A chat with The Good Phight

flaglogoFor a look at this weekends series with the reigning World Champion Phillies, we sat down with Matt from the Phillies blog, ‘The Good Phight.’ He was able to provide us with some great insight on the Phil’s, their numbers, and the teams future.
Check it out:
The Nats Blog (TNB)At 16-16, do you think the Phillies have what it takes to turn the season around and be another World Championship team? Not a .500 one?
The Good Phight (TGP): The Phillies are an above average team for sure. Winning a championship will always entail some luck, and the Phillies had a few things break their way last year towards the end.  There are eight teams in the playoffs and there just isn’t much of a chance to separate the best from the rest.  The goal is to make the playoffs, and see what happens from there.  The best team in the MLB will only beat the worst team in the MLB maybe 65% of the time, so a five or seven game series will not determine much between two good teams each have at most 55% chance of winning an individual game.  The Phillies had excellent preparation in the playoffs last year, and were fortunate that they didn’t need to use Cole against the Nationals the last Sunday of the season– that left him rested and ready to dominate in the playoffs.  This year, the Phillies come out with a very similar team to last year.  The regular season Phillies weren’t all that lucky last year.  In reality, their Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) was absurdly low given how their hitters usually hit the ball and they probably could have won a couple more games if it weren’t for their line drives going right at people more than other teams line drives did.  The BABIP of last year’s team was freakishly low and that should rebound.  There was no one who really had a career year for the Phillies last year, at least not by much (Utley and Hamels had very similar 2007 and 2008 seasons).  So all in all, the Phillies have put themselves in the position to contend.  That’s what you have to do.  The Mets are certainly a good team with holes, just like the Phillies are, and the Braves are pretty good too.  The team has been somewhat unlucky on surrendering more homeruns per flyball than historical trends would suggest as well.  In general, the Phillies are probably a 90-win team likely to win about 90 games.  That said, a little luck can always push you 5 games or so in either direction easily.
TNB: Many considered the Raul Ibanez signing unwise at the time, but so far it has paid off as he has been one of the most productive hitters for the Phillies, what do you think of Ibanez and the deal?
450ibanez_12-20-2008_322kfijTGP: Most sabermetrically inclined Phillies fans were against the deal from the start.  Raul Ibanez replaced Pat Burrell, who many of us were/are huge fans of, and is older and puts up generally weaker numbers as well.  He has flashy AVG and RBI numbers that more casual fans might find exciting, but his OBP and SLG has been below Burrell’s for several years.  Additionally, he’s older.  So it’s easy to rip this deal, and many have.  At the same time, I take a different perspective on the deal.  Pat Burrell was a free agent at the end of the season, which left the Phillies with the talent of an 87-win team or so.  That generally is not enough to make the playoffs.  However, they chose to sure up the weakest position they had, given that Geoff Jenkins was slotted to be the LF if they made no replacement.  They chose to raise payroll, and sign an above average LF.  Did they misread the market?  Probably.  But at the same time, they made the right decision to turn an 87-win team into a 90-win team for about $10MM per season, which is a smart investment.  If they could have done it for $8MM per season, and committed fewer years, I might have preferred that.  But that is minor compared to the decision of whether or not to raise payroll, and not only did they raise payroll, they added someone at the right position.  For four years in a row, the Phillies have fixed up their rotation near the trade deadline (Cory Lidle in 2005, Jamie Moyer in 2006, Kyle Lohse in 2007, and Joe Blanton in 2008), and that is easier to fill than a LF, because you never know whether a LF will be on the market mid-season.  For that reason, I was pleased with the signing, if a little sabermetrically and emotionally irked because I loved Burrell.  Especially given Burrell’s slow start, it does allow for the possibility that something was wrong that the Phillies knew about privately, which would make me all the more comfortable with the Ibanez deal.

TNB: Jimmy Rollins’ May has been even worse than his April, any idea why? What’s going on with him?
TGP: Rollins’ numbers sure looks bad, huh?  He doesn’t look much more with it at the plate than his numbers suggest.  Undeniably, he’s suffered some bad luck, but with 4.3 BB/100PA and 12.6 K/100AB compared to last years 9.4 and 9.9, respectively, it’s clear something is wrong too.  According, his eye and swing rate are not much different than his career tendencies, and his contact rate isn’t all that different either.  So he’s probably not struggling much to see the ball or hit it.  He’s popping up at an incredible rate (14 times already this year compared to 18 all last season– though I think something is wrong with fangraphs’ infield fly numbes which have everybody popping up twice as much as last year league wide), though, and must not be getting good swings too.  He does not seem to be driving the ball, and only has two homeruns, both short CBP-style homeruns that inched their ways out of the yard.  His power drought last year was a concern.  There’s a difference between Jimmy Rollins who slugs .480 and Jimmy Rollins who slugs .430, and after last year, his power numbers do concern me.  He may never hit 20 again, let alone 30.  That said, he’s had bad luck.  He’s batting .140 on groundballs even with a typical amount of infield hits.  That’s very likely to rebound, as his groundballs can’t seem to find the hole.  I’m sure he won’t hit .200, though even if he hits .290 from here out, he’ll finish close to .270.  The question in my mind is not whether he can raise his average, but whether his power returns.
TNB: What’s the key for the Phillies to turn it around this year? What moves need to be made if any?
jcjc-770483TGP: The Phillies do not really need to change much, in my opinion.  They could use a little more luck out of the starting rotation, for sure, and if Moyer continues to pitch his age, they will need to do something about it.  They’ve done well adding middle of the rotation guys mid-season, and I’m sure they will have room for someone like that again whether it’s in Moyer’s spot or Park’s.  Cole Hamels finally is looking like himself, after a mixture of freak injuries, and that will help.  The Phillies are surrendering 15.3% HR/Flyball, and that isn’t going to hold long.  That is a luck based statistic, and even in CBP half the time, it should come down to 12.5% or so.  That will help.  The Phillies eagerly await J.C. Romero’s return from suspension, and that should help the bullpen somewhat.  The bullpen may need to be addressed further if Lidge does not improve, as a number of pitchers have struggled mightily from the pen.  The offense has been very good, despite a recent slump, and they should be formidable all year.
TNB: What do the Phillies have to do to be successful this series against the Nationals?
TGP:They need to be patient against the two lefties (Lannan and Olsen) so they can feast on the mostly righthanded bullpen of mediocre pitchers the Nationals have.  The more innings that we get against the Nats’ pen, the better our odds are.  Johnson, Zimmerman, and Dunn are obviously going to hit the ball, but if the pitchers can retire the other hitters, that will limit the damage those three can do.  The Nationals can score some runs, so the pitchers need to be careful to keep them in the park, and the hitters have to make sure to be patient against the shaky Nats pitching staff.
TNBWhat do the Nationals have to do to be successful against the Phillies?
TGP: The Phillies only hitting vulernability is that they are very left handed.  As the Nats only have two lefties in the pen, they will need to make sure their starters go deep into games so that they can minimize the number of at-bats the Utley, Howard, and Ibanez get against weak righthanded relievers.  The three of them really hit the stuffing out of mediocre RHP’s so it would be dangerous to let them get too many at-bats against them.  The Phillies pitchers are vulernable to the longball, and especially since you guys miss Cole Hamels, you should take advantage of some of the meatballs that might get tossed up there.  Brett Myers loses focus now and then, and will suddenly serve up very easy pitches to hit, and it will be helpful to the Nats if they take advantage of those. 
TNBFavorite Philly memory?
TGP: Obviously, winning the World Series was the best part.  I had standing room tickets that day, and it was just so incredibly amazing.  Like they have with their division titles, the players stayed on the field for hours after the game and celebrated with the fans, making it all the more exciting.  The decades without a championship in Philly got very tough, and waiting through two days of rain delay in the middle of a tie game to find out if they would win the Series made that all the more intense.  Watching them enter the field on Opening Day as Champions was absolutely amazing too.