I caught up with resident Phillies blogger for the SweetSpot Network, Bill Baer, and got to ask him some questions on tonight’s three games series against the Phillies. At the moment, the Phillies are the team to beat in the National League. They rank first in the NL in total wins (64) and they are only the second team in baseball with a winning percentage above .600. They boast a sick rotation that might be the best we’ve seen in baseball for quite some time. Luckily for the Giants, the team will miss Halladay and Lee in this series.
Now, let’s check out Bill’s answers to the questions I asked him.
1. First, let me get this out of the way: I find your sub-3.00 FIP trio of Halladay, Lee, and Hamels disgusting. This has to be the best Phillies staff in history, right?
I think so, all things considered. I tweeted this interesting factoid after the Phillies played their 100th game of the regular season:
Phillies have allowed only 332 runs in their first 100 games. That’s the lowest total in franchise history after the Dead Ball Era.
Any of Halladay, Lee, and Hamels could walk away with the NL Cy Young award. Surprisingly, Vance Worley could go home with the NL Rookie of the Year award as well. While I’m not a believer in Worley’s success being sustainable, he has to this point posted a 2.02 ERA, just another reason why the Phillies have a ridiculously good pitching staff.
To add to that, the Phillies’ bullpen has been quite good even though Jose Contreras and Brad Lidge have spent a lot of time riding the pine. Ryan Madson has been stellar as always, while Antonio Bastardo has been lights-out and Michael Stutes has been solid. What makes it even better is that the Phillies have, potentially, three more solid bullpen arms that are nearly Major League-ready in Justin de Fratus, Michael Schwimer, and Phillippe Aumont.
2. Every time I think of the Phillies and Ryan Howard’s contract, I make a weird cringe face. Are you concerned/worried/bothered by Howard’s production this year (.345 wOBA) and what it might mean for the future?
I am only bothered by Howard’s decline in that the Phillies owe him $125 million between 2012-16. If he were not paid that much, I would have very little problem with his production as he is still an above-average player. However, when you are being paid like a top-five player, your production needs to be somewhere near the top and Howard simply has not been there and will not be there as he gets older.
Howard is the most divisive player in the Phillies community and it’s a shame because in our arguing, we don’t quite get to appreciate how good he is. The traditionalists vastly overstate his value, while many Saberists become focused on his WAR per X millions of dollars.
3. You’ve written a lot about the ‘Davey Lopes effect’ on your site. This is Davey’s first year in L.A., has his absence affected the team’s running game?
I was worried losing Lopes might have a detrimental effect on the Phillies’ base running, but I think everything he brought to the team has stayed with him. Shane Victorino, Jimmy Rollins, and Chase Utley — the team’s three big base running threats — are a combined 44-for-49 (90 percent success rate). In fact, the Phillies have been thrown out only twelve times, and Ben Francisco alone accounts for one-third of those. Take out Francisco and the team is 66-for-74. The Phillies are, and have been, an historically great base-stealing team thanks to Lopes.
As I wrote recently, the Dodgers — particularly Matt Kemp — appear to have benefited from Lopes’ base running smarts. They were extremely inefficient last year, but have turned around and become quite efficient. Last year, Kemp was 19-for-34 (56%) but is 27-for-30 this year (90%).
4. Shane Victorino is hitting nearly 40% better than his career averages this year, what the heck has happened to him?
It is certainly a career-year for him, but I don’t know if we should be all that surprised by it. He is sitting on career-highs in BB/K ratio and ISO, which tell us that he is seeing the ball well at the plate and when he swings, he is hitting the ball hard. His .310 BABIP is right in line with his numbers in previous years and his HR/FB is as well; he has not been a recipient of extreme luck. His numbers represent a ceiling, though, so we should expect his numbers to fall down a bit going forward.
5. As the trading deadline nears, do you think the Phillies will make any moves to improve the team?
You never know with Ruben Amaro. He is the guy who stealthily stole Cliff Lee from the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees in the middle of the night. When he makes moves, he likes to hit home runs, metaphorically speaking. If the Phillies do anything, I expect it to be a big move like for BJ Upton or Carlos Beltran; I don’t expect them to play it safe and go after Ryan Ludwick or Ty Wigginton.
6. How do you see the Giants-Phillies series shaking out?
I don’t think the pitching match-ups favor the Phillies, but the offense has been on a roll lately, averaging nearly six runs per game since July 5. The Phillies also have the benefit of staying at home while the Giants take a cross-country flight from the West coast to the East coast. I feel like tonight’s Lincecum-Worley game is the wild card in the series; I expect the Phillies to win the Zito-Hamels game and to lose the Cain-Kendrick series finale.
7. What’s the biggest misconception that you see today when it comes to baseball and sabermetrics?
I think people are turned off by the math involved. Really, to understand and utilize Sabermetrics, you need nothing more than basic high school math skills. If you want to do your own theory-testing or develop your own stats, then you should probably take a college-level stats course, but Sabermetrics is more about logic than math. As long as you have an open mind and an ability to think critically, you can become proficient in the field of Sabermetrics.
You can find my answers to Bill’s questions, here.