Oswalt Pitches Phillies to 1-1 Split

The Phillies evened the National League Championship Series at one game apiece, defeating the San Francisco Giants 6-1 behind a strong eight-inning performance by Roy Oswalt, and a seventh-inning bases-clearing double by Jimmy Rollins.

Giants starter Jonathan Sanchez battled the inconsistent strike zone of home plate umpire Dan Iassogna, walking three batters in the first inning, including a controversial RBI ball four to Jimmy Rollins that was a strike according to Pitch F/X.  Sanchez allowed the second run when Shane Victorino led off the bottom of the fifth with a double down the left field line, then advanced to third and home on Chase Utley and Placido Polanco outfield fly balls. Otherwise, Sanchez limited the damage.

Right fielder Cody Ross accounted for the only Giants run in the fifth inning, when he drove an inside fastball over the left field fence for his third solo home run of the series.

The Phillies broke the game open in the seventh after Oswalt led off the inning with a line drive single to center field. Victorino bunted him to second, forcing reliever Ramon Ramirez to intentionally walk Utley. Polanco then ripped a single back through the middle. It appeared the Phillies would have to settle for a bases loaded, one out situation, but Oswalt ignored third base coach Sam Perlozzo’s hold sign and scored easily.

The Giants then brought in left-hander Jeremy Affeldt to pitch to Howard. Polanco and Utley pulled off a double-steal, but Howard was unable to make contact, striking out for the second out of the inning. After Affeldt intentionally walked Jayson Werth, manager Bruce Bochy brought in his third reliever of the inning in Santiago Casilla. Rollins, batting left, lined a low-and-inside fastball to right-center field, narrowly missing the Phillies’ first post-season grand slam since Game Two of the NLDS against the Milwaukee Brewers. Three Phillies crossed home plate as Rollins jogged into second base, with two hits and four RBI on the night.

Oswalt found himself in trouble in the eighth inning, walking Pablo Sandoval with one out, and serving up a hit to Freddy Sanchez with two outs. Charlie Manuel chose to let Oswalt finish the inning rather than make a call to the bullpen. Oswalt got Aubrey Huff to line out to center field to end the threat. He finished with nine strikeouts and allowed only three hits.

Ryan Madson pitched a scoreless ninth, working around a lead-off walk to Buster Posey and a two-out Travis Ishikawa single, to ensure the Phillies would fly to San Francisco splitting the first two games. Both teams will have the day off tomorrow to travel and will resume the series on Tuesday with an official start time of 4 PM ET.

No Need to Panic After Game One Loss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lincecum, Giants Top Phillies in Game One

The Phillies dropped Game One of the National League Championship Series to the San Francisco Giants behind an uncharacteristically human effort from ace right-hander Roy Halladay. Although Halladay did not walk any Giants hitters, he was around the middle of the plate too often and paid the price with two Cody Ross solo home runs, a Pat Burrell RBI double, and a Juan Uribe RBI single.

Both Halladay and Giants ace Tim Lincecum were battling the inconsistent strike zone of home plate umpire Derryl Cousins. Halladay responded with a few too many hittable pitches. He was not helped when Raul Ibanez failed to catch a Burrell fly ball against the left field wall in the top of the sixth inning, leading to the Giants’ third run. The pitch before, Halladay had walked off the mound thinking he had thrown a called strike three to end the inning, but Cousins stood motionless, beckoning the author of baseball’s second post-season no-hitter back to the mound, only to further expand his team’s deficit.

Lincecum was not as sharp as a two-time defending National League Cy Young award winner should be, but was able to get out of several situations where the Phillies threatened to score runs. The Phillies had the lead-off runner on in four of Lincecum’s seven innings but aside from the home runs, they never advanced a runner with a batted ball.

The Phillies’ offense was predicated on the home run, scoring their three runs on a solo shot by Carlos Ruiz in the bottom of the third and a two-run shot by Jayson Werth in the sixth. Aside from that, the Phillies were inefficient manufacturing runs and hitting with runners in scoring position — an issue that noticeably plagued them throughout their championship run in 2008.

Both teams’ bullpens held serve, keeping the score 4-3 in their two respective innings of work. Ryan Madson pitched a clean top of the eighth inning, retiring all three batters he faced. In the bottom of the eighth, Giants left-hander Javier Lopez retired lefties Chase Utley and Ryan Howard and Brian Wilson finished the inning by striking out Jimmy Rollins. Werth had reached base on a single to left-center and was running with a 3-2 count to Rollins, vastly increasing the Phillies’ odds to tie the game.

Brad Lidge kept the Phillies within one run with a scoreless ninth, escaping a bases-loaded one-out nail-biter. Wilson finished the job with three more outs in the bottom half of the ninth. Raul Ibanez, Ross Gload, and Shane Victorino each struck out in the ninth. Victorino had the benefit of pinch-runner Wilson Valdez — the pinch-runner for Ruiz, who was hit by a pitch — running on a 3-2 pitch, but was not able to make contact.

The Phillies drop the first game but have the opportunity to even the series tomorrow night before flying out to San Francisco for Game Three. Roy Oswalt will oppose Jonathan Sanchez.

Notes: Halladay allowed two home runs in one game to one batter for the first time since September 4 when Corey Hart of the Milwaukee Brewers accomplished the feat. … Halladay went 11 and one-third innings before allowing his first hit and run of his post-season career. … Halladay allowed his first hit since the eighth inning on September 27 against the Washington Nationals, and his first run since the seventh inning on September 21 against the Atlanta Braves. … The Phillies lost the first game of a post-season series for the first time since the 2007 NLDS against the Colorado Rockies.

Dom Brown or Greg Dobbs?

Via Todd Zolecki on Twitter, the Phillies were deciding between Domonic Brown and Greg Dobbs for the final spot on the NLCS roster:

NLCS roster undecided. Likely down to Dobbs/Brown. Dobbs can play INF. Brown has speed/bat. Health concerns 4 Polly/JRoll might help Dobbs.

Matt Gelb tweeted that the Phillies gave the rose to Brown.

It’s not a terribly important decision as neither is likely to see much playing time all things being equal. The debate comes down to security against convenience. Are the Phillies willing to gamble on the health and effectiveness of Placido Polanco and Jimmy Rollins by not carrying an extra infielder in Dobbs? Or would the Phillies rather forgo Brown’s better offensive output (despite what his 70 MLB plate appearances say) by bringing Dobbs as a security blanket?

The Phillies already have a left-handed pinch-hitter in Ross Gload, so the odds of seeing Brown in a regulation game are already lowered, barring an injury to one of the relatively healthy outfielders. Defensively, Brown is behind Ben Francisco on the depth chart.

If one of Rollins and Polanco is too hurt to play, the Phillies will go with Wilson Valdez as a replacement. If both are hurt, then both Valdez and Dobbs are in the lineup. It’s not likely to happen but the probability is nonzero, given how gingerly Rollins ran the bases in the NLDS and Polanco’s staggering ineffectiveness since August. After Valdez, the Phillies would have no one qualified to play third base.

As the Phillies showed in the middle of the season, they can win games without half of their starting infield. You can’t just throw your hands up and say, “Well, if Rollins and Polanco are out, then the Phillies lose anyway.” Should that happen, the Phillies would have to get creative. Mike Sweeney at third? Carlos Ruiz? He did play one inning at third base on August 26, 2008. Dobbs, as bad as he is defensively (career -4.7 UZR/150), would be much better at third base than any emergency substitute.

Playing third base may look easy, especially having watched Polanco all year, but there are a lot of little things that players pick up with experience: footwork, throwing, decision-making, etc. If Andres Torres drops a bunt down the third base line, you’d rather have a somewhat experienced third baseman making the bare-handed throw to first base. Same deal if the bases are loaded with one out in the bottom of the ninth. Remember that double play that Troy Glaus turned for the Atlanta Braves in Game 2 of the NLDS? That decision — to attempt the double play rather than go home — comes from experience playing the position.

Ultimately, the decision probably won’t matter. But if the decision were mine — and perhaps it’s a good thing it wasn’t — I’d have hedged my bets and gone with Dobbs over Brown.

Phillies-Giants NLCS Preview: Q & A with Chris Quick

Four wins separate the Phillies from their third consecutive World Series appearance. The confidence of Phillies fans is at a year-long high. Roy Halladay will start Game One fresh off of holding the National League’s best offense to zero hits, and hasn’t allowed a run since the seventh inning on September 21. Cole Hamels threw a complete game shut-out of his own to wrap up a series sweep of the Reds in Game Three. The bullpen is well-rested, and the walking wounded position players have had about a week to rest. Things couldn’t have come together any better for the Phillies.

The Giants, however, are no pushovers. They may not have the same caliber offense as the Phillies, but their pitching is not to be trifled with. To get an idea exactly what to expect from the Giants, I swapped questions with Chris Quick of ESPN SweetSpot blog Bay City Ball. His answers to my questions (in bold) are found below; my answers to his questions can be found over at his blog.

. . .

1. The Phillies are well-known for their fearsome trio of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels, plus Joe Blanton. The Giants have some great starters of their own in Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Jonathan Sanchez, plus Madison Bumgarner. How do the two staffs compare in your estimation?

I think both staffs are really close in terms of talent. Halladay and Lincecum are both top flight starters in the NL. It’s hard to beat either when it comes down to it. I would probably give a very slight nod to Oswalt over Cain. Sanchez has matured a lot this year and his K-rate for a LHP is rare. Cole Hamels, however, is the better pitcher. The Giants win in the 4th spot. Blanton is incredibly consistent each year, but Madison Bumgarner has more upside and he’s equaled Blanton in WAR — 1.9 to 2 wins — in about 50 fewer innings pitched.

Overall, two very talented staffs with some great arms. I think it’s going to be a coin-flip most likely.

2. Matt Cain has made a habit of out-performing his ERA retrodictors like xFIP and SIERA. Why do you think this is?

It’s really hard to say. I think part of it is the home park (LHB have a hard time hitting home runs to their pull-field) that Cain pitches in. Sportswriters like to say that Cain has ‘figured it out’ but he’s really been the same guy that he’s always been. His control has gotten better each year over the past three years. And, for things like xFIP, for whatever reason, he rarely gives up home runs even though he’s an extreme flyball pitcher.

3. The Phillies scored, on average, about a half-run more per game than the Giants. Are Giants fans apprehensive about the offense going into this best-of-seven series against the Phillies?

I think so, even if they wouldn’t like to admit it. In the NLDS against the Braves, the Giants never really hit the ball that well and every game was decided by one run. The Giants’ pitching has been fantastic this year, but pitching against an offensive team like the Phillies has got to be stressful for the pitchers. Too many mistakes and it’s going to be hard to make up the difference. It’s a fine line to walk. But, I think if anyone can contain the Phillies — it’s the Giants’ pitching staff.

4. The Giants finished last in the National League in stolen bases. Will they be able to manufacture runs in other ways?

Do double-plays count as manufacturing runs? The Giants don’t do a lot of the ‘little things’ and I doubt they’ll start in the playoffs. The team’s penchant for hitting into double-plays might mean that Bochy starts runners more often, but that’s about it.

5. Pat Burrell is making another homecoming to Philadelphia. We loved him when he was here and he’ll get a great reception when he steps to the plate for the first time in Game One. How have Giants fans warmed up to Pat the Bat?

Yes. Burrell has been one of the more pleasant surprises of this year. He looked terrible in Tampa Bay but since returning to the NL with the Giants, he’s been one of our best hitters. His defense is still bad — as Phillies’ fans know — but his approach to hitting is extremely refreshing on a ‘hack first, ask questions later’ team.

6. The Giants were rated by UZR as the second-best defensive team in Major League Baseball. Of players with at least 300 defensive innings at one position, none had a negative grade. Do you agree with UZR? Have the Giants emphasized defense as an organizational priority?

The Giants’ UZR rating is one of the weirder things that I’ve seen, statistically, this year. The defense is a weird mix. For whatever reason, it just works. I don’t know how, it just does. Andres Torres plays the best CF in the NL but often he’s flanked by guys like Pat Burrell or (thankfully not for the NLCS) Jose Guillen. The infield is also a mixed bag. Pablo Sandoval is average-ish but his defense has been spotty this year. Juan Uribe has filled in nicely at SS, but his days a full-time starter at SS are done. The right side of Sanchez-Huff has been solid and Posey has been very good behind the plate.

Huff, in particualr, has played really good defense for a guy that has been DH’ing for a good portion of the past three years. I was skeptical of his defense before the year, but he arrived at camp noticeably in better shape and he’s made every play that’s been asked of him. The Giants seem to emphasize defense but they aren’t chained to that idea. With the inconsistent offense this year, the team has often traded defense for offense.

7. Game One will see a match-up of the two-time defending NL Cy Young award winner and the likely 2010 winner. Would you take the over or under on: 1.5 combined runs scored; 17.5 combined strikeouts; 5.5 combined hits?

I’ll say: Over/Under/Over.

. . .

Thanks to Chris for providing some Giants-related insight. Make sure to keep up with the enemy over at Bay City Ball and on Twitter (@BayCityBall).

If you’re not following me on Twitter and want to hear my oftentimes snarky, sometimes serious thoughts, follow @CrashburnAlley.

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.