Sunday, July 31, 2011

Trade Deadline Gone...And Other Thoughts...

Photo from Philly.com
The Phillies pulled the trigger and brought Captain Underpants Hunter Pence to Philadelphia to play right field for them.  I didn't like the trade then, and I still don't like it now.  The reasons for disliking such a trade, I explained last Saturday.  I still haven't changed my mind that the trade made will ultimately do more harm to the Phillies* than good.  However, it's over and done with and now the team has to keep on with its goal of winning another World F*cking Championship.

*This has nothing to do with Pence himself.  I am not pissed off at Hunter Pence, but with Ruben Amaro, Jr. and the Phillies braintrust for overvaluing him and allowing the Astros to cart off a king's ranson, as opposed to the one they got for trading Michael Bourn this morning to Atlanta.  Pence is a nice player, but he is NOT a difference-maker or a superstar in any meaningful sense.  And I absolute loathe the people who talk about how much Pence...Plays the Game the Right Way™.  I will make fun of those people until the day I die. Yes, I include you, Chris Wheeler.

The "Save Domonic Brown" movement worked, although in a halfway sense: he was optioned down to Triple-A Lehigh Valley to make room for Pence.  However, there is a silver lining in this move: Brown will be playing left field for the rest of the season for the IronPigs.  So the organization is looking at an outfield in 2012 of Brown (left), Victorino (center), and Pence (right).  Not a terrible way to look.

Raul IbaƱez certainly took notice at that possibility and played like a man possessed.  He got the scoring going with an absolute bomb to center field in the second inning and then when it looked like the Phillies would be on their way to not sweeping yet another series in the eighth inning, Raul hit a two-run shot to left-center field and tied the game.  But he wasn't finished - in the bottom of the tenth inning he drove in Hunter Pence, who had doubled before him with a double of his own to win the game.  The Phillies finished the homestand 7-3 and with the Atlanta Braves' 10,000th loss in their history, they have a six game lead going into August 1st.  More after the jump...

Let's get a couple of things straight - 'protection' (or rather, Protection™) in a lineup is not something that is statistically provable and is a myth at best.  The notion that the Phillies brought Hunter Pence on board to provide lineup protection for Ryan Howard is downright laughable, and yet, so many people believe it.  Pence, as a hitter especially, has gotten a bounce in his numbers due to luck factors, namely BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play).  Pence has played five seasons in the Major Leagues, beginning in 2007.  Let's look at his lines - Average/On Base/Slugging/OPS+ and then his BABIP...

2007 - .322/.360/.539 -- 129 OPS+ -- .377 BABIP (484 PA)
2008 - .269/.318/.466 -- 105 OPS+ -- .301 BABIP (642 PA)
2009 - .282/.346/.472 -- 116 OPS+ -- .308 BABIP (647 PA)
2010 - .282/.365/.461 -- 113 OPS+ -- .304 BABIP (658 PA)
2011 - .307/.355/.468 -- 130 OPS+ -- .366 BABIP (437 PA)

.300 is the league average for BABIP.  Any extreme skewing one way or the other suggests luck or lack thereof due to balls falling in/poor defensive range (higher) or balls hit at defenders/great defense (lower).

Looking at those numbers, the three middle seasons (2008-2010) are more what you are apt to get from a player like Pence at the plate.  Decent, and slightly above average hitting.  His two high batting average years have been fueled by his BABIP, since there isn't a whole lot of difference in his slugging and a negligible difference in his on-base percentage.  My point to showing all this?  Trading two of the best prospects in the farm system was a mistake by the Phillies.  They could have gotten a better talent (like BJ Upton) for the same price or an equal talent (like Michael Bourn) for a lot less.  Instead, Ruben Amaro overpaid and the organization doesn't have those kids for the future while having to overpay Pence when his arbitration dates come up ($10 million in '12, $13 million in '13).  Baseball is about cost-control, and Pence just is worth nowhere near what he is going to be paid by the Phillies over the next two seasons.

Before anyone screams at me about the Grit, Hustle, and Heart that Pence will bring, do the following two things:

1) Stop listening to WIP (610 AM)
2) Remember that Pence was brought in to be a number five hitter.

WIP, as far as I am concerned, stands for Whiny Idiots in Philadelphia.  They just repeat the same tired memes of 'protection' and 'hustle' and 'being a winner' that have no bearing in the real world.  Look at the numbers posted above.  Are those the numbers of a fifth hitter in a lineup?  A guy with a career 117 OPS+?That's fine for a sixth or seventh hitter, but this guy was brought in to be the so-called 'protection' of Ryan Howard.  Consider that Jayson Werth's two seasons as the full-time RF yielded the following line:

.282/.380/.519 -- 137 OPS+ -- .328 BABIP (1328 PA)

Again, I have nothing against Pence personally; he's a nice player and a good guy, but let's not think that he is going to be some kind of Messiah for this team.  He's not Babe Ruth, and he certainly isn't riding into the city on a white donkey to save the Phillies from a catastrophe. The Phillies were the best team in the NL and had the best record in MLB before he ever showed up.  If he can contribute, that's wonderful, but remember where the Phillies were at on July 29, 2011 - a 99.1% chance of making the postseason.

What people have to understand is that the playoffs are such a random series of events (a crapshoot, if you will) that getting that 'extra piece' doesn't make as much a difference as they think.  Ask the 2004 Astros and 2006 Mets if Carlos Beltran made a difference in the playoffs. Ask the 2008 Brewers if CC Sabathia made a difference.  See what I mean?  It might make a difference in helping a team get to the postseason, but once they are there, not so much.  The Phillies were already more or less guaranteed a spot, barring an epic collapse, so it isn't clear how much Pence will make them better for the regular season.

Anyway, go Phillies!  A long west-coast swing begins tomorrow - three at Colorado, four at San Francisco, and four at Los Angeles.  If they go 6-4 on this trip, I will be thrilled.  Roy Oswalt is supposed to be back this week, so that should be a boost.  Placido Polanco came back yesterday and the Phillies have their lineup the way it was envisioned in Spring Training.  So on we roll......

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