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Scouting Your Poor, Pressing Phillie Offense

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Thu, June 18, 2009 09:00 AM Comments: 17

WerthusualIf you can throw your breaking ball a lot, you too can beat the Phillies.

It’s pretty simple. Let’s look at the five worst starting pitching assignments against the Phillies this season:

Chris Young, April 17
Game score: 15
Young allowed nine hits in 3.2 innings, among them three doubles, a triple and a home run. He threw only six sliders — everything else was a fastball or changeup. The fastballs scored in the high-80s with very little horizontal movement. He was up and down, easy to strike, and very easy to guess. In a June 3 start he allowed three runs on five hits, throwing twice as many sliders and even more changeups, plotting them around the zone. He even mixed in a curveball.

Shairon Martis, April 27
Game score: 22
After a successful first start against the Phils, Martis allowed seven runs on eight hits, walking four in five innings. In the first start Martis threw 23 percent of his pitches as sliders. In the second start he threw just 16 percent sliders. The fastball tracked in around 88 with a changeup at near 80. And the slider, ranging from 75 to 85, had very little movement horizontally and vertically. In the first start his slider hit different spots throughout the zone, and he used a curveball. He didn’t use the curve when he got lit up.

Daniel Cabrera, May 16
Game score: 22
Cabrera has never been a great pitcher, so there’s one red flag. He had one excusable start against the Phils in April (one earned in five innings), then came back with this stinker: Seven runs on eight hits (two home runs, three doubles, a triple) in five innings. Of the 107 pitches Cabrera threw in this game, 27 were curveballs (25 percent). That’s not a bad ratio, but the curves never went too low, always remaining in the strike zone. He threw fewer changeups, but they came in close to the same height as the fastball. To be short, Cabrera his hittable any time.

Ross Detwiler, May 29
Game score: 23
This is odd. Detwiler allowed five runs on 10 hits (four doubles) in four innings. He threw just 68 pitches, and 18 were sliders (26 percent). Here’s the rub: He only threw two changeups. And because his slider and fastball hit such different spots at such different speeds and paths, it’s pretty easy to pick him up. In his best starts he threw many more fastballs and changeups.

Shairon Martis, May 30
Game score: 19
Martis again. Sense a real bad trend here? In this start he threw even fewer sliders — four of the 71 pitches he threw, or 5 percent. Here he had a fastball that remained high and at about 88. His changeup barely dipped below the heart of the plate. The result? Seven runs on seven hits (two homers, two doubles) in four innings.

Compare these five starts to the best starts against the Phillies — Johan Santana, Derek Lowe, Aaron Harang, Hiroki Kuroda and last night by Scott Richmond — and you’ll see a large amount of sliders or sinkers — breaking pitches that either break wildly horizontally or vertically. In short, you’ll see performances that keep the Phillies completely off balance.

Yes, it takes good pitching to beat the Phillies, but sometimes it simply takes the right ratio of fastballs to breaking pitches, plus the ability to attack the plate early. Most Phillie hitters are guessing hitters; they automatically like swinging at 3-1 counts. Look close at each game — Jayson Werth has two patterned swings, one very low, one reaching out; Ryan Howard seems to have two, as well; Raul Ibanez is easy to beat with high cheese.

The point is it’s very easy to scout against the Phillies. Maybe there’s a reason why the worst pitching performances against the Phillies have almost exclusively come from the Nationals. Just as there’s certainly a reason pitchers who aren’t afraid to change pitch types are likely to succeed against the Phillies. It’s becoming criminally elementary.


Almost Blue: Phillies Embarrassing In 7-1 Loss

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Wed, June 17, 2009 10:15 PM Comments: 50

I-crap-ezThe sparse pockets of fans at Citizens Bank Park resembled a late 1997 game at Veterans Stadium. The rain even looked angry.

There was not one redeeming moment in the Phillies’ 7-1 loss to the Blue Jays. No, not the four solid middle innings Jamie Moyer threw — they were cruel jokes jammed from either way by horrendous innings of pinball. Sorry Jamie, but four of seven won’t cut it, not against a strong-armed team like the Blue Jays, a team that shows patience, duty and a businessman’s approach at the plate.

And no, not even the Jayson Werth solo home run could redeem the bleak evening. That homer was straight out of the Citizens Bank Park guidebook: The last ball in the range bucket smacked as hard as possible and landing just on the edge of the green. Werth attmpted to duplicate that sad feat twice more but found himself kneeling at the altar of Scott Richmond after all-too-predictable curveballs. Richmond struck out 11 in eight innings of five-hit ball. Roy Halladay couldn’t have done it better.

The saddest mark on this game is the now-struggling Raul Ibanez, a guesser’s 0-for-3 now showing a .312 average. A far cry from those “he can do anything” days of one week ago. It’s silly to even mention that Jimmy Rollins again went hitless in the leadoff spot. Oh wait, it was mentioned.

No, this was pure embarrassment by a team that, right now, seems more poised and skilled than the phlailin’ Phils. The home record is now a truly head-scratching 13-18. Only Colorado and Washington have fewer home wins.

Oh, wait, there was one positive: Tyler Walker struck out two in his inning of work. Congratulations, Tyler. Get this kid a smiley-face sticker.


Gamenight: Blue Jays (35-31) At Phillies (36-26)

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Wed, June 17, 2009 05:48 PM Comments: 200

jayslogo Toronto Blue Jays (35-31) at Philadelphia Phillies (36-26)
Scott Richmond (4-3, 3.90 ERA) vs. Jamie Moyer (4-5, 6.11 ERA)
Time: 7:05 p.m. at Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia
Weather: Rain, 64
TV: Comcast SportsNet, ESPN
Twitter: Phillies Nation

Probably should’ve been a win last night, but you know …

It’s okay, because tonight Jamie Moyer will take on a bunch of guys he hasn’t faced much. Oh wait, he has. The following batting averages against Jamie Moyer since 2004: Marco Scutaro (.379), Lyle Overbay (.462), Aaron Hill (.375), Vernon Wells (.350), Alex Rios (.474), John McDonald (.444), Scott Rolen (.333).

Meanwhile the Phillies have never seen Toronto starter Scott Richmond. There are literally two kinds of results you see when the Phils face a new pitcher: Either he completely dominates them or they thrash him up and down. Richmond is a fastball-slider pitcher who gets killed by lefties (1.055 OPS), so if the meat of the order can do work tonight, it should be an easy victory. Of course, Raul Ibanez is hitting just .220 in his last nine games, and Ryan Howard is hitting .216 with 17 strikeouts in his last 11. Both span back to the series in San Diego.

Clay Condrey’s back still ails, so consider him unavailable tonight. The same might be said for Tyler Walker, who allowed a two-run double in the 10th last night.

Your gamenight beer: Budweiser Budvar. Wait, a good Budweiser? This one is a Czech pilsner, so good luck finding it. But hey, it’s a cool summer lager you can enjoy with any summer fare. I’d go with pizza tonight.

Go Phillies!


Phillies Need Elite In Arms’ Race

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Wed, June 17, 2009 11:30 AM Comments: 69

So the Phillies need a big-time pitcher.

Who would sell and has valuable pitching?

The Indians, Orioles and Mariners figure to be sellers in the American League. The National League is harder to gauge, but I’ll predict Ed Wade’s Astros will at least think about it. As will the Rockies, Padres, Pirates and Reds. The Nationals, obviously, will be in selling mode, but have no pitching to sell. The Marlins do have pitching to sell, but likely want to hold onto their young staff.

Add the already-known quotients of Roy Halladay and Brad Penny, and we have some names with which to work. They are:

Roy Halladay, Jake Peavy, Roy Oswalt, Erik Bedard, Cliff Lee, Aaron Harang, Jarrod Washburn, Jeremy Guthrie, Wandy Rodriguez, Chris Young, Zach Duke, Paul Maholm, Aaron Cook, Jason Marquis, Bronson Arroyo and Brad Penny.

Let’s look at this list quickly. If I’m general manager of the Phillies, I need an arm that can pitch at the expected level of Cole Hamels. As we know, Ruben Amaro Jr. even said that — he wants a top-level arm. So say goodbye to Penny, Arroyo, Marquis, Cook, Maholm, Duke and Young. The latter three were a tough elimination, but to me, Maholm is comparable to Joe Blanton, Duke’s success is of a short sample and Young hasn’t been very effective in a few years.

To be short, the Phillies need a big-time performer. Here’s who remains:

Wandy Rodriguez
Age: 30 / Under contract: 2009-11 (arb. 2)
Rodriguez is a strikeout left-hander who’s carrying a 3:1 K:BB ratio this season. He strikes batters out with a devastating curveball; that means he’s quite susceptible to fly balls (nearing 40 percent fly balls this season). He also has two years of arbitration remaining, so the Astros have some leverage if they wanted to deal him; Ed Wade has been said to want to hold him, too.
Verdict: Might cost too much for a guy who could see his ERA rise at the fly-friendly Bank. Pass.

Jeremy Guthrie
Age: 30 / Under contract: 2009-12 (arb. 3)
A fastball-slider righty who had a few strong years, but has crashed to Earth this season with the Orioles, Guthrie’s ERA is over 5.00. Why? He’s giving up almost two home runs per nine innings with his over-40 percent fly ball rate. Moreover, he’s a control pitcher and isn’t getting ground balls like he could in the past.
Verdict: Another one with arbitration years, Guthrie isn’t worth the trouble. There might be something much more wrong with him, anyway. Pass.

Jarrod Washburn
Age: 34 / Under contract: 2009
Washburn is having a good season after a few league-average years in Seattle, but he’s struggled as the season has wore on. Moreover, he’s bad in the fifth and sixth innings, and against the following teams: Colorado, Texas, Anaheim, while he’s great against inexperienced offenses (Baltimore, Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Minnesota). Small sample, sure, but in a way, reminiscent of Jamie Moyer.
Verdict: He’s only worth a half season, but the Phils need more than a second Moyer. Pass.

Aaron Harang
Age: 31 / Under contract: 2009-11 (opt.)
Harang is having a better ERA season than last, but his numbers are deceiving. His fly ball percentage is near 42, while he’s giving up a nice share of hits. That might be due to his defense — his opponents BABIP is a very high .327. He might improve, but it’s possible he’s just fooling everyone right now. He has a long contract still, too.
Verdict: The Reds would want a good chunk for Harang, who is practically Brett Myers V2. There’s better ahead, pass.

Cliff Lee
Age: 30 / Under contract: 2009-10 (opt.)
The lefty and former Cy Young award winner is sizzling again: A 2.88 ERA in the American League. He has strong ground ball rates (43 percent), while his .337 BABIP says he’s not getting great luck. That might improve with the Phillies infield behind him. One downfall this season — he’s been bad against Texas, Toronto and Cincinnati, all strong offenses.
Verdict: Cleveland would want a small bounty, but Lee is affordable and very good. He is a lefty, but he would still look good with Hamels. Consider.

Erik Bedard
Age: 30 / Under contract: 2009
Another left-handed pitcher, Bedard is having a good season with the Mariners. He’s still a big strikeout pitcher (8.91 per nine), though keeping fly ball rates high (40 percent). But he’s also throwing a lot of grounders. He’s been very good at Safeco and in two starts at Networks Associates Coliseum, two huge pitchers’ parks. He is a free agent after 2009, though, so he wouldn’t be worth much.
Verdict: Compare him to Lee, and I’d rather go with the Indian. Bedard still strikes me as dangerous in hitters’ parks, especially with his penchant for fly balls. Consider, but be cautious.

Roy Oswalt
Age: 31 / Under contract: 2009-12 (opt.)
First off, Oswalt is only 31. That’s true. That said, Oswalt is having a weird season. His ERA is at 4.37 and he’s throwing far too few ground balls, coming in at about 39 percent. He averages near 50 percent per season. But even if Oswalt is struggling, he’s a very good pitcher capable of dominance. And it looks as if he’s improving as the season continues. He has a big contract, however, and word is the Astros want to keep him. But Oswalt would move, and only to the National League, very likely.
Verdict: Keep an eye on him. I’d take him over Lee and Bedard, but he’d be worth a ton.

Jake Peavy
Age: 28 / Under contract: 2009-13
Though Peavy has a higher ERA than usual (3.97), he’s averaging better than 10 strikeouts per nine innings. He’s allowing 40 percent fly balls this season, but he remains a solid ground ball guy. He rejected a deal to the White Sox, and most believe he wants to remain in the National League and close to San Diego. There have been rumors to Chicago and Atlanta, though. Moreover, there is talk he wouldn’t want to come to an East Coast pressure cooker.
Verdict: Can’t say Peavy would love to come to Philadelphia. I see him in Los Angeles or Atlanta, really. I’d still rather go with Oswalt.

Roy Halladay
Age: 32 / Under contract: 2009-10
Doc Halladay is clearly the best pitcher in baseball. He has struck out 88 and walked 12. He’s a ground ball master and rarely gives up fly balls, even in the home-run hitter’s haven in which he plays. Of course, JP Ricciardi has said the Blue Jays won’t win and can’t win without Halladay, so prying him loose would be tough. But, really, if the Jays want to compete in the tough AL East, it might be worth it to finally deal their most prized possession.
Verdict: Go. Go. Go.

Final verdict

Look, there is one goal: Win another championship. Nothing else will suffice, and at this point, there’s no looking back. To do such, the Phillies need a starting pitcher capable of dominating every outing he works. There are few out there capable, but the Phillies have some tools with which to work.

Halladay is the interesting case. The Blue Jays are trapped in the AL East and will not contend unless they overhaul their roster. They’re a good team, sure, but not good enough for even third place there. They must rebuild, and they must start by dealing Halladay. Not to their own division. Not to the American League, even. That leaves — to me — three teams with sufficient young talent and buyer’s mentality for Halladay: San Francisco, Los Angeles and the Phillies.

Halladay should be the goal, even if it takes a few top prospects. If he’s really untouchable, the Phils should look at Oswalt, then Peavy, Lee and Bedard, in that order. I could definitely see the Phils ending up with Bedard, honestly, but they should shoot higher. There’s no reason not to go for Halladay.


Why Isn’t Hamels So Dominant?

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Wed, June 17, 2009 08:00 AM Comments: 33

HamelsscufflingHere’s something scary: Cole Hamels has finished seven innings in just two of his starts this season. That’s two of 12. Take out the early exits because of injury and you’re still at 20 percent.

That’s unacceptable for a man who’s supposed to give you seven almost every time out. It’s unacceptable for a supposed ace. As a referral note, after 12 starts last season, Hamels saw seven innings nine times.

Is there a problem?

I thought as if Hamels wasn’t getting the swings and misses he used to get. And it’s true, he’s not quite getting the swings he desires. Hitters are swinging at his outside-the-zone offerings just 26 percent of the time, compared to 30 percent the last two seasons. And they’re making more contact outside the zone than ever — 62 percent of the time, compared to 60 percent last season and just 52 percent in 2007. To be short, Hamels is throwing many more hittable pitches outside the strike zone.

There might be a reason for that, too — the fastball has lost some velocity since 2007 (about 92 mph to 90 mph); with that, the changeup has lost about the same amount of velocity (from 82 to 79), and the curveball, too (from 78 to 74). When you lose velocity, your pitches will become easier to hit. And with that, his batting average of balls in play has risen dramatically from .270 to .348 from 2008 to ’09.

Is it luck? Somewhat. But it also shows that the fire Hamels once slung with ease has tempered a bit. Is he capable of big outs? Absolutely. That was seen last night in the sixth inning — three struck balls that tangled in Jimmy Rollins’ glove. Yes he was hit, but the hits were consistent to the defender’s range. Hamels still got out of the jam, making big pitches en route to a pop out, a strike out and a fly out.

Hamels should be okay, but we’ll hold our breaths just a little until he starts dominating for seven and more innings with regularity.


Blue Jays Batter Phils Bullpen, 8-3

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Tue, June 16, 2009 10:59 PM Comments: 28

Milwaukee BrewersThe 2009 Phillies had a 3-2 lead going into the top of the ninth inning. Then, suddenly, like a cool summer breeze, the 2007 Phillies took the hill.

Ryan Madson allowed the game-tying run — a bases-loaded walk after an unfortunate duo of lucky hits and an intentional walk — then Clay Condrey and Tyler Walker allowed a whole bunch more en route to a 8-3 10-inning loss to the Blue Jays.

It served the Phillies right. While the Jays squandered multiple big opportunities against Cole Hamels and JC Romero, the Phils offense didn’t do much. Chase Utley knocked in a run in the first (one of three hits), and Jayson Werth homered in the sixth, but the remainder of the night saw the Phils fooled by young left-hander Ricky Romero. Both Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez struck out times. So while the Jays finally struck, the Phils were empty as a rusted gas can.

Hamels didn’t have luck on his side but was able to pitch out of some jams. In the sixth he loaded the bases via grounders Jimmy Rollins couldn’t handle, then wiggled out unscathed thanks to a pop up from Rod Barajas (three infield fly rules in the game), a strike out and a fly out. He finished giving up two runs in six frames.

But Toronto finally stuck the dagger, and the Phils bullpen was ambushed, as if Jose Mesa and Antonio Alfonseca were out there all over again.


Gamenight: Blue Jays (34-31) At Phillies (36-25)

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Tue, June 16, 2009 05:45 PM Comments: 258

jayslogo Toronto Blue Jays (34-31) at Philadelphia Phillies (36-25)
Ricky Romero (3-3, 3.71 ERA) vs. Cole Hamels (4-2, 4.62 ERA)
Time: 7:05 p.m. at Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia
Weather: Mostly sunny, 67
TV: Comcast SportsNet
Twitter: Phillies Nation

Sixteen years later: Revenge!

Okay, so Interleague play means some really hackneyed matchups, but the Phillies and Blue Jays are both good teams with high-powered offenses. They begin a three-game series tonight at the Bank.

The Blue Jays walked into Philly last year and took two of three in a series where Jayson Werth clubbed three home runs in a game and Roy Halladay pitched relief in a rain-delayed game that went to Toronto. This year the Jays are 34-31, but were much more potent earlier in the season, when their powerful offense bashed teams en route to baseball’s best record. Their pitching is scuffling now that Halladay will miss his start (which was supposed to be this week), so this set provides the Phils a chance to get some necessary home victories.

Cole Hamels brings his sub-5.00 ERA back home after having a tough outing against the Mets. Wednesday he only pitched five innings, giving up 11 hits but earning a no-decision. This will be his first start ever against Toronto, and he’s had very little experience against their hitters. Toronto starter Ricky Romero has never faced any of the hitters lining up against him tonight.

Your gamenight beer: “An honest beer makes its own friends” is the old slogan for Molson Canadian. I don’t know about you, but there’s a bar near my home, and sometimes I go in just wanting an honest lager. Seriously. And sometimes I’m jonesing for a Molson. Absolutely. So grab a Molson, partner, and drink it with ham and baked potato, a decent northern dish.

Go Phillies!


Gordon Pushed Madson’s Improvement

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Tue, June 16, 2009 11:00 AM Comments: 10

MadsonPaul Hagen uncovered the secret behind the added velocity to Ryan Madson’s fastball: Tom Gordon. Sort of.

In a well-done story for the Daily News, Hagen revealed that the former setup man drove Madson in a “getaway car” to a sports clinic in Tempe, Ariz., where he very quickly worked on his mechanics, starting the process that led to him being the almost unbeatable pitcher he is today.

So, no, it wasn’t PEDs:

“I could never think that way. Early on I said, ‘If I’m going to make it, I’m going to make it the right way. And I don’t care what anybody else is doing.’ It’s one of those things where it’s kind of refreshing. Fans can say, ‘Hey, this guy’s doing it and he’s doing it the right way.’ Who knows how many guys did or didn’t? I don’t know. Because I never paid attention. If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. I’m not going to risk my body.”

But the money quote is about Flash:

“I give Flash a lot of credit. He didn’t have to do that. He rented a car. He said, ‘We’re going at 9 o’clock in the morning. Get up and you’re coming with me.’ I’ve got chills right now, just thinking about how he took care of me.”

Incredible. Tom Gordon really set the Phillies up more than we thought.


Minor Leagues: Savery Improves To 8-1

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Tue, June 16, 2009 10:00 AM Comments: 12

Milwaukee BrewersA quick recap of the minors from Monday:

  • The Reading Phillies defeated Harrisburg, lifting Joe Savery to an 8-1 record. The former first-round pick walked three and struck out four in six innings of one-hit ball, lowering his ERA to 3.47. Michael Taylor is hitting .332 after a 1-for-3 game.
  • The IronPigs won, 8-5. Carlos Carrasco got a rare win (2-7), pitching his usual game this season: 6.1 innings, four runs, five strikeouts. Former big-league Phillie Miguel Cairo went 2-for-4, raising his average to .344.
  • Clearwater lost, 7-5, to Saraosta, as Julian Sampson continued his 2009 struggles. He allowed six runs in five innings, taking his ERA above 8.00. The Threshers are currently without their best player, top prospect Dominic Brown, who’s out for three-to-four weeks with a broken finger.
  • Lakewood lost, 5-1, to Delmarva. Jason Knapp fell to 2-5, giving up four runs (none earned) in 5.1 innings. He struck out seven but walked five. Justin De Fratus lowered his ERA to 1.65 after 1.2 scoreless. Travis d’Arnaud, trying to jump over .200 in a bad offensive season, went 2-for-4 with a double. The game was stopped after seven.

Phillies Need Top-Shelf Starter

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Tue, June 16, 2009 07:30 AM Comments: 98

BastardoDespite the fine comeback win Sunday, playing the Red Sox exposed the Phillies great weaknesses: Lack of bench help, injuries in the bullpen, an insufficient starting rotation.

The third aspect is the most pressing for the Phils’ goals in 2009. Watching the patient Red Sox work against, then tee off on Antonio Bastardo flashed the distress signal; then, watching the Sox do the same thing against JA Happ put us into panic mode. Bastardo and Happ may work against San Diego and even the free-swinging Dodgers, but in big October baseball, it won’t fly.

We do know, however, that Happ is more an asset in the rotation and should continue his run at the back of the rotation. But as we figured, it wouldn’t be a great idea to keep Bastardo, and Happ, and Jamie Moyer, and Joe Blanton back there together. That’s too much of one kind of pitcher (a guy who relies on hitters to make the outs for them — though Blanton has shown to be a bit more than that).

Yes, it’s second starter time. The Phillies will have to make a move, and it will probably be coming down within the next few weeks. I’ll dive into the second-starter business tomorrow; for now, come up with your own ideas as to who should next don pinstripes.

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