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

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63 comments

  1. Jim

    October 14, 2010 01:32 AM

    Hmmm… I didn’t know now mathematics and statistics are “personal biased” and “racist.” What’s next, science is homophobic?

  2. B

    October 14, 2010 10:51 AM

    “If it was just a fluke improvement in batted ball profile, I would say Bill is being optimistic. But his numbers this year really do suggest that he somehow learned to be a better hitter this year.”

    He has a 12.7% BB% compared to 11.4% for his career. Slightly better, but not a big change. He was at 12.4% last year when he posted a .337 wOBA. He also has a 14.6% K%, up from 12.9% for his career. He was at 12.1% last year. The difference between his BA and OBP last year was exactly 100 points. This year? 98. His iso this year is actually worse than last year by 25 points.

    The difference between last year and this year? It’s entirely BABIP. He’s hitting a lot more singles. All the research done on baseball statistics suggests this is just one of the fluky years for him. He isn’t that good. Going forward, we don’t expect his good luck to continue.

    That said, Bill might have a point that he’s better than his career numbers, if we’re estimating his “true talent level” in the present (essentially doing projections), we do weight recent performance more heavily. This year he’s been a good hitter, last year he was average, the year before that terrible (all in a similar # of PA’s), but weighting the recent performance more heavily maybe he is a little bit better than his career average at this point. That said, he’s still not Posey. He’s much closer to average than a 129 wRC+ guy.

    As for defense? Well, I think we’re all ok with the fact that defense at C is unclear, but the one thing I will point to is while Ruiz has been excellent at throwing out runners – 20 in 50 attempts (slightly higher than his career average), Posey has been off the charts – 24 CS in 40 attempts.

    “But if we’re talking smart money, a betting man would bet the Phillies to win the series. Do you really want to talk about smart money? Probably not.”

    I always like talking probabilities! Were we talking about the whole series? I’m not sure anyone disagrees with that point.

  3. Jim

    October 14, 2010 02:04 PM

    @B

    12.7% BB rate to 11.4% BB rate is a 10% increase. May not seem like a lot when you put those two numbers together, but walk rate doesn’t usually change drastically, so I wouldn’t call it insignificant. As for the difference between BA and OBP… It’s easier to maintain a 100 point difference when you are batting .255 with a OBP of .355 than when you’re batting .302 with a OBP of .400, for the simple fact that in baseball, the base for those numbers don’t start off at zero (hence why WAR use replacement value players as the starting point). Same goes for ISO; a guy with a .250 avg and a .500 SLG is decent to good (depending on his OBP), but a guy with a .350 avg and .600 SLG is simply off the charts, and I don’t think anyone will come to the conclusion that those two players have the same “power.”

    Like I said, there isn’t one thing we can point to that “proves” Ruiz is a better hitter. But when you have enough little signs in the positive direction and almost none in the other direction? You have to wonder. Besides, this is a seven-game series. Bill’s point is this: Do you really see that big a difference in talent level between Ruiz and Posey RIGHT NOW? Posey has a bright future because of his potential… Well, that potential isn’t gonna all of a sudden become fully realized in the next seven games.

  4. CH Phan

    October 14, 2010 03:16 PM

    @Scott G: Maybe I was misunderstood.

    For the record, I’m sure I remember weighing in on the whole Jayson Werth “love/hate” issue over the summer. Mr. Baer posted a well written & intelligent article about it. It prompted me to post & I’ve posted several times since. However, I don’t post often.

    I know I came down on the side of our JDub being human — and btw — being a darn good, 5-tool, real tall, kind of hairy, likely misunderstood, baseball playing human. The team-wide “slump” though of course not his fault, was often tilted in his direction by sports writers looking for an angle & seemingly easily swayed “fans” who naively believed all they read.

    As far as I can tell, Werth has not been in a “slump” for some time. In my post above I said I thought the Phillies were in the playoffs in large part due to his play over the past month or so. So I don’t think I was indicating he’s “slumping.”

    I’m not one who prefers baseball based on HRs. I happen to like “small ball” and the players w/a many different tools (incl. power hitters). I enjoy the Polancos of the world. Likewise, I enjoy the fact that I don’t ever quite know what Jayson Werth will do. But I do know he has the tools to do whatever it takes to get the job done, the attitude to do it, and the work ethic to back it up. And that’s the kind of player I want on my team. He doesn’t need to be a media sweetheart.

    I’m also certain I came down on the side of wanting/hoping/thinking it’s the right move for the Phillies to re-sign Werth. No. I don’t have a number/yrs in my head. But I DO believe he is now & will continue to be for several yrs at least, worth it.

  5. CH Phan

    October 14, 2010 03:46 PM

    Though the above post was long enough, I might add I’ve seen more than one post about Werth striking out. Why does one player striking out look more “ridiculous” than another? That’s bias toward or against one player or another & has nothing to do with playing baseball. Striking out has always seemed to be an incredibly ignominious position. Nobody looks good doing it.

    Chase Utley & Ryan Howard have had difficult summers, though Ryan’s has been better than Chase’s overall. However, lately Howard hasn’t been hitting much. He swings away at as much bad stuff as anyone. Chase is beginning to hit. Unfortunately he’s making fielding errors (and has all summer). They all have things on which they should be working.

    If anyone is spending time focusing on Jayson not hitting during the 3 NLDS games, then they’re showing their own bias. He had 2 – 3 hits (I can’t remember), walked 2 -3 times, stole 2nd twice, & had two runs. He was left on base more than once too.

    But it’s my impression (living in nyc) that fans in Phila have a habit of allowing Utley & Howard far more latitude than they seem to allow others. I’m assuming this is b/c these two players “came up in the Phillies system”? This doesn’t make them Philadelphians. Howard’s from St. Louis & Utley’s from southern California. Maybe they have better PR than other players, charity, etc. But as I’ve worked yrs of sports, film, & fashion PR — I can say this: pls do not believe much of what you read.

  6. Bill Baer

    October 14, 2010 03:52 PM

    Well said, CH Phan. It’d be interesting to find out exactly where most fans’ biases come into play. Impossible, of course, but interesting nonetheless.

  7. B

    October 14, 2010 04:23 PM

    “12.7% BB rate to 11.4% BB rate is a 10% increase.”

    Like I said, last year he was a .337 wOBA hitter witha 12.4% BB rate. It’s not the walk rate that’s driving his value. And 10% increase isn’t the way to look at it – in 443 PA’s, we’re talking about a difference of 5-6 walks, an increase in OBP of about 12 points. His OBP is 47 points higher than his career average. Going from 12.4 to 12.7, or last year to this year, is a difference of 1 walk, or two points in OBP. His OBP this year is 45 points higher than last year. His performance this year is not driven by the increase in walk rate. And as I said, he’s striking out more this year than both last year or his career line, as well.

    “It’s easier to maintain a 100 point difference when you are batting .255 with a OBP of .355 than when you’re batting .302 with a OBP of .400″

    The difference in BA and OBP is all events that are PA’s but not AB’s. It doesn’t entirely mean just walks, but they make up almost the entire difference. An incrase in BA in a given number of PA’s with a given number of walks is going to produce close to the same split.

    “a guy with a .250 avg and a .500 SLG is decent to good (depending on his OBP), but a guy with a .350 avg and .600 SLG is simply off the charts, and I don’t think anyone will come to the conclusion that those two players have the same “power.””

    I’m not sure what you’re going for here. Look at Ruiz’s line from last year to this year. There isn’t an argument that he hit for more power this year. He hit more doubles, triples and HR’s per PA last year than this year.

    You’re really trying hard to find arguments to support the conclusion you obviously want to be true, but I’m telling you, sound use of statistics shows with a pretty good deal of confidence that the difference between this years version of Ruiz and last years (and his career) is almost entirely a product of BABIP, of which almsot all of those are singles. When you know that, and know how large his BABIP is compared to his previously established level…well, anyone that understands the stats will tell you he’s extremely likely to be playing way over his head, and a textbook example of a guy we expect to regress towards the mean, which means playing worse going forward.

    The guy is 55 BABIP points over his career average, and it’s almost all singles, and it’s almost the entire force behind his better performance this year. He’s 69 BABIP points over what he did last year, when he walked the same amount, struck out less AND hit for more power…and again, those BABIP are all singles. He’s not nearly as good as he hit this year.

    “Do you really see that big a difference in talent level between Ruiz and Posey RIGHT NOW?”

    Well, I don’t know how you define big. Posey has the higher talent level, right now.

  8. Duane

    October 14, 2010 06:36 PM

    Just as a tempering comment to the Jayson Werth Argument, Jayson has been Phenomenal all season. And yes he did slump, but what is lost in those statements of monthly OPS is the fact that he is a very streaky hitter. So while for 2 games he could be 7-8 at the plate with a couple walks, in another 3 game set he’ll be 1-10 with 3-5 SO(total off my brain statements). I didn’t want to use June/July stats because it was a Team-wide power outtage, and the same can be said for May, but in those summer months we saw the good and bad Jayson. In the month of May he had a .913 OPS, in 27 games played, where he had atleast 3 ABs, he had 8 mutli-hit games and 8 0-for games. In 25 games in June with a .884 OPS, he had 5 multi hit games(3 of which were 3 hit games)including a 8-10 strech with 3 walks over 3 games, and also 7 0-for games including an 0-12 stretch over 3 games. On the year his longest hit streak was 8 games twice and also a 7 game hit streak. A 7 gamer ending april into may, another 8 gamer in May, and an 8 gamer in August.

    He’s streaky, so depending on when you are paying attention, he looks like he’s slumping, or he looks like he’s on fire.

  9. Scott

    October 14, 2010 08:13 PM

    This is a fascinating analysis, but Phillies injuries this year are the great destabilizer. When a player is injured, it is not just time off but also time playing regaining form. Howard, Utley and Rollins have all had well below career years in most every stat because they came back as quickly as they could from injuries to a team that was struggling at the time, and they probably were not fully prepared to play. That has to be factored into any head-to-head analysis.

    Numbers may say Huff. If I’m a manager, I say Howard. If the Giants win this, it will be because they out-pitched the Phillies. I don’t see a single lineup position where they have a decisive advantage.

  10. Scott G

    October 14, 2010 09:51 PM

    CH Phan,

    Utley has had a better year than Howard based on wOBA. I don’t like how people give Howard a pass either. Utley isn’t God, but he certainly deserves more leeway than Howard.

    I also don’t really like how Utley was credited with 2 errors in game 2. The ball he got to would most likely have ended up in RF had any other player been at second base. Yes, he made a terrible throw after fielding the ball (had he made a good throw, the player would have been out), which means he should be given an error based on the rule, but I don’t like how the rule is written. I personally don’t think an error should be given if either part of the play could be expected (getting to the ball was more than enough). It’s not like the batter ended up on 2nd.

    Also, the throw he made on the DP attempt was awful. However, knowing that the pitcher was due up next and that he probably wouldn’t have been able to reach the ball, Howard should have come off the bag to block the ball.

    The error talk isn’t meant to be directed at you, CH Phan.

  11. Jim

    October 15, 2010 02:58 AM

    @B,

    I’m assuming you’re using his higher K rate to suggest that he’s being even less selective at the plate this year than last year. Except his pitches per PA has gone UP.

    I do agree with you tho Ruiz will NOT hit like this next year. But I don’t think he’s gonna regress back to his performance last year. He’ll settle somewhere in between. And as for the 11.4%, I mis-read and thought you said that was his walk rate from last year. Altho looking at his walk rates now, it has gone up every year since he became a full-time catcher for the Phils. In any case, Ruiz is probably somewhere along the lines of a .350 wOBA hitter, with Posey not that much better, at least right now anyway. Besides, your analysis is almost entirely based on your comparison of Ruiz to his career numbers… Convenient for Posey since he doesn’t have any career numbers other than his 108 games this year.

  12. www.PaapFly.com

    October 15, 2010 12:06 PM

    Hi Bill, nice work on this. It’s interesting to get the Philly perspective. But… Do you really – in your heart of hearts – think Ruiz and Posey is a push?

  13. Walter Poole

    October 15, 2010 02:41 PM

    As an engineer I generally like numbers & all that stuff (like Sabermetrics) & tend to agree w/ them. But, the Play-Offs & WS are more based on how nervous a guy is, experience & a player’s psychology. Did Sabermetrics predict that Rolen would make so many errors or that the REDS (one of the best defensive teams DURING THE REGULAR SEASON) would essentially THROW a game away by making so many errors ?
    By the way, I look for both Howard & Werth to strike out a lot during the series w/ SF & in the WS.
    As a long-time Phils Fan-but now living in CNJ in the heart of METS country-(probably before most of you were born), I’d have to go w/ the Phils over SF & in the WS.
    Go Phils !

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