Guest Post: Reviewing Chase Utley’s NLDS Base Running

This is a guest post from Andy M. of the blog Charlie’s Manuel.

People have been criticizing Chase Utley for his baserunning on Hunter Pence’s groundball in Game 4. The main criticism is that he made the first out at third base. But he didn’t. Pence would have been out at first anyway if Utley simply stayed put. The out was made when Pence hit the weak grounder, not when Utley was thrown out. Had Albert Pujols stayed on first base to receive the throw and retire Pence, then threw Utley out, Utley may have gotten less criticism because it would have been the second out at third base. However, I don’t think Pujols would have been able to throw out Utley if he stayed on the base for Pence (both throws would have been longer, less momentum for Pujols to generate a good throw, and Pujols would have been less likely to attempt a throw had they already gotten an out on the play).

Using Tom Tango’s run frequency matrix, a player has a 40% chance of scoring if he is on second base with one out with no other baserunners. This would have been the situation if Utley stayed at second.

After Utley was retired, the base-out state was 1 out with a man on first. There is a 28% chance of the baserunner scoring in that scenario.

If Pujols stayed on first base to retire Pence and allowed Utley to advance to third (Utley probably assumed Pujols would stay on first to get the out), there would have been a 67% chance of Utley scoring from third with only one out.

How often Utley would have to be safe at third to make this a good base-running play? I assigned the Phillies 0.67 runs if Pujols stayed put on first base and Utley was on third with one out, .40 runs if Utley stayed on second base, and 0.28 runs if Utley is thrown out at third with Pence safe at first.

Let’s say 70% of the time*, the first baseman leaves the base and guns down Utley (.70*.28 = .196 runs). That means 30% of the time, the first baseman stays on the base, gets one out, and Utley is safe at third (.30*.67 = .201 runs). Add those two values together, and the decision to run to third base is worth about .397 runs, whereas staying on second base is worth 0.40 runs. So, it seems that a 30% success rate for Utley in that scenario is the break-even point.

*I also doubt that 70% of major league first-basemen would leave the bag, allow Pence to get to first, and then make a good throw on Utley. My guess would be about a third (at most) of all first baseman would leave the bag in that scenario.

Utley only needs to be safe at third base on that play 30% of the time in order to make it a good decision.

Furthermore, we haven’t even discussed the following possibility: If Pujols came off the base and made a poor throw to third, and both runners were safe, Utley would have had an 88% chance of scoring with 1st and 3rd and nobody out.

When you factor in that possibility (even if that possibility happens 3% of the time, the break-even point falls to 28%) along with the added run expectancy with Pence also on the basepaths, the break-even point is probably closer to 25% for Utley.

It was a gamble for Utley, and I am glad he took it. He only needs to be safe 1 out of 4 times to increase the Phillies’ chances of scoring, but unfortunately for us, we live in a universe parallel to the one where Pujols stayed on first base.

If you enjoyed this article, check out more great stuff at Charlie’s Manuel.

Phillies 2011 Season Ends in Agony, Defeat

The Phillies showed up to spring training in Clearwater, Florida with the weight of enormous expectations resting squarely on their shoulders. Was the starting rotation the greatest ever assembled? Which of the four aces would win the Cy Young award? Just how many games could this team win — 100? 110?

Teams with so much expected of them rarely live up to it, just ask the 2001 Seattle Mariners, who won 116 games and lost in the ALCS to the New York Yankees. Baseball is both adored and scorned for its unpredictability, making for the harshest of heartbreaks and loudest of celebrations.

The Phillies failed to reach their goal of winning another World Series. The upstart St. Louis Cardinals blazed through September, winning 18 of 26 games in the final month, ultimately reaching the post-season when the Atlanta Braves collapsed. The Cardinals entered the NLDS as huge underdogs against the Phillies, but behind solid all-around baseball, the Red Birds took advantage of an under-performing Phillies starting rotation and an anxious lineup that could not score runs in any consistent fashion. For the second straight post-season, the Phillies’ hopes were dashed with Ryan Howard making the final out. To add injury to insult, Howard came up lame running out of the batter’s box, injuring the foot that had been bothering him for much of the second-half of the season.

There are no two ways around it: 2011 is a failure for the Phillies. A team with their payroll, their caliber of pitching — their caliber of players overall, in fact — in a relatively weak league should be expected to win it all. However, in the sadness, let’s not lose sight of the great things that were accomplished this season. The team set a franchise record with 102 regular season wins. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels all pitched incredibly well, and Vance Worley should not be lost in that conversation. Shane Victorino had a career year, as did Hunter Pence (who was even better with the Phillies than the Astros). John Mayberry, Jr. showed he can be a productive Major League player. Ryan Madson continued to pitch as one of the best and most underrated relievers in the game. Antonio Bastardo came out of nowhere to play a crucial role in an otherwise uninspiring bullpen.

Now that the season is over, Phillies fans may have seen a few players for the last time. Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Madson, and Raul Ibanez are free agents while Roy Oswalt and Brad Lidge have contract options that can be declined. All five are players that we have come to know and love over the years, through all of the trials and tribulations. Losing (potentially all of) them would be losing a part of the 2007-11 era that made baseball so fun. Of course, the Phillies will have the means to bring in new faces and we will start the whole process over again. That’s why baseball is so great — there’s always next season, and there are always new players with whom we can get attached. For the Phillies, it’s back to the drawing board, then on to attack 2012 with a vengeance.

. . .

As a bit of a personal aside, thank you, readers, for making this season so fun. This blog has continued to grow and achieve new levels of success, and I can’t thank you enough for making Crashburn Alley a regular stop in your Internet routine. The content will continue to flow in the off-season, so remember to keep stopping by for analysis on the Phillies’ approach to the 2012 season. Additionally, I have had a blast live-Tweeting games — those of you who follow and interact with me on Twitter have made watching Phillies baseball even more fun, something I didn’t think was possible.

Congratulations to any Cardinals fans who may be stopping by to read. In particular, I’m happy for Matthew Philip of ESPN Sweet Spot’s Fungoes blog as he was kind enough to spare some time to come over to the dark side and speak with us before the series began. Let’s hope for a competitive and entertaining League Championship and World Series.

Phillies Lacking Plate Discipline in NLDS

After the first two innings in Game One of the NLDS, when the Phillies made six outs on 12 Kyle Lohse pitches, you knew something was wrong. The Phillies aren’t a bad team in terms of plate discipline, though certainly not as good as they had been in years past. They ranked right in the middle of Major League Baseball during the regular season, averaging 3.8 pitches per plate appearance. However, in the NLDS so far, the Phillies have averaged 3.4, 3.6, and 3.4 pitches per plate appearance in Games One through Three, respectively.

Here’s a look at the individual hitters:

Hitter P/PA
Halladay 4.5
Utley 4.2
Howard 4.1
Madson 4.0
Rollins 3.4
Victorino 3.3
Ruiz 3.3
Mayberry 3.3
Ibanez 3.3
Pence 3.2
Polanco 3.1
Lee 3.0
Francisco 2.5
Hamels 1.5
Average 3.5

When Roy Halladay is leading the team in pitches seen per plate appearance, your team is not performing optimally. Only four hitters (two non-pitchers) are above the average, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.

The following chart plots the average number of pitches seen per batter in each inning along with the runs they scored in each inning. (Click to enlarge)

The Phillies have scored in three of the nine innings in which they averaged at least four pitches seen per batter; six times in 14 innings in which they averaged at least 3.33 pitches seen per batter; and just once when they averaged 3.25 or fewer pitches seen per batter.

Taking pitches doesn’t just help directly with run-scoring, though — it helps with tiring the opposing starter, forcing his team to dig into their bullpen earlier than they would prefer. That helps with both the game currently being played as well as future games with that team. The Cardinals, who have been working Phillies pitchers very well, have forced Ryan Madson into the game in each of the first three games in the series. Madson has thrown 43 pitches total, the most he has thrown in any three consecutive team games since August 8-10, all against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Madson didn’t pitch again for a week, but the Phillies don’t have the luxury of awarding time off in the post-season.

Although the Cardinals trail the series two games to one, it’s hard to argue that they haven’t been playing a more professional brand of baseball than the Phillies, even if they have been extremely BABIP-lucky (.403) throughout the series.

Kudos to Tony La Russa

If you follow me on Twitter, you probably saw me griping about Cardinals manager Tony La Russa during Game Two. La Russa made quite an impact on the game in various ways, and in retrospect, I don’t think I should have been directing my ire at him.

Balls and Strikes: La Russa felt that home plate umpire Jerry Meals wasn’t calling a fair strike zone, referring to “two different strike zones” in a mid-game interview with the TBS broadcasters. Cameras caught La Russa barking at Meals several different times throughout the game. The complaining seemed to have an effect as Meals’ strike zone was more Cardinal-friendly as the game progressed.

I made a few snarky tweets about La Russa on Twitter, but I honestly had no problem with his complaining. Dayn Perry (@DaynPerry) put it best:

Have my probs with TLR, but he’s always got an angle. Don’t like it? Blame umps for caving or ur mgr for not being as skilled a bitcher.

Meals’ strike zone did appear to change — should La Russa be faulted for using Meals’ lack of confidence in his own calls to carve a slight edge for his team? We would be applauding Charlie Manuel if he was the one yelling from the dugout. The ire should have been directed at Meals, and at Major League Baseball for letting a mediocre umpire call an important post-season game.

Pitching Changes: Fans hate pitching changes, and for good reason: they completely mess with the flow of a baseball game. For the same reason, I hate the commercial “policy” with football, where they will kick off, go to commercial, and then play the first down. The break just feels unnecessary.

La Russa used four pitchers to face four batters and get three outs. In the eighth inning, Marc Rzepczynski hit Chase Utley with a pitch and was immediately lifted for right-hander Mitchell Boggs. Boggs got Hunter Pence to ground into a fielder’s choice for the first out. La Russa went to the mound for a second time, lifting Boggs for lefty veteran Arthur Rhodes. Rhodes threw three pitches to strike out Ryan Howard. Out came La Russa; Rhodes exited. Right-hander Jason Motte entered, retiring Shane Victorino on a fly ball to center.

For those at home, the inning went like this:

  • (end of previous inning) Commercial break
  • Chase Utley at-bat
  • (pitching change) Commercial break
  • Hunter Pence at-bat
  • (pitching change) Commercial break
  • Ryan Howard at-bat
  • (pitching change) Commercial break
  • Shane Victorino at-bat
  • (end of inning) Commercial break

Given that roughly five minutes elapses between the end of the previous at-bat and the start of the next, fans were treated to about 25 minutes of advertisements and, generously, five minutes of actual game play. As a fan, that is just awful. But the fault shouldn’t lie with La Russa — he was just doing what any good manager does, which is putting his team in the best possible position to succeed. Whether he actually did or not is debatable, but he didn’t act nefariously.

Instead, the blame should go to Major League Baseball, which sets up the framework that allows for five-minute breaks in between pitching changes. There are plenty of solutions to this problem. For one, a team could be allowed to make only a fixed amount of non-injury-related pitching changes per inning. Or any pitching changes beyond the first would not allow the new reliever to have warm-up pitches on the field, negating the commercial break. But nothing happens if fans don’t speak up to the right people and in the right medium. Change in baseball happens at a glacial pace, so if fans really hate the current set-up, they need to speak by making phone calls and sending letters and emails to the powers-that-be, instead of making sarcastic comments on Twitter (as I did). Even better, speak with your wallet: don’t subscribe to MLB.tv or MLB Network (et cetera) until the requisite changes are made.

One thing is certain: La Russa did not do anything wrong by making three pitching changes in one inning.

Hit-and-Run: All right, after devoting many words to defending La Russa, I get to criticize him here.

Albert Pujols had singled to lead off the top of the ninth inning against Ryan Madson, bringing up Lance Berkman. Pujols has been dealing with a bad heel (so painful that he took a cart to the team bus after the game), so why would you make him run the bases unnecessarily? To be fair, Berkman isn’t a strikeout waiting to happen, but there is no way Pujols was going first-to-third on anything in front of an outfielder. With the count 3-2, La Russa put Pujols — bad heel and all — in motion. Berkman hit his fourth foul ball of the at-bat and Pujols returned to first base. On the eighth pitch, Berkman swung and missed at an 84 MPH change-up for the first out of the inning. Pujols was in motion again, and Ruiz fired to second base.

Ruiz’s throw reached second base at about the time Pujols reached the halfway point between first and second. Pujols engaged in a half-hearted run-down before being tagged out for the second out of the inning.

La Russa managed rather well to that point. I’ll never understand why he chose to hit-and-run with Pujols at first base. What makes it more mind-boggling is that La Russa pinch-ran for Pujols last night with Gerald Laird (Gerald Laird!), acknowledging his first baseman’s ailment. Overall, though, La Russa had a solid game and shouldn’t have taken as much grief as I saw on ye olde Internets.

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.

Phillies Pound Cardinals, Win NLDS Opener

Four batters into Game One of the NLDS, it just wasn’t looking like the Phillies’ game. Lead-off hitter Rafael Furcal singled to open the frame, then stole second base in a flash. After Roy Halladay struck out Allen Craig, he tip-toed around Albert Pujols with a walk to bring up Lance Berkman with runners on first and second with one out.

Halladay has been notoriously ineffective early in games this year. He held hitters to a sub-.700 OPS in all innings between two and eight with a combined seven home runs. In the first inning, however, hitters compiled a .717 OPS with four home runs during the regular season. The trend continued as Berkman smoked a first pitch fastball that just missed going into the second deck in right field, putting the Cardinals up 3-0 early.

Against Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse, the Phillies displayed uncharacteristic impatience at the plate. The Phillies went down in order in the first two innings, seeing just six pitches apiece. If the first two innings were to be taken at face value, it was going to be a long night for Phillies fans.

Fortunately, Halladay settled down quickly. Skip Schumaker singled to lead off the second, but that would be the last base runner the Cardinals would have against the defending NL Cy Young winner all night. Halladay had pinpoint precision, using his vast array of pitches to generate weak ground outs when he wasn’t missing bats entirely.

The Phillies scratched across a run in the fourth on an opposite-field RBI single to left by Shane Victorino. At the time, it was a vital hit as Lohse appeared to be on cruise control. It was in the sixth inning, though, that the floodgates opened.

Jimmy Rollins singled to lead off the inning. After Chase Utley struck out, Hunter Pence singled up the middle to put runners on first and second with one out for Ryan Howard. Howard was looking to redeem himself after last year’s finish to the NLCS against the San Francisco Giants, when Howard struck out looking against closer Brian Wilson.

Howard worked Lohse as well as anybody had to that point. Lohse worked out of the strike zone, trying to get Howard to offer at a bad pitch, but Howard laid off the bait. With the count 3-2 and nowhere to put Howard, Lohse had to come near the strike zone. He threw two change-ups which were fouled off with a last-ditch effort. Lohse came back with a third change-up, but Howard was on the mark this time, sending the pitch deep into the stands in right field for the three-run home run, putting the Phillies up 4-3. Per FanGraphs, the home run increased the Phillies probability of winning by a whopping 45 percent.

Shane Victorino kept the inning going with a single to center. Lohse was visibly rattled at this point. He fell behind 2-0 to Raul Ibanez, then tried to come back with another change-up. Ibanez, who has been remarkably inconsistent this season, put good wood on the ball, sending Lohse’s offering over the fence in right field for two insurance runs. The Phillies took a 6-3 lead with a five-run sixth inning, chasing Lohse with just one out in the inning.

Octavio Dotel came in and put out the fire, retiring both hitters he faced, but the Phillies were only getting started. While Halladay continued to mow down Cardinal after Cardinal, the Phillies’ offense continued to thrive against the Cardinals’ bullpen. In the bottom of the seventh, the Phillies strung together five singles, pushing across three more runs against relievers Marc Rzepczynski and Mitchell Boggs.

In the bottom of the eighth, the Phillies continued to tack on runs. With two outs, Rollins walked and Utley doubled, putting runners on second and third for Hunter Pence. Pence promptly hit a screaming line drive up the middle, scoring both runners for an 11-3 lead.

Halladay, having thrown 105 pitches, left after eight innings. He was replaced by Michael Stutes, getting his first taste of the post-season with an eight-run cushion. Likely dealing with butterflies in his stomach, Stutes walked Allen Craig to lead off the inning. Pujols followed with a single to left-center. After getting Berkman to ground into a fielder’s choice, Stutes allowed an RBI single to Adron Chambers and another single to Yadier Molina to load the bases, forcing Charlie Manuel to call upon closer Ryan Madson.

Madson didn’t stop the bleeding. Skip Schumaker swung at Madson’s first offering, a belt-high change-up on the outside corner, lining the pitch with noticeable slice to John Mayberry, Jr. in left field. Mayberry dove for it, but it was just out of his reach. Two runs scored and the Cardinals had runners on second and third with one out, giving them a glimmer of hope for a comeback. Madson rebounded, though, striking out John Jay with a 93 MPH fastball at the letters. Madson closed the door against pinch-hitter (and Game One scratch) Matt Holliday, striking him out on three pitches.

With an 11-6 victory, the Phillies took the opening game of a post-season series for the seventh time in their last eight post-season series dating back to 2008. With many questioning the potential of the Phillies’ offense entering the post-season, their performance in Game One ought to settle a lot of stomachs, even if it was against Lohse and an unimpressive bullpen. Cliff Lee will oppose Chris Carpenter, pitching on short rest, in Game Two.

Game graph courtesy FanGraphs.

Cardinals NLDS Series Preview with Matthew Philip

After two weeks of meaningless baseball, the Phillies will get back on the horse as they open the National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. Roy Halladay will oppose former Phillie Kyle Lohse in a battle of right-handed pitchers in Game One. Yesterday, you got a graphical preview of the series; today, I call upon ESPN Sweet Spot’s resident Cardinals expert Matthew Philip of the Fungoes blog to give us some perspective on the other team in red.

. . .

1. Matt Holliday is unavailable for at least Game One of the NLDS. How big a deal is his injury?

It’s certainly huge if he can’t play, inasmuch as he is one of the offense’s “MV3,” along with Berkman and Pujols. GM John Mozeliak has said that Holliday’s injury might be DL-worthy had it occurred earlier in the year, so it’s definitely serious. The good news for the Cardinals is that Allen Craig is a potentially potent fill-in.

2. Do you agree with Tony La Russa’s choices in using Kyle Lohse to open the series, and Chris Carpenter for Game Two on three days of rest?

La Russa’s penchant for overmanaging is infamous enough to have been the subject of a Mustrash episode, and this is an example of TLR seemingly needing to put his stamp on the series. He does have some method to his madness, though: Using Carpenter early would allow him to return for a possible Game 5, which makes sense. The stranger call is delaying Jaime Garcia, who would’ve pitched on normal rest in Game 1, till Tuesday’s Game 3. I don’t like it because pitching Garcia in Game 1 would’ve given the team the option to start him on one-day short rest in a possible Game 4. And if not Garcia in Game 1, I still consider Jackson to be better than Lohse, despite the latter’s career year.

3. The Cardinals are not a very mobile team, having finished last in the NL in stolen bases with 57. Do you worry about their ability to manufacture runs against the Phillies’ pitching staff?

The Cardinals scored the most runs in the league because they manufacture runs simply by getting on base and not via “small ball.” The key, since they are so poor at stealing (not to mention the league’s slowest team) and, in addition, executing will be not running into outs on the bases, which they have done with occasional impunity. TLR will have to resist the urge to put runners in motion in order to avoid double plays, to which he may be particularly sensitive given the misguided criticism of the team hitting into so many (which is mostly a function of OBP, of course). The Phillies’ staff will make them pay or underappreciating their limited outs.

4. Do you feel confident that the Cardinals’ lefty relievers can neutralize Ryan Howard?

Howard has a .100 OBP/.100 SLG in 10 plate appearances against Brian Tallet. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, they overhauled their LOOGys late in the season and shipped Tallet to Toronto. They now have the majors’ fourth-oldest player in Arthur Rhodes, against whose platoon advantage Howard is impervious, with .400 OBP and .750 SLG in 10 PAs. Expect Marc Rzepczynski to be the designated LOOGy, against whom Howard is 0-for-2. If for some reason La Russa gets into a pinch or wants to get creative, he could use starting pitcher Jaime Garcia in relief against Howard, who is only 2-for-12 with six Ks against him.

5. The Cardinals are a team heavy on right-handed hitters. Do you think they match up better against Cliff Lee than Roy Halladay?

They haven’t hit either one this year, so I think this is a case of sheer talent trumping any platoon advantage. Lee held the Cardinals to a .322 OBP/.269 SLG in two starts in 2011, while Halladay was no more generous at .286 OBP/.340 SLG.

BONUS: Who do you see winning the series, and in how many games?

If I were a betting man, I’d put money on the Phillies — but not much. As superlative as the Phillies are, the Selig-format playoffs are notoriously a crapshoot, and this would be the series for the Cardinals to knock them off. The deep Philly rotation also loses some of its advantage, since the Cardinals can end it in three or, at the least, have to use their fourth man only once.

. . .

Thanks to Matthew for taking some time out of his schedule to talk with us on the other side. You can follow him on Twitter (@Fungoes) and keep tabs on his blog Fungoes for a numbers-heavy take on the series as it progresses.

STL/PHI NLDS Series Preview

Bill Petti (@BillPetti) of Amazin’ Avenue and Beyond the Box Score was nice enough to share his Saber-stat series preview graphic. It’s pretty snazzy. Click on the image to view a much larger version.

The graphic shows that the Cardinals are a better offensive team than the Phillies in, well, every facet. But it should be no surprise that the tables are flipped when it comes to pitching. The Cardinals are 7% better than the Phillies when it comes to scoring runs, but the Phillies are 27% better at preventing runs. That is why the Cardinals finished with just a +70 run differential while the Phillies finished at +184.

As for individual offensive contributors, let’s compare them using wOBA.

The Cardinals have the edge at five of eight positions; the Phillies lead at second base (Chase Utley), shortstop (Jimmy Rollins), and center field (Shane Victorino).

Now, a look at the pitchers using SIERA.

The Phillies have the overwhelming advantage in Games One and Two, and a slight advantage in Game Three. Should the series go to a fourth game, the Cardinals plan to use Phillie-killer Jaime Garcia, who has a 1.20 ERA against the Phillies — lowest among opponents with 20+ innings pitched.

The Phillies and Platoon Splits

After the Phillies won the NL East and clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, fans began to play matchmaker. Would the Phillies rather play the lefty-heavy Arizona Diamondbacks, or the Milwaukee Brewers’ wealth of right-handed hitters? The Phillies will enter the post-season with the potential of just one lefty out of the bullpen (Antonio Bastardo), so maybe you bite the bullet and roll the dice against NL MVP candidate Ryan Braun and the Brewers’ flock of right-handers.

What is interesting about the Phillies’ pitching staff, though, is that the platoon match-ups do not work the way they do with most pitchers. Pitchers tend to perform better against same-handed hitters because they can hide the ball slightly longer and the ball appears to come from a more favorable angle. That has not been the case for the Phillies this year.

Two starters and four key relievers have performed better against opposite-handed hitters, surprisingly. With talk of the Phillies potentially adding lefty Joe Savery to the roster, that now looks superfluous after perusing this information. In a late-innings situation where the Phillies need to get a crucial lefty out — say, Prince Fielder — they can instead call upon Vance Worley and expect him to get the job done.

This is an important distinction to make because it allows the Phillies the flexibility of entering the playoffs with an 11-man pitching staff. With the questionable durability of the Phillies’ entire infield, bringing an extra infielder rather than an extra fielder can make or break the Phillies’ late-game decision-making. The debate then revolves around carrying five or six outfielders (and conversely seven or six infielders). Ben Francisco could be left off in favor of Pete Orr if the Phillies want to be very safe against any potential injuries to their infielders.

Ultimately, some people may say it is an irrelevant discussion, but each roster spot should be treated as if it matters the same as any other. And, as the Phillies experienced in 2008, you never know who is going to be a key contributor. Would you have expected Eric Bruntlett, Geoff Jenkins, and Pedro Feliz to have played big roles in the Phillies’ Game Five win over the Tampa Bay Rays? Do the best you can at maximizing each roster spot and you can safeguard against being wronged by Baseba’al.