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, June 15, 2007

Tigers vs. Phillies 

Well, well, well … Look who is sitting in second place? The much-maligned, much-derided, much-ignored Philadelphia Phillies. Thanks to a catastrophic three-game sweep at the hands of the Minnesota Twins, the Atlanta Braves have tumbled out of second place and the Phillies have advanced to within two games of the slumping New York Mets, who have lost five games in a row and are 2-10 in the month of June. With the red-hot Yankees hosting the Mets in the Bronx this weekend, things are definitely looking up for the Phillies. This team shaved six and a half games off their deficit to the Mets in just two weeks. Heck, they could be sitting in first place on Monday morning. Time shall tell.

First thing’s first, the Phillies match up with the Detroit Tigers this weekend in what promises to be a bruising battle. The Tigers are a great team, loaded with pitching and hitting, every bit the equal of the ’06 team that made it to the World Series. Taking this series is going to be a tall order. Here are the match ups:

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

Pitching … Tonight is Jeremy Bonderman vs. Jon Lieber. The Tigers hold a huge edge in this match up in many respects. Let’s start with the fact that Bonderman is 6-0 this season. That only tells part of the story. He’s striking out eight batters every nine innings (an exact 8.00 K/9), and his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) ERA is a low, low, low 2.96. Bonderman is allowing just 1.75 walks per nine innings pitched, which is actually lower than Lieber (2.39), a well-known skinflint when it comes to allowing walks. Advantage: Tigers for this evening. Saturday night is Jamie Moyer vs. Andrew Miller. The rookie Tigers pitcher is doing well, but is nowhere near as good as his teammate, Bonderman. That said, Jamie Moyer has been struggling quite a big of late. His FIP has soared to 4.99 … Even so, I give the Phillies a slight edge.

Finally, on Sunday night the Phillies send Adam Eaton to square-off with 2006 AL Rookie of the Year and owner of a recent no-hitter, Justin Verlander. Verlander is actually nowhere near as good as his numbers suggest – his 2.79 ERA is actually concealing a 4.00 FIP because Verlander has given up a decent number of walks (3.21 BB/9) and has benefited from some absurdly strong defense behind him. Specifically, Tigers fielders have converted .753 of the balls put into play behind Verlander into outs. Not too shabby.

On the other hand, Verlander might get a bit of a surprise. Eaton has been pitching well and might actually out-duel Verlander. The Phillies won’t be sending the strongest and weakest portions of their rotation to the mound this weekend – Cole Hamels and Kyle Kendrick.

As a team the Tigers are an offensive juggernaut. They score nearly six runs a game (5.94), by far the best in the majors. They lead, by a wide margin I might add, the A.L. in Isolated Power at the plate (.190) and are the fourth-best team in the A.L. in On-Base Percentage. If the Phillies allow the Tigers to put men on base they well get burned. The Tigers are hitting a startling .328 with runners in scoring position (BA/RISP), by far the best in the majors (the A.L. average is .272).

Defensively the Tigers are average – their .697 Defense Efficiency Ratio (DER) is a little better than the A.L. average of .695. Their plus / minus rating as a team is -2. Their fielders do little to shield their pitchers, who aren’t quite as good as they were last season this year. The Tigers 4.72 FIP is worse than the league average (4.40) largely because the Tigers give up slightly more than the A.L. average in walks and home runs and don’t get nearly the same number of strikeouts that their A.L. compatriots do.

The Tigers offense vs. the Phillies offense ought to be a fun match up – while the Tigers lead the A.L. (and the MLB) in runs scored per game, so do the Phillies (5.04) lead the N.L. in runs scored. The Phillies are the best team in the N.L. in On-Base Percentage and one of the best in terms of Isolated Power at the plate. Not too shabby. Even BA/RISP, typically one of the Phillies weaknesses, is pretty o.k. this season. The Phillies are .258 vs. the league average of .257. Add in the fact that the Phillies are getting Ryan Howard back after he was missing and unhealthy even when in the lineup, and you have to figure that the Phillies are going to explode this month and next.

And that is a good thing, because the Phillies pitching and fielding are mediocre. The Phillies are +1 and their DER is belong the league average (.687 vs. .698). Their FIP is also below par: 4.59 to 4.16.

Expect to see a lot of high-scoring games this weekend. Saturday night, in particular, could be a 11-9 slugfest. I hope to see the Phillies come out on top and sit in first place on Monday, but I am projecting a 1-2 split in favor of the Tigers. See everyone on Monday!

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Natural? 

Another great outing from Phillies ace Cole Hamels runs Hamels record to 9-2, the best in the National League. While Hamels doesn’t have the numbers of the Padres Jake Peavy, he’s doing extremely well given that he plays in such a hitters park. I wonder how Peavy would do if he hurled at Citizens Bank Ballpark.

Anyway, I figured that I’d focus in a little on Phillies reserve infielder Greg Dobbs. Last night Dobbs went two-for-four with two RBIs, driving in Aaron Rowand and Chase Utley in the first inning to give the Phillies a 3-2 advantage they’d never lose. Dobbs is one of those indispensable players that contribute to the team despite being utterly unheralded and utterly unknown to 99% of the fans. Last season Chris Coste seemingly came out of nowhere to become a major hero for the Phillies. This season it is Greg Dobbs turn.

Originally a tenth-round pick by the Seattle Mariners out of Oklahoma, Dobbs made his MLB debut in Seattle in 2004 before getting released by the team after the 2006 campaign. Sensing an opportunity, Pat Gillick signed his one-time draft choice (yet another Mariner making his way to Philly) and watched as he beat out Karim Garcia to join the Phillies roster.

Dobbs is extremely versatile. Thus far this season Dobbs has logged 97 innings at first base, 56 at third base, 29 in left field, 5 at second base and an inning in right field. He’s hitting extremely well too – six home runs, eight doubles and 25 RBIs in 117 plate appearances. His OBP is .325, but his slugging percentage is a robust .541. Dobbs has the kind of skills you want from a pinch-hitter: the ability to make contact, put the ball into play and to perhaps hit it out of the park. At the moment Dobbs has a .344 Batting Average with Runners in Scoring Position (BA/RISP), which is extremely good. He doesn’t hit that many ground balls (just 40% of the balls he puts into play are grounders), so he doesn’t hit into many 6-4-3 double plays.

I’m curious to see, as the season unfolds, how well Dobbs continues to play and if he’ll continue to make an impact. Is Greg Dobbs the next Chris Coste? Wait and see.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007


What odd days for the Phillies pitching staff … Long-maligned, much-discussed, it is once more the topic of conversation here in Philadelphia. Let’s start with a quick run-down of the questions and answers:

Q: Was the Phillies overall of their rotation the team’s big focus in the off-season?

A: Yep, they signed Adam Eaton to a three-year deal and dealt away two great prospects to acquire Freddy Garcia from the White Sox. The team obviously meant to team Hamels and Myers, along with late-season acquisition Jamie Moyer, with Garcia and Eaton in the rotation. The collapse of the Phillies bullpen sent Brett Myers into the closer role, while Freddy Garcia’s injuries have further stretched the Phillies rotation.

Q: How will the Phillies replace Freddy Garcia?

A: Apparently the short-term solution is to promote Kyle Kendrick from Double-A to the bigs. Poor Kendrick is jumping into a hornets nest by making the move to the show. We’ve seen pitchers make the leap from Double-A to the bigs rarely, so I am skeptical that Kendrick is going to survive his start and I worry that getting shelled might destroy his self-esteem.

In the long-term, I expect to see the Phillies try and redouble their efforts to secure a starter by dealing Aaron Rowand. The obvious target for the Phillies is Carlos Zambrano, who has apparently worn out his welcome with the Cubs.

Q: Any big surprises?

A: Seeing Jon Lieber back in the rotation qualifies. Lieber is pitching well, as evidenced by his complete-game shutout of the Royals the other night where he surrendered three hits and no walks while getting eleven strikeouts, in what was quietly one of the best pitched games of the season. Lieber’s Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) ERA is actually a little better – 3.70 vs. 3.71 – than Cole Hamels, by the way.

Q: Oh yeah, how is that Hamels guy doing?

A: Pretty ok. 8-2 with a 3.57 ERA. Hamels is absolutely dazzling these days on the mound. He’s lowered his walks allowed down to around two every nine innings (2.18 BB/9), and he’s getting 4.36 strikeouts per walk allowed. Lieber and Moyer need to rely on their fielders to make outs, but Hamels is the only Phillies starter who can simply go after batters fearlessly. It doesn’t matter who is fielding for the Phillies, because Hamels won’t allow the batter to put the ball into play.

Q: What about that Adam Eaton guy?

A: Eaton has dramatically improved himself. After an April which saw his ERA stuck at 7.71, Eaton has lowered it and seems to be on his way to getting it under 5.00 before the All-Star Break. Eaton is, by far, the weakest of the Phillies starters. He gives up a decent number of home runs (1.32 HR/9), which isn’t a problem, but when you couple it with allowing too many walks (4.45 BB/9) and not enough strikeouts (6.03 K/9), it is a problem.

Still, I look for Eaton to improve. Last night’s performance was big, but he needs to cut down on those walks before he can be called a dominant pitcher.

More tomorrow.

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
BB/9 – Walks per nine innings: (BB * 9) / IP
K/9 – Strikeouts per nine innings: (K * 9) / IP

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Defensively Speaking... 

What a strange series this was with the Royals this weekend. After sweeping the Mets, the Phillies naturally struggled to a 1-2 split with arguably the worst team in baseball. The irony is that this weekend's injury to starter Freddy Garcia gives the Phillies, who had a surplus of starting pitching on Opening Day with six starters for five slots, a dearth of pitching. Brett Myers is now firmly installed in the bullpen and the team won't move him or Ryan Madson to the rotation. That means the Phillies need to scramble to find a fifth starter to replace Garcia, who is almost certainly lost for the season, from either the minors or from another team.

The minors aren't really an option because many of the Phillies Triple-A pitchers aren't ready to come down to Philadelphia. Zach Segovia has been screwed up since he filled in for Garcia back in April against the Marlins. J.A. Happ, the Phillies most talented pitcher in Triple-A right now, is coming off an injury. The Phillies choices lay with either J.D. Durbin or Kyle Kendrick, both of whom have issues. Durbin has been inconsistent with the Ottawa Lynx this season. Kendrick is a Double-A pitcher who has never pitched in Triple-A and might get hammered.

Either way, it seems likely that the Phillies will try and use Aaron Rowand to swing a deal to land another starter, which is a shame. After struggling last season, particularly at the plate, Rowand is having a terrific season in 2007. Thus far he's dramatically raised his On-Base Percentage and his Slugging Percentage. His reluctance to draw walks, long a flaw to his game, is apparently gone. He's drawn 21 walks in 229 plate appearances against 18 in 405 in 2006. The good news about Rowand's performance is that his trade stock has probably never been higher than it is right now.

Given that Garcia's spot in the rotation is set for Wednesday night against the White Sox, expect the Phillies to try and swing a deal for Rowand either today or tomorrow. Is Carlos Zambrano a possibility here?

Alright, I try and make my little niche in the blogging world my focus on the Phillies defense, of which I figured that I’d give some thoughts on today … Seems to be a good topic, given that Aaron Rowand's days as a Phillie are numbered. As I have noted in the past (some would say, ad naseum), the Phillies had one of the best defenses in baseball from 2002 to 2005, ranking in the top four of the N.L. in terms of Defense Efficiency Ratio (DER), the big stat I look at in this field. In 2005, the Phillies led all MLB teams in Plus / Minus, John Dewan’s stat that measures team and individual performance in terms of fielding. They were a great team in the field.

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.

That all changed in 2006, when the team promptly became one of the worst teams in the NL in DER and one of the worst in Plus / Minus. Here is how the Phillies did in terms of Plus / Minus from 2003-2006:

Plus / Minus (MLB rank)
2006: -33 (22nd)
2005: +108 (1st)
2004: +18 (8th)
2003: +31 (10th)

After averaging a +52.3 from 2003-2005 (they were a combined +157), they fell off dramatically, a puzzling development given that the Phillies had – on paper – improved their defensive alignment by adding Aaron Rowand to the lineup in center field, replacing the Phillies old Kenny Lofton / Jason Michaels platoon. The Phillies – again, on paper – improved their alignment again in 2007 by adding Shane Victorino to the Phillies right field full-time, replacing Bobby Abreu, a player who was born to play the DH. (Yes, that was a shot at Abreu’s fielding abilities …) Victorino has a cannon for an arm and terrific range. Even with the declining Pat Burrell in right field, the Phillies figured to be a stronger team in the field.

Keep figuring. The team’s .684 DER is lower than the N.L. average of .698, and the Phillies rank thirteenth, just ahead of some truly awful fielding teams like the Reds (.676), the Marlins (.679), and the Dodgers (.683). Even the slow-footed Pirates are better defensively (.689). The Plus / Minus data on The Hardball Times website is a little better, but not much. According to THT, the Phillies are -3, which ranks them eleventh in the N.L. And improvement over 2006, but a far cry from their historic performance in 2005.

I’ll turn my focus to the Phillies outfield at the moment. Shane Victorino is making a powerful statement he deserves the Gold Glove for right field in the N.L. with his terrific performance out there. Thanks to Victorino, the Phillies led the N.L. in outfield assists:

Assists (Outfield)
1. Philadelphia: 24
2. Milwaukee: 17
3. Houston: 13
4. Arizona: 13
5. Colorado: 12
6. Florida: 12
7. Pittsburgh: 12
8. San Diego: 11
9. Cincinnati: 10
10. Chicago: 10
11. Atlanta: 9
12. San Francisco: 8
13. Washington: 8
14. Los Angeles: 6
15. St. Louis: 6
16. New York: 5

Credit here goes to Aaron Rowand as well. The Phillies are leading the N.L. in assists coming from centerfielders with 6, one better than the Cincinnati Reds, Florida Marlins and San Francisco Giants. We don’t know how well Rowand is doing in terms of range … although Phillies centerfielders have made 153 put-outs and the N.L. average is 162, so the preliminary answer is that I suspect not particularly well … but his arm is fine. Run on Aaron Rowand at your own risk …

As for Pat Burrell … it appears his arm is o.k.: six assists from Phillies LF’s, one fewer than the league-leading Arizona Diamondbacks. Alas, I shudder to think of his range numbers. Phillies left fielders have logged 102 put-outs, the fourth-fewest in the N.L. and well off the N.L. average of 113. The Phillies also lead the N.L. in errors by left fielders.

By almost any standard, Victorino shines. First off, Phillies rightfielders have committed just two errors. The twelve assists Phillies rightfielders have logged is four better than the Brewers at eight and that is three better than the log-jam amongst teams for third-place. And unlike Rowand and Burrell, Victorino is running ahead of the pace with 127 put-outs, two better than the N.L. average. Not too shabby.

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