Saturday, August 25, 2007
I will blog out the season at my current pace of a post-a-day and I will keep it up during the playoffs if the Phillies are in it.
I will post my usual Season in Review series in late October or early November.
I will throttle back to one or two posts a week in the off-season from November to March.
As I did when I blogged the 1950 Phillies, I will put together a series about a past Phillies team. I've narrowed the choices down to the following: the 1964 Phillies, the 1983 Phillies or the 1993 Phillies. Anyone have any preferences? I lean towards an exploration of the '64 team myself.
I shall return to blog once more in 2008, however next season will be my final year blogging the Phillies. If I blog next season I'll have covered five seasons of baseball: 2004-2008. That's enough. I'll be 31 and I'll want to dive into advancing my legal career and focus on building a family. I barely have the energy to do this now. I won't have it then.
I have decided to work on a book project that I intend to release in October of 2008, when the Phillies wrap up the 2008 campaign and I post my final thoughts on this blog. The book will be published through Lulu.com, and it is tenatively entitled The Wiz Kids: The Story of the 1950s Philadelphia Phillies. It will focus on the rise and fall of the Wiz Kids, starting with the General Managership of Herb Pennock in 1943 and ending with the team's last-place collapse in 1958. If all goes well and if the book is well-received, then I might move into the realm of book-writing and make that my hobby. I've always wanted to write a book and I figured this was my chance, and that you all would be my audience.
Those are my plans and I figured that I might let everyone who reads this blog know. More on Monday about the Phillies disasterous recent play.
Labels: Odds 'n Ends
Friday, August 24, 2007
The Phillies have really struggled with the bullpen and in particular with their closer in the last two seasons. Tom Gordon got off to a good start as the Phillies closer in 2006, saving 21 of 23 games with a 2.13 ERA prior to the All-Star Break and getting named to the All-Star Team as one of the Phillies three representatives. After that Gordon struggled, saving 13 of 16, but seeing his ERA balloon to 5.32. Gordon got off to a rough start this season, blowing three of his eight save opportunities. He went on the D.L. and the Phillies tried to plug Myers in. Brett did well ok, saving six of seven prior to the All-Star Break, with a 2.61 ERA. Since his return after the break, Myers has continued his blistering performance, going six for six with a 2.53 ERA. Here is how Myers season has gone:
Starter / Reliever
ERA: 9.39 / 2.59
HR/9: 2.93 / 0.28
BB/9: 5.28 / 3.45
K/9: 11.15 / 12.92
Basically Myers got shelled in his first few starts of the season before getting relegated to the bullpen. The interesting thing is that Myers numbers as a closer come close to what he’s done as a starter the last two seasons, when he was one of the Phillies best pitchers:
(Relief) 2007 / 2006 / 2005
ERA: 2.59 / 3.91 / 3.72
HR/9: 0.28 / 1.32 / 1.30
BB/9: 3.45 / 2.86 / 2.84
K/9: 12.92 / 8.59 / 8.69
K/BB ratio: 3.75 / 3.00 / 3.05
I’m reminded about something that I read when John Smoltz took over as the Braves closer in 2001: Smoltz, used to pacing himself for six or seven innings, seemed liberated by the fact that he could simply fire 95 mph fastballs for just an inning at a time. Smoltz looked utterly dominant on the mound as the Braves closer, saving 154 of 168 games (92%) from 2001 – 2004. Looking at Myers exceptional strikeout rate as the Phillies closer, I wonder if Myers will follow the same pattern. In Smoltz’s final season as the Braves closer, 2004, his strikeout rate was 9.37. When he moved back to the rotation his strikeout rate fell to 6.62. Can Myers keep up his pace? Why not?
I looked at the DIPS numbers for relievers and discovered that Myers has the second-best DIP ERA amongst relievers with 20 or more innings pitched:
1. Broxton (LAD): 1.87
2. Myers (PHI): 2.04
3. Cordero (MIL): 2.04
4. Saito (LAD): 2.38
5. Marmol (CHI): 2.48
Myers DIPS ERA is better than that of Bill Wagner (2.67), the Phillies closer from 2004 to 2005.
Suffice to say that Myers is pitching very well, which cannot be said for the rest of the Phillies bullpen, which is objectively awful:
B. Myers: 2.04
A. Alfonseca: 3.87
C. Condrey: 3.94
R. Madson: 3.95
F. Rosario: 4.68
J. Mesa: 5.50
It looks like the Phillies have found their closer. I like seeing Myers in this role in the future because the inability to close out close wins is killing the Phillies. They are 9-19 in one-run games. The Phillies leaky bullpen has probably cost the Phillies 4 or 5 losses compared if it had turned in average performances. The team might actually be in first place right now if Madson, Condrey, J.C. Romero and the rest of the crew managed to keep leads from time-to-time. Just look at how the Phillies pitching collapsed Sunday against the Pirates: while Kyle Lohse bears the responsibility for allowing the bases to be loaded, Romero and Alfonseca were the Phillies pitchers who saw the Pirates eight runs cross the plate. If the Phillies make the playoffs, I bet Brett Myers steady relief work will be 40-50% of the Phillies success.
More on Monday.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Guys like Cole Hamels get a lot of the headlines because of their high rate of strikeouts, but I have a lot of respect for pitchers who make their living not by blowing 95 mph fastballs by batters, but who throw at slower speeds, mixing in sliders, changeups and curveballs, relying on skill and guile more than brute force. I suppose my respect for non-fireballers comes from my analysis of Robin Roberts, the great Phillies hurler who was the team’s first member to be inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame. (Click here for Baseball Reference's page on Robin Roberts.) (And click here for my focus on Roberts for my series on the 1950 Phillies, The Wiz Kids, which I posted on this blog last fall.) Roberts had a great fastball, but he didn’t rely on strikeouts to get the job done. He threw right in the strike-zone and dared hitters to swing. As a result Roberts gave up a lot of home runs, but he didn’t allow many walks and gave his fielders great opportunities to convert balls put into play into outs.
I think Roberts is long-over due for recognition as one of the great pitchers of all-time. He was easily the most dominant pitcher in the N.L. between 1950-1955, and began to slip just when he should have been recognized for his talents with a Cy Young Award, an award that didn’t exist until 1956. Had Roberts won the Cy Young two or three times between ’50 – ’55, he’d be mentioned in the same breath as Greg Maddux or Roger Clemens or Steve Carlton or Sandy Koufax. However he didn’t, so he isn’t. Pitchers that relied on guile don’t capture the imagination of fans and writers the way the fireballers do. Which is a shame, because the soft-tossing pitchers are just as skilled and just as effective.
Let’s look at Jon Lieber:
Jon Lieber. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Lieber’s career with the Phillies is basically over. The team inked a three-year deal with Lieber in ’04 and this was his walk year. With all of the young arms in the Phillies system coming up, along with the performance Kyle Kendrick turned in, don’t expect the Phillies to offer anything more than a one-year deal for Lieber, who will likely be looking for a little more.
I thought, when the Phillies signed Lieber, that he’d be a great acquisition for the team. Lieber was a control-freak pitcher who threw lots of sliders and got lots of groundball outs. The slider, the combination between a curveball and a fastball, is a heavy pitch that is difficult to lift for a home run. Lieber was 29-30 with a 4.55 ERA as a Phillie. At first glance, Lieber’s career in the red pinstripes was a total failure. Not so. I actually think that Lieber pitched rather well:
ERA / FIP / FIP diff.
2004: 4.20 / 4.13 / -0.07
2005: 4.93 / 4.60 / -0.33
2006: 4.73 / 3.79 / -0.94
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).
BB/9 – Walks per nine innings: (BB * 9) / IP
K/9 – Strikeouts per nine innings: (K * 9) / IP
Consistently, Lieber under-pitched his “real” ERA if you look at his FIP. The problem was that the Phillies never provided Lieber with much help defensively. If you look at things like strikeouts, home runs allowed, and walks allowed, Lieber stacks up pretty well. He had good control, threw lots of tough pitches to jam for home runs, and got a good number of strikeouts. Lieber kept the ball on the ground, as he has done his entire career:
2007 (PHI): 1.52
2006 (PHI): 1.23
2005 (PHI): 1.29
2004 (NYY): 1.43
2002 (CHC): 1.23
2001 (CHC): 1.34
2000 (CHC): 1.69
1999 (CHC): 1.33
The problem for Lieber has been that the teams he plays for rarely provide him good defense. This season, for example, the Phillies DER behind Lieber was just .672, well off the team average (.689) and the league average (.693). Imagine if the Phillies gave him good defense. He'd be a twenty game winner.
Walks, or avoiding them, were Lieber’s specialty. Few were better than Lieber at locating pitches inside of the strike-zone. In 2006 Lieber was fourth in the N.L. in pitches in the strikezone, with 54.5% (leader: Roy Oswalt at 57.7%). Lieber ranked fourth in K/BB ratio in 2006 at 4.17. He had finished ninth in K/BB in 2005.
Here was how good Lieber was at not allowing people bases on balls:
BB/9: Lieber / N.L.
2004: 1.69 / 3.38
2005: 1.28 / 3.29
2006: 2.53 / 3.39
Lieber allowed nearly as many home runs (67) as walks (87) as a Phillie. Not too shabby.
Jamie Moyer. Jamie Moyer is a wonder. 44-years old and still hurling with the best in the major leagues. Moyer's 11-9, 4.97 ERA might not blow you away to look at, but there is a beauty to Moyer's work on the mound that is very underappreciated. He pitches far, far better than his stats indicate. Moyer , for example, is in a seven-way tie for tenth in the N.L. in Quality Starts, that is, starts where the pitcher goes at least six innings and allows three runs or fewer.
Moyer relied on his changeup to get outs. Moyer was second in the A.L. in percentage of pitches as changeups with 29.2% in 2004, and led the A.L. in 2005 with 31.0%. In 2005, only Wakefield … who is kind of a freakshow of a case, being a knuckleballer … relied on his fastball less than Moyer, who threw fastballs just 40.1% of the time. (Wakefield: 11.9%)
The interesting thing is that Moyer shouldn’t have any success at Citizens Bank Ballpark. In 2004 he ranked tenth in the A.L. for the lowest G/F ratio at 0.91. In 2005, he was seventh at 0.90. However, the rules don't apply to Jamie Moyer. His slow fastballs and changeups are typically hit into the air for flyouts to the outfield. Remember our discussion of how pitchers can't influence the fielders behind them? Well, according to the Baseball Prospectus book Baseball Between the Numbers (see, page 92) soft-tossing lefties like Jamie Moyer are some of the rare types of pitchers who demonstrate an ability to influence balls put into play.
A cursory look at the quality of the defense played behind Moyer reveals this truth:
DER: Moyer w/ Seattle Mariners
DER: Moyer w/ Philadelphia Phillies
That is how well the defense played behind Jamie Moyer these last four seasons. Compare that with how those teams played defensively generally during that time period:
DER: Seattle Mariners
2004: .699 / +.033 Moyer advantage
2005: .701 / +.003 Moyer advantage
2006: .690 / +.020 Moyer advantage
DER: Philadelphia Phillies
2006: .681/ +.072 Moyer advantage
2007: .693/ +.018 Moyer advantage
Those are significant variances. Very significant. Significant to the point where you have to consider the fact that Moyer really does help his teammates and make the defense play significantly better than it typically does. All of those changeups and slow fastballs result in batters launching soft pop-ups and weakly hit grounders. Generally speaking most of those are fly balls. Moyer is a fly ball pitcher, which at first glance ought to be the kiss of death for a Phillies pitcher, but it isn’t. The velocity of Moyer’s pitches keep them in the park. Check out how few of Moyer’s flies become home runs, especially compared with his teammates:
Moyer: 1.42 HR/9 @ Citizens Bank Ballpark
Phillies: 1.56 HR/9 @ Citizens Bank Ballpark
That despite being a definite fly ball oriented pitcher:
G/F ratio: (Mariners)
Perhaps Moyer has reworked his delivery, but he’s a little more oriented towards grounders than in the past:
G/F ratio: (Phillies)
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
His debut was strong: a five-inning, one-hit outing that saw Hamels walk five but strikeout seven and not allow a run. Despite some struggles with control, you could see Hamels progressively putting things together in 2006: Pre All-Star Break, 2006: 4.83 BB/9 … Post All-Star Break, 2006: 2.46 BB/9 … Pre All-Star Break, 2006: 1.83 K/BB ratio … Post All-Star Break, 2006: 4.20 K/BB ratio … Pre All-Star Break, 2006: 2-4, 5.44 ERA … Post All-Star Break, 2006: 7-4, 3.39 ERA … I find myself, like many others bloggers I suspect, resisting the urge to write so many lauditory posts about Hamels abilities and skills on the mound. You can only write so much about what a terrific pitcher he is.
His season thus far has been a major triumph: 14-5, 3.50 ERA. A look inside of the numbers give you an idea about how dominant he really is on the mound:
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
So the Phillies pitching is terrible, atrocious, awful, right? Certainly it was on Sundat afternoon in Pittsburgh! Well, we'll get to that issue in a moment. First I want to talk a little about the importance of pitching to the game of baseball. First, some history; then, some theory; and finally, some fact. First, history ...
The only thing that matters is what happens on that little lump out in the middle of the field.
-Earl Weaver, quoted in Baseball Between the Numbers (page 273).
In the early days of baseball the pitcher was the least important member of a team. That seems exceptional to ponder nowadays. Much like a beer league softball pitcher, the pitcher of the old leagues and associations that existed in the 1850’s and 1860’s (like the National Association, the forerunner to the National League) was expected to serve the ball up to the batter underhanded and hittable, a gentlemanly maneuver. The box scores created by Harry Chadwick, the father of baseball stats, utterly ignored the pitcher altogether, because the contest was between the batter and the fielders, not the batter vs. pitcher. Over time umpires were permitted to call strikes, then the concept of bases on balls was introduced. In the early 1870’s, a pitcher named Jim Creighton introduced the wrist snap, which propelled the ball to the hitter in a difficult manner to hit. In 1872 the rule-makers decided that Creighton’s wrist snap was legal and the pitcher became a vital part of the baseball equation. However, it wasn’t until the 1890’s that the pitcher got a line in the box score.
For those interested in more, please read Alan Schwartz's The Numbers Game for a full discussion on this topic. Anyway, since then a war has existed between pitchers and hitters that pitchers consistently find themselves on the short end of because the people want offense, runs, home runs, etc. The game evolved, in the early part of the century, to favor offense, a situation that reached its zenith in the 1905's and early 1960's. Baseball, concerned in the wake of the 1961 season that the home run had gotten too cheap, changed the rules by reinterpreting the strike zone and altering the mound, a move that dramatically shifted the balance of power to the pitchers. With Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax hurling baseballs that seemed the size of asprins at hitters, the new dead-ball era began. The primacy of pitchers in the 1960's continued into the 1970's, before the era of the power slugger began in the mid-1980's. Today we live in an era where hitters have the edge in a big, big way. That's the history of the pitcher.
Now some theory. The sabremetrics community – the numbers obsessed stats heads that, if you are reading this blog you are probably one of – did a lot of work on hitters in the 1970’s and 1980’s, but pitching was something that wasn’t pondered much by sabremetricians. Stats like Runs Created and the like, for example, focused on the outcomes of batting.
Until Voros McCracken came along. The paralegal and baseball thinker had been mulling over the idea that pitchers basically have no control over balls put into play and thus, statistics like Earned Run Average (ERA), the traditional tool to evaluate pitchers, had no meaning unless you adjusted for the quality of the defense that was played behind them. The idea that ERA was a flawed tool was astonishing. McCracken proposed DIPS – Defense Independent Pitching Statistic – as a replacement, arguing that strikeouts, walks and home runs were the only things that pitchers were accountable and devised DIPS as a way to keep track of how a pitcher would fare with an average defense behind him. According to research quoted in Baseball Between the Numbers, the variables for batted balls break-down as follows:Luck: 44%; Pitcher: 28%; Defense: 17%; Ballpark: 11%
McCracken’s article proposing DIPS and introducing his theories was published on Baseball Prospectus’ website in January of 2001. (Click here for the article.) The next day ESPN author Rob Neyer published an article on ESPN’s website talking about McCracken’s theories. (Click here for the article.) The effect was electric. McCracken became a celebrity in the sabremetrics community and DIPS became the most significant theory advanced in the debate over baseball stats in years, if not decades. Bill James, the father of sabremetrics, endorsed, with caveats, McCracken’s theories in his Historical Baseball Abstract (see, James’ entry on Tommy John), noting that he found McCracken’s ideas to be significant and that he felt foolish for not having had the same thought years before.
McCracken went on to expand and refine DIPS, taking the performance of knuckleball pitchers into account (who do influence the outcome of balls put into play) in DIPS 2.0. (Click here for DIPS 2.0 formula.) Since then McCracken has moved on to join the Boston Red Sox as an consultant. Sadly, I’ve found information on the internet about DIPS to generally be lacking and nobody has expanded upon McCracken’s ideas much. This is an area of sabremetrics that seems to be crying out for attention. Futility Infielder, for example, published DIPS stats in 2004 complete with a discussion of what some of the numbers said. Since then, I haven't found much of a discussion on DIPS.
So let's move away from theory and take a look at the Phillies current situation. Simply put, it isn't good. I couldn't find team DIPS numbers, but I did find numbers for FIP, or Fielding Independent Pitching:
1. San Diego: 3.68
2. L.A. Dodgers: 3.77
3. San Francisco: 4.21
4. Milwaukee: 4.25
5. Atlanta: 4.26
6. Colorado: 4.39
7. N. Y. Mets: 4.39
8. Chic. Cubs: 4.44
9. Arizona: 4.47
10. Pittsburgh: 4.49
11. Cincinnati: 4.51
12. St. Louis: 4.52
13. Florida: 4.52
14. Houston: 4.55
15. Philadelphia: 4.76
16. Washington: 4.79
The Phillies rank twelfth in strikeouts, tenth in walks allowed, and fifteenth in home runs allowed. As I ran the numbers, I found that the only area where the Phillies rank respectably is in quality starts (7th) with sixty, eleven behind the N.Y. Mets. (Quality start is a start where the pitcher goes six innings and allows three or fewer runs.)
Here is how the Phillies starters look:
Starters - DIPS
Jon Lieber: 3.53
Cole Hamels: 3.90
Jamie Moyer: 4.60
Kyle Kendrick: 4.82
Freddy Garcia: 4.94
Adam Eaton: 5.33
Starters ERA / DIPS variance:
Jon Lieber: 4.52 / -0.99
Cole Hamels: 3.64 / +0.26
Jamie Moyer: 4.60 / -0.08
Kyle Kendrick: 4.82 / +1.07
Freddy Garcia: 4.94 / +0.96
Adam Eaton: 5.33 / -1.03
This is a major area of concern. Despite the millions of dollars that Pat Gillick spent in the off-season, the Phillies still don't have an improved pitching staff. The starters are struggling, generally speaking, and the bullpen has been atrocious. If anything holds the Phillies out of the post-season, it will be this.
Tomorrow, Cole Hamels.
Monday, August 20, 2007
I’ve gone to Phillies game off and on for a while now. Due to baseball’s unbalanced schedule, I only get one shot a year to see them in Pittsburgh and it doesn’t always coincide with my schedule. (The 2002 series, for example, came during final exams for law school.) So I usually make the most of the situation whenever I get the chance. I haven’t yet seen a game at Citizens Bank Ballpark, but I hope that I will one day soon.
My wife & I arrived at 12:30, not entirely certain that the game would be played at all, due to the rain pounding the Pittsburgh region. We parked our car and moseyed over to the stadium and took our seats, only to discover that the game was delayed until 2:15 due to the rain. I occupied myself by snapping some pictures and watching a little of the replay of Game 3 of the 1971 World Series that the stadium put on the scoreboard.
Our seats were good. A little secret about PNC Park: it is very nice and might actually live up to the team’s billing that it is the best ballpark in baseball. Don’t buy the $25-30 seats on the lower levels of the stadium. Even sitting where my wife & I did, in Section 307, Row T, we still got to see the game perfectly and also got treated to beautiful views of the city’s downtown skyline. I’ve grown used to the city’s downtown skyline, so it barely registers with me anymore, but it is quite a sight.
Finally the game got under way at 2:19. Jimmy Rollins lead-off the game was a solo home run to center field that produced groans from the home town crowd and cheers from the pockets of Phillies fans that ringed the stadium. The game, for the next five innings, was a taut pitchers duel that saw Kyle Lohse throttle the Pirates lineup, while the Phillies struggled to make headway with Ian Snell, the Pirates best pitcher. I was rather impressed with Lohse’s ability to mix up speeds and keep the Pirates offense off-balance.
Then, in the top of the sixth inning, the Phillies seemingly blew the game open when Aaron Rowand was hit by a pitch and Greg Dobbs singled to center field. Russell Branyan, the hero of last Tuesday’s game against the Nationals, promptly hammered a three-run home run that seemingly salted the victory for the Phillies. With Lohse cruising, it seemed apparent that the Phillies would walk out of Pittsburgh with a 2-1 series victory, as I predicted.
Naturally the wheels came off the Phillies in the seventh. After Lohse retired two of the Pirates three big bats – getting Adam LaRoche and Jason Bay out while surrendering a single to Xavier Nady – it seemed like the Phillies would go into the eighth trying to build on a 4-0 lead. Instead the Pirates, with two outs, promptly hammered the Phillies. Matt Kata’s three-run double closed the game to 4-3, then J.C.Romero entered the game and surrendered the tying run. Antonio Alfonseca promptly sank the Phillies by entering the game and walking Jack Wilson before surrendering three more runs to make it 7-4. The tame Pirates fans roared with approval while the angry Phillies fans were left to stew in their seats.
In the eighth the Phillies did their best to squander any chances of getting back into the game when Wes Helms grounded into a double play and killed any chance at a rally. As the rains fell on the city of Pittsburgh my wife and I elected to hit the road, joining the exodus of Pirates and Phillies fans heading home. The final was an anticlimactic 8-4 Pirates victory.
Generally speaking, I had fun aside from the final score. Going to a baseball game in Pittsburgh is a nice experience for the opposing side, partly because the years of losing Pirates teams have dulled the fans enthusiasm. I saw dozens of Phillies fans wearing Cole Hamels and Ryan Howard jerseys calmly mixing with Pirates fans in the concourse. In fact, I saw many more Phillies jerseys at the game than Pirates jerseys.
Anyone else at the game? Post your comments here.