NLDS Choices: Diamondbacks vs. Giants

As Phillies fans looked towards this three-game set with the Arizona Diamondbacks, there was one suggestion frequently made: the Phillies should tank the series to screw over the San Francisco Giants. The Giants, of course, kicked the Phillies out of the NLCS last year. Additionally, they unnecessarily started a bench-clearing brawl with the Phillies recently, adding to the bad blood between the two teams’ fans. At the moment, the Diamondbacks lead the Giants by two games and would match up with the Phillies in the NLDS if the season ended today. The only way the Phillies wouldn’t face an NL West team is if the winner of the NL Central finished with a worse winning percentage than the winner of the NL West (assuming the Atlanta Braves take the Wild Card).

But are the D-Backs enough of a pushover where the Phillies should want to meet up with them over the Giants in the post-season? I’m not so sure. The D-Backs have a +27 run differential, better than the Giants’ -9. While the Phillies smash both of them at +137, the D-Backs are the tougher match-up simply based on run differential.

Comparing both teams’ starters at each position reinforces this point.

Going by wRC+ (the wOBA-based version of OPS+ where 100 is average and above is above-average, below is below-average), the D-Backs have the better hitter at six of eight positions. Note that the D-Backs have had to use various first basemen, now sitting with Paul Goldschmidt at the moment. The Giants have had their share of turnover as well, with Eli Whiteside getting the lion’s share of the playing time at catcher since Buster Posey was railroaded by Scott Cousins in late May. Recent acquisition Carlos Beltran has been sidelined as well and may go on the disabled list soon if he doesn’t see improvement.

This comparison uses xFIP-, which is an xFIP-based version of wRC+ where lower is better and 100 is average. It should come as no surprise that the Giants grade out better here, but the D-Backs are no pushovers. Currently, three of their starters are vastly out-performing their xFIP: Ian Kennedy (-0.48), Joe Saunders (-0.56), and Josh Collmenter (-0.59). While Giants pitchers are also out-performing their xFIP, some of it is better explained by batted ball abilities, defense, and park effects. (See my examination of Matt Cain at Baseball Prospectus from February.) On an interesting note, the D-Backs recently had to deal with the injury to Jason Marquis. They have many options to choose from, including Zach Duke and Micah Owings, as well as prospects Jarrod Parker and Wade Miley.

Again, not really a surprise that the Giants lead here. However, closer Brian Wilson has been vastly out-performing his xFIP. Compared to the last couple years, Wilson’s strikeouts are way down and the walks are way up, but he is still getting results. That could have a lot to do with the cavernous confines of AT&T Park as much as anything — Wilson’s road ERA is more than a full run higher than his home ERA. The Giants’ real stud has been Sergio Romo, whose 1.67 ERA is, stunningly, exactly in line with his 1.63 xFIP. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is over 13. The D-Backs don’t have nearly as much dominance late in the game, but J.J. Putz has been solid with good peripherals including a 3.47 xFIP.

From the Phillies’ perspective, choosing between the two teams is a bit of “pick your own poison”. While the Phillies would be the overwhelming favorites in any match-up, they would need to muster up some offense against the Giants, or they would have to attempt to completely silence the potent D-Back bats, something few teams have done so far this year. Either way, the Phillies’ biggest opponents in the post-season will be themselves and randomness in the universe. Whether it’s the D-Backs or Giants, the Phillies have to take care of themselves first.

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19 comments

  1. AchillesHeald

    August 16, 2011 07:41 AM

    I’m pretty certain I’d rather face the Diamondbacks- for the simple reason that our pitching is our greatest asset and I’d rather lean on it than the offense. I’d feel much more comfortable asking our staff to go out and shut down a hot offense than asking our hitters to go win us a game.

    Since I’m still catching up in regards to advanced metrics…how do you nerds view statistics in a playoff series when the sample size is so much smaller? I feel like the Cody Ross Principle is the Godzilla in statical Tokyo…

  2. Phil

    August 16, 2011 08:06 AM

    Yeah I was just thinking about how ironic it would be if we were all super happy that the D-Dacks won the division and then they ousted the Phillies in the playoffs.

    As you said Bill, randomness is ultimately the biggest foe of the Phillies. However, while Charlie may say the Giants pitchers aren’t in their heads, I’m not so sure that’s the case. Lincecum and (sigh) Cain, scare the crap out of me. You would hope that the team exorcised some demons in San Fran a couple weeks ago, but I don’t know, that team still makes me nervous.

    The Diamondbacks are certainly a formidable opponent, but truthfully their offense isn’t that much superior to the Phillies (they’re both averaging 4.44 runs scored/game), and I just don’t see their pitching staff shutting down the Phillies the way the Giants historically have.

  3. bill

    August 16, 2011 08:30 AM

    The problem with run differentials is that baseball isn’t basketball. Run differential isn’t super predictive of playoff matchups in the same way.

    I’d rather play the D-Backs because their starting pitchers are not very good, it’s as simple as that.

  4. Phylan

    August 16, 2011 08:54 AM

    The Giants are not a very good team. The Phillies are a lot better. Stop being scared of the Giants.

  5. Scott G

    August 16, 2011 09:24 AM

    Phylan,

    The Giants aren’t a very good team, but Tim Lincecum is pretty damned good. He and Cain are capable of going very deep in games and not allowing runs. Then you have their bullpen. Pitching wins in the playoffs. I’d rather play the DBacks.

  6. SJHaack

    August 16, 2011 09:26 AM

    I don’t care who the Phillies face. I want the Giants to not make the playoffs because I don’t like them, and they are playing so far above their heads that they don’t really deserve to be in the playoffs right now.

  7. Jack

    August 16, 2011 10:33 AM

    I’d love to shove in the face of the Giants, but purely on expediency, I’ll take the D-Backs. History tells me you’re a lot more likely to quiet big bats than to catch a sick arm on an off day.

  8. sean

    August 16, 2011 10:56 AM

    tanking against the d backs then means the narrative becomes “they beat us in the regular season”. arizona has already won 2 of 3 in arizona.

    it wasn’t really mentioned but defensively the d-backs are much(stressed) better the the giants as well. according to UZR they have the most runs saved in MLB this year, which i guess sort of explains the extreme low babip of their fly ball pitchers(ian kennedy josh collmenter) since their outfield of chris young justin upton and gerardo parra has 38.6 UZR.

    i seriously don’t understand the giants fear the past 3 years, i guess it’s because of the pitching but at the same time the phillies pitching is BETTER then the giants pitching this year and offensively the giants are offensive(pun intended). It’s like people are scared of the marniners.

  9. sean

    August 16, 2011 11:01 AM

    btw collmenter, who when the phillies saw back when they played in arizona and was only relieving at the time, has a real funky over the top delivery and doesn’t walk a lot of guys but has been pounded by the dodgers recently. not sure which collmenter we’ll get, he’s either unhittable or easy to chase out of the game early

  10. Dino

    August 16, 2011 12:21 PM

    I can’t believe there’s even a discussion about deliberately losing a series to screw over another team!

    The Phillies have the best record in baseball, the best pitching staff, a very good offense and a recent history of postseason success including a World Series victory. Why on earth should the Phils be afraid of any team?

    The Phils need to go out and try to win EVERY game. That’s what true championship teams do — they beat everyone. If the Phils are afraid to match up with the Giants again, then they don’t even deserve the opportunity to play in the postseason. Any true championship-quality team would say “I want another chance to beat that team that knocked us off last year,” and that should be the Phils’ philosophy.

    The Phils are a team of winners with positive attitudes, and they thoroughly expect to in, as they should. I’d really be shocked if even one of the Phils players considered even for a fleeting moment throwing a game or a series to screw over the Giants.

  11. Robby Bonfire

    August 16, 2011 01:11 PM

    Is Cain going to pitch better in the playoffs(?) because, since the resumption of intra-league play on July 4th, the Giants have lost four of his seven starts, including losing three of his four starts at home.

  12. Robby Bonfire

    August 16, 2011 01:15 PM

    bill – Good point re the shakey Diamondbacks starting rotation although you could qualify that statement by saying it refers to D-backs starters AFTER Ian Kennedy, given that the D-backs have won the game in his last six starts.

  13. Robby Bonfire

    August 16, 2011 01:19 PM

    Correction, D-backs have won all seven (not six) of Ian Kennedy’s starts since July 4th, all three on the road and all four at home.

  14. Phillie697

    August 16, 2011 03:38 PM

    Focus too much on the Giants’ pitching, and you forget that Giants offense can’t score runs even if Bill pitched for the Phillies. Lincecum and Cain might scare you, but that Giants lineup doesn’t even scare 3-year-old kids. I’ll take a known quality (or in this case the lack thereof) over irrational fear or feelings.

  15. jauer

    August 16, 2011 04:17 PM

    probably the only worthwhile thing ive read on ESPN recently:

    “From 1972 through 2005, 27 teams made the playoffs despite having below-average offenses; seven won the World Series. Meanwhile, 20 teams with below-average run prevention made the playoffs during the span. None won the World Series, and only two teams even played for the crown. Sixteen of the 20 teams with below-average run prevention lost in the first round in which they played.

    As Silver wrote: “There is literally no relationship between regular-season offense and postseason success in our data set.”

    The difference between Arizona’s and San Fran’s run differentials isn’t great enough to warrant rooting for SF in the NL West, as far as I’m concerned.

    If SF wins the division, they will likely have a similar run differential to Arizona. Why, then, would you rather face the shitty-hitting team with good pitching than the shitty-pitching team with good hitting?

  16. RHalladay

    August 16, 2011 08:59 PM

    Noone is saying the Phils should be scared of any teams, but that doesnt mean they (or we) couldnt have a preference between facing the Giants or the Dbacks.

    Jauer’s post clearly illustrates why I’d rather face a team like the Dbacks than the Giants. Lincecum, bumgarner and Matt Cain or as Bill Baer likes to call him – Joe Blanton, are along with their Bullpen, fracking impressive and dangerous.

    While Hallady, Lee, Hamels etc comprise the best rotation in baseball, it doesnt mean I’d want them to face the second best rotation in the 1st round rather than the Dbacks.

  17. Phillie697

    August 16, 2011 09:14 PM

    @jauer,

    … and how many of those 27 “below average” offenses ranked DEAD LAST in the league in offense? The Giants offense isn’t just below average, it’s downright inept.

  18. RHalladay

    August 16, 2011 10:04 PM

    Phillies697,

    Off the top of my head, i have to imagine the 88 dodgers postseason lineup/offense is even worst than the Giants.

  19. jauer

    August 16, 2011 10:24 PM

    Not sure, Phillie, but the I do know the Dbacks would qualify as one of the 20 teams that went 4-16 in the first round

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