Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Phillies Week in Review, 6/19-6/25

With the start of my new full-time job, I am now in a position where I will need to regiment my lifestyle effectively in order to make sure I get the things done that I want to.  Since this blog is included in that collection of tasks, I will try to make sure to write at least once per week.  How better to ensure that than by having a weekly piece about the only thing that is consistently going on during the summer, the baseball season?  As a Philly guy, I have unique interest in the Phillies, so y'all are just going to live with me blabbering on about a sub-.500 team that many people are ignoring out of disappointment.
Let's see where this goes.

Team Performance

Record: 4-3 (35-40 overall)
Streak: W1
Division: Gained 1 game, 8 GB
Avg Opponents' Record*: 35-38

* Weighted average of current records of opponents during the week

As an average team, it's not altogether surprising to see the Phillies play about even with average teams.  They were just 5-10 against AL teams during interleague play, which is business as usual for them.  With 9 out of 12 remaining pre-All-Star games against division rivals, they have a real opportunity to make hay and get some momentum for the back end of the schedule.  With Chase Utley set to return quite soon, they might just get that boost.

Most Outstanding Hitters

Jimmy Rollins -- 31 PA, .393 AVG, .452 OBP, .929 SLG, 4 HR, 9 R, 7 RBI, 1 SB

He's on a J-Roll right now (yeah I said it), posting half of his home runs for the season this week and putting together an OPS of almost double his season average.  Everyone always says that he's the catalyst of the lineup, and perhaps that is the case, with the team scoring at least 7 runs 4 times this week.

Carlos Ruiz -- 28 PA, .348 AVG, .464 OBP, .522 SLG, 1 HR, 4 R, 4 RBI, 1 SB

His season averages are .354 AVG, .421 OBP, .561 SLG, and he just keeps on trucking.  The home run rate has slowed down after five jacks in May, but he's on pace for just about 20, which would more than double his career high of 9.  Not to mention that he stole as many bases as Rollins this week.  The man's got wheels.  Kinda.

Michael Martinez -- 20 PA, .050 AVG, .050 OBP, .200 SLG, 1 HR, 1 R, 3 RBI, 0 SB

Not only was he the worst Phillie at the plate this week, but he was the worst Phillie in the field as well (per FanGraphs), which naturally begs the question: why is he on the field?  Ever?  I know Mike Fontenot is boring (he has 20 hits, 18 of which are singles), but he is hitting over .340.

Most Outstanding Pitchers

Cole Hamels -- 15 IP, 1.20 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 14 K, 6 BB

The price for Hamels' services next year and beyond continues to stay at about $25 million per year as he continues a solid year surrounded by inconsistency and injury in the rotation.  The 6 walks are slightly bothersome by his standards, but they are his standards.

Raul Valdes -- 2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.50 WHIP, 4 K, 0 BB

Not exactly a big name or even a guy that pitched a lot, but it's worth acknowledging that he has struck out 17 of 52 batters faced this season while only walking one and allowing a .157 opponents' batting average.

BJ Rosenberg -- 0.2 IP, 27.00 ERA, 6.00 WHIP, 0 K, 4 BB

I'm as much a fan of Rosenbergs as the next guy, but definitely not in the athletic domain.  Mah Jongg, maybe.  There is a  silver lining -- he didn't allow a hit -- but that's simply because it would be imprudent for anyone to even swing at a pitch if he's walking 2/3 of the batters he faces.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Waiting on the Right Side of Your Infield to Change

            I’m not sure if any of you have heard, but the Phillies have been missing two of the cornerstones of their team the past five years, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, for the entirety of the 2012 season.  While Utley just started a rehab stint that could signal a return early in July, Howard has yet to start running and fielding and could be out until August, if not longer.  Phillies fans know that the past two weeks have been trying for the team, losing 9 of their last 10, and they now sit a hefty 9.5 games out of first place behind the Nationals, who themselves have won 8 of their last 10, and 5.5 games out of both Wild Card spots.  So how much will the returns of Utley and Howard be a boon to the team’s offense, possibly propelling them to a come-from-behind playoff berth?

            Phillies first basemen this season have produced a .257 / .316 / .401 BA/OBP/SLG this season, creating 0.112 runs per plate appearance (by FanGraphs’ Runs Created formula) and have a fielding Ultimate Zone Rating of 4.8 runs prevented when scaled per 150 games.  Last season, Ryan Howard posted a .253 / .346 / .488 line, created 0.143 runs per plate appearance, and had an UZR of -4.5 runs prevented on the same scale.  Howard would produce about 11 more runs combined batting and fielding than the John Mayberry/Ty Wigginton/Laynce Nix/Jim Thome combination over 2+ months, which would be about the amount of time Howard should be back for.
            Phillies second basemen this season have produced a .260 / .292 / .386 line, creating 0.092 runs per plate appearance, and having a UZR of -1.5 per 150 games (which is surprisingly low given how Freddy Galvis has performed).  Last season, Chase Utley had a .259 / .344 / .425 line while creating 0.134 runs per plate appearance, with a UZR of 14.5 per 150 games.  Giving Utley just about half a season of production, he would produce about 54 runs, compared to 31 for the Galvis/Fontenot/Martinez collection.

            With Utley and Howard back in the lineup, therefore, we could expect the Phillies to improve by 25 runs over the second half of the season, which is good for only a couple more wins.  Taking into account the improvement in the depth of the team by having Wigginton, Galvis, Fontenot, and Mayberry as bench players instead of starters, they’re likely to net at most a 4 win improvement over the second half.  Getting Utley and Howard back will not cure what ails the Phillies all by themselves -- their bullpen ERA of 4.44 is third-worst in the league and 0.59 worse than last year – but it’s a start in the right direction, and could give players an emotional boost that powers them to a second-half surge.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Throwing Water on the Johan Santana No-Hitter

First, a brief statement directed only to Mets fans: 7.5 games back with 17 to play.  Go Phils.

            Now, about the chronologically relevant topic of Johan Santana’s no-hitter two nights ago, in which he posted the following pitching line:

9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 5 BB, 8 K, 134 Pitches (77/57 Strike/Ball), 3/16 GB/FB ratio

            Obviously, a no-hitter is an impressive achievement, but one should revel in the fortune of it just as much as the skill, and also realize that it is mostly the fact that we have always counted no-hitters that we feel that they are impressive.  The no-hitter is fairly common; they have occurred 275 times since 1876 (or about twice per year), and 20 times since 2007 (almost 4 times per season), so they are not nearly as impressive as perfect games, which have occurred just 27 times. 

            A pitcher does not necessarily need to be at the top of his game to achieve this feat, as shown by Edwin Jackson in 2010, who threw a no-hitter while allowing 8 walks and throwing 149 pitches.  Much of this phenomenon has to do with luck.  In a previous post, I discussed how fly balls have a great deal of random variance in their trajectory that can seriously impact game results.  Santana’s absurdly high fly-ball percentage in this game (his season average is just 66% compared to this game’s 84%) illustrates that he was incredibly lucky to escape this game without getting blown out, let alone allowing a hit.  Santana did not have incredible control in this outing, throwing 56% strikes compared to his prior season average of 64%, and walking five, none of which were intentional, and all of which included three consecutive balls at some point in the at-bat.

            ESPN tracks a statistic called the Game Score, which attempts to gauge a pitcher’s performance in a particular game using outs recorded, innings pitched, strikeouts, walks, hits, and runs, and is on a scale from 0 to 100 (theoretically).  It has been referred to in the past on ESPN in reference to the comparison of the consecutive 2010 postseason games in which Roy Halladay pitched a no-hitter and Tim Lincecum allowed 2 hits while striking out 14.  Halladay’s game was given a 94, while Lincecum’s was given a 96, and Santana’s no-hitter received a 90.  This may seem shocking to long-time baseball fans (“how could you beat a no-hitter?”), but it makes sense from the perspective that control and command (which are much more effectively measured by strikeouts and walks than by hits allowed) are a superior method of judging a pitcher’s performance.  In fact, three non-no-hitters this season alone have surpassed Santana’s game score, and they all have similar qualifications: 11+ strikeouts and 2 or fewer walks without allowing any runs.  In case you’re wondering what would constitute a 100, the following games performances have achieved that score since 2000:

9 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 17 K, 137 Pitches (Brandon Morrow vs. TB, 2010)
9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 13 K, 117 Pitches (Randy Johnson perfect game vs. Atl, 2004)
9 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 17 K, 127 Pitches (Curt Schilling vs. Mil, 2002)

            The moral of the story is that just because you have a title for an achievement does not mean that it is the pinnacle of achievement in that arena.  Would you rather hit for the cycle or hit 4 home runs?  Or even four triples?  And don’t get me started on the Save.