Friday, July 06, 2007
For years the Rockies had one of the worst pitching staffs in the majors. Even in seasons where the Rockies tried to upgrade their pitching staff by adding guys like Denny Neagle and Mike Hampton, the Rockies still got rocked. The decision to utilize a humidor to give the ball some dampness in the dry air of Denver deadened the ball considerably and has had a positive effect on the Rockies pitchers.
The park factor for Coors Field in terms of Home Runs illustrates the dramatic shift. (Park factor, for those not in the know, is the difference between what a team and its foes do at home vs. on the road. 100 is neutral, less than that favors pitchers, higher favors hitters.) In 2006, Coors Field’s Park Factor for Home Runs was 114, which ranked Coors Field seventh in the N.L. Coors is still an easy park to score runs in – its vast dimensions make defense a chore and give teams plenty of opportunities to utilize tactics that don’t involve home runs, like stretching singles into doubles – but Home Runs were down.
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.
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
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.
As a consequence of not having to watch cheap home runs sail into the bleachers, the Rockies pitching staff has quietly been developing into a tough group. Here is how they stack up compared with the Phillies and the rest of the N.L.:
Colorado / Philadelphia / N.L.
FIP: 4.46 / 4.81 / 4.28
HR/9: 1.0 / 1.3 / 0.9
BB/9: 3.1 / 3.4 / 3.3
K/9: 5.3 / 6.7 / 6.6
SLGA*: .436 / .464 / .412
* Slugging average allowed.
The Rockies Jeff Francis, who goes tonight against Kyle Kendrick, has quietly made himself into a tough pitcher, and the Rockies best starter: he’s 8-5 with a 3.56 ERA.
The Phillies will operate at a major disadvantage in this series. First off, the Phillies are sending Kendrick, Jamie Moyer and Adam Eaton to the mound. Not one of the three is a strikeout pitcher like Brett Myers or Cole Hamels. Why is this significant? Because pitchers that allow balls to be put into play in Coors risk seeing those balls sail out of the park for home runs, or sail to the deepest parts of the outfield for doubles. Moyer (5.5 K/9), Eaton (5.8 K/9) and Kendrick (3.0 K/9) all rely on the Phillies fielders to make plays. This could be bad. Simply put, Phillies fans, don’t be surprised to see the Phillies pitchers get shelled this weekend. Ideally, the Phillies could have sent strikeout guys like Hamels and Myers, or extreme groundball pitchers like Freddy Garcia and Jon Lieber to the mound in this series, but that isn’t an option.
Defensively, the Rockies are nothing to brag about. They seem pretty average. In fact, their DER (.695) is the league average.
Offensively, the Rockies have some power to their lineup. The Rockies are third in the N.L. in runs scored per game after the Phillies and Brewers at 4.95 runs per game. The Rockies do it by working the count: 3.87 pitches per plate appearance, best in the N.L. Second-best? The Phillies at 3.86. That gets them on-base (.346 OBP, best in the N.L.), and gets them into position for their big bats to hammer them home. Interestingly, the modern Rockies look a little like a small-ball team: their slugging percentage is just .418, .007 better than the league average. Their isolated power at the plate (ISO) is a relatively puny .144, worse – worse – than the league average of .151, and mush worse than the Phillies robust .175. Even with big boppers like Matt Holliday on the roster, the Rockies are a team with popguns instead of cannons.
The Rockies utilize a lot of steals and a lot of bunts to make things happen. I was stunned to discover, looking in the 2007 Bill James Handbook, that the 2006 Rockies led the N.L. in sacrifice bunts with 155 (23 more than the Astros), and attempted to steal 135 bases, which was eighth in the N.L. Bill James ran the numbers and determined that the Rockies led the N.L. in Manufactured Runs (that is, runs that were a direct outcome of bunting, stealing and sacrificing) with 198. These are not your older cousin’s Rockies.
So what’s going to happen this weekend? I am predicting a three-game sweep for the Rockies. That’s right Phillies fans, this weekend’s series is going to be a total fiasco for the Phillies. They are vulnerable pitchers going to the mound. The Rockies don’t look nearly as vulnerable as they appear. Remember: this is the team that swept the Mets at Shea.
Respect the Rockies.
Thursday, July 05, 2007
Keith Woolner wrote a nice piece contained in Chapter 2.3 of Baseball Between the Numbers (entitled “Five Starters or Four?”) and came to this conclusion: “Throwing is not dangerous to a pitcher’s arm. Throwing while tired is dangerous to a pitcher’s arm.” I suppose that if the Phillies take precautions and let Hamels rest between starts – the Phillies, like pretty much every other team in baseball, utilize a five-man rotation which ensures that their starters are throwing on four or five days rest – it won’t be an issue, but you do have to worry that Charlie Manuel will risk the temptation of doing damage to Hamels arm because leaving Hamels in to throw a complete game is less risky than turning a 2-1 lead over to the Phillies bullpen. Hopefully the return of Brett Myers will alleviate this concern.
Just when it looked like the Mets were going to run away with the N.L. East and kick the Phillies to the curb, they proceed to go out and lose three consecutive games to the Colorado Rockies. Yes, the Rockies. Go figure. The Rockies pounded the Mets pitching for 34 runs in the series, a staggering total which ought to give Mets fans something to think about as their team staggers into a four-game series with the Houston Astros.
The Phillies haven’t been playing particularly well of late – two wins in their last seven games – but they are just four games out of first place and one game out of second place. I know Phillies fans, as a breed, have little faith in their team, but the news is generally good for this team. They’ve shaken off a terrible start to get into the race, they’ve stumbled but so have their foes. They could very well get in, and possibly win. We’ll have to see.
Meanwhile, the Phillies get those very same Rockies tomorrow in the Mile-High City.
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
The Phillies have lost five of their last six and need to shake themselves out of this funk they are in.
Today Cole Hamels goes for the Phillies to reverse the recent trend. So while you are busy eating hot dogs, noodle salad and gazing at the fireworks, take a little time to cheer for the All-Star, and celebrate America's declaration of freedom from tyranny and tea.
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
The Phillies three of the Phillies five strongest players – Hamels, Rowand and Utley – got recognition. Ryan Howard’s injuries and slow start cost him a roster spot, which was fair. What was not fair, however, was the voters decision to snub Jimmy Rollins.
First off, I am willing to concede that the voters did a nice job awarding the starting position to the Mets Jose Reyes. Yes, I get sick of all of the media attention lavished on players in New York, and I suspect that New York players have an absurdly unfair advantage when it comes to all-star balloting because they play in the media capital of the United States, however Reyes has done a nice job this season:
.399 OBP, 40 stolen bases in 51 attempts, 45 walks to 44 strikeouts, 8 triples, .324 BA/RISP (Batting Average with Runners in Scoring Position) … He has 16 Win Shares right now, 9 Win Shares Above Bench … He’s your prototypical lead-off hitter, and he does a nice job at it. Tellingly, he leads all N.L. Shortstops in Runs Created per 27 Outs at 7.6 …
J.J. Hardy is a slugging shortstop. Thus far this season he has 18 home runs, and his slugging percentage is a robust .515. He’s a fairly one-dimensional player in that he has no speed whatsoever: zero steals in three attempts and one triple. He has 47 strikeouts to 24 walks … He’s a slugger with limited speed. Jimmy Rollins is a nice blend between Hardy and Reyes: a slugger with a lot of speed. Rollins has 14 home runs and his slugging percentage is just a tick below Hardy at .514. Impressively, Rollins has fifteen steals in eighteen attempts, and a whopping ten triples. Given what a lost art hitting a triple is, shouldn’t Rollins get some recognition for that?
The bottom-line, to me, is that Jimmy Rollins is a better player than J.J. Hardy, and is a more-deserving All-Star. I agree with the decision to vote Jose Reyes in as the N.L.’s starting shortstop. He deserves it, but not J.J. Hardy.
Monday, July 02, 2007
In retrospect, the Phillies were set up for a difficult weekend: they were sending three rookie pitchers to the mound, a recipe for disaster. Kendrick didn’t pitch that well on Sunday – not a single strikeout, allowed three walks and six hits in six and two-thirds of an inning – but he got the W. J.A. Happ’s performance on Saturday – four innings, three home runs, but five strikeouts and two walks – I actually thought was pretty decent. He shows a lot of promise and ought to be the one in the Phillies rotation, not Kendrick.
The road to the All-Star Break isn’t too onerous for the Phillies. Tonight they start a three game series with the Houston Astros, and then they wrap up the first half with a three game set against the Colorado Rockies. Not too shabby. It is a pretty nice way to get back into the NL East race. The Mets, coincidentally, play the Rockies tonight and then close out with four games against the Astros.