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Entries in Philadelphia Phillies (37)

Tuesday
Mar202012

Utley Upstairs

Doc, Hamels and Lee, and pray for three (runs)? The Phillies, tied for sixth among NL clubs with a 95 OPS+ in 2011 and already down Ryan Howard for a few months in 2012, received more ominous news on Monday. Second baseman Chase Utley has left camp to meet with a specialist due to chronic pain in both knees, MLB.com's Todd Zolecki reports:

The Phillies started Monday with the following statement from general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.: "Chase's rehab process has come to a bit of a plateau. He has made some strides, but not enough to take the field."

Utley, 33, hasn't appeared in a game this spring. The bum left knee is the latest in a series of ailments including offseason hip surgery after the 2008 season, right thumb surgery in 2010 and a right knee injury that sidelined him this past year and continues to bother him. He played in 115 games in '10 and just 103 in 2011. As the former perennial MVP candidate's body has betrayed him, Utley's OPS+ has dipped from 137 in '09 to 123 in '10 and 109 in '11. Much of that decline can be traced to Utley being bullied when pitches challenge him upstairs.

First, take a look at the average in-play slugging percentage for lefty hitters on pitches thrown in the upper third of the strike zone since 2009:

Average in-play slugging percentage by LHB on high pitches, 2009-11

Overall, lefty hitters slugged .408 on pitches thrown high from 2009-11. Now, look at Utley's in-play slugging percentage on high pitches since 2009.

He came back strong from hip surgery in '09... 

Utley's in-play slugging percentage vs. high pitches, 2009

 ...Dipped to about league average in '10...

Utley's in-play slugging percentage vs. high pitches, 2010...And was ice cold against high stuff in '11... 

Utley's in-play slugging percentage vs. high pitches, 2011

Utley is swinging at more high pitches and making more contact, but the injury-riddled second baseman isn't driving the ball at all:

Utley vs. High Pitches, 2009-11

YearSwing Pct.Miss Pct.Slug Pct.
2009 28 15.5 .518
2010 33.6 14 .403
2011 35.8 7.2 .230
Avg. for LHB 38.8 19.5 .408

 

Utley didn't record a single extra-base hit on a pitch thrown high in the zone in 2011. And pitchers seemed to take note of his troubles against high stuff, throwing 21.8% of their offerings high after doing so about 20% the previous two years.

While Utley is clearly in decline, Philly must hope for quick progress in his rehab if its offense is going to avoid falling into the bottom half of the NL. Prospect Freddy Galvis (projected for a 261/.299/.359 line by ZiPS) is expected to take over for Utley (.265/.362/.448 ZiPS projection). Galvis is considered a plus fielder, but the difference between the two at the plate according to ZiPS is roughly a quarter of a run per game. Over 600 plate appearances, it's about 36 runs. Even if it's diminished, the Phillies need Utley's bat.

Saturday
Mar032012

Five Years for Victorino?

While Cole Hamels deservedly gets press for the potential CC Sabathia-like windfall coming his way following the 2012 season, he's not the only important Phillie eligible soon eligible for free agency. Shane Victorino can shop his services to other clubs after this year, too, though he'd prefer to stay where he is if Philly offers him five years.

A switch-hitter with quality range and a career 81% success rate on the bases, Victorino has plenty going for him. He ranks fifth among MLB center fielders in Baseball-Reference Wins Above Replacement over the past three years, trailing just Matt Kemp, Andrew McCutchen, Michael Bourn and Curtis Granderson. And while he might have wished it coincided with his walk season, Victorino is coming off a career year at the plate: His .491 slugging percentage and 129 OPS+ were both personal bests.

For the former Rule V pick to get five years, he'll have to stay healthy and replicate the greatest offensive performance of his career in 2011. And to do that, he'll have to keep ripping breaking pitches.

Victorino's best season with the bat was the result of his killing breaking pitches that previously gave him heartburn. He slugged .322 against curveballs and sliders in 2009-10, nearly 40 points below the major league average. Here's his in-play slugging percentage vs. breaking stuff over that time, compared to the league average:

Victorino's in-play slugging percentage vs. curveballs and sliders, 2009-10

Average in-play slugging percentage vs. curveballs and sliders, 2009-10

In 2011, though? Victorino slugged .529 against curves and sliders. That placed seventh among qualified MLB hitters, between Matt Holliday and Robinson Cano. Victorino struck with deadly force against breaking stuff thrown belt-high:

 Victorino's in-play slugging percentage vs. curveballs and sliders, 2011

While Victorino battered breaking stuff last year and has ranked among the game's best up-the-middle players in recent years, a team giving him five years would be paying for his decline phase (Victorino will be eligible for agency at age 32) and would have to have some concerns about his durability, as he has served DL stints in each of the past two seasons (thumb and hamstring in 2011, oblique in 2010). To get what he wants, Victorino must avoid getting hurt or letting curves and sliders hurt his offensive line.

Monday
Dec192011

Rollins Returns to Philly

It was bound to happen. Jimmy Rollins re-upped with the Phillies for three years and $33 million, with an "easily attainable" $11 million option that figures to keep the switch-hitting shortstop, originally acquired in the second round of the 1996 draft, in town through 2015. Rollins entered the offseason saying he wanted five years, but the 33-year-old's bargaining power was limited when it became clear that San Francisco and Detroit weren't serious suitors and Milwaukee decided to settle for Alex Gonzalez. The Phillies, meanwhile, ensure they don't have to turn to Freddy Galvis in 2012 or further gut the farm system to get someone like Alexei Ramirez or Asdrubal Cabrera.

While he no longer possesses the power displayed during his mid-to-late twenties peak, Rollins rebounded from two substandard years at the plate in 2009 and 2010 (a combined 86 OPS+ in 1,119 plate appearances) to post a 101 OPS+ in 625 PA in 2011. League-average offense from a guy who still covers plenty of ground at the diamond's premium defensive position is quite valuable: Rollins was worth 3.7 Wins Above Replacement, which ranked eighth among shortstops.

Rollins' offensive uptick was the product of a higher batting average on balls in play. His BABIP was just .251 from 2009-2010, fourth-lowest among all MLB hitters who got at least 1,000 PA over that period. In 2011, that BABIP improved to .275. Whether the result of better luck or perhaps better health (Rollins was bothered by calf and hamstring injuries for much of 2010), Rollins got more hits on pitches thrown above the letters from both sides of the plate and off the outside corner when swinging left-handed. Check out Rollins' in-play average by pitch location in 2009-2010, compared to 2011:

 Rollins' in-play average by pitch location, 2009-2010

Rollins' in-play average by pitch location, 2011

That improvement on outside pitches thrown from right-handed pitchers was especially key, considering that's where they like to pitch Rollins:

Right-handed pitchers' location to Rollins, 2011

Rollins' legs are a source of concern -- he's not young, and he served a DL stint for a pulled groin this past year on top of the calf and hamstring issues in 2010. But those ailments don't appear to have cut severely into his range (he has been +6 runs better per 150 defensive games than an average SS over the past three years, per Ultimate Zone Rating) or his base running (30 steals and a 79% success rate in 2011).

A decline-phase Rollins is still a pretty decent player, and the win-now Phillies weren't in a position to give the reins to Galvis, sign a mediocre option like Ronny Cedeno or Ryan Theriot or give up what farm talent remains in a trade. He might not be a huge bargain, but re-upping Rollins was the best course of action for Philly.

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