Phillies-Giants NLCS Preview: Starting Eight

The Phillies are four wins away from a third consecutive World Series appearance. If that happens, they would be the the first National League representative to accomplish that feat since the 1942-44 St. Louis Cardinals. While the San Francisco Giants played four tough games with the Atlanta Braves, the Phillies made quick work of the Cincinnati Reds, riding the arms of Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels in the best-of-five. How do the Giants and Phillies compare? We’ll look at the starting eight in this preview.

Rather than repeat all of the Phillies-related analysis, I’ll just direct you to what was written in this NLDS preview. The analysis here is strictly Giants-related, but at the end I’ll do a position-by-position comparison.

Catcher

Buster Posey is neck-and-neck with Jason Heyward in the NL Rookie of the Year award race. He quickly became one of baseball’s premier catchers, entering into the same stratosphere as Joe Mauer and Brian McCann. His .368 wOBA ranked third in the Majors, just a couple points ahead of Carlos Ruiz. Like Ruiz, Posey has been praised for his intangibles — his ability to handle a pitching staff, call a game, and remain calm under pressure for example. Posey has held the running game in check as well, throwing out 37 percent of base-stealers. Since being called up, Posey has mostly hit fourth in the Giants’ batting order.

For a power hitter in the middle of the Giants’ lineup, Posey hit a few too many grounders — nearly 50 percent of his batted balls were of the ground ball variety during the regular season. Ryan Howard, by comparison, hits ten percent fewer grounders and five percent more line drives and fly balls. While Posey has quickly become one of the more potent bats in the league, he is also one that can be comfortably pitched to with runners on base when a double play is needed.

First Base

Going into the 2010 season, no one would have expected Aubrey Huff to out-produce Ryan Howard by 20 points in wOBA, especially considering the dimensions of the players’ home ballparks. Huff turned in a fine season, ranking second among National League first basemen in wOBA at .388. The biggest change was found in his 12 percent walk rate, way higher than his eight percent career average. The rest of his peripherals stayed near his career averages. Huff and his .385 on-base percentage will hit third, in front of Buster Posey. While the Giants’ offense doesn’t inspire fear, Huff and Posey are certainly able to create stressful innings for the Phillies’ starting rotation.

Second Base

Freddy Sanchez is about as average a player as you will find in Major League Baseball. His .326 career wOBA is, yes, almost exactly average. His 9.3 UZR/150 sticks out but he is more likely to be found near his 5.1 career mark which is good, but not great. Sanchez hits a lot of ground balls, making him another double play candidate for the Phillies’ mostly grounder-oriented starting rotation. He is not a threat to steal bases with only four attempts on the season.

Third Base

After his great 2009 season, Pablo Sandoval was believed to be the next great thing to come out of San Francisco along with Tim Lincecum. His .314 wOBA during the 2010 regular season is a drastic 82 points lower than it was last year. His 60 point drop in BABIP has a lot to do with it but there’s been almost no change in his batted ball splits aside from an increase in infield pop-ups. He has simply lost his ability to hit for power. His .140 ISO is in the same company as Jhonny Peralta and Marlon Byrd — it’s not nonexistent but nowhere near the .226 he had last season.

Worst of all, Sandoval grounded into 26 double plays, the most in the National League. He found himself in 137 situations in which he could have grounded into a double play, meaning that he did so in one out of every five such situations — 20 percent. That is a terribly high rate. By comparison, Posey and Sanchez — who we labeled as GIDP candidates — had a rate of about 12 percent each.

Defensively, Sandoval is about average according to UZR.

The Giants, however, had been starting Mike Fontenot at third base. As Andrew Baggarly writes for MercuryNews.com:

It could be that neither [Sandoval nor Fontenot] will start when it comes time for Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels to pitch. There’s a good chance Juan Uribe would move to third base and Edgar Renteria would start at short.

Sandoval has much more offensive upside than Fontenot, but the hack-happy Panda also over-rotated on almost every swing during the first two games of the Braves series. Neither is stellar at third base, but Fontenot might be better able to slow down the game because of his playoff experience.

It will probably come down to this: The Giants won both games after switching to Fontenot, and Bochy is from the “ain’t broke, don’t fix it” school of managing.

Shortstop

Hey, another GIDP candidate! Uribe grounded into 20 double plays, fifth most in the NL, with a conversion rate of 16 percent. Aside from that, though, Uribe was about average offensively. His 24 HR and 85 RBI are gaudy, often overshadowing his lackluster on-base percentage. His .192 ISO is in the same company as Delmon Young and Lyle Overbay. In other words, Uribe is not to be feared. To his credit, though, Uribe has shown much better plate discipline as he increased his walk rate and decreased his strikeout rate.

UZR likes Uribe’s defense — in fact, it likes all Giants defenders — with a 3.3 UZR/150 this year. It’s not impressive, but it’s better than average and exactly in line with his career numbers.

Left Field

After struggling in Tampa Bay for a while, Pat Burrell finally found his niche in San Francisco. He’s back to being the “Pat the Bat” we grew to admire in his nine years in Philadelphia. His 2010 numbers are, across the board, very close to his career averages. Unlike his teammates, Burrell hits a lot of fly balls and comparatively very few grounders which is why he’s hit 18 home runs and grounded into only five double plays with the Giants. Burrell’s calling card is incredible plate discipline but he still strikes out frequently.

In 632 defensive innings, Burrell — somehow — received high marks, with a 10.7 UZR/150. I’m highly skeptical, given his career -6.4 mark. Last year, Raul Ibanez was at 5.0 but regressed to -8.4 this year. Burrell is definitely someone opposing teams prefer to have in the field given his lack of mobility.

Center Field

Andres Torres may be the National League’s most surprising player. Among Major League center fielders, Torres tied for the fourth-highest wOBA at .363. Drafted by the Florida Marlins in the 1997 draft and again by the Detroit Tigers in the ’98 draft, Torres spent time in the Minors with the Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers, Minnesota Twins, the Tigers again, and the Chicago Cubs before landing with the Giants last year. His numbers in the Minors were never really impressive until 2008 with the Triple-A Iowa Cubs. Now, he’s evolved into a poor man’s Jayson Werth — he can hit for power (.211 ISO), run the bases (7.0 EQBRR), and field his position very well (career 11.7 UZR/150).

His mediocre .343 OBP isn’t ideal hitting lead-off for the Giants, but he’s been one of their most consistently productive players.

Right Field

There’s our old friend Cody Ross, former Florida Marlin. Ross has hit more home runs against the Phillies (13) than against any other opponent. However, he is simply another average player as his .324 wOBA and career 1.0 UZR/150 in the outfield illustrate. Ross hits for occasional power but he has not been as productive a hitter as we saw when he was with the Marlins.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy will move Ross from right to left field late in games when he removes Burrell for defensive purposes — a familiar tactic to Phillies fans.

Summary

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