2007 Sabermetric Year in Review: Philadelphia Phillies
December 17, 2007 3 Comments
Here’s to the folks at MVN command central. They’ve put a lovely graphic in the top right corner of the page through which you can go to a listing of all of the articles in this year in review series. You’re about to read the #10 stop on our reverse-alphabetical tour (sorry, Atlanta), as we head to Philadelphia to look at the Phillies.
Record: 89-73, 1st in NL East
Pythagorean Projection (Patriot formula): 87.60 wins (892 runs scored, 821 runs allowed)
Team Statistical Pages:
Phanatic Phollow Up (I went to a college which was founded by a man named Philander… everything on campus that should have started with ‘F’ started with Ph… like Philander’s Phebruary Phling.)
More Phillies Resources:
Overview: It took a monumental collapse by the Mets to put the Phillies in the playoffs, but let’s give credit at its due. The Phillies won 16 of their last 22 games. The Phillies started the year in the shadow of their much more expensive division mates, the Mets, although that was never really fair.
What went right: The Phillies somehow fashioned together a pitching staff out of what looked like a collection of spare parts. Hamels is and has been legit. Jamie Moyer can not be explained by any rational process, and then there’s Kyle Kendrick. Kendrick is 22, doesn’t have overpowering stuff, and basically has a job because he gets people to beat the ball into the ground. Not a bad life for a pitcher, but he’ll always be as good as the defense behind him.
How on earth the Phillies did what they did with the “bullpen” (note the quotes) they had is beyond me.
Ryan Howard turned out to not be a fluke. After his first full season in MLB turned out to be a MVP-worthy(?) season, the Philly Phaithful were phearing that he would be a phluke. Nah. He still hits fly balls, a lot of them leave the yard, and he still is a danger to strike out 200 times in a season. Yes, Philly phans, his numbers were “down.” Please don’t confuse that with “bad player.” Home runs and strikeouts go together like peas and carrots. Take a look at the all-time leaders in strikeouts. See a few names on there that you like? Howard is a prodigious HR hitter. It’s probably difficult to watch him knowing that it’s 4 times more likely that he’ll strike out than hit a HR, but the HR are worth their weight in gold. Remember, the best strategies are not always the one that make you feel the best when you use them. Howard is a prime example of this very theory.
What went wrong: For a team with two guys on the infield who have won the last two NL MVPs (and Chase Utley, who’s better than either of them), third base is a rather sore spot in the Phillies organization. Wes Helms and Abraham Nunez were well below acceptable (let’s not even go near “replacement level”). The Phillies had a third base prospect in their system, Michael Costanzo, who tore up AA ball last year, but he was sent to Houston for Brad Lidge (a good pickup — see below), but ummm…
Speaking of the Phillies bullpen though, let’s talk about J.C. Romero. Why is he in the “What went wrong” category? The Phillies just inked him to a three year, $12M contract. Here’s what they get for that $4M per year. Granted that Romero had a good half of a year last year when he came to Philadelphia, but the guy had a crazy low BABIP during his time in Philly, and he walks 6.39 per nine innings. He’s not a strikeout pitcher, and he’s at best a LOOGY. He’s not a setup/closer caliber pitcher, and he’s certainly not worth $4M per year.
Yeah, that about sums it up: Pat Burrell, metaphor? The Phillies up to the All-Star break: 44-44. After: 45-29. Burrell’s splits: pre-break, .786 OPS; post-break 1.010 OPS. (smell that ecological fallacy?) In fact, if you look at Burrell’s splits, especially by month, you can see that his BABIP varied wildly from month-to-month. What’s eerie about how it ended is that his 2007 stats were a near copy of his 2006 stats. Creepy.
Was Jimmy Rollins even the Most Valuable Phillie?: Jimmy Rollins was the Most Valuable Player in the NL? Rollins? He had a really really good year, no doubt. But, he got the award based on some very gaudy raw hit totals. Rollins did the 20-20-20-20 thing this year with at least 20 double, triples, HR, and SB. (Oddly enough, Curtis Granderson, who did the same thing, finished in tenth place in the AL.) Rollins played all 162 games, usually hitting leadoff on a very good offense (tops in the NL in runs scored). It led to his amassing 715 AB and 778 PAs, both best in the league. He had more chances to put up counting stats than anyone else in baseball. Again, this is not to say he had a bad year, but I’m curious as to how he was the best player in the NL when statistically, he wasn’t the best player on his own team. Chase Utley was. Utley out-VORPed Rollins, had a better on-base percentage (Rollins rarely walks), and had a better slugging percentage than Rollins. (Rollins did barely nick Utley in ISO, .235 to .234.) Utley had more WPA and context neutral WPA. Utley the better in RC/27 by about three RC’s. Utley’s big crime was that he broke his hand toward the end of the season.
But, OK. Rollins played shortstop, and it’s harder to find a good shortstop, or something like that, you will surely say. If we want to play that game, then the award should have gone to Hanley Ramirez, who led Rollins in all of the above categories with the exception of raw WPA. Ramirez even stole more bases than Rollins (51-41). (To be fair, Ramirez was the one of the worst-fielding shortstops in baseball, and Rollins was among the better.) I’m finding it hard to justify Rollins as MVP on this one. Rollins was a valuable player, just not the most valuable one in the NL this year. Or on the Phillies.
Someone in Philadelphia understands the basics of statistics (and psychology!): A small meditation on Brad Lidge, one of the new Phillies. Here’s what happens when a manager uses his emotions to manage the game rather than logic. In 2005, he gave up that home run to Albert Pujols and then didn’t do so well in the World Series. Suddenly, he wasn’t a very good pitcher. Now, under the belief that Lidge should be judged by the fact that the best hitter in the game of baseball had hit a home run off of him in a single at-bat, rather than… well, everything else Lidge had done up to that point and since. Lidge was unfairly de-valued in Houston. Detractors point to his 2006 season as proof that Lidge had “lost it,” conveniently passing over his 2007 season. His walk and HR rates were up in both years. In 2007, the home run rate had more to do with the fact that he was giving up more fly balls, rather than line drives, and he lived in the “Juice Box”. His walk rate being up is what it is. 2005 was probably an outlier season for Lidge and he’s not likely to match that again, but again, this is not the same thing as Lidge being a bad pitcher. He’s still a strikeout machine and that’s a pretty good thing to have in a reliever. Someone in Philadelphia understands that, and took advantage of the fact that the Astros had a broken heart over this guy.
Let’s even ignore the fact that Lidge, since his little “accident” in 2005 has been a really good pitcher. He still has the perception of having a case of the yips and let’s for a moment pretend that he was greatly psychologically damaged by giving up that home run. How long does it take most people to adjust to major life events (and here, I mean things like a spouse dying suddenly)? Usually about 6 months. (The psychologist in me should point out that sometimes, it does take more than 6 months, and if it has, the best thing to do is to seek treatment. End PSA.) It’s been two years, folks. While some Astros fans may not have gotten over that night, it’s likely that Lidge has. Philadelphia, enjoy your new pitcher. He’s going to make you one heck of a closer.
Although given what the Phillies signed Romero for… maybe they don’t understand the basics of statistics.
Mensches: No, this has nothing to do with the part-time Brewers outfielder named Kevin. Mensch is a Yiddish word for an upstanding man of honor. The Phillies deserve special mention this year for an act that goes well beyond baseball. They deserve a Mensch of the Year award. During a game in Colorado, there was a storm a’brewin’ (again, not the former Phillies outfielder), and the Rockies ground crew was scrambling to put the tarp on the field. The storm got a little crazy and a wind gust picked up one of the guys, who was trying to hold down the tarp, and threw him into the air. Thankfully, he wasn’t hurt, but it was clear that this was a dangerous situation with 8 guys trying to fight the elements and the tarp to get it on the field. The Phillies players ran out of the dugout to help out. Lest we believe that life is a collection of numbers, here’s to the Phillies for a simple act of kindness. They got enough karma going for them that the Mets collapsed in front of them and ended up letting them into the playoffs… where they lost to… well, Colorado of all teams. Funny how life works like that.
Outlook: Well, Aaron Rowand has gone off to San Francisco, I suppose to be replaced by the Flyin’ Hawaiian himself, Shane Victorino. It’s never good to lose a 50+ VORP player, but that’s life. Brett Myers goes back into the rotation with the arrival of Lidge. The Phillies still have some legit star power, but are lacking in a supporting cast. For a playoff team, the Phillies seem to have an awful lot of holes. But in the three-team NL East division that is the ever-underachieving Mets, and the living-off-their-laurels Braves, what’s to say that the Phillies don’t return to the playoffs next year?