The Audacity of Dope

Tampa Bay Rays @ Philadelphia Phillies, World Series Game 3If the Phillies were going to write a book about the first two games of the World Series thus far, “The Audacity of Dope” would be an apt title (my apologies for the lame pun). With runners in scoring position, they couldn’t hit water if they fell out of a friggin’ boat.

Saturday night was a bad night, especially if you live near Philadelphia and your cable provider is Comcast. Not only was it cold and rainy for most of the day, but throughout the broadcast, from start to finish, both the audio and video feeds would hesitate or freeze altogether. Before Jamie Moyer got out of the fourth inning (around 11:45ish), my cable froze. I went out for about a half hour and listened to the broadcast on my car radio. The cable feed still hadn’t unfrozen when I returned, so I missed the Utley and Howard home runs, as well as the controversial call at first base by umpire Tom Hallion. Thanks, Comcast!

Yes, Hallion’s incorrect call directly led to two runs for the Rays, and indirectly to another. To start off the seventh inning, up 4-1, Jamie Moyer got Carl Crawford to hit a weak chopper down the first base line. Moyer made an extraordinary play and flipped to Howard. Replays showed that the flip was indeed in time, but Hallion called Crawford safe. Dioner Navarro promptly hit a double to put runners on second and third with no outs. As has been the case with the Rays all series long, they knocked in those runs with ground outs.

Now, I’m not one to toot my own horn, but I want to take this opportunity to direct my readers to my outrageously good forecasting (please ignore the fact that before the season, I picked the Cleveland Indians and Colorado Rockies to appear in the World Series). On a FanGraphs blog, I left the following comment:

I think the key to the series is speed. The Phillies’ catchers, contrary to popular opinion, haven’t been good defensively. Bartlett, Crawford, and Upton can all steal bases with abandon. On the other hand, Dioner Navarro was the best at throwing out base stealers in the AL, so the running game of Rollins, Victorino, and Werth may be shut down[…]

It was 4-3 going into the eighth inning with Ryan Madson on the hill when B.J. Upton stole the show. With a big hole up the middle, Upton hit a chopper — you guessed it, up the middle — that Rollins had to range to his left to get, and Upton barely crossed the first base bag in time. Considering Upton’s speed, it’s a wonder Rollins ever made it a close play.

After Carlos Pena struck out and Evan Longoria came to the plate, Upton put his legs to work. He stole second base easily, and didn’t waste too much time attempting to steal third. Carlos Ruiz tried to throw him out but his throw was low, hit the dirt, and skidded away from third baseman Pedro Feliz into foul territory, allowing Upton to score the tying run.

In the Phillies’ half of the eighth, Jayson Werth worked a lead-off walk to bring up Chase Utley. Werth stole second base, but Utley couldn’t drive him in, instead choosing to chase a 3-2 low and outside curveball to strike out. With one out and presumably trying to put the go-ahead run on third base for a fly ball-happy Ryan Howard, Werth was taking aggressive leads off of second base. The Rays noticed this, and had pitcher J.P. Howell keep an eye on him. After Howard fouled off the first pitch, Howell threw over to second base to keep Werth close. Werth didn’t shorten his lead and instead became even more aggressive. Howell threw over again and Werth was nailed for the first out. Howard eventually struck out to end the inning.

J.C. Romero pitched a perfect ninth to give the Phillies the final at-bat before extra innings. Eric Bruntlett got hit by a 2-1 fastball from Howell, bringing up Shane Victorino to face new pitcher Grant Balfour. Victorino took a strike after showing bunt. He became more aggressive in his bunt attempt on the second pitch, but it was inside — too far inside. Catcher Navarro missed it, and it hit the bricks behind home plate, a favorable carom for the Rays. Bruntlett raced towards second. Navarro spun and threw to second base, but it was wide and bounced into center field, allowing Bruntlett to motor to third base, putting the winning run 90 feet away.

Manager Joe Maddon ordered Balfour to intentionally walk Victorino, then Greg Dobbs (who pinch-hit for Feliz) to bring up Carlos Ruiz. To add to the strategy, he ordered right fielder Ben Zobrist to come in to the infield to increase the probability of making a play at home on a ground ball.

With the pitcher’s spot on deck and Matt Stairs inevitably due up, Balfour attacked Ruiz with 94-96 MPH fastballs. Ruiz fouled off two and took two balls, forcing Balfour to throw pitches. On the sixth pitch, Ruiz hit a chopper down the third base line. Longoria made a good effort but there’s almost no way he could have gotten Bruntlett for the force out at home plate, so the Phillies won in epic fashion despite more offensive futility.

To illustrate how much the fate of the game hung in the balance, here’s a recap of the biggest swings in Win Expectancy, courtesy FanGraphs:

  • Carlos Ruiz solo home run in the second inning to put the Phillies ahead 2-1. (WE: +10.9% for the Phillies)
  • Chase Utley solo home run in the sixth inning to increase the Phillies’ lead to 3-1. (WE: +10.4% for the Phillies)
  • Dioner Navarro double in the seventh inning to put runners on second and third with no outs. (WE: -11.9% for the Phillies)
  • B.J. Upton steals third base and scores on Ruiz’s throwing error. (WE: -14.9% for the Phillies)
  • Jayson Werth gets picked off of second base in the eighth inning. (WE: -12.7% for the Phillies)
  • Eric Bruntlett advances to second base, then to third base on the wild pitch by Grant Balfour and the throwing error by Navarro. (WE: +21.9% for the Phillies)

The Phillies find themselves up two games to one with four games left, two at home with Cole Hamels scheduled for Game 5. Despite the inefficient offense, you’ve got to feel good about their chances to win two out of the next four games. The audacity of hope, right?

A Question for Kyle Kendrick

Hat tip to With Leather.

Kyle Kendrick wrote an editorial for talking about how excited he was that the Backstreet Boys were going to sing the national anthem before Game 1 of the World Series:

I’m only 24, and as a kid growing up near Seattle, boy bands were popular. I always thought the Backstreet Boys were the best out there, better than ‘NSYNC.

My question isn’t “Why do you like boy bands?” nor am I going to take any easy jabs at his taste in music, but I do want to ask, “Why them?”

You grew up in Seattle, which was the birthplace of grunge music in the mid-1980’s and ’90’s. You had Mother Love Bone, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Nirvana… and you neglected them for the Backstreet Boys? That’s like growing up in the Bronx during the Yankees’ recent run from 1995-2007 and rooting for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Years later, my musical tastes have expanded. I like some classic rock and a lot of country. I’m a big George Strait fan and I really like Carrie Underwood.

If I could meet any celebrity of my choice, it would be Carrie. I like her music and she’s a very attractive girl. I’d love to meet her.

This is just begging to be used in a prank.

World Series Game 2 Liveblog at BDD!

At Baseball Digest Daily:

Join Joe Hamrahi, Eric SanInoncencio, Bill Baer, Rob McQuown, Michael Street, Brandon Heikoop (maybe!) and [Brian Joseph] who will all plan to join the live blog tonight for Game 2 of the ‘08 World Series between the Tampa Bay Rays and Philadelphia Phillies.

The Live Blog kicks off roughly 45 minutes before first pitch at 7:45 PM.  Be there for all the insights from the team and expect commentary and additional facts and stats to enhance your viewing plus the team’s baseball expertise (although it’s doubtful anyone can hold a candle to Tim McCarver’s wittiness.).

I’ve done a couple liveblogs here at Crashburn Alley, but it’ll be fun to liveblog with other people during one of the most important and exciting games of the season. Instead of letting Joe Buck and Tim McCarver drone on and on and pseudo-analyze the game so pathetically, why not tune in to our liveblog and get some real analysis?

Starting the World Series on the Right Foot

Philadelphia Phillies @ Tampa Bay Rays, World Series Game OneWith the clock just past midnight Eastern time, Pedro Feliz caught out number 27 in foul territory behind third base. Brad Lidge threw a perfect ninth for the save, a 3-2 victory in Game 1 for the Philadelphia Phillies. Cole Hamels threw seven strong innings, allowing only two runs on a Carl Crawford solo home run in the fourth, and on an RBI double in the fifth inning by Akinori Iwamura. Hamels got B.J. Upton to ground into two rally-killing double plays in the first and third innings, and was similarly divine throughout his seven innings.

Let’s go over some of the game highlights.

Was It A Balk?

In the bottom of the sixth inning, Carlos Pena hit a grounder to Ryan Howard, who is not known for his great defense. Expectedly, he had some trouble fielding it and Pena reached base safely. As Hamels was about to deliver his first pitch to the next hitter, Evan Longoria, Pena broke for second base. Hamels, seeing Pena break for second perhaps a moment too soon, threw towards first base, and Howard threw to second base where shortstop Jimmy Rollins applied the tag in time for the out.

As soon as Hamels threw over, the entire Rays bench screamed “Balk!” but that alone isn’t enough to hand out a verdict. They’re biased, of course. But my initial reaction was that it was a balk, and the replays seem to agree, though the balk rule is so unclear that we’ll never really know.


I’ve already read a lot of whining about the strike zone of Tim Welke, but he was relatively consistent and was about even on the questionable calls. Most people are probably basing their criticism on that horrible strike zone graphic FOX uses. It seems like their graphic plots the pitch where it’s caught, not where it crosses the front of home plate.

Click the the thumbnail below for a larger view of Welke’s strike zone, courtesy Brooks Baseball.

Philadelphia Phillies @ Tampa Bay Rays, World Series Game 1

If my understanding of the graph is correct, it is from the catcher or umpire’s perspective, and the labels are to be taken from the hitter’s perspective (i.e. “tba-Called Strike” means that a Rays hitter took a strike).

I manually counted, and here’s what I came up with:

  • Phillies hitters: 6 balls called strikes, 5 strikes called balls
  • Rays hitters: 5 balls called strikes, 5 strikes called balls

Pitching, Pitching, Pitching

  • Both teams’ starters: 13 IP, 3.46 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 9 K
  • Both teams’ bullpens: 5 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.80 WHIP (Phillies 0.00), 8 K

Throwin’ Heat

Aside from two of the Rays’ relievers — left-handers J.P. Howell and Trever Miller — pitchers were throwin’ heat in Game 1. Check out the chart below that shows the average and maximum fastball speeds throughout the game:

Philadelphia Phillies @ Tampa Bay Rays, World Series Game 1

Philadelphia Phillies @ Tampa Bay Rays, World Series Game 1

Ryan Howard

Pretty bad, right? In his defense, it’s hard to hit when you’re not getting thrown anything. A recap of the pitches he saw tonight:

  • First inning vs. Kazmir: Two outside sliders, swung at both, grounded the second one to second base.
  • Third inning vs. Kazmir: Inside fastball taken for a ball, outside slider swung at for strike one, fastball over the plate (hittable) fouled off, slider low and outside swung at for strike three.
  • Fifth inning vs. Kazmir: Two low and outside sliders taken for balls, high and outside slider taken for ball three, outside fastball swung at for a strike, outside slider swung at for a strike, outside fastball, change-up, and slider fouled off consecutively, high and inside fastball taken for ball four.
  • Seventh inning vs. Howell: Inside curve ball taken for strike one, curve ball in the dirt for ball one, curve ball in the dirt swung at for strike two, curve ball over the plate (hittable) fouled off, outside fastball taken for ball two, outside fastball taken for ball three, low and outside curve ball swung at for strike three.
  • Ninth inning vs. Miller: Outside slider swung at for strike one, outside slider taken for ball one, fastball over the plate (hittable) taken for strike two, high fastball taken for strike three.

He had three hittable pitches, two of which were fastballs, but were mixed very well with a heavy diet of breaking pitches. It’s very, very hard to take advantage of hittable fastballs when you’ve been seeing nothing but 75-85 MPH breaking pitches since the playoffs started.

Howard was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, which isn’t good, but you can’t blame the guy. The Rays have made up their mind that if the Phillies are going to score runs, Chase Utley and Pat Burrell, who sandwich Howard in the lineup, will have to lead the charge.

Fried to a CRISP

Although Carlos Ruiz did knock in Shane Victorino with a ground-out in the fourth inning, the Phillies never capitalized on some easy scoring opportunities throughout the game:

  • Second inning vs. Kazmir: Shane Victorino singled and Pedro Feliz walked to put two runners on with no outs (1.53 runs expected). Chris Coste hit a fly ball to right field for the first out. Carlos Ruiz walked to load the bases with one out (1.59 runs expected). Jimmy Rollins hit a fly ball to center fielder B.J. Upton, who threw home and catcher Dioner Navarro successfully tagged out Victorino to end the inning.
  • Third inning vs. Kazmir: Jayson Werth leads off with a double to right field (1.15 runs expected). Chase Utley grounded out to second baseman Akinori Iwamura, moving Werth over to third base with one out (0.97 runs expected). Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell both struck out to end the inning.
  • Fourth inning vs. Kazmir: Victorino and Feliz both singled to put runners on first and second with no outs again (1.53 runs expected). Chris Coste grounded out to first baseman Carlos Pena, advancing Victorino and Feliz to third and second, respectively (1.42 runs expected). Ruiz got that RBI ground-out mentioned above, and Rollins struck out to end the inning.
  • Fifth inning vs. Kazmir: With two outs, Howard walked, and Burrell reached on an error to put runners at first and second with two outs (0.46 runs expected). Victorino grounded out to end the inning.
  • Seventh inning vs. Howell, Balfour: With one out, Utley singled, then stole second base and advanced to third on a wild pitch (0.97 runs expected). Howard struck out, and Burrell walked to put runners on the corners with two outs (0.48 runs expected). Victorino struck out to end the inning.
  • Ninth inning vs. Balfour: With one out, Werth doubled to right field. Utley was intentionally walked to put runners on first and second with one out (0.92 runs expected). Howard struck out and Eric Bruntlett popped up to Iwamura to end the inning.

Obviously, the Phillies need to cash in on these opportunities at least some of the time if they have any intent on winning the World Series. Cole Hamels can’t pitch every game, so three runs will likely not be adequate enough until Game 5.

Run expectancies courtesy the Run Expectancy Matrix at Baseball Prospectus.

Game graph courtesy FanGraphs.

Starting World Series Day One on the Wrong Foot

With a hat tip to Baseball Think Factory, I regret to inform you that not even Day One of the World Series will prevent idiocy from polluting the air waves and ink-and-paper of publications. Daniel A. Cirucci wrote an opinion column for the Philadelphia Daily News (which has always been a beacon of sound, logical reasoning) called “Just call it baseBORE.”

At the end of the column where they have a blurb about the author, it reads, “Daniel A. Cirucci is a lecturer in corporate communications at Penn State Abington.” Re-read the title again, this time keeping in mind that this is someone responsible for educating the bright, young minds of this country’s future. “BaseBORE.”


But enough snark for now, we must objectively criticize Danny’s column.

But no matter how it turns out, one thing will remain true: Baseball is an insufferably boring pastime.

This is an example of why the Opinion section of any newspaper is worth skipping over every day (and this is coming from someone who has also been published in the opinion section). As they say, “opinions are like assholes: everyone has one.”

Claiming that “Baseball is boring,” no matter how well you back it up is antithetical to any critical thinking, really. “Boring” is completely subjective. I think that NFL Live is boring. Millions of viewers disagree with me. I think that the singing of the national anthem is boring. Hundreds of millions of “patriots” disagree with me. There’s no way I can prove that I am right and that they are wrong, no matter how well I back up my opinion.

So, why even write it? And, perhaps to ask a more salient question, why publish it?

Except for the pitcher, catcher and hitter, all the players simply stand around waiting for something to happen. Huge amounts of time drift by aimlessly.

Two things:

  1. Don’t like it, don’t watch it, and certainly don’t waste our time complaining about it.
  2. To the untrained eye, as I will prove yours is Dan, it does look like nothing. But there’s a lot that goes on: the positioning of the fielders, signs being exchanged, the cat-and-mouse game between pitcher and baserunner(s), etc. If a football-hater said this about football — “the only time there’s ever any action is in the two seconds after the QB hikes the ball” — the same thing could be said.

Players have to work hard to stay awake.

No, they don’t.

So they chew gum or tobacco, spit, grab their crotches, shift their feet, adjust their caps, brush themselves off and gaze about hoping they’ll actually have something to do.

Idiosyncrasies != Boredom.

And we haven’t even touched on the time taken up with consultations among umpires or between the pitcher and the manager and the seemingly inevitable saga of calling someone from the bullpen to replace the pitcher.

We hear this criticism a lot in baseball, but how is it any different than football? In both sports, the average game time is around three hours. Football pauses for more commercial breaks, however, including an intentional 10-20 minute break at halftime. The replay challenges, which occur at least twice a game on average (I pulled that out of my ass, so feel free to fact-check that) take a couple minutes.

In baseball, you have a stoppage after every half-inning that lasts between 1 and 2 minutes (so, between 17 and 34 minutes), a 30-second mound conference that occurs maybe twice a game, and pitching changes, which occur on average three times a game (again, I pulled that average out of thin air). The delays in baseball are no different — and arguably less — than football.

EDIT: Fellow BBTF poster SoSH U made a good point that I’d like to add to this:

The half-inning stoppages and pitching changes in MLB are natural. They’re basically the same length at every level of baseball, and during that time there is at least something going on (pitchers warming up, players throwing it around the infield).

Contrast that with the TV timeouts that go on in pro and college football, where players and coaches stand around doing nothing but waiting for the TV light to come on and indicate that it’s safe to play again. You don’t see that at high school games (well, until they started putting the damn things on ESPN. I suppose those fans have to endure that crap too).

For the fans, all of this leaves lots of time for diversions. That’s how baseball statistics got started. The endless stream of statistics gives diehard fans something to focus on instead of the game.

List of sports in which statistics are kept:

  • Baseball
  • Football
  • Basketball
  • Hockey
  • Soccer
  • Lacrosse
  • Volleyball
  • Tennis
  • Table-tennis
  • Badminton
  • Bocceball
  • Wrestling
  • Boxing

In other words, every sport keeps statistics. Statistics got started in baseball because it is a contest between two opposing sides in which a winner must be declared. To nullify the frequency of disputes, statistics were kept as proof of the results of the event.

But the stats themselves are deadening: often obscure, seemingly irrelevant, terminally nerdy.

The obscurity of a statistic does nothing to add or subtract from its usability.

If a statistic is “seemingly irrelevant,” that is probably your fault and not the statistic’s. An example of an irrelevant statistic would be, “Shane Victorino scored two goals in one game once when he was in high school.” Or even staying within the context of baseball, an irrelevant statistic would be the note that Jeff Cirillo (who logged nearly 5,400 at-bats as a position player) threw a scoreless inning as a pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2007.

And the phrase “terminally nerdy” coming from someone who lectures at colleges is a great example of the pot calling the kettle black.

And you know what they say

If he brings up the “Statistics are like bikinis” phrase, I’m going to blow a gasket.

Statistics are like bikinis.

Damn it.

What they reveal may seem enticing but what they conceal is vital.

I hate this quote because it misses the point. The anti-stat crowd always says that stats don’t cover everything (like Derek Jeter’s ability to grit his way to a win for his team), but no one has ever claimed that they do or ever will. Statistics are logged observations in numerical form.

The other criticism from the anti-stat crowd is that statistics are misleading, or can be used in biased ways. This, unfortunately for them, is not the fault of the statistics, but of the people who use them. Look at any political campaign and how they stretch the truth; this is true of any human being. If I believe in global warming, for instance, I’m only going to cite statistics that reinforce my belief that global warming is a problem.

Statistics are a creation of human beings and are used by human beings, so of course there are going to be instances where they are used dishonestly. That doesn’t mean we should throw out the baby with the bathwater, as they say.

Still, it often happens that the box score winds up being way more interesting than the game itself.

How does this make any logical sense. A box score is a log of what happened during the game. Unless you have a fetish for newspapers or black ink… this sentence is completely useless.

Yet, for the ordinary fan who’s not absorbed by all those numbers, other diversions have to suffice. That’s why new ballparks come equipped with huge Fan-o-Vision screens, ever-changing scoreboards, fountains, fireworks, tacky giveaways, faux shrines, playgrounds, picnic areas and lots and lots of restaurants, snack bars and shops.

How is this unique to baseball? Have you taken a look at what Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has in mind for his new stadium?

It’s a sugar high for kids and cholesterol gulch for adults.

Again, not unique to baseball, or to sports for that matter.

I went to the Phils’ new ballpark right after it opened. It’s very nice. But the more you hang around the place, the more expensive it gets.

Not. Unique. To. Baseball.

And in the course of a typical game (we’re not talking the playoffs or the World Series) you get to do a lot of hangin’ around.

If you’re completely ignorant of baseball, then yeah, you’re going to be bored.

If you don’t like baseball and find it boring, great, you’re entitled to your opinion. What if we published every subjective opinion article in the editorials?

  • New Kids on the Block are the best band ever
  • Pepsi tastes better than Coke
  • Megan Fox is hotter than Angelina Jolie
  • Michael Jordan’s cologne smells worse than Paris Hilton’s
  • The Kong coaster at Six Flags is better than the Medusa

It’s so pointless. No one opinion is better than another, regardless of how well you back it up. There is no amount of factual evidence available where you can definitively state that the Kong coaster > Medusa, or Megan Fox > Angelina Jolie.

The Baseball Almanac says the longest professional baseball game ever played was a 25-inning game between the Chicago White Sox and the Milwaukee Brewers in 1984.

This is A) a cherry-pick and B) making the exception the rule. The standard baseball game is nine innings long. There were 369 extra-inning games this season out of about [EDIT: Fixed my math] 2,430 total games. 15.2% of games this season went extra-innings. In other words, 84.8% of games will last the standard 8.5 or 9 innings.

And it’s enough to make you want to never come back – or at least to long for the days of Joe DiMaggio.

So, extra innings didn’t exist in DiMaggio’s day? Certainly, baseball games weren’t as long, but in reality, we’re talking about a difference of maybe 20 minutes (again, I made that up). Maybe Cirucci is a busy man, and those 20 minutes are vital.

The great Yankee Clipper was one of the last players who actually played for baseball’s one dynamic moment: the crack of the ball against the bat. Joe certainly did not do it for the money ($100,000 annually for his last three years, 1949-’51). He never got to reap the astronomical salaries of today’s sports pros.

The argument has somehow shifted from “baseball is boring” to “players are greedy”?

Not. Unique. To. Baseball. (In case you were wondering)

I’m amazed when people wail about the salaries of CEOs but think nothing of the fact that Alex Rodriguez will make $28 million this year.

I don’t know anyone — who follows both politics/economics and baseball — who has complained about CEO salaries, but not athletes’ salaries.

And again, citing A-Rod’s salary is a cherry-pick, and it’s not unique to baseball. Michael Vick was given a 10-year, $167 million contract from the Atlanta Falcons. The Los Angeles Lakers gave Kobe Bryant a 7-year, $136.4 million contract. Alexander Ovechkin was awarded a 13-year, $124 million contract.

Not. (Say it with me now) Unique. To. Baseball.

Whew – all that and Madonna, too!

Celebrity gossip. Not unique to baseball.


You’d think someone who has spent and still spends a considerable amount of time in academia would be able to make an argument much better than this. I would expect a column like this out of an eighth-grader, not someone in charge of informing college students.

THT: Why the Phillies Will Beat the Rays

This is hopefully the second-to-last installment of our post-season series pre- and post-views. The last one better be “Why the Phillies Won the World Series.”

Click here to check it out at The Hardball Times.

By the way, if you’re looking for real analysis, head on over to The Good Phight and check out the two recent posts from MattS:

Your 2008 National League Champions

Philadelphia Phillies @ Los Angeles Dodgers, Game 5 NLCS, Phillies advance to World SeriesAs hard as it may be to believe, the Philadelphia Phillies are the National League representatives in the World Series. Pinch yourself to validate that this is not a dream.

Cole Hamels pitched seven strong innings once again, allowing only one run — a Manny Ramirez home run to the delight of FOX broadcaster Joe Buck — on five hits and three walks with five strikeouts. What more can you ask of the guy? Maybe a Brett Myers-esque night at the plate, but I’ll settle.

Jimmy Rollins led off the game with a home run to right-center on a 3-2 fastball from Chad Billingsley. The Phillies never looked back, scoring twice in both the third and fifth innings (oddly enough, those runs did not come via home run). Hamels dominated the Dodgers’ lineup throughout the entire game with Ramirez getting the only good swing — on a high and outside 1-2 fastball — and Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge locked it up with two scoreless innings.

You have to feel for Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal, as he made three errors in the game, all coming in the fifth inning. With Ryan Howard and Chase Utley on first and second respectively, Pat Burrell hit a grounder in the hole which Furcal could not field cleanly. Seeing the botched grounder, Utley sped around third base towards home plate, and Furcal made a poor throw, allowing Howard to advance to third base.

Later in the inning, with the bases loaded and two outs, Carlos Ruiz hit another grounder to Furcal — a relatively simple play 99% of the time. Perhaps uneasy about his previous defensive plays, Furcal was hesitant with his throw. It came up short to first baseman James Loney, who could not cleanly catch the bounce, so a run scored and everyone was safe all around.

Blake DeWitt was arguably just as bad. In his two at-bats in the game, he hit into two 4-6-3 double plays. His WPA for the game was -1.77. Aside from that three-run triple off of Jamie Moyer in Game 3, DeWitt had an awful NLCS.

On the flip side, many Phillies had a great NLCS, including Shane Victorino, Utley, Hamels, and the entire bullpen. Victorino had the Dodgers so scared that they intentionally walked him twice in Game 5 to get to Pedro Feliz.

I’ll probably be teaming up with John Brattain for a couple more articles at The Hardball Times, explaining why the Phillies beat the Dodgers and why they’ll beat whoever they face in the World Series (likely the Tampa Bay Rays). Click here if you’d like to review the previous articles, perhaps reminding you of how wrong I always am.

Game graph courtesy FanGraphs.

One More Win

Philadelphia Phillies @ Los Angeles Dodgers, Game 4 NLCSAfter last night’s stunning comeback, the Phillies find themselves up three games to one, just one victory away from returning to the World Series for the first time since 1993.

Oddly enough, if you had only just now looked at the series statistics without knowing the results of each game, you’d think the series would be tied. Both teams have performed similarly in almost every area, except for the bullpen thanks to Shane Victorino and Matt Stairs.

Perhaps the best part of last night, besides the win, was a quote from hero Matt Stairs. Per David Murphy:

“You want to get that one big hit where you feel like you’re part of the team,” Stairs said. “Not that I don’t feel like I’m part of the team, by no means, but when you get that nice celebration coming into the dugout and you’re getting your ass hammered by guys, it’s no better feeling than to have that done.”

I was going to add some emphasis, but I’ll allow you to throw your own mind in the gutter.

Stairs also made a couple other funny quips, though there were no more double-entendres. From the Associated Press:

“My whole career, even back in the early days, my approach was try to hit the ball out of the ballpark,” he said. “And it’s something I enjoyed doing. In batting practice, I try to hit every ball out of the ballpark. I’m not going to lie, it’s fun. I try to hit home runs and that’s it. I’m not going to hit a single and steal second base. So I think the biggest thing is to get up there, swing hard and elevate.”

Is Matt Stairs this year’s version of Russell Branyan (i.e. used in a very limited role, but ends up winning a game anyway)?

Game 5 (Wednesday, 8:22 PM EST) will feature Phils ace Cole Hamels against the Dodgers’ Chad Billingsley. Should the Phillies clinch on Wednesday, they’d get about a week of rest, meaning that Hamels could start Games 1 and 5 of the World Series (or 1, 4, and 7 depending on how the rotation is set up). If they clinch in Game 6 on Friday, they’d get about five days, which is fine as well.

Game graph courtesy FanGraphs.

Moyer More Unlucky Than Bad in Game 3

Philadelphia Phillies @ Los Angeles Dodgers, Game 3 of the NLCSOne look at his pitching line in Game 3 of the NLCS in Los Angeles against the Dodgers and you’re forced to conclude that Jamie Moyer was absolute garbage. He’s no stranger to the garbage start either, as he tends to have one every once in a while: September 16, August 26, and May 10, for instance. But if you look a little deeper, you’ll see that Moyer’s failure was due less to his lack of “stuff” and more to bad luck and a successful aggressive approach by the Dodger offense.

Rafael Furcal led off the bottom of the first inning taking a ball and a strike, then swinging at the third pitch, an inside slider that skidded just past the outstretched glove of third baseman Pedro Feliz, too far to the right of shortstop Jimmy Rollins.

Andre Ethier, a left-hander, came up and swung at Moyer’s first pitch. It was a high and inside fastball (not a good location if you’re a left-handed hitter) that Ethier drove into the ground and it was, once again, just outside the outstretched glove of a diving Phillies infielder, this time Chase Utley.

Manny Ramirez continued the first-pitch swinging, offering at a get-it-over fastball and smoking it into left field, driving in Furcal. Not a lucky hit.

Russell Martin took the first pitch, an outside change-up. Moyer then threw two strikes, a cutter and a four-seamer that Martin also took. Martin swung at and fouled off the fourth pitch, another four-seamer. In trying to cross him up inside, Moyer’s fifth pitch, a change-up, went in too far and hit Martin on the knee to load the bases for Nomar Garciaparra.

Nomar took four of the five pitches he saw, the fifth one a cutter on the outside corner for strike three.

Casey Blake took the first pitch, then fouled off a curveball to fall behind in the count 0-2. Moyer’s third pitch an outside fastball, and Blake served it into right field to drive in Ethier on a great piece of hitting of which he deserves full credit. You can’t fault Moyer for it, since he made a good pitch.

Matt Kemp took three straight balls at which point Phillies fans were feeling a big inning for the Dodgers coming up. Maybe not. Moyer bounced back in the count to bring it to 3-2, then got Kemp looking at his sixth pitch, an inside fastball for strike three.

Blake DeWitt went down in the count quickly 0-2. Moyer tried to get him to offer at two straight change-ups in the dirt, but it was to no avail. With a 2-2 count, Moyer threw a high slider, but it caught too much of the plate and DeWitt hit it down the right field line, just in fair territory for a bases-clearing triple to bring the lead to 5-0.

Finally, Moyer ended the awful first inning by retiring the pitcher Hiroki Kuroda on a grounder to third baseman Pedro Feliz.

Moyer came out for the start of the second inning. Continuing with the aggression, Furcal swung at the first pitch, a change-up over the plate (another get-it-over pitch to get ahead in the count) and it cleared the left field fence for a solo home run and the Dodgers’ sixth run.

Manager Charlie Manuel let him stay in to pitch to the left-handed Ethier, who also swung at the first pitch and flied out to shallow center field, before replacing him with Clay Condrey.

Moyer’s line: 1.1 IP, 6 ER, 6 H, 0 BB, 2 K, 1 HR. 11 batters faced, 32 pitches (2.9 per batter).

A recap:

  • Furcal: Ground ball hit
  • Ethier: Ground ball hit
  • Ramirez: Line drive hit, RBI
  • Martin: HBP
  • Garciaparra: K looking
  • Blake: Ground ball hit, RBI
  • Kemp: K looking
  • DeWitt: Fly ball triple, 3 RBI
  • Kuroda: Weak ground ball out
  • Furcal: Home run
  • Ethier: Weak fly ball out

Only two of the six hits were well-hit (DeWitt’s triple was not well-hit). Against Moyer, the Dodgers’ BABIP was .714 with only one line drive.

Compare their average on the batted balls to that of the NL average BABIP:

  • Ground balls: 3-for-4 (.750); NL average: .232
  • Fly balls: 2-for-3 (.667); NL average: .145
  • Line drives: 1-for-1 (1.000); NL average: .717

Be aware of the small sample size, but you get the point.

As they say, “baseball is a game of inches” and had Furcal and Ethier’s hits been an inch or two closer to Feliz and Utley respectively, it’s an entirely different inning.

That’s why I am not hasty in faulting Moyer for his poor outing. The only mistake he made was hitting Martin with the change-up. Otherwise, you have to credit the Dodgers with their aggressive approach. Moyer has a tendency to throw hittable junk in an attempt to get ahead in the count (as a pitcher without much “stuff,” it’s an important strategic endeavor). It’s likely the Dodgers realized this and that’s why they were successful.

This start, coupled with his four-inning stint in the NLDS, will lead a lot of fans and media people to lobby that Manuel hand the ball to Joe Blanton (essentially pushing him up a day) or even J.A. Happ, should Moyer’s spot in the rotation come up again. This is misguided, however, as Moyer didn’t even pitch terribly against the Brewers in Game 3 of the NLDS, so it’s a knee-jerk reaction. His mistakes then were two lead-off walks to Mike Cameron and Bill Hall (Cameron scored on a Prince Fielder sacrifice fly, Hall scored on a J.J. Hardy single); other than that, he shut the Brewers down.

If Moyer’s spot comes up again in the NLCS, you hand him the ball and realize that luck simply wasn’t in his favor in Game 3 against the Dodgers, and that his opponents had a successful approach — certainly not all his fault. Watch some videotape of the game, make some adjustments (don’t throw first-pitch cookies), and try to halt the slide.

Game graph courtesy FanGraphs.