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Entries in Philadelphia Phillies (37)

Friday
Oct142011

Soft Stuff Howard's Achilles Heel

One week ago, Ryan Howard lunged at a Chris Carpenter curveball and smacked it to Nick Punto at second base. The ground out ended the Phillies' 2011 season -- and jeopardized Howard's 2012 campaign. Howard stumbled out of the box, limped down the first base line and then sat grimacing in the grass as St. Louis celebrated, having fully torn his left Achilles.

The injury has up to a six-month recovery period, meaning Howard figures to miss at least part of the campaign in which his five-year, $125 million contract extension kicks in. There were plenty of reasons to worry about that sort of commitment even before the injury. The contract covers Howard's age 32-36 seasons, which are decline years for the vast majority of players and don't figure to be near as fruitful as his prime seasons in his late twenties and early thirties. And Howard's calling card -- his light-tower power -- may already be on the decline.

From 2008-2009, Howard slugged .556 and had a 133 OPS+. Over the past two seasons, he had a .491 slugging percentage and a 126 OPS+. Howard is still killing high-velocity pitches, but he's slowing considerably against soft stuff.

Howard slugged .617 against "hard pitches" (fastballs, sinkers, cutters and splitters) in 2008-2009, and has kept on mashing against them since he turned 30 (.589 slugging percentage in 2010-2011). But against "soft" pitches (breaking balls and changeups), the big lefty has seen his slugging percentage dip from .501 in 2008-2009 to .366 in 2010-2011. He once crushed slow pitches no matter where they were thrown, but those hot zones have been reduced to high and in, high and away or right down the middle:

Howard's in-play slugging percentage vs. "soft" stuff, 2008-09

Howard's in-play slugging percentage vs. "soft" stuff, 2010-11

That's a big problem, considering that the mantra for pitchers against Howard is away, away, away:

 Location of "soft" pitches to Howard, 2010-11

As a below-average defender who doesn't have elite plate discipline, Howard needs to post prodigious power numbers to rank among the best at his position. With less pop over the past two years, Howard places a middling eighth out of 18 qualified first basemen in Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball-Reference. Unless Howard picks up the pace against slow stuff, his decline could be anything but slow.

Wednesday
Sep212011

Vance Worley: Made You Look

It's hard getting press when you're part of a rotation that includes names like Halladay, Lee and Hamels, but Vance Worley is enjoying an excellent rookie season with the Phillies. The Mohawked, bespectacled right-hander with the herky-jerky delivery, twice drafted by Philly (in the 20th round out of high school in 2005 and in the third round out of Long Beach State in 2008), has a 3.15 fielding independent ERA and 2.6 Wins Above Replacement in 123 innings pitched.

Worley has racked up more strikeouts as the year has progressed, and he's got a respectable 7.9 punch outs per nine innings on the season. He gets those Ks in an unconventional way, though. Fifty-nine of Worley's 108 strikeouts (55 percent) have been of the looking variety. For comparison, about 24 percent of all strikeouts recorded in the majors this season have caught batters looking.

Worley is getting those looking strikeouts almost exclusively with his fastball. Fifty-one of his 59 looking Ks have come on fastballs, and just about all of them have been located on the black to his glove side:

 Pitch location of Worley's strikeouts looking, 2011

Perhaps part of the reason that hitters seem to be taken off guard by Worley's location in those two-strike situations is that he takes a different approach with his fastball in other counts. Take a look at Worley's fastball location versus lefties and righties with less than two strikes:

 Worley's fastball location vs. lefties with less than two strikes, 2011

While he goes inside with the fastball vs. lefties when looking for a strikeout, he pounds the outside corner with less than two strikes. Lefty batters are probably expecting something away with two strikes, but instead they get a fastball inside that freezes them.

Worley's fastball location vs. righties with less than two strikes, 2011

Against righties with less than two strikes, Worley mixes it up. He hits the outside corner often enough, but he'll also put some fastball in on their hands. There's not much of a pattern to pick up here, which probably leaves righties not knowing what to expect with two strikes.

It remains to be seen whether Worley can keep causing so many hitters to head back to the dugout with a scrunched face and furrowed eyebrows. But for now, he's king of the looking strikeout.

Wednesday
Sep142011

Roy Halladay, Unsafe at Any Speed

Roy Halladay of the Philadelphia Phillies won his 18th game of the season Wednesday afternoon beating the Astros 1-0.  It was his eighth complete game of the season and brought his inning total just short of 220, a level he reached in each of the last five seasons.  How does he do it?

One reason for Roy's success is his consistency across speeds at getting batters out on balls in play, despite differences in how batters approach his pitches.  The following chart show batters tendencies to swing at his pitches by speed, and the results of those swings:

Roy Halladay, swings and results by speed, regular season 2008-2011.

Roy pitches in three ranges, 76-80 MPH, 83-85 MPH, and 89-95 MPH.  Except at very low speeds, batters tend to swing at Halladay's pitches at about the same rate.  The slower he throws, however, the less contact batters make.  That seems a bit counter intuitive as a faster pitch should require higher bat speeds to make contact.  Fastballs, however, tend to be straight, whereas his 84 MPH change up and his 78 MPH curve ball move.  Note to, that only his very slow change ups and very fast curve balls  get put in play for a high average.

Roy gets swings and misses on his slow stuff, resulting in a 38.9% strikeouts on his change and curve, 15.5% on his fastball and cut fastball.  So Roy is willing to give up a few more hits on his fastball (lower Ks, same BABIP) to set up the devastating slow stuff.  It helped make him one of the most consistent pitchers of the last decade.

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