Archive for February, 2009

Seriously, though, the Phillies could use a right-handed hitter. Maybe two.

Yesterday’s point was that both Utley and Howard are facing lefties more regularly than other elite left-handed hitters in baseball. Today’s is that this is a bigger deal for Utley than it is for Howard. By OPS, over the last three years the difference between what the two did against right-handed and left-handed pitching has been much more dramatic for Howard than it has been for Utley. Over the last two years, Utley has been the better hitter against lefties by a wide margin while Howard has struggled.

Here’s Howard’s total OPS, his OPS against righties and against lefties over the past three years:

howardops.jpg

First of all, just wow. That’s pretty much what you would hope that chart wouldn’t look like. That said, though, the focus of this post is the difference between what Howard does against right-handed pitching, the purple line, and what he does against left-handed pitching, the orange line. Over the three years they have been separated by between 220 points (in 2008 he put up an .746 OPS against lefties and a .966 OPS against righties) and 246 points (in ’07 he was 1.072 against righties and .826 against lefties).

The other point is that the .746 OPS against lefties, Howard put up a 224/294/451 line against them in ’08, isn’t good.

For Utley, the difference between what he’s done against righties and lefties is much smaller. His OPS against left-handed hitting has been better than Howard’s by at least a hundred points for each of the past two seasons:

utley2ops.jpg

Over the past three seasons, the biggest difference between the OPS that Utley posted against lefties and righties came in 2007. His OPS against righties was just seventy-seven points higher in that season (for Howard the smallest difference over the past two years has been two hundred and twenty points).

In 2007, Utley put up an .927 OPS against lefties, which was more than hundred points higher than the .826 put up by Howard. Utley’s .888 against lefties in ’08 was 142 points higher than Howard’s .746.

This suggests that Utley may be more ready for opening day than Feliz.

Long SI article about Cole Hamels and family.


Left doubt

Off the Mets now and on to the lineup and whether or not it’s a big deal that the Phils hit Utley and Howard back-to-back as well as the general problem with the lack of right-handed hitters on the team. Three related points coming in this and upcoming posts: 1) (today!) Utley and Howard get a higher percentage of their plate appearances against left-handed pitching than many of the other elite left-handed hitters in baseball 2) this is a bigger deal for Howard than it is for Utley and 3) whether it’s because they hit back-to-back or not, in 2008 Utley and Howard both had numbers against relief pitchers that were a) bad and b) worse than they had been in recent years.

Pretty much I’m thinking that a lineup that goes Utley-Howard-Ibanez 3-4-5 isn’t the way to go (or the way the Phillies will go).

Today’s point is that Utley and Howard get more of their plate appearances against left-handed hitting than many of the other best left-handed hitters in baseball.

In 2008, Howard and Utley each got about 38% of their plate appearances against left-handed pitching. By OPS, Utley was the best left-handed hitter (.915) in the NL in ’08 and Howard was fifth best (.881). If you compare the percentage of their plate appearances that came against lefties for 2008 to the percentage of plate appearances that came against lefties for the four other top hitters in the NL, Utley and Howard faced lefties more often.

The chart below presents, for the six left-handed NL hitters with at least 500 plate appearances in 2008 who posted the best OPS, the percentage of their plate appearances that have come against left-handed pitchers in 2008 and in ’06 and ’07:

nlvleft.jpg

In 2006, Adam Dunn got 32.8% of his plate appearances against lefties while Howard got 32.0% of his plate appearances against lefties. Since then, though, none of the rest of the group has gotten as high a percentage of their plate appearances against lefties. That adds up to a lot of plate appearances. Brian McCann, for example, has had 1,617 total plate appearances over the past three years and 480 (29.7%) have come against lefties. Utley has had 2,059 total plate appearances and 752 of them, 36.5%, of them have come against lefties. So Utley has had 442 more total plate appearances, but 272 of them have come against left-handed pitching.

Utley and Howard are also getting a higher percentage of their plate appearances against lefties than the top left-handed hitters in the American League. By OPS, here are the top six left-handed hitters in the AL from 2008 and the percentage of their plate appearances that have come against lefties over the past three years:

alvleft.jpg

The highest mark for that group for the last three years is the 35.5% of Justin Morneau’s plate appearances that came against left-handed pitchers in 2008. Utley and Howard have both faced a higher percentage of lefties in each of the last two seasons.

It should also be noted that, like Utley and Howard, in 2008 Morneau hit almost exclusively behind another very good left-handed hitter. The Twins lineup regularly featured Joe Mauer hitting third and Morneau in the cleanup slot.

Interesting Q&A with Pat Gillick here in which he suggests the Phillies might have been willing to bring Burrell back but the length of the contract that Burrell was looking for was a problem. I also find it fascinating given how regularly Gillick wins the World Series that when asked why he pushed for the Ibanez signing the first thing he mentions is that Ibanez will be a positive influence in the clubhouse. Gillick also suggests that Ibanez may hit for more power at Citizens Bank Park and that he hits left-handed pitching well.

In this article, Charlie Manuel says that Ibanez has hit lefties well for the last few years. Ibanez smoked lefties to the tune of 305/368/497 in 2008, but hit 256/294/356 against them in 2007 and 243/301/362 against them in ’06.

This article says that Feliz hasn’t swung a bat since his surgery in November. Also says that Feliz expects to be ready for the start of the season.


Wake up stall

Given that the Phils and Mets scored the same number of runs last season, I thought I’d look for any area where the Phillies could improve. One is early in the game.

Here’s the runs scored for each of the teams in innings one through three, four through six and seven through nine:

 
Phillies

Mets
Innings Runs
scored
Per inning Runs
Scored
Per Inning
1 through 3 266 0.55 342 0.70
4 through 6 302 0.62 253 0.52
7 through 9 221 0.50 191 0.43

For each team the runs scored in innings one through nine does not equal 799. The Phillies scored ten runs in extra innings while the Mets scored thirteen.

In both the inning four through six and seven through nine categories, the Phillies outscored the Mets. For the season, after the third inning the Phils outscored the Mets 533 to 457.

The Phillies were actually better than the Mets in the second inning as well:

 
Phillies

Mets
Inning Runs
scored
Per inning Runs
Scored
Per Inning
Second 71 0.44 68 0.42

That means there must have been a big problem in the first and third innings. And there was:

 
Phillies

Mets
Inning Runs
scored
Per inning Runs
Scored
Per Inning
First 109 0.67 139 0.86
Third 86 0.53 135 0.83

The Mets clearly were getting out to a better start in ’08 in the first inning. Here’s at least part of the reason why:

First batter of the game

Team PA AVG OBP SLG OPS
PHI 162 253 290 344 634
NYM 162 346 370 532 902

Rollins was miserable in the first plate appearance of the game in 2008. He got the first plate appearance in 126 of the 162 games and hit 242/278/342 in those plate appearances. Victorino and Werth were the only two players on the team to get more than ten plate appearances as the first Phillie hitter of the game — Victorino hit 429/429/571 and Werth hit 300/417/300. Taguchi went 1-for-8 in the eight games where he hit first for the Phils.

Jose Reyes, on the other hand, was a terror for the Mets as the first hitter of the game. He got the Mets going by hitting 340/365/529 in the 159 times he got the first plate appearance of the game for New York.

It’s a lot less clear what happened in the third inning, but for whatever reason there were a lot of Phillies that just didn’t hit in their plate appearances that came in the third. Burrell hit .130, Werth .104, Victorino .211 and Ruiz .160.

Also possible is that the Phillies’ problems in the first inning forced them to send their 7-8-9 hitters to the plate more often in the third inning while the Mets were sending the better hitters at the top of their order. Here are the Mets hitting splits in the third inning.

The Phillies signed Miguel Cairo to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training. He may be part of the competition to fill in at second if Utley isn’t ready for the start of the season.

Adam Eaton, who has made 49 starts for the Phillies over the past two season in which he’s thrown to a 6.06 ERA, suggests that the reason general managers might not be jumping all over the chance to trade for him is that he will be available without having to make a trade if the Phillies release him.

Bad news if you had Drew Naylor in your office Phillies opening day starter pool. Looks like the Phils may be going to go with that Hamels guy.

Rich Dubee suggests Kendrick is the favorite to win the fifth starter job in this article.


So you’re scared and you’re thinking that maybe we ain’t that young, or slugging .659, anymore

The Phillies outscored the Mets 892 to 804 in 2007, a difference of 88 runs. That difference disappeared completely in 2008 as both teams scored an identical 799 runs. Offense was down across the league last year, but the Mets seemed less bothered than most teams. They scored five fewer runs than they had the year before while the Phillies scored 93 fewer.

There were injuries for the Phillies, most notably to Jimmy Rollins. Let’s hope that was it. Let’s hope what was not it is that the idea that the Mets are built around a pair of young stars in Reyes and Wright while the Phillies are built around a pair of young stars in Utley and Howard just isn’t as true as we’d like it to be. All four are definitely stars, part of baseball’s elite, but some of them are younger than others. Utley is 30 already and Howard turns 30 in November. Reyes won’t be 26 till June and Wright turns 27 in December. Utley and Howard, and Rollins for that matter, who turns 31 in November, are all going to start to get worse sooner than the younger Mets stars. I’m not saying that it’s started already, I don’t think it has. But it will, and when you look at some pairings of Mets and Phillies players over the past three years there are some concerning trends that help shed some light on how the difference in runs scored closed so dramatically in ’08.

Here’s the runs created, as calculated by Baseball-Reference, for Rollins and Reyes over the past three seasons:

rollinsreyes.jpg

Rollins was hurt for a lot of 2008, which will mess up your runs created, but even when he wasn’t Reyes outhit him. Reyes hit 297/358/475 for the year while Rollins hit 277/349/437.

Here’s Utley and Wright:

utleywright.jpg

After being outhit by Utley in 2006, Wright has been better in 2007 and 2008. It should also be noted that there were only four NL players whose runs created were better than the 130 that Utley put up in 2008 — Wright just happens to be one of them.

This one might be the most disturbing of all, comparing Howard and Delgado:

howarddelgado.jpg

Carlos Delgado isn’t the offensive player that Ryan Howard is, let’s not get silly here. But the similarity in the amount of offense they produced in 2008 is alarming. Even more alarming than the fact suggestion that Delgado and Howard created a similar amount of offense in 2008 is how dramatically Howard’s output has dropped since 2006 — for 169 in ’06 to 113 in ’08.

Finally, this one isn’t a natural pairing at all, but Carlos Beltran produced more offense than Burrell consistently over the past three seasons and widened the gap in 2008:

burrellbeltran.jpg

The two were very close in 2007. Both created more runs in 2008 than they had the year before, but Beltran had greater improvement between the two seasons.


The pen was mightier than runs scored

I think there’s a good chance that everybody who cares agrees already, but I did want to take one more opportunity to drive home the notion that it was the bullpens that created the most important separation between the Phils and the Mets in 2008:

Here’s the runs scored and allowed by both teams:

Team RS RA Run
Differential
NYM 799 715 84
PHI 799 680 119

The Phillies run differential was better by 35 runs.

The team’s scored the same number of runs in 2008. That’s a problem in itself for the Phils, coming off a 2007 season where they scored 88 more times than the Mets. But offense wasn’t the difference between the ’08 Mets and the ’08 Phils.

New York’s starting pitching was better than the Phillies:

Team IP RA RA/Inning
NYM 971 458 4.25
PHI 966.2 489 4.55
Difference   -31  

The starting pitchers for the Mets and Phillies didn’t throw exactly the same number of innings, but it was close. In about five fewer innings, Phillies starters allowed 31 more runs than Mets starters. Given that we know the run differential between the teams for the year is 35 runs, that means that Phillies relievers allowed 66 fewer runs than Mets relievers. And they did:

Team IP RA RA/Inning
NYM 493.3 257 4.69
PHI 483 191 3.56
Difference   66  

Again, the offense was dead even. Mets starters were better. But even though the relievers for each team threw only about half as many innings as the starters, the difference in the runs allowed by the Phillies and the Mets bullpens was enormous — in about half the innings the Phillies gained an advantage more than twice as large as what the Mets gained with their better starters.

Chase Utley takes weak grounders, but isn’t swinging the bat yet. Same article says Jason Donald is working out at second.


Some problems run so deep they can’t even be solved by replacing the guy with the 0.89 ratio

Billy Wagner did blow seven saves last season and the Mets lost the division by less than seven games. So while it may be tempting to conclude that Wagner, with his 2.30 ERA and 0.89 ratio, his 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings and his 1.9 walks per nine innings, is to blame for the difference between the Mets pen and the Phillies pen, I really have trouble believing that was the case. Past performance is no guarantee of future results, but in 2008 the Phillies pen was far better than the Mets pen. And not just in the closer slot — the difference between the Phils’ pen and the Mets’ pen wasn’t the difference between Billy Wagner and Brad Lidge or Aaron Heilman and Luis Ayala and Brad Lidge or anyone and Brad Lidge. The difference went much deeper than that and was bigger than any one player on either team.

Here’s what the Phillies bullpen did last season, with and without Lidge:

  IP H
BB ER ERA Ratio
PHI pen 483 456 211 173 3.22 1.38
Lidge 69.3 50 35 15 1.95 1.23
Pen w/o Lidge 413.6 406 176 158 3.44 1.41

And here’s what the Mets’ pen did, with and without Wagner:

  IP H
BB ER ERA Ratio
NYM pen 493.3 487 202 234 4.27 1.40
Wagner 47 32 10 12 2.30 0.89
Pen w/o
Wagner
446.3 455 192 222 4.48 1.45

If you take Lidge and Wagner out of the equation, the Phils pen put up an ERA that was a full run better than the ERA put up by the Mets.

With or without Wagner, you have to take a lot of key players out of the Phillies pen from 2008 before you get to an ERA near what the Mets threw to as a group.

Here it is without Lidge and Madson:

  IP H
BB ER ERA Ratio
PHI pen 483 456 211 173 3.22 1.38
Lidge 69.3 50 35 15 1.95 1.23
Madson 82.7 79 23 28 3.05 1.23
Without Lidge
and Madson
331 327 153 130 3.53 1.45

And without Lidge, Madson and Romero:

  IP H
BB ER ERA Ratio
PHI pen 483 456 211 173 3.22 1.38
Lidge 69.3 50 35 15 1.95 1.23
Madson 82.7 79 23 28 3.05 1.23
Romero 59 41 38 18 2.75 1.34
Without
Lidge, Madson and Romero
272 286 115 112 3.71 1.47

And without Lidge, Madson, Romero and Durbin:

  IP H
BB ER ERA Ratio
PHI pen 483 456 211 173 3.22 1.38
Lidge 69.3 50 35 15 1.95 1.23
Madson 82.7 79 23 28 3.05 1.23
Romero 59 41 38 18 2.75 1.34
Durbin 87.7 81 35 28 2.87 1.32
Without
Lidge, Madson, Romero and Durbin
184.3 205 80 84 4.10 1.55

So if you take out the top four guys in the Phillies pen, Lidge, Madson, Romero and Durbin, the other ten players who pitched in relief for the Phils in 2008 (Eaton, Kendrick, Condrey, Seanez, Happ, Gordon, Eyre, Walrond, Swindle and Carpenter) threw to a 4.10 ERA, better than the 4.27 posted on the season by the Mets bullpen as a group. That group of Phils does have a worse ratio than the Mets pen, 1.55 compared to a 1.40 for the New York pen.

None of that is to suggest that the bullpen wasn’t the difference between the two teams last season. I think it was. It just wasn’t one player. And if you look at the Mets pen from ’08, take out Heilman and Ayala’s numbers and replace them with the American League numbers Francisco Rodriguez and JJ Putz put up in 2008, things look a lot tighter:

  IP H
BB ER ERA Ratio
NYM pen 493.3 487 202 234 4.27 1.40
Heilman 76 75 46 44 5.21 1.59
Ayala 18 23 2 11 5.50 1.39
NYM pen
without Heilman and Ayala
399.3 389 154 179 4.03 1.36
Rodriguez 68.3 54 34 17 2.24 1.29
Putz 46.3 46 28 20 3.88 1.60
Rodriguez/Putz
added
514 489 216 216 3.78 1.37

The Phils ’08 pen still has put up a better ERA and ratio than the mythical creation of the Mets pen. But even without adjusting Rodriguez and Putz’s American League numbers the difference in both cases is pretty small.

Even so, heading into 2009 the Phillies pen is a little better. The thing that’s worrisome from a Phillies perspective is that last year it needed to be a lot better to win the division — the teams scored the same number of runs and the Mets starting pitching was better. There’s a good chance that the Mets starting pitching is going to be better again this year, so I think we better be hoping that the Phils can put some more runs on the board offensively to make up for what will surely be a tightening of the bullpens.

Will Ohman’s agent says they have had positive conversation with the Phils and the lefty would love to pitch in Philadelphia.

Article about Mike Zagurski’s health that also says Eaton will get chances to pitch in spring training.

Charlie Manuel calls Jason Donald “a Biggio kind of guy” in this article.


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