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Statistical Analysis

Small Ball? Not So Much

Posted by Jonathan Nisula, Mon, April 27, 2015 09:01 AM Comments: 6

PHOTO: AP

PHOTO: AP

Coming into the season, the Phillies offense wasn’t expected to be much of anything. So manager Ryne Sandberg figured that the best way to get these guys to produce would be small ball. Here’s what he told MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki in March:

That’s something that I’m stressing this spring. We’re working on it. We’re practicing it. If it’s not a bunt, it could be a hit and run. Get a baserunner, make something happen–really to set the tone for the season. … I look at our bats and our type of team, and I think we’re going to have to be good at that game.

And so far in 2015, they’ve been trying. Kind of. They’ve been one of the worst teams at the plate–last in the league in total runs and runs per game, last in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging, OPS, and more. But they have the most sacrifice bunt attempts (17) and successes (8) in all of baseball. However, their 47% success rate is near the bottom of the league at 26th. So in reality, they aren’t that good at sac bunts, they just lead the league because they attempt so many.

So what about other forms of “small ball”? I define small ball as advancing the most baserunners as possible. That can come in the form of bunts and steals, but also things like going 1st-to-3rd on a single to right, or advancing a runner from 2nd to 3rd on a ground ball. Elias/ESPN classify a “productive out” as (1) successful sac bunt by a pitcher with one out, or (2) advancing any runner with none out, or (3) driving in a baserunner with the second out of the inning. A failure is determined as making an out without advancing the runner(s). Using that criteria, the Phillies are 11th in the league in with 22 successes in 61 opportunities. So at least they’re in the top half in that category.

But how about baserunning? They have 10 stolen bases in 13 attempts, which is about the league average. However, they haven’t been very good on the basebaths. According to Baseball Reference, the Phillies have taken extra bases (defined as taking more than one base on a single or more than two on a double) at a rate good for third-worst in the league. Furthermore, they are 2nd-to-last in the rate at which any baserunner scores on a batter’s play. They are last in total baserunners that scored and last at advancing a runner from second with none out as well.

So, the Phillies are trying the small ball thing with lots of bunts, but they don’t do the other things that are required to make “small ball” successful. If they really want to stress this play style, they need to do a better job, as Andy Reid would say, of situational hitting and running the bases. They could vastly improve their run output if they just improve in those areas.

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The Phillies Bullpen is Really Good

Posted by Jonathan Nisula, Thu, September 11, 2014 10:00 AM Comments: 8

tabs-bullpenThe 2014 Phillies season is nearing its end, and barring a disastrous September, the Phils should end up with more wins than 2013. Part of the reason is due to the offense scoring slightly more runs per game–3.96 in 2014, 3.77 in 2013–but the pitching staff as a whole has done much better, as well. They are allowing 4.34 runs per game, compared to 4.62 in 2013, and their ERA is 48 points lower than last year (3.84 in 2014, 4.32 in 2013).

The starters, as a whole, have a lower ERA than 2013–3.96 to 4.41–but their other stats don’t much support that. They are walking more hitters and notching less strikeouts, both which support the fact that their FIP (Fielder Independent Pitching) is actually slightly higher than last year’s.

The bullpen, however, is a different story. They surrender less walks and strike out more batters, and both their ERA and FIP are lower than last year’s. Still, the bullpen’s ERA is only 11th in the NL, and their FIP is 7th. So what makes them good, exactly?

The answer is in their top four guys: Jonathan Papelbon, Ken Giles, Jake Diekman, and Justin De Fratus.

Giles and Papelbon are especially good. They both have outstanding ERA’s, and rarely allow baserunners. But they are also really good at avoiding the home run. They are the only two reliever teammates in NL history (min 39 IP each) to have an ERA below 1.61, a WHIP below 0.87, and a HR/9 below 0.30. And there are only 12 such player seasons that meet that criteria. The Phillies have two of them in the same season.

Giles has a 1.13 ERA with a 0.81 WHIP, and Papelbon has a 1.61 ERA with a 0.86 WHIP. If we bump those numbers up to a 3.74 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP, the Phillies would be tied for third in the NL with four such players.

The problem is that three out of seven players with at least 23 innings pitched for the Phillies in relief have ERA’s above four. And then there’s guys like Phillippe Aumont and Luis Garcia, who’ve thrown only a handful of innings, but have given up a bunch of earned runs.

The top six relievers in innings pitched for the Phillies (Diekman, Papelbon, Bastardo, De Fratus, Hollands, and Giles) have a combined 3.45 ERA. The rest? 6.46–a steep dropoff.

So while the team stats may lead you to believe that the bullpen is near the bottom of the NL, that isn’t the case. The top four guys in the ‘pen are right up there with the NL leaders, and the top two are having a historical season together. The 2015 bullpen is looking mighty strong.

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Phillies Striking Out More Than Ever

Posted by Jonathan Nisula, Thu, September 04, 2014 11:00 AM Comments: 4

The Phillies offensive struggles this year don’t seem all that bad. They are near, but not at, the bottom in several categories. As a team, they are 8th in the NL in runs (548) and runs per game (3.94), 10th in average (.245), and 12th in OPS (.676). Their walk rate (7.4%) and strikeout rate (20.8%) are both 9th, and have an ISO (SLG minus AVG) of .125–11th in the NL. Those numbers just reek of mediocrity.

But nothing there really suggests that they are completely inept, offensively. At least in comparison to the other NL teams. In fact, they are 3rd in the NL in stolen bases–thanks in large part to 42 from Ben Revere and 28 from Jimmy Rollins–and hit line drives at a rate that is good for 5th in the NL.

Continue reading Phillies Striking Out More Than Ever

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Ken Giles, And The Battle For Closer In 2015

Posted by Jonathan Nisula, Fri, August 29, 2014 11:00 AM Comments: 6

PHOTO: (AP/Chris Szagola)

PHOTO: (AP/Chris Szagola)

Ken Giles has been good this year. Really good. The 23 year old, flamethrowing reliever was called up on June 8 after Mike Adams was placed on the disabled list with shoulder issues. Giles had a 1.88 ERA and 12 saves in the minors for Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley prior to the call up.

He was only expected to fill in for Adams and provide some spark in the late innings ahead of Jonathan Papelbon.

But he’s done so much more.

In 32 appearances and 33.2 innings, Giles has given up just six runs–five earned, good for an ERA of 1.34. He doesn’t give up many home runs (0.27 per 9), and doesn’t allow much contact–battersare making contact at a rate 67.4% against him, 4th in the NL. He has a 5.33 K/BB ratio, which is 8th in the NL (relievers, min 30 IP), and largely due to his absurd amount (48) of strikeouts. Among NL relievers with at least 30 innings pitched, both his K/9 (12.83) and his K% (38.1%) are in the top five. An interesting and unrelated note–Jake Diekman is right up there with Giles in both those categories.

Giles has an average velocity of 97.1 on his fastball, second in MLB to only cyborg Aroldis Chapman of the Reds. He also throws a nasty slider, and, according to PITCHf/x data, is the 16th most valuable in the league. 32 of his 48 strikeouts (two thirds) have come via the slider, and opponents are hitting just .137/.154/.157 against it. He’s given up just one extra base hit in 208 sliders thrown (0.48%).

The fastball-slider combo reminds me of another Phillies closer–Brad Lidge. His fastball velocity hovered around 95 MPH before he began to lose it (the average fell to about 89 MPH by 2011) and his slider was valued at 4th in all of baseball from 2007-2011. About 81.8% of his strikeouts came via his slider, and opponents hit just .190/.251/.301 against it. They’d only make contact on 54.8% of swings against it, and hit just 35 extra base hits in 2202 total pitches seen (1.6%).

PHOTO: (AP/Laurence Kesterson)

PHOTO: (AP/Laurence Kesterson)

The current closer for the Phillies–Jonathan Papelbon–has been as good as ever in 2014. He has an ERA of 1.60 (11th in NL), a K/BB ratio of 4.15 (21st in NL, and a fastball valued at 4th best in the NL. Many of his numbers this year are somewhere near his career bests, even though his fastball velocity is down. I should also mention that a few of his numbers are somewhere near his career lows as well. He gets a lot of flack for his comments to the media and his slow pace on the mound, but there’s no denying he’s been good this year.

But what about next year? The Phillies have been openly trying to trade Papelbon, or “Cinco Ocho”, as he likes to call himself–no no avail. In that article, Ken Rosenthal ponders that the lack of interest in Papelbon might be due to his falling velocity and his personality, but that GM Ruben Amaro Jr. doesn’t think so.

Regardless, the Phillies will have to make a decision on Papelbon for next year, because Giles seems ready to take over at closer and I don’t think it’s likely that Papelbon can continue to pitch at this level. If they want to go with Giles, they will have to get rid of Papelbon in some capacity, whether it be via trade or release, because Papelbon will not want to be a setup man, even though he’s really helped groom Giles this year.

I think Giles deserves it, and I think Papelbon will regress next year, and has rubbed Phillies fans the wrong way too often for the Phillies to sell him as the closer over Giles in 2015.

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Ryan Howard, Ben Revere, and RBIs

Posted by Jonathan Nisula, Tue, August 26, 2014 11:00 AM Comments: 76

It’s a been argued over and over again, especially in Philadelphia, where Ryan Howard–one of the best RBI men in MLB over the years (2nd overall to only Miguel Cabrera since 2006) calls home.

And no, I’m not talking about whether to refer to multiple runs batted in as “RBI”, or “RBIs” (I’ll be using the latter in this post). I’m talking about the meaning of the stat.

“RBIs don’t matter!”, say many believers in advanced metrics and Sabermetrics.

Those that disagree tend to favor, from what I’ve seen, all the more traditional statistics, like batting average, pitcher wins, and things of that sort.

Continue reading Ryan Howard, Ben Revere, and RBIs

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Can Ben Revere Win The Batting Title?

Posted by Jonathan Nisula, Sat, August 23, 2014 11:10 AM Comments: 12

All Placido Polanco Ben Revere does is hit. He’s been a hit machine recently, and has pushed himself up to 2nd in the NL in batting average, only behind Justin Morneau of the Rockies.

But can he pass Morneau? Revere has been on an outstanding hot streak since June, leading MLB in average over that span. He also hasn’t struck out or walked much, either.

Why he will win it

Revere has finally settled into his groove. He’s seeing the ball extremely well, and his lack of patience is made up for with his stellar ability to make contact. Only Denard Span of the Nationals makes contact at a higher rate than Revere.

He’s on a hot streak right now, and his confidence at the plate is at a season high. He’s making it look easy.

Morneau, on the other hand, hasn’t been as good lately. If (a big ‘if’) Revere doesn’t cool off, he’ll win the batting title easily.

Why he won’t

While Revere undoubtedly can make contact with the ball at an extremely high rate, the contact he makes isn’t necessarily good. He leads MLB in contact %, but also ground ball %, and obviously ground ball/fly ball %. He doesn’t hit many solid line drives, as most of his hits are ground ball singles.

He doesn’t walk, and doesn’t hit for any kind of power, which means his plate appearances usually end in either a single or an out. Out of 477 plate appearances so far, only 29 have not ended in either a single or an out.

He can easily be dealt with by having pitcher sort of “pitch around” him, knowing he will still swing. Although he doesn’t chase balls out of the zone too much, he hardly ever sees pitches out of the zone. He’s seeing the most in-the-zone pitches in all of baseball according to Fangraphs. However, he’s 6th in MLB in the rate at which he makes contact with pitches outside the zone. If pitchers pitch around him more, I think Revere will struggle a ton.

There’s also the injury factor to consider. He is often limping around the field after his PAs.

Verdict

I don’t think he’ll do it. I would love to see it, but I just don’t think he will stay this hot through September. I think he’ll cool off and finish in the top 3 in the NL in average. He just doesn’t make enough solid contact to sustain such a high average, in my opinion. However, he’s been fun to watch these last few months, a rarity with this current Phillies team.

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Phillies Nation TV – Episode 13 – Jayson Stark talks Phillies and his new book

Posted by Brian Michael, Wed, July 02, 2014 03:00 PM Comments: 0

On this week’s episode of Phillies Nation, Pat and Corey are joined by ESPN baseball analyst and former Inquirer writer Jayson Stark. They discuss Jayson’s new book, Wild Pitches, as well as delve into the Phillies recent struggles, particularly at home.

Former Phillies starting pitcher Tommy Greene teaches us about which pitches to throw depending on different batters and counts. And as always, Ryann Williams presents the Batters Inbox with questions from viewers like you.

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Scouting the Opposing Pitcher: Matt Shoemaker

Posted by Ian Riccaboni, Tue, May 13, 2014 01:00 PM Comments: 0

Tonight, the Phillies face Matt Shoemaker, a 6’2″, 27-year old righty out of Eastern Michigan University. Shoemaker is making just his second Major League after being recalled by the Halos.

Shoemaker spent most of his time in the minors as a starter but always delivers from the stretch. He releases his fastball from between 75 and 80 degrees consistently and hitters are able to get a good view of the pitch leaving his hand.

Shoemaker’s fastball sits between 90 and 91 MPH and he goes to it about 50% of the time. Shoemaker’s secondary pitches are a slider, sits at 82 MPH, and a splitter, which sits at about 84 MPH. Shoemaker had a lot of success in his Major League debut working the lower, outer half of the strikezone with his slider, getting righties to chase as seen in the video below.

This strategy probably will not bode well when facing the lefties the Phillies will send to the plate. Look for Shoemaker to toggle between his 4-seam and split-fingered fastballs tonight. The Phillies, particularly Chase Utley, could do considerable damage to to Shoemaker if he leaves his sliders across the plate.

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Ryan Howard and the Shift: An Analysis

Posted by Jonathan Nisula, Fri, April 18, 2014 02:10 PM Comments: 4

PHOTO: AP

PHOTO: AP

The Big Piece. Ryan Howard has given us plenty of great moments over the years–from game winning monster home runs to “get me to the plate, boys”. Ruben Amaro Jr. awarded him with a monster contract that has since been proven to be one of the biggest mistakes he’s made as Phillies GM due to a tremendous drop in production from the lefty slugger. But this isn’t about the amount of money that the now run down, breaking ball chasing Howard is making. This is about a different aspect of his game that I don’t think has been analyzed deeply before.

Ryan Howard has always been a strong pull-hitter. And, much like his predecessor–Jim Thome–he gets the shift treatment each time he steps to the plate. The second baseman plays in shallow right field, the short stop plays somewhere up the middle, and the third baseman plays shortstop. The third base position does not, and will never, exist when The Big Piece is in the batters box. For this reason, Howard has gotten plenty of “ground outs” on frozen ropes that are hit directly at the second baseman in right field. On the other hand, he’s had a handful of swinging bunts to the left of the pitcher that got him a single as well. Here’s an analysis of what the shift does to Ryan Howard, and what Ryan Howard does to the shift. First, we’ll look at a couple spray charts courtesy of Brooks Baseball.

plot_hc_spray

As you can see in the image above, there is a large cluster of ground balls (marked in green) in between first and second base on the right side of the field. The dots are marked at the point at which the fielder made contact with the ball. A large portion of those dots are in the outfield, a direct result of the shift. Lets take a look at another lefty on the Phillies–Chase Utley.

plot_hc_spray (2)

He has a similar tendency to pull ground balls to the right side, but the contact with the fielder in his chart is much more condensed and closer to the natural second base position. He also has more ground balls make it through the infield to the right fielder.

Now, seeing his spray chart, Howard clearly falls victim to shift more often than not. Most of his ground balls to the right side are eaten up by the shift, and result in outs. Also, a larger portion of his line drives (red dots) to the right side are caught by the shifted fielders than Utley. But here’s another chart:

plot_hc_spray (1)

The black dots in this chart represent his outs. As expected, there is a cluster on the right side of the infield and in shallow right field. But what’s interesting, is that he has more outs in center field and left field than he does in right field. This is–you guessed it–another direct result of the shift. Opposing teams are able to cut down the amount of batted balls that even make it to the outfielders. Another area of interest is the amount of singles and doubles to the right side. He has significantly more singles to right than any other part of the field, but less doubles. Outfielders play him to pull, and are able to cut down deeply hit balls that the infielders could not get to.

This is proven by looking at some numbers on Baseball Reference. When Howard pulls the ball, he gets a hit roughly 37.8% of the time. But when he hits it up the middle, that average jumps to 41.4%. And when he hits it the other way, it’s an even 40%. His OPS, however, distinctly increases as you go from the right side (1.050) to the middle (1.237) to the left (1.408). So, while his strength is pulling the ball, opposing teams have successfully been able to counter that with the fielding alignment. And, judging by his numbers to each field, limiting the number of balls he pulls would benefit him.

So, knowing this about himself, has Howard tried to change his approach a bit to try and beat the shift? David Ortiz, another slugging lefty, was able to change up his approach a few years ago. He began to fight off outside pitches to the left side, rather than still trying to pull them. He even attempted to bunt a few times. Howard, on the other hand, has made minimal changes, if any:

plot_hc_bytime (1)

No.

Overall, there is little change since 2007 in the area where Howard hits the ball. It doesn’t look like he’s trying to drive the ball the other way any more than he did seven years ago. It’s quite understandable that Ruben Amaro Jr. isn’t paying him to hit line drive singles to left-center, but at this point in his career, can The Big Piece afford to keep driving hit after hit into the teeth of the shift? Should he change his approach? In my opinion, Howard should keep doing what got him that ludicrous contract in the first place. Changing up his approach now would do more harm than good for a guy still trying to find his old self at the plate.

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Tender Frustration and Finding Upside

Posted by Eric Seidman, Wed, December 04, 2013 08:56 AM Comments: 33

The deadline for tendering contracts has passed and the Phillies have elected to bring back John Mayberry, Kevin Frandsen and Kyle Kendrick. Both Mayberry and Frandsen were solid bets to get non-tendered. Their salaries were likely to outweigh their contributions and there were better uses for Frandsen’s $900K and Mayberry’s $1-$1.5 million.

The Phillies should have non-tendered Mayberry.

That adds up to $2-$2.5 million for two 30+ year old reserves who hit something like .230/.285/.370 last season. Amaro defended his decision by citing their versatility and said there was never any thought to non-tendering either player. There should have been plenty of thought to that effect as Frandsen defined the replacement level while Mayberry fell below.

Mayberry was serviceable when he made the league minimum and showed flashes of being able to hold down a semi-regular role. Those days are gone. He has no upside. He is not going to break out a la Jayson Werth.

Frandsen had a terrific 2012 season driven by a .366 BABIP and he was worth bringing back last year to see if he really had improved. He ended up posting very similar walk, strikeout and isolated power rates but his BABIP fell closer to his career average. His offensive production predictably plummeted. He has no upside. His 2012 campaign was a fluke.

While both players may be versatile, there was absolutely no reason for the Phillies to bring them back. For a team with so much money concentrated in select spots, finding value players with upside is integral to short- and long-term success.

For this Phillies team, two of the spots to use on value players with upside are the ones that Mayberry and Frandsen will once again occupy.

Some have questioned the Marlon Byrd and Carlos Ruiz deals but this is the headscratching decision of the Phillies’ offseason so far.

By bringing back Mayberry and Frandsen the Phillies are exhibiting zero creativity and further illustrating their faulty means of evaluating talent. Whether to retain Kendrick is more complicated but committing to Mayberry and Frandsen is problematic.

Continue reading Tender Frustration and Finding Upside

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