Sunday, April 29, 2012

Phills Different Approach- Beating the ball into the ground

Back in October, I hypothesized Ruben Amaro's "different approach" was to hit more groundballs in favor of foul balls:
"If I were taking a guess, I'd say the different approach consists of attempting to hit more groundballs. It's obvious power throughout the lineup is declining. It's very possible the Phillies will not have a 30 home run-hitter next year. What you don't want is guys who cannot clear the fences consistently to just hit flies all day.
On the flipside, as they get older, their speed evaporates too. If they do decide to hit more grounders, I do not think they'll be getting too many infield singles." 
As of right now, that hypothesis is looking more correct each day.

After losing to the Cardinals in the postseason, fans were clamoring for this different approach, even if they couldn't actually digest what they wanted changed. My perception is they wanted to be more like the Cardinals. I found that ironic since all these fans complain about Rollins swinging excessively at the first pitch(which he doesn't) and the Cardinals were among the league leaders in that category.

Through April 28, both of those changes, especially the affinity for groundballs, is evident. Of the five mainstays currently playing this year, each of them except for Victorino has seen their groundball rate rise. In the case of Rollins, Ruiz, and Pence, it has been significant. As for first-pitch swinging, four of them have seen their rates rise.

Player  2012
1st Pitch Swing%
2011 1st
Pitch Swing%
2011 BB%2012























































In case you haven't noticed, the Phillies are hitting singles almost exclusively. That's what happens when you hit groundball after groundball. Sure, you're BABIP will rise because of it(.294 this year vs. .283 in 2011) but extra base hits will be few and far between. If this is the approach Amaro insisted upon, it'll be just another mistake. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Missing Howard more than Utley? What?

It's no secret the Phillies offense is dreadful right now. Missing half of your four best offensive players will do that. There's no denying Howard and Utley are better overall than the players replacing them. But some people, such as Lehigh Valley writer Mandy Housenick from the Morning Call acxtually believe missing Howard means more to this team.

Anybody who thinks the Phillies miss Chase Utley more than, or even as much as Ryan Howard, are in denial.
It's not just a river in Egypt. Yep, I'm in denial that the better player is missed more. I have a feeling she doesn't know of the concepts of position scarcity, defense, baserunning, and RBI not being a good way in measuring players.

They've let their past love affair with Utley and their frustrations stemming from Howard's strikeouts to end the team's last two postseason runs cloud their judgment.
The numbers tell you that. The players will — in a roundabout way — have said that. And management — in so many words — has hinted at that.
 Wonder if that love affair stems from him being one of the best players in baseball since 2005? By the way, you have to look on the second page of that list to find Howard. I don't make a big deal out of any one or two strikeouts. It's when you are striking out over a third of the time in the postseason, being shut down against any lefty, providing below average defense, poor baserunning all while getting paid as one of the very best players in the game that guides my frustration.

Guys on this team — from pitchers to position players — have reiterated that without Howard, opposing pitchers don't have anyone to fear in this lineup. That, in turn, puts pressure on the rest of the hitters to make things happen.
 Then shouldn't Howard be walking much more when he does play? When in doubt, writers love the intangibles than can't be proven. But the solution is clear. Sign Scarecrow. Against someone who can scare Batman, R.A. Dickey would be shitting bricks.

And they're not happening.
Howard (Achilles)and Utley (knee) have not played yet this season and there is no timetable for either's return.
"We don't have a guy that can go up there in any situation who seems like he could hit a ball out of any part of the yard," shortstop Jimmy Rollins said.
And right now, lot of those homers would be solo jobs. The bigger problem is the lack of players reaching base. As we know, if there's no one on base for Howard, he becomes much worse.

General manager Ruben Amaro Jr.has conceded that Utley's power numbers may never again be what they were. Again, another sign Howard is the guy they need.
It's true that Utley will never regain the power he once had as he struggled pulling the ball last year with that bad knee. But Howard will never regain his power either. He's never going to sniff 40 homers again. His slugging and isolated slugging consistently trend downward from 2006. And with this current injury, there's a strong possibility he'll never reach 30 homers again.

And Manuel has been forced to fiddle with the lineup. So far through 13 games, he's used 10 batting orders. He warned us all. He said he would. But chances are those changes wouldn't be so drastic or made with such frequency if Howard were here.
 And neither one of them have been optimal.

The most obvious sign, though, this team misses Howard more than Utley screams at you via the numbers.
 This is where the fun should begin.

Through 13 games last season when the Phillies had a healthy Howard but were playing without Utley, they were 9-4 and their offense didn't miss a beat.
•Runs: 73
•Runs per game: 5.62
•Were shut out: 0
•Home runs: 10
•Extra-base hits: 37
•Slugging percentage: .426
•On-base percentage: .349
•Batting average: .298
•OPS: .775
This year, the difference is the Phillies, who are 6-7 and in last place in the NL East, don't have Howard, and the numbers have taken a drastic hit through 13 games.
•Runs: 37 (15th in NL)
•Runs per game: 2.85 (15th in NL)
•Been shut out: 2 (Tied-16th in NL)
•Home runs: 6 (Tied-14th in NL)
•Extra-base hits: 23 (15th in NL)
•Slugging percentage: .325 (15th in NL)
•On-base percentage: .280 (14th in NL)
•Batting average: .243 (10th in NL)
•OPS: .605 (15th in NL)
 13 games. A 13 game sample. Anything can happen in a 13 game sample. Red Sox had the worst record in baseball during that same stretch. And that mighty Kansas City team had the most runs in the American League in that stretch as well. How about extrapolating that out a bit?
Through May 22, 2011(46 games) the Phillies were 12th in the National League in scoring at 3.83 runs per game. From the time Utley came back on May 23 through the Pence trade on July 29(59 games), the Phillies were 2nd in the NL at 4.71 runs per game.

This team, with just 143 total bases (14th in the league) through 13 games, has tried to the small ball approach. The Phillies are taking chances on the bases by trying to go from second base to home on singles with one out. They're attempting double steals. They've stolen third, albeit the timing hasn't been perfect on all of them. Guys who have never been involved in hit and runs are doing just that. And they're have bunted more this season than their last five NL East championship teams, even if it means that's not in their comfort zone.
Consistently playing small ball is a good way to reduce the total amount of runs scored. This team cannot afford to sacrifice outs more than they should.

"Honestly, it's something I've thought about for years but I just wasn't brave enough to bunt," Rollins said. "But with those guys being out of the lineup, I'm more brave to get it done because it's more essential to get it done."
Rollins said he knew his at-bats would have to change early in spring training when he saw how different the lineup looked.

"It's easy to get up there and swing. Oh, I was trying to drive in a run. It takes a lot of courage to sacrifice yourself, even if it's a guy that you own, but I have to do what's best for the team. And it's really about that. Whatever it takes to win. I think it comes with age.
"There are situations where it just makes sense. I've seen [former major-league infielderDavid] Eckstein, playing against him for years, do it. And you get mad, like, 'Why don't you swing.' Well he advanced a runner and the next guy hit a fly ball. It's 1-0. Now you're coming in on the other side already needing to score a run."
Maybe you don't want to give Rollins credit for that, but he deserves it. There's nothing easy about changing the way you've done things for more than a decade, even when/if they should be changed.
"It's one of those art forms that if you're not doing it a lot, it's hard to put yourself into a position to have success doing it," Amaro said. "Juan Pierre is a good bunter because he bunts a lot. If you're not doing it enough, then it gives you some pause because you feel like you might have a better opportunity just swinging the bat."
And I wonder how many of those times, Eckstein also sacrificed the team's ability to score multiple runs early in the game. Rollins is correct that there are certain situations- just not as often as many would think.

Review and Reactions from "Dodgers can learn from Phillies"'s Bill Baer recently had a write-up posted on ESPN's blog, "SweetSpot." Typically, intelligent Phillies articles and posts don't make it mainstream and given the view of the piece, I expected some ignorant comments.
As for the article itself, it is pretty succinct. Broken down into three main points, each I agree with, Baer stresses the depletion of the farm, Howard's ridiculous contract at a non-scarce position, and overpaying for bullpen help(closer). He could have delved into more sabermetric-based arguments, but I'm assuming he wanted to keep it simple for the audience.
I haven't actually read the comments as of this sentence, but I'm assuming most are going to be of the "OMG RBIZZZZ," the proven closer nonsense, lack of understanding of position scarcity, and defending Amaro by the Phillies' recent string of success.

Now for some of the reactions/comments....

"Wow, just a ridiculous article by Bill (and I generally agree with much of his thoughts). The Phils would be an excellent choice of any franchise looking for the blueprint of how to run a successful franchise. They have been a perennial contender for at least post season play for the last 11 years. They are a favorite to once again win the NL East title for the 6th consecutive year. They have the best starting staff in baseball, one of the best closers in the game and there is no reason to suspect that they have not become the NY Yankees of the Senior Circuit. They enjoy the greatest local popularity (based on TV ratings) of any team in baseball. With the upcoming new local TV contract increased revenue stream and the non-stop sell outs at Citizens Bank Park - they are well positioned to continue this run of success for many years to come. What makes anyone think they will not continue to increase payroll? Their insistence that they have limits have not prevented them from increasing payroll and adding players at the trade deadline every year in recent memory. If the Phils even simply reach the NLCS again this year it will mark the 4th time in 5 years they have reached the NL finals - to me that is mark of success any organization would be proud to call their own - including the LA Dodgers"

"Bill, man, what happened here? Don't follow the Phillies blue print? I guess if you're not looking to win 5 straight division titles, then yeah, do the opposite. Part of grooming prospects IS so that you can trade them for missing pieces if the big club is in a position to win. Like someone else said, I haven't lost much sleep over the prospects that have been dealt away thus far, except possibly in the Pence trade. But that was a win-now move. I'd say Pence is paying dividends and has injected a little bit of youth back into the team."

"Just ask...the Reds about Ryan Madson..." The Reds signed Madson to a one-year contract with an option for a second year. While you are trying to make the point that it is not wise to invest in relievers with large contracts, you were off-base by including Cincinnati's signing of Madson. There is nothing of shorter length than a one-year contract. He illustrates the point that relievers can fall to injury, but that isn't the point you were trying to make."

"other than oswalt, i think the phillies have done pretty well in the free agent market. thay have the lowest era in the national league, nearly all of their upper level farm teams are at or near first place. if you want a reason for the slow start, could possibly be the loss of 2 all stars from the starting line up. every time i see an article written by or for espn, i gotta laugh about how clueless thay are about philadelphia sports teams. i'm pretty sure the next home game will be the 212th sellout in a row, so who's to say that the money was poorly spent. when the phillies play in washington, the phillies phaithful nearly out number the home team fans, same thing in pittsburgh. sure its a sport, but at the major league level, it's entertainment too. i'm pretty sure phillies management is doing a good job in that department"

Dax Da Million
"Name one player not Drabek who is in the majors right now that was traded for current Phillies players...I'll wait... the grading of some of theses prospects by bloggers and insiders is weak at best none of them have panned out and the Phillies seemed to have made out it's injuries that have hurt them not lack of prospects."

"My 2 issues with the article
1) Howards deal no longer looks quite that awful considering the years and dollars Albert and Votto got, yes they are better players but still

2) The prospects he names up many of them are playing in the Majors?..and how many of them will never?..the answer is None and Most!"

"So the Phillies farm system is barren...who cares? They have Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay! They have 5 straight division titles! Isn't that the objective? I'm willing to bet that Ruben Amaro and the Phillies ownership has NO regrets. THAT'S what the Dodgers ownership should be learning. "

"All those prospects they traded are all-stars right?"

"Im sorry we only play 15 games in a season and decide on the bad and good teams."

"Positional scarcity? Keep the idea in the fantasy leagues. What is failed to be mentioned is the fact that a power-hitting 1B is going to command a high salary, much more than most CFs. If you take the argument all the way out, a team should pay more for a premium CF (if you can find one) than a premium 1B (much more likely). Just not a reality.... 

The Dodgers have a luxury with Kemp. It may allow the team to settle for a 2nd tier 1B. But how do expect a team like the Phillies to fill Howard's production with a CF or any other "premium" position?..."

I'm quite disappointed by the lack of entertaining material in the comments as there was a also a mix of Dodger fans and supporters of the articles. The "what have the prospects done" argument seems most prevalent but not the proper way to view such trades. Even though some of these prospects won't turn out(which is to be expected), many haven't had the opportunity yet, or they could have always been used as trading chips in the future when a better opportunity presents itself.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Mayberry Struggling Badly

After last year's hot stretch, there were some people who would actually say Mayberry is the future of the team. They won't admit to it now and unfortunately I don't have any screenshots, but there were. Because as we all know, a 28-year-old coming off their only big league success in under 300 plate appearances, despite a bad minor league career is a safer bet than a 24-year-old former top prospect.

In a previous post, I mentioned how important Mayberry's strikeout rate was to his success. 38 plate appearances is still a very small sample size for contact rate, but it's still alarming at what he's doing. Compared to his 18.6 percent strikeout rate last year, he's skyrocketed to 28.9 percent. Surprisingly, his overall contact rate, has actually remained constant according to Pitch F/X(77.0 percent vs. 77.3 percent). Instead, the biggest culprit has been his judgement of the strikezone. According to Pitch F/X, last year he swung at 27.2 percent of pitches outside the strikezone. This year, it's 38.4 percent.

Further adding to his misery, pitchers are getting ahead in the count much more often. He's seeing first pitch strikes over ten percentage points higher than last year(exactly numbers are dependent on which site you look at).

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

WIP/97.5 Silliness: Rickie Ricardo says Howard is a better player than Joey Votto

So the other night I just get done work and I'm in a relatively calm mood. I tune in on WIP and get news of the Joey Votto contract extension. Lot of money and lot of years. One of the first things that goes through my head is "I bet there's going to be people who are going to praise the Howard deal now." Inevitably, within the next five minutes, WIP host Rickie Ricardo flat out says that Ryan Howard is a better player than Joey Votto. Amazingly my head doesn't explode. Only further proves you don't actually have to be too knowledgeable at baseball to talk about it on the radio.

Peripherals to Watch in 2012

1. Hunter Pence walk-rate

For anyone thinking Pence will be able to replicate his numbers post-trade in 2011, you'll be disappointed. His .361 BABIP for the entire season will surely regress and he doesn't have as much power as he displayed in his 54 games with the Phills(11 homers). The most interesting difference pre and post trade, in my opinion, was the significant improvement in walk-rate. In Houston he walked 6.9 percent of the time (432 PAs) but jumped all the way to 11.0 percent in Philly (236 PAs). Unfortunately, he has gone through similar sample sizes in his career posting that high of a walk-rate, only to regress back.

2. Papelbon walk-rate(first-pitch strike percentage)

When Papelbon is at his best, not only does he rack up strikeouts but he has excellent control. Despite what ERA may suggest, his control was not good in 2009 and 2010. With two consecutive bad years, it was beginning to look like he was losing his dominance. But in 2011 he rebounded in a huge way, walking over 2 less batters per nine innings. Papelbon is being paid for his 2011 self, not 2009 and 2010. For Papelbon, you can pretty much tell how good or bad his walk-rate will be by his first-pitch strike percentage.

3. Utley GB% on pulled balls

Utley was significantly worse last year pulling the ball compared with his career marks. Knee issues are most likely the root of the problem. With those injuries, he mashed the ball to ground on the right side far too often. Since 2009, he's gone from 42.9 percent to 52.7 percent to a Valdez-esque 64.3 percent ground balls rates when pulling the ball. It's hard to hit for extra bases pounding the ball into the grass.

4. John Mayberry strikeout-rate

There's no question Mayberry has good power when he makes contact- but that's been his bugaboo through his career. He managed to significantly improve on it last year, striking out 18.6 percent in 296 plate appearances, but fans must remain cautiously optimistic. While almost 300 plate appearances is a decent sample size for contact rates, it's still a relatively small sample overall and has a questionable track record throughout his minor league career.

5. Vance Worley called strikes

Despite what his strikeout-rate suggests, Worley does not have swing and miss stuff. His called strike percentage was among the highest in the league last year and with less than one full major league season under his belt, it's too early to tell if it's a fluke or if he's another Doug Fister.