My Questions Three with Bill Baer of Crashburn Alley
I can relate to Bill Baer, he and I like to keep it ubiquitous. Bill covers the Phillies for Heater Magazine, writes the must-read Phillies blog Crashburn Alley, and then drops his non-Phillies baseball expertise at places like Baseball Prospectus and Baseball Daily Digest. You can also follow him on twitter.
In time for the upcoming four-game series between heavy weights in their respective divisions, Bill was nice enough to answer my questions three. (Yeah, I’m using a bad joke from Monty Python. Look, I’m stereotyped as a basement dwelling dork, I got to work hard to live up it. Ni!)
Erik: Is Ruben Amaro trying to make us (Cardinal fans) hate him? Ryan Howard, the $125 million dollar man. What do you think of the deal for your beloved Phillies, and how does it impact teams looking to sign or re-sign potential free agents Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder?
Bill: I’m not a fan of the Howard extension. It’s not due to his body type or his comparables on Baseball Reference; it’s because he plays at the least important position on a National League baseball diamond, he’s already 30 years old, he’s a one-dimensional player, and he’s already on the decline. As I wrote here last week:
Already, Howard has shown signs of decline as his walk rate has declined every year since 2007 and sits at a paltry 3.6% thus far in 2010. His BABIP has been lower as more and more teams have employed an infield shift against him. Opposing teams have also been bringing in more left-handed relievers to face Howard and his production against them has swiftly dropped. His strikeout rate has declined gradually but so has his isolated power. Using FanGraphs’ pitch type linear weights, Howard’s production against the fastball has dropped every year since 2006. He has swung at more and more pitches outside of the strike zone every year since he came into the Majors. Finally, his whiff rate (swinging strike percentage) has increased every year since 2006.
I think the Howard deal sets the baseline for players like Fielder. I don’t think it affects Pujols all that much as I had previously thought he would become a $30 million dollar man anyway. He is in his own stratosphere. However, generally speaking, because there will be fewer first basemen on the market, the prices should go up slightly. It will be interesting to see what happens if the economy fully recovers as well.
Erik: Roy Halladay has been pitching incredibly well since coming over the Phillies. Is this a matter of the National League being that much easier than the American League, or is there some other underlying reason for Doc’s improvement?
Bill: You may be surprised when you hear this: #9 hitters, typically the opposing pitchers, have the fourth-highest OPS (.563) against Roy Halladay behind #8 (.922), #3 (.783), and #5 (.736). However, the NL East is definitely not the AL East in terms of offense. Four of his six starts have come against the NL East, one against each team. His results: two complete game shut-outs (@ ATL and vs. NYM) and a 0.81 ERA with 26 K and 4 BB in 33 innings.
Overall, he has been slightly lucky. His BABIP is about 30 points lower than normal and his HR/FB% is about half of what it should be. His 2.85 SIERA is higher than his 1.47 ERA which essentially validates that he’s been lucky, but it also indicated that he has still pitched extremely well. The NL Cy Young race will be interesting between him and Tim Lincecum (2.08 SIERA). Your guys Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter may want to exact some revenge and get their name on the list as well.
Erik: Ryan Madson just landed on the DL with a broken toe, and one of the Cardinals’ favorite punching bags – Brad Lidge – just was activated. Who closes games for Philadelphia, and how sizable of a lead do you feel safe with? 4 runs? 7? In all seriousness, assess Philly’s bullpen situation for us.
Bill: Phillies fans haven’t been on the Ryan Madson bandwagon because they think he lacks the mental capability to pitch the ninth, but that is a patently bogus claim. As I wrote here, Madson has actually been better in the ninth inning — in a very limited sample — than in the eighth inning. He has the best stuff of anyone not named Roy Halladay on the Phillies’ pitching staff. I would argue he has the best change-up in all of baseball, in fact. And Phillies fans don’t want him anywhere near the ninth inning. Now that he’s on the DL, it doesn’t matter.
The Phillies’ bullpen is even more of a problem than it was going into the season. J.C. Romero hasn’t looked sharp in his one and two-thirds innings of work and it’s unlikely that he and Lidge can handle a serious workload at this point. I won’t feel comfortable with these guys until the 27th out is recorded.
Update: I returned the favor for Bill at his blog.