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Spitballing: Blanton in the Phillies’ Rotation February 25, 2011

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball.
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The Phillies have one of the best rotations, on paper, in baseball today. Although some people are measured in their optimism, including Jayson Stark, I think the important thing to remember is that we’re arguing over whether they’re “the best ever,” not if they’re going to be competitive. Rotations that bring this kind of excitement at the beginning of the year are few and far between. The Mets, for example, aren’t drawing this kind of expectation – guys like R.A. Dickey and Mike Pelfrey are solid, but they don’t have the deserved reputations of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Joe Blanton.

I’m hardly the first to say it, but Joe Blanton seems to be the odd man out. He’ll be making about $8.5 million next year. Blanton faced 765 batters last year, fourth behind Halladay, Hamels, and Kyle Kendrick. Immediately behind Blanton was Jamie Moyer with 460 batters faced. For the record, the fifth-most-active pitcher faced 362 batters in 2009 (Chan Ho Park) and 478 in 2008 (Adam Eaton). Let’s take that number and adjust it to about 550 batters faced, since Blanton will get more starts than most fifth starters and he’ll stay in longer since he’s a proven quantity. In a normal year, the Phils face about 6200 batters, so that means Blanton’s 550 will be about 9% of the team’s total. (That figure is robust even in last year’s Year of the Pitcher with depressed numbers of batters faced.)

According to J.C. Bradbury’s Hot Stove Economics, this yields an average marginal revenue product of 3.15 million. This figure is based on the average rate that pitchers prevent runs and the average revenue of an MLB team. Obviously, Blanton is a better than the average pitcher (ignoring his negative Wins Above Replacement last year) and the Phillies make more money than most teams, but this is a pretty damning figure.

The other thing to take into account is that Blanton’s marginal wins aren’t worth as much to the Phillies now that they have a four-ace rotation. He won’t get every start and he won’t be a 20-game winner. Even if he were, he’ll be providing insurance wins – he might have an extra ten wins over a AAA-level replacement, but chances are that those wins won’t make the difference between making the playoffs and missing them when you figure in the Phillies’ solid bullpen and run production.

Instead, let’s say Blanton goes to the White Sox, just to pick a team. Jake Peavy and Edwin Jackson combined for 765 batters faced, so plug Blanton in for Freddy Garcia with 671 batters faced – a worst-case scenario. That would be 10.85 % of the batters faced, bringing him up to about 3.8 million. In this case, though, you have a team who finished 6 games back and missed the playoffs. If you replace Garcia with Blanton, you stand a very good chance to make the playoffs. That’s another way of saying that the Phillies’ 6-game lead over Atlanta (the NL wild card team) was worth less than the Twins’ 6-game lead over the White Sox (when neither team had as many wins as the AL wild card).

Economists would refer to this as a diminishing marginal returns situation – when you have fewer wins, around the middle of the pack, each additional win is worth a little less. This captures the idea that taking a 110-win team and giving them 111 wins would cost a lot of money and not yield much extra benefit, but a 90-win team making 91 wins might let them overtake another team.

The upshot of all of this? Trade Blanton for prospects. Rely on the bullpen and develop a future starter. Roy Halladay won’t be competitive forever.

Utility Pitchers II: Alternate Definition January 3, 2011

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In the previous post, I discussed utility pitchers, which I defined as players who primarily play a defensive position who are called on to pitch. It never occurred to me that Bleacher Report had previously defined it otherwise – as a pitcher who can perform well in any role.

How can I quantify that? Well, it seems to me that a sign of quality as a starter is the vaunted quality start (game score above 50, or six innings with three or fewer runs allowed, depending who you ask), and a sign of quality as a reliever is the save. Thus, a good utility pitcher is one who can muster at least one quality start and at least one save in a given season. It’s not perfect, since it relies on the manager being willing to insert a primary starter at the right point in a game to earn a save (or starting a primary reliever, as Joe Girardi did with Brian Bruney back in 2008). Nonetheless, eight pitchers managed that feat this year.

By far the most versatile was Hisanori Takahashi of the Mets. Tak managed six quality starts, a handful of appearances as a left-handed specialist, and eight saves when he stepped in as the Mets’ closer after Francisco Rodriguez became unavailable.

Mike Pelfrey also represented for the Mets, although he made only one relief appearance (in the crazy 20-inning game against the Cardinals).

Matt Garza of the Rays made some news this July when he showed his versatility by starting and saving games in the same series.

The other five pitchers were Bruce Chen, Nelson Figueroa, Tom Gorzelanny, Matt Harrison, and David Hernandez.

Shockingly, Carlos Zambrano wasn’t among the pitchers listed, even though he spent some time in the bullpen for the Cubs and some time as a starter. (Big Z was briefly the highest-paid setup man in the league.)

My guess for the 2011 season? Neftali Feliz of the Rangers was among the best closers this year but has the ability to start games as well. Most likely, though, it’ll be someone like Pelfrey, who was pressed into service in relief for an extra-inning game.

Three Interesting Events Last Night June 9, 2010

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Last night, the Mets hosted San Diego and three interesting things happened. First, Jose Reyes hit a home run that was initially ruled a double, leading to a review and the Mets coming up to 4 for 5 all-time for instant replays.

Second, Mike Pelfrey threw what would otherwise have been a complete game, and a respectable one at that – 9.0 IP, 5 H, 1 R (earned), 0 BB, 6 K, and 103 pitches for a Game Score of 79. Mike, however, was criminally unsupported and the game ended up going into extra innings. Elmer Dessens ended up taking the win for the Mets with 1/3 of an inning pitched because he happened to be the pitcher of record when the third interesting thing happened. (Pelf went 0-3 at the plate and Jerry Manuel double-switched Alex Cora in after the 9th.)

In the bottom of the 11th, Ike Davis (who was 0-4 at the time) hit a solo walk-off homer. It was only the third walk-off home run for the Mets this year, and the first that wasn’t hit by a catcher. Interestingly, Matt Kemp of the Dodgers did the same thing last week – 1 for 5, with the only hit being a walk-off extra-innings home run.