Five questions: Philadelphia Philliesby Bill Baer
March 29, 2010
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.
So did his batted ball splits.
Hitters approached him about the same.
And, finally, Hamels was actually more consistent with his release points.
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.
- 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 4.940 runs per game
- 800.3 runs per 162 games
- 4.971 runs per game
- 805.3 runs per 162 games
- 5.185 runs per game
- 840 runs per 162 games
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.
Bill Baer is the author of the Phillies blog Crashburn Alley, which is partnered with ESPN and Rob Neyer's Sweetspot blog network. You can follow Bill on Twitter or read his other work at Baseball Prospectus (on Fridays), Baseball Daily Digest, and Heater Magazine.