March 29, 2012

Cole Hamels' Contract and the Future

According to Jim Salisbury via MLB Trade Rumors, the Phillies and Cole Hamels' camp are making progress toward an extension that could "pay the left-hander in excess of $20MM per season on a multiyear deal."  The only apparent roadblock is the number of years, with the Phillies negotiating for four, and John Boggs, Hamels' agent, negotiating for more. 

At any rate, it seems like the Phillies are prepared to sign Hamels to a Cliff Lee-sized deal (5 years, $120M).  I think we, as Phillies fans, can let out a collective sigh of relief when this contract does get signed, as locking up the youngest ace for his prime years would more or less guarantee an above average rotation for the foreseeable future, and it would allow the Phillies to focus on offense in the free agent and trade markets.  

The Phillies currently have Cliff Lee under contract through 2015, Roy Halladay through 2013, both with options for an additional year.  Vance Worley isn't even arbitration eligible yet, and Kyle Kendrick is signed through 2013.  The Phillies rotation is set for the next couple of years with reinforcements in the form of Brody ColvinAustin Hyatt, Julio Rodriguez, Trevor May, Jon Pettibone, and Jesse Biddle* in the minors in the event of ineffectiveness or injury.  They also have a bevy of minor league bullpen arms (Phillippe Aumont, Justin De Fratus, and Michael Schwimmer)*, with the talented, but overpaid Jonathan Papelbon at the back end for the next 4 years.  So it is not as if pitching has to be the priority for at the minimum 3 years.

*For those of you who may be interested, links on the prospects' names go to scouting reports. They do good work over there, so check it out if that's your thing.

On the offensive side, things aren't as hunky dory.  Even if Domonic Brown and minor-league power-hitting catcher Sebastian Valle* live up to their potential, there are going to be a lot of holes in the Phillies lineup in the coming years (2B, 3B, CF).  Hopefully they can use some of that minor league pitching depth to trade for players, or, assuming they have cost certainty in their rotation and bullpen, they could squeeze every penny out of the payroll to sign decent, if not impact, free agents.

But it all starts with Cole Hamels, which makes one wonder why the Phillies, who apparently are in the right ballpark monetarily, haven't signed the other member of the holy trinity to a contract yet. Well Brotherly Glove's Eric Seidman smartly came up with a possible reason, which I would have never thought of because I don't understand the economics of the game nearly as well as him.  Essentially, if the Phillies sign Hamels to an extension before the season, the hit on the luxury tax amount is higher than if they wait till the season had already started.  Here's to hoping that's the case, as the future would not look so bright without Hamels around.

Dugout Phunnies: the Greatest Phillies-related Comic Book of our Generation... UPDATE

I received a package in the mail today from my brother, and mysterious third member of the blog (who is really only one post less mysterious than Matt), that contained possibly the greatest collection of literature ever placed in a single box.  The package contained three, apparently nonfiction, comic book-style portrayals of actual events in the lives of the Philadelphia Phillies players, manager, and mascot.* Upon ferociously tearing off the packaging and intently reading these comics, the collection has almost instantly become one of my top five most prized possessions. These comic books, called Dugout Phunnies, are written by Jon Goff and illustrated by David Jablow.  I would suggest visiting their website and immediately purchasing them at, as well as liking them on facebook here.

*I have been informed that these books are, in actuality, completely based in fact.

For your pleasure, I have added pictures of the covers of these three masterpieces. 

I know what you're thinking, and yes, that is an old-timey hot dog-shooting musket that Chase Utley is holding on the cover of issue number 3.  Dugout Phunnies covers the hijinks of the Phillies family, from an Aces-and-Chooch camping trip to "Chuckles" Manual helping to create video game to a visit to the castle of the mysterious Gregor Von Phanatic which overlooks Citizens Bank Park.  These are a great read, and I'm looking forward to issue number four, which I have already preordered.  Again, you can (and definitely should) order that

*Note: I have been informed that Mystery Brother learned of the series from The 700 Level.  You can read their post on Dugout Phunnies here, and visit their site for news about the Phillies, as well as all other Philadelphia sports teams, at

UPDATE: I've been informed by means of an email that there will be a release party/art exhibit at The Spiral Bookcase in Manyunk on April 6th.  Check their website for information about time and such.  I assume you should wear a tuxedo to such a momentous occasion.  They've also informed, to my delight, that Issue Four prominently features "Jimbo" Thome.  The anticipation is killing me!

March 27, 2012

Vance Worley and J.A. Happ

Vance Worley, surprise of the 2011 season, has been labeled a prime candidate for regression ever since his excellent season started, and rightfully so.  He pretty much came out of nowhere and pitched even better than the Roy Oswalt, garnering discussion as to who should be on the postseason roster, he or the Astro great.  After averaging 6.9 K/9 in 431 minor league innings, he posted 8.1 K/9 in 131.2 innings for the Phillies, and surely that could not be repeatable.

However, the jump from Triple-A to the Majors is a jump that creates Quad-A-type hitters. The kinds of hitters who can absolutely rake against minor league pitching but do not have the patience or bat speed to succeed against the Major League pitchers with better breaking balls. The patience that must be developed to become a Major League hitter has actually betrayed hitters against Vanimal, as his two-seam fastball exploits this trait by starting outside the strike zone and sliding back toward righties onto the corner of the plate, which is particularly devastating when thrown inside against lefties.  His propensity to strike out hitters looking is uncanny, as the video below shows:

To show this statistically, one must look at Worley's plate discipline statistics from 2011, which I will define for you here:

O-Swing% - percentage of pitches swung at outside the strike zone
Z-Swing% - percentage of pitches swung at inside the strike zone
Swing% - percentage of pitches swung at overall
O-Contact% - contact percentage while swinging at a ball outside the zone
Z-Contact% - contact percentage while swinging at a ball inside the zone

I put all these statistics, plus league averages in this table below:

Worley's percentage of pitches swung at overall, outside, and especially inside (the two-seamer) the zone were well below the league average, while his contact percentage inside and outside the zone were both above the league average.  Essentially, batters swing at his pitches at a below-average rate, but when they do swing, they are very, very likely to make contact.

The common thought among the articles I've read is that as hitters get the proverbial book on Vance, they will be looking for that two-seamer and be prepared to swing.  This does follow logic and seems to resemble the career path of the infamous J.A Happ. Happ pitched well with the Phillies on the strength of a deceptive delivery and was sent to Houston at the 2010 trade deadline as part of the Roy Oswalt deal. He promptly stunk up the joint for the Astros to the tune of a 5.35 ERA and 4.65 FIP in 2011.

But I digress, and this blog post is getting quite long so I'll cut to the point.  The idea that many analysts have is that as his Swing% goes up, if his Contact%'s stay put, it will be a nightmare for Vance.  While this has merit, I personally believe that as batters must account for his two-seamer, he will be able to throw his other pitches in that location and get more swings outside the zone on more breaking balls.  This would, in effect, raise Worley's Swing%, lower his contact rate, and raise his swinging strike rate, creating more strikeouts swinging but fewer looking.  And honestly, whats the difference?  Maybe Vance Worley won't be a 3.01 ERA pitcher again in 2012, but I certainly don't see him becoming J.A Happ 2.0 this season.

March 24, 2012

Ryan Madson Out for the Year

According to MLB Trade Rumors, Ryan Madson is set to have Tommy John surgery on his injured elbow, ending his season before it even began.  Even though he isn't on the Phillies anymore, I was still rooting for Madson to have a great season and get his big payday next offseason, probably because I am still eternally grateful for his role in the only Philly championship win I personally watched.  It was a sad day when the setup WFC (World Fuckin' Champ) left the Phillies to the Reds, especially because it even magnified the absurdity that is Jonathan Papelbon's contract.

However, when the Papelbon deal was signed, my brothers and I had a bit of a disagreement.  All of us disliked the contract, but I was defending Papelbon as the overall better pitcher.  Upon talking to my brother Matt about this injury today, he told me he guessed I was right about the argument.  Personally, I would have loved a chance to be right, but I couldn't accept the credit.  This injury should do nothing to change an opinion about the two pitchers' talent levels.

In actuality, the injury was more likely to happen to a pitcher like Papelbon because of the two pitchers' repetouires. According to PITCHf/x Madson throws a fastball, cutter, and changeup, while Papelbon throws a fastball, two-seam fastball, sinker, and slider.  Historically and intuitively, the harder slider tends to put more stress on the ligaments and tendons in the arm than the softer changeup, which creates a higher risk elbow and shoulder injuries.  So really, if injuries were taken into account in the Papelbon-Madson comparison, the needle would have moved a bit in Madson's direction.  

For 2012, it looks like the Phillies have the better option out of the two, but that still should not change anyone's opinion about the closer controversy the Phillies had this offseason, as injuries tend to be random and unpredictable.

March 23, 2012

Dom Brown is Optioned back to Triple-A by Smug-Looking GM

Ruben Amaro, known for his brash moves and smug demeanor, has again optioned Dom Brown back to the minors.  While this news wasn't exactly surprising after a spring of minor injuries and defensive struggles, I was still disappointed, as his bat looked pretty good going 6-for-20 with 2 triples and a home run.  Plus, I liked the confidence demonstrated before Spring Training when, despite Amaro's intent to start him in Triple-A, Brown said he wanted to win the job by hammering the ball in Clearwooder.

But as I mentioned a couple weeks ago, the Phillies, following the departure of Raul Ibanez, have finally had enough of bad defensive players.  This point was perhaps confirmed by their willingness to start an all-glove, no-bat option at second base in Freddy Galvis upon Chase Utley's plateau.  Dom Brown will probably never be a Gold Glove option in Left Field, but he has to improve in order to be a productive Major League player.  Frankly, at this point he isn't a much better option than Raul, defensively speaking.

While the combination of Laynce Nix and John Mayberry is sure to outpace Ibanez and is -1.3 WAR last season in left field, it would have been nice to see a potential major future cog of the Phillies' offense in action, even if that is in a platoon role with Mayberry.  As I detailed before, a Brown/Mayberry platoon projects better on offense (but admittedly worse on defense) than a Nix/Mayberry combo.  While Mayberry is still fairly young at 28, he is likely about as good as he's going to be, and Nix is likely to decline at age 32.  On the other hand, Brown is only 24 and has plenty of time to improve before he actually reaches his prime.  It would be nice to see him with a few seasons of Major League experience before he reaches that age.

In an ideal world, Dom Brown would be getting consistent time with the big league club right out of Spring Training, but if Ruben Amaro wants him to be a better defender, than improve he must.  Hopefully a couple months into the season, he will force his way back into the majors with his bat while at least playing at a passable level on defense.

March 22, 2012

Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley: Historically Great Middle Infield?

I am 20 years old, and I started following baseball seriously in the early 2000s, the beginning of the Jimmy Rollins era.  I guess I’m spoiled, considering I didn't really follow through the mediocrity of the late 1990s, and got to watch the rise of a young team to dominance, a rise that has happened so few times in the history of the Phillies.  As Chase Utley's mortality has been brought to my attention, I started wondering about the history I've watched unfold and could not help but think of how friggin’ awesome Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins have been.

Jimmy Rollins, a flashy shortstop who loves the limelight and media attention, and Chase Utley, a gritty, soft-spoken (usually…) and hardworking second baseman, seem like polar opposites, and yet, they have guided the team to their first championship in decades and perennial contention for their second.  It’s hard to say who I have the bigger mancrush on.

This offseason, the fact that Jimmy Rollins remained unsigned for so long was driving me nuts.  It didn’t fit Ruben Amaro Jr’s aggressive style that he had shown through his first few years here in Philly, and that made me nervous (the same about Cole Hamels, but that’s a thought for a different day).  I was preparing for the day I would spend alternating between sobbing violently and cursing violently at RAJ.  Thank the baseball gods he finally signed him, and for a pretty good bargain too.

But emotions aside, these two are really good at baseball, and I wanted to get a sense of exactly how they stack up against baseball’s all-time great up-the-middle duos. So I database’d some information and came up with a list of about twenty double-play pairs who played for more than 5 years together on the same team, then listed their cumulative Fangraphs WAR over that timespan as well as WAR/Season.

I used 1952 as the cutoff for Jackie Robinson because, even though he continued to play, he pretty much stopped playing second base.  Interestingly, 2B Eddie Collins and SS Dave Concepcion appear on here twice, unfortunately so for Mr. Concepcion, as he and Ron Oester could only muster a measly 2.9 WAR/Season combined for 7 years.  Also, how have I never heard of such Phillies greats as Otto Knabe and Mickey Doolan?!

Anyways, Utley and Rollins rate as the 6th best middle infield in terms of WAR/Season; let’s knock off the two dead-ball era tandems but add Whitaker and Trammell for longevity. And just to make it interesting, let’s include only Whitaker and Trammell’s peak 8 seasons form 1983-1990, because two players keeping up all-star numbers for 16 seasons on the same team at the same time is well, incredibly unlikely.  So I took the players’ totals over their time period working together and divided by the number of years for the counting stats and just took the values for the rate stats, and this is what I came up with:

For the most part, it seems like WAR/Year was a decent indicator, but it is interesting to note that probably the worst hitting bunch, in terms of wRC+ may have been the Tigers’ middle infield of Gehringer and Rogell, yet they combined for the second-most WAR/Season. This is propped up by their combined 16.9 fielding runs per Season.  It is also interesting to note that, besides Trammell and Whitaker (and even that is really close), the second basemen have tended to be much stronger with the bat.

Anyways, it would have been cool to say that the Phillies middle infield has been the best of all time, but fourth-best in the live-ball era ain’t too shabby.  And if you want to put a positive spin on it, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins have been the best double-play duo of the past three decades.  Plus our guys in red pinstripes managed to out-WAR their contemporary rivals: the Marlins’ Dan Uggla and Hanley Ramirez, and our hated rivals in New York, Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano.  This has truly been a golden age for our Philadelphia Phillies.

March 19, 2012

Chase Utley's knee

As Phillies fans, our worst fears have been realized, and it doesn't look good for Chase Utley.  According to Jim Salisbury, he has left Spring Training before ever appearing in a game to see a specialist for his knee that has been plaguing him since around this time last year, and he appears unlikely to be ready for Opening Day.

If Utley were out for a significant amount of time, it would represent the worst case scenerio for the Phillies; they would be without the right side of their infield and without a viable backup for Jimmy Rollins or Placido Polanco if either of those two succumbs to injury, as Polanco nearly did last week (assuming, as Salisbury suggests, Freddy Galvis keeps Utley's spot warm for him).

I personally feel Utley has not gotten the recognition he deserves for being the best  position player on the Phillies for seven years now (and yes, that includes both Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins' MVP years).  Since 2005, Utley has triple slashed .293/.383/.513 and averaged 6.9 WAR/year.  Even last year, in an injury shortened campaign, he had the second-most WAR of the Phillies' position players, and he had the second-most WAR of all second basemen in the National League, trailing only Brandon Phillips of the Reds.

One aspect of Utley's game that has consistently been overlooked has been his defense.  Over his career at 2B, Utley owns a 13.7 UZR/150 mark.  Comparatively, defensive wizard Placido Polanco, who has won two Gold Gloves at second base (2007, 2009) and one at third (2011), only owns a 10.5 UZR/150 at second base.

Clearly, Utley is an incredibly valuable player, and in my opinion, an underrated one, at least in Philadelphia.  Even if there is no defensive dropoff between he and Galvis, which I would suggest there is, the 2012 Phillies look a lot less formidable without his bat in the lineup.

March 18, 2012


Now that I'm done my internship, I have decided to make a few improvements to the site, including adding an About Thomes Homies tab, and updating the Statistics tab.  Also, I've added a short list of a handful baseball blogs that I frequent.  I would suggest checking them out, as they are aptly labeled Awesome Blogs.

To keep this blog from being a one-man show, Matt quite eloquently expressed his love for the Phillies earlier today, inspiring both tears and nostalgia, while also showing that he is the clearly the superior writer of the two of us.  We hope to get him and the other member of the triumvirate, Pat, more involved as the season begins.

Also today, I looked at the sustainability of Hunter Pence's 2011 performance in 2012.

As always, comments are encouraged on any and all posts and thanks for visiting Thomes Homies.

Baseball Fever...Catch It

I remember as a kid going to Phillies games. I remember the first time I touched a game-used baseball, caught off the bat of second baseman Mickey Morandini by my dad and subsequently placed in my hands. All ten fingers clasped tightly around it, despite electricity still bouncing within the seams from the collision with my at-the-time favorite player’s bat. The feeling was exhilarating. I can remember the dog days of summer, eating cotton candy in an almost empty Veteran’s Stadium, enjoying just being there more than my sugar-loaded snack. I don’t remember all of the 18 consecutive home-openers I attended in detail, or hardly at all, but you can bet your sweet ass I remember the one I missed during my freshman year of college.

The Phillies, for many, may be nothing more than a baseball team and a historically insignificant one at that, but within the walls of Citizens Bank Ballpark and among the rubble that once was The Vet lies my childhood. And though these memories remain, for the most part, a muddled blur of snapshots from the past, they hold in them an indescribable hope. A hope that someone else, maybe even my own son, can obtain so much joy in the simplicity of baseball, simplicity that can only be known through a child’s eye. Baseball fans are distinct among sports fans in that their passion is almost always born in childhood. This passion only grows as time passes, for as life intensifies, baseball remains simple. There are always three outs in an inning, always nine players fielding, always a winner and a loser and there will always be another game.

So as opening day approaches, whether you’re a child or a childish adult, step back and appreciate the simplicity, because it only lasts from the first pitch to the last out. Go Phils.

Hunter Pence and Sustainability

Over the past few seasons, the Phillies’ GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has been known for making a major trade deadline acquisition to shore up a glaring weakness in the rotation (i.e. Joe Blanton, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt), but in 2011, RAJ traded for Hunter Pence, an unorthodox right-handed hitting Left Fielder.  Pence rewarded the Phillies with an obscene .324/.394/.560 line in 54 games.  That is worth a 157 OPS+, which, if maintained for the full season, would place him right between Prince Fielder and Joey Votto for 5th in the NL in 2011.  Production like that is hard to come by, and we have to wonder, is his success in a Phillies uniform sustainable?

The first red flag I noticed is his .348 BABIP, which is about 50 points higher than the league average.  However, compared to his career average of .328, the difference is not very great.  The culprit, I would suggest, is an increase in home runs per fly ball.  His HR/FB% was 15.7% in a Phillies uniform, compared to 11.9% in his career.  However, looking into his stats further, his HR/FB% and Isolated power (ISO) has spiked in August and September for his whole career. 

So based on career trends it seems unlikely to me that he would be that productive over the course of a whole season; however, I’m sure the Phillies would be ecstatic to see his overall production from 2011 (.314/.370/.504, wRC+ 141) duplicated in 2012.  His BABIP of .361 seems extraordinarily high, even for him, and it seems to be fueled by his line drive rate: 17.9%, compared to a career 15.9%.  However, his career numbers reveal an interesting trend.

Pence’s best two seasons, both by wOBA and wRC+, were his rookie year and 2011.  These are also the two years where Pence hit the fewest home runs and had the highest LD%.  Is it at all possible that from 2008 to the second half of 2011, Pence felt the need to compensate for the Astros’ offensive ineptitude by swinging for the fences?  However, before emerging as an excellent hitter in 2007 and upon coming to the superior Phillies, he would not have felt such pressure.  This narrative is supported somewhat by the graph above, and on top of that, Pence’s OPS was over 100 points higher as a Phillie than as an Astro in 2011.

I may just be spending too much time looking at statistics, but it appears entirely possible to me that Pence's production correlates directly with the success of the team for which he plays.  If such a premise were true, that would bode very well for Pence and the NL East-favorite Phillies, and, while he might not match his end-of-the-year production in 2011, Pence's 2012 could look more like his elite 2007 or 2011 than his above average 2008-2010.

March 16, 2012

Phillies Release Dontrelle Willis

The Phillies released Dontrelle Willis today, and although I did not watch any games in which he pitched, I was still rooting for him to become a Phillie.  However, multiple factors including a comedically high ERA (north of 16.50) and a complete lack of control (4 walks in 2.2 innings) justify this move, especially considering he had a non-guaranteed $1 million deal, which is a lot of money to pay someone to suck a la J.C. Romero.

However, I am willing to bet my life savings that he makes another major league team and strikes out Ryan Howard with men on base and two outs in the later innings of a close game, just 'cause baseball is mean like that.

Placed below, for your pleasure, is a video of Ruben Amaro cutting Dontrelle Willis, as well as several other hopeful Phillies roster candidates.

March 12, 2012

The Phillies' Defense

Led by a slick-fielding shortstop, an always-steady second baseman, the Flyin' Hawaiian in center, a backstop who is universally loved by the pitching staff, and a wizard at the hot corner, the Phillies' defense was one of the best in the league last year.

Oh wait, they were actually ranked 18th in the MLB with a minus-10 team UZR.  Their defense actually cost them about 1 win over the course of 2011, despite a very solid defensive reputation.

Jimmy Rollins (+2.9 UZR), Chase Utley (+8.4), Shane Victorino (+4.4), Carlos Ruiz (+1.9), and Placido Polanco (+14.0) combined to add about 31 runs, or over three wins, this season just with their gloves and at premium positions nonetheless*.  However, our Phillies overall defense was a detriment to team success.

*Note: UZR is rated relative to the players at that position.  Because the better defensive players tend to play SS, 2B, 3B, CF, and C, it is more difficult to attain a high UZR mark.  However, a positional adjustment is added or subtracted based on the skill at a position in order to calculate a player's WAR total.  For more info, see this.

The Culprits were Raul Ibanez (-18.9), Ben Francisco (-6.7), Wilson Valdez (-5.0), and Dom Brown (-7.0), combining to cost the Phillies almost four wins last season.  With the uncertainty in evaluating defense, this total may be off by a few runs, but none of these players pass the eye test either.  Ibanez was pretty much a statue. Benny Fresh has looked lost in the outfield ever since he came over in the Cliff Lee trade. Dom Brown's defensive struggles have been well-documented. And remember how often the Phillies broadcasters would pour praise on Valdez for being able to launch throws to first from his heels?  There's a reason he's always throwing from his heels: he sucks at shortstop.

Another note about those four players: they've all been replaced.  Despite decent offensive production for much of the season, Dom Brown was replaced by Hunter Pence (+1.9 as a Phillie).  Raul and Francisco have been replaced, likely by some combination of John Mayberry (+1.8 in 2011) and Laynce Nix (career +5.8 UZR/150), both solid defensive outfielders.  Wilson Valdez will be replaced Michael Martinez (+1.7 as an infielder) or the highly-touted defense of prospect Freddy Galvis.  The only real liability on defense in 2012 appears to be first base, but if you're going to punt one position defensively for the sake of offense, first base is the place to do it.

Clearly the Phillies have seen the error of their ways.  They're not willing to sacrifice defense for the sake of offense anymore, which, in my opinion, is the only reason your Opening Day left fielder isn't Dom Brown.  While the highly publicized moves of the offseason were about the new closer and improved bench. Ruben Amaro has quietly put together a defensive powerhouse in red pinstripes.

March 11, 2012

Spring Training Notes

The Phillies' time in Clearwater this year has largely gone on as planned, without any major roster moves or breakout players, so the storylines are a little weak.  But I'm going to provide some general spring training notes.

According to MLB Trade Rumors, the Phillies have been looking to trade Joe Blanton and move Kyle Kendrick into the fifth starter role.  Blue Jays' GM Alex Anthopoulos came to scout a recent Phillies game, in which Blanton pitched 3 scoreless innings, leaving after Blanton was relieved.  If he's traded, I'll be sad to see him go, as his home run in the World Series is in the list of the top ten greatest baseball moments of my life.

Shortstop prospect Freddy Galvis started at second base against the Orioles on Saturday and the Tigers on Sunday.  As I wrote last week, Galvis could help keep the Phillies infield healthy and rested all season, if utilized in a creative way, so it is encouraging to see him moving around the diamond a bit.  Galvis has 5 hits in 17 ABs with 4 RBIs and 2 runs, which is pretty good. But again, its only 17 ABs.

Phillippe Aumont, acquired from Seattle in the Cliff Lee trade, has been pitching well as a candidate for the Phillies bullpen in 2012.  Crashburn Alley has a couple GIFs of his pitching, and, while I'm not a scout, I can say he looks like he's good at throwing baseballs.

Domonic Brown, who is trying to make the team out of Spring Training, despite Ruben Amaro saying he'd like him to start the season in Triple-A, has not impressed so far, going 2-for-10 with a triple, a run scored, and a caught stealing, while playing defense about as good as I could in left field.  However, that is only 10 ABs, so he has plenty of time to turn it around.

Spring Training also occurred in Philadelphia this weekend.  The excellent weather afforded us an opportunity to begin our Spring Training for the upcoming wiffle ball season.  As expected, there were some cobwebs to be shed following the long offseason, but after $2.95 was shelled out for a new bat and ball, the players showed some real progress in their first outing, a 1-1 tie in 5 innings, before the game was suspended due to St. Patty's-related drunkenness.

I yearn for the days when Phillies games count again.

March 6, 2012

The Valdez Trade From a Different Angle

An article earlier today by Eric Seidman over at Brotherly Glove (an excellent Phillies blog, one of my favorites) detailed the Wilson Valdez trade from a perspective that I previously hadn’t realized.  After the Phillies resigned Jimmy Rollins, I pretty much dismissed the idea of Freddy Galvis appearing on the big league club this year because, as my reasoning went, if they thought Galvis was ready, they wouldn’t have resigned Rollins.

But as Eric pointed out, the Phillies might be designating Galvis for a big league utility role, which normally wouldn’t make sense for a young prospect with unrealized potential (hopefully).  However, given the Phillies current roster construction, having Galvis in the Major Leagues makes a lot of sense.

Consider that the Phillies’ infield has been riddled with injuries the past few years and Ruben Amaro Jr.’s assertion that the Phillies need to get younger.  Is it possible that he intended for the Phillies to give their young infielder a chance to regularly spell the more injury-prone veterans?  It makes a lot of sense.

As I have contended, resting second baseman Chase Utley once a week could keep his production up during his characteristic end-of-season slump due the hard-nosed style of play that defines his game.  But if the Phillies also did this for third baseman Placido Polanco and shortstop Jimmy Rollins, it could have a positive effect on their thirty-something bodies as well.

The baseball season lasts about 25 weeks, so starting Galvis 25 times at second, 25 times at short, and 25 times at third would give him an adequate number of ABs so that he’s not wasting away on the bench, while enabling Charlie to give his veterans one day off per week.  Under this premise, Galvis would take about 100 ABs from each of the starters over the course of the season, which would leave them with 500-600 each for 2012.  

With a ZiPS projected .290 wOBA, compared to Polanco’s .305, Rollins’ .330, and Utley’s .360 projections, Galvis isn’t going to produce much with the bat, but his real value would be tied up in defense and theoretically, better production from the starters due to well-restedness.

Having watched Charlie Manual promise regular rest for Utley in previous seasons, then proceed to play him every day anyway, I wouldn’t say this is an entirely likely situation.  But would you be willing to settle for Galvis’ (projected by ZiPS) .660ish OPS and above-average defense three days a week, if it meant having a well-rested Utley, Rollins, and Polanco for 5-6?  I sure would.

March 1, 2012

Shane Victorino's Contract

According to MLB Trade Rumors, Phillies’ Center Fielder Shane Victorino is looking for a five year contract.  However, Shane reportedly said he’s willing to accept a hometown discount to remain in red pinstripes.  MLB Trade Rumors listed Torii Hunter, JD Drew, and Aaron Rowand as possible comps for a deal to be brokered, so I thought I’d take a look at those deals to see what Shane might be able to receive for his services between 2013 and 2017.

Torii Hunter signed a 5-year, $90M deal with the Angels following the 2007 season, in which he triple slashed .287/.334/.505, while (possibly due to UZR fluctuations) putting up a negative defensive value and accumulating 3.4 WAR.  JD Drew (I almost feel like he isn’t worthy of even my lowly blog) signed a 5-year, $70M deal with the Red Sox shortly before Spring Training in 2007 (.283/.393/.498, 4.4 WAR in 2006).  Finally, Aaron Rowand, of face-planting fame (whose Phillies lore may cancel out my mention of douche personified in the previous sentence), inked a 5-year $60M deal with the Giants after his superb 2007 season with your Philadelphia Phillies (.309/.374/.515, 6.0 WAR).

If those three players are comps, it seems like the Phillies should be cautious with the Flyin’ Hawaiian, as none of those three players has been anywhere close to their expected contributions.  According to FanGraphs player value based on WAR, Drew was worth $56.7M over his five years (A $13.3M overpay).  Through his first four years, Hunter was worth $54.7M (a $17.3M overpay). Finally, Rowand was worth just $22.6M through his first four years, and since he was DFA’d last year, he’s now getting paid to not play for the Giants in his fifth year (a $37.4M overpay).

While I was comparing the deals, I thought I might compare the three years immediately preceding the deals they signed:

So it looks like Victorino is in the middle of Rowand and Drew.  A couple things stuck out to me from that graph.  One, how the hell did Torii Hunter get a $90M contract after three years averaging 2.8 WAR?  That’s closer to average Major Leaguer than it is to 90-Million-Dollar-Man.  Also, JD Drew was worth more than the other three in the fewest number of games, and it wasn’t even really close.

So anyways, it seems like the Torii Hunter contract was a huge overpay from the beginning, so I don’t think that’s a fair comparison.  However, placing Shane in between the two contracts given to Drew and Rowand, and roughly assuming the hometown discount will cancel out the inflation in the past four years, you come up with a 5-year, $65M deal.  In order for that deal to be market value, assuming 5% inflation and regular aging, Victorino’s 2013 and beyond might look like this:

 I think 3.5 WAR is a conservative assessment, based on Shane’s above average marks in all facets of the game (offense, defense, baserunning).  However, seeing the fate of recent Center Fielder contracts, I am still wary.  If the Phillies could get something closer to 5yr/$50M, then it’s a slam dunk, but 5yr/$65M seems more like market value than a hometown discount.  If that’s what Shane’s expecting, I would advise Ruben Amaro Jr. to let him walk, the same way Pat Gillick let Rowand walk in 2007.

The Saga of Domonic Brown

I am sick today, so as I lay in bed Robotrippin', pondering how one man can produce so much boogies and unquestioningly taking medicine from this guy, I will write about Domonic Brown.

Left Field is going to be an area of instability for the Phillies in 2012, much like right field in 2011, which warranted the acquisition of Hunter Pence at the trade deadline.  With Raul Ibanez mercifully gone, odds are the season is going to start with a platoon in Left Field, with the right-handed portion belonging to John Mayberry Jr.  I am not confident of Mr Mayberry Jr.'s abilities, but after that stellar showing in 2011, he deserves a chance to prove skeptics like me wrong and (hopefully) hit a million dingers.  That "half" I'm okay with; however, it is the left-handed portion of the platoon that I disagree with.

Nothing personal against Laynce Nix, I mean he seems like a nice guy, and he's a decent player, but I'm kind of tired of the Phillies finding reasons not to play Dom Brown.  His value is dramatically depleted as a prospect by the jerking around between the majors and minors in 2010 and 2011*, and now they're creating a logjam at the Major League level.

*Side Note: I'm not saying I didn't like the Hunter Pence Trade, which is part of the saga of Domonic Brown. The distinction there is that Hunter Pence is a bona fide All-Star, and Nix is very very slightly above average (101 wRC+ in 2011)

Nix's strength, though, is his production against right-handed pitchers; he hit 16 homers against righties last year with an OPS of .781, well above average in these trying offensive times.  A 111 wRC+ vs. righties is nothing to scoff at, but I don't see that being drastically better than what Domonic Brown could do if he could get out of baseball purgatory and have a chance to build up his confidence.  After a poor June 2011, things started to click for young Domonic, as he hit for a 120 wRC+ in the month of July.  That run of success was, of course, cut short by the addition of Hunter Pence.

Overall in 2011, Brown had a season that was a shade above average offensively, but of course, we are betting on the 24-year-old to improve as he gains more experience.  Bill James' projections peg him to have an OPS of .810, a 12% increase from 2011, and ZiPS projects .795, a 10% improvement.  Conversely, we should not expect substantial improvement from Nix in his age-31 season, and Bill James projects an almost identical OPS to 2011 accordingly (.750 in 2011, .751 projected). 

Even if your skeptical of the numbers themselves or expect Nix to make up for lesser offense with greater defense, I personally think it makes more sense to give the young guy a chance to improve rather than taking, at the very best, a marginally better option in Nix.