Wednesday, May 07, 2008
Tonight: Micah Owings (4-1, 4.41 ERA) vs. Kyle Kendrick (2-2, 5.01 ERA). Good luck, Kyle.
Prediction: Diamondbacks 8, Phillies 2. Kendrick is done is three innings or less.
Today's topic will be a brief evaluation of the Michael Bourn - Brad Lidge trade between the Phillies and Astros from this off-season and how the trade looks from one month plus into the 2008 season. A little recap: back on November 7 of last year the Phillies and Astros struck up a deal wherein the Phillies shipped Michael Bourn, their fourth outfielder in 2007, to the Astros along with prospect Mike Costanzo and middle reliever Geoff Geary in exchange for Closer Brad Lidge and Infielder Eric Bruntlett. The Phillies, jammed with Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino and Pat Burrell in the outfield, had no room for the speedy Bourn, who had wowed Phillies fans with 18 steals in 19 attempts in 2007. What they needed as a closer to get Brett Myers back into the rotation, thus improving the Phillies pitching staff in a two-for-the-price-one deal.
Reaction was generally mixed. Click here for a piece by Baseball Prospectus' Nate Silver blasting the Phillies for making the deal.
Well, I thought I might take a few moments to discuss how the deal is shaping up at the moment.
What the Astros Got:
Michael Bourn: currently the Astros starting centerfielder. So far this season he's wowed observers with 13 steals in 13 attempts. That means he's stolen 31 bases in 32 attempts the last two seasons combined. At his current pace of base-stealing, Bourn will steal 70-75 bases this season, a pretty nice total. Additionally, Bourn is one of the best defensive centerfielders in the National League. According to Relative Zone Rating (RZR), Bourn is the third-best in the N.L. with an RZR of .965. Bourn is also leading the N.L. in assists with three.
Before you get too impressed by Bourn's stats, let me just print a number that tells you all that you need to know about Bourn's abilities as a lead-off hitter:
That's not Bourn's Batting Average. That's Bourn's On-Base Percentage. .275 ... At the moment Bourn is hitting .194, an absurdly low total with brings down his respectable .100 walks per plate appearance. I think Bourn's problem is that he strikes out waaaay too much: 28 times in 120 plate appearances. This might be a fluke: Bourn's Batting Average on Balls Put Into Play (BA/BIP) is just .234, nearly one hundred points lower than what he did last season with the Phillies: .330. He's going to have to hit better to be a more viable threat to steal bases and score runs. Despite those 13 steals, Bourn's scored just 14 runs, a pretty small total in my opinion. It is too soon to liken Bourn to Vince Coleman, the speedy outfielder who was the 1985 Rookie of the Year with the St. Louis Cardinals when he stole 110 bases but posted an anemic .320 OBP. Coleman was a fast player (he led the National League in stolen bases six consecutive seasons from 1985 to 1990), but he was hampered by his inability to get on base. His career OBP was just .324. Bourn is shaping up to be a speed demon who doesn't get on base enough.
Geoff Geary: Geary is having a solid season with the Astros, having tossed 14 innings with a 0-1 record and an ERA of 1.93. Geary's numbers are interesting because he's struck 15 batters out and walked eight, both are high numbers. Can a relief pitcher continue to keep giving batters free passes and then blow fastballs past them? I am skeptical, but at the moment Geary is the biggest part of the Lidge deal to actually be contributing to the Astros.
Mike Costanzo: this part of the deal is a little tough to evaluate because Costanzo was shipped back east to Baltimore as part of the Miguel Tejada deal. We'll start with Costanzo, who is currently playing with the Triple-A Norfolk Tides in the International League, and has struggled a little this season, with three home runs and nine RBI. His OPS is just .696. This is a big drop-off from the 27 home runs and 86 RBI he had in Double-A Reading last season. Costanzo's future potential is considerable, however, so don't be surprised to see him produce for the Orioles in 2008 and beyond.
Tejada, if you want to include him in the deal, has hit five home runs and 25 RBI and is powering the Astros offense. Costanzo's addition, which helped to bring Tejada's, might be the biggest part of the deal for the Astros, though Geary's impact clearly seems to be the most significant.
What the Phillies Got:
Brad Lidge: has been quite good as the Phillies closer since he returned from his pre-season knee injury. Lidge is currently 1-0 with an ERA of 0.00 and seven saves in seven tries. Naturally, Lidge's performance isn't sustainable, but he's gotten quite a few strikeouts (13 in 15 innings of work, or 7.8 K/9) although his walk rate (6 walks, or 3.6 BB/9) is very high as well. Lidge should save 35-40 games for the Phillies and give the team the reliable closer it needs to make a push on the N.L. East.
Eric Bruntlett: since Jimmy Rollins went down, Bruntlett has filled in as the Phillies starting shortstop and has done a decent job. Sort of a throw-in piece to the deal to give it some balance, Bruntlett has been pressed into service as the Phillies starting shortstop with 2007 N.L. MVP Jimmy Rollins on the D.L. Bruntlett's performance initially was bad (four errors in the field, an On Base Percentage of just .296), but he's improved of late. In games 1 & 2 of this series with the D-Backs, Bruntlett has two runs score, six RBI and a double, a triple and a home run on four-for-ten hitting.
Analysis: Time will tell how Bourn, et al. for Lidge, et al. impact the Phillies and Astros. Will Lidge be in a Phillies uniform in 2009? Will Bourn turn around, post a .300+ batting average and get on base enough to steal 100 or more bases? Will Geary struggle? Will Bruntlett turn into an effective middle-infielder? Will Costanzo get to Camden Yards, go on a tear and ultimately make the Orioles the real winners of this deal? Time shall tell.
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
For those too bleary-eyed to stay up last night (or are too fixated on the Flyers impending series against the Pittsburgh Penguins) the Phillies defeated the Diamondbacks, the best team in the majors right now, 11-4 thanks to 17 hits and a nice outing from Jamie Moyer (seven innings pitched, two runs allowed, five strikeouts and zero walks). The victory kept the Phillies in first place and gave them a win to lead off their seven game road stand. As of this morning the Phillies own the N.L. East by a game:
1. Phillies: 19-14
2. Florida: 17-14 (1.0 Games Back)
3. Mets: 16-14 (1.5 Games Back)
4. Braves: 15-15 (2.5 Games Back)
5. Nationals: 14-18 (4.5 Games Back)
As I noted, the Phillies clocked 17 hits and not one was a home run. You know it is a good night at the plate when your pitcher (Moyer) goes 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI. Even more remarkable: Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell combined to go 1-for-9. Yes, it was a good night in the desert.
Tonight it is Adam Eaton vs. Randy Johnson. Read my post from yesterday to gain a better sense of the quasi-remarkable season that Eaton is having. Eaton will be hard-pressed to notch his first win of the season though against the Big Unit, who is pitching a lot better than his stats suggest: 1-1, 4.79 ERA. Johnson's DIPS ERA is 3.84, which is nearly a run better. The simple problem is that the D-Backs aren't playing good enough defense behind him. They've converted just 68.3% of the balls Johnson has allowed to be put into play into outs. Johnson is, as always, a formidable strikeout pitcher: 22 strikeouts in 20 and two-thirds of an inning of work. This is a mismatch that heavily favors the D-Backs.
Nice post on yesterday's game from the Inquirer's Todd Zolecki.
Quick look at a minor-leaguer of note: Jeremy Slayden. An eighth round pick in the 2005 Draft out of Georgia Tech, Slayden hasn't caught the attention of publications like Baseball America or has really registered in the minds of most fans. That's a shame because Slayden is a real talent:
w/ Double-A Reading ('08): OPS: .903 / HR: 3 / RBI: 20 / Doubles: 7 / OBP: .386 / ISO: .197
w/ Single-A Clearwater ('07): OPS: .834 / HR: 14 / RBI: 73 / Doubles: 24 / OBP: .376 / ISO: .171
w/ Single-A Lakewood ('06): OPS: .891 / HR: 10 / RBI: 81 / Doubles: 44 / OBP: .381 / ISO: .200
Even in the pitching-friendly Florida State League (FSL), Slayden mashed the heck out of the ball. He's one of those players who doesn't get a lot of ink because he wasn't highly drafted, he isn't flashy and pro scouts likely have a low opinion of his abilities. "Slow-footed slugger" is probably the most commonly written description of Slayden in the notebooks of scouts.
Slayden's rise through the Phillies system is a testament to the idea that a player's performance trumps the assumptions made. Perhaps Jeremy Slayden is a slow-footed slugger, but he wields a powerful bat. You'll see him in Philadelphia later this year, or early next.
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.