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, December 14, 2007

Mitchell Report, Rowand Deal and Other Musings 

First off, the Mitchell Report came down yesterday and I have a couple of thoughts:

1. I am pleasantly surprised to see that no current Phillies are mentioned on the report. David Bell, Lenny Dykstra, Ryan Franklin, Jeremy Giambi, Todd Pratt, all former Phillies, all made the list, but nobody like Pat Burrell or Ryan Howard or one of the Phillies other stars made the list.

2. There are some shockers on the list, starting with Andy Pettitte. Andy Pettitte? I would never have guessed that he used steroids given his thin-ish physique. Some members of the list kinda figure – Miguel Tejada, for example, and obviously Barry Bonds.

3. Not surprisingly, Mitchell lays the blame at the feet of everyone in baseball, from management to the player’s union. It is difficult to quibble Mitchell’s assertion that this was a problem that nobody wanted to confront. Certainly the players union deserves scorn for fighting, as vigorously as they could, any testing and resisting changes to the MLB’s policies.

4. Mitchell is also probably right in advocating no discipline for current players named in the report because of the resulting chaos that is likely to result.

Will the Mitchell Report fundamentally change the game of baseball? I doubt it. It is embarrassing to baseball, to be sure, but will it really spur changes? The Players Union will continue to fight testing. Management will quietly look the other way. The players will attempt to circumvent the testing system. The Steroid Era will march on.

The best thing for baseball to do is to declare an amnesty. Admit you've done it, come clean, pledge to be clean in the future. If you are willing to admit you've made a mistake, then all is forgiven. If you continue to lie, equivocate and fail to admit reponsibility for your actions, then you should suffer the consequences.

After an amnesty the consequences ought to be severe: a ban for 3-5 years or a lifetime ban. The only way baseball can ever hope to get a handle on this is for there to be severe consequences to attach to using steroids and lots and lots of testing. The Players Union will fight that tooth and nail. But the deterrent of testing - which heightens the chances of being caught - and the prospect of severe punishment - not just a few game suspension - are the only ways to stop players from doping. Don't count on it.

On to the Aaron Rowand signing … I must admit to being very, very surprised to see Aaron Rowand in San Francisco. Rowand, who seemed to embody the blue-collar toughness of the South Side of Chicago and Philadelphia, is now on baseball’s left coast. Rowand is going from Yeunglings and Cheesesteaks to Chianti and Tofu Hot Dogs. It seems like a bad fit. I'm sure that Rowand will be a favorite of the Giants faithful, but I just can't imagine them being as enthusiastic about him as Phillies fans were.

Five years and $60 million bucks was too rich for the Phillies and I don’t blame them. Statistically, his reputation as a terrific defensive centerfielder was undeserved these last two seasons. His play was extremely average. Sure he made the high-light reel over at ESPN with his patented run-into-the-wall catches, but the numbers showed that Rowand was pretty average in terms of his range.

As for Rowand's offensive abilities, he's generally a free-swinger (119 strike-outs in 2007) who doesn't draw many walks. Rowand was able to put up nice numbers for the Phillies in 2007 (27 Home Runs, 89 RBI, 45 Doubles) in part because he was playing in a hitters part. Good luck doing that in San Francisco where the Park Factor for Home Runs was 69 and was 99 for batting averages.

I think letting Rowand walk was the smart move. To the Phillies really want to tie up $12 million a year when they could use that money to get help for the pitching staff? And do the Phillies, after the Pat Burrell experience, really want to tie that much money up for the next five seasons? If Rowand flops, the Giants will have an financial albatross around their neck until 2012. The Phillies have a perfectly effective and low-cost alternative in Shane Victorino as well.

Season in Review: Hitting will be sometime next week.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Musings on Pitching: The Season in Review, 2007 

Nobody likes to hear it, because it’s dull. But the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.

-Earl Weaver

Being a major league baseball pitcher is a lonely job, standing on a mound, charged with hurling the ball past the batter, isolated and yet relying heavily on the other eight players on the field to get the job done. As the game of baseball evolved during the late 19th Century the role of the pitcher evolved as well. Originally, pitchers were expected to fairly loft the ball over the plate so the opposition could hammer it for hits or outs, but then role of the pitcher evolved in the 1870’s and 1880’s to be permitted to attempt to put the ball past the batter and be rewarded when the batter missed the ball.

Since then, there has been a battle in baseball over the rules to make things easier or harder for pitchers. In the early days of baseball the rules favored batters: the pitchers mound was moved back, for example, to today’s sixty feet, six inches. When hitters began to dominate too much, the owners began things like making foul-tips into strikes. The shift back to hitters began in the 1920’s and continued into the 1960’s, when baseball expanded the strike-zone out of fear that it had become too easy to hit home runs after Roger Maris broke the hallowed record of Babe Ruth with 61 home runs. By the end of the 1960’s, pitchers dominated the game so much that Bob Gibson’s 1.12 ERA was remarkable, but not entirely so. Worried they had over-did things, baseball moved back to the batters and reinterpreted the strike zone again. Today, with smaller parks and juiced players, the game is a paradise for hitters and a disaster for pitchers.

You cannot win without good pitching is the conventional wisdom in baseball and it appears that, for once, the conventional wisdom on something has hit the mark. Managers like Earl Weaver (see above) know that the pitcher is a vital part of your team because they handle the ball on each and every play. Good pitching is vital for success on the baseball mound. Teams cannot survive with mediocre pitching.

Confused about what I’m talking about when I toss letters like ERA and FIP all over the place? Well, 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.
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

Since the Phillies have moved to Citizens Bank Ballpark, they have not exactly been known as a team that features a strong pitching staff. In fact, since 2004, the Phillies have finished 13th, 10th, 11th, and 13th in ERA in the N.L. each season. Citizens Bank Ballpark has become Coors Field East in the minds of fans and the general public and the Phillies have become the Colorado Rockies of the mid-1990’s, the team that scores a lot of runs because they have to. 2007 was no exception. To combat this, the Phillies management focused like a laser beam on the team’s pitching. In 2007 the Phillies invested considerable time and money into their pitching staff, adding starters Freddy Garcia and Adam Eaton and they attempted to ship surplus starter Jon Lieber to another team for help in the bullpen. However, the 2007 season was a calamity for the Phillies pitchers:

Garcia was a bust, pitching poorly and then injuring his arm on the way to a 1-5, 5.90 ERA season.

Eaton likewise disappointed, going 10-10 with a 6.29 ERA. Eaton was such a liability that the Phillies left him off the playoff roster.

Lieber, trade bait and consigned to the bullpen, became a starter once Garcia went down and pitched well, not that his numbers – 3-6, 4.73 ERA – indicate (more on that later), but he too went down.

The Phillies ended up giving starts to rookies J.D. Durbin (10 starts), Kyle Kendrick (20 starts), J.A. Happ (1 start), and Zack Segovia (1 start). In one less-than-memorable weekend in mid-summer, the Phillies started three rookies (Durbin, Happ and Kendrick) for a four-game set with the Mets and got hammered, losing three of the four games and watching the Mets lengthen what seemed to be a formidable lead at the time.

When the starters were not going down the Phillies bullpen was busy collapsing. After early struggles, the Phillies were forced to send Brett Myers to the mound to be the team’s closer. Along the way the Phillies attempted to utilize cast-offs like Jose Mesa and Antonio Alfonseca to plug their leaky bullpen. It was, in short, a difficult season for the Phillies pitchers, but many turned in terrific performances in 2007 and ought to be recognized amid the chaos. Plus, there are positive signs for the future.

Let’s start with some the positives.

As everyone knows, the Phillies accomplished a remarkable feat and managed to close a massive gap with the New York Mets and erase a seven-game edge as the season came to a close. A factor, along with the terrific play of Phillies like Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley, was the Phillies bullpen down the stretch: looking at the Phillies stats, I saw that the Phillies pitching improved somewhat in September. Not significantly, but just enough to improve the team. While the N.L. ERA for September was 4.70, the Phillies were 4.56 (September ERA+: 103). The Phillies also bettered the N.L. averages for the month in walks, strikeouts and strikeout/walk ratio:

Phillies / N.L.
3.34 / 3.44
K/9: 7.06 / 7.02
K/BB: 2.12 / 2.04

Not surprisingly, Cole Hamels was terrific in his limited action in September: 1-0, 2.25 ERA in three starts, with 11.81 K/9, 2.25 BB/9, a 1.06 WHIP and no home runs allowed in sixteen innings of work. But Hamels limited performance doesn’t explain why the Phillies pitching improved in September. Certainly the rest of the starting pitchers didn’t improve much, if at all. Kyle Lohse was 2-0, but he had a 5.10 ERA. Adam Eaton was terrible: 1-2, 6.65 ERA. Jamie Moyer was unspectacular: 2-2, 4.67 ERA (1.29 HR/9, 3.38 BB/9, 7.27 K/9), which is basically in line with what he did the rest of the season: 12-10, 5.08 ERA (1.36 HR/9, 2.89 BB/9, 5.73 K/9) (from April – August).

No, the Phillies bullpen turned in a stunning performance in September. Collectively Brett Myers, Tom Gordon, J.C. Romero, Geoff Geary and Clay Condrey made 79 appearances in the 28 games, hurling 79 innings and accumulating a 7-2 record with 10 saves and a 2.62 ERA. Want to see the biggest reason why the Phillies made the playoffs? Their bullpen was terrific down the stretch, keeping the Phillies in tough games. Check out how good the five pitchers were:

ERA HR/9 BB/9 K/9 K/BB
3.00 / 0.50 / 3.00 / 8.50 / 2.83
Geary: 2.65 / 0.52 / 2.65 / 4.76 / 1.80
Gordon: 3.94 / 0.56 / 1.69 / 7.31 / 4.33
Romero: 0.00 / 0.00 / 4.02 / 6.32 / 1.57
Condrey: 3.65 / 0.73 / 1.46 / 3.65 / 2.50
Collectively: 2.62 / 0.46 / 2.62 / 6.26 / 2.39

Romero didn’t allow a single home run or earned run in his fifteen and two-thirds innings of work despite allowing seven walks. I suspect that Romero is one of those pitchers who tries to hit the edge of the strike-zone on every pitch and not give the hitter anything to work with. While he did allow seven walks, he only surrendered four hits (Tom Gordon, in contrast, allowed fifteen hits and three walks in his sixteen innings). Those fifteen and two-thirds innings of work got Romero that three-year, $10 million dollar extension this off-season.

Cole Hamels was, as usual, terrific in 2007: 15-5, 3.39 ERA. Hamels will be just 24 on Opening Day, 2008, and already is in the midst of a bright future. After a strong debut season (9-8, 4.08 ERA), Hamels won fifteen games in 2007 and dominated the opposition. Had he not been injured late in the season, Hamels might have played a role in the N.L. Cy Young balloting and might have made a strong run at third place or possibly even second. His walk-to-strikeout ratio of 4.12 was actually better than Jake Peavy’s 3.53 and Brandon Webb’s 2.69. He was unquestionably the Phillies best pitcher and ought to be on a short list with Peavy and Webb for the 2008 Cy Young.

Hamels was so good that I really don’t want to spend too much time talking about him when we have other topics. Let’s move on …

Jon Lieber … Ever felt like you were under-appreciated at work? Ever thought that the flashy, show-boater at the next desk over always kept you from getting your due as a worker? Now you know Jon Lieber must feel. Lieber signed a 3-year, $21 million dollar deal with the Phillies in the winter of 2004-2005 and went 29-30, with a 4.55 ERA as a Phillie from 2005 to 2007. He never got much respect and was consistently viewed by fans and the media as a bust. Now Lieber is a free agent and will likely sign a 1-year deal with some team in need of pitching help. I think the team that signs him is going to get a steal, personally.

All Jon Lieber did was provide the Phillies with 464 & 1/3 innings of solid work the last three seasons and give a vastly under-rated performance. Every season Lieber’s defense-neutral stats showed that he was a talented pitcher who was always doing a better job then his numbers reflected.

What do I mean by that? Alright, a little history is in order. Voros McCracken was a paralegal in Chicago working for a law firm and playing fantasy baseball on the side. McCracken was looking for ways to evaluate pitchers and came up with a stupendous idea: what if pitchers cannot control what happens to the ball once it is put into play? McCracken ended up developing DIPS – Defense Independent Pitching Statistic – as a consequence. DIPS, simply put, takes, things that a pitcher can control – walks, strikeouts, home runs – and evaluates them by striping out things that a pitcher cannot control – namely hits and earned runs allowed. McCracken’s work was posted on the internet and eventually found its way to the eyes of Bill James, who positively commented on McCracken’s work in his Historical Baseball Abstract.

By the way, if you are interested in reading more on McCracken and DIPS, Michael Lewis’ Moneyball (pages 234-243) and Alan Schwarz’ The Numbers Game (pages 210-214) deal with McCracken’s ideas and how they permeated baseball over the least decade.

Alright, back to Lieber. Jon Lieber is pretty tough to get a walk out of. In 2004, with the Yankees, he allowed just 18 in 176 innings. That’s less than a walk every nine innings of work. Lieber never quite got that level of dominance with the Phillies, but as a Phillie he allowed just 1.68 BB/9. Jon Lieber didn’t allow many home runs either: just 7 in 78 innings with the Phillies in 2007. While Lieber wasn’t the king of strikeouts – a respectable 54 in 78 innings, or 6.1 K/9 – he was good and his stinginess in these other aspects of the game show you what a terrific pitcher he is. Here are the Phillies starters DIPS and how much their DIPS numbers were under (or over) their “real” ERAs:

Starters DIPS:
Hamels: 3.63 / +0.24
Lieber: 3.74 / -0.99
4.73 / -0.28
Durbin: 4.74 / -0.41
Kendrick: 4.85 / +0.98
Eaton: 5.69 / -0.60

Maybe you don’t think much of Jon Lieber, but think about this: Lieber’s 3.74 DIPS isn’t far off the mark of pitchers like Brandon Webb (3.18 DIPS), Tim Hudson (3.40 DIPS) or Greg Maddux (3.55 DIPS). There is nearly a full run variance between Lieber’s ERA and DIPS because year-in and year-out, the Phillies fielders don’t convert enough of the balls put into play behind Lieber into outs. Check out the Phillies DER behind Lieber:

2005: .722
2006: .697
2007: .672

Now, the idea that pitchers have no ability to influence balls put into play is not widely accepted. Baseball Prospectus, for example, argues that some pitchers can influence balls put into play (e.g., Jamie Moyer) and that sometimes pitchers do play a role in how the fielders do. I think Lieber deserves more credit than he gets, however, as a terrific pitcher who knew his role on the team: he was pitcher who threw lots of sliders, which hitters grounded into 6-3 put-outs.

Kyle Kendrick. As great as Jon Lieber’s DIPS stats were, Kyle Kendrick’s were not. The two make an interesting pair to discuss, as their pitching styles are intertwined. Kyle Kendrick began the 2007 season sitting in Reading, Pennsylvania, with the Double-A Reading Phillies. Injuries to Garcia and Lieber and Myers move to the bullpen sent the Phillies to their farm system searching for arms. Kendrick was the most major league-ready of the Phillies minor leaguers and made the trip to Citizens Bank Ballpark.

In Kendrick’s first start, he allowed three runs on six hits and two walks in six innings of work in a no-decision the Phillies went on to win. Kendrick followed with three wins in a row. Ultimately, Kendrick finished the season 10-4 with a 3.87 ERA. The Phillies won 13 of the 20 games he started and Kendrick never failed to make it to the fifth inning but one time, logging 121 innings of work for the Phillies.

As you can see from the DIPS numbers above, Kendrick’s 4.85 DIPS is pretty terrible and nearly a full run over his “real” ERA. Kendrick and Lieber are terrific examples of how pitchers can throw similar games with similar styles and yield different results. Lieber and Kendrick are the two most ground-ball oriented starters the Phillies had in 2007:

Starters G/F ratio:
Kendrick: 1.55
Lieber: 1.52
Moyer: 1.08
Eaton: 1.06
Garcia: 1.02
Lohse: 0.95

And the Phillies fielders did different things with those groundballs. They converted .719 of Kendrick’s grounders into outs. They converted .672 of Lieber’s into outs. That is where the enormous disparity between Lieber and Kendrick’s DIPS and ERAs come from.

I am a big proponent of groundball pitchers. I tend to think they have more success because groundball oriented pitchers made fewer mistakes that turn into three-run home runs. Backed with a good defense, a groundball pitcher can be deadly. Is it any coincidence that extreme groundball pitchers are some of the best? Brandon Webb (3.34 G/F), Tim Hudson (2.76 G/F), and Greg Maddux (2.15 G/F) are all extreme groundball pitchers. Add in the propensity of fly balls to turn into three-run home runs at Citizens Bank Ballpark, and pitchers like Lieber and Kendrick are the types to succeed in a Phillies uniform, I believe.

Now, there are some flaws to Kendrick’s game and Phillies fans should really treat that 10-4 record as illusory. He won’t be that good in 2008, people. Perhaps no other pitcher in the majors got the run support that Kendrick enjoyed in 2007: 7.74 runs per game. It’s not hard to win games when your offense supplies you with nearly eight runs per start.

I also don’t care for how many balls put into play Kenderick allows. He faced 499 batters in 2007, of which 16 got home runs, 25 got walks, 7 were hits by pitches, and 49 were struck out. Kendrick got only 3.64 K/9, a far, far lower percentage than Lieber (6.23). Kendrick needs his fielders. That means 402 of the 499 batters he faced put balls into play. That’s roughly four in five batters. That’s a lot of work for the defense and I don’t think Kendrick can count on his fielders to replicate their terrific work in 2008.

Jamie Moyer … “Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting timing.” – Warren Spahn. Warren Spahn would have loved Jamie Moyer. The soft-tossing lefty was one of the great pitchers of the 1950’s and Moyer is probably the pitcher who comes the closest to replicating Spahn in the modern era of fire-balling hurlers … Here are some fun facts that illustrate Moyer’s pitching style:

According to the 2005 Bill James Handbook, Jamie Moyer had the second-slowest fastball in the American League in 2004, clocking in at 81.6 mph to Tim Wakefield’s 75.9 mph ‘fastball’. Moyer threw the largest percentage of changeups of any A.L. pitcher: 31.0%. Moyer also relied on his fastball less often than all but three other pitchers (45.7% of the time, compared to Wakefield’s 9.3%). Moving on … according to the 2006 Bill James Handbook, Jamie Moyer once more had the second-slowest fastball in the American League in 2005, clocking in at 81.8 mph to Tim Wakefield’s 76.1 mph ‘fastball’. Moyer threw the second-largest percentage of changeups of any A.L. pitcher: 27.3% to Kenny Rogers 32.9%. Moyer also relied on his fastball less often than all but Wakefield: 40.1% of the time, compared to Wakefield’s 11.9%

Moyer’s style is to toss these changeups and slow fastballs over the plate and watch batters flail helplessly at them. Moyer’s pitchers tend to be hit for shallow fly balls, which means more work for the Phillies outfielders. This tendency towards flies strongly suggested to me that Moyer might struggle with the Phillies, given Citizens Bank Ballpark’s unforgiving nature (see: Kendrick, Kyle), I assumed that a flyball pitcher like Moyer would be a failure. Between 2001 and 2006, Moyer allowed 1520 ground-balls to 1723 fly-balls: 0.87 G/F ratio.

Much to my stunned amazement, Moyer has pitched alright as a Phillie. Oh sure, 14-12 with a 5.01 ERA is nothing to brag about, but his 4.73 DIPS shows that his pitching is better than it looks. It is tough to get a walk out of him and for being a finesse pitcher he gets some strike-outs: 133 in 199 innings. Teams behind Moyer always do well defensively (the Phillies posted a staggering .753 DER behind him in 2006 in his eight starts and his 21 double plays induced were tops on the Phillies in 2007), which suggests to me that Moyer is one of those special pitchers who influence the performance on their fielders.

Let’s talk very briefly, before we move on to the relief corps, about the failures of the Phillies starters. The Phillies acquired Freddy Garcia in the hopes that he would be a stud the team could team with Myers and Hamels. Garcia went 17-9 with a 4.53 ERA for the White Sox in 2006 and was a good bet, with his heavy curveballs and high groundball percentage (1.07 G/F in 2006, but a 1.60 in 2005), to survive Citizens Bank. Instead he injured his arm and went 1-5 with a 5.90 ERA … Adam Eaton, a former Phillies draft pick the team dealt to the San Diego Padres back at the beginning of the decade, was added in the hopes that he’d round out the rotation as the solid #5 pitcher. Instead, Eaton struggled, going 10-10 with a 6.29 ERA. Just eight of Eaton’s thirty starts were “Quality Starts” meaning that they went at least six innings and he gave up three or fewer runs, probably the worst percentage on the Phillies. Eaton did little right, allowing a whopping 71 walks in 161 innings, while striking out just 97 batters. Eaton also served up a stunning thirty home runs. Eaton struggled so much he was left-off the playoff roster. Ouch. Let’s hope he will improve in 2008, but his 2007 performance and $7.2 million-dollar salary are a testament to the fact that oftentimes the marketplace in baseball yields odd results … Kyle Lohse came to the Phillies in a trade late in the year and hurled well, I am sure to the delight of his agent, Scott Boras. He went 3-0 with a 4.72 ERA with the Phillies, allowing just six home runs in 61 innings of work. Not too shabby. No doubt Boras will convert that solid, workmanlike performance into a multi-million dollar contract with some team foolish enough to sign him … Generally speaking, the Phillies starters were terrible in 2007, ranking twelfth in terms of ERA. Lots of room for improvement here.

Now, on to the bullpen … As I noted above, perhaps the biggest factor in the success of the Phillies run to the pennant was their bullpen’s ability to shut-down the opposition. The bullpen was precieved to be a weakness for the Phillies in 2007 and, well, perception is sometimes reality. The Phillies bullpen ranked thirteenth in terms of ERA at 4.41. The collapse of Tom Gordon at the start of the season meant chaos as the Phillies routed one of their better starters – second-best on the team after Hamels – to the bullpen to succeed the aging Gordon.

Brett Myers was terrific as the Phillies closer. Check out the DIPS of he and his bullpen mates:

Bullpen DIPS:
Myers: 3.56 / -0.77
Madson: 3.95 / +0.90
Romero: 4.11 / +2.87
Geary: 4.83 / +0.42
Gordon: 4.86 / +0.13

Myers has great stuff and made the transition into the role of closer flawlessly. In 2004 he struggled, going 11-11 with a 5.52 ERA. In 2005 and 2006, Myers cut-down on the home runs allowed and vastly improved his strike-outs:

HR/9 K/9
2004: 1.59 / 5.93
2005: 1.30 / 8.69
2006: 1.32 / 8.59

During those two seasons he went 25-15 with a 3.81 ERA, 8.65 K/9, 2.85 BB/9, 1.30 HR/9, 3.03 K/BB ratio … Myers was primed, once more in 2007, to start and be a key member of the Phillies starting rotation. Teamed with Cole Hamels, Myers was going to give the Phillies a deadly 1-2 punch. With the injuries to Tom Gordon and Myers early struggles, the Phillies elected to ship Myers to the bullpen so he could take over the closer role.

Myers did great, converting 21 of 24 save opportunities with a 4.33 ERA. As you can see from his 3.56 DIPS above, Myers definitely pitched better than his numbers suggested. Impressively, Myers allowed just 9 home runs in 68 & 2 /3 innings of work (1.18 HR/9), and saw his strikeout rate soar to 10.87 K/9 (83 strikeouts). The luxury of coming in four just one inning allowed Myers to rear back and hurl the ball hard as he could. Myers performance in 2007 was reminiscent of John Smoltz’s performance as the Atlanta Braves closer earlier in the decade. Smoltz no longer had to pace himself. Myers, likewise, no longer had to pace himself for a six or seven inning outing at a time. He could enter the game in the bottom of the ninth, fire the ball as hard as he could, and leave with a save. Myers helped tied down a real problem spot for the Phillies and deserves credit for being a big part of the Phillies success in 2007.

Moving along … Tom Gordon, as I mentioned, was the Phillies closer at the start of the season but injuries and ineffectiveness pushed Gordon out of the job in favor of Myers. Gordon, a journeyman pitcher who had effectively served the Yankees in the role of set-up man in 2004 & 2005, had pitched surprisingly well as the Phillies closer in 2006, even earning an invite to the All-Star Game in Pittsburgh. Overall, Gordon was 3-4 with a 3.34 ERA in 2006 with the Phillies, converting 34 of 39 save opportunities. Gordon slipped in the second-half of the season however and was a shell of the pitcher he was. It ought to have been no surprise to the Phillies brass that Gordon struggled as badly as he did in 2007. Gordon’s 4.86 DIPS was the worst of the Phillies relievers. Gordon also blew five of his eleven save opportunities and save his ERA rise to 4.72.

Gordon’s strikeouts fell from 10.4 K/9 to 7.3, his walks actually declined slightly from 3.4 BB/9 to 3.0, and his home runs rose from 1.38 HR/9 to 1.60. He was no longer the effective pitcher he had been. When Gordon returned to the Phillies bullpen later in 2007 after injuries kept him out of the lineup, he returned to a role he had occupied with the Yankees: setup man. Gordon filled the role admirably, though he was probably the worst of the Phillies relievers.

After Myers and Gordon, the Phillies turned to Antonio Alfonseca to fulfill the closer slot. Like Gordon, Alfonseca struggled as a closer, going 5-2 with a 5.44 ERA, converting 8 of 13 save opportunities. Interestingly, Alfonseca was the most groundball-oriented of the Phillies pitchers …

G/F ratio of relief pitchers:
Alfonseca: 2.06
Condrey: 1.79
Geary: 1.57
Madson: 1.50
Gordon: 1.34
Myers: 1.32

Alfonseca relied heavily on the Phillies fielders to get outs and they largely failed him: the Phillies fielders converted .658 of the balls put into play behind Alfonseca into outs. This reliance on grounders was problematic for Alfonseca because he actually notched more walks (27) than strikeouts (24). To Alfonseca’s credit, he only allowed 3 home runs (0.49 HR/9), but Alfonseca’s performance wasn’t anywhere near as good as Myers, or even Gordon’s.

After Gordon, Alfonseca and Myers, the Phillies utilized three other relievers: Ryan Madson, J.C.Romero and Geoff Geary.

The success J.C. Romero had with the Phillies was a major surprise. Simply put, Romero was an unimpressive pitcher whom the Red Sox cast-off earlier in the season after he pitched twenty-three innings of work. Cutting Romero loose looked like a smart move for the Red Sox: Romero gave up 15 walks in just 20 innings. Romero moved onto the Phillies and ended up pitching in 51 games. On paper he pitched well: 1-2, with a 1.24 ERA. Romero’s skill was in keeping the ball in the park. He threw lots of pitches – 4.17 pitches per batter faced, compared with 3.80 for Gordon, 3.77 for Alfonseca, and 4.07 for Myers – so he was a pitcher that got a lot of strikeouts (31 in 36 innings, 7.67 K/9) and gave up a lot of walks (25, 6.19 BB/9), but the trade-off was that he made a lot of good pitches and didn’t give up home runs. Just one home run in 143 batters faced.

Romero just inked a multi-year deal to return to the Phillies. He’ll be an interesting

Madson lowered his ERA to 3.05 in 2007, a major victory for Madson after 2006, when his ERA spiked to 5.69 during the Phillies failed attempt to convert him into a starter. Madson returned full-time to the bullpen in 2007 and made a number of effective appearances for the Phillies. Like Romero, Madson tends to be one of those pitchers who throws a lot of pitches, yields a lot of walks, but doesn’t give up many home runs and is pretty good about strikeouts. Madson struck-out 7.1 batters per game in 2007, while allowing 3.8 walks and 0.82 home runs.

Madson’s solid performance was a nice change after he had struggled so much in 2006. It was nice to see Madson, who had been the Phillies sole bright spot on the mound in 2004 (9-3, 2.34 ERA in relief), finally get another chance to reclamate his career. The groundball-oriented pitcher ought to play a big role in the Phillies plans in 2008.

Geoff Geary was dealt, along with Michael Bourn, to the Houston Astros in the off-season for new closer Brad Lidge. I’m not sorry to see him go. Geary was a solid set-up guy for the Phillies, but had slipped a lot in 2007. In 2005 and 2006, Geary had gone 2-1 with a 3.72 ERA and 7-1 with a 2.96 ERA respectively. Geary got strikeouts (6.5 and 6.0 K/9), but mostly he didn’t surrender walks (3.3 and 2.0 BB/9) or home runs (0.78 and 0.60 HR/9). Unlike pitchers like Romero and Madson, Geary attacked batters he faced directly:

Pitches per Batter Faced:
Romero: 4.17
Myers: 4.07
Gordon: 3.81
Alfonseca: 3.77
Madson: 3.72
Geary: 3.59

Geary didn’t have as much success at it as he did in the past in 2007, going 3-2 with a 4.41 ERA. His strikeouts declined to 5.0 K/9, walks rose to 3.3 and home runs skyrocketed to 1.05. This might just be the end of the road for the 32-year old Geary, which means that the Phillies might have made a smart move by parting with him when they did. Time shall tell.

So that’s the Phillies pitching in 2007 in a nutshell. There are a number of interesting things to note, some obvious – how great was Cole Hamels? – some not-so-obvious – how lucky was Kyle Kendrick? – and some downright surprising – how great was Jon Lieber? I think there is a lot of hope for the Phillies pitching in 2008, based on what I saw. The team seems to be moving in a positive direction with Brett Myers and Cole Hamels teamed up in the rotation once again, supported by Jamie Moyer, with a stronger bullpen headed by Brad Lidge and supported by Tom Gordon, Ryan Madson and J.C Romero. I think the Phillies will boast the second-best pitching staff in the N.L. East after the Braves in 2008.

As many have no doubt noticed, I was a week off on getting this project done. I’m having difficulty this off-season writing because work has been pretty tough of late, and because this off-season has been so boring. My mind keeps getting divided. Look for the final part of this series next week, sometime.

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