Statistical Analysis

Does Kubel Fit the Phillies?

Posted by Eric Seidman, Tue, December 25, 2012 10:05 AM Comments: 33

The Diamondbacks signed Cody Ross to a three-year, $26 million deal over the weekend, giving them five starting outfielders for just three spots. With Adam Eaton set to start in centerfield and both Kubel and Ross signed to free agent deals, the Diamondbacks are more likely to trade one of their outfielders than use expensive platoons. Gerardo Parra‘s name was frequently mentioned as a possible trade target last year, when the Diamondbacks similarly signed Kubel to an outfield already including Parra, Chris Young and Justin Upton, but now it seems even more likely they make a move.

While Kevin Towers hasn’t officially put Kubel on the block, he noted that his phone didn’t stop ringing with requests for his outfielders after news of the Ross signing broke.

The Phillies were strong suitors for Ross but sources suggest they never really wanted to go beyond one or two years on a deal. If the Phils were seeking Ross’s level of productivity on a short-term and less lucrative contract, they could potentially find that in the form of the now expendable Kubel, whose numbers are quite similar over the last two seasons.

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Effectively Using Young, Galvis & Howard

Posted by Eric Seidman, Thu, December 20, 2012 11:56 AM Comments: 51

Last week, Bill Baer wrote up a terrific idea he had at Crashburn Alley: the Phillies should play Freddy Galvis at third base whenever John Lannan starts. The thought makes perfect sense and represents the type of minor adjustment that could benefit the team and maximize the utilities of different rostered players.

As Baer outlined, about 78% Lannan’s batters faced put the ball in play, 53% of those balls in play are grounders, and over half of those grounders are pulled. Having shaky defense at shortstop and third base would hurt the Phillies run prevention with Lannan on the mound. Jimmy Rollins remains an elite defensive shortstop but the Phils are set to start Michael Young at the hot corner. Young hasn’t played third base regularly since 2010 and was a poor defender even then.

Young’s acquisition also leaves Galvis without a clear role. The Phillies could insert him at second base to give Chase Utley a rest and play him alongside Ryan Howard. They could also move Utley to first and play both he and Galvis on the right side of the infield. Rollins might need a day off every now and then as well. Where Galvis could really help the team in a more consistent manner is, as Baer suggested, by playing third base whenever Lannan starts.

I want to take that idea one step further. Not only should Galvis start at third base whenever Lannan pitches, but when Lannan is opposed by a fellow southpaw starter, the Phillies should sit Ryan Howard and play Young at first base. This alignment improves the offense by using Young against the lefties he crushes instead of Howard, who is quite poor against same-handed pitching, and clearly improves the infield defense.

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John Lannan Minimizes Risk

Posted by Eric Seidman, Wed, December 19, 2012 09:00 AM Comments: 47

The Phillies opened up a spot in their rotation when they traded Vance Worley for Ben Revere. They were looking to fill that spot with a low-risk free agent instead of relying on farmhands Tyler Cloyd and Jonathan Pettibone.

Definitions of risk vary but it seemed that the Phillies were looking for cheap and durable starters, valuing those attributes over pure talent and upside.

While several pitchers were available on reasonable short-term deals — Brandon McCarthy (pre-signing), Shaun Marcum, Kevin Millwood and Carlos Villanueva, to name a few — the Phillies signed Nationals castoff John Lannan to a one-year, $2.5 million contract. The deal could be worth upwards of $5 million through incentives. However, the deal is designed in a way that Lannan would most likely be worth $5+ million if those incentives were triggered.

The move was met with mixed reviews. Some gravitated towards the idea of having a durable pitcher with a stellar groundball rate at a minimal commitment. Others trashed it because they felt Lannan’s numbers were bad, occasionally conflating his numbers against the Phillies with his overall stats. Some were against it because they wanted the Phillies to spend more money and bring in a Marcum or McCarthy. And, of course, many people still couldn’t get past his propensity for beaning Phillies players.

I fell into the first group — those in favor of the deal.

What the Phillies did with Lannan was minimize risk at the back-end of the starting rotation. He isn’t flashy but he has been eerily consistent over the last several seasons. He is very much a known commodity and, from an expected value standpoint, there is far greater certainty in what he will provide than there is with Marcum or McCarthy.

Both of those pitchers have the potential to outperform Lannan but they are also big injury risks. They are question marks for a team that needs no more.

When judging the Phillies move along those lines, too many fans are comparing Lannan to the best case scenario of Marcum. Hearkening back to expected value, there is far more uncertainty as to what Marcum would provide, and that wasn’t worth a potential $4-$6 million premium for a team looking to minimize risk.

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Phillies Offseason Plan – Eric’s Version

Posted by Eric Seidman, Tue, November 13, 2012 12:50 PM Comments: 37

The Phillies are in an interesting spot heading into 2013, as there are legitimate holes to fill and a number of solid players they could pursue. The outfield has garnered plenty of attention, as the roster currently features five players either unproven, or who’ve proven that they are best utilized in a part-time role. Third base is a position of interest, with questionable internal options and an ugly free agent class. Bullpens are also always scrutinized and the Phils’ relief corps — which had the second worst eighth inning ERA in baseball last season — is no different

Ryan Madson would be a low-risk, high-reward signing. (PHOTO: NJ.com)

When discussing moves, however, it’s important to remember that everything is connected. Signing B.J. Upton means that another player is released, non-tendered or demoted. It would also mean that the team has less money to spend in other areas. A trade for Peter Bourjos might include one or two players currently on the major-league roster. Moves are often discussed in the abstract, without regard for the trickle-down effects on the rest of the roster.

It’s best to discuss an offseason plan holistically to ensure that all bases are covered, that funds aren’t over- or under-allocated to certain areas, and on a more basic level, to make sure that the roster doesn’t have more than 25 players.

To that end, Pat, Corey and I decided to put together our own offseason plans, playing Fantasy GM and building a 2013 roster based on our opinions on the specific needs of the team and which players are the best investments for those needs.

We tried to build our teams irrespective of current rumors or players to which the Phils have been connected (i.e. Josh Hamilton on Monday). The goal isn’t to predict what the Phillies will do, but rather to suggest what moves we would pursue if, to borrow a phrase from Amaro himself, we had our druthers.

Payroll was a major consideration. We were cognizant of the luxury tax calculable payroll, which is the average annual value of long-term contracts and not the specific salary for the 2013 season.

With the introductions and disclaimers out of the way, here is my offseason plan.

Bullpen: Sign Ryan Madson for 1 yr/$5 mil
I speculated earlier in the year that Madson could likely be had on a one-year, $2-$3 million contract. He injured his elbow, underwent reconstructive surgery, is set to return sometime towards the end of April or beginning of May 2013 and will probably have trouble finding a closing gig, regardless of his desires.

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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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