Saturday, May 30, 2009

Myers Likely Done for the Year

A few days after leaving a start early due to hip trouble, it's been reported that Brett Myers will require hip surgery that will most likely end his season. Myers' numbers have not been overly impressive on the whole, but when you consider the performance of the rest of the starting rotation, losing Myers and his 4.66 ERA could be quite problematic for the Phillies.

The Phillies already appeared to need to make a trade to bolster the starting rotation, but now it becomes paramount. However, there are no easy solutions. Jake Peavy supposedly doesn't want to pitch in Philadelphia, and besides he's not really an inning-eater, so he's out. Roy Oswalt is available, but he's having a down year and he would probably cost a little more of the farm system than the Phillies would like to give up.

Erik Bedard ought to be available, but it's hard to see the Mariners giving him up for much less than they got him for...and they gave up one of the top prospects in the game (Adam Jones). The Phillies could always sign Pedro Martinez, but it's hard to imagine that would accomplish much. The last thing they need is another guy who can't get out of the sixth inning.

The name I keep hearing is Brad Penny, but is he really much of an upgrade? Penny has been terrible this year and last. And while he's had past success, before this year he had only pitched with the Marlins and Dodgers, both of whom play in pitcher's parks. His career ERA at home is 3.72, while on the road it's 4.51. Not an absurd, Chan Ho Park-ish difference, but it's still notable. In addition, Penny's career ground ball-fly ball ratio is not overly impressive, at 0.86, especially this year (0.65).

The best option might be to replace Myers from within, which appears to be the immediate solution. The three main candidates, according to the Phillies' website, are Kyle Kendrick, Andrew Carpenter, and Anthony Bastardo. Kendrick has been solid at AAA Lehigh Valley, with a 4.23 ERA in 10 starts and one might think he has the inside track because of his major league experience. Then again, he pitched his way out of the rotation last year so it's hard to imagine the Phillies being overly eager to go back to him, especially with such average numbers. Carpenter has fared a little better, with a 3.61 ERA in 8 starts, but he had one start in the big leagues already this year and the results were not pretty (5 ER in 4 1/3 IP).

So the best option might be the one with the least experience: Antonio Bastardo. Bastardo was dominant in AA Reading, with a 1.82 ERA and 0.81 WHIP in 9 games (5 starts) and, since being called up to AAA, has posted a 2.08 ERA in 2 starts.

It's worth noting that Carlos Carrasco, despite being in the running to be the fifth starter during spring training, does not seem to be an option, due to the fact that he's struggled mightily in AAA this year, going 0-6 with a 5.40 ERA in 10 starts.

So the Phillies face a tough decision. Bastardo seems like he would give the Phillies the best chance to win, but do they want to risk derailing his minor league progress? This isn't a month-long stint, whoever they bring up will have the job until the end of the year or until they lose it, and that's a lot of pressure for a young pitcher. For most teams the smart move would be to go with Kendrick or Carpenter, but the Phillies are trying to defend their World Championship, so why not take a shot with Bastardo?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Phillies Finish 4-Game Sweep of Nats

The Phillies concluded a four-game sweep of the Nationals today, getting offensive production from virtually everyone BUT Raul Ibanez. It was good to see the Phillies pull out a win without Ibanez having a big day, but more than anything else it was surprising to see him go hitless, as he was flat-out dominant in the previous three games, hitting 9 for 14 with 3 HR and 9 RBI.

While the rest of the offense showed positive signs in today's game, the Phillies got an abysmal pitching performance from Chan Ho Park. It seemed as if perhaps Park had turned his season around in his last two outings, but whatever confidence he had gained was surely lost after he surrendered 5 runs in just 1 1/3 innings.

Though Park wasn't the only Phillies starter to struggle against the Nationals. The Phillies also had poor outings from Joe Blanton and Andrew Carpenter. Brett Myers was the only Phillies starter with an impressive performance in the series (7 IP, 2 ER, 8 K).

The Phillies relied on their hitting and the bullpen to bail out the rotation and, this time, it worked. The offense, led by Ibanez, put up 33 runs in the series. While it was encouraging to see the team hit so well, it's worth noting that they were facing the worst pitching staff in the league.

We'll see if this can propel the Phillies to a hot streak, as they prepare for road series against the Reds and the Yankees. There were certainly some good signs that this offensive performance was not a fluke. Namely, the new lineup that Charlie Manuel unveiled, which features Ibanez batting third. Here's the lineup that the Phillies used in yesterday's game:

1. Rollins
2. Utley
3. Ibanez
4. Howard
5. Werth
6. Victorino
7. Feliz
8. Ruiz

This is an upgrade over the more traditional Phillies lineup (Rollins-Victorino-Utley-Howard-Werth-Ibanez-Feliz-Ruiz) for a couple of reasons. For one, it takes advantage of the fact that Ibanez has been the Phillies' best hitter this season. He's been hitting superbly for over a month now and it's ridiculous to bat him sixth.

And while it appears to be unbalanced, with three lefties in a row, the fact is that Utley and Ibanez have hit left-handed pitching just fine this season. In fact, Utley has hit lefties better than righties, with a 1.096 vs LHP and a .999 vs RHP and Ibanez's splits are fairly even (though his BB/K ratio vs LHP is considerably worse than vs RHP).

What this might also do is get Rollins going. He's had a very poor start to the season, but his bat showed signs of life in this series. With Utley hitting behind him, he'll get some pitches to hit. Howard, and the offense in general, will benefit from the top 2 OBPs on the team in front of him.

Much of the reason for the Phillies' occasional offensive lapses was the fact that Rollins and Victorino have hit poorly and generally done a terrible job of getting on base for the Phillies' sluggers. Rollins OBP is only .268 and Victorino's isn't that much better at .304. With those guys as your 1 and 2 hitters, it's no wonder the Phillies offense has stalled. Hopefully the new lineup will get Rollins going and perhaps Victorino will benefit from the reduced pressure of hitting lower in the order.

It's entirely possible that the recent offensive explosion was a result of facing the Nationals' horrible pitching, but it does make a lot of sense and should give the team a lift. Hopefully one that lasts until their pitchers get it together.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Pedro Feliz: Walk This Way

An interesting happening that did not get any attention in last night's game was Pedro Feliz's performance. Feliz walked in all four of his plate appearances today (none were intentional), which marked a career high. On its own this is not that interesting, but it is worth noting considering Feliz's career history.

In his career, Feliz has never been much for drawing walks. In fact, the 33 he drew last year were the most he's ever had in a season, with the exception of 2005 (38 walks) and 2006 (33). However, he played over 150 games in '05 and '06, while he only played 133 last year. So while he had 0.24 walks per game in '05 and 0.21 in '06, he increased that average to 0.25 last year. Not a huge increase, but this year he is up to 0.43.

Going on the walk totals alone, it's difficult to establish a clear trend. However, what has been notable is the drop in Feliz's strikeouts since joining the Phillies. Feliz struck out an average of 0.57 times per game as a member of the Giants (500 times in 874 games). However, in 163 games with the Phillies, his average has dropped to 0.4 strikeouts per game.

In addition, his BB/K ratio improved from 0.3 (as a Giant) to 0.7 (as a Phillie). In fact, thus far this season he has 13 walks to only 12 strikeouts. If he keeps this pace, he will have more walks than strikeouts for the first time in his career.

As a result, his OBP is a whopping .377, which would be a career-high, and by a lot. His previous career-high in that category is a season in which he batted .276. His second-best OBP season came last year (.302), when he hit .249, which is far more typical, as Feliz is a career .253 hitter.

These stats make it very clear that the Phillies have altered his hitting style, seemingly for the better. It was evident last year that Feliz was making more of an effort to display more patience at the plate, just from watching him. While it did not seem to pay dividends last year, these adjustments can take a while to sink in and we are seeing it this season. (This comes as no surprise to us at The People's Phillies Blog. In fact, our own Jeff Raab called this in our season preview.)

The unfortunate thing is that Feliz has rarely been able to benefit from getting on base so often, as he typically hits 7th and the Phillies have batted .198 out of the 8th spot this season. However, you would obviously rather have him getting on base for the 8 hitter and not being driven in than not getting on, so it's hard to complain about that.

One more potential downside to Feliz's resurgence is the effect it may be having on Greg Dobbs. Dobbs was arguably the best pinch hitter in the league last season, but he's really struggled in 2009, hitting a paltry .143. While Dobbs showed a very strong ability to deliver hits off the bench last season, it's generally accepted that most hitters need to get at-bats with some regularity to be effective.

So it stands to reason that Dobbs was better off last year, when he started eight games in March and April (and hit .333), than this year, when he started just one. Feliz's strong performance, along with his defensive prowess, has given the Phillies little reason to start Dobbs with any regularity and that may be the cause of his struggles at the plate. Of course that's not to say that the Phillies are better off with Feliz hitting poorly, but rather that they might do well do try to squeeze Dobbs into the lineup more often anyway, just to keep him in rhythym.

We'll see if Feliz's transformation to a patient hitter holds up over the course of the season, but thus far it's looking like he's really bought into the Phillies hitting philosophy and has made himself much more valuable at the plate.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Werth Steals Home in Phillies Win

Fans certainly got their money's worth in tonight's game, which was a rematch of last year's NLCS (albeit with the Dodgers missing a certain Manny Ramirez). While Manny awas absent, fans did get to see an entertaining Phillies win, primarily due to the play of a pair of ex-Dodgers.

Chan Ho Park followed up his tough loss to the Mets with another fine outing, allowing two runs over six innings and recording his first win of the season (and his first since July 1, 2008). Park was not dominant, allowing seven hits, but he got the job done, and left the game with a 4-2 lead.

That score held until the 7th inning when Werth, who played for the Dodgers in 2005 and 2006, singled to left field. He then proceeded to steal second base, then third, and then home, effectively turning his single into a home run. Not too shabby. He became the first Phillie to steal home since Carlos Ruiz in 2007, who did it as part of a double steal with PPB favorite Michael Borun. Werth had also stolen third in the 4th inning, so this gave him a total of four steals on the day; a career high. The four stolen bases also tied a franchise record for a single game, shared by Sherry Magee and Gary Maddox.

Of course the story coming into the game was the alteration in the lineup that had Jimmy Rollins batting fifth, in an attempt to get him out of his season-long funk. It's too early to tell if it worked, but Rollins did have a solid day at the plate, going 1 for 3 with an RBI single and a walk. Batting between Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez could be great for Rollins. With Shane Victorino, Chase Utley, Werth, and Howard in front him, Rollins should be up with runners on much of the time, and with Ibanez behind him, he's sure to get more pitches to hit.

Hitting Werth third and Utley second could also pay dividends, as it breaks up the lefties in the lineup. It ought to look even better when Utley is on his game (unlike tonight when he went 0 for 5 with two strikeouts).

Meanwhile, Pedro Feliz had an interesting day with four walks in four plate appearances. (More on that)

The Phillies bullpen did its part to finish the game and Brad Lidge notched his fifth save of the year, despite giving up a run. He got the job done, but Lidge has been very poor so far this year, and one has to hope he gets his act together.

Regardless, the Phillies got a very entertaining win and were able to keep pace with the Mets in the race for the division. We'll see if Charlie Manuel sticks with this lineup, but so far, so good.