Phillies-Reds NLDS Preview: Starting Rotations

Not surprisingly, the starting rotation is regarded as the Phillies’ big advantage heading into the playoffs. After all, Roy Halladay led all of Major League Baseball in SIERA at 2.93 while Hamels finished tenth (3.19) and Oswalt finished 14th (3.34). Meanwhile, the Reds’ Game One starter will be Edinson Volquez who is still trying to return to form after Tommy John surgery caused him to miss the first half of the regular season. In 62 and two-thirds innings, his SIERA was 3.68. The Reds will send Bronson Arroyo (4.66) to the bump in Game Two and Johnny Cueto (4.14) in Game Three.

Let’s delve a little deeper and look at the six starters we will see in the best-of-five National League Division Series.

Roy Halladay

You won’t get much of an argument if you claim that Roy Halladay is the best pitcher in baseball right now. He’s a favorite to take home the National League Cy Young award — it would be the second of his great career — and should be in the discussion for the NL Most Valuable Player award as well.

What does Halladay do that leads to all that success? It’s simple, really. He has an above-average strikeout rate (7.9 K/9). He walks very few hitters (1.1 BB/9). He induces a lot of ground balls (51 percent). He handles both right-handed and left-handed hitters. He avoids three-ball counts (13 percent). When he falls behind in the count, he bounces back and gets outs anyway (65 percent). He throws a lot of strikes — in 92 percent of plate appearances this season, at least one of his first two pitches were strikes.

The Reds will be praying that the home plate umpire in Game One has a postage stamp strike zone.

Doc will face a right-handed-heavy Cincinnati lineup, which bodes well as his best pitch is a sinker that runs in on right-handers. He held right-handers to a .610 OPS, more than 70 points lower than their left-handed counterparts. But wait, there’s more! Joey Votto struggles (relatively speaking, of course) against ground ball pitchers. So does Jay Bruce. Four Reds ranked in the top-26 in the NL in fly ball percentage: Jonny Gomes (50 percent), Bruce (44 percent), Scott Rolen (44 percent), and Drew Stubbs (41 percent).

Roy Oswalt

Like Halladay, Oswalt strikes out a lot of hitters (8.2 K/9, a career-high) and walks few (2.3 BB/9).  He differs from Halladay in that he relies more on a straight four-seam fastball and thus does not induce quite as many ground balls. Oswalt also has more of a traditional arsenal of pitches: four-seam fastball, change-up (with about a 10 MPH differential), slider, and curve. The problem is that his off-speed pitches don’t induce many swings-and-misses — this year, the whiff percentage is at 26 percent compared to the MLB average 30 percent. Oswalt will generate the majority of his whiffs on fastballs. And like Halladay, Oswalt is a strike thrower, going into a three-ball count in only 15 percent of plate appearances.

Oswalt is an ace on a majority of MLB teams. That he’s the #2 in Philly speaks volumes to how good the starting pitching is.

Cole Hamels

Hamels rebounded from a rough 2009 to have the best season of his Major League career. His strikeout rate skyrocketed, averaging a strikeout per inning. His walk rate also went up (2.6 BB/9) but it is still well below the MLB average (3.3 BB/9). Why the jump? Cole introduced a cut fastball to his repertoire, reducing the use of his other pitches  — most importantly his change-up. Last year, change-ups represented 30 percent of his total pitches; this year, just 23 percent. While his cutter leaves a lot to be desired (especially against right-handers), it is another pitch for opposing hitters to keep in mind, making him noticeably tougher to gauge.

Hamels is the most fly ball-prone of the Phillies’ three aces, making him a good match for the Reds’ fly ball-prone, right-handed-heavy lineup. Since Hamels will pitch in Game Three, he’ll be in Cincinnati at Great American Ballpark. Needless to say, the park will not be aiding him. GAB has a park factor of 133 for right-handed hitters according to StatCorner.

Of the match-ups in this series, it appears that Game Three is the one the Phillies are most likely to lose.

Now, let’s take a look at the Reds’ hurlers.

Edinson Volquez

Volquez became a household name in 2008 when he finished with a 3.21 ERA and averaged 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings. The Reds believed he’d become a reliable member of the starting rotation for years to come, but injuries sidelined him early last season and he didn’t return until mid-July this year. He seems to have his stuff back but he still lacks command as his walk rate is up over five per nine innings. A patient team like the Phillies (fourth-best walk rate in the NL) will be able to work the count against Volquez and punish him for his inability to consistently find the strike zone.

Like Hamels, Volquez used to rely on a change-up but has used it less in favor of a new pitch — in this case, a curve. Volquez still uses the change-up 23 percent of the time and it has nearly 12 MPH of separation from his fastball, so the Phillies have their work cut out for them in this regard. He has also done well to induce ground balls — 54 percent in a small sample of innings.

Right now, Volquez is in the same class as pitchers like Jhoulys Chacin, Bud Norris, and Felipe Paulino. They can all miss bats with relative ease, but lack the control to become anything more than a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher.

Bronson Arroyo

Arroyo is one of those pitchers who seems to consistently beat the ERA retrodictors. Since 2004, Arroyo has underperformed his xFIP just once: in 2008, when his 4.77 ERA was well above his 4.12 xFIP. For most of those years, he had decent strikeout rates combined with good control, but in recent years he has missed fewer and fewer bats. His 5.1 K/9 this year is even with that of “Grandpa” Jamie Moyer! Unfortunately for opposing hitters, the drop in strikeouts didn’t lead to more failure as Arroyo’s BABIP in ’09 and ’10 was .270 and .246 respectively.

Arroyo’s calling card is his avoidance of the fastball — it made up only 39.5 percent of his pitches during the regular season. As he is not exactly a ground ball machine, one would think he would be a candidate for allowing home runs, but he only allowed more than one home run in six of his 33 starts. Moreover, Arroyo is a workhorse, pitching into the seventh in 20 of those 33 starts.

A pitcher who strikes out hitters as infrequently as Jamie Moyer shouldn’t finish a season with a 3.88 ERA, but Arroyo did. The charade can’t last forever, however. Arroyo has a chasm in his performance between right-handed and left-handed hitters: 210 points of OPS to be exact. The Phillies’ lefty-heavy lineup will attempt to fix what’s wrong by making Arroyo’s results match his performance.

Johnny Cueto

Although his ERA in 2008 approached 5.00, Reds fans saw a lot to like about Cueto in his rookie season. He averaged over eight strikeouts per nine and his walk rate hovered around the league average. Since then, though, Cueto has been unable to fan batters at the same rate, failing to hit the 7.0 K/9 threshold in each of the past two seasons. With a 93 MPH fastball and an 83 MPH change-up, it seems like strikeouts could come in bunches for the young right-hander. Perhaps he is too reliant on his slider, as it accounts for over one-fourth of his pitches.

Nonetheless, Cueto has been an average pitcher at best. In Game Three, Cueto will be praying to the BABIP gods to help deliver a gem.

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  1. Dave

    October 05, 2010 07:49 AM

    Sure beats the days when Kyle Kendrick was starting Game 2 of the NLDS, huh Bill?

  2. Kel

    October 05, 2010 09:42 AM

    Good stuff Bill. One tiny typo: third paragraph of the Cole section says “Of the match-ups in this serious”

  3. bill

    October 05, 2010 12:07 PM

    Hamels also threw on average about 2 MPH faster on his fastball and change-up this year, which certainly helps. We saw him hit 95 a few times this year which I never saw before.

  4. Dan

    October 05, 2010 01:39 PM

    I love Hamels, but you’re right that he’s the likely candidate to lose in a game this series. Still, he surprised even those Sabremetric fanatics with his performance this year (this year isn’t a bounce-back, it’s a statement), so I won’t be surprised to see him baffle hitters in Cincinnati.

  5. Jason

    October 05, 2010 02:56 PM

    Hamels has done better than Oswalt against the Reds this year. Remember the Reds have faced Oswalt many times in his career. This year they seem to have figured him out. Reds also scored 4 runs in one game on Halladay, in Cincinnati this year. Remember, you will likely see 5+ pitchers per game from Cincinnati, many you have never seen before.

  6. Dan

    October 05, 2010 03:16 PM

    Halladay also shut the Reds down in 9 innings at CBP, and Oswalt has been reinvigorated since joining the Phils. Small sample sizes, Jason.

    Oswalt over his career has dominated the Reds, and Halladay has just plain dominated. I’ll look at those stats rather than 1 or 2 starts.

  7. Chris G

    October 05, 2010 03:24 PM

    From a Reds perspective:

    As Jason notes, the Reds seem to have FINALLY figured Oswalt out. He flat owned them for 8 years, but in their last four meetings (since May ’09), he’s 0-4 with a 6.65 ERA, 30 H, 8 BB, 5 HR in 23 IP.

    I’d like to think GABP and Hamels’ flyball tendencies would be a bad match, but the truth is, he strikes everyone out when he faces the Reds. Career, he’s 6-0, with a 1.07 ERA and 42K in 50 IP. He OWNS the Reds.
    Maybe someday they figure out his change, or maybe Rolen squares up a cutter, but I’m not optimistic.

    Last thing: I can’t really agree with the Volquez section. At all. As best I can tell, it’s all premised on his 12-start, 62 IP 2010. What’s not mentioned is that he was coming off Tommy John surgery.

    I’d argue that his 2010 total numbers are less than meaningless – they’re deceptive. It’s hard to say that he’s back with certainty, but you can learn a lot more from looking at his game logs than his overall stats: He had one decent start in his debut, then lost his command entirely for five weeks (7 starts, 25 BB, 27 K in 29 IP. 7.14 ERA).

    With five other starters pitching well, the Reds sent him down to triple A to work on his release point. In three starts (23 IP) there, he cut the walks to 8, and struck out 21 and only allowed 5 hits.

    Called back up to the Reds in September, and was lights out in four starts: 27.2 IP, 1.95 ERA, 17 H, 8 BB, 31 K. Essentially, he turned opponents into Juan Castro: .183/.248/.194 (441 OPS).

    The sample sizes are tiny, to be sure. My point isn’t that Volquez *will* be equal to Halladay Wednesday night. It’s just that the 2010 numbers aren’t useful, and comparing him to Bud Norris is ridiculous.

  8. Chris G

    October 05, 2010 03:26 PM

    Isn’t “Oswalt has been reinvigorated since joining the Phils” the very definition of small sample size?

  9. Dan

    October 05, 2010 03:31 PM

    @Chris G

    Fair enough, but you have to imagine going from an annual losing team to a contender probably helped him mentally.

    Also, even if you throw out my argument due to small sample size, their argument must be thrown out as well. Again, I’ll stick to career stats instead of a handful of games.

  10. Jason

    October 05, 2010 03:42 PM

    Dan I’m trying to add something to the conversation. Of course you can restrict yourself to the headlines. I don’t dispute that Philly has 3 dominant starting pitchers. I’m telling you things you didn’t already know, and I’m not asking you to throw anything out. BTW, during those 8 years of Oswalt dominance over the Reds, the Reds were a bad team and the Astros were a good team.

  11. Scott G

    October 05, 2010 03:42 PM


    Votto’s career numbers show that he’s near best vs. GB pitchers which makes sense. GB pitchers tend to fair betters against GB hitters and FB pitchers tend to do better against FB hitters (i.e. the pitcher controls the hitter when their tendencies are similar).

  12. Dan

    October 05, 2010 04:15 PM

    Jason, I don’t mind you adding to the conversation at all. I’m about to head to class so I can’t personally do it, but it may be better to pull up the Reds’ individual player stats against Oswalt for their careers. It would make a more convincing argument.

  13. Josh

    October 05, 2010 05:49 PM

    Fatalotti, that was quite the dissertation on what “Reds fans should know.” I cannot for the life of me believe that I’m sticking up for the opponent against my own Phils, but living in SW Ohio 2/3 of the year has given me ample time to see this team in action. 17-33 obviously looks bad on paper, but it’s not “dismal” for those who have seen it — because not many of those games were huge losses. Off the top of my head, I attended a 1-run loss to Atlanta, a 1-run loss to San Francisco, a 1-run loss to San Diego, and an extra-innings loss to the Phils in Cincinnati. I know there are plenty more because my co-worker schooled me on it already.

    You talk about Oswalt giving up 3 runs in 7 innings vs. the Reds this year and saying “that’s hardly a bad start.” You’re right, it’s not, when you look deeper into the numbers. Look deeper into the Reds vs “good teams” and often you’ll find the same thing. And, okay, they played a weak schedule. But this isn’t college basketball. They didn’t line up cupcakes to stomp and then get picked for the dance. The Reds took care of business against teams that suck. Maybe if the Cardinals, with their non-“measly” record against the top, could actually beat the Cubs and Pirates they’d be in the postseason instead. But they didn’t. This is a team that beat us 2 of 3 in Cincinnati (and the loss in extras) and we swept in 4 close games at CBP. I don’t care who wasn’t playing well/hurt for us then, the Reds deserve some respect.

    Yes, I think the Phillies will roll — but because they are SO good, and firing on all cylinders right now in addition to having H20. Not because the Reds are as terrible as you’re making them out to be.

  14. Jason

    October 05, 2010 06:43 PM

    Yes Phills will probably roll, but Fatalotti your sober language conceals the same intoxicating blanket statements as the rabid masses. By far the worst division in baseball? How about the AL west? Maaaybe the worst, but BY FAR? The AL East and the NL West are the only divisions that are BY FAR tougher than the NL Central. The interleague matchups should have been easy, but Reds got swept by basement Mariners and also KC. You specifically said that they benefitted from this easy interleague matchup and that is flat out wrong. .. The Pirates and Cubs WERE terrible teams this year, but the Astros and the Brewers, whome the Reds totally dominated were not terrible teams. Trust me, it is not because of the Cardinals that those teams sunk in the standings. If you take away the Reds’ series’ from the Brewers’ record, they are above .500. Take away the catastrophic first 30 days of the Astros season and they are .500. And of course, during that .500 time period they are above .500, discounting series against the Reds.

    Don’t worry though, Reds fans ARE worried about the record against winning teams. Also, I agree about Oswalt’s abilities, but I only have to dispute his career numbers against the Reds as the most significant stat. 2009 plus 2010 would be the ONLY relevant cumulative stat, no more than 3 2010 Reds hitters were on the 2008 roster for significant time. The bulk of Oswalt’s dominance over the Reds (beginning 2001) was dominance over now former Reds.

  15. Jason

    October 05, 2010 06:51 PM

    Ranking the Reds last among the playoff teams is not outrageous to me, although I think they are better than Texas and equal to SF and Atlanta. Also I agree with the consensus that the Phillies are easily the best in the NL. That being said though, I do believe the Reds match up better against Philly than does any other NL team. I also like their chances against Philly IN Philly than I do their chances against SF in SF, which was the 2nd most likely NLDS outcome for them.

  16. Josh

    October 05, 2010 07:09 PM

    You’re right — they had a terrible Sept. stretch against SFG-STL-COL. But again, it helps to know a little more. Much like the Phils in the middle of the season, this is when the Reds started getting hit with injuries. Cabrera was on the DL. Phillips was out forever after getting drilled on the hand, spent the whole month sucking, and from what I’ve heard is still gimpy. The papers around Cincy were ripping Dusty to pieces because he was only operating with three healthy outfielders (Bruce, Nix, Edmonds were all hurt) and zero on the bench. Our old pal Miggy Cairo was the emergency backup outfielder (!!) Plus, jesus, did you see Colorado’s early September? I started feeling bad for all the teams they were playing.

    Excuses for that stretch aside, I can’t disagree that the Reds haven’t been able to beat good teams this year. They record shows they haven’t. But it doesn’t mean they haven’t played well against them. You can play well and lose, never more illustrated than the series against us before the ASB.

    But the thing they can’t do well is play in high-pressure scenarios. What I’ve noticed about the Reds is what they lack in elite pitching they make up for with fundamentals and defense. But that’s dangerous because it’s the first thing that goes out the window in a big game. Like the brawl series against the Cardinals in August. As a baseball fan interested in a big series, I went to all 3 games. It was a constant barrage of Reds errors, judgment lapses, dumb things that team hadn’t suffered from all year. Make the game important and suddenly all those young guys are pressing and wigging out.

    Fortunately for us, it’ll probably go that way for them in the NLDS, too. So even if Votto gets his 3 for 4, it won’t matter because it won’t be a game anymore.

    …Although I wouldn’t mind ONE Phils loss since I have tickets to game 4 😉

  17. Jason

    October 05, 2010 07:38 PM

    Fatalotti your persistence resembles abuse. Your numbers echo mine AND reinforce my main point, which is that it is not dramatic data. Like I said AL East and NL West are significantly more competetive than NL Central and AL West is also a bad division. The cumulative avg records by division may give the NL East slight advantage over NL West, but the NL West had 3 contending teams, with schedules obviously weighted against eachother. LIKE I ALSO SAID, the Reds may be worst post season team and Central may be worst division, but not “by far” as you for some reason proclaim and invest in.

  18. Jason

    October 05, 2010 07:41 PM

    I don’t think they’ll get it done this year either. Though they may have a bright future, I do think that 2010 is as good a chance as they can reasonably expect ever. The Cubs have lots of money to spend, the Cards are always tough, and the Brewers and Astros stand very good chances of improving quickly.

  19. Jason

    October 05, 2010 07:47 PM

    Reds should contend for at least a couple years, but I don’t expect them to win their division so handily ever again.

  20. Jason

    October 05, 2010 07:54 PM

    I wouldn’t argue that any losing teams in the Central are better than Texas. ??? .. I wouldn’t argue that Pittsburg is better than anybody. Houston and Milwaukee are both better than LA and (Seattle) and close to Oakland. Oh yeah, and there is a team in our division called the Cardinals. Better than any team in AL West.

  21. Jason

    October 05, 2010 08:01 PM

    I’m not protesting that you’ve wronged me when I call it abuse, I just mean to say it is an obvious sleight against my team, which is somewhat off topic in this forum and that blowing off Central divisions is so routine on the east coast (therefore the nat’l media), that it does not warrant the research you have invested to prove me slightly wrong. “Slightly wrong” considering I conceded the possability of us being the worst and the certainty of us being among the worst in my first reply. Why go to such mundane lengths to make absolutely certain I understand that the Reds are not dominant. It was an uncontroversial statement that you made in the first place and I gave you reasonable cause to temper it. That’s it. So chill.

  22. jauer

    October 05, 2010 08:30 PM

    The Houston Astros are better than the Angels? Thats just delusional.

  23. Jason

    October 05, 2010 08:42 PM

    We will like to lose one of these struggling teams in our division and get everybody a 5 team division, so that we can make a direct comparison. .. Is favoring the Astros over LA more contraversial than favoring over Oakland? Houston had an absurd handicap at the beginning of the year. If they win this division next year I’m sure no one will be on this board checking what we thought about it. The Astros actually improved sans Oswalt.

  24. Dave

    October 05, 2010 09:09 PM

    The Reds will be starting Laynce Nix in LF against Oswalt. He can hit right-handed fireballers quite well and NOTHING ELSE. He’s 9-17 career against Oswalt, including going 3-3 with 2 doubles and 2 BBs this year.

  25. Dave

    October 05, 2010 09:16 PM

    Remember, the Reds lead the NL in BA, OBP, R, and HR and will be going up against 3 elite pitchers. The Reds lead the NL in times being shut out and also lead the NL in the above categories? Anyone who’s watched Reds games have seen that the offense is literally unstoppable in some games and pathetic in others.

    The Reds extremely streaky offense will determine who advances.

  26. Scott G

    October 05, 2010 10:06 PM

    I just don’t see how the Phillies even stand a chance based on some of these incredible stats put up by the Reds’ players.

  27. Jason

    October 05, 2010 10:53 PM

    I’m going to have to leave you with the last word on that debate Fatalotti. I already said IN MY FIRST REPLY that you MAY be right and that you were definitely ALMOST right. I also appear to be the only person that even slightly disagrees with you. If that is not a situation that you can be satisfied with, you are really not my kind of person and I would appreciate if you stop addressing public posts to me.

  28. jauer

    October 05, 2010 11:03 PM

    Yep, Laynce Nix can hit those fireballers alright. The .557 career OPS against power pitchers is just deadly.

  29. Jason

    October 06, 2010 12:42 AM

    “Something about those middle American ballclubs”. Nice.

  30. Dave

    October 06, 2010 10:27 AM


    You all well know that Dusty Baker’s a “feel” manager not a stats-based one. He knows that Laynce Nix has done very well against Oswalt in his career, and he will probably continue to. That’s it. Which is why Nix won’t start against Halladay even though he’s a power pitcher. Nix is 9-17 with 6 XBH in his career against Oswalt.

  31. Scott G

    October 06, 2010 02:20 PM

    Right now I feel like a million bucks *slowly turns into a million bucks* (because, how someone feels really, really matters).

    Not only will he not probably continue to hit Oswalt at over a .500 clip, but he will almost CERTAINLY not. The chances of that happening are probably under 1%. That 1% is just how i FEEL, but it’s probably close.

    I just flipped a coin 17 times, and got heads 14 times. FLIPPING A COIN IS NOT TRUELY FAIR!!!!!!

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