The final point I’d like to make on Utley and Howard related to having them hitting back-to-back is that in 2008, both Utley and Howard didn’t fare well against relief pitching. This is a change from recent years when, by OPS, they had both put up very good numbers against relievers and numbers that were much closer to their overall OPS for the season.

There were 12 hitters that got at least 200 plate appearances for the Phillies in 2008. Of those, four put up a higher OPS in their plate appearances against relief pitchers than they did in their plate appearances against starting pitchers. Here they are, ordered by the difference between the OPS they put up against starters and relievers:

  Total vs Starter vs Reliever  
 
PA

OPS

PA

OPS

PA

OPS

Diff

Victorino
627
.799
409
.749
218
.892

.143

Rollins
625
.786
412
.744
213
.872

.128

Burrell
645
.875
424
.835
221
.955

.120

Ruiz
373
.620
221
.614
152
.628

.014

So by OPS, Ruiz was better against relief pitchers than he was against starting pitchers, but just by a tiny bit. Victorino at the top of the list was better against them also, but by a wider margin.

And then there’s a longer list of players who were better against starters. Here they are, again with the players with the largest difference between what they did against relievers and starters at the top:

  Total vs Starter vs Reliever  
 
PA

OPS

PA

OPS

PA

OPS

Diff

Utley

707

.915

470

.990

237

.763

.227

Howard

700

.881

445

.962

255

.737

.225

Bruntlett

238

.594

129

.684

109

.484

.200

Dobbs

240

.824

131

.904

109

.727

.177

Werth

482

.861

295

.927

187

.753

.174

Jenkins

322

.694

200

.745

122

.608

.137

Feliz

463

.705

266

.729

197

.672

.057

Coste

305

.748

171

.768

134

.722

.044

Utley and Howard are at the top of that list, and the difference in what they did against relievers and starters is larger than the difference for any of the players in either group.

Even while the difference between their total OPS and OPS against relievers is very large, it’s important to realize that Utley and Howard still hit relief pitching well compared to the other guys on the team. For example, they both have a bigger difference between their total OPS and OPS against relievers than Bruntlett, who hit a miserable 158/252/232 against relief pitching in ’08, but that’s because they had a lot further to drop. Utley’s .763 OPS against relievers is still better than anybody on the team except for three guys on the top list who hit relievers better than starters, Burrell, Rollins and Victorino.

The huge drop off in numbers against relievers in 2008 is something new for Utley and Howard.

Looking back at 2006 and 2007, in 2006 Utley was about as good against relievers as he was overall. In 2007 he put up an OPS against relief pitchers that was better than his OPS overall. But 2008 was a different story:

utleyvsrel.jpg

For Howard, his OPS against relievers wasn’t quite as good as his overall OPS in ’06 and ’07. But he was still hitting them hard, putting up an OPS of over .900 against relief pitching in both years. And then it dropped way down in 2008:

howardvsrel.jpg

All of Howard’s OPS-related numbers were down in 2008, but his numbers against relievers were down by even more.

The why of all this is the hard part. I don’t know. It’s tempting to suggest that the two lefties hitting back-to-back is the problem in that it allows a team to bring in its best left-handed reliever to deal with both of them. The problem with that is that the Phils hit Utley and Howard back-to-back in the three and four holes regularly in 2007 and both players pounded relief pitching.

I still think I’d be looking to put a right-handed hitter in-between Utley and Howard. I don’t think the Phillies will, though, based on what they’ve done in the past and the issues they have with the right-handed hitters in the lineup for 2009.

Utley says he likes the balance of the offense in terms of lefties, righties and switch-hitters. I agree that the three righties, three lefties and two switch-hitters is nice — I think the issue is that of the three righties, two of them (Feliz and Ruiz) are players whose value comes a lot from their defense rather than what they do with the bat.

This suggests that Utley could return to game action before the end of March.

Article about Mike Koplove’s ties to Philadelphia here.