Monday, May 05, 2008
Let’s take you back to a year ago. In the 2006-2007 off-season the Phillies signed Eaton, a former Phillies draft pick the team had sent west to the San Diego Padres in a trade years earlier, to a three-year, $24 million dollar deal (someone correct me if the numbers are off on that figure). In a pitching-thin marketplace, Eaton was one of the better talents out there, having gone 7-4 with a 5.12 ERA the previous season with the Texas Rangers. Eaton, who had spent the previous six seasons with the Padres after breaking in during the ’00 season, had started just thirteen games for the Rangers and had given up 11 home runs. He struggled, but had put up good numbers from ’00 – ’05 for the Padres and the Phillies desperately wanted to augment their leaky pitching staff. So the red pinstripes cut a check and Eaton came back to the team that saw enough in him to take him in the draft.
Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined with respect to pitching stats:
Earned Run Average (ERA): Runs Allowed * 9 / Innings Pitched = What a pitcher would give up if they hurled a nine-inning game.
Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP): (((13 * HR) + (3 * BB) – (2 * K)) / IP) + League Factor. Basically a measure of how a pitcher would have done if he had an average defense behind him.
Defense Independent Pitching Statistic (DIPS): The more sophisticated version of FIP developed by Voros McCracken that takes into account park factors and other considerations.
Home Runs per 9 Innings (HR/9): (HR * 9) / IP
Walks per 9 Innings (BB/9): (BB * 9) / IP
Strikeouts per 9 Innings (K/9): (K * 9) / IP
The end result was disaster. A 10-10 record that was largely the product of run support, as it was built on an ERA of 6.29. Eaton walked 71 hitters (3.95 BB/9) and gave up 30 home runs (1.67 HR/9). Opponents grounded into 19 double plays against him, more a product of them having so many runners on base than Eaton’s skills. Eaton’s 97 strikeouts in 161 and two-thirds of an inning (5.4 K/9) were respectable, but when coupled with his walk rate, they gave him a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 1.37 (K/BB). Eaton was so bad that he earned just one Win Share in 2007, two below what a bench player would have earned. (In contrast, Cole Hamels earned 15 in 2007.) The Phillies, in the playoffs despite Eaton’s struggles, took no chances and left Eaton off the team’s playoff roster against the Rockies. In the off-season the team tried everything they could think of to scrap together pitching talent on the cheap, taking Travis Blackley from San Francisco in the Rule 5 Draft, and signing Chad Durbin from the Detroit Tigers. Neither Blackley nor Durbin could oust Eaton from the job, however, and Eaton returned to the Phillies rotation for 2008.
The numbers don’t really reflect it, but Eaton’s been pretty good this season: yeah he doesn’t have a win yet, but he also doesn’t have a loss. His six starts were all no-decisions. There are a few things that impress me though once you look inside of the numbers:
First off, Eaton’s average Game Score for this season has been 48. His average Game Score in 2007 was 42. Game Score is a stat devised by Bill James where a pitcher begins with a score of 50 and then is awarded or subtracted points for various events: add a point for a strikeout, subtract one for a walk, subtract four points for a run allowed, etc.
Second, four of Eaton’s six starts have been Quality Starts. A Quality Start is a start where the pitcher allows three or less runs and makes it six innings or more. Eaton tossed just 9 of those in 30 starts last season.
The reason for Eaton’s success this season has been that he’s cut down on the extra-base hits. Eaton’s slugging percentage allowed is just .402, far less than the .520 he allowed in 2007. So far this season he’s allowed three home runs in 34 and one-third of an inning (0.79 HR/9). As a result, Eaton’s Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) ERA has dropped this season to 4.09, nearly two runs better than last season’s 5.93 FIP. Incidentially, Eaton’s 4.09 FIP is just behind the 4.00 FIP posted by a certain Mets pitcher who we’ll call Johan S. … And Eaton's FIP is better than the Mets John Maine (4.71), the much-vaunted pitcher who Mets fans acted like I was crazy for believing wasn't the Second Coming.
What about DIPS, you ask? Well, Eaton's DIPS is a little worse: 4.35. Still, that's better than his real ERA and takes park factors into account. Additionally, Eaton's DIPS is better than Oliver Perez (4.38), Maine (4.86), Jamie Moyer (4.82) and the Giants Matt Cain (4.63).
It is a little too soon to hand out the Cy Young award to Eaton, however. He needs to improve his strikeout and walk ratios before he can be called out of the woods. His K/BB ratio this season is 1.46, barely improved over last season.
The inability to get strikeouts is where Eaton has struggled over the last few seasons. In Eaton’s first six seasons with the Padres his strikeouts per nine innings rate was 6.00 or better:
Since then he’s been sub-6.00:
2006 (Rangers): 5.95
2007 (Phillies): 5.40
2008 (Phillies): 5.34
He needs to improve that, and soon.
Here’s a little-known fact about Adam Eaton: there probably isn’t a pitcher in baseball tougher to get a steal off of. In 2007 fifteen baserunners tried to steal a base off Eaton. Nine failed, a success rate of just 40%. The previous season, in Texas, two in seven were successful. So far this season: one successful steal in three tries.
I had almost forgotten, but the Phillies begin a big four-game series with the Arizona Diamondbacks tonight in the desert of Arizona, the start of a week-long roadtrip that will take the Phillies to the Bay Area to play the Giants again. Cole Hamels and Tim Lincecum are set to rematch Friday Night after last night’s 6-5 Phillies win netted a no-decision for both pitchers.
I would consider a 2-2 split of the Phillies – Diamondbacks series to be a major victory for the Phillies. The 21-10 D-Backs are clearly the best team in baseball right now and boast the best pitching staff in the majors. How good is the D-Backs 1-2 punch of Brandon Webb (7-0, 2.49 ERA, 3.00 DIPS) and Dan Haren (4-1, 3.12 ERA, 3.34 DIPS)? Fortunately for the Phillies, they miss Haren and have to face just Webb in this series. Adam Eaton squares off with the Big Unit (1-1, 4.79 ERA, 3.84 DIPS) tomorrow night. The D-Backs are second in the N.L. in runs scored and lead the N.L. in slugging percentage and triples. Not surprisingly, their team ERA is also best in the majors. They have a number of talented players who are really producing well and they rely on no one person to be successful. While the D-Backs have hit 36 home runs, nobody has hit more than 7. They are balanced and deep. Young, fast, aggressive, the D-Backs are built to be a powerhouse for a long time to come. This will be a tough series for the Phillies to win. If I had to bet on which game the phillies could win, I’d bet on tonight’s Jamie Moyer vs. Max Scherzer matchup.
Tomorrow: I’ll talk a little about last night’s game and a little about the Reading Phillies Jeremy Slayden.
The John Maine who is 5-2 with an ERA of 2.81 with 6 Quality Starts, 38 strike outs in 48 innings, a WHIP of 1.25 and a Batting Average against of .213 as compared to the 4-3 record with 4 quality starts, 3.38 ERA, 48 strike outs in 56.1 innings, 1.10 WHIP, and .217 batting average against of Phillies ace Cole Hamels?
Or the John Maine who's above stats compared to the 2-3 record with 3 quality starts, 5.33 ERA, 42 strike-outs in 49 innings, 1.47 WHIP and .288 batting average against of Phillies #2 starter Brett Myers?
Of the John Maine who's above stats compared to the 0-1 record with 4 quailty starts, 5.40 ERA, 23 strike-outs in 43.1 innings, 1.50 WHIP and .273 Batting average against of the aforementioned Adam Eaton?
The John Maine who is, so far, outpitching every single Phillies starting pitcher?
THAT John Maine? Is that the one you mean? :)
It's only about a quarter through the season and who knows what anyone will do going forward (Eight starts do not a season make) but I think you might want to reconsider the worth of John Maine.