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Vince Velasquez Really Didn’t Pitch That Badly (Mets Game 13) April 20, 2016

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Or, back to that wretched Phillies bullpen

Brett Oberholtzer as an Astro. Photo: Keith Allison on Flickr (Originally posted to Flickr as "Brett Oberholtzer") [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Brett Oberholtzer as an Astro. Photo: Keith Allison via Wikimedia Commons

Vince Velasquez is starting to look human, but don’t get too excited. Entering last night’s game, he was 2-0 on 15 innings pitched, 6 hits, 3 walks, a whopping 25 strikeouts, and no runs. He was coming off a shutout of the Padres on a monstrous 97 game score. Contrast that with last night: in 4 1/3 innings, Velasquez gave up 5 runs on 5 hits, although only two of them were earned because, in arguably the most important play of the game, Mets pitcher Logan Verrett reached on an error to start the third inning. Reconstructing the inning without the error:

 

However, because Verrett was safe at first, he was on base for Michael Conforto to single him over to second, and then for Yoenis Cespedes to bring them home on a home run. Although Conforto had already hit a wind-aided homer off Velasquez in the first, it’s debatable whether those hits would still have come at the beginning of an inning with a fresh pitcher. Since Conforto has been so problematic for pitchers, it’s likely he’d have made it to base in the phantom fourth inning, but Cespedes had struck out in the first, and the wind was certainly a factor in his homer; it’s plausible the fourth inning would have gone:

  1. Conforto singled
  2. Cespedes flied out to center
  3. Neil Walker flied out to right
  4. Asdrubal Cabrera grounded out to short

Then we enter the fifth inning with Velasquez down 2-0, rather than 5-0. That inning may have looked like this:

  1. Travis d’Arnaud grounded out to shortstop
  2. Verrett doubled.
  3. Granderson hit by pitch
  4. Wright struck out looking.

Now it’s the fifth inning, you have Conforto on deck, men on first and second, but the lead runner is a pitcher. Verrett is unlikely to score on a single. Even though Conforto beat Velasquez up pretty badly that evening, Velasquez is one out away from his fifth inning, making him eligible for a win if the Phillies turn it around. Additionally, entering last night’s game, Velasquez’ platoon splits were all in favor of having him face the lefty: he doesn’t strike lefties out as often, but they hit significantly worse. Bringing left-handed specialist Elvis Araujo in to face Conforto was a move that made sense if Velasquez was being beat up, but in this case I’d have been likely to leave him in as a development move. It’s not a given that Conforto would have hit him. Then, we have a totally different game.

Fortunately, the Phillies bullpen is terrible.

Araujo was perfect for two outs and Dariel Hinojosa pitched a perfect ninth, but Brett Oberholtzer allowed four runs on four hits and two walks in two innings; three (!) of those hits were home runs. James Russell allowed another two runs on three hits (one homer) and a walk. Russell was visibly shaken, although his ERA dropped .21 to 18.69. Meanwhile, Verrett gave us six scoreless innings; a rested Jim Henderson was perfect, and although Rafael Montero pitched relatively poorly (gave up one run, with at least one more saved by a killer catch by Juan Lagares in center), Hansel Robles got three outs on one hit. He was visibly pitching around Cameron Rupp (double) and Darin Ruf (struck out looking), both of whom handled the fact that Robles had attempted to murder them with grace and aplomb.

I’m not saying that last night’s game was a fluke. Conforto’s development has come at an alarming pace. Still, the two key plays last night that knocked Vince Velasquez out of the game boiled down to Logan Verrett reaching base twice. Pete Mackanin waved the white flag by leaving Brett Oberholtzer and James Russell out to eat innings, when an extra inning from Vince Velasquez may well have made this one a nailbiter. (Seriously, three and two thirds innings pitched by three different lefties?)

The Mets close out their series against the Phillies tonight. Bartolo Colon took a tough loss against the Phillies in his first start; Jeremy Hellickson has allowed a .256/.316/.430 slash line to current Mets. Yoenis Cespedes has hit .444 in 10 plate appearances against Hellickson; David Wright is .600 in five plate appearances. Juan Lagares, Wilmer Flores and Eric Campbell are each 1 for 3, while Granderson and Lucas Duda are both below the Mendoza line in 23 and 8 plate appearances, respectively.

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The Phillies’ Bullpen Is Truly Wretched (Mets Game 4 Preview) April 9, 2016

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Yesterday’s Mets home opener was joyous – Jacob deGrom‘s son decided to wait a little while longer, we got another masterful performance from Lazarus I Mean Jim Henderson, and Michael Conforto was firmly in Good Lucas Duda Mode. Besides, the Phillies had to go to their bullpen after 5+.

Despite a solid performance by young Jerad Eickhoff – in which he hit a double and scored one of two runs for Philadelphia – the Phillies starter ended up in trouble in the sixth when Duda doubled, Neil Walker singled him home, and Conforto doubled Walker home. Jim Henderson pitched a perfect seventh, and the Mets bullpen allowed only one run (unearned) after Peter Bourjos reached on an E5. Hansel Robles got a K, allowed Bourjos on, and then allowed a hit to Cesar Hernandez before Jerry Blevins came in to clean up lefty-batting Odubel Herrera and Hernandez on a double play. Antonio Bastardo finished the game with two strikeouts, allowing one single.

Photo: Arturo Pardavila III from Hoboken, NJ, USA

Bartolo Colon takes the mound today. Photo: Arturo Pardavila III from Hoboken, NJ, USA

The Phillies bullpen has been awful this year, and this game is a microcosm of why. Eickhoff pitched well, but his bullpen couldn’t get a handle on it. Dalier Hinojosa got two outs and, despite a difficult at-bat, rule 5 draftee Daniel Stumpf finally recorded an out. In the seventh, James Russell got a single out, but allowed two walks and three singles; David Hernandez allowed another run before closing out the inning. This season, the Phillies’ starters have posted a 3.80 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP – both quite respectable, especially considering Charlie Morton‘s rough start. The bullpen, however, has pitched to a 12.66 ERA and a 2.44 WHIP, meaning for every inning pitched they allow almost three men to reach base.

Pete Mackanin has used Hinojosa in three of four games thus far, lefties Stumpf and Russell twice each, and Hinojosa and Hernandez three times. In those, Hinojosa and Russell each have one blown save. Stumpf is unproven but being used in relatively high-leverage situations, while Hector Neris is coming in in low-leverage situations despite having some of the best stats on the team. I recognize that Stumpf is young and being broken in – catcher Cameron Rupp came out and put his arm over Stumpf’s shoulder several times in yesterday’s game – but the Phillies seem to be treating his development as a goal that comes at the expense of the team.

Bartolo Colon starts tonight against the Phillies; current Phillies have hit .267/.301/.371 against Bartolo. Odubel Herrera is 4-13 against Colon, and a handful of Phillies are above the .300 mark. Meanwhile, the only Met starter Vincent Velasquez has faced is Alejandro De Aza, who is 1-2.

Bartolo’s stats against current Phillies:

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
Ryan Howard 27 24 5 0 0 2 2 2 .208 .259 .458 .718
Darin Ruf 7 7 1 0 0 1 0 1 .143 .143 .571 .714
Carlos Ruiz 18 18 5 1 0 0 0 3 .278 .278 .333 .611
Cesar Hernandez 8 7 3 0 0 0 1 4 .429 .500 .429 .929
Emmanuel Burriss 2 1 1 0 0 0 1 0 1.000 1.000 1.000 2.000
Andres Blanco 7 6 3 1 0 0 1 2 .500 .571 .667 1.238
Peter Bourjos 7 6 2 0 0 0 1 3 .333 .429 .333 .762
Odubel Herrera 13 13 4 0 0 0 0 3 .308 .308 .308 .615
Freddy Galvis 15 15 4 1 0 0 0 3 .267 .267 .333 .600
Jerad Eickhoff 4 4 1 0 0 0 0 1 .250 .250 .250 .500
Cameron Rupp 10 10 2 0 0 0 0 2 .200 .200 .200 .400
Maikel Franco 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000
Charlie Morton 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000
Total 123 116 31 3 0 3 6 25 .267 .301 .371 .672
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/9/2016.

 

Bring On The Phils (Mets Game 3 Preview) April 8, 2016

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Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Larry Bowa becomes apoplectic over Hansel Robles. Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

This afternoon, the Mets host the Phillies to open their season series. No love lost here: keep in mind, it was Philadelphia’s Cameron Rupp who future closer Hansel Robles was suspended for completely accidentally attempting to quick-bean. Robles was also accused of attempted murder when he executed his quick-pitch on Darin Ruff in August. Since the Phils and the Mets have never quite gotten along, this will probably turn ugly quickly. Rupp played in Wednesday’s game and Ruf has appeared in every game so far; expect Robles to get no end of chatter from the Philly bench this series.

Philadelphia is coming off three losses to Cincinnati. The season opener featured a loss by David Hernandez and a blown save by James Russel, spoiling an excellent start by Jeremy Hellickson (game score of 70). Dalier Hinojosa blew the save and took the loss on Wednesday, flushing an 8-strikeout, 1-run, 7-inning start by Aaron Nola down the drain (game score of 73). Thursday, starter Charlie Morton finally lost his own game, getting bounced after 5 runs in 3 2/3 innings. Hinojosa acquitted himself reasonably, pitching a two-hit 8th but giving up no runs. Rookie Daniel Stumpf walked two and allowed a home run before being hooked, leading him to the rare infinite ERA. Long man Brett Oberholtzer gave up one run in 3 1/3 innings.

The Philly bullpen is beat up. On a day game after a night game, and with Friday the third consecutive game day, it’s difficult to see Hinojosa pitching for the third consecutive day. Hernandez is fresh, but it’s not inconceivable we could see Stumpf in middle relief to try to shake out the yips. Jerad Eickhoff, who cannot spell his own name, will start Friday for Philadelphia. Eickoff pitched 51 innings in 8 games to a 2.65 ERA last year. He had a slightly lucky .257 BAbip with an 8.6 K9 and a 3.77 KBB. His work against the Mets is mixed. Michael Conforto has taken him to school (4-8 with a homer and a walk, despite two Ks); Yoenis Cespedes had a tougher time (1-6, 2 Ks).

The story of the game is that the Mets plan to start Jacob deGrom, who will leave immediately if his wife goes into labor. If that happens before the game, Bartolo Colon and Steven Matz are likely fill-in candidates. deGrom has had a tough time with the Phillies – though he’s 1-0 against them, he’s allowed a 4.41 ERA and a .313/.352/.463 line against them. His numbers against current Phillies are below:

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP missG
Freddy Galvis 8 8 5 0 0 0 0 0 1 .625 .625 .625 1.250 0 0 0 0 1
Odubel Herrera 8 8 2 0 0 0 0 0 2 .250 .250 .250 .500 0 0 0 0 0
Ryan Howard 8 8 3 0 0 1 3 0 2 .375 .375 .750 1.125 0 0 0 0 0
Carlos Ruiz 6 6 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .167 .167 .167 .333 0 0 0 0 0
Cesar Hernandez 4 2 1 0 0 0 0 2 1 .500 .750 .500 1.250 0 0 0 0 0
Maikel Franco 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Andres Blanco 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Cameron Rupp 2 1 1 0 0 1 1 1 0 1.000 1.000 4.000 5.000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 41 38 13 0 0 2 4 3 9 .342 .390 .500 .890 0 0 0 0 1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/7/2016.

Mets’ Home Field Magic Number at 4, Despite Embarrassing Loss October 1, 2015

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e9e65ede57d06aadce758b40b245c159-originalHansel Robles was bounced from last night’s game against the Phillies for “throwing at” Philadelphia catcher Cameron Rupp. That ejection was controversial because the ball clearly just got away from the fireballing right-hander, but he (along with manager Terry Collins) was ejected because both benches had been warned. Yoenis Cespedes had been hit on the hand in the third by Justin De Fratus; Kirk Nieuwenhuis was hit by De Fratus’ replacement, Adam Loewen in the fifth; and Logan Verrett retaliated in the bottom of the fifth by hitting Odubel Herrera. When the ball got away from Robles and sailed past Rupp’s head on a 2-2 count (despite a sign from Travis d’Arnaud for a breaking pitch), Robles was toast.

A total of 17 pitchers (9 Mets and 8 Phillies) were used; that’s not a record, not even for a September 30th game. Way back in 2007 on the same date, the Cardinals used 10 pitchers in a winning effort over the Pirates’ 8.

The Mets could take tonight’s game; Sean Gilmartin will start with Tim Stauffer tapped to relieve him. Though Addison Reed and Tyler Clippard appeared last night, they should be available to relieve today. Philadelphia will start rookie Jerad Eickhoff.

Thanks to a loss by the Dodgers to Mike Leake‘s two-hit complete game for the Giants, the Mets are one game closer to home field advantage. If the Mets win all 4 remaining games, they’ll clinch home field advantage; LA faces Tim Hudson in the last start of Hudson’s career tonight.

Is Bobby Abreu a good investment for the Phillies? January 23, 2014

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Bobby Abreu signed with the Phillies on a minor league deal, offering him $800,000 if he makes the major league squad. He’s coming off a solid Winter League season in Venezuela, in which he hit .322/.416/.461. His deal is a bit smaller than the one the Phils offered Jim Thome for 2012, when Thome was 41 (Abreu is 39). Of course, Thome was coming off of a much heavier-slugging season- his OPS in 2011 was .838, almost as high as Abreu’s Venezuelan OPS (and swamping his 2012 Majors OPS of .693). He might play the field on occasion (as Thome did, playing first base in 2012 for the first time since the Bush administration), but the Phils’ corner outfield is pretty solidly set up with Marlon Byrd and Domonic Brown starting.

Thome and Bobby both represent an odd trend – it’s not surprising, really, that the Phillies would want to bring back some of their old sluggers for nostalgia purposes, and they did employ Matt Stairs for longer than they should have – but the trend for a while was toward specialization of pinch hitters into the DH role in the American League. Thome started four games at first base for the Phillies in 2012, but otherwise appeared almost exclusively as a pinch hitter or DH (and in fact was traded to Baltimore once the Phillies’ interleague play ended). Bobby still has more in the tank defensively than Thome did, it seems, but he probably won’t start manAbreu batting for the Phillies in 2004. Photo: Rdikeman at the English language Wikipediay more games than Thome did.

Given that the Phillies are going to use Abreu the way they used Thome, this doesn’t look like a bad deal. In order to be a reserve outfielder and present some value, Abreu will only have to beat out a few arms in spring training. He’s not in direct competition with John Mayberry, since Mayberry’s a right-handed bat. The Phils have three left-handed minors outfield prospects on their 40-man roster – Zach Collier, Kelly Dugan, and Tyson Gillies. Based on his 2013 numbers, Collier probably isn’t ready – at AA Reading, he hit .222/.310/.348. Dugan, who like Collier was born in September of 1990, looks like he might be better off, but only slightly – his .264/.299/.472 line in 56 AA games (plus slightly better numbers in 56 games at high A) indicate some solid power, but not much plate discipline. Of the three, Gillies (who’s two years older) may be the most mature, but his .264/.312/.477 line doesn’t represent much of a marginal improvement over Dugan. Plus, when he was promoted to AAA Lehigh Valley, he struggled, with a sub-.600 OPS.

From a development perspective, Collier and Dugan might be a better investment, but neither of them is a franchise player, at least based on numbers alone. Abreu represents a nice left-handed insurance bat off the bench.

Photo: Rdikeman at the English Wikipedia

Padre Differential July 11, 2011

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I was all set to fire up the Choke Index again this year. Unfortunately, Derek Jeter foiled my plan by making his 3000th hit right on time, so I can’t get any mileage out of that. Perhaps Jim Thome will start choking around #600 – but, frankly, I hope not. Since Jeter had such a callous disregard for the World’s Worst Sports Blog’s material, I’m forced to make up a new statistic.

This actually plays into an earlier post I made, which was about home field advantage for the Giants. It started off as a very simple regression for National League teams to see if the Giants’ pattern – a negative effect on runs scored at home, no real effect from the DH – held across the league. Those results are interesting and hold with the pattern that we’ll see below – I’ll probably slice them into a later entry.

The first thing I wanted to do, though, was find team effects on runs scored. Basically, I want to know how many runs an average team of Greys will score, how many more runs they’ll score at home, how many more runs they’ll score on the road if they have a DH, and then how many more runs the Phillies, the Mets, or any other team will score above their total. I’m doing this by converting Baseball Reference’s schedules and results for each team through their last game on July 10 to a data file, adding dummy variables for each team, and then running a linear regression of runs scored by each team against dummy variables for playing at home, playing with a DH, and the team dummies. In equation form,

\hat{R} = \beta_0 + \beta_1 Home + \beta_2 DH + \delta_{PHI} + \delta_{ATL} + ... + \delta_{COL}

For technical reasons, I needed to leave a team out, and so I chose the team that had the most negative coefficient: the Padres. Basically, then, the \delta terms represent how many runs the team scores above what the Padres would score. I call this “RAP,” for Runs Above Padres. I then ran the same equation, but rather than runs scored by the team, I estimated runs allowed by the team’s defense. That, logically enough, was called “ARAP,” for Allowed Runs Above Padres. A positive RAP means that a team scores more runs than the Padres, while a negative ARAP means the team doesn’t allow as many runs as the Padres. Finally, to pull it all together, one handy number shows how many more runs better off a team is than the Padres:

Padre Differential = RAP - ARAP

That is, the Padre Differential shows whether a team’s per-game run differential is higher or lower than the Padres’.

The table below shows each team in the National League, sorted by Padre Differential. By definition, San Diego’s Padre Differential is zero. ‘Sig95’ represents whether or not the value is statistically significant at the 95% level.

\begin{tabular}{|r||r|r|r|r|r|}  \hline  \textbf{Team}&\textbf{RAP}&\textbf{Sig95}&\textbf{ARAP}&\textbf{Sig95}&\textbf{Padre Differential}\\  \hline  PHI&0.915521&1&\textbf{-0.41136}&0&\textbf{1.326881}\\  \hline  ATL&0.662871&0&-0.26506&0&0.927931\\  \hline  CIN&\textbf{1.44507}&1&0.75882&0&0.68625\\  \hline  STL&1.402174&1&0.75&0&0.652174\\  \hline  NYM&1.079943&1&0.58458&0&0.495363\\  \hline  ARI&1.217101&1&0.74589&0&0.471211\\  \hline  SFG&0.304031&0&-0.15842&0&0.462451\\  \hline  PIT&0.628821&0&0.1873&0&0.441521\\  \hline  MIL&1.097899&1&0.74016&0&0.357739\\  \hline  WSN&0.521739&0&0.17391&0&0.347829\\  \hline  COL&1.036033&0&0.81422&0&0.221813\\  \hline  LAD&0.391595&0&0.38454&0&0.007055\\  \hline  FLA&0.564074&0&0.66097&0&-0.0969\\  \hline  CHC&0.771739&0&1.31522&1&-0.54348\\  \hline  HOU&0.586857&0&1.38814&1&-0.80128\\  \hline  \end{tabular}

Unsurprisingly, the Phillies – the best team in baseball – have the highest Padre Differential in the league, with over 1.3 runs on average better than the Padres. Houston, in the cellar of the NL Central, is the worst team in the league and is .8 runs worse than the Padres per game. Florida and Chicago are both worse than the Padres and are both close to (Florida, 43) or below (Chicago, 37) the Padres’ 40-win total.

Bartolo Colon pitches shutout, shuffles off mound on walker May 31, 2011

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Noted elderly person Bartolo Colon was handed the ball by Joe Girardi on Memorial Day, no doubt to commemorate Colon’s memories of having a functional back. Colon, at age 38 as of last week, turned around and pitched a brilliant 4-hit shutout against the Oakland Athletics, taking out As starter Trevor Cahill on an exceptionally economical 103 pitches. Keep in mind, at age 38, Colon has been playing professionally since 1993, so his career can legally purchase cigarettes this year.

We don’t have to go back very far to steal Colon’s thunder, though. Last May, Phillies starter and AARP representative Jamie Moyer managed a complete game two-hitter at the spry young age of 47 years, 170 days old. He topped Colon’s game score, 88 compared to 85, and just barely used more pitches (105). Moyer unfortunately had to retire after recurring injuries, which will probably be Colon’s fate soon enough.

Complete Game Shutout… PSYCH! May 30, 2011

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Jered Weaver pitched a brilliant game Saturday night for the Angels against the Twins. He’s had a strange opening to the season, starting with six straight wins and then beginning May with four straight losses followed by a no-decision. Saturday, on four days rest, he pitched nine scoreless innings with 2 hits, 0 runs, 2 walks, 7 strikeouts, no hit batsmen, a Game Score of 88, and a career-high 128 pitches. It’s a good thing he grabbed another win… wait, no he didn’t. The game went into extra innings, the Angels lost, and Weaver walked off the mound with a no decision.

Put another way, if anyone had managed to hit a home run, or if Hank Conger had singled instead of popping fly to third in the eighth, Weaver would have a two-hit complete game shutout, and we’d be talking about how he still had it. Instead, he gets a no decision, and the Angels lost the game.

That doesn’t happen a whole lot, but it does happen enough to take notice. For example, on May 12, a 2-1 win for the Orioles over the Mariners was 0-0 into the 12th. So, both the Mariners’ Jason Vargas (9 IP, 7 H, 0 R, o ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 76 GSc) and the Orioles’ Zach Britton (9 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 5 K, 86 GSc) left with complete game shutouts that weren’t.

Similarly, last year, on July 10, Roy Halladay was outpitched by the Reds’ Travis Wood in an 11-inning 1-run loss. Wood managed a game score of 93 on one hit, no walks, and 8 strikeouts, whereas Halladay had a paltry 85 on 5 hits, 1 walk and 9 strikeouts. Neither man got the win, which went to Phillies reliever Jose Contreras.

Wilson Valdez, Utility Pitcher Extraordinaire May 26, 2011

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Interested in position players who pitched? Check out The Best Game Ever and a previous post on what I like to call Utility Pitchers.

So, the Phillies and the Reds went into extra innings last night and Wilson Valdez was the winning pitcher. His line: 1.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 0 HR, 4 BF on 10 pitches. He did have a hit batsman – Scott Rolen – but that’s not surprising, since Valdez has never pitched professionally at any level.

First of all, let me say that I’m thoroughly impressed with the way both managers managed the game. Ordinarily, a 19-inning game is full of spot relievers going a few innings each and at some point the managers seem to lose control of the situation and start panicking. The most common solution is to throw starters in on their throw day, which is how Mike Pelfrey got his save last year. Instead, Reds manager Dusty Baker seemed to know that Carlos Fisher, who has never started a game at the Major League level, had 5 2/3 innings of starter-quality stuff in him. Similarly, the Phillies’ Charlie Manuel relied on Danys Baez, who hadn’t pitched more than four innings since the Bush administration, for five innings that would have made any manager happy. To offer some perspective, if Baez had pitched his five innings at the beginning of the game and been lifted, his game score would have been 67; Fisher’s would have been 58 had he been removed from the game at the moment he gave up his run. That’s not only a quality start for each pitcher, but both of the relievers put together a higher game score than their team’s starter.

Oh, yeah, and the Phillies’ starter was Roy Halladay.

Also, Wilson Valdez had an incredible night. In addition to becoming the first position player to be the winning pitcher since 2000, Valdez started the game at second base and went 3 for 6 with a walk. To compare, when catcher Brent Mayne was the Rockies’ winning pitcher in 2000, he came in off the bench and didn’t bat at all.

Hats off to Charlie Manuel and Dusty Baker for managing a smart game, and bravo to Wilson Valdez for solid inning pitched and a great night at the plate.

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

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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.