Phillies BABIP’d to Death, Drop Game Two

Throughout the month of September as we looked ahead to the post-season, you heard myself, Ryan Sommers, and Paul Boye reference the mythical “small sample variance” as our biggest fear, more so than anything else. That variance was on display in Game Two of the NLDS tonight.

Rafael Furcal tripled to start the game, but Cliff Lee kept him there with a strikeout, an infield fly ball, and a ground out. Shortly thereafter, the Phillies got to Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter early, working deep counts and drawing walks. With the bases loaded, Ryan Howard knocked in two with a single up the middle in the first. Raul Ibanez tacked on another before the inning ended, putting the Phillies up 3-0 quickly. Carpenter walked to the dugout having thrown 30 pitches.

In the top of the second, Lee again worked around a lead-off extra-base hit, notching two strikeouts and a ground out to end the inning unscathed. In the bottom-half, the Phillies continued to work Carpenter. With two outs, the Phillies added an extra run on a double, walk, and a single. Carpenter had thrown another 26 pitches, putting him at 56 on the night through just two innings.

With a smooth third inning, it looked like an easy night for Lee. After all, how often does he cough up a four-run lead? But, as we’ve learned, a pitcher can still perform well but end up with unpleasant results. That’s exactly what happened to Lee starting in the fourth inning.

Lee got ahead of Lance Berkman 0-2, but could not put him away, eventually walking last night’s lone batsman for the Cardinals. After David Freese struck out, the Cardinals strung together three hits — a double sandwiched by two singles — scoring two runs, bringing them within two runs at 4-2. Nick Punto struck out, seemingly ending the threat, but the always-pestering Rafael Furcal hit a line drive to Raul Ibanez, plating one more run and requiring a perfect strike from the Phillies’ left fielder to prevent the tie game. Ruiz was forearm-shivered at the plate by John Jay, but held on for the third out.

The Phillies were then tasked with adding insurance runs against the Cardinals’ bullpen, something they certainly did with relative ease last night. However, Fernando Salas entered the game in the fourth and retired the Phillies in order on three ground balls. In the fifth, Lee appeared more comfortable, striking out two more Cardinals and inducing another infield pop-up. The Phillies remained silent on offense in the bottom-half of the fifth, going down in order once again.

Lee got two quick outs in the top of the sixth, seemingly on a roll. With two outs, though, Ryan Theriot doubled to left to keep the Cardinals’ offense going. Theriot quickly scored on a seeing-eye single to left by Jon Jay, tying the game. Skip Schumaker singled afterwards to continue the threat, but Lee was able to retire Furcal, allowing the sell-out crowd at Citizens Bank Park to breathe a sigh of relief.

The Phillies went down quietly again in the sixth, the Cardinals’ fourth consecutive 1-2-3 inning. Lee, with over 100 pitches thrown, took the hill for the seventh inning. Ahead of lead-off hitter Allen Craig 1-2, Lee left a change-up over the plate, which Craig smoked to deep center. Victorino misjudged it at first, which cost him. The ball glanced off his outstretched glove, rolling towards the center field fence. Craig wound up on third base without a play. Pujols plated Craig with a well-hit line drive single to left field. The hits just would not end for the Cardinals, then with 11 hits total and ahead 5-4. Berkman, hitting right-handed, blooped a single just beyond first base, the last straw for Charlie Manuel. Lee exited the game having allowed 12 hits in six innings of work with nine strikeouts and two walks. His game ERA was 7.50 but his game FIP was 1.10, showing the disparity between performance and results. Lee induced a lot of weak contact, but many of the Cardinals’ batted balls found gaps in the defense.

Brad Lidge entered the game to attempt to end the damage. In very limited playing time, Lidge stranded 90 percent of base runners during the regular season. Given the performance of Michael Stutes last night and the Phillies’ general lack of confidence in their middle-relief, a solid outing from Lidge was needed. Lidge got the first out on a David Freese ground ball fielder’s choice. Manuel then chose to load the bases by intentionally walking Yadier Molina, hoping Lidge could induce a ground ball double play out of the always-pesky Theriot. It worked — Theriot weakly grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to end the threat and the inning.

To that point, the Cardinals were batting over .500 on balls in play, while the Phillies — having been retired in order in four consecutive innings — were a shade under .300 (the league average over a significantly larger sample is .296). The Phillies, behind one run, attempted to manufacture a run in the bottom of the seventh, but their first two hitters made outs, running the streak of consecutive outs made by Phillies hitters to 17. Jimmy Rollins ended it with a line drive single to left. The TBS cameras saw Rollins being a bit liberal with his lead off of first base and was eventually picked off by lefty Marc Rzepczynski, ending the threat.

The top of the eighth was another test for the Phillies’ bullpen. Antonio Bastardo had pitched terribly in the month of September. Rich Dubee suggested the lefty was tipping his pitches, while Bastardo himself said he couldn’t get the same feel for his pitches he had previously. Bastardo didn’t really answer any questions. He walked the lead-off batter, then got two outs on a sacrifice bunt and a strikeout before giving way to Vance Worley. Worley got the third out on a fly ball to right field. All told, the Phillies ended up where they started in terms of what they felt about their middle relief.

Down one run with six outs remaining, the Phillies needed to call upon the post-season magic that had aided them in the past. The bottom of the eighth inning was taken over by Tony La Russa, however. Rzepczynski led off the inning by hitting Chase Utley with a pitch, then was taken out for right-hander Mitchell Boggs. Boggs retired Pence on a ground ball fielder’s choice. La Russa lifted him for lefty Arthur Rhodes to face Ryan Howard. Howard struck out on three pitches, and Rhodes was promptly replaced with Jason Motte. Motte finished the inning by getting Victorino to fly out to center field. Three outs, four different pitchers used by the Cardinals — seven on the night.

La Russa made his impact felt in the top of the ninth as well. Against Ryan Madson, Albert Pujols led off with a broken bat seeing-eye single to left field. Madson worked to a 2-2 count against Lance Berkman, at which point the Cardinals’ manager decided to put on a hit-and-run with Pujols at first base, even though he has been playing with a painful foot injury. Berkman swung and missed, and Ruiz fired to second base. Pujols hadn’t even made it halfway between first and second by the time the ball reached second base. The first baseman got in a lackadaisical run-down and was retired for the second out. Madson ended the inning by striking out Adron Chambers.

The Phillies went down quietly in the ninth against Motte. A strikeout, a weak fly ball, and a weak ground ball ended the game, knotting the series at 1-1. They had just one base runner reach base between the fourth and ninth innings, and the plate discipline that was so crucial to their four early runs disappeared entirely.

The Cardinals and Phillies will board planes and head to St. Louis for Games Three scheduled for Tuesday. Cole Hamels will oppose Jaime Garcia in a battle of lefties.

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19 comments

  1. Jeff M.

    October 02, 2011 11:09 PM

    Bill, I really enjoy your insight most of the time, but the BABIP whining needs to quit. The Cardinals were making good contact off Lee all night long. I don’t care if their BABIP was 1.200, there was nothing fluky about their 5 runs tonight. They should have had more for crying out loud!!!

  2. Jesse

    October 02, 2011 11:16 PM

    Really disappointing loss. Question about BABIP, though: Does it help us distinguish that much between performance and results in such a small sample? Isn’t possible for a pitcher to get a lot of strike outs and few walks but give up a lot of solid contact, thus yielding more runs? Not sure whether that has any relevance to what happened tonight, but it seems like just saying BABIP was .500, without looking at things like LD rate, doesn’t tell you enough.

  3. Bill Baer

    October 02, 2011 11:24 PM

    The Cardinals really didn’t hit Lee all that hard. There were three, maybe four well-hit balls all game long. Lots of bloops and seeing-eye grounders.

  4. Sean

    October 02, 2011 11:30 PM

    Not to mention a lot of the extra base hits were balls that just took weird hops and messed with the outfielders rather than legitimately hard hit balls.

    So can we hit the panic button now with this being a best of five series? Essentially a best of three now?

  5. Yo Mama

    October 03, 2011 07:38 AM

    in other words, baseball happened

  6. Richard

    October 03, 2011 07:50 AM

    Agree with this mostly, except that I thought the cardinals hit Lee harder than you seem to think (though to be sure there were several bleeders and bloops mixed in). That’s still a part of luck: their line drives weren’t at fielders. On the flip side, the Phillies didn’t get much moving after the second, but it’s not like they weren’t hitting the ball hard at all.

  7. GM-Carson

    October 03, 2011 09:09 AM

    Believers in BABIP will dismiss all and every argument against such no matter how well thought out and logical it is.

    Everything boils down to luck in their view, and anyone who disagrees knows nothing about baseball according to them.

    Very pompous and near-sighted.

  8. Richard

    October 03, 2011 09:44 AM

    “Everything boils down to luck in their view”

    No, it doesn’t. This is a misunderstanding. Luck is a component to be factored into things.

    Lee gave up a few hard hit balls. That’s on him (this is why strikeouts are key). But where the ball goes is to a large extent out of his control, and what happens when it gets there is too (if Victorino catches Freese’s triple, which would have been a nice play, is Lee lucky there? Would we have remembered the play much if nothing else happened that inning?). The Phillies also hit several balls hard, but they turned into routine flyballs. (Think also of the two flyouts Howard hit. You could tell that he just missed both of them. They could have easily both been homeruns, if his swing is fractionally different; instead, routine flyballs to left. Did the pitchers get him out? Or get away with bad pitches? Were they lucky?)

  9. bill

    October 03, 2011 10:14 AM

    Luck was a factor though – Victorino just barely misses catching a triple, Berkman drops a soft fly into right that if hit nearly anywhere else, is an out, Pujols hits a soft liner literally 6 inches above Rollins’ glove, a single goes literally right under Polanco’s glove.

    Obviously Lee didn’t pitch great or anything like that, but there was some luck involved.

  10. GM-Carson

    October 03, 2011 11:46 AM

    I don’t deny some luck, but definitely not all luck. To explain Lee’s performance away by say he’s unlucky is an understatement of how poorly he pitched. He missed his spots, and not just on balls that got hit. Too many balls right off the edge that could have froze batters for even more strike 3′s.

  11. Chris

    October 03, 2011 11:48 AM

    FWIW – Lee gave up 9 GB’s, 6 FB’s, and 5 LD’s (according to FG, B-R actually has him only giving up 4 LD’s). On average, 2 of those GB’s will be hits, 1 of those FB’s will be hits, and 4 of those LD’s will be hits. So that’s 7 hits, instead of the 12 that actually happened. Additionally, 13 of his 74 strikes were swinging (according to B-R), for a swinging strike rate nearly double his season average, so I don’t think you can really say that his stuff wasn’t all that good last night. It seemed more than anything else that the hitters were just guessing right, and while not necessarily bad luck for Cliff, it was, as Bill said, a result of small sample variance, rather than poor pitching.

  12. GM-Carson

    October 03, 2011 11:58 AM

    The BABIP believers have your point of view, and I have mine.

    I won’t say yours is wrong, but unfortunately I’ve been told mine is fundamentally wrong. Not on here though. Bill is a good writer and I enjoy his stuff, even if I don’t necessarily agree with it.

  13. Css228

    October 03, 2011 01:44 PM

    GM Carson, generally the best correlation to performance of a pitcher are things they can control (especially going forward). Thats why xFIP accounts for K/9 BB/9, assumes a BABIP of .300 and normalizes home run rate. If you believe pitchers do have some control over BABIP, which I do because not every pitcher gets the same batted ball types the SIERA is a better measure for you. But even then, Lee was not giving up the type of contact that would account for such an abnormal BABIP on the cardinals. to have a BABIP of .600 as it was during Lee’s portion of the game, basically every hitter had to hit a line drive which fall in 70+% of the time. Given that fly balls and ground balls fall in at far lower rates and the majority of the hits Lee gave up were grounders, .600 BABIP is an unsustainable rate produced by variance in a small sample. I’d be totally with you if his locations were off and everything he pitched was getting tagged, but the guy had 9ks through 6 innings. He was pitching well.

  14. Bill Baer

    October 03, 2011 02:09 PM

    Carson,

    I’m not sure why you’re so combative. I don’t recall lashing out at you, nor do I recall any of my readers doing so.

    As a fun thought exercise, I’m curious how you reconcile these stats:

    - Roy Halladay: .295 career BABIP [link]
    - Adam Eaton: .301 career BABIP [link]

    Per every 1,000 at-bats, Eaton only gave up six more hits on batted balls than Halladay. Is this a flaw in the BABIP formula? Again, not a jab, but a legitimate question as I’m curious how a non-believer in BABIP reconciles this.

  15. KH

    October 03, 2011 02:45 PM

    The Cardinals definitely got some seeing eye singles (John Jay had 2 and the catcher had one and Theriot hit 2 balls for doubles that were not particularly hard hit just to name some) and lets not forget the ridiculous infield hit they got. Those are the breaks of the game unfortunately hopefully things will even out.

  16. GM-Carson

    October 03, 2011 03:27 PM

    Bill- nobody on here attacked me. Some statistical overlords on Twitter did last night. As I stated above, I enjoy this site, even if I don’t always agree with the information presented.

    On the Halladay and Eaton thing- that shows that indeed the average BABIP is roughly .300, but not all hits are created equal.

  17. J-Ball

    October 03, 2011 04:57 PM

    You left out the part where Ryan Howard’s single was actually a double play ball that was redirected off of Carpenter’s foot. Both sides had some lucky breaks.

  18. Bill Baer

    October 03, 2011 06:53 PM

    From my notes for tomorrow’s episode of Stathead on Phillies 24/7 98.1 WOGL HD-4…

    Batted ball distribution: 9 ground balls, 4 outfield fly balls, 3 infield fly balls, 4 line drives

    Expected hits based on Lee’s 2011 BABIP…

    Ground balls: .241 * 9 = 2
    Actual: 5 (+3)

    Outfield flies: .132 * 4 = 1
    Actual: 2 (+1)

    Infield flies: .010 * 3 = 0
    Actual: 0 (even)

    Line drives: .661 * 4 = 3
    Actual: 4 (+1)

    Allowed three more ground ball hits, one more outfield fly ball hit, and one more line drive hit than expected.

  19. Bill Baer

    October 03, 2011 06:56 PM

    Besides, you can’t just say a .500 BABIP is bad luck when line drives are being hit all over the place.

    Evidence is above you, but Lee allowed four line drives on the night. Out of 20 batted balls, that’s a 20% rate, which is right about the league average.

    Lee was not getting hit any harder than normal.

    Link to the source data: bbref.com/pi/shareit/qJ5ME

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