Statistical Analysis

Phils Considered Frontrunners For B.J. Upton

Posted by Eric Seidman, Sat, November 03, 2012 12:15 PM Comments: 86

Early Friday morning, Jon Heyman reported that the Phillies were early frontrunners to land B.J. Upton. The former #1 pick is a first-time free agent, and is generally considered the perfect fallback plan for teams that either miss out on, or don’t want to pay the hefty price tags of, Josh Hamilton and Michael Bourn.

Upton has spent his entire career with Tampa Bay and combines solid centerfield defense with athletic baserunning ability and 20+ home run power. He is the youngest centerfield free agent, at 28 years old, and is expected to sign for $11-$13 million per season over four or five years. He is a very talented and valuable baseball player in his prime. The Rays made Upton a qualifying offer late Friday afternoon, but he isn’t likely to accept it.

Given how Ruben Amaro tends to operate, if the Phillies are serious about Upton, his signing could be imminent. Amaro’s modus operandi in his brief general managership has involved identifying a target and making the deal happen quickly. He let the market play out with Jimmy Rollins last offseason, but that was an exception, far from the rule.

While I extolled the virtues of one Peter Bourjos yesterday as a legitimate trade target for the Phillies, the situation is starting to have that ‘feel’ that Upton will be our starting centerfielder for the next several seasons. He was always a prime candidate for the Phillies, who love raw athleticism, and if these early reports are any indication Amaro has found his man.

There really isn’t a wrong answer when discussing Upton, Bourjos, Angel Pagan or Shane Victorino for the centerfield post, but Upton represents the best solution among those on the free agent market. His numbers have been deflated by the Trop, he still has untapped potential, and he is worth ~$12 million/yr even without developing further.

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Get A-Rod’s Backup Instead

Posted by Eric Seidman, Thu, October 25, 2012 08:05 AM Comments: 15

Polly is likely on his way out. Would Chavez be a better fit? (AP)

The Phillies will decline Placido Polanco‘s $5.5 million option for 2013, buying him out for $1 million. The formal decision hasn’t come down the pipeline, but it’s essentially a foregone conclusion. This opens up a spot at third base that the Phillies will need to fill internally, via trade or through the free agent market. Internal options exist, and the team may well choose to mix-and-match utility players and defensive specialists until the de facto 2014 starter — Cody Asche — is ready.

Kevin Frandsen played very well in Polanco’s absence this season and likely enters the season as the positional frontrunner. Freddy Galvis is a superlative defender at a tougher position and should also see time at third base.  Ty Wigginton is, well, just a human being currently on the roster, and we’ll simply leave it at that.

While it’s sexier to discuss long-term solutions like Chase Headley or external stopgaps like Wilson Betemit or any of those Angels infielders, the Phillies can solve their third base dilemma by pairing their internal options with a talented and inexpensive free agent.

Eric Chavez cannot play everyday anymore, but he still hits righties. Formerly a gold glove defender, he remains passable at the position. The Yankees may make Alex Rodriguez available, and may offer to pick up most of the tab. In that case, he will surely be linked to the Phillies, a big-spending team with a clear need at third base. However, the Phillies are better off pursuing Chavez, A-Rod’s backup, as the righty meat in a platoon sandwich.

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Leave Utley At Second Base

Posted by Eric Seidman, Wed, September 26, 2012 09:00 AM Comments: 25

There are three key facts that must be understood before properly analyzing the potential position switch of Chase Utley:

1) Neither Chase Utley nor Freddy Galvis has third base experience at the major league level
2) There is no tangible proof that moving to third base will allow Utley to stay on the field
3) Utley still rates as one of the best defensive second baseman in the game

Since the idea of moving Utley to third base next season is really picking up steam it’s worth exploring these three facts to get a better understanding of why the Phillies are even considering the idea. These facts also suggest that the team is better off leaving Utley at his natural position. The concept of playing Utley at the hot corner was certainly intriguing, and an example of out-of-the-box thinking on the Phillies part, but for now it should get shelved as an interesting idea ultimately not worth exploring at this juncture.

Based on our current knowledge of the situation and the particulars associated with the facts above, it doesn’t seem prudent to make him learn a new position while he still excels defensively in his current diamond spot. It doesn’t seem prudent to make him learn a new position when the only readily available study on position-switches — by friend and injury expert Will Carroll — indicates that these moves carry a greater injury risk than if the player simply stayed put. It just doesn’t seem prudent to move Utley to third base no matter how poor the free agent class looks.

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Letting it Ride on Pierre Against Righties

Posted by Ian Riccaboni, Sat, September 22, 2012 02:00 PM Comments: 2

Charlie Manuel has put Pierre in the right spots to succeed in 2012. Could Pierre lead them into the playoffs? Photo: AP

In playing blackjack, there is a way to decrease the house advantage. This way of playing, basic strategy, limits the house advantage from somewhere around 0.64% for a six deck game to nearly even. The plays feel a little funny sometimes (hitting a hard 16 against a dealer’s seven up-card or a hard 12 against a dealer’s two) but there is a mathematical advantage to doing so, often used not to improve winnings but to mitigate the risk of losing. Juan Pierre, and his basic strategy skill set, has helped the Phillies to a 14-5 record in September, and has kept their playoff hopes on life support for the greater part of the month.

Like in blackjack, baseball has expected outcomes. Much like the cards “have a memory”, previous plays in baseball create outcomes that, by mathematical computation, have certain odds of occurring. For instance, Ryan Howard, in back-to-back games no less, hit two home runs off of left-handed relievers. Yet, even including those home runs, Howard, for his career, is only hitting .127 against them, with a home run in about 1 in 100 at bats. The home runs were certainly unexpected outcomes. Yet, Pierre in the second half, and the entire month of September, has been predictable as a clock, which is exactly what the Phillies have needed.

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Howard’s September to Forget

Posted by Ian Riccaboni, Tue, September 18, 2012 09:59 AM Comments: 37

The Big Piece has been a big disappointment (PHOTO: AP)

While most had written off the Phillies’ chances at a playoff run, some didn’t. Buster Olney wrote in July of an unnamed scout who believed that if the Phillies entered September six or less out of a playoff spot they would be dangerous. A few other folks at ESPN began to explore the Phillies’ chances before the Astros unceremoniously took three of four from the Fightins. To be honest, though, why would you write this team off?

For the first time all year, the Phillies had their ideal Opening Day line-up in tact with their entire pitching staff intact. They had sent the knuckleheads (i.e. Chad Qualls) packing from the bullpen and found steady, young arms to perform. Why couldn’t the Phillies make a run and win, say, 15 out of 20 or 18 of 25 and get back into the race, considering they have two former MVPs and two former Cy Youngs?

The former Cy Youngs have, for the most part, have kept the Phils in the mix. Roy Halladay has been good but not great, posting a 6-2 record with an un-Doc-like 4.07 ERA in the second half after returning from injury. Cliff Lee has decreased his season ERA by 0.65 points, posting excellent second half numbers of 86 Ks in 92.2 IP with a 2.53 ERA. Meanwhile, the former MVPs have been a mixed bag. There likely hasn’t been a hotter shortstop than Jimmy Rollins in the month of September. Rollins is hitting a scorching .333/.400/.652 with six homers and is six for six in steal attempts with Gold Glove-level defense. Rollins’ monster September has catapulted him from upper-tier shortstop back into a guy who may appear on a few MVP ballots.  The other former MVP, on the flip side, has not been as good.

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Second Half Standouts Powering Surging Phils

Posted by Ian Riccaboni, Sat, September 15, 2012 11:53 AM Comments: 2

It has been all smiles for Lee and Rollins as their strong second halves have helped the Phils keep the playoffs a real possibility. Photo: AP

On August 29, the Phillies sat at 61-69, tied for third in the NL East with the Mets, 10 games behind the Cardinals for the second Wild Card in the National League. Cool Standings, a website that calculates playoff probability, had their odds of making the playoffs on the morning of the 29th at less than 0.1%. Since then, the Phillies odds have increased to a September-high 5.5% on Thursday and sit at an even 5% this morning. To put that in perspective, the Phillies are greater than 50 times more likely to reach the playoffs as of this morning than they were on the morning of August 29. While a large amount of luck was needed to pull within three of the Cardinals, the Phillies improbable return to contention in 2012 was powered by a number of stand-out performances by some likely, and unlikely, performers. As you’ll see by the size of this list, a winning ball-club is made up of a number of excellently performing players. The Phillies have had that in the second half.

The Not-So-Surprising Contributors

Cliff Lee

Pop quiz: Who leads baseball in K/BB ratio? It’s Cliff Lee. Lee has flow under the radar in the second half but has been exactly what the Phillies have needed: an ace. Lee’s second half record may only be 4-2, but let’s disregard win/loss record for a second; his second half ERA (2.66) is second on the team among starters only to Kyle Kendrick, averaging over seven innings pitched per start, and just under a strikeout per inning pitched. Lee has struggled with the long ball in the second half, most notably allowing four in his July 24 start against the Brewers, but has been strong since, not allowing a home run since August 16. Lee’s strong second half have stabilized his disappointing first half and is a big reason the Phillies are rapidly ascending the Wild Card ranks.

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Erik Kratz: XBH Machine

Posted by Eric Seidman, Tue, September 04, 2012 12:00 PM Comments: 6

Erik Kratz broke open Sunday’s game against the Braves with a three-run double in the first inning. Though the Phillies would eventually lose the contest in dramatic fashion, Kratz had made his presence felt once again in what has been a terrific rookie season.

Kratz has a .384 wOBA through 113 plate appearances and a 142 wRC+ — production 42% better than the league average. His wOBA and wRC+ each rank 4th among catchers with at least 100 plate appearances and he has performed better than every catcher with fewer than 200 trips to the dish, whether they are backup catchers or injured starters.

The guy can hit, and what made that particular double so impressive, and his season as a whole for that matter, is that he continues to rack up extra-base hits. He isn’t hitting weak grounders that find holes, but rather doubles and home runs that leave the bat with authority. Kratz now has 29 hits on the season: 13 singles, eight doubles and eight home runs. Yes, 16 of his 29 hits have been for extra bases, which computes to 55.2%.

While his playing time still constitutes a small sample size, the XBH% is very high. It got me wondering where Kratz’s rate ranks this season, as well as what players in which seasons posted the highest rates of all-time.

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Kendrick’s Continued Improvement

Posted by Eric Seidman, Wed, August 22, 2012 12:01 PM Comments: 1

Kyle Kendrick has been at times both brilliant and frustrating this season. He shut out the St. Louis Cardinals towards the end of May, and hasn’t allowed a run in 15 straight innings, blanking the Marlins over seven innings and the Brewers over eight in his most recent start. Between the end of June and beginning of August, he threw 22 straight scoreless innings. However, he also allowed six runs over 3.1 innings in an August 8 start against Atlanta, and has allowed 5+ runs in six of his 17 starts this season.

Kendrick has very much been boom or bust, putting together efficient stretches where he pitches better than ever before that are blanketed by dud-performances that resemble what we’ve come to expect from him. But what makes Kendrick’s season so interesting is that, ERA aside, he really has picked up where he left off at the end of the 2011 season. And he has helped cement what we learned upon reviewing his numbers after that late-May shutout of the Cardinals: he is a different pitcher now, and it’s becoming harder to argue with his performance and criticize the two-year deal he signed this past offseason.

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The Phils Didn’t Get ‘Home’ Lindblom

Posted by Eric Seidman, Wed, August 01, 2012 05:20 PM Comments: 7

The Phillies targeted a select group of relievers in potential deals for Shane Victorino, ultimately deciding on Dodgers righty Josh Lindblom in Tuesday’s trade. Lindblom is 25 years old, under team control until 2017, and features a decent fastball-slider combination with a heater in the 91-94 mph range.

He is also an example of why splits are important in properly evaluating players.

In his brief career, Lindblom has thrown 77.1 innings with pretty decent numbers. He has a career 2.91 ERA, 23% strikeout rate and 9% walk rate. He has surrendered just over one home run per nine innings. He has stranded runners at a well above-average 85.1% clip (league average is approximately 73%), and has held the opposition to a .270 BABIP. On paper, there is a lot to like about this young reliever.

But his overall numbers are misleading. He has logged over half of his innings in the friendly confines of Dodger Stadium, and sports a pretty drastic performance split. The Phillies probably pursued Lindblom because of his contractual status, his makeup, and his results to date, but they aren’t likely to garner the benefit of his home performance at Dodger Stadium. And quite frankly, the road version of Lindblom is a poor relief pitcher right now.

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This Bullpen *Could* Actually Provide Relief

Posted by Eric Seidman, Wed, July 11, 2012 09:00 AM Comments: 52

We’re proud to introduce Phillies Nation’s newest writer, Eric Seidman, a published author, an alumnus of Baseball Prospectus and a current staff writer at Fangraphs.com. He also happens to be Corey’s older brother.

Chad Qualls is one of several "problem-relievers" whose absence should improve the Phillies in the second half.

Phillies relievers have blown 12 saves and 16 ties this season, and we’re just passing the all-star break. Last season, the relief corps blew eight saves in total and was a major reason the Phillies won 102 games. This year is a very different story, as the confluence of performance inconsistency, problems both talent- and injury-related, and Charlie Manuel’s frustrating usage patterns has led to one of the most ineffective units in the league from a run-prevention standpoint.

While ERA isn’t a tremendous evaluative tool, it certainly has its merits when it comes to evaluating relievers, and the Phillies’ 4.76 bullpen mark ranks behind all non-Met squads in the senior circuit. The Phillies shouldn’t have allocated any more resources to 50-IP pitchers this off-season, but the struggles of this bullpen is a major reason why the team has a division-worst 37-50 record.

However, there are two main reasons to believe that the relievers could actually provide some relief over the de facto second-half of the season:

1) Even with the “contributions” of several ineffective relievers, this bullpen ranks among the best in a few key areas.
2) Many of those aforementioned ineffective relievers are no longer in the Phillies’ bullpen.

This isn’t to say that the bullpen has been secretly effective, because it hasn’t. Though several advanced stats — including one I co-created called SIERA — peg the Phillies’ bullpen as pitching fairly effectively, I’m not going to sit here and pretend that their rate of stranding runners isn’t atrocious. I’m not going to condescendingly spit on the opinions of those who swear that relief pitching has been the problem this season and that mostly everyone, Jonathan Papelbon included, has under-performed. But I will ask for open minds, as the two reasons cited above should offer legitimate hope that improvements could be on the horizon.

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