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).

One for the Ages

Curt Schilling, October 21, 1993.

Cole Hamels, October 1, 2008.

Who are the only pitchers to throw at least eight innings and allow zero runs in a post-season game for the Philadelphia Phillies?

Add Cliff Lee to that list. Going by game score, and assuming my calculations are correct, Lee’s start tonight against the Los Angeles Dodgers was tied for the best among the trio:

  • Schilling, 1993: 80 game score
  • Hamels, 2008: 86
  • Lee, 2009: 86

Lee pitched eight innings of shut-out baseball, allowed only three hits, walked no one, and struck out ten Dodgers. His start was the 51st post-season start, since 1903, with a game score of 86 or higher, which puts him in the ranks of Roger Clemens, Don Larsen, and Randy Johnson. It was only the 18th post-season start in which a pitcher threw at least eight innings, allowed no runs, struck out at least ten, and had a game score of at least 86. And it was exactly the cure for what ailed the Phillies following their disappointing loss in Game Two.

The Phillies would have been fine with an imperfect Lee just the same, as they punched 11 runs across home plate by game’s end. Ryan Howard continued his post-season RBI streak (the new Mr. October?), and every Phillie starter — including Lee — got a hit except for Raul Ibanez. Along with the 11 runs came 11 hits, six of which went for extra bases.

Lee was staked to a 4-0 lead after one inning and 6-0 after two. Little did the Phillies know that they could have gone on cruise control once they conquered their conqueror. Dodgers starter Hiroki Kuroda came into his start tonight with historic dominance over the defending World Champions: current Phillies hitters had a collective slash line (AVG/OBP/SLG) of .118/.179/.157 against him in the regular season.

Kuroda was ineffective from the start, falling behind five of the seven hitters he faced in the first inning, when he allowed four runs on two singles, a two-run Ryan Howard triple, and a two-run Jayson Werth home run. All four of the hits came on Kuroda fastballs. The trend continued in the second inning. Carlos Ruiz and Jimmy Rollins each hit doubles on fastballs, and Shane Victorino and Chase Utley walked.

The Phillies would tack on two more in the fifth on a Pedro Feliz RBI triple and Ruiz RBI single. Three more runs in the eighth sealed the deal courtesy a three-run Victorino home run. Right-hander Chad Durbin pitched a perfect ninth inning to put Game Three in the books.

No drama, no blood-curdling screams, nothing. It was the first easy game the Phillies have had in a long time.

Tonight, the Phillies showed the nation that they are clearly a better team than the Dodgers. Two more wins to go with two more at home. The feeling among Phillies fans right now is a complete reversal than what it was after the Game Two heart-breaker.

The Phillies will send right-hander Joe Blanton to the mound for Game Four tomorrow night to oppose the Dodgers’ southpaw and former Phillie Randy Wolf. The Fightins look to continue their trend of only dropping one game in each post-season series. The last time they lost more than one was when they were swept by the Colorado Rockies in the 2007 NLDS.

Game graph above courtesy FanGraphs.

Chase Knoblauch

Two throwing errors (one justified) in two NLCS games from the right arm of Chase Utley, the best defensive second baseman in all of Major League Baseball. Fortunately, the late Mrs. Olbermann was not in the crowd at Dodger Stadium today. Or, even if she was, ghosts can’t get hit by baseballs anyway because ghosts can pass through physical objects — everyone knows that.

Pedro Martinez pitched like a future Hall of Famer would pitch in a League Championship Series game: seven innings, no runs, no walks, two hits, three strikeouts. Aside from a fourth-inning Ryan Howard opposite-field solo home run, Dodgers starter Vicente Padilla matched Martinez pitch-for-pitch. Pedro left after seven innings with his team clinging to a 1-0 lead.

As was the case last night and all season, the Phillies’ bullpen has a penchant for making an already interesting game much more intriguing. That bullpen was shaky in the eighth inning, enough so that Charlie Manuel may have morphed into Tony LaRussa. Manuel used five pitchers in an attempt to get three outs.

To be fair, bad luck is as much to blame as the bullpen for the situation in which the Phillies found themselves. Casey Blake led off the eighth inning with a BABIP-inspired ground ball that ticked off of Pedro Feliz’s glove.

Ronnie Belliard then attempted to bunt Juan Pierre, pinch-running for Blake, to second base. Many would agree that Belliard is not a world-class bunter, but he had the mother of all bunts: perfectly placed so as to draw both the pitcher and the charging first baseman towards the ball, but distant enough from both with enough speed behind it that it squirted between the both of them (causing Chan Ho Park to slip a la Scott Eyre in the NLDS, sans the minor ankle injury). The mother of all bunts allowed Pierre to reach second base and Belliard to claim first base safely.

Then, of course, came the Utley throwing gaffe on yet another dead-to-rights double play ball. After that, well, that tends to happen to houses made of mere playing cards. A Jim Thome single and a Rafael Furcal walk later, Andre Ethier strode to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs in a 1-1 ballgame. Ethier fell behind in the count 1-2, but fouled off a couple pitches and forced Happ to find more of the strike zone. He didn’t. Happ eventually walked Ethier to force in the go-ahead and eventual game-winning run.

Walks and fielding errors. Last night, walks sunk the Blue Crew. Tonight, the free pass and yet another Utley misfire trashed one of the better post-season starts by a Phillie.

Instead of going back to Philadelphia up two games to none, the series is essentially a five-gamer now. Game 3 has noted Phillie killer Hiroki Kuroda against Clifton Phifer Lee. Game 4 will see Randy Wolf against, likely, Joe Blanton.

This didn’t fit into the above narrative, but I’d be remiss not to throw some compliments in the general direction of Carlos Ruiz. After last night’s heroics, Ruiz went 1-for-2 with a walk, stole a base, and threw out Matt Kemp on the base paths as well. Recently, I took the time to re-argue the merits of the theory of clutch, but Ruiz may force me to reconsider. I like the cut of his jib.

Game graph above courtesy FanGraphs.

Why Blame Anyone but Hamels?

Typically, sportswriters tend to save their hyperbolic assertions for after the post-season, on subjects like possible locales for free agents, or necessary trades. Marcus Hayes of the Philadelphia Daily News, however, isn’t waiting around with the local baseball team on a path to another World Series appearance. This is an actual quote from his article today.

What should be remembered from last night’s game is the 360 pounds of ineptness around second base.

First of all, if shortstop Jimmy Rollins cleanly fields the routine, two-hop doubleplay ball from Andre Ethier, Hamels and the Phillies escape the fifth inning with no blood loss.

Second, if Chase Utley cleanly transfers Rollins’ toss, the Phillies still have a chance at getting Ethier at first base. Unsurprisingly, that didn’t happen. Utley threw the ball into the dugout.

Ah, yes, those inept middle infielders of the Phillies, always letting us down. Let’s look at how bad Chase Utley is defensively. From FanGraphs (image edited for brevity):

Oh, Chase Utley is the best defensive second baseman? Drats!

Rollins, by all accounts, has regressed defensively. According to Bill James Online, the biggest problem for Rollins has been fielding balls to his left. Overall, he has saved 19 fewer runs in 2009 than in ’08. Still, per FanGraphs, Rollins has been a slightly above-average fielder. Slam him for his poor offensive season, sure, but one cannot make an argument that Rollins has been a poor defender compared to his peers.

What happened last night is that Rollins was a victim of bad timing. Throughout the season, fielders will lose line drives in the stadium lights or in the night sky, infielders will have to adjust for tricky hops on grounders, and sometimes the ball will get super-glued to the webbing of the glove. That was what Rollins had to deal with when Andre Ethier hit him that dead-to-rights double play ground ball. It wasn’t a deficiency on his part, just a fluke occurrence that happened to cost the team a run and an inning-ending out.

As the TBS broadcasting crew aptly pointed out last night was that because Rollins had to take the extra second to fish the ball out of his glove, the timing of Utley’s footwork was disrupted. As a result, he had to throw off of the “wrong” foot, couldn’t muster enough velocity, and couldn’t direct the ball as accurately as he would on the other foot. That is of no fault on Utley since it was a result of Rollins’ fluke mishap.

If you’re not convinced, find yourself a ball that resembles a baseball. If you’re right handed, try pushing off with your left foot and landing with your right foot, and try to hit a target about two feet by two feet within about a second and a half while moving and trying to avoid a 170-pound athlete hurtling his body in your direction. That Utley airmailed the ball into the visitor dugout is no surprise and certainly not a reason to brudge the Phillies’ middle infield.

All that error did was allow one run to score. The Dodgers still only had a runner on first base with two outs and Manny Ramirez at the plate. Ramirez was 0-for-2 against Hamels to that point. In the first at-bat, Hamels threw Ramirez six fastballs in an eight-pitch at-bat in the first inning. Ramirez struck out on a low-and-away change-up. He saw six more fastballs in a seven-pitch at-bat in the third inning.

Speaking about the error, Hamels said:

It takes a lot out of you. Those guys are very tough hitters. You get them in a position where you can seal the deal, and you don’t, it takes a lot of emotion to get through that. I really thought we had that.

Good pitchers do not dwell on the past. They do not let defensive miscues, questionable umpire rulings, or the other team’s fans get to them. Hamels was visibly flustered following the Rollins/Utley blunder. Instead of sticking with what worked against Ramirez, Hamels diverged from the game plan and threw Ramirez three straight change-ups.

Let that sink in: three straight change-ups. And without showing him a fastball in that at-bat.

A change-up is supposed to create the illusion of being a fastball due to the pitcher’s arm action, and as a result, the hitter will swing too early and either completely miss the pitch or make weak contact. What is a change-up “changing” if it doesn’t follow a fastball?

Unsurprisingly, Ramirez hit the third change-up into the left-center field stands for a two-run home run that shortened the Phillies’ lead to one run. That is Hamels’ fault and Hamels’ fault alone; not Utley’s and not Rollins’.

Hayes is missing the obvious culprit when he writes [sic], “A doubleplay, and Russell Martin doesn’t score from third to make it 5-2. A doubleplay, and Manny Ramirez doesn’t come to the plate at all that inning.” Hamels could have  stuck with what was working, but he didn’t. He let the defensive miscue affect him and alter the way he was approaching the Dodger hitters.

Despite becoming a father after his start in the NLDS, Hamels has displayed a lot of immaturity for a pitcher who is supposed to be the ace of the Phillies’ pitching staff. That couldn’t be any more clear than with his comment about Ramirez hitting that two-run home run after he got ahead 2-0 in the count:

Who looks for a changeup 2-0?

Hitters, Cole.

Hitters, when you throw them two straight change-ups and don’t establish your fastball.

Game One in the Bag

Three big hits, eight runs.

Throughout the NLDS, the Phillies showed they can score runs without the use of the home run. Tonight against the Dodgers, they scored 75% of their runs via the long ball.

So much for small ball. Just typical Phillies baseball. You hang ‘em, they bang ‘em, as they say.

The action commenced in the top of the fifth inning after Raul Ibanez singled and Pedro Feliz walked. Catcher Carlos Ruiz took the opportunity to get the Phillies’ train rolling. Clayton Kershaw showed Ruiz only fastballs, so it was no surprise that the fourth pitch of the at-bat was deposited in the stands in left field for a three-run home run, giving the Phillies their first and only lead of the game.

Later in the inning, Chase Utley drew a two-out walk with Jimmy Rollins on second, bringing up Ryan Howard for that despised lefty-on-lefty match-up. To put it in the words of Meech.one from The Fightins:

Take your lefty/righty splits and shove them […]

Howard did in fact shove them… in the form of a two-out, two-run double that increased the Phillies’ lead to 5-1.

As was pointed out in the series preview,

The good news is that while Dodgers starters strike out more hitters, they also walk more — 3.45 per nine innings to the Phillies’ 2.48. We learned in the NLDS in Colorado just how important working the count and drawing walks can be.

The Dodgers did strike out six Phillies, but they walked seven, and four of the seven Phillies who walked came around to score.

The walks were critical in the eighth inning when Joe Torre brought in southpaw George Sherill to face two of the Phillies’ left-handers, split up by Jayson Werth. Ryan Howard and Werth drew easy five-pitch walks, which allowed Raul Ibanez the comfort of hitting with runners on first and second and nobody out. Sherrill’s first offering to Ibanez was a slider that didn’t slide. Ibanez scalded that slider beyond the stands in right-center, padding the Phillies’ lead to 8-4.

The Ruiz three-run home run and the Ryan Howard two-run double in the fifth inning proved critical as the Dodgers recouped three of the runs in the bottom half of the inning. Similarly, after Ibanez hit the three-run round-tripper in the eighth, the Dodgers took back two more on account of some poor pitching from Ryan Madson.

The Blue Crew applied relentless pressure: only in the third and fourth innings did the Dodgers fail to have a batter reach base. Overall, they had 14 hits and drew 3 walks. While Kershaw’s poor start and Sherrill’s shoddy relieving are easy culprits for the loss, they should also blame their inability to capitalize on those rampant run-scoring opportunities the Phillies’ pitching staff provided. They were 3-for-14 (.214) with RISP and left ten runners on base.

Madson aside, the Phillies’ bullpen did what they needed to do to bring the Phillies closer to the 27th out. Chan Ho Park in particular came up aces when the Phillies were staring down Andre Ethier at second base with no outs and a meager 5-4 lead. Park got Manny Ramirez to ground out weakly to the left side, keeping Ethier at second base. Unproductive out! Matt Kemp struck out on a well-placed 96-MPH fastball that was over the plate, but out of the strike zone. Finally, Casey Blake feebly grounded out to Chase Utley to end the threat.

It’s the Phillies bullpen — of course there won’t just be one nerve-wracking inning. Brad Lidge jogged out to the mound in the bottom of the ninth with a two-run lead. That’s before a pitch was thrown. Phillies fans were already biting their fingernails.

To start the inning off on the wrong foot, Matt Kemp smoked a low two-strike slider into left field for a lead-off single. Here we go again! It’s June 5 all over again! Or June 6. [rimshot]

A ray of sunshine appeared, a heavenly choir sang, and the Phillies’ knight in shining armor strode to the plate in the person of Casey Blake. Among all the players who participated in Game One of the NLCS, Blake was the least productive going by Win Percentage Added. As bad as Kershaw was, the 21-year-old accrued only -.301 in WPA. Blake was -.354, and he would earn about half of that by grounding into the pitcher’s best friend: a rally-killing double play.

That made only two outs, though. Lidge had one more to go. Yet more opportunity for head- and heartache.

What is the most painstaking way to walk someone? That’s right: getting ahead 0-2 in the count, then losing him. Such was the case with James Loney, who drew a two-out walk after falling behind 0-2. That brought the tying run to the plate in the person of one Ronnie Belliard, or Manny’s Little Brother.

In a 1-1 count, Old Reliable, Lidge’s low-and-away slider, induced Belliard to pop up weaky to Jimmy Rollins.

Ballgame. Tally up the expletives, sighs, and fist pumps. Game One is in the bag.

According to the TBS broadcast, 14 of the last 17 teams who have won the first game of a League Championship Series have gone on to win the series and advance to the World Series. Huzzah!

Game graph above courtesy FanGraphs.

A Real Head-Scratcher

The Phillies set their NLCS roster and starting rotation, and just about everything is the same, except:

  • Chan Ho Park is in
  • Brett Myers is out
  • Eric Bruntlett is in
  • Kyle Kendrick is out

I can understand adding Chan Ho Park to the roster, and I can understand taking Kyle Kendrick off, but why — why?! — is Bruntlett on the roster and Myers is off?

Considering that Miguel Cairo is still on the roster — a spot he earned with his performance at the end of the regular season — there is no need for Eric Bruntlett, a lite-version of Cairo, if you will. The Dodgers are also lefty-heavy with Clayton Kershaw, Randy Wolf, Hong-Chih Kuo, and George Sherrill. Bruntlett has hit for a .648 OPS this season and .738 over his career.

John Mayberry, meanwhile, had an .831 OPS in limited playing time this season and .849 over his Minor League career. Mayberry has also contributed half as many runs on the basepaths as Bruntlett, who has had more than twice as many total base running opportunities, according to Baseball Prospectus. There is absolutely no reason why Eric Bruntlett should be on the NLCS roster.

Furthermore, the Dodgers’ offense is righty-heavy. Three of their top-four hitters, in terms of OPS, are right-handed. Why not use Cole Hamels, Pedro Martinez, Joe Blanton, and Cliff Lee in the starting rotation, and send J.A. Happ to the pen? As a result, the Phillies could leave Antonio Bastardo off and Brett Myers on the NLCS roster, leaving them still with two lefty-specialists, and five — instead of four — right-handers in the bullpen.

The current formation essentially means that the Phillies will use Happ as a starter and Joe Blanton will likely move to the bullpen. As for Chan Ho Park, the Phillies will be relying heavily on him despite not knowing, truly, what they will be able to get out of him.

At any rate, Myers being left off the NLCS roster likely closes out his career in Philadelphia. I can’t imagine he took the news well, and the Phillies wouldn’t leave him off the roster if they intended on bringing him back next season.

NLCS Pitcher Scouting Reports

Folks, your prize fighters for the NLCS have been announced! Lyoto Machida will take on Shogun Rua Cole Hamels will take on Clayton Kershaw in Game One, and Pedro Martinez will oppose Vicente Padilla in Game Two. The Dodgers have scheduled Hiroki Kuroda for Three and Randy Wolf for Four. The Phillies, meanwhile, will play it by ear.

On Tuesday, you met the Los Angeles Dodgers. Now it’s time to meet the Dodger pitchers specifically.

The following charts show how well each Phillie hits each type of pitch.

The metric of choice is run value per 100 pitches. Chase Utley, for instance, has a 1.54 run value for the fastball. That means, for every 100 fastballs Utley sees, he will produce 1.54 runs above average. He has seen 2,845 pitches and 60.6% of them have been fastballs, or a sum total of 1,724 fastballs. Divide 1,724 by 100, and divide 17.24 by his 1.54 run value, and we find that he has produced over 11 runs above average this season against the fastball. Approximately ten runs translates into a win, so Utley’s production against the fastball alone has added about one win for the Phillies.

Meet Clayton Kershaw:

Kershaw vs. the Phillies’ lineup:

  • Rollins: .697 OPS in 12 PA
  • Victorino: .250 OPS in 8 PA
  • Utley: 1.117 OPS (1 HR) in 12 PA
  • Howard: .583 OPS in 12 PA
  • Werth: .664 OPS in 11 PA
  • Ibanez: 1.300 OPS (2 doubles) in 6 PA
  • Feliz: 1.417 OPS in 6 PA
  • Ruiz: .500 OPS in 4 PA

Meet Vicente Padilla:

Padilla vs. the Phillies’ lineup:

  • Rollins: 1.000 OPS (1 triple) in 4 PA
  • Victorino: .000 OPS in 3 PA
  • Utley: 1.666 OPS (1 HR) in 3 PA
  • Howard: 2.667 OPS (1 HR) in 3 PA
  • Werth: 1.167 OPS in 3 PA
  • Ibanez: .930 OPS (2 HR) in 33 PA
  • Feliz: .444 OPS in 15 PA
  • Ruiz: No experience

Meet Hiroki Kuroda:

Kuroda vs. the Phillies’ lineup:

  • Rollins: .000 OPS in 6 PA
  • Victorino: .167 OPS in 6 PA
  • Utley: .873 OPS (1 double) in 9 PA
  • Howard: .000 OPS in 9 PA
  • Werth: .804 OPS (1 double) in 8 PA
  • Ibanez: .000 OPS in 2 PA
  • Feliz: 1.000 OPS in 2 PA
  • Ruiz: .500 OPS in 4 PA

Meet Randy Wolf:

Wolf against the Phillies’ lineup:

  • Rollins: 1.500 OPS (1 HR) in 6 PA
  • Victorino: 1.178 OPS (1 double, 1 HR) in 10 PA
  • Utley: .347 OPS in 9 PA
  • Howard: .333 (1 double) OPS in 9 PA
  • Werth: .777 OPS (1 HR) in 12 PA
  • Ibanez: .788 OPS (2 doubles) in 12 PA
  • Feliz: 1.140 OPS (3 HR) in 19 PA
  • Ruiz: 2.250 OPS (2 doubles, 1 HR) in 8 PA

The important match-ups will be the Dodger left-handed starters against the Phillies’ left-handed hitters.

  • Kershaw, in a small sample, has kept only Howard quiet; Utley and Ibanez have enjoyed success against him.
  • Wolf, in a small sample, has dominated Utley and Howard and kept Ibanez in the ballpark.

On a more depressing note, Kuroda has absolutely dominated the Phillies in his brief career. Utley and Feliz are the only two who have hit him. Including the playoffs, the two have hit for a respective OPS of 1.046 and 1.000. The next-highest is Werth at .633. Kuroda also has an impressive 3.5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio against the Phils.

Lastly, here’s each player’s key pitch that they need to have working in order to succeed against the Phillies:

  • Kershaw: The Phillies hit the curveball the worst among the four pitches he throws. They are also a below-average team against the change-up, but the risk-reward with the curveball is much better than with the change, which Kershaw does not utilize often.
  • Padilla: He throws his slider and curve about equally, but the Phillies hit the curveball much worse than the slider, particularly the middle of the lineup, which owns Padilla.
  • Kuroda: Kuroda has been Cy Young-esque against the Phillies, but he’ll still need to make sure his sinking fastball does a good job of darting downward. During the regular season, the Phillies grounded into the fewest double plays among National League teams. Kuroda inducing one or two could make or break Game Three. If I’m looking at betting odds, I’d take the under on Kuroda giving up 3 runs.
  • Wolf: The top of the Phillies’ lineup has seen the ball well against him, and neither Rollins nor Victorino has hit the curveball effectively.

BDD: Rookies of the Year

At Baseball Daily Digest, I make my selections for AL and NL Rookies of the Year.

Looking at WAR, we can narrow our field of eight down to six. The Phillies’ J.A. Happ and the Rockies’ Dexter Fowler are the only candidates with a WAR total under 2. Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates and Randy Wells of the Cubs are the only two with a WAR total above 3. The middle four — Tommy Hanson, Garrett Jones, Chris Coghlan, and Casey McGehee — are separated by fewer than three-tenths of a point of WAR, between 2.33 and 2.60 (accounting for base running).

Meet the Los Angeles Dodgers

Fond memories: NLDS Preview

I won’t bore you with a narrative as I did with the NLDS preview. Just the facts, ma’am.

This is a quick and easy look at how the teams compare with their key position players — excepting the catcher — in terms of hitting, fielding, and base running. The batting and fielding metrics are in terms of runs as per FanGraphs, and the running metric is EQBRR from Baseball Prospectus.

Here’s the same table, only with the advantages denoted by x’s for your convenience.

It’s very evenly matched in terms of individual match-ups, but on the whole, the Phillies are a significantly better hitting, fielding, and running team.

Catchers

If I had told you that, in 2009, Carlos Ruiz would have been superior to Russell Martin in terms of offensive production, you would have looked at me like I was from Neptune. You would have taken me in for psychiatric evaluation. And yet, Ruiz did out-perform Martin offensively, .337 to .307 in terms of wOBA.

The success has continued in the post-season. Ruiz went 3-for-9 with three singles, two walks, and three RBI in the NLDS against the Rockies. Martin, meanwhile, went 1-for-9 with a single, three walks, and only one RBI against the Cardinals.

Defensively, Martin appears to be slightly ahead of Ruiz in terms of throwing out base-stealers. Martin has thrown out just over 25% while Ruiz has nailed about 20% according to The Hardball Times. Bill James Online also gives Martin the edge in terms of range factor. Perhaps more importantly, however, Ruiz is the best among all qualified catchers in the Majors at blocking balls in the dirt, averaging about one passed ball or wild pitch every five games; Martin averages one PB or WP every two games and was the worst among qualified catchers in this department.

Starting Pitching

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Update: Clayton Kershaw will start Game One for the Dodgers.

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Generally speaking, the Dodgers have an advantage over the Phillies in this area. Wolf, Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda, and Vicente Padilla have all pitched well for the Dodgers this season. On the other hand, the Phillies can really only hang their hat on the pitching arm of Cliff Lee, who likely won’t start until Game Three. Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton have had Jekyll and Hyde seasons, J.A. Happ didn’t look sharp in his Game 3 start in Colorado, and no one knows what can be gotten out of Pedro Martinez.

Phillies starters had a 4.29 ERA and opponents hit for a .781 OPS during the regular season. Dodgers starters had an impressive 3.58 ERA and .684 opponent OPS. The good news is that while Dodgers starters strike out more hitters, they also walk more — 3.45 per nine innings to the Phillies’ 2.48. We learned in the NLDS in Colorado just how important working the count and drawing walks can be.

Bullpen

Despite Brad Lidge not blowing either of his post-season save opportunities, it’s a fairly easy call to give the Dodgers a vast edge in the bullpen area. It’s a far cry from last year, when both teams matched up rather evenly, and the Dodgers’ pen had to answer to Shane Victorino and Matt Stairs.

Here’s a comparison of the team’s relievers, using WXRL from Baseball Prospectus.

Some of the names may change as teams can change their rosters between the NLDS and NLCS. For instance, Antonio Bastardo may be left off in favor of Chan Ho Park, if he is healthy enough.

At any rate, the statistics bear out what we already knew: the Dodgers have a good bullpen. To make things worse, check out their lefty specialists:

  • George Sherrill: LH batters have a .342 OPS
  • Hong-Chih Kuo: .524 OPS

Fortunately, Jayson Werth has been hitting well, so Charlie Manuel will have no issue using him to split up Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez in the lineup.

Speaking of splits…

Splits

Unfortunately for the Phillies, the Dodgers handle left-handed pitchers well. During the regular season, they hit for a .786 OPS against left-handers as opposed to .748 against right-handers. The Phillies are equal opportunists, with a much more even split of .787 against lefties and .779 against righties. Specifically:

  • Dodgers LH batters vs. LH pitchers: .664 OPS
  • Dodgers LH batters vs. RH pitchers: .849
  • Dodgers RH batters vs. RH pitchers: .742
  • Dodgers RH batters vs. LH pitchers: .755
  • Phillies LH batters vs. LH pitchers: .793 OPS
  • Phillies LH batters vs. RH pitchers: .783
  • Phillies RH batters vs. RH pitchers: .717
  • Phillies RH batters vs. LH pitchers: .814

Manny Ramirez, Ronnie Belliard, Casey Blake, and Matt Kemp all have a .780 OPS or better against lefties. Belliard’s production, of course, is in a small sample, but it holds up as his career OPS against LHP is 100 points higher than against RHP.

The Rundown

  • Offense: Advantage Phillies
  • Fielding: Advantage Phillies
  • Base running: Advantage Phillies
  • Starting pitching: Advantage Dodgers
  • Relief pitching: Advantage Dodgers

Once we know who will definitely start, we’ll go over some “scouting reports”. For now, hopefully you have a better idea as to where the teams stand heading into the NLCS.