What to Expect from Andy Pettitte

World Series Game 3 in Philadelphia will feature a match-up between two southpaws, Cole Hamels and Andy Pettitte. A fair assessment of the pitchers reveals that Hamels has been much better than his statistics have shown and Pettitte has been slightly better, as the two have an xFIP (per The Hardball Times) of 3.75 and 4.59 compared to ERA’s of 4.32 and 4.94 respectively.

If I were to check out BetUS sports betting, I would smile at the -175 line the Yankees currently are enjoying, as the two pitchers are quite similar with their batted ball distributions:

We know what Cole Hamels has to offer: 60% fastballs, 30% change-ups, 10% curve balls.

What should we expect from Andy Pettitte? His post-season trend says we should expect about two out of every five pitches (40%) to be four- and two-seam fastballs. Other than that, we don’t really know as Pettitte has changed his pitch selection from game to game. We can expect anywhere from 40-60% sliders and cutters, and selective use of the cut fastball and change-up.

Pettitte’s curve, and cutter have been his most effective pitches with RAA/100 averages of 1.08, and 2.50 respectively. His fastball has been slightly below average at -0.34 and his change-up has been ineffective at -1.53.

Andy does not have a significant platoon split: lefties have hit him slightly better than right-handers, .717 to .730 in terms of OPS this season. Over his career, that split is .728 to .711 in favor of right-handers.

Expectedly, as Pettitte has grown older, he has become more hittable. Since 2005, hitters have been swinging less and less at pitches Pettitte throws in the strike zone, yet their contact on pitches in the zone have hovered in the 90% range, the highest in Pettitte’s career dating back to 2002, as far back as the data goes. Coupled with that is a career low percentage of pitches thrown in the strike zone, 45.6% compared to his average 52%.

The Phillies are one of the best teams at being disciplined at the plate. Five of the eight regulars had walk rates at 10%  or higher according to FanGraphs.

If the Phillies approach Pettitte the way they approached C.C. Sabathia — work counts and force him to throw fastballs — there should be no problem despite Andy’s post-season history. By the way, don’t sleep on Ryan Howard, who struck out four times in four at-bats in Game 2, with the left-on-left match-up: he loves him some sliders.

Check out the BetUS.com MLB World Series odds by clicking here.

Be sure to check in with Rob Neyer at Sweetspot and Jason Rosenberg at It’s About the Money, Stupid! for more World Series coverage.

Jeff Pearlman Hates Baseball

Is your Friday evening feeling empty without World Series baseball? Turn that frown upside down — have I got the cure for you!

No, but seriously, this article by SI.com‘s Jeff Pearlman really needs a good FJM’ing. Since those guys are off being all successful and stuff, someone else has to do it. Loyal readers of the blog, at this point, are slapping their forehead and groaning.

Back in 1961, when a relatively obscure New York Yankee outfielder named Roger Maris was chasing Babe Ruth’s single-season home run mark, the pressure was unbearable. Commissioner Ford Frick desperately wanted the Bambino’s record to stand. Yankee fans hoped Mickey Mantle, their beloved homegrown star, would set the new standard. The New York media did its all to paint Maris as an ungrateful outsider — sullen and surly and ultimately unworthy.

Funny that Pearlman uses this example in an article in which he will bash one of the Bash Brothers, Mark McGwire.

Guy chases icon’s record. Public, for various reasons, likes icon more than guy, media and fans turn on guy. Media goes to great lengths to alter public perception of guy.

How is that different from what is occurring with McGwire?

When we think about Roger Maris, we don’t think about an easy-to-hate character, but he was when he was chasing Ruth. That’s what’s occurring now with the steroid era sluggers. Right now, we perceive the issue of performance-enhancing drugs to be a huge issue and anyone who uses PED’s is worthy of criticism and exile. In 30 years, we will look back and say, “We really made a mountain out of a molehill,” just like the Maris situation.

As I sit here at my computer, dumbfounded by the St. Louis Cardinals’ numbingly inane decision to hire McGwire as the team’s new hitting coach

Career .982 OPS, ranks 12th all-time with a 162 career OPS+, drew over 1,100 unintentional walks over 15 full seasons. Sounds like a decent candidate for a hitting coach, no? Or is McGwire merely David Ecksteinian without his STEROIDS and his HUMAN GROWTH HORMONE and his ANDRO.

(By the way, the only substance we know Big Mac’s used is androstenedione, which was legal at the time it was found in his locker.)

As we all now know (Admittedly, I’m technically supposed to include the word “allegedly” in here somewhere. But I can’t. And won’t. Because, without question, McGwire used performance-enhancers.)

See above.

McGwire was a fraud.

Fraud: intentional deception.

McGwire used: androstenedione.

Androstenedione was: legal at the time he used it.

Level of deception: none.

One can assume that he used steroids, sure, but there’s no hard evidence. That’s why you have to throw in that “allegedly” Jeff, no matter how much your righteous indignation may struggle with it.

His amazing feat wasn’t nearly so amazing.

What is amazing is, of course, a subjective judgment. Some people are wowed by fireworks on the Fourth of July. Me, not so much — I don’t find them too thrilling.

Many of us, at the time, found McGwire’s run to 70 home runs amazing because it was something we had never seen before. A Google search for “Mark McGwire” and the adjective “amazing” yields about 60,000 results. Clearly, I’m not the only one who thought McGwire was something special in 1998 (and I still do).

The point is that you the individual choose for yourself what is and what is not amazing. Mark McGwire’s job is to perform as best as he can from Game 1 of the regular season to Game 162, and the post-season if he found himself in such a fortunate situation (which he did in six different seasons).

As his statistics show, McGwire is one of the best hitters to ever play the game. If that doesn’t amaze you, then neither should Stan Musial (159 OPS+), Hank Greenberg (158), or Albert Pujols (172).

That Pearlman is letting a manufactured PED judgment get in the way of respecting one of the greatest pure sluggers of all time, well, that’s his problem. To slight McGwire on a personal judgment such as that he wasn’t “so amazing” is a weak criticism at best.

His courage and strength were mirages.

Very few athletes should find their names hand-in-hand with the word “courage”. Muhammad Ali is one of those few, for example.

Brett Favre does not have courage because he doesn’t miss games due to injury. Chase Utley is not courageous because he isn’t afraid to get hit by a 97-MPH fastball. There is nothing courageous about playing the game of baseball. To exalt baseball players with machinated concepts such as courage is as misguided as thinking that using steroids will turn a David Eckstein into a Mark McGwire.

Baseball players, like any other athletes, are entertainers. They are not heroes or warriors nor do they have any such mythical characteristics as honor and courage.

Pearlman goes on to say that Big Mac’s strength is a mirage. In other words, Pearlman is saying that McGwire misrepresented his strength by taking androstenedione (which was legal at the time). By this logic, any athlete who has ever taken a substance that was legal at the time and later banned is as guilty as Big Mac for deceiving us. And that would be a lot of baseball players to malign.

You have to be consistent, Mr. Pearlman.

His greatness, well, very artificial.

In the same sense that numbers put up prior to segregation are artificial. In the same sense that Babe Ruth’s greatness is artificial because he toyed around with an illegally-laminated bat and drank alcohol during Prohibition. In the same sense that Gaylord Perry’s greatness is artificial because he slathered Vaseline on the baseball when he pitched.

Every generation has social taboos, and some of those taboos disappear with time. Rather than repeat the mistakes of the past, we should learn from those mistakes and vow not to repeat them. So let’s not defame McGwire over a manufactured taboo with PED’s.

Worst of all, however, McGwire was a baseball thief. At the very moment his 341-foot home run landed behind the outfield fence, he robbed Roger Maris of the most important record in professional sports.

Importance, also subjective. I don’t consider the home run record important. Perhaps an appeal to the populace would be defensible here — I would buy that.

Regardless, and to reiterate, McGwire — as far as we know — did not use any illegal substances during his career. Androstenedione was legal at the time McGwire used it. I repeat: Androstenedione was legal at the time McGwire used it. Again: Androstenedione was legal at the time McGwire used it. Therefore, any records McGwire holds (humoring this silly argument) are rightfully his.

He robbed the Maris family of future income from 61-related merchandising and events.

That income from merchandising and events is tied to the home run record. A record is a factual account of events that happened. We do not go back into the historical records and erase who we don’t like and underline who we like. What if most Americans now are not fans of Norman Schwarzkopf — can I rewrite history and turn him into a villain? Of course not.

We leave our judgments out of history and save it for the Op-Ed section of the newspaper.

McGwire didn’t rob anyone of anything.

He robbed the Hall of Fame — which swooped up McGwire memorabilia as if it were free Twinkies — of its credibility, he robbed those fans who spent hundreds of dollars for a ticket in order to witness history and he robbed thousands upon thousands of kids of a seemingly genuine role model.

About the Hall of Fame: mostly historical. At any rate, that’s the risk the Hall of Fame takes by purchasing memorabilia.

About the fans: Did tickets really cost “hundreds of dollars” or is Pearlman once again being dishonest?

About the role models: Ask Charles Barkley. Listen, if your kids get out of line because of an athlete, you’re not doing a very good job of parenting.

If the baseball record book is the sport’s Holy Bible

Difference between baseball’s “record book” and the Bible: one is an accurate recollection of events; the other may be (and in this author’s estimation is not) an accurate recollection of events.

then McGwire is a 3-year old armed with a permanent marker.

No, actually — that would be the revisionists who want to turn Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Roger Clemens into baseball’s versions of Hitler, Pol Pot, and Stalin.

They were just baseball players doing what they thought they needed to do to succeed in the game. If there’s anyone to blame for PED use in baseball, it’s the media and the fans, who are always demanding the moon from athletes.

The damage is not merely done — it is un-erasable.

“Damage”?

Enough with the histrionics, Jeff.

And now, because Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa […] has a soft spot for [McGwire] […] McGwire is back in the baseball fold; back to teach today’s ballplayers how to (egad) succeed the same way he did

Pearlman is delegitimizing McGwire in the same way the birthers were delegitimizing President Obama by claiming he was not a natural-born citizen with no proof of birth. It is appalling the lengths people will go to to tear down a person they do not like.

To imply that the only reason McGwire succeeded was because of some chemicals he put in his body (legal androstenedione, in case you forgot) is intellectually dishonest to the umpteenth level. Does Pearlman really think that McGwire was nothing but an Eckstein without his SUPER STEROIDS? Let us not forget that it takes incredible hand-eye coordination to hit a baseball at the Major League level. It requires intelligence to play mental chess against the opposing pitcher, catcher, and coaching staff.

If baseball is such an easy sport that all one needs to do is use steroids, then we would not see the flameouts we saw in Alex Sanchez and Jorge Piedra and the plethora of other mediocre Major Leaguers who got caught red-handed.

Just in case you still had a shred of respect for Bud Selig — the man whose sport has yet to fully overcome the McGwire-Sosa nightmare

Actually, the 1998 season was a boon to Major League Baseball as it renewed interest in the sport mere years removed from the strike-shortened 1994 season. Would baseball have recovered otherwise? Probably, but the McGwire-Sosa “nightmare” actually was one of the best things that could have happened to baseball, and if it was not for that “nightmare”, Pearlman is probably working high school field hockey games instead of writing for Sports Illustrated.

I, for one, am angry.

Of course you are. It’s your job as a journalist to go ballistic at the most meaningless events so that you may draw attention to yourself and traffic to your columns.

In the course of researching and writing two books that dealt with steroids

Interesting. Two books and he never found out that McGwire was using a legal substance at the time.

Within the game, however, McGwire is still lauded as an all-time great. He is to be admired and worshiped and embraced.

I would be in complete agreement if this sentence was not written sarcastically.

Hair clumps be damned.

Yes, indeed. Let those Maris hair clumps remind you that social mores change. We hate the guy now but may love him later when we realize we acted out of line.

Does the phrase “don’t hate the player; hate the game” ring a bell? Maybe instead of assassinating Mark McGwire’s reputation (which is more morally reprehensible from any philosophical standpoint than McGwire allegedly using PED’s), we simply address the so-called issue?

Let’s talk about how we can build the sport up instead of cutting others down. Let’s look forward and not behind. Cliche, but true nonetheless.

Called Third Strike

The theme of A.J. Burnett’s start was the strikeout, particularly the called third strike with his curveball towards the end of his outing. His last three strikeouts were of the backwards-K variety.

All we could talk about before the series was how each team packed an explosive offensive punch. Ryan Howard and Alex Rodriguez both had monster Division and Championship Series performances, and with the homer-friendly parks each team calls home, we were expecting Home Run Derby.

Cliff Lee, C.C. Sabathia, Pedro Martinez, and Burnett say “thanks for playing, better luck next time”. Each starter has at least reached the seventh inning, each has struck out at least six batters, and each has allowed no more than three runs.

Tonight, Burnett was in top form just as Cliff Lee was last night. He lasted seven innings and used his curve ball effectively, striking out nine Phillies, while allowing only six base runners on four hits and two walks. The Phils could only muster one run on a Matt Stairs RBI single to left field in the second inning.

Burnett threw 45 curve balls out of 107 pitches (42%). 35 of those curves were thrown to left-handed hitters. The Phillies against Burnett’s curve:

  • Made contact: 10 times (7 fouls, 2 ground outs, 1 ground-rule double)
  • Swung and missed: 7
  • Took for a strike: 8
  • Took for a ball: 20 (6 in the dirt)

To give you an idea as to what the Phillies were facing, take a gander at these visuals from Brooks Baseball, the blue line in particular:

His fastball and curve ball are essentially at the same location for about 35 feet from the pitcher’s mound, and then the curve ball breaks off the table as they say. That’s why his curve has been worth about one and a half runs above average per 100 curve balls.

As the Yankees did last night, the Phillies must simply give Burnett a tip of the cap for a well-pitched game. There was not much they could have done with the curves Burnett was putting on the black, low and outside with pinpoint precision.

The Phillies did not go quietly, however. Facing Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning with one out, Jimmy Rollins had a rare — for this season anyway — professional at-bat in which he saw eleven pitches and eventually worked a walk. Shane Victorino followed up with a single through the first and second basemen to put runners on first and second with one out.

Using the run expectancy matrix on Baseball Prospectus, we would expect about one run there. However, the guy on the mound is the best relief pitcher in baseball history, so the actual run expectancy is somewhere around .001, right? Chase Utley proved it by weakly grounding into a double play to end the rally and the inning.

Raul Ibanez doubled with two outs in the ninth to bring up Matt Stairs as the tying run, but Rivera in typical fashion struck him out for the 27th out.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi, maligned even by Yankees fans for some of his in-game decisions, pushed all the right buttons in the bottom of the seventh. Jerry Hairston led off by dunking a single into right field. Girardi sent in Brett Gardner to pinch-run. He then instructed Melky Cabrera to lay down a sacrifice bunt, but Cabrera was unable to do so. Thinking he was being handed a free out, Pedro Martinez threw a ball up in the zone, but instead Girardi took the bunt off and ordered a hit-and-run. Cabrera sent the pitch back into right field for another single, and Gardner scampered to third base without a problem.

Jorge Posada was announced as a pinch-hitter, so Charlie Manuel yanked Martinez and brought in Chan Ho Park. Making Girardi three-for-three, Posada lined a single up the middle to drive in an insurance run for the Yankees. The only blunder in the inning came when Derek Jeter decided to bunt with two strikes of his own volition.

If we’re handing out MVP awards for Game Two, Burnett wins it easily, but Girardi would get one as well for going three-for-three with his strategy in the seventh.

The Phillies won’t be heading back to Philadelphia on a sour note. They split the two in New York, which is the most that they could have reasonably expected. Now they’ll look to take two of three at home, or even better, finish it off at home as they did last year against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Game graph above courtesy FanGraphs.

BDD: What If It Isn’t Real?

At Baseball Daily Digest, I wonder what we would do if it turns out MLB is just as corrupt as the NBA.

We will still watch, from Game 1 to Game 162, and the post-season. We will talk about the “hot stove” when it’s all done, then we’ll argue about trades that should and should not be made; free agents that should and should not be signed. We will be there for Spring Training. We will ride out the highs and lows with our favorite teams because that’s what we’re in it for, folks: the ride — like a dramatic movie (or in the case of the New York Mets: a comedy). As long as our sports achieve the goal of capturing our attention and entertaining us, we will continue to tune in on TV, radio, and the Internet; we will continue to buy tickets, merchandise, and food at the concession stands. We will continue to blog.

Cliff Lee Is Mr. October

It is usually the hitters who become ingrained in our collective memory when it comes to post-season heroics. Cue montages of Reggie Jackson, Carlton Fisk, and Kirk Gibson. Even for the Phillies, Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz have been receiving most of the kudos for the deep run into the post-season. Captain Clutch this year, however, is not Derek Jeter nor is it Ruiz and Howard; it is one Clifton Phifer Lee.

Lee threw all nine innings, struck out ten Yankees, walked none, allowed only six hits, and the Yankees managed a meager one run — a meaningless run — in the ninth. The best offense in baseball was reduced to a series of swings-and-misses and weakly-hit grounders. Cliff was on his game from the start and didn’t let up until the game was in the bag.

Chase Utley took the edge off with solo home runs in the third and sixth innings off of C.C. Sabathia, accounting for the first two runs the Phillies scored. The Phillies gave Lee breathing room in the eighth when Raul Ibanez knocked in two with a bases loaded single to right field, and again in the ninth on an RBI single by Shane Victorino and an RBI double by Ryan Howard.

Lee went the distance for the second time this post-season and has yet to leave the game prior to the eighth inning. For all the clamoring for Roy Halladay near the trading deadline, GM Ruben Amaro is looking like a modern day Nostradamus for his sly acquisition of Cliff Lee (and hey, Ben Francisco too). Clifton now has 30 strikeouts in 33 1/3 innings of work and a paltry 0.5 WHIP.

The Phillies’ ace threw 121 pitches:

  • 48 four-seam fastballs, 40%
  • 14 two-seam fastballs, 12%
  • 24 sliders, 20%
  • 20 change-ups, 17%
  • 15 curve balls, 12%

How did Lee attack the Yankees’ left-handed hitters as opposed to their right-handers?

  • 36 total pitches
  • 21 four-seam fastballs, 58%
  • 2 two-seam fastballs, 6%
  • 3 change-ups, 8%
  • 3 curve balls, 8%
  • 7 sliders, 19%

  • 85 total pitches
  • 27 four-seam fastballs, 32%
  • 12 two-seam fastballs, 14%
  • 17 change-ups, 20%
  • 12 curve balls, 14%
  • 17 sliders, 20%

Of the pitches left-handed hitters made contact with, 67% (6 of 9) were on fastballs. Right-handed hitters only made contact with 31% fastballs (4 of 13). This shouldn’t be surprising because Lee, over the course of his career, has a near-even split against LH (.714 OPS) and RH (.733 OPS) batters.

The Phillies once again win Game One of a post-season series and now have just three more wins to go before hoisting another World Series trophy above their heads. Should they reach that pinnacle, they will heartily thank Mr. October, Cliff Lee.

Suggested Reading Material

Game graph above courtesy FanGraphs.

A World Series Preview with Lisa Swan

We are just about twelve hours away from game time, and if you’re a fan of either team, you probably have the jitters. That is not to be confused with the shivers, which everyone in the northeast has after all of this recent bone-chilling cold, rainy weather. You can always use more World Series preparation, right? Grab a sweater, stretch out that mouse-side index finger, and enjoy the Q&A sessions with myself and fellow Baseball Bloggers Alliance member and Yankee aficionado Lisa Swan of The Faster Times and Subway Squawkers.

Click here for my half of the questioning at The Faster Times.

. . .

1. Chase Utley is pretty well-regarded as the best player on the Phillies. Does New York realize this or is Utley underappreciated outside of Philadelphia?

Met fans know he’s great, but they love to hate him (although not as much as they hate the Flying Hawaiian!) Yankee fans haven’t really paid as much attention to Utley (although some New Yorkers do remember what Utley cursed at last year’s All-Star Game after getting booed!)

2. With the way balls fly out in right field at Yankee Stadium, do you have any apprehension about seeing Utley, Ryan Howard, Raul Ibanez, and Matt Stairs?

When the Phillies came to town in May, the balls were indeed flying out of the park. But it’s calmed down a bunch since then, for whatever reason (weather, better pitching, etc.) However, it is still a bit of a concern. After all, the Phillies hit like an AL East, not an NL East, team.

3. What are your thoughts on the match-up of former Cleveland Indians staffmates C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee? Do you see it being a close one, or is there a weakness of either that will be exploited?

Aside from wondering what Cleveland fans are thinking over seeing their guys face each other, it’s hard to say. The Yanks have a bit more familiarity with Lee than the Phillies do with Sabathia, and even beat him once this year. Plus, CC’s pitching at home. (Slight) advantage to CC.

4. Going back to underappreciation, who has been the biggest Yankees contributor who has flown under the radar?

Dave Robertson. He’s been great in the bullpen this season, with the highest strikeout rate in the league – 13.4 Ks per 9 innings. He helped the Yankees stay in the game in their two playoff walkoff wins, and got the wins in both games. And if Joe Girardi had just left him in to do his thing in Game 3, the Yanks might have won that game in
extra innings as well.

5. The Sabermetric fielding statistics have painted Ryan Howard as a better fielder this year than Mark Teixeira. In fact, they paint Tex as a below-average fielder. As someone who has watched Tex, what is your reaction to that?

I don’t want to sound all Joe Morgan here, but I find that hard to fathom. Teixeira was like Stretch Armstrong at first this year – especially in the playoffs – with the ability to make close plays and get runners out. It’s part of the reason fans haven’t gone too crazy when he hasn’t hit much this October – because he’s saved a ton of runs.

6. Sticking with defense, what has Derek Jeter done to improve his? In the off-season and in spring training, Ryan Howard worked with Sam Perlozzo on his defense, and that has been a very worthwhile investment. Did Jeter do anything different?

Yes, he did. Jeter reportedly changed his workout routine – and changed personal trainers – before this season to improve his mobility and range. And it’s really paid off – Jeter is looking better than he has in years.

7. What’s it going to take to stop John Sterling from coming up with those awful, awful isms about your Yankees? A “Tex message”? Really?

He’ll never stop – he gets too much fun out of saying them – and creating them. I’m picturing Sterling up late at night in his hotel room, pen and paper in hand, letting the muse strike him while he comes up with gems like “Robbie Cano, don’tcha know” or  “Hinske with your best shot.” I get it, though – every time a new hitter joins the
Yankees, I do a post trying to come up with what the Sterling call will be. Invariably, what he comes up with is even cornier than what I could have predicted!

8. I have often thought of Brett Myers  and A.J. Burnett as being cut from the same cloth. On some days, when they have their stuff, they are completely and utterly dominant. On other days, they are as pedestrian of Adam Eaton. Has it been at all frustrating watching Burnett, who actually had a decent year?

To use a Michael Kayism, A.J. is like the little girl with the curl. When he’s good, he’s very good, but when he’s bad, he’s horrid. I do think he’s better when Jose Molina catches him, because Molina is a calming influence. But when Burnett is really bad, even having his own personal catcher doesn’t help.

9. The Yankees have over $166 million tied up in 12 players in 2010. Do you see 2009 being a “you gotta do it” year, or do you think that if the Yankees lose the World Series, they can try again next year?

Nah, they gotta win now (and, of course, try to repeat next year.) The Yankees haven’t won a World Series since Bill Clinton was president – it’s time. Win or lose, I don’t expect the team to change must next year, though.

10. The media has raved about the atmosphere of the Yankees’ clubhouse changing with the acquisitions of Burnett and Nick Swisher. Do you think that has had any tangible effect on the Yankees, or is it just a matter of the team being made up by a bunch of really good baseball players?

I do believe in the chemistry thing. For too long this decade, the Yankees were the dynasty guys, and everybody else, and they seemed held hostage by the so-called “Yankee way,” where everybody had to be bland and boring. But this year, Joe Girardi placed a high priority not only on getting the team on the same page – he had the Yanks miss a spring training day to go play pool together – but in letting these guys be themselves, and letting new players have a say in the club.

This is a special team, with the 17 walkoff wins and the fun atmosphere. Yes, they have a huge payroll, and a ton of talent, but they also have good chemistry. And I think that’s part of the reason they’ve been so successful – because they have each others’ backs. In previous years, one bad playoff game would kill them for the rest of the series. Now, they’re able to turn the page easily, thanks to having faith in each other. They really are a likeable bunch.

. . .

Thanks to Lisa for painting a clearer picture of the Bad Guys for us. Personally, I cracked a smile when she said, “The Yankees haven’t won a World Series since Bill Clinton was president”. That smile grows even wider when you consider that the Mets haven’t won since Ronald Reagan was President. Although, I am conflicted by the fact that the Phillies  technically haven’t won since George W. Bush was President.

World Series Scouting Reports

As promised yesterday, we’ll take a look at the World Series starters. Despite the Phillies naming Pedro Martinez the Game 2 starter, there is still a lot of uncertainty around both teams’ rotations:

  • Will the Phillies use a four-man rotation?
  • If so, will Charlie Manuel use Joe Blanton or J.A. Happ?
  • Will the Yankees use a three-man rotation?
  • If so, who is starting Game 2?
  • If not, will Joe Girardi select Chad Gaudin to start Game 4?

Regardless, we can still take a look at what these starters throw and how often they throw it. Introduced in the NLDS preview, I’ll be using scatter plots with the pitch frequency and the respective values (runs above average per 100 pitches of the type in question). These statistics can be found at FanGraphshere’s Cole Hamels’ page for instance.

You will, of course, need to know how to interpret the graph. Values to the north and east are good for the pitcher, as it means he throws the pitch often and succeeds. Values to the south and east indicate that the pitcher throws the pitch often and gets hit around. As you go west, the data becomes more insignificant because the pitches are thrown less and less, meaning A) there’s a small sample size and B) that the pitcher doesn’t throw the pitch often enough for it to have a noticeable effect on his performance.

Due to the uncertainty of the rotations, I will simply present the graphs by team. Note that the acronym”RAA/C” stands for “runs above average per 100 pitches”. As an example, C.C. Sabathia’s fastball has a RAA/C value of 0.64, which means that for every 100 fastballs he throws, they are worth (you can think in terms of prevention as well, since he is a pitcher) 0.64 runs above average.

The obvious caveat here is that the graphs don’t account for the Nash Equilibrium, or in other words, pitch sequencing. While Pedro Martinez has a change-up that has been below-average, it in all likelihood increases the value of his fastball enough to make the trade-off beneficial. Exactly how much is near impossible to quantify. But this is just to say that the following charts merely give a general idea as to what the pitchers throw and how effectively they throw it.

To enhance the quality of the graph, I suggest opening it in a new window, which you can do by clicking on it.

Philadelphia Phillies

New York Yankees

Observations

  • Cliff Lee and J.A. Happ have the most effective fastballs on the Phillies’ staff and they rely heavily on them
  • Although by itself Pedro Martinez’s change-up has not been an effective pitch, it is the only thing keeping his fastballs from being Adam Eatoned
  • Cole Hamels’ chart essentially shows what Matt Swartz argued at Baseball Prospectus, which is that Hamels isn’t nearly as bad as he has shown
  • Joe Blanton potentially starting is a thought that makes me increasingly nervous
  • All three of C.C. Sabathia’s pitches are above-average — wow!
  • A.J. Burnett’s curve is as good as advertised
  • One of the more intriguing Andy Pettitte match-ups has to be his cut fastball against right-hander Jayson Werth, who can pull his hands in and get around on the cutter better than most RH batters
  • The Phillies should be licking their chops at the prospect of facing Chad Gaudin, as the Yankees should for Joe Blanton

Meet the New York Yankees

The 2009 season is down to its last four-to-seven games. One squad of 25 men will attempt to wrest control of the final series from the other for the right to call themselves “World Champions,” or in the Phillies’ case, “back-to-back World Champions”.

Each team made a concerted effort to get to this point. The Yankees spent an exorbitant amount of money to lure 2007 AL Cy Young award winner C.C. Sabathia, the multi-talented first baseman Mark Teixeira, and the good-when-healthy A.J. Burnett. The Phillies signed Raul Ibanez in the off-season and added former Cy Young award winners Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez mid-season to improve a mediocre starting rotation.

Likewise, each team had to battle adversity. Alex Rodriguez missed the first five weeks of the regular season and had to deal with fallout from his admission to use of performance-enhancing drugs during his tenure with the Texas Rangers. Chien-Ming Wang was ineffective when he took the mound and eventually called it a season after his start on July 4.

The Phillies, meanwhile, had to compete with Jimmy Rollins being a shell of his former 2007 NL MVP self, and Brad Lidge inverting his success from last year. To make matters worse, the Phils lost the voice of the team, Harry Kalas, in mid-April following the conclusion of a series in Colorado.

Back stories out of the way, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty and compare the World Series entrants. Fellow ESPN SweetSpot blogger and Yankees representative Jason Rosenberg of It’s About the Money, Stupid! is likewise comparing the teams, so stop by for an alternative perspective.

First, let’s look back on the May 22-24 inter-league series in New York. What happened?

  • May 22: The good guys won 7-3 behind a strong start from Brett Myers. As was typical for Brett this season, he allowed three home runs in the game, but fortunately they were all of the solo variety. The Phillies hit four home runs, including this mammoth shot from Jayson Werth off of A.J. Burnett.
  • May 23: The bad guys won 5-4 thanks to one of Brad Lidge’s many blown saves during the regular season. The Yankees scored three in the ninth courtesy a two-run, game-tying Alex Rodriguez home run, and a walk-off RBI single by Melky Cabrera. Lidge wasted a great start by future Sporting News Rookie of the Year J.A. Happ.
  • May 24: The rubber-match ended as a rubber-match between two elite teams should: with extra innings. The Phillies led 3-2 going into the bottom of the ninth, but Brad Lidge once again blew the save opportunity on another RBI single by Melky Cabrera. Carlos Ruiz gave the Phillies the victory in the 11th inning on an RBI double that scored Chase Utley.

Judging by the way the inter-league regular season series went, both teams’ offense will figure prominently into the results. As such, let’s take a look at where each team stands offensively.

Offense, Base Running, Defense

The Phillies led the National League, averaging 5.06 runs per game. Being an American League team, the Yankees led with a higher 5.65 RPG average.

At home, the Yankees averaged one home run every 23 plate appearances; on the road, every 30 PA. The Phillies are more balanced, averaging a HR per 25 PA at home and per 28 PA on the road.

The following chart will compare each team’s starters at each position using OPS+. For those unfamiliar with the metric, this Wikipedia blurb explains it rather succinctly.

(WordPress is back to reducing the quality of images. If you’d like to see a clearer version of the charts, just click on them and they will open in a new window.)

The Yankees have clear advantages at catcher, shortstop, and third base, while the Phillies don’t have any clear advantages themselves, though most would take Chase Utley over Robinson Cano and Jayson Werth over Nick Swisher without thinking twice.

Using batting and fielding runs from FanGraphs, and base running runs from Baseball Prospectus, what happens if we also include base running and defense into our analysis? Have a look:

For your convenience, the following chart will quickly show you the advantages, marked with the letter x.

The Yankees’ offense is more powerful than the Phillies’ — without counting Hideki Matsui as the DH — but the Phillies make up a lot of ground with their base running smarts (thanks to first base coach Davey Lopes) and defense.

Catchers

Offensively, the switch-hitting Jorge Posada is clearly ahead of Carlos Ruiz. However, Chooch is enjoying a fine 2009 post-season with a 1.000 OPS in 34 PA. Posada has put up an .845 OPS in 36 PA.

With his cannon arm, Chooch threw out 23 of 84 base-stealers (27.4%) during the regular season. Posada matched him, throwing out 31 of 111 (27.9%).

As Phillies fans are well aware of, though, is that Ruiz’s strength is blocking balls in the dirt, a very important feature particularly for closer Brad Lidge. Ruiz led all qualified Major League catchers, averaging just .184 wild pitches and passed balls per game. In other words, Ruiz will let one skip by once every five games. Posada was among the bottom ten in the American League with a .562 WP+PB/G according to The Hardball Times.

Posada, a potential Hall of Famer, is clearly the superior catcher here, but in a short series where small events are magnified, Ruiz’s fundamentally-sound game reduces that gap.

Bench

Both teams’ benches aren’t exactly filled with batting champions, but they are deep and versatile.

The Phillies have left-handers Matt Stairs and Greg Dobbs; Stairs will likely DH when A.J. Burnett starts. Infielders Miguel Cairo and Eric Bruntlett allow manager Charlie Manuel the flexibility to pinch-run late in the game to increase the probability of scoring an extra run. Right-hander Ben Francisco will likely play left field when a left-hander (C.C. Sabathia, Andy Pettitte) starts, allowing Raul Ibanez to simply DH. Finally, left-hander Paul Bako is the back-up catcher to Carlos Ruiz.

The Yankees have several pinch-running options as well in outfielders Brett Gardner and Freddy Guzman. Jerry Hairston, Jr. is the lone back-up infielder. Jose Molina will back up Jorge Posada and will likely catch when A.J. Burnett starts.

Pitching

It’s like staring into a mirror. A look at each team’s starting and relief pitching during the regular season:

  • Phillies starters: 4.29 ERA
  • Yankees starters: 4.48
  • Phillies relievers: 3.91 ERA
  • Yankees relievers: 3.91

I’ll compare the starters once the rotations are set. For now, we’ll just focus on the bullpen using WXRL from Baseball Prospectus.

Mariano Rivera, Phil Hughes, and Alfredo Aceves during the regular season were better than any of the Phillies’ relievers. Almost everyone said that the Phillies’ biggest weakness heading into the NLCS was their bullpen, but that wasn’t fleshed out by the results, as only Chan Ho Park and Ryan Madson gave up runs out of the ‘pen against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Meanwhile, Rivera, Hughes, Aceves, and Joba Chamberlain allowed runs in the ALCS against the L.A. Angels.

It would be foolish not to assign the Yankees a huge bullpen advantage, but the Phillies have made a habit of disproving conventional wisdom.

Offense Splits

Since the Phillies and Yankees play in different leagues, we can’t just compare raw OPS figures. Instead, what I will use is tOPS+. To paraphrase Baseball Reference, tOPS+ is defined as:

OPS for split relative to total OPS. A number greater than 100 indicates the batter did better than average in this split. A number less than 100 indicates that the batter did worse than average in this split.

  • Yankees LH batters vs. LH pitchers: 102
  • Yankees LH batters vs. RH pitchers: 103
  • Yankees RH batters vs. LH pitchers: 101
  • Yankees RH batters vs. RH pitchers: 90
  • Phillies LH batters vs. LH pitchers: 103
  • Phillies LH batters vs. RH pitchers: 108
  • Phillies RH batters vs. LH pitchers: 100
  • Phillies RH batters vs. RH pitchers: 85

Both teams’ right-handed hitters struggle against right-handed pitchers, which makes the likes of Mariano Rivera, Brad Lidge, Alfredo Aceves, Ryan Madson, Phil Hughes, and Ryan Madson, as well as starters A.J. Burnett and Pedro Martinez, pivotal figures in this series.

Pitching Splits

Both teams’ left-handed hitters hit left-handed pitchers surprisingly well, which will minimize the effectiveness of Phil Coke, Damaso Marte, Scott Eyre, and J.A. Happ.

Here are similar split numbers for the pitchers. This time, numbers above 100 signify below-average pitching.

  • Yankees LH pitchers vs. LH batters: 70
  • Yankees LH pitchers vs. RH batters: 95
  • Yankees RH pitchers vs. LH batters: 106
  • Yankees RH pitchers vs. RH batters: 106
  • Phillies LH pitchers vs. LH batters: 90
  • Phillies LH pitchers vs. RH batters: 101
  • Phillies RH pitchers vs. LH batters: 99
  • Phillies RH pitchers vs. RH pitchers: 106

The reason why Phillies’ right-handers perform better than the Yankees’ right-handers against left-handed batters is because of the preponderance of change-ups thrown by Ryan Madson, Pedro Martinez, and Joe Blanton.

The run-down, sans starting pitching:

  • Offense: Slight advantage Yankees
  • Base running: Advantage Phillies
  • Defense: Advantage Phillies
  • Bullpen: Advantage Yankees

Once the rotations are announced, we will look at the starting pitching match-ups. If you need something to hold you over, stop by It’s About the Money, Stupid! for some Yankees-themed coverage.

The World Series Rotation

Todd Zolecki of MLB.com posted a couple days ago that the Phillies hadn’t set their rotation aside from Cliff Lee in Game One, mostly because they still don’t know who they will be opposing in the World Series. That, of course, has led to speculation and debate, so I’d like to weigh in on it, with the assumption that the Yankees win the ALCS over the Angels. It’s a safe assumption according to the post-season odds on Baseball Prospectus, which gives the Yankees an 89% chance to win the ALCS.

There are several questions to answer:

  • Should the Phillies use a three- or four-man rotation?
  • Does J.A. Happ fit into the rotation?
  • Which starters should pitch in New York?

Games 1 and 2 will be played in New York, as will Games 6 and 7 if necessary. Games 3, 4, and 5 will be played in Philadelphia. This is important to denote because Yankee Stadium is much more conducive to fly ball hitters than Citizens Bank Park. According to ESPN’s park factors, Yankee Stadium ranked first (1.261) while CBP ranked 16th (1.005) in allowing home runs.

As a result, it would behoove the Phillies to keep the fly ball-prone starters away from Yankee Stadium, especially the right-handers. Looking at the breakdown on HitTracker, left-handed hitters have a much easier time than do their right-handed counterparts. So no right-handed starters in New York for the Phillies, and keep the fly ball-prone guys away, too.

The Phillies starters’ fly ball rates:

  • Pedro Martinez: 43.9%
  • J.A. Happ: 42.9%
  • Joe Blanton: 39.3%
  • Cole Hamels: 38.7%
  • Cliff Lee: 38.1%

As it so happens, Lee in Game One and Hamels in Game Two appears to be the most likely scenario, which is the most beneficial to the Phillies.

Happ is a candidate to start, though not a very likely one as he provides more value in the bullpen since Scott Eyre is the only other reliable left-hander. Unfortunately, Happ has had a rough go of it in the post-season, allowing 11 base runners (six hits, five walks) and three earned runs in three and two-thirds innings against the Rockies and Dodgers. Based on these two facts, Happ should stay in the bullpen.

Now let’s take a look at how the Yankees have fared against each pitcher:

  • Cliff Lee: 224 PA, .820 OPS, HR per 28 PA, 14% K, 8% BB
  • Cole Hamels: 66 PA, .833 OPS,  HR per 22 PA, 17% K, 5% BB
  • Pedro Martinez: 386 PA, .661 OPS, HR per 39 PA, 28% K, 9% BB
  • Joe Blanton: 126 PA, .838 OPS, HR per 16 PA, 10% K, 6% BB

Most of Martinez’s history against the Yankees came from his prime years with the Boston Red Sox when he had a 95 MPH fastball, so his stats above should be taken with a grain of salt — he will not replicate a 28% strikeout rate.

The Yankees have hit Blanton well, smacking home runs at a frequent rate and striking out infrequently. Most of Blanton’s rates above are worse than his career averages: HR per 40 PA, 15% K, 7% BB. As a result, I would utilize a three-man rotation (Lee, Hamels, Martinez) and move Blanton to the bullpen.

The added benefit of using a three-man rotation is that it allows Charlie Manuel an extra spot for another bench player, like John Mayberry, while still keeping room for the versatility that Miguel Cairo and Eric Bruntlett provide. Antonio Bastardo would be left off the World Series roster, Blanton would go to the ‘pen, and Mayberry would be added to the roster.

Finally, a three-man rotation would mean that the Phillies could use Cliff Lee three times in the World Series if it got to a Game 7. The only hiccup in my plan comes in a perhaps unnecessary Game 6 in New York that Pedro Martinez would be in line to start. If Happ hadn’t been used much to that point, he could take Pedro’s place.

In summary, this is how it would look:

  • Oct 28 @ NYY: Cliff Lee
  • Oct 29 @ NYY: Cole Hamels
  • Oct 31 @ PHI: Pedro Martinez
  • Nov 1 @ PHI: Cliff Lee
  • Nov 2 @ PHI: Cole Hamels
  • Nov 4 @ NYY: Pedro Martinez or J.A. Happ
  • Nov 5 @ NYY: Cliff Lee

Changes to the roster:

  • Added: John Mayberry
  • Dropped: Antonio Bastardo
  • Moved to bullpen: Joe Blanton

Feel free to chime in with your thoughts on what the Phillies should do with their World Series starting rotation.