Archive for December 3rd, 2009

The Placido effect

The Phillies have signed Placido Polanco to a three-year, $18 million contract. Polanco will play third for the Phils in 2010.

I think this is bad news for Phillies fans, but confused by the fact that Polanco is a very good baseball player. The problem is that he’s a good baseball player because he plays second base.

Here are some of the things that bother me about the idea of signing Polanco to play third base:

He’s not a third baseman. I don’t think there’s much of an argument there. Polanco has not appeared at third base in any of the past four years. On the plus side, he is a very good second baseman and has played more than 2,400 innings at third over his career, so it seems pretty likely he can give the Phillies good defense at third. I feel a little less sure about that than I would about someone who actually provided some team good defense at third over the past four years, though.

He was bad offensively last year and he’s 34-years-old. 285/331/396 last year. OPS+ of 88. In each of the past four seasons he’s gotten at least 495 plate appearances and in two of them he’s on-based .331 or worse.

Even for a 2B he wasn’t good offensively last year. Between the two leagues there were 37 players that got 200 or more plate appearances as a second baseman in 2009. The .730 OPS that Polanco put up while playing second base was 23rd-best. Third basemen should obviously be producing more offense than second basemen.

He doesn’t have the bat to be an everyday 3B. The chart below shows the average slugging percentages posted by NL 3B for each of the past four seasons and the slugging percentage that Polanco has put up. In just one of the four years did he put up a slugging percentage that was better than the average for the position in the NL. He got a ton of hits in those four years, too, going 690-for-2,246 (a .307 batting average):


Year

NL Average SLG by 3B

Polanco SLG

2009

.416

.396

2008

.440

.417

2007

.456

.458

2006

.471

.364

He’s all average — he never, ever walks and doesn’t hit for power. He walks less regularly than Pedro Feliz. He did last year and he has over his career. As I wrote in this post, in a group of players that includes Feliz, Polanco, Crede, Beltre and Tejada, Polanco has been the least likely of any of them to draw a walk in a given plate appearance over their career.

His career rate of getting extra-base hits is miserable. It’s worse than new addition Brian Schneider, who is younger than Polanco and was recently signed to backup Ruiz, and a tiny bit better than ’08 Phillie So Taguchi.

Player Career PA Career XBH XBH/100 PA
Schneider 3,186 221 6.94
Polanco 6,017 399 6.63
Taguchi 1,524 100 6.56

He’s obviously way below the good hitters on the Phillies in terms of their chances to get an extra-base hit. Each of the eight Phillies regulars (including Feliz) got an extra-base hit in at least 7% of their plate appearances in 2009. Utley, Rollins, Werth and Ruiz were all in the nines while Howard and Ibanez were over 12.

This isn’t an addition that’s going to make the Phillies a lot worse. Again, Polanco is a good baseball player and it’s sure not his fault if the Phillies think he’s a third baseman. But it’s not a move that’s going to make them a lot better, either. They had one offensive position on the field where they had a chance to make themselves a lot better and they didn’t do it.

The article linked at the top of the page suggests that Polanco could hit second for the Phils. I think it may make more sense to keep Victorino in the two-hole and hit Polanco seventh after Ibanez and before Ruiz.

Chris Jaffe, who writes for The Hardball Times, has written a book called Evaluating Baseball’s Managers: A History and Analysis of Performance in the Major Leagues, 1876–2008. You can read an excerpt about Gene Mauch from the book at Crashburn Alley.


Drop off location

Earlier this week I wrote that after leading the NL in runs allowed per nine innings by relievers in 2008, the Phils dropped to ninth in that category in 2009. Despite the big drop in 2009, opponents posted very similar batting lines against the Phillies relief pitchers in 2009 and 2008:


Year

AVG

OBP

SLG

2009

246

335

373

2008

251

333

371

Again, the ’08 pen was a lot better than the ’09 pen, but those numbers look very similar.

Curiously, you were more likely to get a hit or a walk against the ’08 guys than you were the ’09 guys.

In 2009, the Phillies pen faced 2,143 batters and allowed 457 hits (21.3% of batters) and 223 walks (10.4%). So about 31.7% of hitters got a hit or a walk. In 2008 the pen faced 2,071 hitters and allowed 456 hits (22.0%) and 211 walks (10.2%). About 32.2% of hitters got a hit or a walk against the ’08 pen.

That’s a little perplexing because opponents posted a better on-base percentage in 2009 than they did in 2008. A big part of the explanation is that Phillies relievers hit a lot more batters in 2009 than they did in 2008 — they plunked 32 in ’09 after hitting just 16 in ’08.

You were also more likely to get an extra-base hit against the ’08 pen than you were against the ’09 pen.

The ’09 pen allowed 134 extra-base hits to 2,143 hitters (6.25%) and the ’08 pen allowed 136 extra-base hits to 2,071 hitters (6.57%).

It sure seems like you should get better if you improve the rate at which you allow hits or walks while you improve the rate at which you allow extra-bases. But the Phillies bullpen got worse.

A big part of this was how bad the extra-base hits that the Phillies gave up were in 2009. Despite the fact that they allowed fewer extra-base hits overall in 2009, the extra-base hits they allowed in 2009 did more damage.

In 2008, the Phillies pen allowed 136 extra-base hits — 92 doubles, seven triples and 37 home runs. That’s 353 total bases or 2.6 bases per extra-base hit.

In 2009 they allowed 134 extra-base hits — just 79 doubles, nine triples and 46 home runs. That’s a total of 369 total bases or 2.75 bases per extra-base hit. So a better rate of preventing extra-base hits in 2009, but the extra-base hits they allowed were worse.

The most important difference between the bullpen of 2008 and the bullpen of ’09 was that the ’08 pen was outstanding at preventing home runs compared to the rest of the league while the ’09 pen was not. The ’08 pen allowed 37 home runs, which was the fewest in the NL. In ’09, only six NL teams allowed more home runs than the 46 that the Phils’ relievers gave up.

In ’08, the Phillies had seven relief pitchers who threw 20 or more innings for the team. Of those seven, Tom Gordon allowed the most home runs per nine innings. He allowed three in 29 2/3 innings or about 0.91 per nine innings.

In 2009 there were nine Phillies pitchers who threw 20 or more innings in relief. Of those nine, four, Walker, Durbin, Taschner and Lidge, all allowed more than 0.91 home runs per nine innings while pitching in relief. Eyre was almost a fifth — he allowed 0.90 homers per nine innings.

The home run problem would have been a whole lot worse for the relievers were it not for Chan Ho Park. Park pitched 50 innings in relief for the Phillies in 2009 without allowing a home run. In 33 1/3 innings as a starter he gave up five. The Braves’ Peter Moylan was the only reliever in either league besides Park to throw 35 or more innings in relief in ’09 without allowing a home run.

The charts below show the four Phillies pitchers that threw at least 20 innings in relief in each of the last two seasons and had the worst rates of allowing runs per nine innings pitched as a reliever on the team. For each of the pitchers it shows the number of innings the player threw in relief that year, the runs they allowed per nine innings and the home runs they allowed per nine innings:


2008
       
Player IP Runs/9 HR/9
Durbin 87 2/3 3.4 0.51
Condrey 69 3.4 0.78
Seanez 43 1/3 5.0 0.42
Gordon 29 2/3 5.8 0.91
       

2009
       
Player IP Runs/9 HR/9
Condrey 42 3.6 0.86
Durbin 69 2/3 4.9 1.03
Taschner 29 1/3 5.5 0.92
Lidge 58 2/3 7.8 1.69

The biggest thing about that list is that the guys at the top who were the worst among the 2008 pen in terms of runs allowed per nine innings were pretty good. Durbin was great in ’08, throwing to 2.87 ERA with a 1.32 ratio and allowing just five home runs in nearly 90 innings. Condrey wasn’t quite as good, but threw to a 3.26 ERA with a 1.51 ratio. He also was pretty good at keeping the ball in the yard, allowing 0.78 homers per nine in a season when the average NL reliever allowed about 0.96.

In 2008, the Phillies had just two relievers who threw more than 20 innings for the season and allowed more than 3.4 runs per nine innings for the season. Those two, Seanez and Gordon, combined to throw 73 innings. In 2009 the Phils had four relievers who threw more than 20 innings and allowed more than 3.4 runs per inning and those four combined to throw 199 2/3 innings.

This says that the Phillies talks with Polanco are getting serious. I think it would be pretty bad news if the Phillies signed Polanco to be their third baseman.

This suggests the Phillies could have interest in John Smoltz. Please no.

The Phillies did not offer arbitration to Park or Eyre. I think both of those guys still have a chance to be back next year.

Billy Wagner is a Brave.

The Phillies signed Brian Schneider to be Ruiz’s backup.


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