BDD: Cause and Effect

At Baseball Daily Digest, I argue that the Yankees’ unlimited amount of money isn’t the cause of baseball’s financial inequalities; it is an effect.

Any fan would love to have George Steinbrenner as the owner of his or her favorite team. Steinbrenner clearly has a personal –  not to be confused with financial — stake in the success of his team and would sail to the edge of the Earth to put his team in a great position to succeed. Conversely, we would all hate to have Pohlad as an owner because his actions bespoke viewing the players as dollar signs. Star free agents gave Pohlad nightmares of money being thrown out of a Rolls-Royce convertible on a windy day in the Hamptons.

Share Your Favorite Moments of 2009

With the 2009 season in the books, there’s nothing left to do — for a little while — except look back and reflect. I’d like to share my favorite Phillies moment of 2009 and then I’ll open up the dialogue for anyone else who wants to chime in.

On April 27, 2009, the Phillies welcomed in the Washington Nationals for the first game of a three-game series. The Nats to that point were 4-13, so it should have been an easy victory, being WFC’s and all. However, someone must have notified the Nationals that it was Home Run Derby and not an actual game, as they would hit five home runs in the game: three off of starter Joe Blanton and two off of reliever Scott Eyre.

Heading into the bottom of the fifth, the Phillies had only managed two runs off of a very hittable pitcher in Shairon Martis. Reliever Jack Taschner led off the inning and made an out, but saw six pitches from Martis, setting up the rest of the inning. Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, and Chase Utley each would hit singles to load up the bases for Ryan Howard.

Howard quickly fell behind in the count 0-2, but on the fifth pitch of the at-bat, Howard decided to tie the game in one swing. He smoked a grand slam to center field, accounting for one of his 45 home runs and four of his 141 RBI on the season.

The score was knotted at six apiece, but that was not the end of the offense. Neither bullpen did its job at limiting damage, as six of the ten total relievers used in the game would allow at least one run inherited or otherwise. Going into the seventh inning, the score was tied at 7-7 and Charlie Manuel elected to bring in Scott Eyre to pitch to the Nationals’ dangerous left-handed hitters in Nick Johnson and Adam Dunn. Eyre faced five hitters and retired none of them, allowing three walks and two home runs (to Johnson and Dunn).

That Phillies offense would roar back. Garrett Mock was sent in to hold the 11-7 lead for the Nationals in the eighth inning, but he quickly sent two runs back the Phillies’ way on two singles, a double, and a sacrifice fly. With two outs, then-closer Joel Hanrahan was sent in to stop the bleeding. Instead, he created a gash.

His first offering to Ryan Howard was a ball in the dirt that allowed Chase Utley, who had hit an RBI single, to advance to second base. Hanrahan couldn’t find the strike zone after evening the count at 1-1, so the Phillies had runners on first and second for Jayson Werth. Again, Hanrahan couldn’t buy a strike, falling behind 3-0 and walking Werth on five pitches to load the bases.

That brought in the new guy, Pat Burrell’s replacement, Raul Ibanez. He had already made an impact in his first four weeks in Philadelphia, hitting five home runs and driving in 12 runs in his first 17 games.

At that point in the game, down 11-9 with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the eighth, the Phillies were just hoping for a base hit. Despite Hanrahan’s lack of control, Ibanez stepped to the plate looking to swing, likely thinking that the struggling closer would want to get ahead in the count. He was right — he got a belt-high inside fastball that he quickly turned on and sent down the line into the seats in right field for a grand slam, the Phillies’ second of the game.

J.A. Happ got the win, pitching a scoreless eighth inning, and Ryan Madson got the save, pitching a perfect ninth. Aside from that, it was an ugly game for pitchers. The two teams’ staffs combined to allow 26 hits, 16 walks, and 24 earned runs in 17 combined innings (12.71 ERA, 2.47 WHIP).

The Ibanez grand slam was one of my favorite moments of 2009. What were yours?

Exeunt Phillies

Congratulations to the 2009 World Series champion New York Yankees. It was a great, hard-fought series and they deserve their success, no matter how much money they spent on C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixiera, and A.J. Burnett. In the end, it was money well spent.

Congratulations to the 2009 National League champion Philadelphia Phillies, who were two World Series victories away from being the first National League team to win back-to-back World Series since the Big Red Machine in 1975-76. It was a hell of a run, and while the dream has poofed for 2009, 2010 is not out of the question.

Game Six was not a thriller. It was hardly dramatic. The Phillies were 3-to-1 underdogs after Hideki Matsui’s two-run home run in the second inning. They were 5-to-1 underdogs when Matsui got his third and fourth RBI’s on a single in the third inning. Matsui made it 49-to-1 on a two-run double in the fifth. Ryan Howard’s two-run home run in the sixth only bumped the Phillies from 3% to win to 7%.

Andy Pettitte, as in Game 3, was not sharp. He had spotty control, walking five while pitching five and two-thirds innings, but induced two gut-punching double plays off of the bats of Chase Utley in the first and Jimmy Rollins in the fifth.

Pedro Martinez, meanwhile, did not have his stuff at all. Contrary to what the FOX broadcasters were saying, his fastball velocity was similar to that on October 29 in Game Two. The difference was that his fastball in Game Two was getting nearly two more inches of horizontal break and more than a half-inch more of vertical break. Simply put, his fastballs tonight were flat(ter).

Martinez’s pitch selection in Game Six was similar to Game Two:

The difference, however, was that in Two, the Yankees got their hits (three singles, a double, and two home runs) on four curve balls and two change-ups. In Six, the Yankees got their three hits (two singles and a home run) all on fastballs.

Martinez wasn’t locating his breaking pitches effectively. Here’s a look at where his change-ups ended up:

  • 35 total change-ups
  • 16 taken for balls (46%)
  • 8 fouled off (23%)
  • 7 taken for called strikes (20%)
  • 2 hit for outs (6%)
  • 2 swung at and missed (6%)

And the sliders:

  • 12 total sliders
  • 4 taken for balls (33%)
  • 3 swung at and missed (25%)
  • 2 hit for outs (17%)
  • 2 taken for strikes (17%)
  • 1 fouled off (8%)

As you can see in the above charts, very rarely did Pedro throw his off-speed pitches below the knees and when he did, the Yankees rarely offered at them. In fact, of the ten change-ups thrown below the knees, only once was it swung at; and none of Pedro’s sliders were southbound. Most of the breaking pitches the Yankees offered at were belt-high or higher, where those pitches are least efficient.

Taking advantage of Pedro Martinez, as he did in Game Two, was Hideki Matsui. In his two plate appearances against the future Hall of Famer, Matsui drove in four runs on a home run and a single. Matsui would add two more RBI — making it six total — against Chad Durbin, tying Bobby Richardson’s single-game World Series record for RBI, set in 1960.

In the World Series, Matsui had 8 hits in 13 at-bats (.615), including three home runs and a double. He led his team in HR and RBI and tied for the lead in hits — a no-brainer choice for World Series MVP even though he only started three games and never took the field.

On the other side of record-breaking, Ryan Howard broke the all-time record for strikeouts in the World Series when he struck out for the 13th time against Damaso Marte in the eighth inning. Chase Utley, a candidate for World Series MVP until Matsui broke out, remained tied with Reggie Jackson for most home runs in the World Series with five.

Mariano Rivera, he of 39 career post-season saves (13 of which have come in the World Series), entered with one out in the eighth inning and recorded the remaining five outs to clinch the championship for the Yankees, their 27th championship in franchise history.

The Phillies have no reason to hang their heads, as they put together the most impressive two-year run in the franchise’s long history, and they are still primed for another run next year. Pedro Martinez, Scott Eyre, Matt Stairs, Chan Ho Park and Brett Myers are all free agents. Martinez, Eyre, and Stairs may hang up their spikes. There are three significant arbitration cases to be dealt with (Joe Blanton, Shane Victorino, and Carlos Ruiz) as well, so the upcoming off-season will be another critical test for GM Ruben Amaro, who is going into his second year handling the business end of things for the Phillies.

For the Yankee-fan view of things, head over to It’s About the Money.

Game graph above courtesy FanGraphs.

A Harrowing Escape

Remember the position James Bond was in in Goldfinger, when he was tied up with the laser ready to — what do lasers do again? slice? buzz? — him into two pieces?

“You expect me to talk?”

“No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.”

The Phillies didn’t talk; they walked, both literally (in the baseball sense) and figuratively.

After yet another first inning run was given to the Yankees — the third in two games — Chase Utley gave the Phillies the spark they needed to force a Game 6 in New York. Jimmy Rollins led off the bottom of the first with a line drive single up the middle, and A.J. Burnett proceeded to hit Shane Victorino in the hand with a two-seam fastball that didn’t tail back into the strike zone.

Utley, to that point, had done the majority of his damage against C.C. Sabathia. Burnett, however, served up a first-pitch fastball down the middle that simply couldn’t be passed up. Chase took his usual perfect, effortless, mechanically-flawless swing of his and gave the fans in the right field seats a souvenir and the Phillies a 3-1 lead. The home run was Utley’s fourth of the World Series, tying Lenny Dykstra, Barry Bonds, and Duke Snider for the National League record.

In the third inning, the Phillies stayed patient against A.J. Burnett who, unlike his Game 2 self, simply could not find the strike zone. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard both walked to start the inning. Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez would follow with RBI singles to center field and right field respectively. It was at that point manager Joe Girardi opted to remove Burnett from the game — without having recorded an out in the third inning. Burnett’s replacement, David Robertson, would allow the sixth run on a Carlos Ruiz RBI groundout.

Chase Utley hit his second home run of the game and fifth home run of the post-season in the seventh inning off of Phil Coke. Utley’s five is tied with Reggie Jackson for most in a World Series all-time. He still has at least one more game left to lay sole claim to the record. Ibanez also added a solo home run in the seventh off of Coke after Ryan Howard struck out, tying Willie Wilson’s post-season record with 12 strikeouts.

The early offense, a five-run cushion, was more than enough for Phillies savior and starter Clifton Phifer Lee. The Phillies put ten runners on base on five hits, four walks, and the hit-by-pitch in the first three innings alone. Lee wasn’t as sharp as he had been in his prior four post-season starts, but was good enough to keep the Yankee offense at bay.

Charlie Manuel — who has rarely pushed the right buttons in the World Series — let Lee come back out for the eighth inning despite owning a six-run lead and many available arms in the bullpen. He allowed a single to Johnny Damon and two doubles to Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez to start the inning. A-Rod’s drove in two runs with the double and would score on a sacrifice fly by Robinson Cano, making the score 8-5.

Lee’s final line: 7 IP, 5 ER, 3 K, 3 BB. It looks much worse than his start really was. His line was 7 IP, 2 ER, 3 K, 3 BB prior to Manuel’s illogical decision to allow him to take the bump to start the eighth. Chan Ho Park, however, limited the damage in relief of Lee, and Ryan Madson induced Derek Jeter to hit into a run-scoring ground ball double-play, and struck out Mark Teixeira in the ninth to seal an 8-6 victory.

The Phillies will pack up their bags and head to New York for Game 6, which will likely see a match-up between starters Andy Pettitte (on short rest) and Pedro Martinez.

One down, two to go.

Game graph above courtesy FanGraphs.

Curtains

Game Four was a microcosm of the Phillies’ 2009 season. Starter not named Cliff Lee gives up too many runs in too few innings, middle relief does a decent job of keeping the game close, the Phillies catch up, Brad Lidge wraps the game up with a nice bow tie for the opposition.

Eleven blown saves. At least one run allowed in 30 of his 67 appearances during the regular season.

The fear that came along with Charlie Manuel’s continuing to rely on Lidge was that their 2008 untouchable superstar would come in in a critical spot in the playoffs and — well, you know the rest. That fear came to fruition tonight, even after Lidge rather handily retired the first two Yankees in the top of the ninth inning.

Johnny Damon had what is known as a “professional at-bat” when he fouled off five Brad Lidge offerings to work the count to 3-2 after eight pitches. On the ninth, he hit a line drive that dropped in front of left fielder Raul Ibanez for the single. What would unfold next is atypical, but given Lidge’s season, perhaps not surprising.

With the right-hander on the mound, Mark Teixeira came up to the plate in the left-handed batter’s box. Due to that, the Phillies shifted their infield towards the right side, leaving Pedro Feliz at shortstop and covering second base on a stolen base attempt. Damon attempted and succeeded to steal the base, and because Lidge failed to cover third base with the shifted infield, Damon dashed past Feliz for the free extra base.

Still, a runner on third base with two outs is not terrible news — it just means that Carlos Ruiz has to be sharp on Lidge’s slider in the dirt. And that is perhaps why Lidge was victimized, as he hit Teixeira to put runners on the corners for Alex Rodriguez. He then threw a first-pitch low-and-inside fastball to get ahead of A-Rod.

Perhaps Rodriguez was looking for another fastball because he knew that the slider was less of an option with the runner on third base. Nonetheless, Lidge threw another fastball and it was laced past Ibanez in left field for a go-ahead RBI double.

The Yankees would tack on two more runs when Lidge threw four fastballs out of five pitches to Jorge Posada. The fourth fastball was lined into the left-center field gap, scoring Teixeira and Rodriguez to up the score to 7-4. Posada was thrown out trying to advance to second base.

It is a devastating loss for the Phillies as they once again showed their resilience when Pedro Feliz hit a game-tying solo home run in the bottom of the eighth off of Joba Chamberlain. That hit would have been added to Ryan Howard’s go-ahead double in Colorado and Jimmy Rollins’ walk off against the Dodgers’ Jonathan Broxton, but it went for naught. Chase Utley’s dominance against C.C. Sabathia is also lost as a result of Lidge’s ninth inning collapse.

The Phillies now find themselves down three games to one with three games left to play, all of which they must win if they want to repeat as World Series champions.

Game graph above courtesy FanGraphs.

Someone Had to Do It

Four singles, four doubles, a triple, two home runs, and 14 RBI. That’s how productive Ryan Howard was in 39 plate appearances in the NLDS against the Colorado Rockies and in the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers. His performance as offensive juggernaut against the Dodgers earned him NLCS MVP honors.

Suddenly, that Ryan Howard has vanished. In the World Series, he has struck out nine times in 13 plate appearances. He has reached base only twice (on two doubles) and driven in only one run. In Game 2 and his first two plate appearances in Game 3, he struck out six times in six straight plate appearances.

What happened?

Thanks to two southpaw starters in three games, Ryan Howard has faced a left-hander nearly 70% of the time in the World Series as opposed to 17% in the NLDS and 52% in the NLCS. The biggest difference is that Yankees southpaws have done a good job of sending Howard back to the dugout after his at-bat. He reached base in four of his 11 plate appearances (.364 OBP) in the NLCS but only twice in 9 PA (.222 OBP) in the World Series. Furthermore, the Yankees have struck him out five times in nine PA compared to the four strikeouts in 14 PA he accrued in the NLDS and NLCS combined.

Here’s a look at every PA he’s had against a lefty so far this post-season along with the results.

How have the Yankees been pitching him?

Let’s start with pitch distribution.

  • Breaking pitches — sliders and curves — have accounted for nearly three out of every five pitches (60%) Howard has seen.
  • Howard is seeing significantly less straight fastballs and nearly triple the rate of moving fastballs (two-seamers and cutters), though still not many.
  • Due to the preponderance of left-on-left match-ups, Howard has not seen any change-ups.

This graph will show you the location of those pitches. The breaking pitches have been slightly enlarged for emphasis.

Just about all of the breaking pitches have been on the outside part of the plate to Howard. Very few pitches have been thrown in the top-third of the strike zone.

This graph will show you the pitch location and the result:

  • Howard has swung and missed at a lot of pitches (black diamonds) in the lower third of the strike zone.
  • Howard has fouled off pitches (purple diamonds) in or near the strike zone that have been on the outer third, low, or both. He hasn’t been able to get his arms extended. The two that he hit for doubles (blue squares) were up and over the plate.
  • He has taken only one pitch in the top third of the strike zone. He has taken eight pitches below his knees for balls.

Essentially, the Yankees have been putting on a clinic on dealing with Ryan Howard. They have been making him face lefties against whom he had a .653 OPS  in the regular season. David Eckstein had a .657 OPS in the regular season, for a comparison. Against right-handers, Howard had a 1.086 OPS. Albert Pujols had a 1.101 OPS during the regular season.

Who would you rather oppose, Eckstein or Pujols? Easy decision.

Once the left-hander is in, they pepper the low-and-outside part of the strike zone with sliders and curve balls. That should be the M.O. of every team that has to deal with him.

The Yankees are the first team this post-season to figure that out.

Southpaws Gone Fishin’

The top of the Phillies lineup went 1-for-14. One for fourteen.

Aside from Jayson Werth, the Phillies offense couldn’t figure out Andy Pettitte after the second inning, as he kept the Fightins’ left-handed hitters silent and collectively 0-for-12 with seven strikeouts. Cole Hamels, meanwhile, failed to get back on the post-season success wagon as he failed to leave the fifth inning.

Cole Hamels was victimized by himself once again. He poorly located his curve balls, as not one curve ball was thrown below the knees of a Yankees hitter, four were in the strike zone, and two went for Yankees hits: a double by Nick Swisher and a single by Pettitte.

The bullpen wasn’t much help as every Phillies reliever except Ryan Madson gave up a run. The Yankees’ bullpen threw three scoreless innings in relief of Pettitte, who won his 17th career post-season game, adding to his all-time record.

Manager Joe Girardi was mindful of platoon match-ups: Chase Utley and Matt Stairs were the only Phillies lefty hitters to face right-handed pitching, and they only got one plate appearance each at that. This is a far cry from the way Colorado Rockies manager Jim Tracy and Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre chose to approach the middle of the Phillies’ lineup in previous post-season series.

Have a look at how each pitcher chose to attack the strike zone:

Very rarely did Pettitte throw to the left side of the plate (from the hitter’s perspective) with anything other than sliders. His fastballs were mostly on the right side and, unlike Hamels, was able to keep his fastball low and mostly out of the strike zone.

In the regular season, lefties hit for a .730 OPS against him and right-handers .717. As mentioned, the lefties were silent; right-hander Jayson Werth hit two solo home runs, Pedro Feliz doubled, and Jimmy Rollins (batting right) singled.

Hamels was all over the place with his fastball and used his curve ball very ineffectively. That he only threw four pitches below the knees is troubling — it is not a great way to approach the Yankees’ lineup.

This is a comparison of the pitch selection for the two starters:

Hamels stuck to his 60/30/10 distribution of fastball, change-up, and curve. Pettitte seemed to go back to the plan of attack from Game 3 of the ALCS with a reliance on sliders and used his cut fastball a lot more than usual.

I implore Phillies fans not to give up on Cole Hamels. Do not go Donovan McNabb on the kid. Cole Hamels is fine. Be patient.

Game graph above courtesy FanGraphs.

What to Expect from Andy Pettitte

World Series Game 3 in Philadelphia will feature a match-up between two southpaws, Cole Hamels and Andy Pettitte. A fair assessment of the pitchers reveals that Hamels has been much better than his statistics have shown and Pettitte has been slightly better, as the two have an xFIP (per The Hardball Times) of 3.75 and 4.59 compared to ERA’s of 4.32 and 4.94 respectively.

If I were to check out BetUS sports betting, I would smile at the -175 line the Yankees currently are enjoying, as the two pitchers are quite similar with their batted ball distributions:

We know what Cole Hamels has to offer: 60% fastballs, 30% change-ups, 10% curve balls.

What should we expect from Andy Pettitte? His post-season trend says we should expect about two out of every five pitches (40%) to be four- and two-seam fastballs. Other than that, we don’t really know as Pettitte has changed his pitch selection from game to game. We can expect anywhere from 40-60% sliders and cutters, and selective use of the cut fastball and change-up.

Pettitte’s curve, and cutter have been his most effective pitches with RAA/100 averages of 1.08, and 2.50 respectively. His fastball has been slightly below average at -0.34 and his change-up has been ineffective at -1.53.

Andy does not have a significant platoon split: lefties have hit him slightly better than right-handers, .717 to .730 in terms of OPS this season. Over his career, that split is .728 to .711 in favor of right-handers.

Expectedly, as Pettitte has grown older, he has become more hittable. Since 2005, hitters have been swinging less and less at pitches Pettitte throws in the strike zone, yet their contact on pitches in the zone have hovered in the 90% range, the highest in Pettitte’s career dating back to 2002, as far back as the data goes. Coupled with that is a career low percentage of pitches thrown in the strike zone, 45.6% compared to his average 52%.

The Phillies are one of the best teams at being disciplined at the plate. Five of the eight regulars had walk rates at 10%  or higher according to FanGraphs.

If the Phillies approach Pettitte the way they approached C.C. Sabathia — work counts and force him to throw fastballs — there should be no problem despite Andy’s post-season history. By the way, don’t sleep on Ryan Howard, who struck out four times in four at-bats in Game 2, with the left-on-left match-up: he loves him some sliders.

Check out the BetUS.com MLB World Series odds by clicking here.

Be sure to check in with Rob Neyer at Sweetspot and Jason Rosenberg at It’s About the Money, Stupid! for more World Series coverage.

Called Third Strike

The theme of A.J. Burnett’s start was the strikeout, particularly the called third strike with his curveball towards the end of his outing. His last three strikeouts were of the backwards-K variety.

All we could talk about before the series was how each team packed an explosive offensive punch. Ryan Howard and Alex Rodriguez both had monster Division and Championship Series performances, and with the homer-friendly parks each team calls home, we were expecting Home Run Derby.

Cliff Lee, C.C. Sabathia, Pedro Martinez, and Burnett say “thanks for playing, better luck next time”. Each starter has at least reached the seventh inning, each has struck out at least six batters, and each has allowed no more than three runs.

Tonight, Burnett was in top form just as Cliff Lee was last night. He lasted seven innings and used his curve ball effectively, striking out nine Phillies, while allowing only six base runners on four hits and two walks. The Phils could only muster one run on a Matt Stairs RBI single to left field in the second inning.

Burnett threw 45 curve balls out of 107 pitches (42%). 35 of those curves were thrown to left-handed hitters. The Phillies against Burnett’s curve:

  • Made contact: 10 times (7 fouls, 2 ground outs, 1 ground-rule double)
  • Swung and missed: 7
  • Took for a strike: 8
  • Took for a ball: 20 (6 in the dirt)

To give you an idea as to what the Phillies were facing, take a gander at these visuals from Brooks Baseball, the blue line in particular:

His fastball and curve ball are essentially at the same location for about 35 feet from the pitcher’s mound, and then the curve ball breaks off the table as they say. That’s why his curve has been worth about one and a half runs above average per 100 curve balls.

As the Yankees did last night, the Phillies must simply give Burnett a tip of the cap for a well-pitched game. There was not much they could have done with the curves Burnett was putting on the black, low and outside with pinpoint precision.

The Phillies did not go quietly, however. Facing Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning with one out, Jimmy Rollins had a rare — for this season anyway — professional at-bat in which he saw eleven pitches and eventually worked a walk. Shane Victorino followed up with a single through the first and second basemen to put runners on first and second with one out.

Using the run expectancy matrix on Baseball Prospectus, we would expect about one run there. However, the guy on the mound is the best relief pitcher in baseball history, so the actual run expectancy is somewhere around .001, right? Chase Utley proved it by weakly grounding into a double play to end the rally and the inning.

Raul Ibanez doubled with two outs in the ninth to bring up Matt Stairs as the tying run, but Rivera in typical fashion struck him out for the 27th out.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi, maligned even by Yankees fans for some of his in-game decisions, pushed all the right buttons in the bottom of the seventh. Jerry Hairston led off by dunking a single into right field. Girardi sent in Brett Gardner to pinch-run. He then instructed Melky Cabrera to lay down a sacrifice bunt, but Cabrera was unable to do so. Thinking he was being handed a free out, Pedro Martinez threw a ball up in the zone, but instead Girardi took the bunt off and ordered a hit-and-run. Cabrera sent the pitch back into right field for another single, and Gardner scampered to third base without a problem.

Jorge Posada was announced as a pinch-hitter, so Charlie Manuel yanked Martinez and brought in Chan Ho Park. Making Girardi three-for-three, Posada lined a single up the middle to drive in an insurance run for the Yankees. The only blunder in the inning came when Derek Jeter decided to bunt with two strikes of his own volition.

If we’re handing out MVP awards for Game Two, Burnett wins it easily, but Girardi would get one as well for going three-for-three with his strategy in the seventh.

The Phillies won’t be heading back to Philadelphia on a sour note. They split the two in New York, which is the most that they could have reasonably expected. Now they’ll look to take two of three at home, or even better, finish it off at home as they did last year against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Game graph above courtesy FanGraphs.

Cliff Lee Is Mr. October

It is usually the hitters who become ingrained in our collective memory when it comes to post-season heroics. Cue montages of Reggie Jackson, Carlton Fisk, and Kirk Gibson. Even for the Phillies, Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz have been receiving most of the kudos for the deep run into the post-season. Captain Clutch this year, however, is not Derek Jeter nor is it Ruiz and Howard; it is one Clifton Phifer Lee.

Lee threw all nine innings, struck out ten Yankees, walked none, allowed only six hits, and the Yankees managed a meager one run — a meaningless run — in the ninth. The best offense in baseball was reduced to a series of swings-and-misses and weakly-hit grounders. Cliff was on his game from the start and didn’t let up until the game was in the bag.

Chase Utley took the edge off with solo home runs in the third and sixth innings off of C.C. Sabathia, accounting for the first two runs the Phillies scored. The Phillies gave Lee breathing room in the eighth when Raul Ibanez knocked in two with a bases loaded single to right field, and again in the ninth on an RBI single by Shane Victorino and an RBI double by Ryan Howard.

Lee went the distance for the second time this post-season and has yet to leave the game prior to the eighth inning. For all the clamoring for Roy Halladay near the trading deadline, GM Ruben Amaro is looking like a modern day Nostradamus for his sly acquisition of Cliff Lee (and hey, Ben Francisco too). Clifton now has 30 strikeouts in 33 1/3 innings of work and a paltry 0.5 WHIP.

The Phillies’ ace threw 121 pitches:

  • 48 four-seam fastballs, 40%
  • 14 two-seam fastballs, 12%
  • 24 sliders, 20%
  • 20 change-ups, 17%
  • 15 curve balls, 12%

How did Lee attack the Yankees’ left-handed hitters as opposed to their right-handers?

  • 36 total pitches
  • 21 four-seam fastballs, 58%
  • 2 two-seam fastballs, 6%
  • 3 change-ups, 8%
  • 3 curve balls, 8%
  • 7 sliders, 19%

  • 85 total pitches
  • 27 four-seam fastballs, 32%
  • 12 two-seam fastballs, 14%
  • 17 change-ups, 20%
  • 12 curve balls, 14%
  • 17 sliders, 20%

Of the pitches left-handed hitters made contact with, 67% (6 of 9) were on fastballs. Right-handed hitters only made contact with 31% fastballs (4 of 13). This shouldn’t be surprising because Lee, over the course of his career, has a near-even split against LH (.714 OPS) and RH (.733 OPS) batters.

The Phillies once again win Game One of a post-season series and now have just three more wins to go before hoisting another World Series trophy above their heads. Should they reach that pinnacle, they will heartily thank Mr. October, Cliff Lee.

Suggested Reading Material

Game graph above courtesy FanGraphs.