Archive for January, 2010

Second helpings

It might not be till we’re well into the 2010 season, but I think that when the batting order settles down for the Phillies it will go Rollins, Victorino, Utley, Howard, Werth, Ibanez, Polanco, Ruiz. In this article, though, Manuel seems to suggest that the Phillies may start the season with Polanco hitting second and Victorino hitting sixth or seventh.

I think he’ll change his mind before 2010 is over. Either way, are the Phillies better off with Polanco or Victorino hitting second?

If you were to make the decision based solely on their numbers from last season, Victorino was clearly the better hitter and the better choice to fill the two-hole in the order. Victorino hit 292/358/445, topping Polanco’s 285/331/396 line for the year in all three categories.

One of Polanco’s biggest problems in 2009 was that he didn’t hit left-handed pitching. At all. Both Polanco and Victorino have been good hitters against lefties over their career — Polanco has a 316/357/462 line against them for his career and Victorino is at 288/357/479. Polanco struggled against them in 2009, though. He played a full season and hit a weak 266/304/434 against left-handed pitching while Victorino pounded away to the tune of 314/385/459.

Given how much better Polanco’s career line against left-handed pitching is than the numbers he put up last season, it sure seems likely he’ll bounce back against lefties in 2010. Lets’ hope so, especially if he’s going to be hitting second against them.

The chart below shows numbers for Victorino and Polanco for ’09 and for their careers along with the average numbers for #2, #6 and #7 hitters in the NL last season (although I don’t think you’re going to see a lot of lineups in ’10 that include Utley, Howard, Werth and Ibanez with none of those players hitting second that would have Victorino hitting sixth). They are ordered by OPS.

  AVG OBP SLG OPS
Victorino ’09 292 358 445 803
Victorino
Career
284 347 428 775
Polanco
Career
303 348 414 762
NL #6 ’09 273 333 423 756
NL #2 ’09 273 337 405 742
Polanco ’09 285 331 396 727
NL #7 ’09 255 319 401 719

So, again, Polanco didn’t have a good 2009. He was outhit by the average NL #2 hitter while Victorino was a lot better than the average #2 hitter. On the other hand, over their careers both players have been better than the average #2 hitter was in the NL in 2009.

The biggest question we’re going to get at least part of an answer to in 2010 is whether the weak ’09 season for Polanco is a fluke or part of a trend. While he and Victorino have very similar numbers over their careers I think it’s very reasonable to expect that Victorino will be the more productive offensive player the rest of the way. Here’s the percentage of plate appearances in which the two have gotten hits, walks or extra-base hits over the past three seasons:

 
Polanco

Victorino
Year % H % BB % XBH % H % BB % XBH
2007 31.2 5.8 7.5 25.1 7.3 7.5
2008 28.3 5.6 7.2 26.6 7.2 8.3
2009 26.1 5.3 6.7 26.1 8.6 8.9

For each of the three categories Polanco’s numbers are down in 2008 and 2009 compared to the previous year. The numbers aren’t as dramatic for Victorino, but his numbers have generally been getting better.

Important to remember is that Polanco had a monster season in 2007, probably the best of his career. He hit a career-high .341 and on-based a career-high .388. So there was a lot of room to fall. In terms of the percentage of plate appearances in which they got a hit or a walk, Polanco buried Victorino in 2007. It was very close in 2008 — 33.86% for Polanco and 33.81% for Victorino with more of Victorino’s hits going for extra-bases. In 2009, Victorino sailed past Polanco. We’ll see if it’s for good or not.

Ben Sheets signed a one-year, $10 million contract with Oakland. The linked article also says that Greg Golson is now a Yankee.

Charlie Manuel has lost about sixty pounds.

MLB.com announced it’s list of the top 50 prospects, which includes Domonic Brown at 14 and Phillippe Aumont at 47 (that link is unusually interesting and includes video of the players). Michael Taylor is 35 and Kyle Drabek 17.


Touching base (third)

Back in November I looked at some of the available players who looked like they might be a good match for the Phils at third base. The Phillies landed on Placido Polanco and most of the rest of that group has found a home by now as well:

Player Age Status
P Feliz 34

After the Phillies declined his $5.5 million option for 2010, Feliz signed a one-year deal with the Astros for $4.5 million.

     
P Polanco 34 Signed a three-year, $18 million deal with the Phillies
     
A Beltre 30 Signed a one-year, $9 million deal with Boston
     
C Figgins 32 Signed a four-year, $36 million deal with Seattle.
     
M DeRosa 34 Signed with San Francisco for two years, $12 million
     
     
G Atkins 30 Signed a one year contract with Baltimore. The contract is for $4 million with incentives that could earn Atkins an additional $1 million. He will likely play first base and not third.
     
T Glaus 33 Signed with the Braves for one-year, $1.75 million.  He is expected to play first base and not third with Atlanta.
     
     
M Tejada 35 Agreed to a one-year, $6 million deal with Baltimore
     
J Crede 31 Unsigned

I don’t think the Polanco contract looks great in relation to the signings for the group given the length of Polanco’s new deal. I would rather have Polanco for three years at his contract than Figgins for four years at his contract. I’m not as sure about the rest of the group.

After the Phillies declined Feliz’s option for 2010 I would guess they couldn’t have signed him as a free agent for one-year, $4.5 million even if they had wanted to. They might have been better off if they did.

Glaus’s signing may be the steal of the group, cause if he’s healthy he’s a lock to be the best offensive player in the group. Even if he’s not a hundred percent, there’s still a good chance he’s the best hitter in the group in 2009. Let’s just hope he really can’t play third base at all.

I think the O’s got a great deal on Atkins, too. I think it’s much more likely that he will see time at third in the future, despite Baltimore’s preference to play him at first. It’s undeniable that he was miserable in 2009, but including that awful year he has hit 292/359/472 over the past four seasons and averaged 21 homers and 94 RBI. Let’s hope he really can’t play third, either.

I’m definitely rooting for Polanco to hit .320 with 15 home runs. And maybe he will. He’s getting old, though, and he’s coming off a bad year. If I were guessing, Feliz and Crede are the only players in the group that I feel confident that Polanco will outperform offensively in 2010. And that’s in year one of a three-year deal. And maybe he can play third, but he’s not a third baseman. So let’s hope for the best. But the time that’s past since the signing hasn’t done a whole lot to make me feel better about the deal for the Phillies.

Joe Blanton and the Phillies agreed to a three-year, $24 million deal.

Victorino and the Phils agreed to a three-year, $22 million deal.

The Phillies and Ruiz agreed to a three-year, $8.85 million deal.

This suggests the Phillies have agreed to a one-year deal with right-handed pitcher Jose Contreras, which is worth about $1 million. Contreras pitched for the White Sox and Rockies last year, posting a 4.92 ERA with a 1.47 ratio over 131 2/3 innings. He spent most of the past three years with the White Sox and has a 5.09 ERA over the past three seasons. He was traded to the Rockies at the end of the 2009 season and he got his first chance to pitch for a NL team — in seven appearances he threw to a 1.59 ERA over 17 innings but with a 1.65 ratio (his ERA+ while throwing to a 1.59 ERA with the Rockies was 288).


Empty nest syndrome

Phillies batters hit with the bases empty in about 56.1% of their plate appearances in 2009 and in those plate appearances they drove in 16.2% of the runs that the Phillies scored. For the eight Phillies regulars, here’s the percentage of their plate appearances that came with the bases empty and the percentage of the runs they drove in last year that came with the bases empty:

  % of PA with bases empty % of RBI with bases empty
Rollins 66.2 14.3
Victorino
62.1 9.7
Ruiz 59.1 11.6
Feliz 56.0 6.1
Werth 55.6 21.2
Utley 54.0 21.5
Ibanez 53.8 21.5
Howard 49.6 14.9

So of those eight, Rollins, Victorino and Ruiz got a higher percentage of their plate appearances with the bases empty than was the average for the team. Werth , Utley and Ibanez were the only three who had a higher percentage of their RBI come with the bases empty than was average for the team.

If Rollins at the top of the list and Howard at the bottom of the list maintained those percentages over a season in which they both got 650 plate appearances, Rollins would get about 430 plate appearances with the bases empty and Howard would get about 322. That’s 108 more times at the plate with the bases empty for Rollins.

The Phillies are trying to avoid arbitration hearings with Blanton, Ruiz and Victorino. This suggests that Blanton was offered $7.5 million and is seeking $10.25, Victorino was offered $4.75 million and wants $5.8 million and Ruiz is looking for $2.5 million and was offered $1.7 million.

This suggests that reliever Eric Gagne was expected to have a tryout with the Phillies yesterday afternoon. The righty Gagne turned 34 in January. He didn’t pitch in the majors in 2009 after a weak season with the Brewers in 2008. He made 17 starts for the Quebec Capitales in the independent CamAm league in ’09 and threw to a 4.65 ERA with a 1.38 ratio in 102 2/3 innings, which, when translated from the French, likely proves to be impressive, or, more likely, not impressive or somewhere in-between. Either way, he was really good in 2003 and if there’s some way the Phillies can capitalize on that I’m all for it.


First look

Earlier this month I wrote about how important it was for Phillies pitchers not to walk a batter with the bases empty. Phillies hitters also drive in a lot more runs in their chances to hit with runners on base than in their chances with the bases empty. If you had asked me who the Phillies hitters whose rate of driving in runs increased the most last year when they come to the plate with a runner on first instead of with the bases empty, I would have said that it’s the home run hitters because when they hit a home run with a man on first it drives in twice as many runs as when they hit a home run with the bases empty.

I would have been wrong, of course. In terms of their RBI per plate appearance it’s the guys who hit very few home runs with the bases empty who saw their rate of RBI per plate appearances rise the most when hitting with a man on first base.

Here’s the rate of RBI per plate appearance with the bases empty for the eight Phillies regulars for 2009 as well as the rates for Ben Francisco and Greg Dobbs:


Bases Empty
Player RBI per PA
Ibanez .066
Francisco .065
Howard .060
Werth .056
Utley .054
Dobbs .042
Rollins .023
Ruiz .022
Feliz .014
Victorino .014

Since you’re going to run into a lot of problems if you try to get an RBI with the bases empty without hitting a home run, you would probably think that the list should be just about the same as the list of the number of home runs per plate appearance. And it’s pretty close, but not identical. Ibanez, Francisco, Howard, Werth and Utley are the top five in the list above. For the same ten players the leaders on the list of plate appearances per home runs (regardless of who was on base) for 2009 went Howard, Ibanez, Werth, Francisco, Utley. Among players that had more than 50 plate appearances last year, none of those guys was the leaders in home run rate. Guesses? It might take a while, but the best rate for the year was John Mayberry. Mayberry hit four home runs in 60 plate appearances or one every 15 times he came to the dish. Had he gotten Howard’s 703 plate appearances and hit home runs at that rate he would have hit about 47 (Howard hit 45). There’s a chance that might not even have happened.

Here are the rates for RBI per plate appearance with a runner on first for 2009 for the same ten players:


Man on first
Player RBI per PA
Ibanez .179
Howard .174
Ruiz .143
Utley .142
Francisco .136
Werth .117
Rollins .091
Feliz .086
Dobbs .074
Victorino .049

Everyone’s rate is up. Overall for the team the average rate for RBI per plate appearance was .036 with the bases empty and .101 with a man on first. .101 is about 2.8 times as much as .036.

The point, though, is that some rates are up a whole lot more than others. The chart below shows, for each of the ten players, the rate of RBI per plate appearance with a runner on first compared to the player’s rate of RBI per plate appearance with the bases empty.

Player RBI per PA with man on 1B/RBI per PA with
the bases empty
Ruiz 6.40
Feliz 6.03
Rollins 3.97
Victorino 3.52
Howard 2.89
Ibanez 2.72
Utley 2.63
Francisco 2.11
Werth 2.10
Dobbs 1.76

So, for example, Carlos Ruiz got about 6.4 times as many RBI per plate appearance when he was hitting with a man on first last year as when he was hitting with the bases empty. At the bottom of the list, Greg Dobbs got just 1.76 times as many. Generally speaking, it wasn’t the guys who hit a lot of home runs who saw their RBI per plate appearance jump the most with a man on first. It’s the guys whose rates of getting RBI with the bases empty were tiny. The top four guys on that list were at the bottom of the list of RBI per plate appearance with the bases empty.

The Phillies avoided arbitration with Chad Durbin. Durbin and the Phils agreed to a one-year, $2.125 million contract. Victorino, Blanton and Ruiz are the team’s three remaining arbitration-eligible players.


Help wanted

After having the best bullpen in the National League in 2008, the Phillies’ pen faded to the middle of the pack in 2009. At this point it looks like five of the bullpen spots for 2010 have been filled by Lidge, Durbin, Madson, Romero and Baez. The table below shows what those five combined to do in 2009 and what the Phillies bullpen overall combined to do for the year:

  IP H BB SO
ERA Ratio
Five 2010 PHI
relievers in 2009
294 273 138 253 4.47 1.40
2009 PHI pen 492 457 223 417 3.91 1.38

So if those five guys each did exactly what they did in 2009 in 2010, here’s what the other guys in the Phillies pen would need to do this year to match the overall numbers for last year’s bullpen in those categories:

IP H BB SO
ERA Ratio
198 184 85 164 3.09 1.36

Golly. That’s a lot of pretty good innings the as yet unannounced pitchers would need to give to match a Phillies bullpen from 2009. They would need to pitch much better than the five pitchers in the pen combined to pitch last year. Even if they did, the 2009 Phillies bullpen wasn’t very good.

The five guys we know are in the pen aren’t going to do what they did in 2009 in 2010, of course. Brad Lidge will almost surely pitch better and if he doesn’t he will almost surely pitch less often. He was so miserable in 2009, though, he could still be a lot better without being good. Romero, too, seems like a good candidate to contribute more in ’10 than he did in ’09. In 2009 he threw just 16 2/3 innings for the Phils — if he does that in 2010 as well the Phils are going to have a whole bunch of problems.

Madson has had very similar numbers over the past three seasons as a full-time reliever. I think it’s possible he gets better in 2010, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Durbin’s 2009 wasn’t impressive, but it’s important to remember that he outperformed his career levels for ERA and ratio. He prevented home runs at a better rate and struck out batters more regularly than he has for his career. He was fantastic in the first half of 2008. Maybe he will be again, but I think it’s more reasonable to expect that his numbers for his career are the more relevant measuring stick.

Baez could see some improvement coming over from the American League, but he is coming off of his best year since 2005. The 1.13 ratio he posted in 2009 was outstanding, his best mark since 2001. He dropped his walk rate compared to his career levels, but his strikeouts dipped way below his career levels in 2009 and his batting average for balls in play was a tiny .232 on a Baltimore team where the average pitcher had a batting average for balls in play of .309. The .232 mark was the lowest it has been for Baez in any year of his career. I’m not saying that Baez isn’t going to help. Not at all. The Phillies need him. I am saying that he’s not going to have a 1.13 ratio this year.


What if they threw a bullpen and nobody came?

It sure seems like the Phillies are going to need to find a bunch of fellas to pitch out of their bullpen in the next couple of months. Right now it looks like they have five (Madson, Durbin, Lidge, Baez and Romero). Of those five, two, Lidge and Romero, may not be ready for the start of the season.

There were 18 players who pitched in relief for the Phillies in 2009. The table below shows the percentage of the team’s innings they each threw in relief and the percentage of the batters the Phils faced in relief that were faced by that pitcher. For the pitchers that appeared solely as relievers (didn’t start any games), the aLI column shows the average leverage index for the pitcher while pitching in relief as calculated by Baseball Reference. The site talks a little about what that stat means here, but basically it reflects the fact that Brad Lidge pitched in much more important situations for the Phils last year than Sergio Escalona or Steven Register — one is average, above one is more important situations and closer to zero is less important situations. Here’s the list, which is ordered by the percentage of innings in relief that were thrown by the pitcher:


Player

% IP

% batters faced

aLI

Madson

15.7

14.9

1.626

Durbin

14.2

14.7

0.828

Lidge

11.9

13.2

2.064

Park

10.2

9.6

Condrey

8.5

8.1

1.061

Walker

7.2

7.0

0.412

Eyre

6.1

6.0

1.133

Taschner

6.0

6.7

0.614

Happ

4.4

4.2

Moyer

3.8

3.3

Romero

3.4

3.4

1.601

Kendrick

3.0

2.9

Escalona

2.8

2.8

0.430

Myers

1.4

1.4

Lopez

0.5

0.8
 

Register

0.4

0.5

0.015

Carpenter

0.3

0.4
 

Bastardo

0.2

0.2
 

To the degree that there’s good news there, the Phillies will bring back the three guys they used most in relief in 2009 for the 2010 season. The bad news is that of those three, one, Lidge, was absolutely terrible last year and another, Durbin, was pretty bad.

The other thing that sure seems worrisome is that after Lidge there’s a group of five guys, Park, Condrey, Walker, Eyre and Taschner, who all seem sure or almost sure not to return for 2010. So far the Phillies have brought in Danys Baez to help fill in for those guys, but that’s not going to be enough.

Baez isn’t left-handed, either. Hopefully Romero is back and can be counted on early in the season, but it doesn’t seem like a sure thing. Lefties combined to throw 131 innings in relief for the Phillies in 2009. Here’s how those innings were divided up:

  % IP
Eyre 22.90
Taschner 22.39
Happ 16.54
Moyer 14.25
Romero 12.72
Escalona 10.43
Bastardo 0.76

Of that group, Eyre and Taschner look like locks not to return. Moyer and Happ will be back, but I’m not sure you want to count on either of those guys carrying a big load in relief in 2010. Let’s hope JC Romero can be the guy, but that’s another thing I don’t think you want to be counting on. Escalona looks likely to see an expanded role in 2010, but even if he does the Phillies are going to need more.

Right-handed relievers threw 361 innings for the Phils. Here’s how those innings broke down:

  % IP
Madson 21.42
Durbin 19.30
Lidge 16.25
Park 13.85
Condrey 11.63
Walker 9.79
Kendrick 4.16
Myers 1.94
Lopez 0.74
Register 0.55
Carpenter 0.37

Again, Madson, Lidge and Durbin are back, but it’s not clear who is going to make up for the 127 1/3 innings that Park, Condrey and Walker combined to throw in relief in 2009. They were really good, too, combining to throw to a 2.83 ERA and 1.18 ratio. Baez again is surely a big part of the answer — he did throw 71 2/3 innings last year, but didn’t pitch at all in 2008 and had a 6.44 ERA in 2007. I don’t know how much or how well he’s going to pitch in 2010, but I’m guessing against 127 1/3 innings with a 2.83 ERA and a 1.18 ratio. It would solve some problems, though.


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