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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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Halladay’s Future

Posted by Eric Seidman, Mon, April 15, 2013 08:14 AM Comments: 22

Roy Halladay pitched relatively well on Sunday, scattering five hits and a single run over eight innings of work. He worked quickly, needing just 87 pitches over those eight frames, and threw twice as many strikes as balls. Doc also kept the ball on the ground, generating nearly 50 percent grounders on a day when he managed just two strikeouts.

Two schools of thought were formed after he exited the game. Some fans instantly wrote his performance off as being a byproduct of facing the punchless Marlins. Other fans took this as a big step in getting back on track.

As per usual, we’re looking at a little from Column A and a little from Column B.

Halladay no doubt threw better on Sunday but he still made several mistakes that an actual major league offense — you know, one that doesn’t include Placido Polanco and Greg Dobbs as the bread in a Giancarlo Stanton sandwich — would have exploited. Though the results didn’t bear this out, he struggled with both command and control during the first few frames, and if he makes some of those same mistakes against the Cardinals this coming weekend, we’re again looking at a potential 4 IP, 9 H, 6 ER outing.

Perhaps that is part of his current growing pains in adjusting to his lesser ‘stuff’ but it’s something he will need to figure out quickly. He adjusted on the fly, incorporated his curveball far more, and by the latter stages of the game had seemingly settled into a nice rhythm. He pitched well, but if you remove the end results and focus on the process this game wasn’t really that far off of his last start against the Mets.

However, maybe all he needed was a solid results-based outing to get some of his mojo back.

As fans in Column B were quick to point out, Halladay has repeatedly said that he feels fine, physically, and that he’s struggling with the mental side of things right now. I’m no psychologist but perhaps throwing eight effective innings of one-run ball was enough to prove to himself that he could still get batters out and go deep into games. With that reinforced knowledge perhaps his confidence grows.

We can’t simply discount this start because of who he faced but we also can’t assume he is anywhere near back yet. This may have been a step in the right direction but we’re dealing with a pretty big staircase. Getting Halladay right is a Chrysler Key to the Season and Sunday’s outing moved the needle in the positive direction.

However, during each of his three starts this season I have ruminated on his future. I’m trying to focus on his present and what he can do to get back on track but what happens to Halladay after this season has the potential to represent one of the most compelling free agent situations in recent history. Simply put, he is a big unknown this season and that carries material financial implications heading into next season.

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Lee Continues To Cement His Awesomeness

Posted by Eric Seidman, Wed, April 10, 2013 09:15 AM Comments: 15

I’ll never forget Cliff Lee‘s first start with the Phillies.

He was just acquired from the Indians amidst a flurry of rumors that had the Phillies close to getting Roy Halladay. While his arrival carried excitement, many fans couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed for missing out on Doc. I was one of those fans, having only seen Lee from afar, and having considered him more of a good pitcher with a great season rather than a great pitcher.

His July 31, 2009 start against the Giants quieted all nerves. Lee ran out to the mound in his own patented fashion, did that bizarre fake pitch to the outfield that we learned was part of his routine, and prepared to face leadoff man Randy Winn.

First pitch was right over for a called strike. Winn then swung and missed at Lee’s second offering. In what felt like rapid fire succession, Lee then caught Winn looking with a fastball perfectly placed on the inside corner. It wasn’t a debatable pitch or one an ump usually calls a ball on an 0-2 count. It was just a flat out perfect pitch. My friend and I turned to each other with wide eyes. We had never seen anything like this before.

Lee rules so hard.

Sure, Cole Hamels was the World Series MVP the year before, but his ace-ness seemed built more on finesse. Lee was aggressive, worked quickly, and after three pitches had me convinced he was going to be the best pitcher I ever watched on a routine basis. Keep in mind I wasn’t alive when Steve Carlton pitched and I was too young to appreciate Curt Schilling during his heyday here.

Lee tossed a complete game that night and even settled for a double after coming close to a home run. He was dominant then, he remains dominant today, and over the last five seasons he has proven himself to be one of the very best pitchers in baseball. Watching him over these first two starts of 2013 has reminded me of what it was like watching him in his first outing with the Phils.

Yet, even with a Cy Young award and a lucrative contract under his belt, I can’t help but feel that Lee is underrated, even in this city. To help shake that feeling, let’s take a look at his brilliant time with the Phillies to put things in perspective.

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Phillies’ Bench Too Weak to Keep Ender Inciarte

Posted by Eric Seidman, Mon, April 01, 2013 07:00 AM Comments: 17

The Phillies finalized their 25-man roster over the weekend, opting to use Humberto Quintero as backup backstop over Steven LeRud and going with Phillippe Aumont instead of Michael Stutes to round out the bullpen. The questionable decision was giving the final spot to Rule 5 selection Ender Inciarte, a 22-year-old prospect who hasn’t yet played above High-A. It’s not necessarily a bad decision but an interesting one given the current mechanics of the Phillies’ lineup and bench.

Inciarte looks like a decent baserunner and a solid defensive outfielder but the Phillies’ bench is quite weak and the team has a reduced need for the skill he provides.

He made the 25-man roster. Will he stay there?

The starting outfield has defensive maven Ben Revere covering the most ground, the defensively sound John Mayberry or the solid Laynce Nix — who has a career +6 UZR/150 — in one corner, and Domonic Brown in the other. Brown has looked more comfortable this spring and, while he won’t win any fielding awards, he could prove a decent gloveman with consistent playing time.

Outfield defense will take a hit when Delmon Young returns and presumably takes that NixBerry spot, but then John Jr. or even Nix would become available to defensively replace him in crucial late-game situations.

It seems unlikely that Charlie Manuel will replace Brown with Inciarte, at least early in the season when the goal is to give Brown every chance to nail down that starting role. It seems even less likely that he would choose Ender over Mayberry as a corner outfield replacement given the disparity in their offensive games should the game get extended.

When Young returns the Phillies will have to remove someone from the major-league roster. Mayberry is out of options, Inciarte can’t be sent down or else he is returned to the Diamondbacks, and Nix has a guaranteed major league salary and one of the only potent bats off the bench.

The questions I keep asking when trying to make sense of this decision are: When will Inciarte even play?, Is he worth potentially wasting a roster spot for the entire season in the hope that he blossoms into a worthwhile major-leaguer 2-3 years from now?, and Are there legitimate freely available alternatives, including in the Phils’ farm system, to retaining him?

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Is This Chase Utley’s Last Hurrah?

Posted by Ryan Dinger, Fri, March 29, 2013 09:00 AM Comments: 25

Is 2013 the last time we’ll see Chase Utley in a Phillies uniform?

Last week, I was having a discussion with an old friend about the upcoming Phillies season when he posed a question to me: Do you re-sign Chase Utley after 2013?

“Ask me in six months,” was my concise, detached response.

This type of exchange is not exclusive to my friend and me. All over the Delaware Valley, people are asking the very same question about Utley. Most Phillies fans have had the same uncertain response I did about whether to bring the long-time second baseman back.

There’s still time to decide and no reason to rush it.

But the common uncertainty surrounding Utley forces everyone to ask themselves the uncomfortable question: Is 2013 the last time we’ll see Utley in red pinstripes?

The thought causes a stir in me. It makes me reflect on the last decade watching Phillies baseball. Continue reading Is This Chase Utley’s Last Hurrah?

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