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September 9, 2009

Prospectus Today

Getting Serious

by Joe Sheehan

(Yes, I teased an Adam Dunn piece in the comments yesterday. I'll get to that this week.)

It took 10.75 blown saves, but Charlie Manuel finally made his move last night, yanking Brad Lidge with one out in the ninth inning after the closer had allowed a single, a hit batsman, and a walk. This has been long overdue; Lidge is having an awful season, with a convenience store ERA, nearly two baserunners allowed per inning, and 11 long balls coughed up in 50 2/3 frames. His longest stretch of effectiveness is five outings back in June, and he's been brutal over the last couple of weeks.

If a player had performed at this level in any other role, he would have been replaced. Well, David Ortiz excepted. No pitcher with a 7.11 ERA keeps his job for five months, and no position player with a comparable performance, say a .170 batting average with no peripherals, would hold a lineup spot all year. The mythology of the closer role is so deeply ingrained within the game, though, that Manuel kept going to Lidge time and again, losing ballgames for his trouble. The fundamental disconnect-that pitching in the ninth inning with a small lead is a skill over and above pitching effectively-isn't Manuel's alone, and it's a virus within the game. That virus is why it took until last night for Manuel to finally blink.

Manuel didn't even get the change right. Oh, sure, he went to his second-best reliever in Ryan Madson, who escaped the ninth inning by getting a strikeout and a ground out, but Madson pitched to one batter too many. After disposing of Ryan Zimmerman with ease, Madson was allowed to face Adam Dunn, and while he did get the third out, Manuel took a massive risk in letting that matchup happen, given that he had two left-handers available in his bullpen. It was as if he'd decided that Ryan Madson wasn't the pitcher who he'd been taking out for tactical reasons all summer-on August 30, and August 16 and August 7, just to name three times in recent memory-but was instead the backup closer, and therefore imbued with special powers with a save in the balance.

Not getting Scott Eyre or even Jack Taschner into the game when Dunn came up was a tactical mistake. Dunn, for his career, picks up 100 points of OPS against righties, and it's 200 this season. Madson is a right-handed sidearmer who is much less effective against lefty batters, as his strikeout and walk splits show (his triple-slash line bounces around with his BABIP in the small sample sizes of single-season reliever platoon splits). You don't need to believe me; just believe Manuel, who has repeatedly managed Madson as if he wanted a southpaw, rather than his primary set-up man, getting a big lefty out. Had the bases been loaded in the eighth inning, with two outs and Dunn coming up, I have no doubt that Manuel would have loaded up Eyre. Not doing so in the ninth was silly, closercentric managing that could have cost the Phillies the game.

I simply do not understand this part of modern bullpen management. Managers retain 12, 13, and on occasion 14 pitchers, with seven-, eight-, and even nine-man bullpens, reducing their offensive decision-making to "please, let no one get hurt." They do this in no small part so that they can gain the platoon advantage in high-leverage situations. They wear a path to the mound from the 16th out through the 24th, making change after change based on handedness, then ignore it when trying to get the last three outs. The closer myth is so strong, so pervasive, that it gets managers to completely ignore the factors that drive all the decisions prior to the ninth. It's ludicrosity.

Actually, no… this latest development is. Manuel apparently intends to go right back to Brad Lidge the next time the Phillies need to protect a one-, two-, or three-run lead in the ninth. Brad Lidge has been one of the worst pitchers in baseball in 2009, and his performance is closing in on the discussion of "worst closer seasons of all time." If any team in the NL East had taken time from its busy schedule of being disappointing to win more games, Manuel wouldn't have had the luxury of taking this long to decide. Now, though, Lidge is trying to make the decision easy, and Manuel won't let him, stubbornly believing that Lidge will start getting those three outs again. He can keep making that choice all he wants for the next four weeks, but come the NL Division Series, he'll need a better plan. Using Brad Lidge, who at this point is a marginal choice for the post-season roster, is almost certain to lead to disaster.

It wasn't all bad news for the Phillies last night. They won, of course, and in doing so they got a performance from Pedro Martinez I didn't think he had in him. Facing by far the best offense he'd seen in his comeback, Martinez allowed three runs in 6 2/3 innings, making a whopping 119 pitches in doing so. I was as optimistic that Martinez could help a good team as anyone, and I never saw him getting past 100 pitches. It had been nearly four years, since September 16, 2005, since Martinez threw that many pitches in a game.

No amount of performance is going to slide Pedro ahead of the Phillies' top four starters in the postseason, but with each passing turn, he becomes a more viable option as a long man in the bullpen. He's a better choice for the roster than Lidge, just to name one guy. Martinez has 27 strikeouts against just four walks in six starts, two of which have been shortened by long rain delays. His BABIP (.286) and HR/FB (seven percent) are on the low side without being extraordinary. Lefties have had some fun, hitting all five of the homers Martinez has allowed, so that's a concern depending upon how the matchups fall in-game. You could make a case for Martinez being a great long man to back up any of the three lefty starters in the Phillies' rotation.

Good pitching is becoming a bit more important to the Phillies, whose vaunted offense has been misfiring for some time. The team OBP has slipped to .333, and while their power and fantastic basestealing gives them a .270 EqA (third in the NL), the ongoing effects of batting a guy with a .286 OBP leadoff seem to be taking their toll. The Phillies scored five runs last night… on five solo homers. This exceeded by two the number of solo homers that were the team's sole offense Saturday night against the Astros. Eric Seidman pointed out that the Phillies' last 13 homers have been solo shots, and while you can't control the timing of events, it's indicative in part of a lack of baserunners. Pedro Feliz started the year getting on base a lot, but he's down to .312. Ryan Howard and Raul lbañez are on about 35 percent of the time, which isn't anything special for middle-of-the-order corner guys playing in a hitters' park.

Despite still running the bases well, the Phillies have now become the MLB team most reliant on the long ball. BP's Dan Malkiel dug up the Guillen Numbers-so named because Ozzie's White Sox are a permanent fixture near the top of the rankings-for the 2009 season:

             R/HR%
Phillies     46.6%
Rangers      44.1%
White Sox    42.6%
Tigers       41.4%
Yankees      40.5%

It's not the worst list to be on if you hit a lot of homers, as these teams do, but it does indicate a certain amount of one-dimensionality to the offense. The White Sox won a World Series playing this way in 2005, of course, but they also had a terrible offense two years later with much the same percentage.

For the Phillies, they're not that one-dimensional. They hit doubles and draw walks in addition to stealing bases, but they've stopped hitting singles (.256 batting average), the walks drawn have slipped slightly to the middle of the pack, and Rollins' Taveraseque performance is making them a bit dysfunctional: the four guys slugging .500 don't hit with enough runners on base to make the opposition weep, and that's the difference between 2007 and 2008 to the good, and 2009 being a lot less so.

As with Lidge, Manuel is faced with a decision on changing the role of a player who is a big part of the reason why Manuel gets to do Sports Illustrated photo shoots and never has to buy his own drinks at the bar. Dropping Rollins to sixth or seventh and sliding everyone else up a notch will look radical, but it will give five good hitters extra at-bats at the expense of one who is, at least in 2009, not a good hitter. These guys aren't Strat-o-Matic cards, and by that I mean you don't get to play with last season's stats all year. Lidge has an ERA that makes me hungry, and Rollins has an OBP that cancels the effect. A six-game lead in the division isn't going to matter four weeks from now-Manuel has to start putting his post-season team on the field.

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

Related Content:  The Who,  Managers Of The Year

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

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tommybones

Amen! Says the guy with both Myers and Madson on his fantasy team!

Sep 09, 2009 11:59 AM
rating: 0
 
antoine6

Well, they've been in about a three-week teamwide slump, so it's more than likely that you're judging the offense at it's lowest level, not where its actual talent lies. Regardless of your feelings about Rollins, I don't think anyone believes he's really a .286 OBP guy. The Phils have been really bad recently with RISP, and also hitting a lot of solo home runs; that means when they have guys on, they're not hitting, but when guys aren't, they're still hitting home runs. Over time (and hopefully in October), those will even out and home runs will be hit with guys on base.

As far as team OBP goes, Rollins and Feliz are the only guys under that team average, and I think it's very safe to assume that Rollins' OBP is due to improve; again, he may not be a great OBP guy, but he's not a sub-.300 OBP guy either. The team will get guys on base.

You also failed to mention that their defense is top notch, championship-level. Good pitching + good defense + home runs seems like a pretty good formula to win in the playoffs--it certainly worked last year.

But you are absolutely right re: Lidge and the 9th inning. The team needed to make a change, and I hope last night's game represents a permanent move. As far as Madson goes, he should be the closer. The issue with using matchups in the 9th is that in the playoffs (as opposed to September), you have a limited pen, so saving a lefty to use for the 9th may mean not using one in a bigger situation earlier. Having a closer you can trust in the 9th (and I hope Madson is that guy) allows you more options earlier in the game.

Sep 09, 2009 12:14 PM
rating: 1
 
cdmyers

Re: not using matchups in the 9th. It's true that saving a lefty for the ninth isn't much smarter than saving your best reliever for the 9th and ignoring any high leverage situations before then. But Joe's point wasn't that Manuel should have saved a lefty for the 9th; it's that he had two lefties in the bullpen ready to go and opted to stick with a righty who is particularly bad against left-handed hitters. That's idiocy.

Sep 09, 2009 13:15 PM
rating: 2
 
mentalmeat

Anyone know if the Phils put in a waiver claim on Billy Wagner?

Sep 09, 2009 12:24 PM
rating: 0
 
molnar
(170)

My understanding is that if any NL team had, their claim would have taken precedence over Boston's.

Sep 09, 2009 12:32 PM
rating: 0
 
antoine6

Um, I'm guessing you didn't see how the Wagner era ended in Philly. There's no way they were bringing him back after he complained about the fans, the team, and criticized his fellow players to the media anonymously. He wouldn't have gone anyway. He was quoted a couple weeks ago as saying he wouldn't approve a trade to Philly, because there was too much pressure there to succeed.

Sep 09, 2009 12:38 PM
rating: 4
 
buffum
(458)

> Lidge has an ERA that makes me hungry, and Rollins has an OBP that cancels the effect.

That's a terrific line.

I wonder if Pedro might have enough cachet to allow Manuel to replace Lidge as closer in the playoffs. That is, if you don't think Pedro can be pencilled in as one of the starters, you might say, "Ah, yes, he can be the long reliever, but look! He is closing Game One! Let's see how that works..."

It may be that he cannot recover quickly enough to do this. That wouldn't surprise me, and the idea should be ignored if Martinez can't actually do it. But sometimes, the most palatable way of replacing a Formerly Famous Person is to have a second Formerly Even More Famous Person available to take his place ...

Sep 09, 2009 13:07 PM
rating: 1
 
tooci4

Agree with overall sentiment of the article. The team's good enough to win, but they have to do everything that that entails, which means getting the best players into the biggest spots.

One point of disagreement is on the decision to leave Eyre out of the game. Eyre has been wild all season, and if he walks Dunn (who is willing to take a BB), then you're stuck with Eyre against Willingham and Dukes, with no top-notch righty left in the bullpen. With the 2-run lead, the correct move would be to pitch carefully do Dunn WITH MADSON and not worry too much about a walk. Then have him attack a righty to win the game if he failed to retire Dunn.

But yeah, interesting how Manuel is so outwardly vocal about not getting hung up on 2008, but he seems to be trapped by it in 2009.

Sep 09, 2009 13:08 PM
rating: 7
 
antoine6

Agreed. Even if Eyre has a slightly better chance to get Dunn, the change in odds if he doesn't is big enough that it outweighs the initial odds in Eyre's favor. The key is that you have a run to play with, so walking him with Madson is at least an option, meaning you can pitch him carefully. In a 1-run game, I think Joe would be right.

Sep 09, 2009 14:09 PM
rating: 0
 
antoine6

Also, Taschner is horrible against everyone, including lefties. If Manuel had lifted Madson for Taschner, he should have been fired on the spot.

Sep 09, 2009 14:10 PM
rating: 1
 
Steve D.

The Strat-o-matic line is selectively applied here. You don't get to use 2008 numbers, but you don't get stuck with April-June numbers either. Rollins is much improved since 7/1 (327 OBP). Not that 327 is good for a leadoff guy, but it's not bad enough that you go yanking him out of the role he's been in for the last few years.

Sep 09, 2009 14:03 PM
rating: 0
 
Joe D.

Nonsense. Victorino is clocking Rollins in OBP since the all-star break (.337 to .285) and Rollins is clocking Victorino in slugging in the same timespan (.500 to .415).

On the year, Victorino's .362 OBP absolutely pummels a .286 from Rollins. That's an incredible difference.

That Rollins has been the leadoff guy in the past is no reason the Phillies shouldn't optimize their lineup come playoff time. "We're going to do it that way because that's the way we used to do it" is a crappy reason to give away runs in the postseason. Slide Rollins down, take advantage of his above-average power, and reduce the effect of his total lack of patience.

Sep 09, 2009 14:25 PM
rating: 5
 
kmbart

Joe's right that Lidge shouldn't be closing, but Madson is the best pitcher in the pen, he's certainly NOT a side-armer as Joe claimss (not sure where that came from), and if the Phillies had a good lefty to bring in to face Dunn, that would make sense, but bringing in an Eyre or (gasp!) a Taschner just because of their handedness isn't good managing, either. It was a mistake to not go with the guy best suited for the job in the first place, but it would have been a bigger one to then take the game back out of the hands of that best available option.

Sep 09, 2009 15:12 PM
rating: 3
 
W. Clark

I was also curious how Madson got a side-armer label. He's right over the top.

Not only that, he's not really a big platoon split guy since his out pitch is a fading change-up (i.e., fades away from lefties). Not that Sheehan was wrong overall, because Dunn is a platoon guy even if Madson isn't, just that he kinda made stuff up he didn't need just to reinforce a point he'd already made.

Sep 09, 2009 15:25 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

He's not. I've always thought of him as one--a low-arm-slot guy--even watching last night's game, but he's not. I just pulled up some video, and he steps well towards third base in his delivery, and throws that slider that makes him tough on righties, but it's not remotely sidearm. It's *maybe* 1 o'clock.

Honestly, all the stuff around the release point has always fooled me. I had to really look at him to convince myself, but I'm wrong about that.

Sep 09, 2009 17:11 PM
 
W. Clark

also, Eyre wasn't available last night after experiencing a sharp pain in his elbow the last time out. Not that Sheehan necessarily should have known that, as it's pretty mundane local media stuff, but the choice wasn't Madson or Eyre, it was Madson or Taschner, and Manual has zero faith in Taschner to get out of a bases loaded jam after watching his high-wire act earlier this season.

link on Eyre's injury: http://www.philly.com/inquirer/sports/20090909_Phillies_Notes__Happ__Eyre_head_list_of_injured_pitchers.html

Sep 09, 2009 16:09 PM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

I didn't know Eyre was not available. Were he, I would choose Eyre over Madson in that situation, even with a two-run lead, because I'd rather attack Dunn and never see the next guy. This is what Scott Eyre is on the roster for: facing Adam Dunn in a game-critical situation.

Re: Taschner. Hey, I didn't trade for him. With that said, he's made two low-leverage appearances since returning, and probably wasn't an option there. I know he's having a bad year, but at the same time, I'm not a huge fan of having guys around you're not going to use, even in September.

Eyre's a pretty important guy to this team. That's my takeaway.

Sep 09, 2009 17:22 PM
 
antoine6

Agreed on Eyre. He's quietly been really effective this year. And with it unclear whether J.C. Romero is going to make it back, he's going to play a huge role in the postseason.

But regarding Taschner, there's plenty of guys in September that are up that you may use at some point, but not with the bases loaded in the 9th inning, right?

Sep 09, 2009 18:32 PM
rating: 1
 
MGL

FWIW, using Madson's projected platoon splits and that of Eyre and Taschner, Madson's projected "ERA" against lefties is 3.90 and Eyre's is 3.28, assuming that the lefty batter has average platoon splits himself. If he has more, then there is an even greater difference between Madson and Eyre. Taschner is 4.12 versus a lefty - he basically sucks overall, although is useful against lefties as compared to a RHP who is not all that great or has a large platoon split himself.

Most lefty pitchers are better versus LHB than all but the best RHP. That is why teams have LOOGYs in the first place. The traditional argument, "Why bring in a crappy LOOGY when he's, well, crappy," usually doesn't hold water since even a crappy LOOGY is pretty good against lefty batters and better than all but the best RH relievers.

But, as someone pointed out, as much as Joe would like to see Dunn be the last batter, that ain't gonna happen 30% of the time or so. So you have to factor into the analysis who is going to pitch to the following batter or batters that 30% of the time that Dunn does not make an out.

So, you have Madson versus Dunn, at a 3.90 "ERA", plus Madson versus the next batter 30% of the time, and the next batter after that, 8% of the time, or whatever it is, or Eyre versus Dunn at an "ERA" of 3.28 (much better than Madson's 3.90), plus someone else versus the next batter 30% of the time, plus the next batter after that 8% of the time.

I don't know the answer. It's probably a toss-up or reasonably close either way, depending on who else they had in the pen, if anyone, to take over for Eyre if Dunn gets on base. If you have to leave Eyre in there to pitch to the following RHB's, he is projected at 4.00 versus RHB, as opposed to Madson at 3.19. SO while you gain .62 runs with Dunn at the plate with Eyre rather than Madson, if you have to leave Eyre in after Dunn, you lose .81 runs 30% of the time for the next batter, and another .81 runs 8% of the time for the next batter after that. That is a net gain for bringing in Eyre of .32 runs per 9 innings, which is around .008 runs per batter. Multiply that by maybe 3 for the leverage and you gain maybe .002 wins - nothing to write home about.

Probably more important than those overall numbers are the relative values of the various events when you are making a decision about what relievers to bring in. Some pitchers are bad or good because they give up a lot or few walks or HRs or batted balls, or what have. The value of those events can be quite different depending on the inning and score and the player(s) at the plate. For example, with a 3 run lead to start the 9th, you want a pitcher who does not allow a lot of base runners. You don't care if he is a high HR guy. With runners on base, you want either a GB pitcher or a high K pitchers. In a one run game, especially with 2 outs, you want a low HR guy. Etc. Those are important considerations as well. How often have you seen a manager bring in his closer who is a high walks and high strikeout guy (low BA against) in the 9th inning with a 3 run lead and you intuitively cringe because you know that he is going to walk the bases loaded and then have to pitch out of a self-inflicted jam? Not only is a 3-run lead (LOW leverage}) a great time to save your closer for another (more important) game in general, but it is also a good time to bring in a lesser pitcher overall who is a low walks guy, even a low walks, high HR guy. If he gets in trouble, you can always bring in the closer anyway.

As you can see, one of the problems with taking out your best pitcher to bring in a lefty is that even if the lefty/lefty matchup is better, you don't have your best pitcher available anymore for the following batters, if they should bat.

The best use of a platoon matchup in favor of your closer, is at the beginning of the inning of course. How many times have you seen two lefty batters lead off the 9th inning, say Utley and Howard, and the opposing manager brings in his RH closer to start the inning? Assuming a decent LOOGY in the pen, the better move is usually the LOOGY for the first two batters and then the closer. Occasionally, you will see a manager like LaRussa, Scioscia or Pinella do something like that. I love it when I see it. Again, that is assuming that the LOOGY matchup is better than the closer/lefty matchup, which may not be the case if your closer is especially good, has a small platoon split himself, or the LOOGY is especially bad (like Taschner versus Madson).

Sep 09, 2009 22:22 PM
rating: 3
 
harderj

How about Chase Utley leading off? Or Jayson Werth (who I recall did at least once in 2008)? Especially with Utley's decrease in pop in the second half.

Here's season (and post ASG) OBP (as well as post ASG slug) for the Phillies:

Werth, rh .374 (.380/.561 slug)
Utley, lh .411 (.377/.464 vs. .430/.573 before ASG)
Howard, lh .353 (.373/.633!)
Ruiz, rh .346 (.362/.504)
Victorino, sh .362 (.338/.420)
Ibanez, lh .349 (.321/.456)
Rollins, sh .285 (.283/.493)
Feliz, rh .315 (.277/.330)

I know the article is more about myopic closer usage, but lineups matter too, right? Especially with JRoll at the top (even if we know he's better than this...he hasn't been, at least this year). And you can't actually bat Ruiz cleanup, I guess...

Sep 10, 2009 10:36 AM
rating: 0
 
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