October 21, 2011

State All-Stars: Pennsylvania vs. Ohio

Filed under: Uncategorized — sometimesphylan @ 12:17 pm

Let’s do something stupid, and sort of fun. And really nerdy. Baseball-Reference incorporates hometown information into its Play Index, which makes it a trivial exercise to check out the most productive players in MLB history from a given country or U.S. state. WhatIfSports, a truly amazing website, allows you to create teams of players from different franchises and eras and seasons and match them up against other “dream teams” and real historical MLB squads. Using the Baseball-Reference, I constructed 25 man “all star” rosters for players from the states of Pennsylvania and Ohio — 8 starters, 6 bench players, 5 starting pitchers, and 6 relief pitchers. The only restrictions were that player seasons had to be from the year 1900 or later, and they had to have played most (or a reasonable amount) of games in the season selected at the position I assigned them to. Choosing the players themselves mostly involved looking at cumulative offensive RAR (runs above replacement) totals, and selecting each player’s best season based on OPS+ (with some exceptions). For pitchers, career WAR and seasonal ERA+ was the basis for selection. And the rosters turned out thusly:

PENNSYLVANIA ALL STARS
Starters
Stan Musial LF Donora, PA
Reggie Jackson RF Abington, PA
Mike Piazza C Norristown, PA
Dick Allen 1B Wampum, PA
Ken Griffey JR. CF Donora, PA
Honus Wagner SS Chartiers, PA
Danny Murphy 2B Philadelphia, PA
Whitey Kurowski 3B Reading, PA
Bench
Jack Clark OF New Brighton, PA
Sherry Magee OF Clarendon, PA
Hack Wilson OF Ellwood City, PA
Gene Tenace C Russellton, PA
Mickey Vernon IF Marcus Hook, PA
Eddie Stanky IF Philadelphia, PA
Rotation
Christy Mathewson SP Factoryville, PA
Eddie Plank SP Gettysburg, PA
Mike Mussina SP Williamsport, PA
Ed Walsh SP Plains, PA
Stan Coveleski SP Shamokin, PA
Bullpen
Bruce Sutter RP Lancaster, PA
Sparky Lyle RP Du Bois, PA
Gary Lavelle RP Scranton, PA
Gene Garber RP Lancaster, PA
Curt Leskanic RP Homestead, PA
Doug Brocail RP Clearfield, PA
OHIO ALL STARS
Starters
Mike Schmidt 3B Dayton, OH
Frank Howard LF Columbus, OH
Jim Wynn CF Hamilton, OH
Ed Delehanty RF Cincinnati, OH
Roger Bresnahan C Toledo, OH
Barry Larkin SS Cincinnati, OH
Jim Delahanty 2B Cleveland, OH
George Sisler 1B Manchester, OH
Bench
Tommy Henrich OF Massillon, OH
Elmer Flick OF Bedford, OH
Al Oliver OF Portsmouth, OH
Sal Bando IF Cleveland, OH
Kevin Youkilis IF Cincinnati, OH
Pete Rose IF Cincinnati, OH
Rotation
Roger Clemens SP Dayton, OH
Phil Niekro SP Blaine, OH
Cy Young SP Gilmore, OH
Urban Shocker SP Cleveland, OH
Ned Garver SP Ney, OH
Bullpen
Kent Tekulve RP Cincinnati, OH
Rollie Fingers RP Steubenville, OH
Jeff Montgomery RP Wellston, OH
Jeff Russell RP Cincinnati, OH
Grant Jackson RP Fostoria, OH
Jeff Shaw RP Washington Court House, OH

Plenty of room to quibble and hand-wring over some of those choices, I’m sure. We also have to pick home stadiums for each team, for WhatIfSports to simulate the games in. So, how about the stadium in each state that hosted games in one form or another for the longest. Going by Wikipedia, that’s actually a tie between Shibe Park and Forbes Field in Pennsylvania — both were open for 61 years. Let’s take the one with the higher capacity and the cooler dimensions: Forbes. In Ohio, there seems to be no contest; the site that came to be known as Crosley Field, while shifting grandstand and field orientations over the years, hosted baseball in some capacity from 1884 to 1970. Let’s go with the earliest iteration available to us, the 1910 League Park dimensions. Our ballparks:

Best of seven series, 2-3-2, no DH. By virtue of winning a coin flip, Ohio gets home field advantage.

The lineups look like this (I constructed them roughly based on each player’s OBP and SLG):

Game 1: Box Score and Play-by-Play

Game 2: Box Score and Play-by-Play

Game 3: Box Score and Play-by-Play

Game 4: Box Score and Play by Play

Game 5: Box Score and Play by Play

Yep, the series ended on a walk-off walk to Mike Piazza. Pennsylvania, four games to one. So what state challenges the reigning Pennsylvanians next?

August 5, 2011

Ryan Howard’s Second Halves

Filed under: Uncategorized — sometimesphylan @ 12:37 pm

At The Fightins, I wrote a bit about Ryan Howard’s curious affinity for the latter months of the season. It has a heatmap and everything! Check it out.

July 27, 2011

A (Partial) Defense of Rob Neyer

Filed under: Uncategorized — sometimesphylan @ 12:25 pm

You’ve likely seen, by now, the call that ended last night’s Pirates/Braves extra inning circus. Julio Lugo, breaking home on a groundball put in play by Scott Proctor, appears rather clearly to be tagged out by catcher Michael McKenry, but was called safe by home plate umpire Jerry Meals, ending the game in a walkoff win for the Braves. Clint Hurdle nearly had an on-field aneurysm. The Pirates clubhouse was, by all reports, apoplectic. Twitter and forums alike exploded with excoriations of Meals, umpires in general, and Bud Selig’s continued obstinance on the issue of expanding instant replay. A funny hashtag, #JerryMealsSaysItsSafe, was born. All of this was justifiable. The call was almost certainly wrong, and it’s perfectly obvious to any baseball fan with a memory that the MLB will take no corrective or disciplinary action towards Meals, and we’ll all have to be satisfied with, at best, some empty-hearted mumblings from Bud Selig and his usual assurance that he’s talked to some of his “baseball people” that aren’t concerned about the state of officiating. Anger is a perfectly reasonable reaction.

This morning, Rob Neyer put up a post on Baseball Nation entitled Jerry Meals Might Have Been Right:

I’m sorry, but I still have not seen a conclusive replay. I’ve read a lot of Tweets from people claiming the replays or screen-captures are conclusive, but I’m looking at the same things and I’m just not seeing it. I’m not seeing a for sure in any of them.

Yes, the throw beat Lugo by 10 feet and that’s usually an automatic out. And hey, don’t we get pissed off at umpires who assume outs, just because the throw’s there in plenty of time? I do.

It might not be likely, but it’s possible that Jerry Meals saw something, something real, that none of the cameras were able to see. If there was an eighth of an inch between Michael McKenry’s mitt and Julio Lugo’s pants, would the cameras have caught that gap? Not from what I’ve been able to tell; none of the cameras were placed in just the right place to see that gap, if there was one.

Poor Neyer stumbled right out onto the proving grounds, alongside the effigy of Jerry Meals. He immediately became the new target of a heap Twitter and comment invective. I think it’s important to note, first of all, that Rob Neyer is a good writer, and an honest one. He doesn’t take positions just to be iconoclastic, to gin up page views, or really for any other reason than the search for truth in analysis. It’s almost hard to believe given the sorry lineup of national columnists getting the most attention these days, but Neyer isn’t being disingenuous, and he doesn’t have any ulterior motive. He has simply taken in all of the still images and alternate angle videos that are available (and there are many), and has failed to find some unassailable piece of proof that the tag was made. And considering just that assertion, I think he is right; we will always be missing some amount of information. Take the below image, one of the more popular screenshots of the call that I have marked up a bit:

In the upper left is a basic three dimensional Cartesian coordinate system (it’s difficult to render, but imagine the z axis as perpendicular to your monitor, pointing right at you, running along the “depth” of this picture). Thanks to Einstein, we know we exist in four-dimensional spacetime, which is to say that, to specify the exact location of any particle or point or whatever, you need to give four pieces of information: coordinates on the above-marked x, y, and z axes, which together pinpoint your position in space, and a fourth coordinate that notes your position in time. Let’s arbitrarily designate the black dot above, marking the point where McKenry’s glove appears to touch Lugo’s leg, as (0,0,0,0) — that is, x=0, y=0, z=0, and t (time)=0. This is not to say that the universe and all of existence as we know it originated about 3 feet from home plate at Turner Field, but that it’s best, for ease of reference, for us to calibrate our coordinates at that point. Anyway, for us to conclusively say a tag has been made, we must be able to prove that any part of McKenry’s glove and any part of Lugo’s body occupied the same point in this system (all four coordinates of each being equal) at any instant. If that is the case, they are touching, and it is a tag, and Lugo is out.

With this in mind, look at the above image. We know that the value of t for both the leg and glove are equal, since this is a snapshot of a single instant in time and it’s safe to assume there are no bizarre distortions of the fabric of time going on here. One down. It is abundantly clear that the glove and leg intersect on the x, or horizontal axis. Indeed, a good portion of Lugo’s leg is already past McKenry’s glove in that dimension. That’s two! It’s also pretty obvious that on the y, or vertical axis, glove and leg intersect. There are folds in Lugo’s pants that visibly rise above lower portions of the glove, if only barely. But now, attempting to audit the z axis, the “depth” dimension of this image, we don’t have enough data. It is only, after all, a 2-dimensional image, and we’re attempting to evaluate 3 spatial dimensions. The third is hidden from us, and its data is impossible to retrieve. There could be a substantial gap on the z axis between the glove and the leg, and that would be impossible for us to determine. It’s illustrated conceptually in the below image:

On the left is the perspective of our screenshot. The lines appear to intersect. On the right is what it might look like if we were able to rotate to a vantage point above McKenry and Lugo, looking down — the smallest gap on the z axis may be present. McKenry could be a tourist in Egypt, posing for the usual photo wherein he appears to be plucking the Great Pyramid of Giza from the ground with his fingertips, a parlor trick of perspective. In the format (x,y,z,t), his glove could be at (0,0,0,0) and Lugo’s leg may be at (0,0,2,0). The only way we could attempt to retrieve the z axis information is if we had two extremely high resolution screen shots, from two different perspectives, taken at the exact same instant in time. It is possible that the television crews of the respective teams have the capability to generate these, but we do not. We could approximate it by taking screen shots of different feeds, but it would be impossible to ensure with precision that we captured the same instant in time, making the data useless. It could be possible to indirectly infer the information we need — for example, if McKenry’s glove is visibly deformed it would be reasonable to conclude that the cause was Lugo’s leg, and that the hypothetical z axis gap does not exist after all. I’ve seen a few people assert that this effect is visible in the screen shot we used above. Here it is again, without my markups:

McKenry’s glove appears to be misshapen here. It looks as if part of the glove is obscured by Lugo’s leg, and that the middle portion of the glove is therefore being pushed in by the leg. This is the result of an anomalous spot on Lugo’s pants though. Look at this shot, taken an instant later. Circled is the brown spot that made it appear that McKenry’s glove was mashed up against Lugo’s leg. But now McKenry’s glove is raised substantially above Lugo’s leg, and the spot is still there. It’s either a shadow or dirt. So we can’t make any inferences from the shape of McKenry’s glove, at any rate.

The point, Neyer’s point, is that any and every two-dimensional screenshot or replay will have this same deficiency; we will never be able to evaluate with authority all four coordinates for both the glove and the leg, so we can never say for certain that they were touching. We will always lack one dimension worth of information. That being said, we can reasonably conclude, as most everyone has, that they were probably touching. I’ve arrived at that conclusion myself. That does nothing to indict Neyer’s message though, which is that Jerry Meals might have been right. Out of everyone, it was Jerry, standing a few inches from the origin, who collected the most information about all four axes. He probably interpreted the data incorrectly. But he might not have. Perhaps more importantly, there is no provision for him to review this data and reevaluate his conclusion, and there likely won’t be for quite some time.

June 28, 2011

Madson to 15 day DL

Filed under: Uncategorized — sometimesphylan @ 1:46 pm

A few days after it was first reported that Ryan Madson was having “feeling” issues with his hand (a revelation that J.R. Finger struggled mightily to extract from Charlie Manuel), news comes that the right-hander is being placed on the 15 day disabled list, retroactive to June 19th. Madson apparently sustained a bruise on his throwing hand over a month ago versus the Rangers, but only recently has it hampered his availability. Andrew Carpenter was recalled to fill his roster spot.

It’s hard to overstate the downgrade here, obviously. The Phillies have replaced one of the best relievers in the league with organizational filler. There is a chance — a chance — that Carpenter could be effective against right-handed hitters, posting a 3.86 xFIP against them in Lehigh Valley in 2010, but it’s almost certain that he’ll be deployed strictly in mop-up situations. Significantly, though, pitchers like David Herndon, Juan Perez, and Danys Baez will be bumped into more prominent roles, and the bulk of the important work will likely now fall on the shoulders of Michael Stutes and Antonio Bastardo. Both of the latter are having excellent seasons, but both have benefited from unsustainable luck thus far. Bastardo currently leads all qualified relievers with a 0.96 ERA, but several factors will work against him keeping it that low. He will not continue to limit opposing hitters to a .153 BABIP, nor will he continue to strand 99.1% of the baserunners he allows. The flyballs he surrenders have gone for home runs only 5.9% of the time so far, another number that will likely increase. Stutes, likewise, has overcome a 14.7% walk rate (league average is 8.3%) on the strength of some batted ball luck (.224 BABIP) and a very kind 81.6% strand rate.

The good news is that both pictures have excellent strikeout rates — 30.8% for Bastardo and 25.5% for Stutes (league average is 18.2%). Thanks to their ability to miss bats, ERA retrodictors are still fairly kind to them; if Bastardo and Stutes are true to their respective 3.04 and 4.01 SIERAs, that will still be plenty productive for the Phillies pen. But the organization must be cautious not to overreact to any substantial bumps in the road as these two experience regression. They also must consider whether the overall weakness of the rest of the pen — Baez, Carpenter, Herndon, Mathieson, Perez — merits resorting to an external solution in a fairly thin reliever trade market. If not, the thinness of the pen as currently constituted will make proper leveraging all the more important, and all the more difficult. Assuming Bastardo, with his elite strikeout rate, is the closer (a Charlie Manuel bullpen cannot be without a strictly defined closer), the rest of the pen should be used something like this (in order of highest to lowest leverage situation): Stutes, Herndon, Mathieson, Perez, Carpenter, Baez, based on major and minor league performance in 2010 and 2011. Carpenter and Baez may be interchangeable. It’s not pretty, and doesn’t account for platoon situations, but there isn’t really a lot of flexibility with a pen this weak. If rotation injuries hadn’t demanded the services of Vance Worley and Kyle Kendrick as starters, the story might be different.

That Madson’s DL stint is retroactive to June 19th means he can return July 4th if he feels he is ready. Hopefully this reflects an organizational opinion that the injury isn’t that serious, and the Phillies will only have to rely on a razor-thin bullpen for a few days. If not, the starting rotation will find their safety net — already made meager by an unsupportive offense — eroded even further.

June 1, 2011

Cliff Lee is Probably Fine

Filed under: Uncategorized — sometimesphylan @ 6:15 pm

This feels like the sort of post I should not be writing at the beginning of June. Cliff Lee was roughed up for six earned runs over five and one third innings last night, including two home runs surrendered to Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa. It was Lee’s twelfth start in a season that has been punctuated both by brilliance, such as his 16 strikeout performance against the Braves earlier this month, and by some rough going. Currently, through 80 innings pitched, Lee’s ERA stands at 3.94. Of course, ERA never tells the whole story (or even, sometimes, any significant part of it), so we look to the ERA retrodictors for a different take on Lee’s inputs — things that Lee controls, such as strikeouts, walks, and groundball rate. By their reckoning, Cliff Lee is pitching extremely well right now; his SIERA is 2.81, and his xFIP is even better, at 2.63. It’s tempting, then, to draw parallels to Cole Hamels’ infamous 2009 season, when, through his first 81 innings, he had posted a 4.44 ERA, thanks mostly to an inflated .366 BABIP. Lee, similarly, sports a .344 BABIP, and seems to have been on the wrong end of some fortunately-placed groundballs.

Still, from the viewer perspective, it can sometimes seem as if something is a bit off with Clifton. For one thing, his control has deteriorated a bit. His 5.6% walk rate so far this season is not out of line with his career figure, but it is his highest since 2007, and in the intervening period he’s developed a reputation for being extremely stingy with the free passes. Nobody could have expected him to repeat last year’s walk total of twelve (twelve!), but it was still surprising to seem him surpass that mark on May 16th of this season. It’s difficult to pinpoint the culprit for this. He’s throwing about the same percentage of strikes that he did in 2010, and opponents are swinging less, but not significantly so. He is throwing substantially less first pitch strikes than in 2010, which, one could speculate, could cause him to be more careful with hitters as he falls behind in the count. On hitter’s counts, he does throw his changeup much more than usual, but he doesn’t have a problem locating it; it is a strike 71% of the time, and it generates the most whiffs of any of his pitches save the curveball. And even considering the uptick in walk rate, he’s still well below the league average (8.6%), and it certainly hasn’t perturbed his SIERA or xFIP.

Lee’s homerun rate has risen, but only by one half of one percent, currently sitting at 2.5% (the league average is 2.7%). He is actually allowing less flyballs than either of his previous two seasons, but his homerun/flyball percentage has increased to 10%, not having risen above 6.5% for any of the seasons from 2008-2010. This is not a metric that reflects significant sustainable skill, and there is no reason to assume there is much more to that than some quantum jostlings and park factors. In his time at Citizens Bank Park in 2009 and Rangers Ballpark in Arlington in 2010, his HR/FB percentages were 8.0% and 8.7% respectively.

Opposing Hitter wOBA
Split Cutter 2 Seam FB 4 Seam FB Changeup Curveball
Balls in Play .489 .358 .309 .445 .245
All PA ending .368 .290 .266 .375 .108

Notably, hitters seem to be mashing Cliff’s cutter. The chart at left shows opposing hitter wOBAs for his different pitch types, for both balls put into play and all plate appearances ending on that pitch (effectively, adding walks and strikeouts to the batted balls). So far, hitters have been most successful against the cutter, managing a .489 wOBA on cutters put in play, and .368 on plate appearances that ended on a cutter. Compare that to last year’s figures, .361 and .271 respectively. There isn’t what you’d call a significant difference between how lefties and righties handle the pitch; on cutters put in play, left-handed batters have posted a wOBA of .515 (20 PA), right-handed batters .477 (45 PA). For all plate appearances ending on a cutter, lefties have a wOBA of .368 (28 PA), righties .369 (68 PA). The cutter-bashing could be concerning, since Lee has ramped up his use of the pitch recently, using it for 22.7% of his pitches so far in 2011, while it constituted just 9.5% of his pitches from 2009-2010. None of this necessarily means anything, though. As you can see, the sample sizes we’re talking about here are not worthy of drawing serious conclusions from, and wOBA is of course subject to Lee’s previously mentioned unfortunate BABIP.

It might seem like lazy saber-bating to just chalk Lee’s outcomes up to luck, but it’s difficult to read the analysis any other way. It is probably the case that our observations are confounded by too many biases. We see Lee striking out hitters at elite rates, and expect elite overall outcomes. We champ at the bit to watch every start by a Phillie ace, and are disappointed when it goes poorly. That is the reality though — every pitcher has bad starts, and bad luck. Hamels managed to have some of the worst luck imaginable for an entire season, and while to some it seemed impossible that fortune could be the only thing at play, the following season validated his defense-and-luck independent indicators. There is nothing in Cliff Lee’s performance right now to suggest that this is anything but a bad run of fortune and perhaps a few poorly chosen cutters. In his last seven games of 2009, Lee had an even worse stretch, running up a 6.13 ERA fueled by a .386 BABIP over about 40 innings. There was nothing wrong with him then, and there isn’t now. After the next several starts, expect Lee to look less like his ERA and more like his SIERA.

May 27, 2011

Ben Francisco’s Luck Will Improve

Filed under: Uncategorized — sometimesphylan @ 2:14 pm

It’s always frustrating watching a spring training darling smack headlong into reality when the regular season starts. Last year, it was Kyle Kendrick, who spent February and March under the tutelage of Roy Halladay, honing his sinker, adding a pitch (supposedly), and growing a beard that was, frankly, a fringy Major League offering. We know how that turned out. Kendrick posted another poor set of peripherals, turning out 180 and 2/3rds innings of 88 ERA+ performance (recall that 100 is league average). The curtain was lifted, the hype swept away, and he was still the same Kyle Kendrick. Fortunately for him, that’s enough to earn over $2 million in arbitration, and high leverage duties in Charlie Manuel’s bullpen, but that’s another story.

This year, the candidate for this brand of disappointment seems to be Ben Francisco. Ben was regarded as a solid throw-in to the 2009 trade that brought Cliff Lee to the Phillies, but he hadn’t exactly blown anyone away in his first four seasons. From 2007-2010, he hit .263/.329/.446, good for a 105 OPS+ and wRC+. Both numbers indicate he was about league average over that period. This would be fine if Francisco were a center fielder, but his glove doesn’t hold up at that position. Ben is restricted either to left or right field, and from a corner outfielder, you want more offense than that; the league OPS+ at the right and left field positions in 2010 was 115 and 111, respectively, and that’s the average. This is all a long way of saying that Francisco is, at best, a 4th outfielder. With Jayson Werth (who posted a 145 OPS+ in 2010) departing for the Nationals, and Domonic Brown sidelined indefinitely by a fractured hamate bone in early March, the bottom line was that the Phillies needed more out of Francisco than they could possibly get.

As they often do, the gears of media hype and spring hopefulness ground away to fill the gap. Francisco did have a great spring, hitting .361/.439/.667 in 72 at bats. It so happens, though, that he always has great springs — he hasn’t posted a spring OPS below .900 since 2007. And I don’t have to recount all of the usual reasons why spring training performances should be taken with a grain of salt. Still, by and large, his production escaped the usual skepticism that should be applied to spring training results. Particularly when Francisco got off to a blazing start in the first ten games of the regular season, hitting .308/.386/.513, a lot of fans and writers were unable to properly manage expectations for Francisco.

Now, 49 games into the 2011 season, the results are disappointing, even for those who expected no great improvement from Francisco. He’s hitting .215/.325/.375, good for a 93 OPS+, and only the recent return of Domonic Brown has eased the fears that Ben’s struggles will be representative of the Phillies’ offense as a whole. Under the surface, though, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic, as long as you don’t hold him to his spring training standards. For one thing, he is striking out less, and walking more, at least at the moment. He is striking out in 13.5% of his plate appearances, compared to a career mark of 17.7% (17.8% in 2010). His 11.2% walk rate is up about 4 points from last year, and 3 points above his career rate. Strikeout and walk rate for hitters stabilize at about 150 plate appearances and 200 plate appearances respectively. Francisco has accrued 170 plate appearances in 2011, so it’s starting to get to the point where we can legitimately wonder whether he has made a sustainable improvement in his plate discipline.

More noticeably, though, Francisco is having a lot of rotten luck with his batted ball outcomes. His BABIP sits at .216 currently. Hitters, of course, have a lot more control over their BABIP than pitchers, so this doesn’t necessarily indicate that luck is to blame. But .216 is a huge departure from his .287 career BABIP, and his batted ball profile has not diverged substantially from his career figures — his line drive rate, for example, exactly matches his career mark. In fact, when you break his BABIP down by batted ball type, the source of his misfortune becomes obvious. Francisco’s success on ground balls and flyballs is commensurate with the league average values. On line drives, though, he has just a .909 OPS, compared to a league mark of 1.696. This is entirely attributable to his .455 BABIP on line drives. Only 45.5% of Francisco’s hardest hit balls are falling for hits, which is well out of line with both league averages and his own career figures. Check out this graph:

I’ve included league figures for years prior to the start of Francisco’s career just to illustrate how stable line drive BABIP is. This should make sense; the only real way to make an out on a line drive is to hit it directly at (or within a few steps of) a fielder. You can generally expect around 72% of them to become hits, and this goes for slugger and Bruntlett alike, from year to year. Ben’s 2011 is clearly anomalous. His line drives (and he’s hitting a decent amount of them) will not continue to be outs 54.5% of the time. Over his next 200-300 plate appearances, or however many he manages to log this season, his line drives will find the grass the usual 70% or more of the time, and his line drive OPS will recover to something resembling normal. This will combine with his plate discipline improvements (if he can sustain them) to do wonders for his on-base average and slugging percentage.

It’s important to stress, though, that while he’s better than his current .700 OPS, he will not recover to anything much better than what he always has been — about a league average hitter. Then again, he’s been a league average hitter from 2007-2010. In 2011, the standards for “average,” at least thus far, have relaxed a bit. The league OPS sits at .707, which is the lowest it has been since 1992. If this trend persists, perhaps Francisco’s value, at least relative to the rest of the league, could be on the rise. The uptick in walk rate may allow his on-base percentage to creep closer to .340 (his career figure is .329), which would be helpful in a lineup that is currently making quite a lot of outs.

All of this makes him a very useful fourth outfielder, much more so than John Mayberry Jr., who has compiled an 88 OPS+ over 93 plate appearances with much better luck than Francisco has had. The “fourth” bit there is important, because, as I’ve written, there is no reason for any of Francisco, Mayberry Jr., or Gload to be taking away plate appearances from Domonic Brown. Francisco probably merits consideration as a platoon partner for Raul Ibanez, but that won’t happen so long as Ibanez continues his present hot streak (which he likely will not; even so, it’s clear that it would take a lot for him to lose his starting job). With Brown and Utley returned to the lineup, the Phillies’ offense will likely make some progress in moving up the OPS and runs per game leaderboards, hopefully taking some pressure off of the pitching staff (though they’ve been more than up to the task), and taking the spotlight off of Francisco. Ben’s luck is bound to improve, and he will be able to stake his claim on the Phillies roster as more-than-adequate bench bat.


* A particularly observant reader might note that I’ve ripped off Bill Baer’s graph format of choice. I’m no Crossing Broad, so I just want to note that it is one of the best options offered by Excel for displaying the maximum amount of data, and yes, its usefulness did occur to me while reading Crashburn Alley.

May 23, 2011

The Book of Chase

Filed under: Uncategorized — sometimesphylan @ 1:56 pm

1 After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Ruben and the Manuel went to view the tomb. 2 Suddenly there was a violent earthquake, because an angel of Baseba’al descended from heaven and approached. He rolled back the stone and was sitting on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his robe was as white as snow. 4 The guards were so shaken from fear of him that they became like dead men.

5 But the angel told Rube and the Manuel, “Don’t be afraid, because I know you are looking for Chase who was disabled. 6He is not here! For He has been reactivated, just as He said. Come and see the place where He rehabbed. 7 Then go quickly and tell His disciples, ‘He has been raised from the DL. In fact, He is going ahead of you to the Diamond; you will see Him there.’ Listen, I have told you.”

8 So, departing quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, they ran to tell His disciples the news. 9 Just then Chase met them and said, “Good morning!” They came up, took hold of His feet, and worshiped Him. 10 Then Chase told them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell My teammates to leave for Citizens’, and they will see Me there.”

11 Now that same day two of the disciples were on their way to a village called Chickie’s. Together they were discussing everything that had taken place. 12 And while they were discussing and arguing, Chase Himself came near and began to walk along with them. 13 But they were prevented from recognizing Him.  14 Then He asked them, “What is this dispute that you’re having with each other as you are walking?” And they stopped, discouraged.

15 One answered Him, “Are You the only visitor in Philadelphia who doesn’t know the things that happened there in these days?”

16 “What things?” He asked them.

So they said to Him, “The things concerning Chase the Ball Player, who was a middle infielder powerful in glove and bat before Baseba’al and all the people, 17 and how our chief writers and talk radio hosts handed Him over to be sentenced to decline, and He was disabled.  18 But we were hoping that He was the One who was about to redeem Philadelphia. Besides all this, it’s the sixtieth day since these things happened. 19 Moreover, some news from Rube and the Manuel astounded us. They arrived early at the tomb, 20 and when they didn’t find His body, they came and reported that they had seen a vision of angels who said He was reactivated. 21 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as they had said, but they didn’t see Him.”

22 He said to them, “How unwise and slow you are to believe in your hearts all that the prophets have spoken! 23 Didn’t the Schmidt have to sufferthese things and enter into His glory?” 24 Then beginning with Delahanty and all the Retired, He interpreted for them the things concerning Himself in all the Seasons Past.

25 The 24 teammates traveled to Citizens’, to the Diamond where Chase had directed them. 26 When they saw Him, they worshiped, but some doubted. He said to them, “Peace to you!” 27 But they were startled and terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost. 28 “Why are you troubled?” He asked them. “And why do doubts arise in your hearts? 29 Look at My bat and My glove, that it is I Myself! Pitch to Me and see, because a ghost does not have Dingers and Ribbies as you can see I have.” 30 Having said this, He showed them His bat and glove. 31 But while they still could not believe because of their joy and were amazed, He asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 32 So they gave Him a piece of a soft pretzel, 33 and He took it and ate in their presence.

 Then Chase came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in Offense and on Defense. 34 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all opponents, booing them in the name of the Hamels and of the Chase and of the Phillie Phanatic, 35 teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of my contract.”

May 20, 2011

Don’t Platoon Dom

Filed under: Uncategorized — sometimesphylan @ 9:01 pm

Less than a day after suggesting that Domonic Brown was “not ready” to be called up to the majors to replace Shane Victorino, Ruben Amaro reversed course and added Brown to the 25 man roster on Friday afternoon. While the circumstances precipitating the move left significant questions about the certitude of the usually methodical front office, it was welcome news to Phillies fans, who had watched their corner outfielders eke out a collective .236/.313/.353 line for the first 43 games of the 2011 season. On the mend from a hamate fracture that sidelined him for the beginning of the season, Brown has hit .341/.431/.537 in 11 games with AAA Lehigh Valley and promises to supplement an offense that ranks 22nd in the MLB in OPS, and 19th in runs per game. And yet, shortly after the news that Brown was headed to Philadelphia, Charlie Manuel posted a lineup that did not include him. Furthermore, as Jim McCormack reported, Manuel said that he will not play against left-handed pitching “at first,” but “eventually” will. Manuel emphasized that his playing time won’t be as limited as it was last year, when he only accrued 70 plate appearances over 60 games, but it’s difficult to guess at how committed he is to that pledge. It’s a bit puzzling, since, according to reports, it was Manuel who lobbied Ruben Amaro to have Brown called up in the first place.

YEAR/SPLIT LEVEL PA AVG OBP SLG OPS BB% K%
2010/LHP AAA 49 .311 .367 .400 .767 8.1 20.4
2010/RHP AAA 64 .356 .406 .678 1.084 6.2 20.3
2010/LHP AA 60 .315 .383 .648 1.031 10 16.6
2010/RHP AA 204 .318 .402 .592 .994 11.2 19.1
2009/LHP AA 58 .315 .362 .537 .899 6.8 22.4
2009/RHP AA 91 .277 .341 .422 .763 8.7 23
2009/LHP A+ 70 .283 .386 .517 .903 12.8 10
2009/RHP A+ 200 .305 .395 .500 .895 12.5 20.5
2008/LHP A 124 .269 .363 .315 .678 12.1 12.9
2008/RHP A 384 .295 .391 .443 .834 12.7 14.6

If Domonic Brown settles into a platoon role for a significant amount of time, it would be a misguided move. For one thing, platooning your five tool super prospect when he hits the majors is a good way to turn him into a bust. If the concern is that he cannot hit left-handed pitching at the major league level, there is no better way to help him develop that skill than to allow him to face them. If Brown is just beginning to receive full-time starts a year from now, and seems unable to hit lefties, management will have only themselves to blame. More importantly, Brown has never truly struggled against left-handed pitching in his minor league career. See the chart at right, which shows Dom’s platoon splits for minor league stints since 2008 wherein he tallied at least 100 plate appearances. There are some splits here, but nothing all that dire, and nothing that shows significant struggles against lefties, perhaps with the exception of his 2008 season with Lakewood.

Take all of these stints together and you get a collective .293/.371/.458 line (.829 OPS) against left-handers with a 10.5% walk rate and a 15.5% strikeout rate, and a .305/.390/.502 line (.892 OPS) against right-handers with a 11.5% walk rate and an 18% strikeout rate. In his Lehigh Valley appearances so far this season, Brown has hit .316/.364/.526 against lefties, and .364/.483/.545 against righties, although that’s admittedly a small sample. It’s pretty obvious, though, that Brown’s platoon tendencies are quite reasonable, and not at all out of line with the differentials you usually see in talented major league hitters. Leaving him out of the lineup against lefties consistently, however, might quickly change that. I sympathize with the concerns about keeping Domonic’s confidence at a high level, but coddling him when he need not be coddled accomplishes nothing, and may even hurt his development in the long run.

Beyond the concerns about Brown, there just isn’t much to gain from his potential platoon partners. Raul Ibanez is hitting .222/.282/.389 against southpaws. Ben Francisco isn’t faring any better, at .189/.268/.243. Granted, he usually succeeds against lefties, and that small sample performance figures to improve, but Francisco seems destined for a career as a fourth outfielder, and Brown’s ceiling is immeasurably higher. There’s no reason for Francisco to be sapping plate appearances from Domonic. Right now John Mayberry Jr. is the only corner outfielder with substantial production against left-handed pitching, and he’ll be needed in centerfield during Victorino’s stay on the disabled list. If the Phillies had a clear-cut lefty-killing candidate for the role, it might be worth a discussion, but there is just no reason, at this moment, not to pencil Brown into the lineup every day.

It’s entirely possible that this is all an overreaction. It’s tough to tell what Charlie means by “eventually,” but it could be that this is a temporary strategy that he will quickly phase out. If he does not, he’ll likely pay the price for tampering with the playing time of a blossoming young prospect.

May 12, 2011

Sadgraphs

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — sometimesphylan @ 3:21 pm

Through the first 6 innings of last night’s game, it seemed like one of those nights where the Phillies just had no shot at winning. Cliff Lee was pitching well enough, but, as has been the story too often this season, the bats were silent. Following a John Buck single and Mike Stanton sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 6th, the Marlins led 3-0 and were sitting on a victory that was 91% assured, per win expectancy. Pack it in, savor the off-day, be thankful that the Phils didn’t get swept. In the very next inning, though, a Phillies rally was forged, as it seemingly so often is, by an improbable collection of hitters, and beginning with an opponent’s mistake. With Raul Ibanez on second, Gaby Sanchez was unable to handle a soft grounder from Dane Sardinha, putting men at the corners for pinch hitter Pete Orr. Orr fouled off four pitches and doubled on the sixth pitch of his at-bat, scoring Ibanez. Ross Gload, hitting for Lee, contributed an RBI ground out to bring the Phillies within one run. Victorino added a solo shot in the 8th to tie the game, and, all of the sudden, the game seemed very winnable. Then this happened:

If you were on Twitter, you probably saw the shockwave of disbelief that emanated forth. Likewise, I’m sure quite a few coffee tables in the Delaware Valley were pounded when the broadcast returned from commercial and Kendrick was perched on the mound. In the end, Kendrick got lucky (again); he allowed two baserunners but escaped the inning with a double play off the bat of John Buck. That does nothing to excuse the move, though, and it was far from an isolated event. Charlie Manuel has consistently used Kendrick in the most inexplicable of circumstances since the season began. Observe:

The above graph shows the leverage index for all of Ryan Madson and Kyle Kendrick’s batters faced in relief, sorted highest to lowest. As a brief refresher, or in case you are unfamiliar, leverage index is a sort of quantification of the importance of a given scenario, dependent upon the score, the inning, the base situation (runner on 1st, bases empty, bases loaded, etc.), and the number of outs. The higher the leverage index, the greater the change in win expectancy that can occur as a result of the plate appearance in question. The average is 1. By way of example, when John Buck batted for the home team in a tie game in the bottom of the eighth, with the go-ahead run on 2nd, the leverage index was 3.59 — quite high. With one swing of the bat, Buck could have radically altered the Marlins’ probability of winning the game. In the top of the 1st, when Placido Polanco batted with the bases empty and 2 outs, the leverage index was 0.40 — quite low. Since it was a scoreless tie and very early in the game, there is not much Polanco could have done to significantly change the probability that either team would win. You can “feel” leverage index as you watch the game. When you think to yourself, “this at bat is a huge moment,” the leverage index is likely very high. The number itself is just a way of objectively measuring it.

Anyway, what this graph shows is that, amazingly, the twenty-one most important scenarios in which Kyle Kendrick pitched in relief so far this season were all of a higher leverage than Ryan Madson’s top twenty-one. You’ve already seen this graph, but you don’t know it. Every time Kyle Kendrick has taken the mound, every time Charlie Manuel has produced some inscrutable quote about his bullpen strategy, every time Ryan Madson has been left sitting in the dugout, waiting through vital spots in the game for the arbitrary set of circumstances that constitute a save opportunity to occur, a piece of this graph spontaneously manifested on a higher plane of baseball existence and was burnt directly into your subconscious. Here it is now, in all of its terrible glory, for you to behold. Like any good blogger, I will say what need not be said: this graph should not be. If Charlie Manuel were properly leveraging his relievers, using the best ones for the most important points in the game, this graph would be flipped, and there would be a wider gulf between the lines. Instead, Manuel is electing to forgo his tire-chained Land Rover in favor of a 1979 Toyota Tercel on a blustery day in Lake County, Minnesota.

Don’t be fooled by Kendrick’s 1.42 ERA. We’ve seen enough warning track fly balls and first-pitch-swinging bailouts to know that he’s getting tremendously lucky. Kyle has a .213 BABIP in relief appearances this year. Kendrick’s SIERA is 6.56 — that is, given his current profile of walks, strikeouts, and batted ball types (flyballs, groundballs, popups) you would expect his ERA to be 6.56. SIERA is a better predictor of future ERA than ERA itself. The difference between Kyle’s SIERA and his ERA, Matt Swartz notes, “seems to be the biggest difference in calculable history of SIERA (2003-10) for anyone with 15 innings or more in a season.” The upshot is, Kyle Kendrick is going to come crashing down. Soon. To an extent not commonly seen. And when he does, the Phillies and their fans will pay dearly for Charlie Manuel’s decision to put him on the mound in some of the most crucial situations that the team faces. Add it to the list of factors working against the team sustaining its current pace.

While we’re looking at graphs that should not exist in their current form, how about this one:

J.C. Romero, re-signed on the cheap, ostensibly for his (overstated, in my opinion) effectiveness against left-handed batters, has faced 22 right-handed batters and 12 left-handed batters so far in 2011. In 2010 he faced 74 righties — 70 or so more than he should have. In fact, as David Hale tweeted, right-handers have accounted for more than half of Romero’s workload in each year since 2008, save 2010, where they still constituted 43% of his opposing batters. If Romero’s staggering futility against right-handed batters needs restating, allow me to quote myself:

For some reason that Charlie Manuel either hasn’t been asked about or hasn’t bothered to explain, an absurd 43% (74 out of 171) of the batters that J.C. faced in 2010 were right-handed — and Romero is distinctly, astoundingly awful against them. By win probability added, Romero cost the Phillies nearly two-thirds of a win in his efforts against right-handers, while he gained them almost half of a win against lefties. At least by that measure, allowing him to face so many right-handers entirely canceled out his success against lefties, and then some. Right-handed batters posted a .452 on-base percentage against Romero in 2010, despite only a .231 batting average, so you can guess how they were getting on-base; Romero walked an abysmal 11.85 righties per 9 innings, compared to a 5.27 K/9. Pitching against right-handed hitters, Romero’s usage of his fastball dropped about 28%, mostly in favor of his slider, which he struggles mightily to control. He threw 54 sliders to right-handed hitters in 2010, and just eight of them resulted in a called strike. A sizeable majority, 63%, were taken for balls. He induced only three swinging strikes and four fouls on the pitch.

For all that’s been said about this team — the below average offense, the easy April schedule, the injury issues — it is still one that is well-built to compete. But to overcome those sorts of obstacles, wins need to be squeezed from the margins of games. One way to do that is to use the bullpen as optimally as possible. The Phillies must match the pieces of their arsenal with the scenarios that are best fit to their talents and deficits. Charlie, old school baseball mind that he is, manages his bullpen almost always on the innings level, with roles defined in a way that has little to do with the hitter, the importance of a given situation, or the platoon matchup. His bullpen principles are simply not granular enough to be tailored most beneficially to the scenario at hand. Back before opening day, for Crashburn Alley’s Phillies blogger roundtable, I wrote this:

I actually find this pen to be acceptable, if it were used optimally.

This means that Romero can’t face 74 right-handed batters again, as he did in 2010. In fact, it would be preferable if he didn’t face any at all, although I suppose a few over the course of the season would be inevitable. It means that Baez should be banished to mop-up duty only, and Kendrick restricted to righties (who’ve hit just .258/.303/.397 against him in his career) in low to medium leverage situations. It means Contreras should log a lot of innings if he stays healthy, and preferably most of the high leverage situations that aren’t pitched by Ryan Madson.

I acknowledged later in my response that, knowing Manuel’s style, I had no expectation that things would happen that ideally. But I did not imagine that, one month and change into the season, the bullpen use would have unfolded so exactly at odds with what I was describing — almost perfectly bad. All things considered, the outcomes for the bullpen have not been that bad, but that’s not something that is sustainable. If these trends continue, the Phillies will be adding a self-created handicap to an already substantial list of challenges they face.

April 6, 2011

Hmm, Let’s Search Openbook for “Hamels”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — sometimesphylan @ 5:36 pm

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