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Phillies-Reds NLDS Preview: Starting Eight

Posted By Bill Baer On October 4, 2010 @ 7:08 am In 2010 Playoffs,MLB,Philadelphia Phillies,Sabermetrics,Series Preview | 73 Comments

It took all 162 games of the regular season, but the Phillies finally found their opponent for the National League Division Series: the Cincinnati Reds. They led the NL in offense, but finished last among the four playoff contestants in their runs-allowed average. Their pitching staff isn’t as deep as the Phillies’ but is nonetheless formidable, thanks in part to the third-best defense as rated by UZR. Still, the Reds are going to try to win the series by mashing the baseball. First baseman Joey Votto led the league in wOBA and Scott Rolen had the second-highest wOBA among third basemen.

How do the Reds compare to the Phillies? Let’s dig into the stats.

Catcher

Assuming Carlos Ruiz is healthy (he was hit by a pitch in yesterday afternoon’s regular season finale), he should catch every game of the playoffs. He had an exceptional offensive year, finishing with a near-.400 on-base percentage with decent power (.447 SLG). Ruiz is a very intelligent hitter, very aware of the ins and outs of hitting eighth in the batting order — he is content to take those unintentional-intentional walks. Aside from his great success at the plate in 2010, Ruiz is known for two other items: blocking pitches in the dirt and coming up huge in October (or, as it is more affectionately called in Philadelphia, Choochtober).

In mid-June, I analyzed Ruiz’s ability to prevent and punish his opponents’ running game, concluding that he is about average in that regard. However, Dan Turkenkopf of Beyond the Box Score found that Ruiz is among the best in the game at blocking pitches in the dirt. With pitchers like Jose Contreras (with the tumbling splitter) and Brad Lidge (slider), this is a critical skill necessary for survival late in games. Additionally, Ruiz is anecdotally highly regarded for his ability to call games and handle a pitching staff. Most pitchers who have passed through Philadelphia during Ruiz’s tenure have had nothing but great things to say about him.

The Reds have two catchers, Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hanigan, that split time about 60/40 (as opposed to the 75/25 split between Ruiz and Brian Schneider). Hernandez and Hanigan are about equal with the bat, but Hanigan possesses much better plate discipline as he walks about five percent more often. Hanigan’s offensive capabilities are similar to Ruiz: high batting average, good on-base skills, occasional power. Hanigan’s platoon split is much wider than Hernandez’s: 182 points of OPS as opposed to 30 in favor of left-handed pitching.

As I don’t follow the Reds as closely as the Phillies, I can’t speak to any anecdotal evidence that Hernandez and Hanigan are comparable to Ruiz in terms of calling a game and handling a pitching staff. Hopefully some Reds fans and bloggers can stop by and provide some analysis there. But overall, I think the catchers are a push — neither side has a clear advantage here.

First Base

It’s the 2006 NL MVP against, possibly, the 2010 NL MVP.

Howard’s 2010 is a disappointment. Although he missed two weeks, his numbers would still be down nonetheless. His ISO declined 60 points from last season, a sign Phillies fans do not want to see. Late in games, opposing managers bring in left-handed relievers to throw him breaking pitches low and away and fastballs up. Howard has given in much more than he had in previous years — his swing rate at pitches outside the zone was six percent higher than his career average and his swing rate at pitches inside the zone was seven percent lower than his career average. Howard isn’t garbage against lefties but there is a definitive blueprint to neutralize him. Pitchers that adhere to that blueprint usually have success.

Joey Votto, meanwhile, appears to have no weakness. He hits left-handers and he hits right-handers. He hits four-seamers, sinkers, cutters, sliders, curves, change-ups, and splitters. He hits at home and he hits on the road. He hits early in games and he hits late in games.

He does appear to have one very minor flaw, though: he hits worse against ground ball pitchers. Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt both induce an above-average amount of ground balls: 51 and 49.5 percent, respectively. Additionally, Ryan Madson can be found at 50.5 percent and J.C. Romero — who should be called upon for this match-up several times — is over 60 percent.

Aside from having a lethal bat, Votto is an adequate fielder, receiving good marks from UZR. Howard, on the other hand, is graded as a sub-par fielder. However, the difference of about 7 UZR/150 between the two over their careers could be negligible given the uncertainty around the data.

The advantage here clearly goes to the Reds.

Second Base

Chase Utley is clearly the best all-around second baseman in baseball. Over the last three years, he leads in both wOBA (.392, 19 points higher than the runner-up Dustin Pedroia) and UZR/150 (14.9, three points higher than runner-up Mark Ellis). In the same period of time, Brandon Phillips has a .333 wOBA and 8.8 UZR/150.

Utley is also a better base-stealer than Phillips. In 508 PA, Utley stole 13 bases in 15 attempts (87 percent). Phillips stole 16 in 28 attempts (57 percent). However, Phillips is better at advancing on the bases on balls put in play as shown by the metrics in the table below.

Base Advancement, via Baseball Prospectus
GAR SBR AAR HAR OAR BRR
Chase Utley -0.3 0.9 0.0 1.1 -0.5 1.2
Brandon Phillips 1.5 -2.2 1.3 1.8 0.4 2.8
  • GAR: Ground Advancement Runs
  • SBR: Stolen Base Runs
  • AAR: Air Advancement Runs
  • HAR: Hit Advancement Runs
  • OAR: Other Advancement Runs
  • BRR: Base Running Runs (e.g. total)

As with first base, there is no debate which team has the advantage here, only this time the Phillies have the upper hand.

Third Base

Ah, finally a position with a closer race. Unfortunately, Placido Polanco is dealing with an elbow that will require surgery once the season is complete. Although he finished the season hitting .316 in the last ten games, he had only hit .235 since August 18. At one point he was a legitimate contender for the NL batting title, but his slump — likely due to his elbow — put the kibosh on that. Overall, he hits around the league average without much power.

Once believed to be the biggest question mark for the Phillies going into 2010, Polanco’s defense has surprised many. Critics, including myself, were unsure if he possessed the arm strength to succeed at the hot corner. He quickly squelched any concern in that area as his 10.6 UZR/150 indicates. (Insert another caveat about UZR’s unreliability within just one season.) He did receive a poor grade in terms of range, which is not surprising.

Scott Rolen, like Polanco, has had to deal with some aches and pains throughout the year. More recently, it’s been an amalgamation of issues but he should be healthy enough to contribute during the post-season. Along with beating Polly’s UZR/150 score (with much better range), Rolen finished with the second-best wOBA (.369) among NL third basemen, more than 40 points higher than Polanco.

Neither are base-running threats although Polanco is a perfect 5-for-5 on the year while Rolen is 1-for-3. The Reds get the advantage here — Rolen is simply better on all counts.

Shortstop

Although Jimmy Rollins spent half the season dealing with two calf strains and a thigh strain, his numbers had been in decline anyway. From 2004-08, his wOBA fell between .341 and .378. The last two years, it’s been .316 and .318 respectively. His power is way down this year — his .133 ISO is his lowest since 2003. He still managed to be efficient on the bases, stealing 17 bases in 18 attempts (94 percent). In 21 games between July 17 and August 20, he stole 12 bases in as many attempts. Since then, he’s attempted only three steals in 25 games. Rollins still received a good grade from UZR on all counts except avoiding errors — in nearly half the innings, he matched his errors total from last year with six.

The Reds have Orlando Cabrera, who is a rich man’s Wilson Valdez. In fact, Valdez put up a slightly better OPS this season and defended just as well. Cabrera is the one weak spot in the Reds’ lineup among the eight position players.

A healthy Rollins gives the Phillies a legitimate advantage here. Rollins at around 75% gives them a slight advantage.

Left Field

Rumors of Raul Ibanez‘s demise may have been greatly exaggerated. Although he finished with his worst offensive showing since 2003, he wasn’t all that far away from his production in recent years. He lost a bit of power but has surged recently, hitting for a 1.051 OPS since September 6. With a platoon split of nearly 100 points of OPS in 2010, Dusty Baker may be more willing to leave Arthur Rhodes in to face Ibanez after dealing with Utley and Howard, meaning that Jayson Werth may get a few extra at-bats against southpaws. Defensively, Ibanez lacks range and has a mediocre arm, which comes as no surprise to Phillies fans.

Jonny Gomes is similar to Ibanez in a lot of ways. He is not as good in terms of plate discipline, but has a similar offensive output from the right side. Like Ibanez, he has a deep platoon split (nearly 140 points of OPS) with a disadvantage against right-handers. With only two left-handed hitters in the starting lineup, the Reds will likely have Rolen and Gomes hitting back-to-back. This becomes a very important part of the batting order for Jose Contreras and Ryan Madson.

Gomes is also terrible in the field, even worse than Ibanez. His career UZR/150 at any outfield position is -18. Slight advantage to the Phillies, more if they pepper left field with batted balls.

Center Field

Shane Victorino and Drew Stubbs is about as close a battle between two players that you can get. They are separated by just one one-thousandth of a point in wOBA with nearly equivalent OBP and SLG. Victorino stole 34 bases in 39 attempts (87 percent) while Stubbs stole 29 in 35 attempts (83 percent). Even defensively, they are very similar.

Push.

Right Field

Jayson Werth, a soon-to-be free agent, has been the Phillies’ most potent offensive weapon throughout the 2010 season. He finished with the sixth-best wOBA in the National League, trailing fifth-place Matt Holliday .398 to .396. Werth has exceptional plate discipline, consistently working deep counts. In each of the past two seasons, he led the NL in pitches per plate appearance with 4.5 in ’09 and 4.3 in ’10.

Throughout the season, though, Werth was dogged by criticism of his failure with runners in scoring position — particularly with two outs. Although he had better production in recent weeks in those situations, he still finished the season with lackluster numbers. Fortunately though, those numbers come in small sample sizes and are not indicative of his skill.

Surprisingly, Werth has a reverse platoon split —  he hit better against right-handers than left-handers in 2010: .932 to .878 in terms of OPS. He’s also a base running threat, stealing 53 bases in 60 attempts (88 percent) since the start of the 2008 season.

Defensively, Werth hasn’t graded as well as he did last year but he still has one of the best outfield arms in baseball. While that may not make up for his odd routes to fly balls, it is definitely a factor that will stick in the mind of the Reds’ coaching staff and the base runners.

On the other side, the Reds have their own offensive threat in right field in Jay Bruce. He is no Werth but his .360 wOBA is certainly respectable. Like Werth, Bruce has a reverse platoon split of about 80 points in OPS. It’s a drastic improvement from 2009 when he had a .180 OPS platoon split favoring right-handers. Defensively, Bruce is regarded highly with an 11.4 UZR/150 in nearly 2,600 career defensive innings in right field.

Slight edge goes to the Phillies in right field.

Summary

  • Catcher: Push
  • First base: Reds
  • Second base: Phillies
  • Third base: Reds
  • Shortstop: Phillies
  • Left field: Phillies
  • Center field: Push
  • Right field: Phillies

Stay tuned for more insight into the series as I’ll discuss the teams’ pitching. On Wednesday, I’ll be swapping Q&A with fellow ESPN SweetSpot blogger Chad Dotson of Red Leg Nation.


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