB * 9) / IP
K/9 – Strikeouts per nine innings: (K * 9) / IP

When the Phillies traded for Jamie Moyer in September of 2006, I was extremely skeptical about the move. The Phillies had a decent rotation and have a lot of pitchers on their way up to join the team. Why bring in this 43-year old pitcher from the Mariners who was in his 40’s and had a record of just 6-12?

Turns out that Pat Gillick was, with respect to this decision, much wiser than myself and the rest of the Phillies blogging universe. Bringing Jamie Moyer on-board was a very smart move. Very smart. Let’s start with the veteran component. Moyer has been around for 21 seasons and has hurled for six teams before joining the Phillies. He pitched in the playoffs for the Mariners in 1997 and 2001, rare experience on a Phillies team whose best pitchers, Brett Myers and Cole Hamels, have never been in the post-season. Hamels in particular has apparently sought out Moyer’s advice and has been considered to be his protégé.

Moyer wasn’t a slouch on the field either. Moyer started eight games for the Phillies in 2006, going 5-2 with a 4.03 ERA. Thus far this season Moyer is 4-3 in his eight starts with a 4.37 ERA. Take a quick look:

2006 / 2007
4.03 / 4.37
FIP: 4.64 / 4.60
HR/9: 1.40 / 0.83
BB/9: 1.22 / 2.82
K/9: 4.56 / 5.30
K/BB: 3.71 / 1.88

So what is Moyer’s secret? His secret is the reason I wonder why he even got into the major leagues to begin with – unlike Cole Hamels, with his nasty fastball – Jamie Moyer confounds the opposition with some of the slowest fastballs in baseball along with changeups galore. In an age where you can’t attract the attention of major league scouts unless your fastball tops out at 95 mph, Jamie Moyer makes a living throwing lots of off-speed pitches. In his Historical Baseball Abstract, James placed Moyer in the Warren Spahn Group of “Easy-Motion” Left Handers comparable to Spahn, Tom Glavine and others. (See, page 896.) Moyer and Glavine and the rest are lefties that relied on precision and skill more than brawn to get the job done. According to the 2006 Bill James Handbook, Jamie Moyer had the lowest percentage of fastballs thrown (40.1%) of any AL pitcher except knuckle-baller Tim Wakefield (11.9%) in 2005. Moyer’s average fastball that season was also slowest of any AL pitcher (81.8 mph) except the aforementioned Wakefield (76.1 mph). He threw 1,169 pitches of less than 80 mph, third in the AL after Barry Zito (1,205) and Wakefield (2,305). The numbers from 2004 tell pretty much the same story: Moyer was second to Wakefield in throwing pitches under 80 (1,448 to Wakefield’s 1,750), he threw the second-slowest fastball (81.6 mph) to Wakefield (75.9 mph), and he led the A.L. in changeups with 31%. Just 45.7% of his pitches were fastballs, the fourth-lowest in the A.L. Interestingly, his then-and-now teammate Freddy Garcia was also an infrequent fastball pitcher, throwing just 45% of his pitches as fastballs: 20% of Garcia’s pitches were sliders and 16.2% were curveballs in 2004.

If you are wondering how Moyer ranked in 2006, I haven’t a clue because Moyer threw just 160 innings with the Mariners and 51 & 1/3 with the Phillies, falling short of the 162 needed innings to qualify in either league. With Barry Zito now a Giant I am certain that Moyer will be challenged as king of the off-speed pitch in the N.L.

Jamie Moyer is an illustration of the principals that I thought might lead Jon Lieber to have success as a Phillie: batters want to see fastballs generally. Pitchers with fastballs get a lot of strikeouts, but they also surrender lots of home runs. Pitchers that rely on changeups and sliders tend to get a lot of batted balls that stay in the park. To my disappointment, Lieber has struggled in that role with the Phillies. He was a pitcher who relied heavily on sliders to get outs – in 2006, for example, 35.4% of Lieber’s pitches were sliders, the highest such percentage in the major leagues. Lieber’s heavy slider ought to have been difficult to hit for a home run, and yet teams hit 1.44 home runs off Lieber every nine innings he pitched in 2006 and 1.36 in 2005. So much for that theory.

Moyer has been having remarkable success though. If you add up his 2006 and 2007 stats so far as a Phillie, he’s surrendered 1.10 Home Runs per nine innings, 2.04 walks, and 4.94 strikeouts. His 2.41 K/BB ratio is pretty darn good for a control pitcher. How is he doing it? Unlike Lieber, Moyer is getting guys to pop-up weakly and ground-out occasionally. The interesting thing to me was that in 2004 and 2005 Jamie Moyer had one of the lowest groundball-to-flyball ratios in the A.L.: 0.91 and 0.90 respectively. Theoretically, a pitcher like Moyer ought to be a dead man at Citizens. In 2004 Eric Milton, in his sole campaign as a Phillie, had the worst groundball-flyball ratio in the N.L. and surrendered a whopping 43 home runs (23 on the road, so don’t blame Citizens … I’m talking to you, Billy Wagner). So far this year Jamie Moyer has a 0.79 G/F ratio and yet he’s doing pretty well. Moyer, unlike Lieber, is that rare pitcher who can help his fielders get to balls put into play. According to page 92 of Baseball Between the Numbers (written by the staff of Baseball Prospectus), Moyer is that rare pitcher who does influence the balls put into play and deserves credit for the performance his defense turns in. Last season Moyer saw the fielders behind him convert .753 of the balls put into play into outs. The Phillies team Defense Efficiency Ratio (DER) was an absurdly poor .683 in 2005. This season the Phillies are struggling again in the field, with a .686 DER, while Moyer once more is watching his fielders convert .753 of the balls put into play into outs.

Oh, and Moyer is leading the Phillies in Quality Starts with seven in nine games started ... His disasterous start on Saturday against the Blue Jays doesn't qualify, as a quality start is a start where the pitcher goes at least six innings and gives up three or fewer earned runs.

Moyer has clearly been a huge boost to the Phillies battered rotation and has helped the team contend this season. He is 44 this season, but I hope that he can pitcher until he’s 50, because the positive effect he’s had on the Phillies rotation cannot be understated. I can't wait to watch him tonight as he strides to the mound and spends the game confounding Chipper Jones with his changeups and barely-over-the-speed-limit fastballs.

See everyone on Tuesday!

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Pat the Bat 

Despite their best efforts to the contrary the Phillies actually won last night's game against the Florida Marlins despite a horrific ninth-inning meltdown that saw Brett Myers allow four runs and some terrible defensive work by Carlos Ruiz, who ought to have tagged Hanley Ramirez out at the plate to end the game, but did not. Despite their best efforts to lose the game, the Phillies dug-out a 8-7 win, but it was an ugly, ugly win that raises many more questions about the Phillies than it answers.

I decided today to take a quick … emphasis on quick … look at the performance of Pat Burrell thus far this year. After a slow start – one home run in April, in 72 At-Bats – Burrell has picked things up and has hit four home runs in May. Not exactly on a tear, but vastly improving himself. The interesting thing about Burrell’s performance thus far in 2007 is that while he is getting a lot of heat from critics he really is playing pretty well. In many respects, this is one of his finer seasons.

Let’s start with walks. Pat Burrell is a bases on balls machine:

2004: .146
2005: .148
2006: .173
2007: .218

That tremendous ability to draw walks is the reason why his On-Base-Percentage (OBP) is an astonishing .418. How many power hitters draw more walks than strikeouts?

Has Burrell lost any pop? I don’t think so. His slow start in terms of home runs ignores the fact that he’s hit eight doubles as well and his Isolated Power at the plate is .205, off of his .244 from 2006 and his .223, but still pretty good and well above the league average. He’s still a player with a lot of pop in his stroke.

Thus far this season Burrell is hitting well in the clutch, hitting .303, compared to last season’s .222. Believe in clutch hitting or not, but that’s a factor.

Finally, Burrell is actually a better contributor – narrowly – to the Phillies this season than in 2005 or 2006. In 2005 he had 110 Runs Created. At his current pace he’ll have 113. Despite all of the attention given to Jimmy Rollins and to Shane Victorino’s running, Burrell is a better contributor to the Phillies offense:

Rowand: 7.61
Utley: 7.52
Burrell: 7.20
Rollins: 5.97
Victorino: 5.42

Alright, tomorrow we'll talk a little about Jamie Moyer.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Amazing Jon Lieber 

When the Phillies signed Jon Lieber to a three-year, $21 million dollar deal in December of 2004, I was surprised and somewhat impressed by the deal. At the time I wrote:

Ed Wade & Co. probably over-paid for Lieber, but I think they might be getting a decent-to-very good pitcher… This guy doesn't give free passes batters, which is a quality I like seeing in a Phillies pitcher.

As a Yankee in 2004, Lieber allowed 0.91 walks per nine innings pitched (BB/9). He actually allowed fewer walks (18) than Home Runs (20) as a Yankee and went 14-8 with a 4.33 ERA for the Bronx Bombers. What really grabbed my attention was the fact that Lieber’s Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) ERA was just 3.77. The lousy Yankees defense – .677 DER – turned in behind Lieber cost him some runs. Generally, Lieber was a pitcher who didn’t give up walks or home runs, and while he may not have gotten many strikeouts, he kept the ball on the ground and gave the fielders a chance to make some outs. Lieber’s 1.43 ground-ball / fly-ball ratio was one of the best in the majors. I looked at the Phillies need for a ground-ball pitcher, their terrific defensive alignment, and thought that Lieber would be a good fit.

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

Lieber’s first year as a Phillie was interesting … after a rough start prior to the All-Star Break (8-8, 5.09), Lieber settled down and seemed to adjust to being the Philles workhorse quite well, going 9-5 with a 3.28 ERA down the stretch. Lieber had surrendered 23 home runs, 26 walks and got 69 strikeouts in 111 innings of work. In the second half, Lieber gave up just 10 home runs, 15 walks and got 80 strikeouts in virtually the same number of innings. Hope were high that Lieber’s 2006 campaign would be just as good. It was not to be … After a terrible 4-8 start, Lieber missed the entire month of June and finished the season 9-11 with a 4.93 ERA. With the decline in the Phillies defense (in Lieber’s case the DER behind him went from .722 to .697), Lieber's method of getting hitters to ground into double plays and routine 6-3 groundouts proved fatal to his success on the mound.

Moved to the bullpen to make room for Adam Eaton and Freddy Garcia, Lieber hurled just two and one-thirds of an inning before returning to the rotation when the team sent Brett Myers to the bullpen to bolster a terrible meltdown the team had in the ‘pen. In stepped Lieber and he immediately went to work, going 2-2 with a 2.50 ERA in six starts for the Phillies. Simply put, Lieber has been spectacular since he moved from the bullpen to the rotation, almost an entirely different pitcher from the veteran who has been such a disappointment until now … As I write this Jon Lieber has the lowest ERA of any Phillies starting pitcher. His stats are astonishing:

ERA: 2.50
WHIP: 1.13
HR/9: 0.91
BB/9: 2.27
K/9: 5.67

Are the numbers real or a mirage? Credit lays with the Phillies defense, or random luck, depending on one’s point of view … If you want to credit the Phillies defense, the story goes from here: the Phillies are playing superb defense behind Lieber these days. The team DER behind Lieber is an astonishing .734, .037 higher than it was last season and higher even than in 2005. As a consequence, the Phillies defenders are masking some ordinary stats from Lieber. His walks allowed are actually far worse than in seasons past (1.69 BB/9 in 2005, and 1.29 BB/9 in 2006), and his strikeouts are pretty much in-line with the rest of his career stats. For the first time in years, Lieber’s ERA is actually better than his FIP ERA: 3.00 to 4.18. In previous seasons, Lieber always had an ERA that lagged his FIP:

2004: -0.56
2005: -0.07
2006: -0.33
2007: +1.18

No longer. If you subscribe to the belief that a pitcher has no impact whatsoever on his defense behind him, and that what players behind a pitcher do is utterly random, then Lieber hasn’t improved at all … On the other hand, if you believe that sometimes a pitcher impacts what players do behind him, then there are a few things to note. First is that Lieber is giving his fielders tremendous opportunities in the field. Consider how often the Phillies have been turning the double play behind Lieber …

Double Plays Induced per Nine Innings:
2004: 1.069
2005: 0.577
2006: 0.750
2007: 1.929

That is a substantial jump and not easily explained away by not giving Lieber credit. . His 1.43 ground-ball / fly-ball ratio in 2004 was clearly a factor that impressed the Phillies and led to his massive contract in 2004. This year has been the best year of Lieber’s life in terms of inducing grounders: 1.78, far better than his 1.29 in 2005 and 1.23 in 2006 … in fact, he hasn’t been this good at it since 1997, when his G/F ratio was 1.81.

Importantly, Lieber has also taken steps to lower the number of home runs he’s allowed, his main Achilles Heel as a Phillie. His slugging percentage allowed (.410) is the lowest he’s had since he was a member of the Chicago Cubs in 2001 (.401). By not allowing the long ball, he’s really giving the Phillies a chance to win:

2005: 1.36
2006: 1.44
2007: 1.07

So I guess it is all a matter of perspective. Personally, I want to think that Lieber has improved a lot and is going to keep pitching like this. My gut tells me that Lieber will regress to the mean as the season wears on and that his ERA will climb towards 4.00. That may happen, but at the moment he’s turning in a great performance. Let’s sit back and watch…

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Is Brett Myers really a closer? 

For the next few days we'll be talking about pitching, and today we are setting our gaze on Brett Myers and the Phillies bullpen. As I suspected when the season started, Tom Gordon struggled as the Phillies closer and left the team in the lurch, without a reliable option to close games down. What would Pat Gillick and Charlie Manuel do? Do they trade Jon Lieber for a closer? Move Ryan Madson over to the spot? The Phillies surprised me by opting to shift Lieber, who had been trade bait for months since the team signed Freddy Garcia and Adam Eaton, to the starting rotation and move Brett Myers to the bullpen.

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
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
BB/9 – Walks per nine innings: (BB * 9) / IP
K/9 – Strikeouts per nine innings: (K * 9) / IP

It was a move that caught me and every other observer by surprise. Prior to this season Myers had pitched in relief in a single game in 2004 while making 140 starts. The last two seasons he had rebounded from his disasterous 2004 campaign (11-11, 5.52 ERA, 1.58 HR/9), going 13-8, 3.72, 1.30 in 2005 and 12-7, 3.91, 1.32 in 2006. Myers was mentioned as a potential Cy Young candidate and he deserved the praise. Myers was durable (103.7 pitches per start in 2006, eighth-best in the N.L.), and had a lot of the tools that I think made for a successful pitcher at Citizens Bank Ballpark – namely, he didn’t rely on his fastball to get the job done. In 2006 Myers had the ninth-lowest percentage of pitches as fastballs, just 49.2%. Myers is a curveball artist. Here, according to the last three Bill James Handbooks, are Myers percentage of pitches that were curves and how they ranked him amongst N.L. pitchers:

2006: 20.7% / 3rd
2005: 20.4% / 4th
2004: 25.4% / 4th

Myers got good defense from the fielders (.707, .724 and .700 DER in 2004, 2005 and 2006), and turned himself into a strikeout pitcher, going from 5.93 K/9 in 2004 to 8.69 and 8.59 in 2005 and 2006. Myers also cut down on the walks and went from a roughly 2-to-1 K/BB ratio to 3-to-1. The slugging percentage against dropped from .490 in 2004 to .410 and .431. Myers looked like a good bet for the Cy Young. Though hot-shot Cole Hamels got a lot of ink from the press, Myers got the start on Opening Day. He was seen as the team’s number one pitcher in the eyes of the brass.

Then April happened. Myers started the season with a good seven inning outing on Opening Day that ought to have been a win for the Phillies, surrendering just three runs in seven and two-thirds of an inning, while getting nine strikeouts and two walks. Myers was then badly beaten in his next two starts, allowing thirteen runs in just seven and two-thirds of an inning. The losses, coming during the Phillies terrible stumble at the start of the season, sent Myers packing to the bullpen while Jon Lieber was summoned to replace him. After being used as a set-up man following Ryan Madson’s struggles, Myers was tasked to replace the injured Gordon, who had blown three of his eight save opportunities, and had a 4.82 ERA.

Since becoming the team’s closer after May 1, Myers has done a nice job, converting six of seven save opportunities … his sole blown save turned into a win when Carlos Ruiz hit his dramatic bottom-of-the-ninth home run against the Brewers on May 15th. His ERA as a reliever is just 1.02. In seventeen and two-thirds innings, Myers got 26 strikeouts to five walks and allowed a single home run (May 15th, vs. the Brewers). If Myers keeps this up, he could be a Cy Young candidate anyway, just as a closer. 35-40 saves is a distinct possibility. The obvious parallel here is to John Smoltz, the terrific Braves hurler who won 157 games for the Braves from 1988 to 2000 then shifted to the bullpen in 2001. From 2001 to 2004 Smoltz saved 154 of 168 games for the Braves, or almost 92% of his opportunities. Like Myers, Smoltz saw his already good ERA drop with his move to the ‘pen, from 3.19 in 2000 to 3.25 in 2002 and 1.12 in 2003, when he saved 45 of 49 games and 2.76 in 2004, when he saved 44 of 49 games. Smoltz returned to the rotation and saw his ERA rise in 2005 and 2006, but he’s still a dominant starter. Obviously the Phillies would like to see Myers make the same transition.

Which brings up an interesting question. How do the Phillies use Myers? The Braves used Smoltz as a ninth inning man. 75% of the time Smoltz’s appearances ended in fifteen pitches or less in 2004, for example. As sabremetricians have complained, teams somewhat misuse their closers these days, employing them as ninth-inning guys only when the threat might be in the seventh or eighth inning. Argues Keith Woolner in Baseball Between the Numbers:

During the “stopper” era of the 1970s, it was common to see a relief ace such as Rollie Fingers or Goose Gossage come in as early as the sixth inning to halt a nascent rally. That was the smart way to go. Focusing on situational leverage, rather than the accumulation of easy ninth-inning saves, is the best way to get the most out of a relief ace.

(See, Chapter 2.2, “Are Teams Letting Their Closers Go to Waste?”, page 73.) Myers is a durable hurler who pitched 176, 215 & 1/3 and 198 innings the last three years. He’ll probably log 70-80 innings as a relief artist in 2007, which is a waste. Why not let Myers close-out games by starting the eighth and pitching the ninth? After Cole Hamels goes seven innings I’d prefer to see Brett Myers enter the game than to see Ryan Madson try to bridge Hamels and Myers terrific skills for an inning. It makes more sense to see Myers throw 120-150 innings as a closer than see him enter the game to record a blah 1-2-3 ninth inning.

I think credit for the Phillies recent surge lies, in no small part, with Myers. Having such a smart and determined pitcher available to close out a game is giving the rejuvenated starting rotation a lot of confidence. They know a good pitching performance won’t be wasted on the Phillies struggling bullpen. I’d like to see the Phillies utilize Myers more aggressively though. Don’t make Cole Hamels wonder as he pitches whether he needs to save himself for the eighth inning because otherwise he’s handing the game to Ryan Madson or some other struggling set-up man who might lose it or turn it into a no-decision. Use Myers as a real relief artist, not a ninth-inning mercenary.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Farm Report 2007: The Warm Waters of the Florida Coast 

Ah, the minor leagues. I happened to be flipping through the channels Tuesday afternoon when I chanced upon Bull Durham on – of all channels – We. The movie is a hilarious and poignant tale of life and love in the minor leagues, and if anyone hasn’t seen it, they ought to. Seeing the movie inspired me to write another in my Farm Report series looking at the minors. Today, we are talking baseball in Clearwater, Florida.

Clearwater, is a small town located on the Gulf of Mexico a little north of the city of Tampa and Tampa Bay. The Threshers are the Phillies Advanced Single-A team in the Florida State League (FSL) and play in close proximity to the Phillies Gulf Coast League (GCL) team in Clearwater. While those of us in the frigid Northeast look longingly on the pristine waters of the Gulf of Mexico and watch people walking around in t-shirts and bathing suits, the Threshers play ball trying to get north to join the Phillies affiliates in Reading and Ottawa before making the move to the Phillies themselves. Advanced Single-A is the next step up from the Phillies lower-rung affiliates in the GCL (Rookie League), in Williamsport (Short Season Single-A) and in Lakewood (Single-A). Most of the players in Clearwater this year are in their third year of minor league baseball, having graduated from rookie league or Single-A short-season ball in 2005 and having played in Single-A in 2006. A lucky few, usually guys who started in Short-Season Single-A, are starting just their second season when they join the Threshers. These guys are hoping to show enough stuff to jump to Reading or Ottawa sooner rather than later. Cole Hamels impressed the Phillies enough to leap from Clearwater in 2006 to Scranton to the Phillies despite hurling just twenty innings for the Threshers.*

* Hamels is a special case. His abortive rise through the Phillies system was due to injuries which slowed his ascent. He had actually briefly pitched in Reading – Double-A ball – in 2005 before starting the season over in Clearwater in 2006.

At the moment the Threshers are 24-19 and are in second-place in the six-team FSL West, five games behind the Sarasota Reds. There is some real talent on the Threshers roster right now, although most of it is in the form of pitching. For whatever reason, the Phillies minor leagues are stacked with hot pitching prospects and the Phillies have a bunch in Clearwater. The team faces a real dearth of position-player talent, with a couple of exceptions. Adrian Cardenas, the Phillies much-ballyhooed shortstop currently at Lakewood, is that notable exception. Aside from Mike Costanzo, the Phillies have few players in Ottawa and Reading capable of making an impact with the Phillies.

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
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.
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)
Walks per plate appearance (BB/PA): BB / PA = .BB/PA Avg
Slugging Percentage (SLG): Total Bases / At-Bats = Slugging Percentage. Power at the plate.

The Threshers most talented position player is Gregory Golson. Golson, a centerfielder, is an immensely talented player who keeps doggedly working his way through the Phillies system, having recently sent time with the Phillies Single-A affiliate in Lakewood, New Jersey. After Cardenas and Michael Bourn, who already plays with the Phillies, Golson was ranked by Baseball America as the Phillies top position-player prospect, placing tenth overall after Cardenas, Bourn and seven pitchers. I was surprised to see that the Phillies promoted Golson in 2005 to the Threshers, despite turning in a terrible performance, hitting just .220. Golson had just 33 Runs Created with the Blue Claws in 2006, or 2.9 per 27 Outs. To my surprise, Golson turned that around in the Florida State League, hitting .264 in 2006 and .281 thus far this season. His Runs Created per 27 Outs rose to 5.3 and 4.8. My surprise at Golson’s success in the FSL is further deepened by the fact that the FSL is, generally, considered to be a pitchers league, with the humidity and the large ballparks constraining the offenses.

I am not entirely sure that Golson would make it in the majors however, because his upswing at the plate is largely a product of more luck at the plate. As a Blue Claw in 2006, Golson’s batting average on balls he put into play was .286. That has climbed to .360 and .397, even while Golson has only marginally improved his batting eye, drawing walks in .046 BB/PA with Lakewood and .064 and .059 in Clearwater. Like Bourn, Golson looks like he’ll be well-suited to pinch-running and entering games as a defensive substitution. So far this season Golson has swiped twelve of fifteen bases, and last year he took thirty of forty (23 of 30 in Lakewood and 7 of 10 in Clearwater). Baseball America rates Golson as the Phillies best base-runner, best outfield arm and best overall athlete. I think Golson will at least make it to Ottawa. I’d like to see a better hitting eye from Golson before I believe that he has a shot at making the next step to Philadelphia.

After Golson, there is a real talent drop-off, although the Phillies have a real talent that has flown under the radar of most observers. The Threshers main power threat is outfielder Jeremy Slayden, who has hit six home runs in 142 At-Bats. In a league where the average slugging percentage is .362, Slayden is bashing at .543, good enough for seventh in the entire FSL.

Impressively, Slayden is displaying a terrific eye at the plate, striking out just thirty times, compared to Golson’s 53. Slayden is that rare power hitter with a good eye: he actually has 32 walks, two more than strikeouts! … Naturally, a closer reading of Slayden’s numbers from 2005 and 2006 reveal that this selectivity at the plate is a recent development – his .190 BB/PA in Clearwater is over twice as good as his .091 BB/PA in Lakewood. Slayden’s Runs Created per 27 Outs is a robust 9.4 this season (7.1 in Lakewood). Similarly Slayden has nice power stats from Batavia (the Phillies old Short-Season Single-A team) and Lakewood. Here are Slayden’s ISO numbers:

2005 (Batavia): .196
2006 (Lakewood): .200
2007 (Clearwater): .209

There is a lot of power to Slayden’s swing and I am a little baffled that no-one has looked at his solid performance inside of the Phillies system and mentioned his major-league prospects. From a pure reading of his stats, Slayden has a real future.

Keep an eye on this Jeremy Slayden kid.

As I noted, there isn’t a ton of position player talent within the Phillies system. The Threshers right now are an arsenal of pitching and probably have the finest pitching staff of any team in the Phillies minor league system right now. Leading the way is twenty-year old Carlos Carrasco, the Phillies top prospect according to Baseball America. Carrasco, along with Josh Outman and Matt Maloney, obliterated the competition in the South Atlantic League (SAL) in 2006, helping to lead the Blue Claws to the 2006 SAL title. Carrasco was an impressive hurler in 2006, going 12-6 with a 2.26 ERA. It was an terrific performance especially given that Carrasco had gone 1-7 with a 7.04 ERA in Lakewood in 2005. Carrasco’s minor league record in Lakewood and Batavia in 2005 had been 1-10 with a 8.41 ERA, so the dominating performance in 2006 was even more impressive.

Thus far this season Carrasco is doing well, with a 4-1 record and a 4.28 ERA. After having such a nice season in 2006, Carrasco has fallen a little to earth in 2007, striking out 16.7% of the batters he faces (1-in-6), a decline from 24.7% in 2006 (1-in-4). Still, he has the finest fastball in the Phillies minor league system and ought to be a near-lock to make it to Triple-A and probably to make it to Philadelphia.

Josh Outman, the third member of Matt Maloney and Carlos Carrasco’s triumvirate in Lakewood last season, is a player I am very intrigued with. Outman pitched very well alongside Carrasco and Maloney, going 14-6 with a 2.95 ERA. Outman pitched just as well as Carrasco, the much-discussed prospect, and Maloney, the hard-throwing hurler who pitched the final game to win the SAL title:

The Triumvirate: FIP
Maloney: 2.97
Carrasco: 3.16
Outman: 3.23

Outman has, according to Baseball America, the best slider in the Phillies system, which is a pitch that might suit him well when he comes to Philadelphia. Outman is 3-3 with a 3.89 ERA thus far in Clearwater and is doing a nice job getting strikeouts, striking out about 20% of the batters he’s facing in the FSL, about what he accomplished in 2006 (25%). If he could keep his walks lower (5.25 BB/9), he’ll be in great shape to move onto Reading next season.

Finally we come to Andrew Carpenter. Carpenter, the Phillies second-round pick and third overall selection out of Long Beach State University, had gone 7-4 in his last year of college before the Phillies selected him and he went to Clearwater to start with the GCL Phillies. Carpenter pitched just three innings and found himself on his way to beautiful Batavia, New York, to begin his career with the Muckdogs. In Batavia Carpenter hurled just eleven and two-third innings before the season ended. He jumped Single-A ball in Lakewood and these innings he’s throwing in Clearwater are the first real glimpse of his talent we are getting. Thus far he’s out-pitching the Lakewood alumna, Outman and Carrasco, as well as the other members of the Threshers five-man rotation, Daniel Brauer and Patrick Overholt:

Starting Pitcher FIP:
Carpenter: 3.53
Overholt: 4.47
Outman: 4.73
Brauer: 4.76
Carrasco: 5.64

At the moment Carpenter has a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and has been doing a great job of keeping his walks allowed low (2.49 BB/9). Carpenter is a sure bet to move on and has a bright future ahead of him.

There you go, the 2007 Clearwater Threshers. Enjoy them now, Floridians, because they’ll be in Philly before you know it …

Nice little 2-1 series win over the Blue Jays gets the Phillies to 22-22. Ah, .500 baseball. The 2006 team was actually doing a little better at this point last season, having won 13 of 14 games to start the month of May. I like how the ’07 Phillies have bounced back and I especially like the fact that they’ve largely done it without Ryan Howard. This is a better, stronger team that last season’s.

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