Post-Season Playing Pepper

You may remember back in February, I answered some questions for Daniel Shoptaw of the blog C70 At the Bat. Fortunately for the both of us, our teams have each earned a post-season berth and we are able to once again collaborate for some playoff insight. Click here for the October round of questioning with myself and the guys at Fire Eric Bruntlett.

C70: What player left off or added to the postseason roster would surprise casual observers, if it happens?

[Crashburn Alley]: Miguel Cairo performed very well in limited opportunities in September. He went 5-for-14 with two doubles, and an RBI*. He’s essentially Eric Bruntlett if Bruntlett was an experienced player with the tiniest sliver of talent. Both play the same positions as utility players (corner outfield, middle infield). I would love to see the Phillies leave Bruntlett off the post-season roster in favor of Cairo, but I don’t see it happening.

 *Question was answered before his most recent appearance on October 1.

Who Presents the Best Matchup?

Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, and Ryan Franklin?

Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Clayton Kershaw, and Jonathan Broxton?

Or Troy Tulowitzki, Brad Hawpe, Todd Helton, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Huston Street?

It’s pick your poison in the big picture. Every team has some method by which they can take control of a series. Last year, the Phillies took control of Game 1 of the NLDS against the Brewers’ Yovani Gallardo with their patented plate discipline, drawing three walks with two outs in a three-run third inning. In Game 2 against C.C. Sabathia, it was a combination of plate patience and the Phillies’ similarly-patented power production that toppled the NL Cy Young award candidate.

The Phillies can put themselves in a good position to win by not letting the primary suspects dominate the game. In the NLDS, the Brewers’ Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder collectively batted .200 in 30 at-bats. While Manny Ramirez was smoking hot in the NLCS, the Phillies held Russell Martin, Andre Ethier, and Rafael Furcal in check. And in the World Series, the only Tampa Bay Ray that had any significant success at the plate was Carl Crawford; B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria went 6-for-40 with no extra-base hits between them.

Elsewhere, the Phillies got to the opposition’s starting pitcher most of the time as well. Opposing starters had a 5.21 ERA in the NLDS, 6.75 in the NLCS, and 4.21 in the World Series. And that’s facing some familiar names like Yovani Gallardo, C.C. Sabathia, Chad Billingsley, Derek Lowe, Scott Kazmir, and Matt Garza.

This year, most Phillies fans say they want to avoid the St. Louis Cardinals if at all possible, and their wish will be granted since the Wild Card winner will come out of the NL West. But should we be so scared of the Red Birds, particularly their dual Cy Young candidates? We were similarly scared of the Brewers’ Gallardo and Sabathia and the Cubs’ Carlos Zambrano, Rich Harden, and Ryan Dempster. How did that work out for them?

It’s a cliche now that the MLB playoffs are a crapshoot, but it’s true. The difference between the best and worst team is rather small even at the most extreme; otherwise, how did those 2006 Cardinals win the World Series after winning only 83 games in the regular season?

The best way the Phillies can maximize their chances of winning is not by making sure Jobu has his rum; but by minimizing those small, seemingly insignificant advantages the other teams have: lefty/righty match-ups, pitcher/batter match-ups, and such.

However, let’s get a quick look at the big picture and to get an idea as to where the Phillies stand before diving into the splits (which will be provided in an upcoming post).

The Phillies, unsurprisingly, are king with the lumber. According to FanGraphs, they lead the National League in batting wins above replacement (WAR) with 27.1. The Dodgers come in third at 23.5; the Cardinals fifth at 19.1; the Rockies sixth at 18.0.

When it comes to pitching WAR, the Rockies are best in baseball. They are first out of 30 MLB teams with 24.1 pitching WAR, with roughly 80% of that value coming from the starting pitching. The Cardinals are next, fourth in the National League with 19.8 WAR, with 95% of that value coming from the starters. The Dodgers are fifth with 19.3 WAR, with 75% of that value coming from the starters. And our Phillies are eighth with 13.0 WAR, 84% of which has come from the rotation.

That may be confusing, so here’s a nice table.

As you can see, the Cardinals really stick out because they derive almost all of their pitching value from the starting rotation. This is a good thing, of course. And that’s not to say that the Cardinals don’t have a good bullpen; it just says that if the Phillies can get to Carpenter and/or Wainwright, they’re in the driver’s seat, to use another cliche.

The Rockies are arguably the most well-rounded of any pitching staff among playoff entrants. Starters have logged about 68% of the innings and 78% of the value, compared to Dodgers’ starters taking about 63% of the innings and 75% of the value; Phillies’ starters 67% innings, 84% value; Cardinals’ starters 70% innings, 95% value.

Defense is tricky because no one is extremely confident in any of the metrics presently available. However, just for the sake of completion, it will be presented.

Of the four playoff entrants, the Phillies have the best defense according to UZR/150. In fact, the Phillies are the only team with a positive mark, at 5.7, second-best in the National League. The Cardinals are close to average at -0.2, eighth-best. The Dodgers come in at -1.2, ninth. The Rockies bring up the rear at -2.3, 11th out of 16.

Lastly, let us take a look at how each team runs the bases. Our metrics of choice are EQBRR and EQSBR from Baseball Prospectus.

The Phillies lay claim to the second-best base runner in all of Major League Baseball. No, not Jimmy Rollins, or Shane Victorino, or even Ben Francisco. It’s The Man Himself, Chase Utley. He has created nearly nine runs above expectation with his running alone. The Rockies’ Dexter Fowler comes in at a nearby fourth place with nearly seven EQBRR. Shane Victorino is 25th at 3.5 EQBRR. Other than that, no one cracks the top-30.

As a team, the Phillies have 0.4 EQBRR and 3.4 EQSBR values. That means that the Phillies derive almost all of their value from stealing bases and not from “taking the extra base” so to speak, or other base path ploys. If you subtract EQSBR from EQBRR, we find that the Phillies actually have created three less runs than expected when we factor out stealing bases.

Here’s an overview showing where the Phillies stand among the rest. It’s actually interesting: the Phillies have the worst base running value among the four teams, but have the only positive stolen base value. So other teams run the bases very well when contact is made by their hitters.

By the way, the Cardinals’ Yadier Molina and the Dodgers’ Russell Martin are the top-two catchers in the National League in terms of throwing out attempted base-stealers. Molina has thrown out 34% and Martin 25%. The Rockies’ Iannetta has thrown out 24% but Yorvit Torrealba has thrown out under 8%. Carlos Ruiz and Paul Bako have only thrown out 20% and 12% of attempted base-stealers, respectively.

It is important to note how the teams get their base running value. For instance, the Rockies are mediocre at throwing out base-stealers, and the Phillies get most of their value from stealing bases, so this is a great match-up.

Likewise, the Phillies have an above-average defense and other teams get their value from “taking the extra base”. The Rockies have gone first-to-third in one-third of their opportunities. Jayson Werth, thankfully, is one of the best defensive right fielders. According to Bill James Online, he has 6 “kills” and ranks fourth among all right fielders.

In this regard, the Rockies are a favorable match-up in terms of base running even though they’re the best among the four playoff entrants. The Phillies’ weakness — throwing out base-stealers — is nullified by the Rockies’ poor base-stealing and the Rockies’ strength is nullified by the Phillies’ above-average defense.

I’ll close this out with some quick and easy rankings.

Offense

  1. Phillies
  2. Dodgers
  3. Cardinals
  4. Rockies

Starting Pitching

  1. Cardinals
  2. Rockies
  3. Dodgers
  4. Phillies

Relief Pitching

  1. Rockies
  2. Dodgers
  3. Phillies
  4. Cardinals

Defense

  1. Phillies
  2. Cardinals
  3. Dodgers
  4. Rockies

Base Running

  1. Rockies
  2. Cardinals
  3. Dodgers
  4. Phillies