How Do They Do It?

The graph to the right says it all, folks.

Down and never out. Bend but never break.

The Phillies had an 18% chance to win the game after Greg Dobbs made the second out in the bottom of the ninth. But when have the Phillies ever submitted themselves to the laws of probability? What they have consistently done over the past two seasons — regular and post-seasons alike — is historically incredible.

Until the ninth inning, the Phillies had only three opportunities to drive in a runner in scoring position, and all three times they failed. Meanwhile, the opportunistic Dodgers drove in all four of their runs with two outs thanks to some mediocre pitching by Joe Blanton and poor defense on the part of Pedro Feliz. On the other side, Dodgers starter Randy Wolf retired twelve straight Phillies between the second and fifth innings.

Pack it in, it’s just one of those games, better luck next time, etc.

Most teams would have thought that way. Never the Phillies. Not even against the league’s best bullpen with the league’s most intimidating closer with the fastest fastball, and the plethora of lefty-specialists.

For eight innings, the Dodgers out-hit, out-fielded, and out-pitched the Phillies. Heck, for eight and one-third, the Dodgers outplayed the Phillies.

Matt Stairs came up in the ninth with one out to face Jonathan Broxton. The Phillies were down by one run, 4-3. TBS ran replays of Stairs’ Game 4 home run against Broxton from last year’s NLCS. Broxton didn’t forget — he pitched around Stairs like he had swine flu. An errant fastball hit Carlos Ruiz, and even then, one was thinking, “Is anyone really going to get around on this guy’s 99 MPH fastball?”

Oddly, the Phillies are probably more scared of that 55-MPH Eephus pitch Vicente Padilla threw in Game Two than they are of Broxton’s fastball.

Greg Dobbs made weak contact, weakly popped out to third baseman Casey Blake, and the dream started to fade again.

I can hear Jeff Brantley speaking of Edwin Encarnacion prior to a game-winning three-run home run for the Reds: “He is not a clutch player.” FanGraphs says Jimmy Rollins hasn’t been a clutch player since 2007, his MVP season.

Clutch this. With runners on first and second, Rollins turned on a Broxton fastball, drove it into the right-center field gap, scoring Eric Bruntlett easily. The only question was whether Carlos Ruiz could score from first. Of course — he’s a Phillie, right? Ruiz chooch-chooed his way towards home plate, went down for an epic slide, scoring the Phillies’ fifth and final run. He popped up only to be mobbed by a raucous Phillies team.

Just another epic Phillies comeback.

As a fan, it’s nice to have wins like last night’s every once in a while. These epic comebacks — tonight and Game 4 of the NLDS — are hell on one’s well-being, physically and mentally. But I’ll take ’em every time.

Game graph above courtesy FanGraphs.

A Lesson Learned

The following chart shows the location of all the pitches that Phillies hitters made contact with during Game Three against starter Hiroki Kuroda of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

(From the catcher’s perspective)

The only pitch of Kuroda’s that the Phillies bothered to swing at was his fastball. Of Kuroda’s 39 pitches, 31 were fastballs. Of those 31 fastballs, the Phillies swung at 14 of them, and never swung at his slider, which was never thrown for a strike.

The results of the Phillies’ swings:

  • Contact Hit: 6
  • Contact Out: 4
  • Foul: 2
  • Swing-and-miss: 2 (both Raul Ibanez)

You may have heard a broadcaster/analyst refer to a contact-to-damage ratio. It’s really an amorphous term, but generally speaking, a high C:D ratio means that when a swing is taken, stuff happens. Take Adam Dunn, for example. He swings and misses a lot, but when he makes contact, he’s doing a lot more damage than David Eckstein would have.

Likewise, when the Phillies took their selective hacks against Kuroda last night, they were extremely productive: two singles, two doubles, a triple, and a home run led to six runs in an inning and a third.

What set up those productive swings was the Phillies’ patented plate discipline. Consider:

First Inning

  • Jimmy Rollins took three pitches (2 balls, 1 strike) before hitting a fly ball to right field for an out
  • Shane Victorino took a ball before hitting a single to right field
  • Chase Utley took four pitches (3-1) before hitting a single to right field
  • Ryan Howard took three balls and fouled a pitch off before hitting a two-run triple to right field
  • Jayson Werth took three pitches (2-1) before hitting a two-run home run to center field
  • Raul Ibanez took four pitches (3-1) before swinging at the next three and eventually striking out
  • Pedro Feliz took a ball before grounding out to third base

Second Inning

  • Carlos Ruiz took two balls (1-1) before hitting a double to center field
  • Jimmy Rollins took four pitches (3-1) before hitting an RBI double to right field

The Phillies looked at 25 of Kuroda’s 39 pitches (64%). Kuroda only faced ten hitters, so the Phillies managed to see an average of 2.5 pitches per plate appearance before swinging.

That is professional hitting at its finest. They scored six runs in just over an inning against a pitcher who had previously held the team to a collective slash line (AVG/OBP/SLG) of .118/.179/.157 during the regular season.

Let that be a lesson to tonight’s starter Randy Wolf. Work ahead of the Phillies and you might stand a chance.

BDD: Cy Young Winners

At Baseball Daily Digest, I make the final judgment on each league’s best pitchers.

In the last twenty years, only six pitchers have finished a season in which they made at least 25 starts with an ERA+ over 200. Greinke is one of those six. The other five: Pedro Martinez (1997, ‘99, 2001-03), Greg Maddux (1994-95), Roger Clemens (1990, ‘97, 2005), Kevin Brown (1996), and Rich Harden (2008).