Archive for February, 2008

Ow

Here’s how many batters that pitchers from the teams of the NL East hit last season:


Team

HBP
FLA 76
PHI 72
NYM 61
ATL 42
WAS 42

There you have it. Compelling evidence that, along with our aquatic friends, the Phils are just hacks with no respect for human life. And if I can take a minute, that right there is why, despite our best efforts, it’s so difficult to have a decent society. Some people are just buffoons. Cretins, really. No respect. That kind of stuff never would have happened back in the 50′s. Things were simpler then. I believe that Mike Zagurski in particular is capable of great evil.

And here’s how many times each of the NL East team’s hitters were hit in 2007:


Team

HBP
PHI 90
FLA 82
NYM 54
WAS 53
ATL 49

And here’s the difference between the number of times a team’s batters were hit and the number times that team hit opposing hitters in 2007:


Team

Batters were hit

Pitchers hit others

Diff
PHI 90 72 18
WAS 53 42 11
ATL 49 42 7
FLA 82 76 6
NYM 54 61 -7

I still think somebody needs to keep an eye on Zagurski, but it turns out that the Mets were the only team in the NL East that hit more batters than they had hit.

And the Phillies, you may have noticed, get hit a ton. In both 2007 and 2006 the Phillies were hit more times than any other team in either league. It wasn’t close. In 2006 they were hit 95 times before being plunked 90 times in ’07 for a total of 185 times in two years. The Pirates were hit the second-most among teams in either league — they were hit 160 times in ’06 and ’07 combined.

That one sure looks like it needs a place on the to-do list before the next time Alfonseca appoints himself point person for the one man committee-to-separate-Todd-Helton’s-head-from-his-shoulders. There has to be a better way.

The departure of Rowand seems sure to help — it probably isn’t a coincidence the Phils led all of baseball in getting hit in the two years he was with them. Rowand was in the top two in the NL in hit-by-pitch in both 2006 and 2007. The guy who did see his numbers shoot up last season was Utley. Utley was hit 14 times in 2006, sixth in the NL, before leading the league by being plunked 25 times in 2007.

You gotta start to worry a little that he’s going to get hurt (that’s a joke).

The other thing that has happened over the last two years for the Phils is the difference between the number of times they’ve been hit and the number of times their pitchers have hit others has shrunk pretty dramatically. In 2006, Phils hitters were hit 95 times and their pitchers hit opposing hitters 62 times. That’s a difference of 33, compared to ’07′s difference of 18.

Charlie Manuel says it’s going to be a while before Kris Benson is ready.

Helms says trying to hit the home run hurt him last year in this article.


Braves retool, hoping to rule the NL East once again

Colin from Braves Blast took the time to answer some questions about the upcoming season.

Is Kelly Johnson’s defense at second base good enough to keep him at the position?
Kelly had a solid debut season at second. He transferred in from the outfield because he had to play there when we had Chipper, Giles, and Furcal up the middle. However, realize that we originally drafted him as a shortstop, not as a platoon outfielder. He had some missed plays here and there at the end of the season last year simply because of fatigue, but I think he’ll be a good solution at second for us this year. His defense is likely to improve as he gets more comfortable there, and word has it he’s been working to get better.

Will Mike Hampton really be the Braves’ fifth starter? How do you see Atlanta working in Jair Jurrjens? Is there anyone else in the mix at the back of the rotation?

I think Mike Hampton will be the fourth starter for the Braves. He’s healthy, he’s pitching well – and there’s no reason to not pencil him in there for now. I don’t think he’s going to pitch 200+ innings and have stuff worthy of being a #1 starter, but when his sinker is working he’s a very difficult pitcher to hit against. And early reports are that his pitches are still there.

Jurrjens is a very talented youngster (we got him as part of the package in exchange for Edgar Renteria, for those of you who don’t know) – he’ll be #2 starter material in a few years. He keeps his pitches low and despite some ugly stats at Detroit last year, he should be able to compete with Chuck James and the others for that fifth spot. If he doesn’t start the season up in the majors, I think we’ll see him before the end of the year filling in here and there as Hampton will need some rests here and there. The other pitchers in the mix include Chuck James, the young Jeff Bennett (I like him – he’s got good stuff), and Buddy Carlyle. I think James or Jurrjens are most likely to get spots in the rotation, but Bennett or Carlyle may find a spot in the crowded bullpen as a spot starter / long reliever.

What are we to make of Yunel Escobar, who hit 264/361/346 in Double-A in 2006 before tearing up Triple-A in ’07 and then posting a 326/385/451 line in over 300 at-bats with the Braves?

This is a very good question – I’m going to move away from the stats for a minute and focus on talent. The Braves have always been very good about recruiting and developing young talent within the organization. Some of the same questions came up in regards to Furcal and Giles previously, as well as Francoeur more recently. Yunel has “the stuff” to make it at the big league level, according to Frank Wren, our GM, Bobby Cox, and batting coach Terry Pendleton. Now, in my opinion, if you get the rubber stamp from those three guys, you’ll be fine at the big league level. I can’t even begin to predict stats – we all know that it’s easy to hit well when you first come up – but I think Escobar will fare just fine at shortstop this year.

Keeping with the are-they-the-real-deal theme, can Peter Moylan keep up with standard he set for himself with his 2007 season? The Braves pen was fantastic in ’07 and looks like it may be one area where Atlanta has gotten worse heading into ’08. Even if Moylan is solid again, do the Braves have enough arms out there behind Rafael Soriano?

I think the Braves have plenty of arms in the ‘pen. Moylan certainly set a high bar in 07 and it’ll be hard for him to follow up, but that said, I think he’ll be able to have a decent followup – even if he doesn’t match 80 appearances and 90 innings pitched. As for the ’07 bullpen, I have to respectfully disagree. We had instances of brilliance but it wasn’t a solid bullpen outside of Moylan. Had the bullpen been better, I think Hudson (with more run support) could have cracked 20 wins. I think that we’ve gotten better heading into ’08, despite the loss of Ron Mahay. Mike Gonzalez comes back mid-season and assuming Will Ohman can hold down the left-handed setup role until his return, I think we’ll be solid. I also think that Soriano will also be a solid closer once he gets into the role.

What do you see as the biggest decisions the Braves will make between now and the start of the season?

The fourth and fifth rotation spots are crucial. Having a solid back end of the rotation to compliment the Smoltz/Hudson/Glavine trio is something we need to know can hold their own. Be honest, a Smoltz/Hudson/Glavine/Heatlhy Hampton/Jurrjens or James rotation is about as mean as any out there. If everyone is healthy, it’s not a one-two punch. It’s a one-two-three-four punch. Now, it’ll only work for a year or so, but it could be nasty.

I think the other crucial decision is who will fill out the bullpen. We have more pitchers overall than we did last year and I think the bullpen will be stronger than it was, but we need to get our guys picked out and they need to embrace the roles they’re given. The only other key question to be answered is who will fill out the left field platoon with Matt Diaz. I think we’ll likely see Brandon Jones out there, but Josh Anderson also wants a piece of the platoon. That’ll be interesting to watch.

How do you see the NL East shaping up in 2008?

I honestly think this is a three team race. You can make the argument that the Mets are the team to beat (Santana, Santana, blah blah blah). The Phillies are the incumbent from the point of view that they won last year, and have an excellent chance to pull it off again. I think that anyone who counts the Braves out is foolish. If our rotation is healthy, we have four very good starting pitchers and we’ve never had a shabby offense. I think it’ll be interesting to see it play out, but I like the Braves being the underdog for a change. The Nationals and the Marlins are not going to even factor in, we all know that. I don’t know how it’ll shake out, you’ll laugh but in my minds eye I see the Braves coming to the top. That said, the Mets and Phillies are not going to make it easy. I think going into the last month of the season we’ll see a three-team race. Wild card comes from the East this year, too. Just don’t count the Braves out.

Thanks again to Colin and remember to check out Braves Blast. I also answered some of his questions about the Phillies, which you can read here.

I thought the answer he gave to the question about the Braves’ bullpen from last year was very interesting. Atlanta relievers posted a 3.54 ERA last season, which was the second-base mark in the NL behind the Padres. They did, however, allow 38 unearned runs. Only the Brewers allowed more unearned runs in relief among NL teams, they surrendered 40. I see the bullpen as a weakness for the Braves for a team that has largely gotten better this season — if it proves to be true that the bullpen has actually improved that would be bad news for everyone else in the NL East.

Pat Gillick likes wine.

This says that Ryan Howard won his arbitration hearing and will make $10 million this season. More on the hearing here.

Scott Mathieson does not need more surgery and may be pitching to hitters again by mid-March.


Phils glad to have Chad, but the numbers are a tad bad

Just about everybody has Chad Durbin down as the fifth guy in the Phillies bullpen as spring training gets underway. It’s not that I don’t believe ‘em, but it just doesn’t make nearly as much sense to me that Durbin would be a sure thing as the other four guys, Lidge, Madson, Gordon and Romero. All the confidence there seems to be about Durbin winning a place on the roster may have something to do with the $900,000 contract he signed.

The righty Durbin turns 31 in December and has pitched eight seasons in the majors, appearing for the Royals, Indians, Tigers and Diamondbacks. He was drafted by the Royals in the third round of the ’96 draft and made his debut in 1999.

He has pitched virtually all of his career in the American League, but his career numbers are still pretty unexciting. Here’s what he’s done overall in his career and as a starter and a reliever:


G

GS

IP

ERA

Ratio
Career 114 75 465.0 5.75 1.57
Starter 75 75 399.2 5.83 1.57
Reliever 39 0 65.1 5.23 1.55

Curiously, Durbin has been a little better against lefties than righties over his career. Righties have hit .292/.364/.508 against him (.872 OPS) and lefties .285/.355/.466 (.801 OPS).

He has also had a problem with giving up the home run. He didn’t pitch in the majors in 2005, but going back to the 2004 season he has allowed 33 home runs in his last 194 1/3 innings.

If you’re looking for a bright spot, here’s what he’s done in Inter-League action:

 
G

GS

IP

ERA

Ratio
  8 7 47.2 3.02 1.20

Not a lot of innings, but that’s much better. His numbers are just about a sure thing to be better in the National League than they’ve been over the last year or two in the NL. Hopefully a lot better.

There’s something else that’s very odd about Durbin’s career numbers. If you look at what hitters have done against him based on how many pitches he’s thrown, he’s way better after he’s thrown a lot of pitches.

Look:

 
AB

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS
Pitches 1-75 1500 .289 .363 .494 .857
Pitches 76+ 355 .285 .348 .406 .754

That’s odd enough you have to wonder if it’s right. Take a look at Baseball-Reference or Yahoo!.

I certainly don’t have an explanation for that. Not a ton of at-bats, so maybe it’s a coincidence. The difference in the OPS is mostly about the slugging percentage — the home runs are especially odd. Baseball-Reference suggests that in pitches 1-25, over his career Durbin has allowed 30 home runs in 666 plate appearances. That’s one every 22.2 plate appearances. In 299 plate appearances in pitches 76-100 he’s allowed four. That’s one every 74.75 plate appearances.

The flip side of that is that it’s hard to feel like he’s that well suited for a role in relief. If you look at the Yahoo! stats, they suggest that over his career on pitches 1-30 he’s thrown 164 1/3 innings and allowed 135 earned runs — that’s a 7.39 ERA.

Ryan Howard’s arbitration case is today.

Jose Reyes says he plans to tone down his on-field exuberance this season.

This article from the Phillies web site lists Condrey as one of the guys who can go more than one inning in relief, which may be relevant to the Phils if they try to go with 11 pitchers and keep Helms on the roster. Condrey got at least four outs in 15 of his 39 appearances for the Phils last year and wasn’t charged with an earned run in 13 of them. The other two he was bombed, charged with five earned runs in each (June 1 (Feliz himself hit a three-run shot off of Condrey that game) and August 22).


On the plus side you can get a mean kielbasa

While the 2008 version of the Phillies’ pen looks sure to be improved, chances are good that you’ll still be able to look directly at without risking any type of eye injury. Better without being real good seems like a safe guess. One of the problems that’s worse than a weak bulllpen is a weak bullpen that has to pitch a lot, and I think you have to wonder to what degree pitching at Citizens Bank Park ensures that the Phils will have to call on their relievers to throw more innings than they would like.

It makes intuitive sense that at Citizens Bank Park your starting pitchers would not be able to pitch as long, forcing your relievers to throw more innings. That may or may not be true. What is true is that in the first four years they’ve played at Citizens Bank Park, the Phils have called on their relievers to throw more innings than they did the four previous years. This could be caused by other factors, of course, worse starting pitchers, better offenses on other teams, different strategic approaches by the manager about when to use the bullpen among them, but here are the numbers for innings pitched, NL rank in innings pitched, run allowed and NL ranked in runs allowed by relievers for the Phils over the last eight seasons:


Year

Park

Manager

IP

NL Rank

RA

NL Rank
2007 CBP Manuel 520 8 285 13
2006 CBP Manuel 539 4 243 5
2005 CBP Manuel 478 7 253 11
2004 CBP Bowa 540.1 2 246 8
2003 Vet Bowa 474.2 10 211 T-3
2002 Vet Bowa 500.1 T-8 237 8
2001 Vet Bowa 484.2 6 226 7
2000 Vet Francona 434.1 13 299 14

The good news proves to be that it’s possible to have a reliable bullpen even at Citizens Bank Park. In two of the four years that the Phillies have played there they’ve been in the top half of the league in runs allowed by relievers.

The bad news may be that shorter outings by the starters mean more innings for the relievers. This could be caused by factors other than the park (worse starting pitchers, for example), but if you look at the last eight seasons the Phils have had their relievers throw a lot more innings in the years they played at CBP than the years where they played at the Vet.

In the four years they’ve played in Citizens Bank Park, Phillies relievers have thrown 2,077 1/3 innings, an average of 519 1/3 innings per season. In each of the four years they have been in the top half of innings pitched by relievers for every year. In the four years previous, they threw 1,894 innings, or 473 and a half innings per year.

In his four years managing the Phils, Bowa used his bullpen the most in his only year managing in Citizens Bank Park. In the three years before the 2004 season, Bowa had called on his relief pitchers the most in 2002 when they tossed 500 1/3 innings. In his first year managing in Citizens Bank Park, Bowa’s relievers threw 40 more innings, 540 1/3.

The transition to Citizens Bank Park and the toll it took on starting pitchers is arguably telling if you look at the guys who pitched for Bowa in both 2003 and 2004. Kevin Millwood, Brett Myers and Randy Wolf all pitched for Bowa both in 2003, the last year at the Vet, and 2004, the first year at Citizens Bank Park. In 2004, all three 1) had worse ERAs 2) had worse ratios and 3) threw fewer innings than they had in 2003 (although for Millwood and Wolf that may have been compounded by health issues). Myers was the most dramatic of the three. In 2003 he went 14-9 with a 4.43 ERA and a 1.46 ratio in 193 innings. In 2004 he had the worst year of his career. He threw just 176 innings and posted a 5.52 ERA with a 1.47 ratio.

On a separate note, here is the Phillies’ pitcher that threw the most innings in relief each of the last eight seasons:


Year

Pitcher

IP
2007 Geary 67.1
2006 Geary 91.1
2005 Madson 87.0
2004 Cormier 81.0
2003 Cormier 84.2
2002 Silva 84.0
2001 Mesa 69.1
2000 Gomes 73.2

I again want to point out that the Phils may miss Geary this season after he led the team in innings pitched in relief for two straight seasons. The Phillies have not had a reliever throw more than the 91 1/3 innings that Geary threw in ’06 since 1998.

Hard to imagine things didn’t turn out for the best in 2000, what with Wayne Gomes chucking a team-high 73 2/3 innings of relief. In Gomes’ defense, he was pretty solid that season, throwing to a 4.40 ERA with a 1.45 ratio.

Carlos Delgado agrees the Mets are the team to beat in the NL East.

They’ve already busted out “speed never goes into a slump” when talking about Michael Bourn in Houston. Didn’t take long.

Rod Barajas says he never worked at a gas station.

Wes Helms doesn’t really sound in love with his time in Philly. Pat Burrell’s dog is apparently too fat for his condo.

This article suggests that Odalis Perez will sign with the Nationals or the Red Sox.


Pen storms ahead with mediocre in its sights for 2008

In 2007, the Phillies’ opening day roster had 24 players, including six that were expected to be used primarily in relief. Here’s who they were and how their numbers looked at the end of the year:


G

IP

ERA

Ratio
Gordon 44 40.0 4.72 1.33
Geary 57 67.1 4.41 1.44
Madson 38 56.0 3.05 1.27
Smith 9 4.0 11.25 3.75
Alfonseca 61 49.2 5.44 1.85
Condrey 39 50.0 5.04 1.54

Of those six, Madson had a very nice season and Geary and Gordon not quite as nice. Condrey and Alfonseca gave the Phils a lot of innings, but their numbers overall were pretty ugly by the end of the year. Matt Smith was miserably ineffective and proved not to be a factor.

Segovia started the year on the roster but did not pitch in relief. He started the sixth game of the season against Florida and gave up five runs in five innings. It would prove to be his only action of the year.

The Phils played their first game on April 2 and added Joe Bisenius to their roster that same day. Bisenius would pitch just two innings all season. On April 5 they traded for Francisco Rosario.

At the end of the season, these were the ten Phillies who had pitched the most innings in relief and what they had done:


G

IP

ERA

Ratio
Geary 57 67.1 4.41 1.44
Madson 38 56.0 3.05 1.27
Myers 48 53.1 2.87 1.20
Condrey 39 50.0 5.04 1.54
Alfonseca 61 49.2 5.44 1.85
Gordon 44 40.0 4.72 1.33
Mesa 40 39.0 5.54 1.36
Romero 51 36.1 1.24 1.10
Rosario 23 26.1 5.47 1.78
Zagurski 25 21.1 5.91 1.69

Myers, Mesa, Romero, Rosario and Zagurski proved to be the guys who got the most innings in relief despite not being part of the bullpen picture on opening day. Without the contribution that the Phils got in the pen from Romero and Myers, there’s no chance the Phils would have made the playoffs. Myers made his first appearance in relief on April 18. The Phils called up Mike Zagurski on May 25, signed Jose Mesa on June 9 and JC Romero on June 22.

Back to the list of the ten pitchers who got the most innings in relief in 2007. I knew I had some point to make about that. Oh yeah, that list is miserable. Romero great, Myers great, Madson really good. Full stop. Geary did give the Phils a ton of innings and I believe he’s going to be harder to replace than most fans acknowledge. But overall those guys were mostly miserable.

Replacing Myers’ contribution in relief is non-trivial. Ditto for Romero. Unlike Romero, it seems like Madson has a good chance as being as effective as his ’07 self for the Phils.

Still, overall, if you look at the guys who started the year last year side-by-side with the guys who are going to start in the pen this year, I think most would agree that the Phils are going to be better off in the bullpen on opening day.

Here again are the six guys in the pen to start ’07, along side the five guys most think are in the pen to start ’08 as well as the list of candidates for the remaining two spots.


2007

2008
Gordon Gordon
Madson Madson
Geary Lidge
Smith Romero
Alfonseca Chad Durbin
Condrey  
   


Castro
Blackley
Condrey
JD Durbin
Youman
Rosario
Bisenius
Mathieson
Darensbourg
Outman
Happ
Ennis
Segovia
Knotts
Mazone
Holdzkom
Chiavacci

Pick whoever you think is the worst candidate, or the two worst candidates, from that list and I still think the pen that goes into 2008 is better than the pen that went into 2007. The question is how much better and what position they’re in to respond to the issues that arise once the season starts — the Phils had one of the worst pens in the NL last season and a minimal improvement in an area where they were so weak would be disappointing.

Todd Zolecki talks about PECOTA here, which projects the Phils finish third in the NL East this season behind the Braves.

Anderson Garcia was claimed by the Mariners.

If Kris Benson is not on the major league roster by March 25 he can request his release.


All due respect to Jet, but apparently you do need money when you look like that, honey

The Phillies and Kris Benson agreed to a minor league deal. This article suggests that Benson could make over $5 million this season.

Benson was taken by Pittsburgh with the first pick of the 1996 draft and has started 195 games with the Pirates, Mets and Orioles, throwing to a career 4.34 ERA with a 1.38 ratio.

A healthy Benson would be a huge boost to the Phillies. Here, for example, is how his career numbers compare to Brett Myers’:


G

GS

IP

ERA

Ratio
Myers 192 143 923 4.34 1.35
Benson 195 195 1207.1 4.34 1.38

The difference, of course, is that Benson is almost six years older than Myers. The best year of his career will likely prove to be 2000 while the best year of Myers’ career is likely yet to come. Still, on a team with pitching woes as deep as the Phillies I have a hard time seeing the addition of Benson as anything but a gamble worth taking.

The article linked above suggests that he was recently throwing at about 60 to 70 percent, which means that his chances to win a job out of spring training are just about zero. You have to believe you’re going to see him before long for the Phils, though, given all the issues the team has after Myers and Hamels in the starting rotation.

Benson missed the 2001 season coming off of Tommy John surgery and all of 2007 with a torn rotator cuff. He last pitched on September 27, 2006 against the Yankees and had a miserable outing. He went just 2 2/3 innings and allowed eight earned runs, puffing his ERA from 4.49 to 4.82.

Benson made his debut with the Pirates in 1999 and for the first two years of his career was an extreme ground ball pitcher. When he returned from injury in 2002 he still got more of his outs on the ground than in the air, but the numbers weren’t nearly as dramatic as they had been in ’99 and ’00. Over the last three seasons he pitched he got about the same number of outs in the air as on the ground.

His strikeouts have generally trended downward over his career as well. In 2000 he struck out 184 batters in 217 2/3 innings, 7.61 per nine innings. The last year he pitched was 2006 — in that season he struck out 88 in 183 innings or 4.33 per nine innings, the lowest strikeout rate of his career.

In 2006 he also had a big problem with the long ball as his home run rate shot to the highest level of his career. In 183 innings with the Orioles in ’06 he allowed 33 home runs, which was the fourth most in the American League (it was also the only year of his career in the AL, which may help explain the increased home run rate).

And then there’s the lefties. Here’s what Benson has done in his career and 2006, the last year he pitched, against righties and against lefties:


PA

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS
Career v R 2703 .248 .300 .379 .679
Career v L 2496 .288 .364 .469 .833
’06 v R 382 .270 .313 .430 .743
’06 v L 399 .303 .370 .540 .910

Those numbers against lefties are a little scary. But it shouldn’t be lost on anyone either that the numbers against righties, particularly the career numbers, are tremendous.

This is almost inarguably a good move for the Phils. We’re not going to know for a long time how healthy Benson is. But whenever we do, if the answer is that he can get back to close to where he was before his injury there’s no question he can help the team. From Benson’s perspective, he gets a team with a chance to go far this season as well as a team that’s going to have a ton of opportunity for anyone who can pitch.

The Phillies are looking into their options around a team chiropractor, something that Cole Hamels has been suggesting for a while. No word about adding some sort of fashion consultant to prevent the kind of wardrobe malfunction like the one that led to Hamels starting a playoff game on a hot day in long sleeves, but check back often. It may just be that everyone is going to have to dress themselves. Adding a chiropractor, or at least making sure that the players have easy access to one, seems like a no-brainer to me given the amount invested in player salaries and the consequences of injuries.

Marcus Hayes calls Eaton a head case in this chat. If Eaton’s problems were primarily caused by mental and not physical problems, that would be good news. In the same chat he calls the Helms acquisition a joke and says he thinks that Travis Blackley will make the team.

Scott Mathieson says that the discomfort in his pitching elbow is not a big deal. Same article says that Zagurski thinks he’s a long shot to make the team and won’t start doing mound work till March 1. More on Zagurski here.

This says that Gordon and Lidge both looked good throwing yesterday.


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