Sophomore Jinx For Vance?

Will Worley regress in sophomore season?

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There are no real reasons to expect Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels to regress in 2012. The peripherals of Lee and Hamels (walks, strikeouts, home runs allowed) fell in line with their ERAs last year, and in Halladay’s case, his supporting numbers actually outperformed his ERA. Doc finished with a 2.35 ERA that easily could have been 2.20.

English: Vance Worley, pitching for the Philad...

The Phillies know what they’ll get from Halladay, Lee and Hamels. These are three pitchers with track records as defined as their pitching identities. Halladay is the craftsman with a killer instinct that supersedes the skill-set of whoever he faces. Lee is the pinpoint lefty who, when on his game, is better than anyone in the sport. Hamels is the ever-evolving “stuff” guy who transformed from a two-pitch pitcher into one with four weapons.

The question mark is Vance Worley. We spent the majority of 2011 waiting for the other shoe to drop … and it never really did. Does that mean we can expect him to roll right along in 2012?

Not quite.

After a complete game in San Francisco in late July, Worley improved to 7-1 with a 2.02 ERA. To that point Worley had a .199 opponents’ batting average, a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2-to-1 and only three home runs allowed in 11 starts.

Over his next 10 starts, Worley had a 4.18 ERA in 60 innings, allowing the opposition a .278 batting average. One looks at that and forms the opinion that Worley’s numbers regressed to his true talent level. But that isn’t exactly the case.

Worley’s K/BB ratio actually improved over those 10 starts. The 2-to-1 figure from the first 11 starts jumped up to nearly 3.5-to-1. Worley kept getting better, but we’re a results-based society so we noticed the increasing ERA rather than the 24-year-old’s developing process and prowess on the mound.

How can it be that Worley had a 2.02 ERA with mediocre command through the first 11 starts, then a 4.18 ERA with much-improved command over the next 10?

Two reasons: worse luck with fly balls and a higher line drive rate.
Through 11 starts, Worley allowed three home runs on 180 fly balls. The average home run per fly ball rate is around 10 percent, or one homer per 10 fly balls. Worley was at 1.6 percent, allowing one homer every 60 fly balls.

Worley wasn’t drinking a magic potion that made his fly balls die in the outfield. Some pitchers excel at keeping batters off-balance and jamming them, inducing weaker fly balls, but even they don’t sustain obscenely low home run per fly ball rates. Remember how good Halladay was his first year with the Phillies? His HR/FB rate that year was 11.3 percent.
Sure enough, seven of Worley’s next 60 fly balls left the yard to balance out his home run rate.

So that was reason No. 1 for Worley’s ERA increasing despite his better command. Reason No. 2 was an uptick in his line drives allowed.
Worley allowed line drives on 18 percent of balls in play through his first 11 starts. In his next 10, it was 26 percent. Line drives are the hardest balls to field because they travel and fall rapidly. Thus, line drives fall in for hits at a much greater rate than grounders or fly balls. Liners are hits, league-wide, about 73 percent of the time. Ground balls go for hits 23 percent of the time.

An eight-percent increase in line drives is significant, and was one of the root causes of Worley’s opponents’ batting average going from .199 to .278.

Despite those added homers and line drives during the second half of Worley’s season, we should be confident that he can be a successful major league pitcher moving forward. As mentioned several times, his command only got better as his 2011 season went on. His batting average on balls in play was reasonable, as was his strand rate.*

*BABIP and strand rate are usually the two telltale signs that a pitcher was lucky and/or underperformed despite his ERA. J.A. Happ is the best case in recent memory. Happ’s ERAs were always low in Philly despite every other number suggesting they should be high. Look what’s happened for Happ in Houston as things have balanced out.

Worley has shown that he can strike batters out. The league will catch up a bit to his two-seam fastball, but even when it does it is very hard for a right-handed batter to pull the trigger when it is running back across the plate. Any successful starter needs a go-to pitch. That two-seamer is a weapon.

Can we expect Worley to finish 2012 with an ERA of 3.01? No. But we shouldn’t expect him to have a 4.18 ERA, either. Something between 3.50 and 3.70 is reasonable. Any team would love that production from a cheap fourth starter.

For more statistical musings from Corey Seidman, visit Brotherly Glove and Phillies Nation.

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What’s In Store For Joe Blanton This Season?

Can Blanton bounce back in 2012?

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Four of five rotation spots are set for the Phillies heading into 2012 — it’s hard to envision Vance Worley being asked to do anything but pick up from where he left off.

Joe Blanton, however, has a small chance of losing his starting job to Kyle Kendrick or one of the many depth-starters the Phillies signed this off-season.

It is unlikely, but if Blanton shows up to Spring Training out of shape or still feeling pain in his elbow, he could quickly become an unusable and untradeable asset.

Ricky Bottalico touched on this subject Tuesday on Comcast SportsNet’s “Phillies Hot Stove.”

“[Blanton’s] gotta come in there, prove that he’s healthy, make sure he’s coming into Spring Training at 100 percent,” Bottalico said. “If he does not do that, I think there could be problems for the Phillies. You’re basically in a situation where you may have to eat $8 million.”

Phillies pitcher Joe Blanton warming up before...

Trade talks surrounded Blanton from the day after the Phillies signed Cliff Lee last winter until Blanton went on the shelf for the first time with a sore elbow. At one point, Blanton’s three-year, $24 million contract looked appealing to teams in need of a middle-of-the-rotation starter. But now, he’ll have to come back and make a handful of quality starts to generate any real trade value. Without doing so, no team will be willing to take on a significant portion of Blanton’s salary or part with an attractive enough minor leaguer to make a trade worthwhile.

“If he does come back healthy, either you give him a job as a fourth starter, or you throw him out to the wolves and see what you can get for him,” Bottalico said.

Of course, it’s a bit of a catch-22, because while you can’t trade Blanton without him proving his value, if he does come back and pitch well, the Phils might not have a reason to deal him. The upcoming season is Blanton’s last under contract with the Phillies.

Bottalico thinks Blanton can bounce back, but it should be noted that Blanton wasn’t all that effective even when healthy in 2010. In that season, Blanton had a 4.82 ERA and 1.42 WHIP in 176 innings. His control was very good, but his strike-throwing came at the expense of allowing 10.6 hits per nine innings, one full hit over his career mark. He was a bit unlucky, stranding two percent fewer baserunners than usual and seeing his balls in play drop for hits 32 percent of the time rather than 29 percent. But it wasn’t as if his high ERA could have been blamed solely on misfortune.

Blanton has been with the Phils since midway through the 2008 season, but he is still one of the toughest players to predict moving forward. His National League resume includes one impressive season in which he struck out five percent more batters than ever before (2009), one slightly less than mediocre year (2010) and one season riddled with injuries (2011).

What stood out during that 2009 season was Blanton’s changeup. Whether it was the result of a full season under changeup-maven Rich Dubee or just a fluke, Blanton that year saved 1.98 runs on every 100 changeups. Since the start of 2010, the pitch has cost Blanton 8.1 runs.
The Phils won’t need a ton from Blanton next season… 175 innings with a 4.40 ERA would suffice based on the context of Charlie Manuel’s team. Whether Blanton reaches those goals is dependent on the health of his elbow and the strength of a secondary pitch – if not the changeup than his slider.

For more statistical musings from Corey Seidman, visit Brotherly Glove and Phillies Nation SEIDMAN ON TWITTER