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Entries in Philadelphia Phillies (37)

Monday
Feb032014

Regressing Power Leads To Michael Young's Retirement

Michael Young officially closed the book on his storied 14-year career last Thursday, choosing to “spend time with his family” rather than pursue a free-agent contract with a major league team any further this winter, according to a report by FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal. The 37-year-old utility infielder had received offers from several teams – including the Dodgers, who were heavily interested in bringing him back after he posted a .314/.321/.392 slash line and 102 OPS+ over 21 games with the franchise to finish out 2013. If he remains retired, Young will own a career slash line of .300/.346/.441 to go with a 102 OPS+ in 1,970 games.

As a young baseball fan who watched ESPN's Baseball Tonight religiously, I remember taking in a lot of Young's big-time hits with the Rangers. Many of those hits featured a common theme: Young's ability to go generate ridiculous power on "inside" pitches -- often taking those pitches to right field with ease.

Here's a perfect example of what I'm referring to. In an at-bat against Seattle's Jason Vargas in 2012, Young took a pitch located on the inner portion of the plate and drove it to right center with a flick of his wrists for a home run. For me, this home run embodies what Young did so exceptionally well during his 14-year career: Dominate the inner-half of the plate. Ironically, this may well be a reason for his retirement.

Diminishing Inner-Half Power

From 2008 to 2011 -- his age 31 through 34 seasons -- Young dominated the inner-half of the plate to the tune of a .345/.374/.544 slash line and .392 weighted on-base average. The driving forces behind those gaudy numbers were his 26.3% line-drive rate (best among batters with at least 1,000 plate appearances in that span) and .401 well-hit average, which was trumped only by Miguel Cabrera (.418) and Albert Pujols (.404) among qualified batters. His best season in this strech was perhaps in 2011, when he led baseball with 213 hits (as a 34-year-old, no less), posted an insane .368/.385/.548 line and mustered up a .428 WHAV against inner-half pitches.

But from that point on, things changed. Young's age 35 season (his last with Texas) in 2012 and last season (where he spent time with Philadelphia and Los Angeles) garnered a still respectable .299/.320/.424 line and .323 wOBA against inner-half stuff, but his line drive rate fell to 23.4% (compared to 26.3% from 2008-2011) and WHAV dropped to .266 -- a decrease of .135 from where it had been previously.

When a hitter's best asset regresses with time, his statistical output tends to follow. In this case, Young's innate ability to place quality contact on inner-half stuff regressed, which was probably a key reason for why he decided to call it quits.

Tuesday
Dec102013

Doc Halladay Checks Out

Roy Halladay retired as a Blue Jay on Monday -- thirteen years, 2,700-plus innings and two Cy Young Awards after his career appeared to be over. In 2000, a 23-year-old Halladay was clubbed for the highest single-season ERA ever (10.64) for a pitcher tossing at least 65 innings. His ERA was the better part of a run higher than Steve Blass (9.85 ERA in 1973) -- and they named a disease after that guy. But rather than becoming the latest skeleton in the ever-expanding graveyard of failed top pitching prospects, Halladay re-emerged as one of the greatest hurlers of his generation.

His 131 ERA+ ranks 14th all-time among pitchers throwing at least 2,500 career frames, between Greg Maddux and Hal Newhouser. With 65.6 Wins Above Replacement, Doc places 33rd and keeps company with the likes of Luis Tiant and Bob Feller. At his peak, Halladay was a 220-plus inning a year horse who surrendered homers and handed out walks as if doing so would get him shipped back to Triple-A Syracuse, like he was during that apocalyptic 2000 season.

Unfortunately, the 36-year-old's ailing back and shoulder will prevent him from forging yet another comeback. But, instead of lamenting Halladay's premature retirement, let's celebrate the blend of efficiency, command and craft that made him so difficult to square up. Four of Doc's peak seasons (2008-11) came during the Pitch F/X era. Here's a closer look at how Halladay carved up hitters over that time frame, potentially earning himself a bust in Cooperstown.

He jumped ahead of hitters from the get-go

Halladay tossed a first pitch strike about 66 percent of the time from 2008-11, blowing away the 59 percent MLB average for starters and trailing only three deans of pitching efficiency: Mike Mussina, Maddux (still sharp during their final seasons in '08) and Cliff Lee. By putting hitters at a disadvantage from the moment they stepped into the box, Halladay compiled a 6.14 strikeout-to-walk ratio over that four-year stretch.

He expanded batters' zones

Doc induced hitters to chase his stuff off the plate at the highest clip (33.6 percent of the time) among all National League starters. And, in typical Halladay fashion, he didn't accomplish that with just one offering. Rather, he used everything in his kitchen sink repertoire to bait opposing batters:

He had surgical command

Halladay threw lots of strikes, but they were also quality strikes. From '08 to '11, MLB starters tossed about 24 percent of their pitches to the horizontal middle of the strike zone. Pitches catching that much of the plate get hammered (a .500 opposing slugging percentage from 2008-11). Halladay avoided hitters' hot spots, however, throwing just 20.8 percent of his pitches to the middle of the zone.

In fact, no starter threw more pitches "on the black" during that period. A pitch is considered "on the black" if the center of the ball is at least 8.5 inches away from the middle of the plate, but part of the ball is still in the strike zone. Hitters do far less damage against such well-located pitches, slugging a mere .369 overall and .338 versus Halladay.

Now that Halladay is done, the conversation inevitably turns toward his Hall of Fame candidacy. In terms of WAR, he's in the same neighborhood as the average Cooperstown inductee (69) and ranks ahead of luminaries like Juan Marichal, Whitey Ford and Sandy Koufax, himself a star who shone brilliantly for a shorter period of time. Halladay might not have enjoyed 20-plus years in the majors, but he was truly elite during a more condensed career. If it worked for Koufax, it should work for Doc, too.

Friday
Jul192013

So why not, Jonathan Papelbon?

With the news that Andrew Bailey is most likely done for the season, with Joel Hanrahan done for the season, with Daniel Bard having spiraled to the minor leagues, with Junichi Tazawa already having appeared in 43 games, the most of his career, and with the 38-year old Koji Uehara already having appeared in 44 games, the second-most games of his career, Red Sox Nation is crying out for Jonathan Papelbon.

So, why not?

Pap is the club's all-time saves leader with 219, ahead of Bob Stanley's 132 and Dick Radatz' 104.

So, why not?

Papelbon is the only reliever in baseball who has had seven consecutive seasons from 2006-12 with 30+ saves.

So, why not?

  • In 2010, Papelbon's ERA was 3.90
  • in 2011, Papelbon's ERA was 2.94
  • in 2012, Papelbon's ERA was 2.44
  • in 2013, Papelbon's ERA is 2.33

So, why not?

  • in 2011, Papelbon's WHIP was 0.933
  • in 2012, Papelbon's WHIP was 1.057
  • in 2013, Papelbon's WHIP is 0.905

So, why not?

I'll tell you why not?

Those numbers look really good, but these don't: 

  • 92.8
  • 91.4
  • 89.9 

Those aren't numbers on your FM dial, those are the 2011, 2012, and 2013 decreasing average speeds of Papelbon's pitches.

Here are three more numbers: 

  • 97.5
  • 96.4
  • 95.5 

Those are the 2011, 2012, and 2013 decreasing maximum speeds of Papelbon's pitches.

Here are three more numbers: 

  • 75.4%
  • 70.6%
  • 69.7% 

That's the declining percentage of the fastballs that Papelbon is throwing as he realizes that this pitch is losing its effectiveness. He is increasingly relying on his splitter as a replacement.

I'm not done

Here are three more numbers: 

  • 32.2%
  • 27.0%
  • 20.5% 

That's the declining swing-and-miss rate on Papelbon's fastball. The less you swing and miss, the more you put balls in play, and more balls in play, the more trouble you get into.

Let's look at two years 

  • Papelbon's slugging against 2011 pct. - .299
  • Papelbon's slugging against 2013 pct. - .329
  • 2011 homers allowed - 3
  • 2013 homers allowed - 4
  • Papelbon's strike out 2011 pct. - 34.1%
  • Papelbon's strike out 2013 pct. - 22.7%
  • Papelbon's pitches in the zone 2011 pct. - 50.0%
  • Papelbon's pitches in the zone 2013 pct. - 46.8% 

That last number is particularly telling because it's indicative of Papelbon's loss of control getting into the strike zone, which enables us to comfortably to assume his control within the strike zone is not as sharp, and since his stuff is clearly not as strong, Papelbon is losing effectiveness.

And it's getting worse

Since June 17, Papelbon has appeared in 10 games, won two, saved saved, blown five saves, allowed both runners he inherited to score, and has a 3.86 ERA.

He's had just two 1-2-3 innings

You can see why he's given up 15 hits in 14 innings and batters are hitting .273 with lefties hitting .333.

Finally, why not Jonathan Papelbon?

Papelbon is making $13 million this year.

And next.

And the year after that.

And, if he finishes 55 games in 2015 or 100 in 2014-15, he'll make another $13 million in 2016

So, there are many reasons why the Red Sox (and the Tigers and other teams looking for bullpen help) are in no rush to give up prospects and spend big money to acquire Pap, as much fun as he is to have around.