Phillies-Giants NLCS Preview: Starting Rotations

On the whole, there will not be a match-up in the playoffs more heralded than the clashing of the Phillies’ and Giants’ starting rotations. The Phillies, of course, are given the edge as they have three pitchers in the top-15 of Major League Baseball in SIERA (with at least 100 innings). The Giants are no slouches, with their four found within the top-57. Overall, the list looks like:

As with yesterday’s look at the starting eight position players, rather than repeat what I’ve already said, I’ll direct you to the NLDS pitcher preview for comments on Hallday, Oswalt, and Hamels. Here, you’ll find only commentary on Blanton and the Giants’ four.

Joe Blanton

Blanton, now an overlooked member of the Phillies’ starting rotation, has been napping biding his time for his first appearance in the post-season. He missed the first month of the season due to an oblique injury, causing the notoriously slow starter to take even more time to regain his form. From May 3 through July 9, Blanton compiled a 6.41 ERA with a 5.7 K/9. Since then, in 15 starts, his ERA was 3.33 with a K/9 of 7.9.

Blanton will start Game Four in San Francisco unless the Phillies fall behind 1-2 or 0-3. It’s a good fit since Blanton isn’t a ground ball machine, so the fly balls are much more likely to stay in the yard in San Fran. The Giants will have only one true left-handed hitter in the lineup, two if they continue to start Mike Fontenot over Pablo Sandoval. Of the handedness match-ups, right-handed batters against right-handed pitchers is the Giants’ worst, producing a paltry .704 OPS.

It seems like the conditions for Game Four are about as good as they can get for Blanton.

Tim Lincecum

Andy from the Baseball Reference blog asked if Lincecum/Halladay is the best post-season match-up of starting pitchers ever. It very well may be. Lincecum is the two-time defending National League Cy Young award winner, while Halladay is on the verge of earning his second career Cy Young award himself. The only possible pitching match-up that would be more highly anticipated would be Cliff Lee and Halladay, and more so because of Lee’s odd departure from Philadelphia last off-season.

Lincecum had a down year, relative to his previous levels of production. He finished with a 3.43 ERA and 9.8 K/9. Those numbers are career years for most pitchers, but not for Timmy. Still, he was one of the most dominating pitchers in baseball as evidenced by his absolute domination of the Atlanta Braves in Game One of the NLDS, when he struck out 14 in a complete game shut-out.

He doesn’t have the velocity on his fastball that he used to have — he maxed out at 95 MPH on only five occasions this year, according to his FanGraphs velocity chart. Despite inducing grounders in nearly one out of every two batted balls, Lincecum is allowing home runs on about ten percent of his fly balls as opposed to 5.5 percent the previous two years. Additionally, his walk rate increased by 0.5 per nine innings. All of this caused him to average 6.1 innings per start compared to seven in 2008 and ’09.

Lincecum will be tough as always, but he is much more likely to falter with the way he has pitched in 2010. It will be a peaking Halladay against the Giants’ league average offense and a struggling (relatively speaking) Lincecum against the Phillies’ second-best offense in the league.

Jonathan Sanchez

Giants manager Bruce Bochy announced that Sanchez will start Game Two in Philadelphia and Matt Cain will start Game Three in San Francisco. This is smart on Bochy’s part because Citizens Bank Park is more hitter-friendly than AT&T Park according to the park factors found on Stat Corner (over 100 favors hitters):

Sanchez induced upwards of six percent more ground balls than Cain, and he misses bats nearly two percent more often with respective K/9 rates of 9.5 and 7.1. It will be much harder to hit a home run off of Sanchez than Cain in Philadelphia.

Sanchez has a low-90’s fastball that will occasionally reach 94-95 MPH. He complements that with a tilting slider and a mediocre change-up. The only Phillies that have hit him well are Chase Utley (1.192 OPS in 18 PA) and Shane Victorino (.904 OPS in 16 PA). Overall, current Phillies have an aggregate .517 OPS against him in 133 PA. Phillies fans are likely least confident about Game Two, and it seems to be justified.

However, Sanchez has benefited from a .262 BABIP in 2010, which helps explain the difference of more than a full run between his xFIP and his ERA. Sanchez is good, but not 3.07 ERA good.

Matt Cain

As mentioned above, Cain will start Game Three in San Francisco. The environment suits his relative fly ball tendency given the spacious confines of AT&T park. It will be much harder for the Phillies’ lefty-heavy line-up to go yard against him given the ballpark’s left-handed park factor of 82.

The Phillies hit Cain well in their 92 combined PA against him — well enough for a .974 OPS, including 12 of the 23 hits allowed going for extra bases.

Cain has a traditional pitcher’s arsenal of a low-90’s fastball, backed up by a curve, slider, and change-up. He’s used all four effectively according to the pitch type linear weights on FanGraphs.

The most puzzling part of Cain is that, whether you’re a baseball traditionalist or a Saberist, his success seems almost unexplainable. He posted very low ERA’s in each of the last two seasons, but appears to be nothing more than a Joe Blanton clone. In fact, Blanton has the lower career xFIP, including a lower xFIP in each of the past two seasons. Cain’s home ballpark likely has a lot to do with his success, but the Giants have also had an above-average defense (per UZR) in each of Cain’s five full seasons. He will pitch in Game Three with both advantages, unfortunately for the Phillies.

Madison Bumgarner

It’s not official yet, but Andrew Baggarly reports:

Bochy said rookie Madison Bumgarner wasn’t definite to start Game 4, “but it’s fair to say he’s penciled in.”

That means Barry Zito is almost certain to get the eraser again. Bochy was noncommittal when asked about Zito, who was left off the division series roster, but the manager said he isn’t looking to add a 12th pitcher to the staff.

“With the days off, you don’t need a fifth starter,” Bochy said. “I don’t see any difference as far as how we’re going to set things up.”

Bumgarner struggled at times since his call-up on June 26. But in his final six starts to end the season, Bumgarner posted a 1.18 ERA with a strikeout-to-walk ratio approaching five-to-one. He also threw six effective innings in Game Four of the NLDS against the Atlanta Braves, doing his part to help the Giants advance to the NLCS.

He’s not as hard to hit as Sanchez but can be equally as effective. While Sanchez strikes out more hitters, he also walks twice as many batters as Bumgarner. The Phillies, a veteran-laden group that excels at working counts, are more likely to exploit Sanchez’s lack of control than Bumgarner’s general propensity for contact.

Overall, the Phillies definitely have the advantage with starting pitching, but it’s still very close. In my Q&A with Chad Dotson of Redleg Nation, I analogized the Phillies’ and Reds’ starting rotation to Maine lobster and Alpo. Against the Giants, the analogy is Maine lobster and filet mignon.

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

Halladay-Oswalt-Hamels Could Be Historically Great

As mentioned in the Game Three recap, the Phillies barely used their bullpen to fend off the Cincinnati Reds, instead relying on baseball’s best starting rotation. Of the 27 innings, the starters pitched 23 of them, including two complete game shut-outs by Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels. It was the first time since 2001 that a team had two CG’s in one series.

2010 NLDS, Philadelphia Phillies vs. Cincinnati Reds

The others:

2001 NLDS, Arizona Diamondbacks vs. St. Louis Cardinals

1997 NLCS, Atlanta Braves vs. Houston Astros

The 2001 Diamondbacks would go on to win the World Series in seven games over the New York Yankees while the 1997 Atlanta Braves advanced only to lose the NLCS to the Florida Marlins in six games.

As you can see, no team had the luxury of two complete game shut-outs as the Phillies did.

Only one team had two CG SHO’s in LCS history: the 1974 Oakland Athletics.

  • Game Two, Ken Holtzman: 9 IP, 0 R, 3 K, 2 BB, 78 game score
  • Game Three, Vida Blue: 9 IP, 0 R, 7 K, 0 BB, 90 game score

In World Series history, no team has had more than one CG SHO since the 1966 Baltimore Orioles had three against the Los Angeles Dodgers — Jim Palmer, Wally Bunker, and Dave McNally performed the honors with respective game scores of 82, 80, and 81.

Thanks, as always, to Sean Forman for his Play Index at Baseball Reference, which allows anyone to easily find such great information.

Hamels Sends Phillies to NLCS

If the Phillies are trying to avoid having the most irrelevant bullpen in post-season history, they’re not doing a great job of it. The bullpen tossed a sum total of four innings in the three NLDS games against the Cincinnati Reds as Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels each tossed complete game shut-outs, dominating the National League’s highest-ranked offense in a series sweep.

Tonight, Hamels played the part of surgeon, masterfully dissecting the Reds’ tough lineup. Reds base runners reached second base just twice all night, and never had a runner reach third base safely. Hamels’ game score of 86 ties a post-season career high, matching his outing in Game 1 of the 2008 NLDS against the Milwaukee Brewers. However, he notched his first career playoff CG SHO tonight in the series clincher — the first time the Phillies have ever brought out the brooms in a post-season series.

The offense did not have to do any heavy lifting for Hamels, scoring merely two runs against Johnny Cueto in his five innings of labor. In the first inning, the Phillies capitalized on yet another defensive miscue by a Reds defender, a throwing error by Orlando Cabrera. Chase Utley tacked on another run with a solo home run in the fifth inning. The Cincinnati bullpen held the Phillies in check for four innings, allowing only two hits and striking out four, in their effort to keep the game manageable.

Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce were the lone Reds that appeared to have brought their bats to the playoffs, finishing the series with an OPS of 1.000 and 1.025, respectively. Likely NL MVP award winner Joey Votto was held to one hit in his ten at-bats. The meat of the Reds’ lineup, the 3-4-5 hitters, went 1-for-11 with five strikeouts. The 11 total hits the Phillies allowed in the three-game set is the lowest in Division Series history for any three-game series.

Many statistics will illustrate how dominant Hamels was tonight, but perhaps none will do so as vividly as this: of the 33 change-ups he threw against the Reds, he induced 12 whiffs (36 percent). Overall, he had a total of 17 whiffs — exactly as many as Halladay induced in Game One with his no-hitter.

Going into the NLDS, the starting rotation was viewed as the Phillies’ biggest strength. And despite a lackluster effort from Roy Oswalt, that was exactly the case.

As the Phillies wait for their NLCS opponent to emerge, the starting rotation will have nearly a week off and the lightly-used bullpen will be plenty fresh. This is about as advantageous a position as a team can be in during the post-season. The Phillies now need just four wins to advance to the World Series. Should they do so, they would be the first National League team to reach the World Series in three consecutive years since the 1942-44 St. Louis Cardinals.

Is Acting Unethical in Baseball?

UPDATE 10/12/10: Animated .gif files have been removed due to bandwidth issues.

During the bottom of the seventh inning of Game Two of the NLDS against the Cincinnati Reds, Chase Utley was awarded first base when it seemed like a high-and-inside Aroldis Chapman fastball grazed his hand. As we see in the animation below, the baseball clearly never made contact with Utley. As such, Utley was wrongfully awarded first base. The Phillies would go on to score three runs in the inning in part because of Utley’s reaching base.

The above is yet another reason why instant replay could be implemented in baseball to ensure that the correct calls are made, but that isn’t the debate I want to focus on. Instead, I want to talk about the ethical aspect of acting in baseball. Some people see the above as well as a similar acting job done by Derek Jeter in mid-September and conclude the players are cheating or being otherwise unethical.

Asked about his HBP from nearly a month ago, Jeter told reporters:

Reporter: Did you… [exaggerate the HBP]?

Jeter: Well, I mean, [the umpire] told me to go to first. I’m not going to tell him I’m not going to go to first, you know? My job is to try to get on base. It’s part of the game. I’ve been hit before and they said “you weren’t hit”. So my job is to get on base. Fortunately for us, it paid off at the time, but I’m sure it would have been a bigger story if we had won the game.

Utley spoke about his HBP last night with reporters. Via Todd Zolecki:

But wait a second. Did that pitch actually hit him?

“I’m not sure,” Utley said coyly. “It was pretty close. At first I thought it was going to hit me in my head. Fortunately, it didn’t. And he throws so hard. I felt like I thought it hit me, so I put my head down and I ran to first.”

Is it wrong to take a base that isn’t yours? Is it wrong to put on a show to wrongfully take a base?

I don’t believe it is. Utley and Jeter are not the first two players to attempt to deceive umpires into making a call that benefits them and they certainly will not be the last. Outfielders attempt this — though much less successfully — when they trap a ball between their glove and the grass. Even if the outfielder knows it bounced, the umpire’s view may not have been the best and if he stands up confident that he caught the ball, he may earn the out. Catchers will frame a borderline pitch, moving his glove ever so slightly back into the strike zone, hoping to convince the home plate umpire that the pitcher threw a strike.

San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey stole second base in Game One of the NLDS against the Atlanta Braves and, despite the safe ruling, was clearly out. On receiving the benefit of the doubt from the second base umpire, Posey quipped, “I guess it’s a good thing we don’t have instant replay right now.”

For as long as there exist umpires that are human beings, mistakes will always be made and the arbiters will be prone to various methods of persuasion, whether it’s acting, framing, or simply a player’s confidence. Players will continue to list “actor” under Skills on their baseball résumés and they should not be condemned for this.

Should Posey instead have told the second base umpire that he was out, and jogged back towards his dugout? Does Posey owe it to his teammates and to Giants fans to go along with the incorrect call, or does he have a larger obligation to the spirit of the game to play honestly 100 percent of the time? By encouraging and enforcing a zero-tolerance policy on dishonesty (especially with no enforcement), aren’t we implicitly rewarding those who lie?

If Utley, Jeter, and Posey have one thing in common, it’s that they all try their hardest to succeed on the overwhelming majority of opportunities. In other words, they do what it takes to win. That includes running out mundane ground-outs and pop-ups, diving for foul balls, sliding hard into second base, and yes, acting. That attitude is one that should be encouraged by Major League Baseball.

That players can, for lack of a better word, trick the umpires is not the players’ fault; it is the system’s fault. If a player’s acting to generate a beneficial but incorrect ruling is to be frowned upon in baseball, then every call needs to be eligible for instant replay review and ball-strike calls must become computer-generated.

Barring that, enjoy the theater that is Major League Baseball and accept the flaws of the human beings who take part in it.

Amateur Hour at Citizens Bank Park

In the post-season, fans are usually subject to high-caliber baseball as the best offenses, pitching staffs, and defenses tend to rise to the top by the end of 162 regular season games. Of the eight playoff teams this year, only the Braves went in with a negative UZR/150 (-5.7) and the Giants had the only wOBA below the league average (.318).

High-level play was not seen at Citizens Bank Park last night in Game Two of the NLDS between the Phillies and Reds. Roy Oswalt was not sharp, allowing a lead-off home run to Brandon Phillips in the first inning. He struggled all night with his control and left after just five innings of work having allowed four runs. Chase Utley made two errors in one inning. Laynce Nix reached safely to lead off the second inning when Utley fielded a routine ground ball but threw the ball wide of the first base bag, pulling Ryan Howard off. A wild pitch and a walk put runners on first and second with one out to bring up catcher Ryan Hanigan. Hanigan hit a dead double play ball, but Utley rushed his throw, causing a tough short-hop that Howard could not pick and that allowed Nix to score the Reds’ second run.

Ahead by four runs going into the bottom of the fifth, the Reds would make some miscues of their own to help the Phillies get back in the game. With two outs and a runner on first, Shane Victorino reached on a fielding error by Brandon Phillips. The next hitter, Placido Polanco, reached safely on a fielding error by Scott Rolen bringing Utley to the plate with the bases loaded. Utley waited on a change-up from Bronson Arroyo, hitting a line drive to right field, plating two runs to bring the score to 4-2.

J.C. Romero relieved Oswalt in the sixth and held the Reds in check, retiring the two batters he faced. Chad Durbin was brought in to get the third out of the inning, but Drew Stubbs drew a two-out walk. Durbin erased his mistake by picking Stubbs off at first base.

Things got interesting in the bottom of the sixth. With two outs and a runner on second base, reliever Arthur Rhodes hit Carlos Ruiz in the kneecap with a pitch. Ruiz doubled over in pain but eventually shook it off. Manager Dusty Baker brought in right-hander Logan Ondrusek to the face right-handed pinch-hitter Ben Francisco. Ondrusek promptly hit Francisco in the head with a pitch — it hit him on the bill of his helmet. With the bases loaded, Ondrusek couldn’t find the strike zone and walked Shane Victorino on four pitches, forcing in the Phillies’ third run.

Aroldis Chapman came in to start the seventh inning and yet another Phillie was hit by a pitch — or so it seemed. Chapman threw a fastball high and inside to Utley, which at first glance appeared to grace his hand. Utley acted as if he was hit and the home plate umpire awarded him first base.  Upon closer inspection — as the animation below illustrates — Utley pulled a Derek Jeter and simply acted as if he had been hit.

[Click here to view Utley’s close call]

Chapman would get two outs and Utley’s acting appeared to be in vain. Jimmy Rollins, however, hit a line drive to right field which Jay Bruce — normally a very good defender — lost in the lights. The ball sailed past him, allowing Jayson Werth and Utley to advance to second and third. Second baseman Phillips dropped the relay throw, however, allowing the Phillies’ tying and go-ahead runs to score. Two errors were awarded on the play, to Bruce and Phillips — the Reds’ third and fourth on the night. The Phillies would score one more run on a ground-out by Ruiz, and tacked on one more in the bottom of the eighth.

The Phillies bullpen held the Reds scoreless for four innings. Jose Contreras pitched a clean seventh, Ryan Madson a clean eighth, and Brad Lidge closed the door in the ninth after working around a lead-off walk. In total, Phillies relievers tossed four innings, allowing a mere three base runners on one hit and two walks.

It wasn’t the most impressive win — certainly not after what happened on Wednesday — but the Phillies are happy to go up two games to none any way they can.

. . .

Quotes

Via Mark Sheldon, who covers the Reds for MLB.com:

“It was in the lights the whole time. I tried to stick with it to see if it would come out. It never did. It’s pretty helpless. It’s embarrassing. I take a lot of pride in my defense. There’s really nothing I can do about it. I wish for my team more than anything that it didn’t go into the lights or that it came out and I could have caught it. It didn’t happen.” — Jay Bruce

[…]

The debacle of the seventh inning started when Chase Utley acted his way through a hit-by-pitch from Aroldis Chapman. The pitch was 101 mph, Utley didn’t sell it that well but it was enough to be awarded first base.

“I don’t think at any time that the ball hit him. I don’t think he ever got hit,” Chapman said.

“It was pretty close,” Utley said. “At first I thought it was going to hit me in my head.  Fortunately, it didn’t.  And he throws so hard.  I felt like I thought it hit me, so I put my head down and I ran to first.”

Q.  Did it hit you?  Chase Utley:  “I’m not sure.”

Red Leg Nation scribe and ESPN SweetSpot member Chad Dotson on the game:

If you had told me that the Reds would commit four errors, and they would be committed by Rolen, Phillips, and Bruce, I never would have believed that in a million years.

[…]

Four stupid errors. The only other time the Reds made four errors this season was in that disastrous game in Atlanta back in May, when the bullpen blew that big lead. Heck, the Reds only had 72 regular season errors, and that was tied for the second-fewest in baseball.

More error trivia, from ESPN: The 4 errors by the Reds tie an LDS record, previously done 5 times. The last time the Reds made 2 errors in an inning in a postseason inning– Game 3 of the 1972 World Series. Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan made an error on the same play in the 6th inning.

Roy Halladay’s No-Hitter, Moment by Moment

The following is a submission from Nick Scott, who writes for fellow ESPN SweetSpot blog Royals Authority as well as Broken Bat Single. He analyzed every millisecond in the final out of Roy Halladay‘s no-hitter last night against the Cincinnati Reds, and I thought it was a great read. He offered to have it re-posted here for your enjoyment.

You can view a larger version of each image by clicking on it.

. . .

There are thousands of plays in a baseball season.  They are not all created equal.  For example, on September 25, the Kansas City Royals played a game in Cleveland against the Indians.  In the top of the seventh inning, Mike Aviles grounded out to the shortstop for the second out of the inning.  The Royals were down seven runs to one, and both teams had long been out of the post season picture.  A few die-hard fans of each team cared, but the individual play had little to no significance in the grand scheme of baseball.  Plays like that are a part of baseball, they are needed to move the season to its conclusion.  However, it’s not those plays that create history, primarily because they are so abundant and so ordinary.

Last night, fans around baseball were treated to a historic moment.  Roy Halladay pitched a no-hitter in a playoff game, only the second time it’s ever happened.  An individual game of baseball in many ways mirrors the season and even the entire history of the sport.  A game is not complete until every out has been made, just like a season isn’t complete until every game is played.  Many outs are merely mundane, simple groundouts to short, there seemingly to move the game a step closer to the end.  Some outs, just like some games, take on a much greater importance.  Outs like the one to end a no-hitter take on supreme importance, and playoff games likewise.  The convergence of an important out and an important game elevate the moment to one of historic proportions.

I’d like to focus on the final out of last night’s game moment by moment.  An out that took roughly 10 seconds from pitch until completion, but one that encapsulates the drama of baseball.

It’s the top of the ninth inning, two outs and an 0-2 count on Cincinnati Red Brandon PhillipsRoy Halladay had surrendered only a single walk  in this opening game of the National League Division Series.   He’d thrown a first pitch fastball for a strike at 93 MPH and followed it up with a 91 MPH cut fastball outside which Phillips swung at and missed.  Catcher Carlos Ruiz called for a curve ball off-the plate, knowing that Phillips was likely going to swing at nearly anything to stay alive, and hoping the change in speed would have him swinging in front of the pitch.  Halladay obliged with a 79 MPH curve, right where Ruiz wanted it.

Brandon Phillips, likely willing to do anything to stay alive and with that previous cut fastball still in his head, stretches out his arms and begins a very awkward swing at the curve ball.  The guy in the crowd wearing the white coat seems to be leaning in an attempt to will the ball past the batter.

Phillips gets stretched out just enough to get the very end of the bat on the ball.  However, the sink on the curve drops the ball to where it will hit on the lower half of the bat.  The guy sitting down in the second row is holding a radar gun.  He’s obviously some kind of scout.  He’s not there as a fan, he’s there for his job and isn’t even going to soak in the last pitch of a no-hitter in a playoff game.

Phillips drives the ball down to the ground weakly and it takes a half-hearted bounce.  Catcher Ruiz looks to be a little stunned that the ball is not in his glove and his body seems to be in a bad position to field the ball if it doesn’t get to the pitcher.  The guy standing next to the leaning white-coat guy seems convinced that the no-hitter has already happened.  He’s about four seconds from being right, but a lot still has to happen.

Phillips knows he barely hit the ball and his only shot at breaking up the no-hitter is to beat a throw from the catcher.  Ruiz begins to realize he is in a bad position, but is moving in the direction of the ball and begins to remove his mask.

Halladay finally begins to move towards the ball, probably realizing that Ruiz has a very tough play to make with Phillips running across his face and more importantly, the bat being dropped directly in the path of the ball.  The umpire, John Hirschbeck, shifts his weight, driving off of his left foot in an attempt to get in the best position to see the play unfold.  Meanwhile, the scout speaks into a headset, probably telling his assistant the speed of the pitch so it can be recorded.

Halladay realizes that the play is not his, he’s got no shot at it and can only get in the way.  Phillips hits the grass in a full sprint, and the ball hits the ground right in front of the still rolling bat.  Meanwhile, second basemen Chase Utley starts moving towards first to back up a potential errant throw.

Brandon Phillips takes the inside path towards first base, knowing that he is right in the path of the throw from Ruiz to first baseman Ryan Howard.  Ruiz stoops to pick up the ball, which is now rolling to the bat and about to bounce back towards the pitcher.

Ruiz runs just past the ball because the way it hits the bat, it gets directed in an odd direction.  Brandon Phillips is about halfway to first and Ruiz has yet to pick up the ball.  At this point, the entire play hinges on Ruiz being able to cleanly pick up the ball with his bare hand.  Rain earlier in the day likely clung to the grass, making the play that much more difficult.

Home plate umpire John Hirschbeck signals that the ball is fair, while Ruiz’s momentum carries him to his knees.  Brandon Phillips has moved a few steps closer to first, Utley continues to his backup position, first base umpire Bruce Dreckman gets into what he feels is the best position to see the play and Ryan Howard gets prepared to take a throw to the inside of the base, a throw which Phillips is still expertly blocking.  Roy Halladay is watching it all unfold in front of him and if I had to guess, isn’t convinced he’s got a no-hitter.

Ruiz fires the ball to the inside of Brandon Phillips, the throw taking nearly all of his upper body strength, since he cannot rely on his legs for power.  The ball quickly makes up ground on Phillips, but the play is still clearly in doubt.  Fans in Philly are probably not breathing.

Chase Utley, sensing a bad throw moves quicker into position, while umpire Dreckman is firmly in position ready to make the call.  The ball and Phillips are in a dead heat, the only question now is whether Ryan Howard can catch it.

Ryan Howard stretches to catch the high throw, utilizing every bit of his 6’4” frame.

History being made, the celebration ensues.

These small intricacies are typical of any baseball game, from a meaningless late September matchup between two basement-dwellers to postseason no-hitters.  It’s the competition inherent in the sport and the uniqueness of baseball which allow these rather typical series of moments take on the utmost significance.

Nick Scott writes about the Royals for Royals Authority, podcasts about the Royals at Broken Bat Single and writes about the Chiefs for Chiefs Command.  You can follow him on Twitter@brokenbatsingle, on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.

Doc’s No-No: By the Numbers

If you happened to be vacationing somewhere in the Andromeda galaxy yesterday, you’re probably wondering why Roy Halladay is still the top trending topic on Twitter. The right-hander, already the author of a perfect game during the regular season, held the Cincinnati Reds hitless through nine innings in Game One of the NLDS last night. He became the second player in baseball history to toss a no-hitter in the post-season, joining Don Larsen who pitched a perfect game in the 1956 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Just how good was Halladay? Let’s delve into the numbers.

0 runs
0 hits
0.11 in-game WHIP
1 Reds’ NL rank in avg. runs scored per game
1 walk
1 line drive
3 outfield fly balls
3 infield fly balls
7 lowest pitch total in one inning
8 strikeouts
9 innings
10 change-ups
12 ground balls
12 highest pitch total in one inning
14 0-2 counts
17 swinging strikes
22 curve balls
25 first-pitch strikes
25 balls
31 cut fastballs
37 two-seam fastballs
79 strikes
94 MPH, maximum fastball velocity
94 game score
104 pitches thrown
154 minutes to complete nine innings
46,411 paid attendance
respect earned

Back in February, I pondered Halladay’s chances of being inducted into the Hall of Fame. I concluded:

If Halladay helps the Phillies reach the post-season on multiple occasions and pitches well in his playoff appearances (winning a World Series would really help), and if he can make a few All-Star teams, and if he can earn some Cy Young votes (the hardware would, again, really help), then a legitimate case can be made that he should go into the Hall of Fame with a Phillies cap.

In his first year with the Phillies, Halladay has:

  • Pitched a perfect-game against the Florida Marlins
  • Made the NL All-Star team
  • Pitched a complete game shut-out to help his team clinch the division against the Washington Nationals
  • Led the NL in wins, complete games, shut-outs, innings pitched, strikeout-to-walk ratio, and lowest walk rate
  • [Will likely] win the NL Cy Young award
  • Put himself into legitimate NL MVP candidacy
  • Pitched a no-hitter in Game One of the NLDS against the Cincinnati Reds, his first career post-season start

Just imagine what he can do from 2011-13 and potentially ’14 (vesting option worth $20 million). He needs only 31 more regular season wins for 200 over his career, which should seal the deal among the more traditional voters. I didn’t think it was possible at the time I wrote the article, but Halladay has done enough this season to make his career worthy of Cooperstown enshrinement. The only question mark concerns the logo on his cap, but Philadelphia got a hell of a head start with Halladay’s performance this year.

Still can’t get enough of the no-hitter? Listen to Scott Franzke’s call of Halladay’s moment from last night by clicking here.

Roy Halladay Tosses Second Post-Season No-Hitter

Roy Halladay was as dominant as ever tonight, tossing just the second post-season no-hitter in baseball history. He needed only 104 pitches to get through 28 batters with the lone dent on his stellar outing  a fifth-inning walk to Jay Bruce. The Phillies’ prized right-hander struck out eight and induced twelve ground balls with three infield pop-ups.

With all of the great baseball moments in Philadelphia dating back to 2007, it has become increasingly hard to impress Phillies fans. Epic walk-off hits in the post-season? That’s old hat. Amazing defensive plays? Boring. Making up seven games in the standings in a short amount of time? Already did it.

Halladay, though, managed to sear himself into the memories of baseball fans with his historic performance tonight. Although he had tossed a perfect game earlier in the year and is on track to win his second career Cy Young award, many analysts and fans wondered how he would react to his first ever post-season start. It is safe to say that those questions have been answered.

Aside from confusing hitter after hitter, Halladay put on a bit of a hitting clinic in the second inning. With two outs and runners on first and second, Halladay stepped to the plate against Edinson Volquez. Reds fans had to be breathing a sigh of relief as there is no other opposing hitter you’d rather see up with runners on base than the pitcher. Halladay hacked at the first pitch and sent a well-hit line drive to left field, allowing Carlos Ruiz to score to put the Phillies up 2-0. Shortly thereafter, Shane Victorino singled to center, scoring Wilson Valdez and Halladay.

Hits by Roy Halladay through one plate appearance: 1.

Hits by the Cincinnati Reds through 28 plate appearances: 0.

It was just that kind of night. The National League’s most potent offense was squelched by Halladay’s ability to get ahead of hitters and locate his pitches extremely well. Of the 28 batters Halladay faced, he threw a first-pitch strike to 24 of them (86 percent). He got to an 0-2 count with 14 of the 28 hitters and never fell behind 2-0. Pitcher Travis Wood made the best contact against Halladay, sending a line drive to right fielder Jayson Werth in the third inning. That would be the only line drive of the night.

The Reds weren’t exactly classy when speaking to reporters after the game. Shortstop Orlando Cabrera — with a .292 wOBA and 6.4 percent walk rate — thought the umpires were rather generous to Doc. Via the Cincinnati Enquirer’s John Fayman on Twitter:

He and the umpire pitched a no-hitter. He gave him every pitch. Basically, we had no chance.

Eno Sarris posted this chart at FanGraphs in his recap that shows that home plate umpire John Hirschbeck’s zone was pretty good.

Called strikes are the light red squares and I see only one that’s questionable. You stay classy, Reds. I made the “NL East Whining” category given all of the complaining the Atlanta Braves do about the Phillies — I’m hoping I don’t have to add an “NL Central Whining” category now. Edinson Volquez pitched with the same home plate umpire and ended up walking two and not making it out of the second inning.

MLB.com‘s Todd Zolecki has some great quotes from the man himself, Doc Halladay:

“I felt like we got in a groove early,” Halladay said. “[Catcher] Carlos [Ruiz] has been great all year, but he helps me get in rhythm, throwing a lot of pitches for strikes, getting ahead, and then later in the game mixing pitches well, mixing speeds well. So he’s done a great job for me, just trying to be aggressive.”

[…]

“It’s surreal. It really is,” Halladay said. “I just wanted to pitch here, pitch in the postseason. To be able to go out and have a game like that is a dream come true.”

Just as he did after his perfect game against the Florida Marlins, Halladay deflects the praise from himself and puts it on his teammates. What a guy.

The Phillies go up 1-0 on the Reds in the NLDS and look to take a commanding 2-0 lead as Roy Oswalt takes the bump Friday night against Bronson Arroyo.

Phillies-Reds NLDS Preview: Q&A with Chad Dotson

Philadelphia is ready to enjoy yet another year of post-season baseball. I believe it was the great philosopher Sun Tzu Zack de la Rocha, of Rage Against the Machine, who once said “Know your enemy”. What better way to know the enemy than to speak directly to him? That’s what I did with Chad Dotson of Redleg Nation, a fellow member of the ESPN Sweetspot blog network. Below are Chad’s answers to some questions I tossed his way via e-mail. If you click over to his blog, you can see my answers to his questions as well.

(Language in the clip may be NSFW)

. . .

1. Scott Rolen seemed to be on fire in the first half, but he cooled off in August and September. Are the Reds concerned? Is the lack of production due to declining health?

There is certainly reason for concern, as there is a stark difference between Rolen’s first-half and second-half numbers. Some of that diminished production is likely due to age, as Rolen has gotten a bit worn down (only once in the last six seasons has Rolen played as many games as he’s played this year). Rolen’s diminished performance since the All-Star break, however, is partially a problem of perception. In other words, Rolen hasn’t really been that bad in the second half; his OPS+ after the break is 15. The problem is that you are comparing those numbers to a fluke first half, when Rolen unexpectedly hit 17 homers on his way to posting an OPS+ of 145.

Meanwhile, his defense has been very good. Yes, there is reason for concern, but the Scott Rolen of the second half has been a pretty good player in his own right.

2. Can the Reds still win the series if the Phillies neutralize Joey Votto?

Sure, but it makes things more difficult. One of the best things about this team is that someone different has stepped up to be the hero when needed. There are lots of guys who are comfortable in the tense moments.

That said, I’m not particularly concerned about the Phillies neutralizing Votto. No one has been able to neutralize Votto all season. Since April, Votto has put up an OPS over 1000 in each month, and he has been the steadiest, most professional player I’ve ever seen. Every single day, every single at-bat, every single pitch, Joey Votto is locked in. That’s why he has been the Most Valuable Player in the National League, even though Charlie Manuel didn’t think he was an All-Star.

3. The starting pitching match-ups don’t favor the Reds, to say the least. Will Dusty Baker have a quick trigger to take out a struggling starter and go to the bullpen?

Yes, and the Reds are particularly well-suited to weather that storm. The Reds don’t have a brilliant top of the rotation like the Phils, but they have a much deeper group of starting arms to call upon than most teams. Dusty Baker is going to go with a three-man rotation in this series: Edinson Volquez, Bronson Arroyo, Johnny Cueto. That means that Travis Wood and Homer Bailey will be pitching out of the bullpen. You remember Wood; he almost spun a perfect game against your guys back in June. Both he and Bailey are capable of coming in at a moment’s notice to take the ball if a starter falters.

4. If there is one thing that the Reds and Phillies have in common, it’s that both teams have watched their closers struggle at various points throughout the season. Do you trust the bullpen to hold down a one-run lead in the eighth and ninth innings?

No…and yes. I love the guy, but I just don’t trust Francisco Cordero in those tight spots right now; as good as CoCo has been the last few years, he’s been scary this season. I do, however, trust the other guys out there: Nick Masset, Arthur Rhodes, and a guy the Phillies should be dreading — Aroldis Chapman.

Chapman should have the ball in his hands in every crucial spot, because there’s no one like him in the world. A big lefty who throws up to 105 MPH and has the most unhittable slider I’ve ever seen. I can’t wait to see Ryan Howard flail at one of those sliders.

Dusty Baker has made clear that CoCo is his guy, but he has also hinted that he won’t hesitate to go elsewhere if Cordero isn’t getting the job done. I’m going to go the wishful thinking route, and hope that Dusty give Cordero a very short leash in October.

5. The Reds are neither aggressive (90 SB; NL avg. 89) nor efficient (68% success rate) in terms of stealing bases. Do you expect the Reds to be more aggressive on the base paths in the NLDS, or will they be content to play station-to-station baseball?

While the Reds haven’t been an aggressive team when it comes to stolen bases, I think you’ll find that the Reds are the most aggressive team in the league when it comes to baserunning. Cincinnati leads the league in going first-to-third, taking an extra base almost every single time there is an opportunity.

Given Dusty Baker’s small-ball tendencies, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more base-stealing in the NLDS. One run could be very important against the type of pitching of which the Phillies can boast. Drew Stubbs, in particular, is a speed-burner, and I can see Dusty giving him the green light more often than usual. On the whole, however, the Reds are already pretty aggressive on the basepaths. I don’t expect that to change.

6. Let’s say the Reds get through the Phillies and advance to the NLCS. Who would you rather face, the San Francisco Giants or Atlanta Braves?

Who cares, as long as we’re there? A more serious answer: probably Atlanta. I feel like the Reds match up better with the Braves, especially given all the important injuries Atlanta has suffered. San Francisco has some good pitching that would scare me a bit.

If Cincinnati can beat the Phillies, however, I’ll be on cloud nine and probably won’t care who the next opponent is.

. . .

Thanks to Chad for taking the time to provide his insight into the NLDS. Be sure to click over to Redleg Nation to check out my replies to his queries.

There’s nothing quite like post-season baseball, and for the first time perhaps ever, the Phillies are prohibitive favorites to win it all. It starts today and who better to get the ball rolling than Roy Halladay?