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Howard’s Contract Isn’t Going Anywhere

Posted by Eric Seidman, Fri, July 19, 2013 11:00 AM Comments: 26

A sunk cost generally refers to money that has already been committed that should not factor into the decision-making process moving forward. The monetary commitment can’t be undone and therefore should not represent any type of deterrent to other decisions that could positively impact the organization. In certain terms, however, a sunk cost can refer to an unmovable commitment, even if future cash outflows are required, if there is virtually no way of recovering the costs.

Ryan Howard’s five-year, $125 million contract is a sunk cost.

Regardless of his health or performance issues, the Phillies simply won’t be able to remove the contract from the books in a manner that actually benefits them. It’s unlikely that the severity of his injury could result in an insurance settlement down the road and it’s hard to fathom any team taking him in a trade unless the Phillies covered 95%-100% of the cost. Even at that point, Howard’s relative struggles and injury risk will prevent the Phillies from acquiring a worthwhile player or prospect in a trade. The contract is signed, the money is guaranteed, and the player isn’t going anywhere.

One idea that has been floated around recently is a restructuring of the deal that defers a chunk of the contract beyond its current expiration date. Some fans have suggested this as a mutually beneficial outcome that helps the Phillies in the short-term while honoring their commitment to a franchise face. But I’m struggling to grasp why Howard would agree to such a buyout and why the Phillies would want to commit to a relatively astronomical interest rate on deferral to make it worth Howard’s while.

The Mets famously did something similar with Bobby Bonilla over a decade ago. Bonilla had one year and $5.9 million left on his contract in 2001 and, in knowing the Mets financial difficulties, agreed to a restructuring that that resulted in a 25-yr, $29.8 million deferral. There was supposedly another part of the deal that brings the total deferred amount Bonilla will receive to $42 million long after the days that even current Mets players have retired. These cases are rare, and assuming the Phillies would have to use a high interest rate to entice Howard into this type of buyout, it would mean committing even more money on a bad contract when the team isn’t really in a bind.

Ryan Howard isn’t going anywhere. The time has come to accept this as fact and discuss ways to make the best of the situation instead of conjuring up hypothetical means of jettisoning an albatross.

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Pulling the Plug On Delmon Young

Posted by Eric Seidman, Wed, June 19, 2013 01:30 PM Comments: 0

The Phillies’ signing of Delmon Young was met with mostly negative reviews. It wasn’t the money as much as the notion that the front office and manager considered Young a legitimate everyday starter. Young wasn’t signed to play in a platoon. He was brought here to provide right-handed power behind Ryan Howard. The problem is that he has never really been all that powerful, and whatever power he does possess is canceled out by abysmal fielding and below average baserunning. From an overall value standpoint, Young has little to none, as is evidenced by his career -1.1 WAR.

He wasn’t even an upgrade over players already rostered, either — his numbers have been bested by John Mayberry over the last few seasons. Mayberry isn’t just an upgrade in the field and on the bases either. He has better numbers at the plate too.

Save for the 2010 season, when Young hit a career-high 21 homers and tallied 1.6 WAR — still below what’s considered the league-average threshold — he has been either replacement level or below every year. Here are his WAR totals since 2007: 0.0, -0.8, -1.1, 1.6, 0.0, -0.9, and he is currently at -0.8.

Approaching the midpoint of the season it is time for the Phillies to cut ties with Young as an everyday player. If the team wants to use him against lefties in a platoon role, or as a designated hitter in a road interleague series, fine, but he should not be viewed any more favorably than Mayberry, Laynce Nix or Kevin Frandsen. And while I know some are tired of hearing Nate Schierholtz‘s name around these parts, Young is also vastly worse than the player the Phillies simply non-tendered; the player who makes slightly more than Young this season and currently leads the Cubs in WAR.

It’s time to either get rid of Young or permanently relegate him to part-time duty. The Phillies have too many holes in this lineup to consistently allocate playing time to a player whose perception far outweighs his contributions.

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Mayberry, Revere and the Starting CF Post

Posted by Eric Seidman, Thu, June 06, 2013 08:27 AM Comments: 56

The Phillies trade of Shane Victorino last season left a gaping hole in centerfield heading into the 2013 campaign. With a bevy of free agent centerfielders available, and even more available via trade, the Phillies stood to shore up the position for years to come. While I argued for the likes of Peter Bourjos, Angel Pagan or Denard Span, the Phillies opted to acquire Ben Revere, a young, speedy, team-controlled outfielder still approaching his prime. The move was met with mixed reviews. Some were scared off by his utter lack of power while others were fans of his defense, baserunning and potential.

By the end of April, most fans were ready to throw in the towel on the Revere experiment, as his weaknesses were magnified and his strengths didn’t look that strong. He was hitting .200 with a .234 on-base percentage in an everyday role. He hit into more double plays than are typically associated with a speedster and failed to beat out dribblers and infield grounders. While his range proved solid up the middle, it wasn’t exemplary, and was at least partly canceled out by his arm. Revere simply wasn’t playing good baseball and was a big reason for the Phillies slow start.

John Mayberry, Jr got off to a much better start, hitting .242/.324/.470 in April, while playing adequate defense at the most important outfield post. As fans grew tired of Revere’s struggles, and the general approach that led to his lack of productivity, many gravitated towards Mayberry as the everyday starter.

But then something funny happened – Revere gradually started hitting well while Mayberry’s power was sapped. From May 1-June 3 — prior to Tuesday night’s dramatic walkoff win — Revere hit .300/.344/.344 while Mayberry hit .280/.308/.300. Yes, Revere actually outslugged Mayberry for over a month. Two extra inning home runs for Mayberry, coupled with Revere’s 0-5 on Tuesday, shifted the paradigm but this comparison offers yet another reminder of why decisions shouldn’t be based on small sample sizes when much more tangible evidence about true talent levels exist.

Who the Phillies should start in centerfield isn’t a cut and dried decision, as listeners of 94.1 WIP felt Wednesday morning, when 69% voted for Mayberry. Rather, it depends upon the organization’s goals and a realistic team projection, which may prove difficult for a front office that may undergo significant changes moving forward.

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Lackey’s Contractual Quirk and Phillies Deals

Posted by Eric Seidman, Thu, May 30, 2013 10:13 AM Comments: 10

John Lackey wasn’t at his best Wednesday night but he has pitched effectively for the Red Sox this season. Lackey, signed to a five-year, $82.5 million contract prior to the 2010 season, had a rocky start to his Boston tenure. After posting solid peripherals with poor run prevention marks in 2010, he posted a 6.41 ERA in 2011 before undergoing Tommy John surgery. He missed the entire 2012 campaign and is now finally combining the solid peripherals and run prevention the Red Sox expected when doling out the lucrative contract.

However, the Red Sox understood that Lackey, like all pitchers for that matter, represented an injury risk. In order to hedge against that risk the Sox included a clause in Lackey’s contract that, if he underwent Tommy John surgery, an option for 2015 would automatically trigger at the league-minimum salary. With five years and $82.5 million on the table, that clause might not have seemed all that important to Lackey’s camp, as he is guaranteed that money regardless of his health status. But now, with the surgery on the backburner, that 5-yr/$82.5 million deal effectively became a 6 yr/$83 million deal.

There are two implications here that impact, or could have impacted the Phillies in their subsequent big-ticket free agent signings.

First, if Lackey remains effective beyond next season, the Red Sox could have a league-average or better pitcher at a pittance. Second, the automatic triggering of the option reduced the average annual value of the contract. Most option years are not included in the average annual value calculation for luxury tax purposes, but if a future vesting option is triggered before the existing deal expires, the contract itself changes.

The original contract carried a $16.5 million AAV while the “new” deal has a $13.8 million average annual value. That reduction would prove significant if the Sox were up against the luxury tax threshold.

It’s impossible to know how contract negotiations with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels went down without having first-hand knowledge, so we’ll never know if similar clauses were discussed. But for a team consistently concerned about the luxury tax because of large annual sums paid to players at an inherently risky position, that type of creative clause could have gone a long way towards hedging risk.

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Doc or Schill?

Posted by Eric Seidman, Thu, May 23, 2013 10:28 AM Comments: 7

APTOPIX Phillies Marlins BaseballThe Phillies will pay tribute to the past later this summer, with Brad Lidge retiring in red pinstripes a day before Curt Schilling is inducted into the Wall of Fame. Schilling, the Phillies ace from 1992 until midway through the 2000 season, won three World Series rings after leaving Philadelphia but produced two of his best seasons here and provided long-lasting memories with his 1993 heroics.

Schilling was also the topic of an interesting discussion on 97.5 The Fanatic last week that juxtaposed him against a recent Phillies ace. The discussion centered on whether fans would have rather had peak-Schilling or peak-Halladay heading their staff. The results were split. Even though the availability bias — how more recent information can color our opinions — could have moved the needle towards the truly dominant Roy Halladay, there are still plenty of people who remember how brilliantly Schilling pitched.

There are both tangible and intangible factors to incorporate into this discussion but it really looks like a dead heat.

Regardless of his tough-to-watch 2013 campaign, Halladay very much remains an inner circle Hall of Fame pitcher. Schilling, who pitched in an era flush with HOF-worthy talent, will probably get in even if not on the first ballot. There is no wrong answer when choosing between two of the best pitchers in the long history of a sport, but the statistical comparisons were much closer than you may have thought.

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Frandsen Channeling and Surpassing Dobbs

Posted by Eric Seidman, Fri, May 17, 2013 01:30 PM Comments: 4

The Phillies haven’t gotten off to the best of starts but the team hasn’t been devoid of bright spots. The Phillies’ bench has been one of the best in the league and Kevin Frandsen deserves much of the credit. Frandsen is hitting .258/.361/.516 in 37 plate appearances after hitting .338/.383/.451 last year.

Frandsen had the best season of his career in 2012, and in the early going this year, both his wOBA and wRC+ are even better. His walk rate, isolated power and slugging percentages are also higher than they were last year. His .361 on-base percentage is great, especially in a reduced offensive environment, but it would look even better if not for a .231 BABIP. Just like last year’s .366 BABIP wasn’t likely to be sustained, Frandsen isn’t very likely to continue struggling to convert balls put in play into hits this season.

If his current true talent level falls somewhere in between the last two seasons, the Phillies have a very valuable bench player and someone who deserves legitimate consideration for an extended platoon role. His defensive versatility should enable him to spell any of the four infielders at any given time, and he could likely handle corner outfield activity as well.

What stands out in analyzing his numbers over the last two seasons is how he compares to the recent gold standard of pinch-hitting: Greg Dobbs, circa 2007-08. From 2012-13, Frandsen has logged about half of Dobbs’ playing time from 2007-08 and has essentially matched his overall productivity. Frandsen’s production has been seemingly less important than Dobbs, given the overall performance of the 2007-08 Phillies in conjunction to this current iteration, but that doesn’t make him any less valuable.

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This Halladay Looks More Like Blanton

Posted by Eric Seidman, Wed, May 01, 2013 10:19 AM Comments: 18

After three straight promising starts Roy Halladay turned in another clunker Tuesday night. In allowing eight runs on nine hits and two walks, Halladay finished April with a 6.75 ERA, 5.73 FIP and a ghastly 2.25 HR/9. He cost the Phillies 0.3 WAR last month.

MLB Network noted this morning that Halladay’s 5.59 ERA over the last calendar year (April 30, 2012 to April 30, 2013) is the second-worst among starters with 150 innings thrown. Only Ubaldo Jimenez has prevented runs at a worse rate.

In third place on that list is Joe Blanton, the former Phillie whose struggles to prevent runs in spite of impressive strikeout, walk and groundball rates is well known in these parts.

Unfortunately, Blanton is the most comparable pitcher to Halladay over the last calendar year.

Based on the splits and filters offered at Fangraphs, Halladay and Blanton are the only two pitchers to fall into the following criteria since April 30, 2012: K/9 between 7.5 and 8.3, BB/9 between 1.8 and 2.5, GB% between 40% and 45% and FIP between 4.30 and 4.50.

Their numbers are almost identical in this span:

Halladay: 8.3 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 1.6 HR/9, 43.8% GB, 17.8% HR/FB, 4.35 FIP, 1.1 WAR
Blanton:  7.7 K/9, 1.8 BB/9, 1.6 HR/9, 44.0% GB, 17.4% HR/FB, 4.40 FIP, 1.1 WAR

While those K, BB and GB rates are solid, they don’t often translate into success when pitches are left over the middle of the plate and knocked out of the park. Whether it’s injuries or simply a decline in pure ability, Roy Halladay has been a different pitcher for over a year now. Unfortunately, that different pitcher resembles Joe Blanton more than anyone else.

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Giving Kendrick His Due

Posted by Eric Seidman, Wed, April 24, 2013 07:00 AM Comments: 5

One of the toughest aspects of both being a fan and providing accurate analysis is separating perception from reality. Fans tend to anchor their opinions of a player early on, holding steadfastly to that perception even after the player improves or declines. This holds especially true for fans of a specific team, who watch the same players routinely and have difficulty acknowledging legitimate changes in their games.

It’s hard to suddenly feel confident in a player you once saw struggle mightily, just like it’s tough to remove your supreme confidence in a formerly elite player whose skills and numbers more closely resemble the middle of the pack. It takes time for these perception shifts to occur and this tends to lead to fans under- or overrating players throughout the transition.

Regardless of what we once thought about Kyle Kendrick the time has come to change that perception. Kendrick is a flat out different pitcher than he was from 2007-11, and it isn’t merely a small sample size fluke this season.

Kendrick ’07-’11: 4.1 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 45.6% GB, 4.41 ERA, 4.95 FIP
Kendrick ’12-’13: 6.6 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 46.9% GB, 3.82 ERA, 4.27 FIP

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Kendrick’s results improved as he started missing more bats. However, his results started to improve in 2011, when he spent half the season in the rotation and the other half in the bullpen. As a reliever, he had a 3.7 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9 over 31 2/3 innings, compared to his 5.0 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9 over 83 innings as a starter.

In isolating his numbers as a starter in 2011 and adding them to his 2012-13 numbers, we get the following pitching line: 6.1 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 46.2% GB, 3.60 ERA. Without knowing who those numbers were attached to, a fan would likely get excited at the prospect of that pitcher occupying the middle of the rotation. Yet, the perception of Kendrick is disconnected from his actual performance as a starting pitcher from 2011-13, and the time has come to give the man his due. This is a different Kyle Kendrick and that’s exactly the point.

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Lannan’s Doing More Than Minimizing Risk

Posted by Eric Seidman, Wed, April 17, 2013 08:00 AM Comments: 8

Back on December 19, I praised the Phillies signing of John Lannan from the standpoint that he minimized risk in the rotation at a nominal cost. With Roy Halladay representing a major question mark heading into the season, opting for more of a sure-thing in Lannan made sense over doling out $8+ million per year to Brandon McCarthy or Shaun Marcum.

The latter two pitchers had the potential to hit 3 WAR but they were significant injury risks and costlier investments. Lannan’s ceiling wasn’t as high but his floor wasn’t as low either. A team in the Phillies situation was more interested in the floor for this role.

Through two starts this season, the former Phillies foe has thrown 13 great innings with one walk, seven strikeouts and a 71% groundball rate. It’s obviously still very early in the season but Lannan’s first two outings have proven very promising.

However, it isn’t just his two starts in 2013 that are cause for analytical intrigue, as his six starts with the Nationals last season were pretty darned solid as well. Combining his most recent major action we get the following line: 8 GS, 45.2 IP, 41 H, 6 BB, 24 K, 61% GB rate.

And if we go back a bit further and take a look at his last 30 major league starts dating back to 2011 we get the following line: 30 GS, 169 IP, 169 H, 52 BB, 57% GB, 3.46 ERA. That’s pretty solid for a #3 or #4, let alone the fifth rotational cog.

At $2.5 million guaranteed and a maximum of $5 million via incentives, Lannan really only needs to hit his traditional career averages to outproduce his contract. If his most recent eight starts are any indication of things to come, this might just stand to become one of the best value deals of the offseason. Lannan has been doing more than just minimizing risk — he has been pitching very well.

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It Should Have Been Adams

Posted by Eric Seidman, Tue, April 16, 2013 12:40 PM Comments: 19

The Phillies lost a pitchers’ duel on Monday in a very entertaining game that saw Cliff Lee and Bronson Arroyo throw very well and Ben Revere make one of the best catches in team history. Things fell off the rails for the Phillies in the eighth inning, however, when small ball and a defensive miscue broke the 2-2 tie and put the Reds ahead.

The Reds’ two runs in the eighth were credited to Jeremy Horst, who loaded the bases before exiting with one out. His performance drew the ire of many Phillies fans, as this isn’t the first time Horst has been plagued by poor results in a crucial moment this season. However, most of what happened was out of Horst’s control that inning and he shouldn’t even have been pitching in the first place.

In the eighth inning of an important game, with a fully rested bullpen and the starting pitcher removed, Mike Adams should be on the mound. In fact, one could argue that Adams should have been on the mound even if the Reds had a bunch of lefties due up. Adams has faced exactly 745 righties and lefties in his career and has no platoon split whatsoever. His career wOBA allowed to lefties is .260 and it’s .254 against righties. Both are exceptional numbers and, for reference, Antonio Bastardo‘s wOBA allowed to lefties was .254 in 2011-12.

Charlie Manuel said after the game that Horst was the only pitcher warming up because the Phillies trailed 2-0 heading into the eighth. That’s perfectly justifiable, but after Domonic Brown singled and the decision was made to pinch-hit with Chase Utley, Adams or Bastardo should have started warming up as at least a precautionary measure in case the Phillies tied the game or took the lead. Worst case scenario is they sit back down.

Manuel also mentioned that he was hesitant to use Adams because he had thrown in four of the last five games. Another valid point, however, it wasn’t as if Adams really overexerted himself. He threw three pitches to finish off Cliff Lee’s outing against the Mets on April 9. He threw 19 pitches on April 10 against the Mets. He threw 16 pitches against the Marlins on April 12, and another 11 pitches against the Marlins on April 13. Yes, technically, that’s four outings in five days, but we’re talking about an average of 12 pitches per game spread out over that span. These weren’t all consecutive games, and it’s highly unlikely that his arm needed more than a day to recover after throwing 11 easy pitches against Miami.

Mike Adams was signed for that type of situation, just like Jonathan Papelbon was signed for crucial late-inning situations, regardless of any other ancillary factors. The Phillies have not handled Papelbon optimally since acquiring him, and if Monday night’s game against the Reds was any indication, the team might not handle its setup man correctly either.

Horst may have given up the runs and taken the loss on Monday but he wasn’t to blame. To blame was the decision to bring him in over Adams regardless of the results. Even if Horst had thrown a 1-2-3 inning with three strikeouts on nine pitches, the right call in that situation is to use a rested and healthy Adams, as he presented the Phils with the best opportunity to keep the game tied.

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