Five questions: Philadelphia Phillies

1. Was 2009 a fluke season for Cole Hamels?

Yes, mostly due to their batting averages on balls in play (BABIP). Pitchers have very little control over their BABIP, so it normally hovers around .300. In 2008, when Cole Hamels was brilliant, his BABIP was .270. Last year, it was .325. An increase of .055 is a lot!

There were 581 balls put in play against Hamels in ’09. If hitters batted .300 instead of .325, they get 174 hits instead of 189. 64.5 percent of the hits Hamels allowed were singles, 21.5 percent were doubles, 2.5 percent were triples, and 11.5 percent were home runs. If we assume the same distribution of hits, then Hamels would have given up nine fewer singles, three fewer doubles, one fewer triple, and two fewer home runs. In other words, opposing hitters’ SLG would drop from .440 to .406 and their OBP would drop from .315 to .296.

Overall, Hamels was the same pitcher last year as he was in 2008. His FIP was 3.72 in both years; xFIP only had him 0.06 worse in ’09; tRA thought he was .014 better last year.

His strikeouts and walks stayed at the same level.

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So did his batted ball splits.
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Hitters approached him about the same.

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And, finally, Hamels was actually more consistent with his release points.

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If I was a betting man, I would bet that Hamels has a bounce-back 2010 season.

Why didn’t GM Ruben Amaro keep Cliff Lee?

Fans salivated at the thought of having Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Hamels in the same starting rotation. Opposing managers cringed at the thought of facing all three consecutively in the playoffs. Yes, it would have been nice to have all three wearing a Phillies uniform in 2010.
However, take a look at how the Phillies got to where they are.

{exp:list_maker}Jimmy Rollins: Drafted in the 2nd round in 1996
Ryan Madson: Drafted in the 9th round in 1998
Chase Utley: Drafted 15th overall in 2000
Ryan Howard: Drafted in the 5th round in 2001
Cole Hamels: Drafted 17th overall in 2002
J.A. Happ: Drafted in the 3rd round in 2004 {/exp:list_maker}

The Phillies organization has drafted remarkably well and built around a core of home-grown players. Partially resulting from the Cliff Lee trade last year, and partially due to having lower draft picks due to their recent success, the Phillies’ minor league system has fallen into the bottom-third of the league according to most rankings. Emptying what’s left in the farm for one year of Lee would have been devastating to the Phillies beyond 2012.

Essentially swapping Lee for Halladay allowed the Phillies to keep some prospects that will be able to fill in as the current group of Phillies dwindles while also signing one of the best pitchers in baseball to a multi-year contract extension.

Phillies fans will curse Amaro if the Phillies fail to win the World Series in 2010, but they will be thanking him by 2013. His job is not just to put a competitive team on the field this year, but to ensure that he will be able to do the same in ’11, and ’12, and ’13, and so on.

How good has the running game been, and will it continue to improve?

With first base coach Davey Lopes, the Phillies’ base runners have been historically great. In 2007, Lopes’ first year on the job, the Phillies stole bases at an 88 percent success rate, setting an all-time Major League record. In ’08 and ’09, their success rates were 84 percent and 81 percent, respectively. From 2007-09, the Phillies were the most efficient baseball team in terms of stealing bases.

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The team has also become more aggressive under Lopes. In the three years prior to his hiring, 2004-06, the Phillies were just in the top half to top one-third in the majors in terms of base-stealing aggressiveness (attempts to steal). With Lopes, from ’07-09, the Phillies have been in the top one-fourth to one-sixth.

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While it is obvious that Lopes has made his runners attempt to steal second more often, he has also done the same at third base. Phillies runners have become more aggressive trying to steal third base.

Mental Health and the CBA
A particular bit of language in the latest CBA could have negative consequences for some players.
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It isn’t just blind aggression, either. From 2007-09, the Phillies successfully stole third base 85 percent, 89 percent, and 72 percent respectively, well above the 75 percent break-even point in two out of the three years.

In 2010, the same group of runners — Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Chase Utley, and Jayson Werth — will be back and they have replaced a poor base runner in Pedro Feliz with a good base runner in Placido Polanco. Expect them to once again be the best in the game at swiping bags with efficiency.

Will the Phillies be able to keep Jayson Werth away from free agency?

A lot depends on what happens with Carl Crawford, as he is the only other soon-to-be free agent outfielder in Werth’s stratosphere. The four-year, $66 million contract Jason Bay received from the New York Mets will also help determine how much Werth will make in free agency.

According to FanGraphs, Crawford has been worth 11.3 WAR over the past three seasons. Bay is tallied at 6.4 WAR over the same period of time, while Werth comes in at 13.6. It stands to reason that Werth could ask for more than Bay got from the Mets.

As for the Phillies’ ability to retain him, it seems unlikely. The team already has nearly $133 million committed to 17 players in 2011 with the arbitration cases of Kyle Kendrick, Ben Francisco, and Greg Dobbs (who likely will not receive an offer) to handle. The Phillies front office imposed a $140 million payroll cap this season and it is unlikely that the Phillies will raise it up to the $160-170 million range that would be necessary to afford Werth.

If Werth truly wants to continue his career in Philadelphia, he could agree to backload his contract. For instance, a three-year deal worth $50 million could pay him $12 million in the first year and $19 million in the final two years.

I have suggested (here and here) that the Phillies should trade Ryan Howard in an effort to clear payroll, which would give them the ability to re-sign Werth. However, this is unlikely to occur given Howard’s star power, his popularity in Philadelphia, and a rather small market for expensive, power-hitting, one-dimensional first basemen.

Did the Phillies upgrade at third base by signing Placido Polanco?

Comparing Polanco to Pedro Feliz, the answer is simple: yes. Feliz compiled 2.7 WAR in 2008 and ’09 in Philadelphia, while Polanco accrued 6.1 WAR in the same period of time.

However, there is concern because Polanco will be playing at third base, a position he hasn’t played regularly since 2002 and hasn’t played at all since ’05. At second base, he was one of the best defensive players in baseball. Chase Utley was the only second baseman to outrank Polanco in UZR/150 last year, 11.3 to 11.0.

Polanco has been working with the Phillies coaching staff and logging significant innings during spring training in an effort to re-learn the position. However, if he simply provides league-average offense and defense at third base, he will have earned his $5.2 million salary, part of the below-market, three-year $18 million contract the Phillies awarded him in December.

While it is certainly true that Amaro could have slightly loosened his grip on his wallet and signed Chone Figgins, he felt that Polanco was a perfect fit in the lineup in the No. 2 spot behind Jimmy Rollins. Polanco rarely walks just as he rarely strikes out, but Charlie Manuel likes his propensity for contact combined with Rollins’ speed. Most sabermetrics-using Phillies fans prefer Shane Victorino to lead off rather than Rollins, but that is neither here nor there.

BONUS: Should Victorino lead-off instead of Rollins?

We’ll simply use the lineup analysis tool from Baseball Musings. I plugged in the PECOTA projections for each of the Phillies, first using the lineup that will be used in 2010 and then using the one most of us stat-nerd Phillies fans want.
Note: for pitchers, I simply used last year’s aggregate OBP/SLG by Phillies pitchers.

Real Lineup
{exp:list_maker}Rollins-Polanco-Utley-Howard-Werth-Ibanez-Victorino-Ruiz-Pitcher
4.940 runs per game
800.3 runs per 162 games {/exp:list_maker}

Proposed lineup
{exp:list_maker}Victorino-Polanco-Utley-Howard-Werth-Ibanez-Victorino-Ruiz-Pitcher
4.971 runs per game
805.3 runs per 162 games {/exp:list_maker}

Optimal Lineup
{exp:list_maker}Utley-Werth-Polanco-Howard-Victorino-Rollins-Ibanez-Pitcher-Ruiz
5.185 runs per game
840 runs per 162 games {/exp:list_maker}

The difference between the two lineups is about five runs over a 162-game season, or roughly about half a win. The difference between the optimal lineup is 35-40 runs, or roughly 3.5-4 wins. Of course, the “optimal lineup” will never be used by anyone other than Tony LaRussa, and only if he’s found his flask.


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drbindy
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drbindy
Doesn’t this statement: “Phillies fans will curse Amaro if the Phillies fail to win the World Series in 2010, but they will be thanking him by 2013. His job is not just to put a competitive team on the field this year, but to ensure that he will be able to do the same in ‘11, and ‘12, and ‘13, and so on.” necessarily require that the actual prospects received in the Lee trade do something to benefit the team by 2013?  Because if they don’t, then the remainder of the system is just as thin as it would have… Read more »
Bill Baer
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Bill Baer
Absolutely, drbindy. I would say, though, there’s a good chance of at least one of the three panning out. Phillippe Aumont is rated by most as a high-B prospect with a couple of filthy pitches: Fastball: http://twitpic.com/tpaby Curve: http://twitpic.com/tpaew Tyson Gillies is raw, but was very impressive in spring training, drawing comparisons to Shane Victorino. (“The best-laid plans of mice and men,” right?) And more to my main point, the trade allowed the Phillies to lock up an ace pitcher for 3-4 years, as opposed to keeping Lee and watching him walk and getting two picks (one first round, one… Read more »
Patrick
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Patrick

Bill!

BABIP is Batting Average Balls in PLAY.  It doesn’t include home runs!  They’re not in play – They got whacked over the fences.

So you CANNOT correct home runs with BABIP data.  Doesn’t make any sense.

wsk
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wsk

does anyone have a grip?
you want to trade werth to any drunk gm that could turn over two grade a prospects, and a hoper grade b lefthander.
werth, really nice player, a freak couple of years—great for him; he might be good for a while, but shoot.
make the trade.
30 homers, horriffic right fielding.
replaceable.
a bad moving white 6-5 guy, with a bad back; celtics bench.

Faithdies
Guest
Faithdies

Werth is a horrific right fielder? A bad moving 6-5 white guy? He stole 20 bags and played above average defense. Where did these conclusions of yours come from? NOT watching or reading about baseball? I don’t think I’ve read an opinion so wrong in my entire life.

Maybe I misunderstood the post. At least let’s hope that’s the case.

Kyle
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Kyle

If you tried to tell him batting Polanco third was a good thing, Charlie’s head would explode.

HeyHey
Guest
HeyHey

Hey Bill, I know your busy, but can you write a column about why batting the pitcher 8th ends up being the optimal line up?  I can’t think any reason why letting the pitcher get more at bats ends up being optimal… I would have thought it would have created more outs.  Very stumped and could use some help thinking it over.
Thanks,

bake
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bake

How does it come out if you do the “optimal” lineup, but switch pitcher/catcher back into their traditional spots?  Can’t make that much difference, I’m thinking.

Bill Baer
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Bill Baer
@Patrick I actually fixed that like two weeks ago… I must have sent in an old version of this article. Did not see that coming. I added in HR out of habit and came to the same conclusion you did and removed it. @HeyHey I couldn’t find it with a light Google search, but the reason the optimal lineup has the pitcher hitting eighth is because it is the best spreading of the hitters most likely to make outs. You actually want your two worst hitters (mostly in terms of OBP) to hit third and eighth. Tango, Lichtman, and Dolphin… Read more »
schmenkman
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schmenkman

Your proposed lineup has Victorino instead of Rollins in the 7 slot.

Using an optimal lineup that veers from the typical makeup might be the next “inefficiency” that some brave team will be willing to exploit.  I agree, the 2010 Phillies will not be that pioneering team.

Bill Baer
Guest
Bill Baer

Typo; thanks for catching it. The link to the lineup analysis tool has Rollins at #7 though.

Table
Guest
Table
“And more to my main point, the trade allowed the Phillies to lock up an ace pitcher for 3-4 years, as opposed to keeping Lee and watching him walk and getting two picks (one first round, one sandwich), which are as much a gamble as anything.” Do you hear what you are saying? The trade of Cliff Lee is separate from the Halladay trade in that they could have still locked Halladay up if they had kept Lee. Also you talk about how well Philly has built their team internally through the draft and then go on to say that… Read more »
Bill Baer
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Bill Baer

The trade of Cliff Lee is separate from the Halladay trade in that they could have still locked Halladay up if they had kept Lee.

Amaro wouldn’t have traded for Halladay if Lee was still on the roster. The trade and extending of Halladay was contingent on the Lee trade.

then go on to say that 1st round picks are risky and less valuable.

Known quantities (like Aumont and Gillies) are better than unknown quantities (draft picks).

You’re conflating my arguments, sir.

bake
Guest
bake

Thanks.  Actually, that’s surprisingly more than I would have expected.  But we all know Charlie would never bat the catcher 9th.  Haha.

Table
Guest
Table
Look, I know you are a smart guy and run one of the better Philly blogs (I’m a Doger fan). However you didn’t give any logical support for your two points. What is Amaro’s reasoning for not wanting to trade for Halladay if he still had Lee? That he would have a depleted farm system? Because that is not sound reasoning in itself. All you say to prove that draft picks are inferior is that they are unknowns while the players received for Lee are known to an extent, but is it really that simple? The draft picks might be… Read more »
raboo
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raboo

From what I remember of LaRussa’s strategy, batting the pitcher 8th means that the 1, 2 & 3 hitters (especially 3rd in Pujols case) have a better chance to come up to bat after the first inning with a runner on base. So, those hitters have a better chance at an RBI.

schmenkman
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schmenkman

Ryan, I am in agreement, well put.  However unfortunately there will be a small vocal minority who will only shut up about the Lee trade if the Phillies win it all in 2010.  Anything short of that, and we are going to be hearing about it for several years, regardless of what Aumont/Gillies/Ramirez end up accomplishing.

Bill Baer
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Bill Baer

What is Amaro’s reasoning for not wanting to trade for Halladay if he still had Lee? That he would have a depleted farm system? Because that is not sound reasoning in itself.

Why would Amaro have traded Lee then? If it didn’t make sense to keep the farm system stocked, then Lee would still be a Phillie.

All you say to prove that draft picks are inferior is that they are unknowns while the players received for Lee are known to an extent, but is it really that simple?

Yes.

Table
Guest
Table

I am not so much asking if that is the reason Amaro traded Lee, I am saying that it is a stupid reason.

Table
Guest
Table

When it comes down to it, you all would take Gillies, Aumont, etc over one year of Lee and the draft picks. After weighting the values we simply prefered different strategies. However neither way is clearly superior, after all, had Amaro kept Lee I don’t suppose you would be complaining. I am sure there would have been other ways to find a Victorino replacement and a hard thrower.

schmenkman
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schmenkman

Table, you’re right that most of us would be psyched about a full year with 2 (2.5?) aces, bud I’d like to think that I’d be a little more worried about the team’s future.  And then what if injuries or aging (including among the aces) meant that the Phillies don’t even make it to the postseason?  I think if that were to happen, I would be pretty upset that Amaro put all his eggs in the 2010 basket.

Ryan
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Ryan
@Table It’s only stupid if you are shortsighted.  A one year run is not what Amaro, or any competent GM, should be working for.  The farm system is every bit as important as your MLB roster because it is going to dictate your MLB roster every year.  Cost effective young players allow you to spend big at other positions.  The reason QUANTITY is important is because every big league prospect, no matter how highly touted at draft time, is a risky proposition.  You need as many high ceiling players, or as many players with mlb potential as possible, because the… Read more »
Ryan
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Ryan
They have done well, in part, because of luck.  They aren’t routinely turning 1st rounders into super stars – they are drafting well deep into drafts and coming up with some solid players. Here are the phillies first rounders, or top picks recently – Kelly Dugan, Anthony Hewitt, Joe Savery, Kyle Drabek, Mike Costanzo, Greg Golson, Tim Moss. Those are the top picks from our last SEVEN drafts.  Of those seven, as it looks right now, ONE of those guys is a big leaguer.  Thats a 1 for 7 run in the last 7 years.  I’ve seen the 50% stat… Read more »
Table
Guest
Table
OMG you all are way too high on Gillies and Aumont and way too low on 1st round draft picks. From 96 through 04 seven of the Phillies eight first rounders turned into very good major league players. That’s Eaton, Drew, Burrell, Myers, Utley, Floyd, and Hamels with the 04 pick of Greg Golson resulting in a AAAA player. In 03, 05, and 09 the Philles did not have a first rounder, and while it is a bit too early to judge the team’s first round picks from 06-08, one of those guys was Kyle Drabeck. Also note the success… Read more »
Bill Baer
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Bill Baer
That’s not entirely true, Table. First and second round draft picks make the Major Leagues at a 50% rate. This information is via Matt Swartz of Baseball Prospectus, who also found: Of the 2052 players in the study, 1041 of them made the majors. Of those, only 109 players were traded and then debuted with a different team than the one that had drafted them. Of that group of 109, only 19 accumulated a WARP3 of 10.0 in their careers. As it turns out, for all the fans who scream at GMs for trading away the farm system, rarely do… Read more »
Table
Guest
Table

I never said 1st rounders are universal. That’s my point. The rate should be much better under a strong scouting and draft system like the Phillies. You illustrated that when you a showed how the Phillies have done so well building internally.

Table
Guest
Table
Ryan- Dude, what are you smoking? I just explained this. 3 of those years the Phillies lacked a first rounder and how can you judge the major league prospects of guys with two years of professional ball under their belts? Of the rest you have Drabeck, D’arnaud, and Savery who all look like big leaguers. You can try to bend the info to make some sort of meaningless ratio, just as I can, however it is obvious that draft picks should be considered one of the most important resources of a major league team. People talk about building internally, well… Read more »
Jason
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Jason
This may be nitpicking, but a decrease in BABIP shouldn’t affect HRs, should it? Those aren’t “IP”, so you’re overstating the impact of a drop in BABIP. viz, instead of: “If we assume the same distribution of hits, then Hamels would have given up nine fewer singles, three fewer doubles, one fewer triple, and two fewer home runs. In other words, opposing hitters’ SLG would drop from .440 to .406 and their OBP would drop from .315 to .296.” it should read: “If we assume the same distribution of hits, then Hamels would have given up 10.23 fewer singles, 3.38… Read more »
Ryan
Guest
Ryan
@schmenkman – thats the point that the “pro Lee” camp forgets.  As much as he would have helped our chances at a championship, nothing is guaranteed.  If we run into a season with injuries as the Mets did last year, where your no. 1 goes down – your leadoff hitter goes down, your 3 and 4 hole hitters go down – etc.. etc..  Then you risked it all for one year. They also equate the 1st rounder (maybe) and sandwich pick as organizational depth, only, the chances of those guys being top 10 players in a year or 2 are… Read more »
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