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.

Graph of the Intermittent Time Period

Over at the Sweet Spot blog, David Schoenfield takes a stab at how the post-season rotations will line up. The Phillies will need to wait until the end of the day to be assigned an opponent, but regardless of which team it is, the Phillies will enter the playoffs with the best starting rotation, bar none. Here’s a graphical look at how the Phillies compare with the other two known playoff entrants in the National League, going by SIERA.

With Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, the Phillies have the best starter by far in the #1 and 2 spots, and have a slight edge at #4 with Roy Oswalt. The Brewers beat the Phillies at #3 because they’re using Zack Greinke behind Yovani Gallardo and Shaun Marcum, even though Greinke has been significantly better by defense-independent metrics. He has been significantly worse with runners on base: batters are hitting for a .908 OPS against him when runners are on, compared to .695 when the bases are empty.

The Phillies are slightly behind the Brewers and D-Backs in offense, but make up for it with their elite starting rotation. While anything can happen in the post-season, as last year’s San Francisco Giants can attest, there is no reason to bet against the Phillies going into October. It will be a real treat to see how this much-heralded rotation fares in the playoffs.

The Cost of Loyalty

The graph below takes Raul Ibanez and John Mayberry, Jr.’s performances in favorable (vs. opposite-handed pitching) and unfavorable (vs. same-handed pitching) platoon scenarios and compares them to an average NL batter in those same splits.

Notes: wXB/H is “Weighted Extra Bases per Hit,” a contact skill-neutral measure of power that I Frankenstein’d together here. Strikeout rate is inverted, so that lower strikeout rates are higher above league average.

As you would expect, Mayberry bests Ibanez in every category except for walk rate versus opposite-handed pitchers. His overall output, plate discipline, and power are all superior to those of Ibanez. The best thing that can be said for Raul Ibanez is that he has streaks of passable to good performance. When you stop creating generous endpoints for him, he is just a corner outfielder with poor defense who is hitting 10% below league average at the moment by wRC+. On many other teams he would be a bench bat — and blessed to hold on even to that role. Front offices less prone to considerations of loyalty and character, on teams whose fates were less assured, would have looked elsewhere for production weeks ago.

Still, we’re a few days away from the official submission of playoff rosters, and I can say with reasonable certainty that Charlie Manuel will start Raul Ibanez in left field for every playoff game. Granted, it’s more complicated than the above graph makes it seem. Ibanez has nearly twice as many plate appearances as Mayberry, and it will be a while before we can be certain that Mayberry’s improvements are the real deal. It’s also questionable how much their skill differential will really matter in the playoff rat race, where a good four or five plate appearances can turn an entire series.

But suppose the Phillies are knocked out shy of their ultimate goal. While we’re sitting around building narratives after the fact, as FuquaManuel detailed, will we at least consider this, a decision predicated entirely on non-baseball factors that objectively lowers the team’s offensive potential? Or will we brush it aside, credit Charlie Manuel again for being the “player’s manager,” and turn our attention to some other scapegoat?

Phillies Q&A with David Schoenfield

On most days, you can catch David Schoenfield tearing it up on ESPN’s Sweet Spot blog, offering his take on anything that happens in Major League Baseball. You may recall that Schoenfield said, before the season, that the Phillies wouldn’t make the playoffs. He has since posted a mea culpa. With the Phillies recently clinching a playoff berth and well on their way towards clinching the division and home field advantage, I wanted to get his take as the regular season is wrapped up.

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1. The Phillies are on pace for a 106-win season. Meanwhile the Yankees, with the second-best record, are on pace for 98 wins. Are the Phillies eight wins better than the Yankees, or is the National League just that much worse than the American League?

I would argue that the Phillies and Yankees are certainly more equal than their records would suggest. As I write this, both teams have a Pythagorean W-L record of 94-50, but the Yankees have “underperformed” by four wins while the Phillies have “overperformed” by one win. If you factor in that the Yankees have played 69 games against teams over .500 while the Phillies have played 49 such games (the Phillies do have a better winning percentage. 571 to .551), it seems more clear that the teams are pretty even, although I’m sure the Phillies will head into the postseason as the favorite by a large margin.

2. As we wrap up the regular season, what do you see as the Phillies’ biggest weakness entering post-season play?

The first inclination may be to say “the offense,” but since acquiring Hunter Pence, the Phillies are averaging 5.0 runs per game while hitting .262/.328/.427, up from 4.3 runs per game and a .249/.322/.388 line before acquiring Pence. Sure, Raul Ibanez is a big defensive liability when he plays, but I guess my major concern would be the bullpen depth outside of Ryan Madson and Antonio Bastardo. If the starters can pitch deep into games like they have all season, it’s not an issue, but avoiding the middle relief will be key (even if it has been better than expected).

3. Of the possible NLDS match-ups, which team has the best chance of beating the Phillies in a five-game series — the Brewers or Diamondbacks?

As hot as the Diamondbacks have been, and as good as Ian Kennedy has been, I’d still prefer to face them than the Brewers. Their rotation goes four-deep and all four starters are capable of a shutdown performance. John Axford has converted 39 consecutive saves and Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder are MVP candidates for a reason.

4. You unwrap a candy bar to find a golden ticket inside. The ticket allows you to set the Phillies’ post-season rotation. Assuming you’ll roll with a top-three of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels, who wins the #4 spot — Roy Oswalt or Vance Worley?

You have to go Worley, no? And I say that as a big Oswalt fan. But isn’t Worley the team’s good-luck charm? Plus he’s been better. Yes, Oswalt has a good track record in the postseason, but this is about 2011.

5. Should the Phillies be at all worried about meeting up with the Braves in the NLCS?

Let’s see: Phillies lead the season series 9-6, have outscored the Braves by 25 runs, we don’t know the status yet of Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens. I just don’t see the Braves winning a seven-game series, but this is baseball and anything can happen in October.

6. Which AL team would match up best against the Phillies in a World Series meeting?

I think the Yankees are the best club in the AL right now. CC Sabathia can pitch on three days’ rest, the bullpen is excellent and they can certainly score runs. The interesting thing is that none of the AL contenders really has much in the way of left-handed relief pitching (the Yankees do have Boone Logan; the Tigers have Phil Coke and Daniel Schlereth), so Ryan Howard may still face right-handers late in the game.

7. Which player has the most potential to be a playoff series-changer for the Phillies? Call him an X-factor, if you will.

Aside from the obvious – Cliff Lee certainly appears pretty locked in right now – I’ll go with Ryan Howard. After a homerless postseason a year ago, maybe he’s due for a few longballs. Plus, whether the Phillies play the Brewers or D-backs, he’ll be playing in a good hitter’s park and facing some pitchers who can serve up some home runs (Shaun Marcum, Yovani Gallardo, Randy Wolf, Joe Saunders).

8. As you look back on the season, which Phillies player surprised you the most? Who was the most disappointing?

Besides Worley? Antonio Bastardo has held opponents to a .119 average – that’s the lowest ever for a pitcher with at least 50 innings. Yeah, that surprised me. No Phillies player performed below expectations this year other than Oswalt (and Blanton, but he got injured).

9. Does a Phillie walk away with Cy Young hardware? What about Worley and the Rookie of the Year award?

Man, I think it’s still too close to call. Clayton Kershaw has a chance at the pitching Triple Crown (wins, ERA, strikeouts), so he’ll be hard to beat if he leads all three categories. But voters love shutouts and Lee has six of them. And Halladay deserves it. Can we split it three ways and give part to Cole Hamels as well? As great as Worley has been, Craig Kimbrel wins the Rookie award pretty easily, I think Worley’s case is much better than most are saying.

10. Do you have any bold predictions for the playoffs? (Doesn’t have to be Phillies-related.)

No bold predictions, although Phillies fans may be aware of this note: No NL team with the best record in the majors has won the World Series since the 1986 Mets. Maybe that means the odds are in Philly’s favor.

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Thanks, as always, to Schoenfield for taking time out of his very busy schedule to provide his thoughts on the Phillies from an outsider’s perspective. Keep up with the whole Sweet Spot crew — including Christina Kahrl, Steve Berthiaume, Eric Karabell, Mark Simon, and more — throughout the playoffs. They’ll have you covered from every angle.