No Need to Panic After Game One Loss

The Phillies dropped the first game of a playoff series for the first time since the 2007 National League Division Series against the Colorado Rockies. This is a bit of an unfamiliar feeling to most fans, who had to watch the ace of the starting rotation labor through seven innings while the offense failed to manufacture runs last night in Game One of the NLCS.

Expectedly, some fans are already demanding Charlie Manuel make drastic changes to right the ship that has, apparently, gone adrift.

Jimmy Rollins is 1-for-15 so far in the 2010 post-season, with the lone hit being a single. Rollins failed to even make productive outs, popping out with a runner on first and one out in the second inning and striking out with a runner on first and no outs in the fourth. He struck out with a runner on first base and two outs (and a full count) in the eighth inning, the Phillies’ best attempt to tie the game.

In his last 22 games to end the regular season, Rollins compiled a .598 OPS including only five extra-base hits in 87 plate appearances. Fans want to see Rollins benched in favor of Wilson Valdez. Rollins, in an injury-plagued season, finished with a .317 wOBA, just a few points behind the league average. Valdez, on the other hand, finished way behind at .294. Rollins walks more, strikes out less, hits for more power, and runs the bases better. Defensively, Valdez has a slightly better UZR/150 but Rollins has 11 times the defensive innings.

It is true that Valdez filled in admirably for Rollins while he battled oblique and hamstring injuries, but Rollins at 75% health is better than Valdez at 100%. Valdez is benefiting from low expectations while Rollins is suffering from high expectations. Don’t be fooled — there’s a reason why Valdez could never hold down a full-time job.

Other fans are, once again, calling for the promotion of Carlos Ruiz in the batting order. Ruiz had the third-highest OPS of the Phillies’ starting eight, including the highest on-base percentage. A promotion seems logical but a decent portion of his success is directly related to his hitting in front of the pitcher. If first base is open, most managers will direct their pitchers to pitch around and eventually unintentionally-intentionally walk Ruiz to face the much weaker-hitting pitcher. In other situations, Ruiz will see a lot of predictable pitches since opposing pitchers want to avoid turning the lineup over.

Ruiz is smart for recognizing how he’s being pitched and capitalizing on those situations. But if you move him from 8th to, say, 6th (Rollins’ spot), there is no guarantee that he has similar or better success. Overall, batting order — unless intentionally constructed in the least logical fashion — doesn’t affect run-scoring by a significant margin, especially within a span of seven games. So it’s usually better to keep hitters in the spots in which they are most familiar.

Overall, the one thing that the calls for change have in common is that they’re overreactions to small sample sizes. Rollins’ 15 at-bats — and even the 87 regular season PA cited above — are much too insignificant and thus not useful for drawing any conclusions.

Yes, the Phillies were rather ineffective manufacturing runs in Game One, but they were just as bad — if not worse — during the 2008 post-season and they ended up winning it all. In Game One of the ’08 World Series, the Phillies left 11 runners on base, including six in scoring position. Game Two had the same stats.  They left six on in base in Game Three before the bats woke up in Four, and left 12 on base (7 RISP) in the fifth and final game.

It’s only natural to worry about the offense, especially going up against an elite starting rotation, but let’s give the Phillies a chance to even it out first.

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27 comments

  1. Matt

    October 17, 2010 12:02 PM

    i understand the point about ruiz getting an OBP boost in the 8-spot, but the gap between him and some of the other hitters in the lineup is HUGE in the on base department.

    i know lineup construction isn’t all that important, but it is a bit silly to have your best OBP in the 8 spot isn’t it? i mean victorino is leading off with a .327!

  2. Bill Baer

    October 17, 2010 12:18 PM

    Sure, but what about Ruiz’s lack of speed? Polanco is a contact hitter, so speed is an even bigger deal than it has been in previous years.

    Ruiz may be better as a #2 hitter, actually.

  3. BS

    October 17, 2010 12:25 PM

    The problem is the playoffs is all about small sample sizes. It never lasts long enough to “even out”. Sure, you don’t want to panic, but I think you also need to have a quicker trigger for making moves.

    I wouldn’t sit Rollins for Valdez, but if you slide him down to the 8 spot, he’d get the benefit of the “predictable” pitches that Ruiz is getting right? Which might be better for him at this point.

    I’d move Ibanez up to 6, and Ruiz up to 7. That way, Chooch is still probably going to see a fair number of fastballs, since teams wouldn’t necessarily want to walk him to face Rollins (since he’s still got the reputation of being a good hitter)

  4. Scott G

    October 17, 2010 02:05 PM

    I absolutely think Ruiz should bat 2nd if Manuel doesn’t have Utley bat 2nd (they really should break up Utley and Howard with Werth against the Giants because of the talented LOOGYs). That way, Ruiz’s good eye will be in front of Utley. Also, they will probably throw him more fastballs there in an attempt to attack Ruiz in order to not put another runner on for Utley. Ruiz can hit fastballs as we all know.

    However, all of this talk is in vain because Charlie Manuel is too thick headed to consider anything other than his gut. I have been begging for this all year pretty much. Polanco, Victorino, and Rollins have brutal approaches at the plate. I wish we could influence Manuel because it’s getting ridiculous.

  5. Rob

    October 17, 2010 02:41 PM

    Scott G-

    What’s getting ridiculous is how confident you are that you can out-manage Charlie Manuel.

    As Bill pointed out, Chooch’s good eye is related to his spot in the lineup. Do you really believe that he would maintain his .400 obp and .366 woba in the two spot? More to the point, if you do, do you really believe that it’s so obviously the case, that Charlie Manuel is thick headed for not realizing it?

  6. Scott G

    October 17, 2010 03:42 PM

    Rob,

    His good eye has nothing to do with where he is in the lineup. The results (many walks in front of the pitcher) are due to the spot in the lineup. His good eye, and his patience at the plate would suit him well anywhere in the order. He can hit fastballs which is more than you can say for Shane Victorino. Would his OBP be .400? Probably not. Would it drop as low as Victorino and Polanco (around .330)? I would be willing to bet a lot of money it wouldn’t.

    Just because I am not employed by a team doesn’t mean I can’t analyze stats and apply them to situations. The strategic decisions (batting order and pitching changes) should be made largely on known statistics which given a large enough sample size, do have predictive value.

    Blindly obeying those appointed positions of power just because they hold these positions is a terrible way to live. There are examples of this in MANY areas of life. Think outside the box, and don’t buy everything you hear.

  7. Rob

    October 17, 2010 03:57 PM

    All I’m saying is you point to Charlie’s ‘mistakes’ as if they’re objective facts, when they’re really just mistakes relative to decisions you would make. Since there’s no real counterfactual against which to judge his decisions, we don’t know. Sometimes most of us agree that a decision is the wrong one, sometimes we’re not sure. Thing is, you’re always sure. When it comes to close calls like where to bat Ruiz, it’s just hard to understand your utter certainty that your preference is better than Charlie’s, and that he’s thick headed for not seeing it.

    Ruiz’s good eye hasn’t been established at any other spot in the lineup, i.e. where pitchers would be trying harder not to walk him, so it’s hard to say just how good it is. Everyone’s eye looks better against worse pitches.

    Victorino, by the way, can hit a fastball as well as Ruiz, as their pitch type numbers (known statistics, in your words) bear out.

    Not saying you have to obey Manuel, just relax and enjoy another deep playoff run.

  8. Scott G

    October 17, 2010 04:14 PM

    You don’t change eyes when you move lineup spots. When I’m talking about good eyes, it’s his ability to judge pitches that are balls and strikes. For example, Polanco has an awful eye when it comes to judging this. Chase Utley has a good eye. Pat Burrell has a good eye. Jayson Werth has a good eye. Would Ruiz walk as much when the following batter is not the pitcher? Obviously, I would say he wouldn’t.

    Studies have shown that the most important lineup slots are 2,4, and 1. Polanco and Victorino don’t have the best numbers. Ruiz’s season numbers are better. The offense is struggling. Put someone who is willing to take pitches higher in the lineup. Victorino and Polanco don’t walk. They are in a spot in the lineup where walks are VERY welcome. You have acknowledged that Ruiz understands his role and has accepted that he’s not getting pitches to hit in the 8th slot. Thus, he takes them and walks. Why if he’s put in a spot where you expect patience/walks would he change anything.

    I’m not saying these moves would pay off big time if at all. However, logic tells you he’s better at the top of the lineup because he is patient and can hit fastballs.

    Victorino, Polanco, and Rollins are very, very frustrating to watch because of their lack of discipline/ apparent lack of a plan at the plate.

  9. Rob

    October 17, 2010 04:26 PM

    In the 8 spot, he’s likely not seeing the same quality of pitches he would see in the 2 spot. That’s why you can’t be sure that his apparent patience would translate to a more important spot in the lineup, unless you’ve done some research controlling for the pitches he sees in one spot but wouldn’t in the other, or you’re judging his patience based on (gasp!) empirical evidence.

    Anyway, I realize that I’m probably the one who needs to relax, but sometimes your comments just won’t let me do it. My problem I guess, not yours. In any event, we’ll both probably be kickin’ back enjoying game 2 in a few hours, so here’s to that.

    I’ve got nothing but love for Phillies fans, sabermetric and howard-gets-a-lot-of-rbi types alike. Even you Scott G. Go Phils..

  10. Scott G

    October 17, 2010 04:48 PM

    Rob,

    I do look at my comments before I post them. A lot of times I consider how I come off, but I think who cares? The comments section is here for just that.

    My whole take on Ruiz’s eye is that its an innate characteristic of his. I’m merely talking about being able to lay off balls, and having the brains to accept a walk when it is handed to him. I would need to have it explained to me how this would change based on lineup positioning, otherwise I just don’t see it. I get that he’s not going to be pitched to the same, but I would still assume that if he were pitched to the same, the results would be the same.

    Let’s go Phils. Don’t hate me, Rob.

  11. Rob

    October 17, 2010 06:02 PM

    “I get that he’s not going to be pitched to the same, but I would still assume that if he were pitched to the same, the results would be the same.”

    That’s the point right there–he’s not going to be pitched the same. In the 2 spot, he’ll never be handed a walk. The brains needed to take walks that are handed to you are not the same as the brains needed to draw walks with Chase Utley on deck. The former is as much a question of recognizing the situation as it is recognizing balls and strikes. I don’t doubt he has the brains to draw the utley-on-deck type of walks, but his great season in the 8-hole doesn’t tell us for sure either way.

    Your view that Ruiz has an innate ability to lay off balls is in part a bias based on seeing him lay off in situations in which it’s inherently easier to do so. In other words, you’re trusting your lying eyes, which is the kind of thing you often rail against here.

    Also, I don’t hate you.

  12. Spliff Lee

    October 17, 2010 06:35 PM

    It might be safe to say the whole team is suffering from high expectations, not just Rollins.

    I think we need more pinch-hits, granted we need to turn through the order a little more. We’ve gotten some big hits in the past with them and I know Sweeney’s waiting to hug somebody.

  13. Scott G

    October 17, 2010 07:09 PM

    Do you think Werth or Utley has an innate knack for laying off of balls? I do, I think they have it regardless of where they hit. I think 3 of the Phillies starters have it, and they are Utley, Werth, and Ruiz. I think for them it is independent of their spot in the order.

    Not every 8th hitter has this ability despite the fact that they’re hitting in front of the pitcher. It is because of this that I don’t think I’m biased based on what I’m seeing.

  14. jauer

    October 17, 2010 08:13 PM

    Ruiz has a much higher career OBP and SLG in any other position (in over 350 PAs, so its significant) than he does in the 8-hole. The 8-hole is limiting his production. Rob is wrong.

  15. jauer

    October 17, 2010 08:19 PM

    Carlos Ruiz HR rate (per AB) when not batting 8th: 3.2%

    When batting 8th: 1.7%

    But why let facts get involved? Let’s instead make a fallacious argument that simply appeals to authority.

  16. Bill Baer

    October 17, 2010 08:23 PM

    jauer,

    Ruiz’s PA by spot:

    1: 0
    2: 3
    3: 2
    4: 0
    5: 0
    6: 9
    7: 331
    8: 1254
    9: 91

    A lot of Ruiz’s PA batting eighth include his seasons prior to 2010 while he hit seventh 52 times this year. There’s an inherent bias in that data.

  17. jauer

    October 17, 2010 08:51 PM

    Ruiz’s OBP batting 7th and 8th are .407 and .398 respectively, so it doesnt change OBP too much.

    And doesn’t the fact that 7 of Ruiz’s 8 home runs this year came outside the 8-hole mean something?

  18. Scott G

    October 17, 2010 10:10 PM

    While I certainly agree that batting before the pitcher requires the understanding that opposing pitchers will pitch around you to get to the pitcher, isn’t that also counter-acted by something? If there are men on base, wouldn’t a hitter be more eager to try and get the job done because more often than not, the pitcher will fail.

    That being said, doesn’t the especially credit Ruiz’s ability to walk? Yes, he knows that he isn’t going to swing at bad pitches, but don’t you believe he also feels like he has some obligation to actually produce the runs (I’m not saying he should, in fact I would give him more credit to just accept walks), but it’s only human instinct to want the glory. If he can settle those emotions, then I personally would have no problem experimenting with him in different slots in the linueup.

  19. andy

    October 17, 2010 10:22 PM

    too bad rollins was batting sixth ;) good call

    would be interested in your comments about two moves that stats dont capture.

    the FU double by rollins after the intentional walk

    and the i have confidence in my guy by charlie letting oswalt pitch out of the eighth.

  20. Scott G

    October 17, 2010 10:48 PM

    I don’t know exactly what you mean by stats don’t capture letting Oswalt pitch. He’s easily one of the elite pitchers in baseball. He owned the Giants all night. I’m perfectly okay with letting him pitch there.

    Jimmy Rollins loves the straight fastball. Ask Broxton, Kerry Wood (earlier this year), and now Santiago Casilla. Rollins has 3 hits in the post season (one was a pop up 30 feet in front of home plate that was not fielded), and you’re going to support Rollins batting 6th?

  21. Rob

    October 17, 2010 11:08 PM

    Scott G-

    On your last point about Ruiz settling his emotions, I agree with you. Seems to me Utley is the same way. He seems to draw a lot of walks with men on base, where others might press harder to drive in runs.

    I would have no problem experimenting with Ruiz in different spots either. If you take out the part about Charlie’s thick headedness out of it, I think we’re in agreement.

  22. Rob

    October 17, 2010 11:44 PM

    Back to square one I guess.

    Oh well, I’m off to the 700 level to read about Jimmy’s clutchiness and enjoy my victory in blissful ignorance.

  23. Scott G

    October 18, 2010 07:18 AM

    That was a sarcastic statement, Rob. You know, because I was calling Charlie thick headed. ?

  24. Rob

    October 18, 2010 08:46 AM

    yeah..I was being sarcastic too..

  25. SJHaack

    October 18, 2010 05:41 PM

    Bill I’m disappointed in you! Yes, Ruiz has more PA in the 8 spot, but he also didn’t OBP .400 there until this season.

    Ruiz (2010)
    7th: 209 PA .337/.407/.524
    8th: 211 PA .263/.398/.351

    Yes his plate discipline might be better in the 8th spot, but he also straight up didn’t get hits as well there. That doesn’t particularly mean anything to me except that he really turned up the screws this year no matter where he was batting. There was no discernible difference in his ability to get on base no matter where he was batting.

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