CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

<< Previous Article
Premium Article You Could Look It Up: ... (06/24)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run... (06/23)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run... (07/02)
Next Article >>
Future Shock: Signing ... (06/24)

June 24, 2009

Prospectus Hit and Run

Trouble at Home

by Jay Jaffe

the archives are now free.

All Baseball Prospectus Premium and Fantasy articles more than a year old are now free as a thank you to the entire Internet for making our work possible.

Not a subscriber? Get exclusive content like this delivered hot to your inbox every weekday. Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get instant access to the best baseball content on the web.

Subscribe for $4.95 per month
Recurring subscription - cancel anytime.


a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Purchase a $39.95 gift subscription
a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Already a subscriber? Click here and use the blue login bar to log in.

On Sunday, the Phillies fell to the Orioles for their second consecutive sweep and third straight series loss at the hands of an American League team. Though they remained atop the NL East, the defending world champions finished their latest homestand with a 1-8 record, their worst since 2004. Indeed, Citizens Bank Ballpark hasn't lavished much brotherly love on the Phillies this year, and not because of their notoriously leather-lunged fans. The Phillies have gone just 13-22 at home, with a .371 winning percentage that ranks 29th in the majors, surpassing only the Nationals. On the other hand, their 23-9 road record, good for a .719 winning percentage, is the majors' best. What in the name of the Phillie Phanatic is going on?

First, a bit of background. In the full seasons since the 1994-95 players' strike, home teams have won at a .539 clip, setting a single-season high-water mark for the era last year at .556. This year, home teams are winning at a .549 clip, .555 if you exclude the Phillies. Over the course of a season, home-field advantages-the differences between a team's home and road winning percentages-in excess of 150 points are quite common; 63 teams posted such margins from 1996 through 2008, about five per year.

On the other hand, the Phillies' 348-point "home-field disadvantage" is more than double the largest such gap in the post-1960 expansion era of 162-game seasons. That record belongs to the 1998 Royals, who went 29-51 at home and 43-38 on the road, for a difference of 168 points. Note that schedule length makes a huge difference here; eight of the 20 largest gaps have come in strike-affected seasons (1972, 1981, 1994, 1995). That the Phils have played just 41 percent of their schedule strongly suggests their drastic home/road splits are a function of small sample size. Need further evidence? Consider that 12 teams have put up 150-point home-field advantages thus far this year, more than in the last two combined.

Nonetheless, it's worth examining just how anomalous things are. Compare this year's team to last:


      ----------Home----------    ----------Road----------
Year   RS    RA   Pyth  Actual     RS    RA   Pyth  Actual
2008  5.09  4.17  .590  .593      4.78  4.22  .556  .543
2009  4.69  5.69  .412  .371      6.00  4.28  .650  .719

Over the course of a full season, the 2008 squad's home and road records closely reflected their Pythagorean records. This year, they differ wildly, lagging 41 points behind their projected record at home, but 69 points ahead on the road. Those gaps are even more out of line when one considers that the other 29 teams are outperforming their Pythagorean records at home (and thus underperforming on the road) by an average of 29 points, a margin consistent within the post-strike era. In other words, given a .412 Pythagorean winning percentage at home, the Phillies should be winning at around a .441 clip.

Looking more closely at the team's home/road splits and their overall numbers, it's worth remembering that these aren't the 2008 Phillies. The flaws of this year's squad start with the fact that while they're outscoring all other NL teams with 5.3 runs per game, they're allowing runs at the second-highest rate (5.0). The pitching staff has been in disarray all season long thanks to injuries, from Cole Hamels' elbow to Brett Myers' hip to Brad Lidge's knee, and, while healthy, neither Joe Blanton nor Jamie Moyer have lived up to last year's solid performances.

The main problem is that their staff isn't well suited to its home park. Where last year's pitchers generated ground balls on 46.4 percent of all batted balls, good for seventh in the league, this year's model is getting ground balls on only 42.9 percent of batted balls, the league's lowest rate. With Myers possibly out for the year, they lack a single starter above 46.0 percent; it doesn't help that his replacement, rookie Antonio Bastardo, is at 30.0 percent. Blanton, in his first full year with the team, is at 41.1 percent. Chan Ho Park, whose career-best 52.6 percent last year offered hope-both that he could survive outside Dodger Stadium and that the Phillies could add a ground-baller-regressed significantly and was blitzed out of the rotation. Park was replaced by J.A. Happ, who at 38.2 percent is another extreme fly-baller.

Particularly at Citizens Bank Park, those fly balls means more home runs. While its 1002 Park Factor in Clay Davenport's translations means that it's basically neutral as far as scoring is concerned, CBP is very home run-friendly. The park ranked in the top five in home runs in four of the past five seasons, including the major league lead in 2007. It dipped to seventh last year because the Phillies' staff allowed only 0.96 homers per nine at home, 0.37 lower than in any year since the park's 2004 introduction. They're yielding an astronomical 1.65 HR/9 at home this year, as 19.2 percent of all fly balls off of opponents' bats have left the CBP field of play, a rate 50 percent higher than the major league average.

Meanwhile, though Raul Ibañez and Ryan Howard are both getting their share of home cooking (with 29.0 percent and 27.6 percent of their fly balls at Citizens leaving the yard), the Phillies' offense as a whole isn't getting nearly so much love. As a team, just 16.1 percent of their fly balls at Citizens are landing in the seats, versus 17.3 percent on the road. By comparison, Phillies pitchers are yielding homers on 15.9 percent of road fly balls. Luck and defense on balls in play are having their effects on the splits as well. The pitching staff is yielding a .318 BABIP at home, against a .288 mark on the road. Their own hitters, on the other hand, are at .273 at home, .291 on the road. The team's line-drive rates don't fully explain such gaps. The pitchers' rates hardly differ (19.1 percent at home, 19.2 on the road), while the hitters' rates do so by just a little (18.2 percent at home, 19.6 percent on the road).

Given large enough samples, this drastic home/road split will likely settle down and return to something more closely approximating normalcy. Fly balls won't turn into homers as often, and the hits will fall in for the offense, helping to restore order. While Ibañez and Chase Utley may be playing over their heads at the moment, Jimmy Rollins has particularly stunk up the joint at CBP, hitting .192/.247/.338 with a .189 BABIP despite a line-drive rate that's just 0.8 percent lower than on the road (16.8 percent to 17.6 percent). Sooner or later he's likely to modify the pull-happy approach that's pulled down his numbers. Meanwhile, as GM Ruben Amaro Jr. works the phones for another starting pitcher, he'd do well to consider adding a ground-baller.

The bottom line is that if the world champions want a shot at defending their crown, they'll have to find a way to win at home. In the expansion era, only one team has made the playoffs with a sub-.500 home record over a full season, the 2001 Braves (40-41), and no team has ever won a pennant while finishing with a home record worse than 43-38, the mark achieved by the 1973 Mets. The thought of beating the Mets always seems to bring out the best in the Phillies these days; maybe it will do so again.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here

Related Content:  AT&T Park

13 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Mountainhawk

So crazy. If the Phillies were just 18-17 at home, the division would be all but wrapped up.

The Phillies starting pitching has been getting a little better (sub 4.00 ERA in June), so if they can get the real Lidge back to settle down the bullpen, maybe they can start to get the home record under control.

Jun 24, 2009 10:37 AM
rating: 0
 
hessshaun

I don't have the time to look it up, but I was just trying to memory jog the brain for BS at home. I can think of at least 4 in the last two weeks. Those are the real killers. Also, to add to Mountainhawk's point, there pitching has been significantly better. Most of the games that they are losing are absolute heart breakers. Of course, I think that is due to the fact that the opening portion of the season absolutely killed the pen.

Above all, sure they could use a nice ground ball pitcher. Who can't? In addition to that, they also need at least one more quality arm in the pen and I would argue that to be a more pressing issue than a SP at this point in time.

Jun 24, 2009 12:51 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

They're 15th in the league in SNLVAR and 13th in WXRL, so clearly they need help at both ends. Much of the latter ranking has to do with Lidge's failures rather than those of the guys in front of him; their Fair Run Average for the bullpen is a respectable 4.28, and Lidge and Jack Taschner are the only mainstays in the red, WXRLwise. Park, Madson, Romero, Eyre (who's on the DL), Condrey and Durbin are all above 1.0 leverage with a positive WXRL.

It's worth remembering that the more innings your starters can eat (and the Phils are 0.16 below league average in that department), the fewer innings you need out of your bullpen.

Jun 24, 2009 13:29 PM
 
Mountainhawk

But April was just so hideous. I can't find league rankings for even something as simple as ERA for splits by month, but I suspect they are significantly better than 15th/13th since May 1, particularly in SNLVAR.

Not saying that they don't need pitching help, because they could certainly use another starter, but the staff isn't hopeless either the way it looked like it might be in April. Jamie Moyer in particular has given up just 20 runs in his last 7 starts, while going 43 innings in those starts. His ERA is still near 6, but it's a more respectable 4.19 in the last 7.

Jun 24, 2009 13:45 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Not quite what you asked for but according to Baseball Reference, their starters' April ERA was 6.35, in May it was 5.53, in June it's 3.86. So you're right in that their performance as a unit is stabiliizing.

Jun 24, 2009 14:42 PM
 
SoxOsPhils

Bias note - "While Ibañez and Chase Utley may be playing over their heads at the moment".

There is no evidence provided to substantiate the above comment. Also, I would like to note that I can't find any evidence of Chase Utley playing over his head at all. It frustrates and concerns me as a fan of analysis and a fan of Utley to consistently run into this bias on this website.

Jun 25, 2009 09:47 AM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Whew, and here I was afraid that I'd write a Phillies article without a single accusation of bias from a hypersensitive Phils fan.

Utley: .300/.432/.560 this year, .298/.380/.529 career, with an EqA that's 37 points above his career mark and 15 points above his previous career high.

Ibanez: .312/.371/.656 with a .339 EqA, 50 points higher than his career mark and 35 points higher than his previous career high.

But please, don't let numbers get in the way of your accusations of bias.

Jun 25, 2009 10:04 AM
 
SoxOsPhils

Jay,

I agree with you re: Ibanez, obviously he is playing above his head, and will probably slow down big-time once he returns from injury. I think he already was slowing before he got hurt.

In regards to Utley, if you look at his numbers since he became a regular, I think the most significant difference between this season and his 2005-2008 seasons is that his walk rate has increased from about 8-9% of PAs to about 14-15%. In 2007 (probably his best season despite injury) he did have a SLG of .569 through 500+ PAs, so I don't think having a SLG of .560 at this point in the season is really some huge outlier performance on his part. Also the main driver again of his higher OPS and other stats is his improved OBP. I agree that he is performing at a very high-level based on past performance, but I think playing over his head is a poor choice of phrase for Chase, especially without any supporting evidence.

Whether you agree with me or not, thanks for responding.

Jun 25, 2009 18:07 PM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

"...especially without any supporting evidence"? Please tell me you're kidding. I just gave you the supporting evidence: UTLEY HAS NEVER PUT UP NUMBERS THIS GOOD OVER THE COURSE OF A FULL SEASON. See for yourself on his player card.

Utley's career highs in OBP and SLG both came in his abbreviated 2007 season, when he missed about a month. That's not to say they don't count, but it suggests that sample size *might* have something to do with it. Now he's about 30 points higher in both categories now than he's ever been otherwise, in only ~40% of a schedule. Again, I'm going to to be a stick-in-the-mud and suggest there's a connection with the sample size and the level he's shown. It's not his SLG this year that's the outlier, because he's been consistently above .525 in the past four years, and a minor spike would hardly be unprecedented given the way power numbers have jumped around over the past 20 years. It's his OBP that's out of whack. Other than that shortened 2007 season, he's never been above .380. Furthermore, Utley's high for EqA is .330, his 90th percentile PECOTA this year is .328, he's at .342 now. By definition, if a guy's playing well above his 90th percentile, it's fair to say he's playing over his head. That's not to say he won't wind up meeting or beating his 60th or 75th percentile, or even his 90th. But *assuming* that just because he's above his 95th before halfway point, that that's not only a level he can maintain, but that for saying that he won't - in an analytical context - is some indication of bias, is idiocy. It devalues the discussion.

Look, I'm about as big a fan of Utley as you'll find here. I love to watch him play. He's an All-Star, an MVP-caliber player - check the stuff I wrote about him last fall where I point out his superiority to Howard and Rollins over the course of their MVP stretches - and if I lived in Philly I'd probably buy an Utley jersey. But you know, I don't live in Philly, and it's my job to divorce myself from that emotion when I analyze him and any other player. It's really amazing and occasionally maddening that dyed-in-the-wool fans of any particular hometown nine come here and accuse me or any of my colleagues of bias whenever our objective analysis somehow contradicts their rose-tinted view of their favorite players. BIAS? You're the one waving the partisan flag of the Phillies fan, and it says so right on your user name. And yet the moment we remind you that Ryan Howard struggles against lefties or Chase Utley is not the second coming of the messiah - BIAS! BIAS! BIAS! Not to inject politics into this discussion, but you sound like the red-assed members of a certain out-of-power political party these days, attempting to smear those with whom you disagree with the very charges that are more suited to yourself. Again, that doesn't advance the discussion.

My colleagues and I are the ones who get paid with your hard-earned subscription dollars - and bless you all for that, from the bottom of my hard little heart - to step back and try to see the forest for the trees, to detach ourselves from the hype and the partisanship so that we can grind away at those layers of distortion to get at whatever essential truths there are to be had in our analyses. They may not always be right, you may not always agree with them, and you're welcome to present evidence that contradicts us or to challenge us to defend our positions. But before you try shouting us down by claiming bias simply because you disagree with us - and I don't mean to single you out individually, because the word BIAS is all over the comments these days; apparently Joe Sheehan is biased against both the Mets and Phillies - please think again. There's not a single one of us at BP who would have risen to this position, let alone survived year in and year out, if we were putting our thumbs on the scales, and there's no way this organization would have thrived for as long as it has if that were the case.

Jun 26, 2009 08:58 AM
 
redspid

Nicely stated Jay.

Jun 26, 2009 09:46 AM
rating: 0
 
SoxOsPhils

I want to be clear in my response, and to ensure that my arguments are less likely to be misinterpreted, I am going to number my points and be as concise as possible:

1) I placed my words poorly in my latest response to you. Specifically, the "especially without any supporting evidence" phrase which was intended to refer back to your original article and not your response to me. You did provide that evidence in your response.

2) In regards to Utley's #'s, I think we are mostly in agreement. He is definitely performing near his peak capability, and it is greatly driven by his increased walk rate (over a 5% increase from his career high). The words in the original article matter though, and when I read "playing over your head", the connotation to me is both dismissive of his #'s to date and that he is getting lucky. If his batting average were .350, I would agree that he is probably getting lucky on BABIP and is hitting over his head, but an increase in his walk rate seems less like luck to me and possibly indicative of a new approach, although you are right, I'll have to wait until the end of this season and into future seasons to determine for sure.

3) I am a Phillies fan and think he is one of the best players I have ever watched on a regular basis. I do bring bias (although I hope that I limit it) to the argument at some level. However, just to note, I agree that Howard doesn't hit lefties much at all these days or in the past very well either.

4) As far as the accusations of bias in general, I know that I have been tough on writers here (Joe in particular has felt the wrath of Phillies fans in the past, including me), but part of that is because we expect some of the best insight and analysis from BP writers. I care as a fan of baseball, analysis, and as a fan of the Phillies.

Jun 26, 2009 12:36 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Fair enough, I think we understand each other. Thanks for your considered reply.

Jun 26, 2009 14:20 PM
 
Mountainhawk

So no 30 year old has ever improved their skill level and maintained it for a few years?

Jun 26, 2009 05:39 AM
rating: 0
 
You must be a Premium subscriber to post a comment.
Not a subscriber? Sign up today!
<< Previous Article
Premium Article You Could Look It Up: ... (06/24)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run... (06/23)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run... (07/02)
Next Article >>
Future Shock: Signing ... (06/24)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: Spring Shuffling
Every Team's Moneyball: Cincinnati Reds: Go ...
Every Team's Moneyball: Chicago White Sox: T...
Premium Article Some Projection Left: The Moran Mystery
Notes from the Field: Seven Days and 32 Pros...
Spring Training Notebook: Cactus League
Premium Article Rubbing Mud: The Demise of the Two-Out Rally

MORE FROM JUNE 24, 2009
Premium Article On the Beat: Mid-Week Update
Future Shock: Signing Season Preview
Premium Article You Could Look It Up: Bruised but Unbowed?
Premium Article The Biz Beat: Live Streaming on the iPhone

MORE BY JAY JAFFE
2009-07-03 - Prospectus Hit List: Beating the Holiday Tra...
2009-07-02 - Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run: Look Over, But Don't...
2009-06-26 - Prospectus Hit List: Closing In
2009-06-24 - Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run: Trouble at Home
2009-06-23 - Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run: Life Without Manny
2009-06-19 - Premium Article Prospectus Hit List: Rising and Falling
2009-06-18 - Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run: Another Mile-High Mi...
More...

MORE PROSPECTUS HIT AND RUN
2009-07-14 - Prospectus Hit and Run: The Flatliners
2009-07-09 - Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run: Call the Doctor
2009-07-02 - Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run: Look Over, But Don't...
2009-06-24 - Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run: Trouble at Home
2009-06-23 - Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run: Life Without Manny
2009-06-18 - Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run: Another Mile-High Mi...
2009-06-17 - Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run: Conquering the Cubs
More...

INCOMING ARTICLE LINKS
2009-07-24 - Prospectus Hit List: Halladay to Holliday
2009-06-26 - Prospectus Hit List: Closing In