The umpires have finally been announced for the World Series. The crew consists of John Hirschbeck (crew chief), Sam Holbrook, Bill Miller, Mike Winters, Jeff Kellogg, and Gary Darling. That list is in the order that they will work behind home plate.
Using a combination of Pitch F/X and game results (K/9 and BB/9), here is how the umpires rank from the most pitcher friendly to most hitter friendly:
For a comparison, here are right and left handed strike zones for the two umpires on the extremes, Bill Miller and Jeff Kellogg (the rest of the umpire zones is available at the end of the article).
The scale given is the ratio of called strikes to the total number of called strikes and balls. The box is the rule book strike zone with the inner circle for reference only. The zone is from the hitter’s perspective looking home.
Right Handed Hitters
Left Handed Hitters
Hopefully, the umpires will not be involved in any major controversies this world series, but who knows. At least none of these umpires are at the extreme ends of the strike zone spectrum. Compared the previous playoff series’s this off season, this crew’s strike zone should be one of the more consistent ones.
This post is (a) talking about the issues, but also (b) keeping it funky.
Philadelphia at San Francisco | NLCS, Game Five | 7:57pm ET Starting Pitchers
Phillies: Roy Halladay
250.2 IP, 7.86 K/9, 1.08 BB/9, .298 BABIP, 51.2% GB, 11.3% HR/FB, 2.92 xFIP, 6.6 WAR
Giants: Tim Lincecum
212.1 IP, 9.79 K/9, 3.22 BB/9, .324 BABIP, 48.9% GB, 9.9% HR/FB, 3.21 xFIP, 5.1 WAR
In the event that you weren’t there to witness it in its primetime glory, allow me to tell you briefly about the show My Two Dads. Actually, allow me to allow Wikipedia to tell you:
The show begins when Marcy Bradford (Emma Samms), the mother of Nicole Bradford (Staci Keanan), dies. The two men who had competed for the woman’s affections before Nicole was born — Michael Taylor (Paul Reiser) and Joey Harris (Greg Evigan) — are awarded joint custody of Nicole. The mix-ups of two single straight men raising a teen-aged daughter provided the story each week. Judge Margaret W. Wilbur (Florence Stanley), a family court judge, would frequently visit the new family and served as Nicole’s mentor.
That’s not a bad description of the show but for one omission: any mention of the respective dads’ equal and opposite personalities. Reiser’s Michael is conservative, deliberate, and works in finance; Evigan’s Joey — well, that pierced ear should tell you everything you need to know. Dude is crazy!
Hilarity is about to ensue.
In any case, the moral of exactly every episode of My Two Dads goes like this: Michael and Joey are different people, and this is made manifest in their approaches to parenting, but both are equally good dads because of how much they love their little Nicole.
Tonight’s pitching match-up, if I may blow your minds for a minute, is like an episode of My Two Dads written for baseball. Halladay is Reiser: understated, efficient. Lincecum is Joey: unorthodox, long-haired, marijuana. But both arrive at the same fundamental end — i.e. dominating their opponent.
The differences/similarities are perhaps most notable in each pitcher’s walk and strikeout numbers. If we judge the two pitchers’ command by the traditional K:BB, Halladay wins easily: 6.3:1 versus Lincecum’s 3.1:1. Those are both good ratios, but Halladay has the advantage on account of his low walk rates.
However, the always-right Tom Tango wrote in March that, rather than using K:BB ratio to adjudge command, we actually ought to use the difference between a pitcher’s strikeouts and walks per batter faced. By that measure, here are the top-10 pitchers this season (with at least 10 starts):
What you’ll notice there — besides the fact that Stephen Strasburg needs to get well soon and Cliff Lee is acually a robot-person — is that Lincecum, though he has a considerably less impressive K:BB ratio than Halladay, actually compares favorably so far as strikeout and walk difference is concerned. Like Joey, he takes an unorthodox approach to his job (parenting, pitching), but ends up in roughly the same places as his more conservative counterpart.
Of course, the analogy isn’t air-tight. Owing to his whiff-based approach, it follows that Lincecum is forced to throw more pitches. In fact, he threw 16.2 per inning this season — as opposed to Halladay’s 14.2. That adds up: Halladay pitched almost 40 more innings in the same exact number of starts (33) as Lincecum. Over the course of the season, that’s valuable.
We can assume that tonight, however — in our first elimination game of the Championship Series — that pitch counts will take a back seat to victory. In this single match-up we’ll be able see each pitcher become entirely himself.
Despite having to face the Phillies’ annoyingly-nicknamed (but awesomely talented) “H2O” pitching trio consisting of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels, the widely-panned San Francisco Giants find themselves up two games to one going into tonight’s NLCS Game Four. Much of this is due, of course, to the Giants also having marched three pretty good starters to the mound so far in Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez, and Matt Cain. Despite Cody Ross‘s best efforts, runs have been generally difficult to come by in this series, and it is easy to understand why. Tonight’s starters are less exalted than their predecessors, but given the Giants’ talent level and the Phillies’ offensive drought, a high-scoring game isn’t exactly “due.”
Earlier this afternoon Carson gave a brief preview of the staring pitchers, and he is correct to note the striking similarities in many aspects of the Giants’ Game 4 starter Madison Bumgarner and his Phillies counterpart Joe Blanton. Both have relatively neutral batted-ball profiles, strike out about an average number of hitters, and avoid walks. While some will tout Blanton’s “experience” as an advantage for the Phillies, Bumgarner didn’t exactly seem overwhelmed with nerves in his impressive start against the Braves in the divisional round. The Phillies’ biggest area of superiority in this matchup was supposed to be their offense, but the Giants have kept Philadelphia’s hitters in check so far. It will be interesting to see how the southpaw Bumgarner fares against the Phillies left-handed hitters. Although Chase Utley has displayed a slight “reverse” platoon split over the years, Ryan Howard has fared quite badly against lefties, and after reverse splits in 2008 and 2009, Raul Ibanez has regressed to a traditional split as well. Although Jayson Werth has hit both righties and lefties well this season, for his career he’s been a real lefty-killer.
On the other side of the ball, while the Giants offense has done enough to get them this far in the playoffs, as one would expect from the regular season, they haven’t been very impressive, notwithstanding the serendipitous pick-up of Ross. Bruce Bochy sat the slumping Andre Torres in favor of Aaron Rowand last night, and while the Giants won the game, San Francisco’s fans have to hope that Bochy will weigh Torres’ performance over the last season-and-a-half heavier than the last few games and reinsert him in the lineup (lineups are not available yet as I write), given that Rowand will be without the platoon advantage tonight, not to mention Torres’ superior defense (assuming Torres is in good health). If the Giants insist on starting Edgar Renteria tonight, they can help their own cause by not hitting him first. Even better would be starting the buried Pablo Sandoval — who, even after his poor 2010 at the plate, can still outhit Zombie Renteria — if Juan Uribe is able to play shortstop. But hey, they won last night, and Bochy even resisted the urge to intentionally walk anyone (progress!), so I guess it’s working for them so far.
In spite of the fairly-even pitching matchup, in terms of “true talent,” the Phillies’ offense is better than the Giants’. But this series so far is just one more reminder that while true talent is what we project, pennants are awarded on the basis of observed performance, and the Giants have to feel good about their position going into tonight’s game.
This preview contains a hard-hitting poll. Just, FYI.
Philadelphia at San Francisco | Game Four, NLCS | 7:57pm ET Starting Pitchers
Phillies: Joe Blanton
175.2 IP, 6.87 K/9, 2.20 BB/9, .331 BABIP, 41.9% GB, 12.2% HR/FB, 4.06 xFIP, 1.9 WAR
Giants: Madison Bumgarner
111.0 IP, 6.97 K/9, 2.11 BB/9, .322 BABIP, 45.1% GB, 8.1% HR/FB, 4.03 xFIP, 2.0 WAR
While I typically attempt, at all costs, to avoid learning, it occurs to me that, looking at Blanton’s and Bumgarner’s season lines in relief, one is absolutely forced to comprehend the baleful effects of the Fly Ball on a pitcher’s fortunes. For, while Blanton struck out and walked batters at a rate almost identical to Bumgarner — and conceded fly balls on 38.7% of balls in play, versus Bumgarner’s rate of 38.0% — he ended the season with an ERA exactly 1.82 points higher than Bumgarner (4.82 versus 3.00).
Indeed, the only real difference between these pitchers — besides their handedness and respective waistlines — is what happened to the balls once they got in the air. For Bumgarner, about eight percent of them became home runs; Blanton conceded that many, plus half again.
To what do we owe this difference? Well, we can’t ignore the pitchers’ respective ballparks. Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank certainly has a reputation for allowing dongers, while the Giants’ home park is, anecdotally speaking, known as either average or slightly below in this regard. Still, per Dan Turkenkopf’s four-year weighted HR/FB park factors, Citizens Bank Park actually supresses homers, producing a park factor of 94. San Francisco’s AT&T Park, on the other hand, has a 95*.
*Note: numbers are for 2006-09.
Another thing to consider is the type of balls that are being hit in the air. For, while grounders are relatively easy to classify, the difference between a fly ball and line drive is slightly more mysterious. (As I’ve almost definitely mentioned in these pages, we members of Team FanGraphs who were lucky enough to attend spring training had endless hours of fun attempting to identify batted-ball types).
In fact, we do see that Bumgarner induced more grounders per batted-ball than Blanton. It follows, of course, that Blanton allowed more balls in the air. How many? Well, in his 175.2 IP, Blanton conceded 221 fly balls and 111 line drives, for a total of 332 balls in air (BIA), or approximately 17 for every nine innings. Bumgarner, on the other hand, allowed 135 flies and 60 line drives, for a total of 195 BIA, or 15.8 every nine innings.
Does that make things any different? Sort of, but not by much. Blanton, with his 27 homers-allowed, still allowed a home run on 8.1% of his BIA; for Bumgarner that number was only 5.6%.
Ultimately, we’re forced to concede that Blanton’s relative susceptibility to the home run is inexplicable. It could be the home park; it could be the types of batted-balls he’s allowing; it could be random variation. It’s very likely, all three things, plus some other factors beyond these that we (read: I, Carson Cistulli) are failing to consider.
The notable thing, so far as this game is concerned, is how similar these pitchers have performed and how different have been their results. Do we regard Bumgarner as “better” because he’s managed to suppress about five home runs that Blanton would’ve allowed in the same numbers of innings? Do we regard Blanton as “worse” because those same fly balls have left the park on his watch? Were you a manager, who would you rather have pitch for you tonight? From what we know, the answer should be “either,” but I don’t know if that’s the case.
How’s about we find out, huh? Below, reader, you’ll find a poll whose question essentially amounts to a Zen koan. Bring it.
For the first time since 2007 the Yankees face an elimination game in the postseason. They were able to stay alive one more day in that series, no thanks to a gimpy Roger Clemens, but ended up losing the next game. This year the task is a bit greater. In 2007 they were down two games to none in the ALDS, with two home games before a potential return trip to Cleveland. This year they have one more game at home before potentially returning to Texas. Even if they do win the next two, they have a return date with Cliff Lee waiting for them on Saturday.
Today, though, they’ll send their ace to the mound. CC Sabathia has been a bit shaky in his first two 2010 postseason starts, though he has a ready-made excuse. His start on October 15th was his second in 17 days, which constitutes far more rest than he gets during the regular season; the Yankees even lined him up on fairly regular rest after the All-Star Break. But today, October 20th, he’s on his normal four days’ rest. Everything is in order and his team’s season is on the line. There are no excuses.
C.J. Wilson pitched well through seven innings last time, allowing just four hits and walking two. But instead of turning to his setup crew, Ron Washington sent out Wilson, who had thrown under 100 pitches, for the eighth. He and the next three relievers failed to record an out. By the time Derek Holland finally got the first one the Yankees had already taken the lead. Wilson did avoid walking too many hitters, which helped him hold down the Yankees through seven. This time perhaps his bullpen will better support him.
We don’t have stats that measure momentum; we don’t have stats that capture a team’s confidence. We don’t, in short, have stats that offer any insight into any single game. We can use our numbers to set expectations, and in that way we should expect a quality game this afternoon. But in the postseason, with emotions at a season high, it’s tough to expect anything. The Yankees’ offense could rebound. It could bomb. Wilson could go back to walking too many guys and allow five runs. He could repeat his Game 1 performance. It’s frustrating from an analytical standpoint, but it’s true.
The real preview for Game 5: watch it and enjoy it. No amount of analysis can prepare you for what you’re going to see.
The Rangers exhibit and take pride in being aggressive when running the bases. They have had good results so far in the post season. Tonight though, they may have to calm it down a bit since Andy Pettitte is on the mound. Andy has a great pick off move and does a great job of keeping runners near first base. With runs possibly being at a premium tonight, none of the Ranger base runners can pull a “Kinsler” and get picked off of first base.
The Rangers don’t have to shut down their running game. They can be aggressive once the ball is in play or even look at stealing third base against Jorge Posada. They just can’t afford to give away any outs at first base tonight.
Cliff Lee May
Cliff Lee has been throwing lights out so far this post season. He will not maintain this complete dominance throughout the entire post season (see Roy Halladay). He may come down to earth, regress a little and allow some crazy number of runs like three or four. The Rangers should be looking to add runs whenever they can. They can’t expect him to be as lights out as he was against Tampa, especially against the Yankees lineup.
… is a very good hitter. I followed the Royals during the regular season, which means I only get a heavy dose of the AL Central players. I am impressed with Cano.
So far this LCS, the Rangers have used Neftali Feliz, Derek Holland, Darren O’Day, Alexi Ogando, Darren Oliver and Clay Rapada in relief. During the regular season, these six pitchers average 0.31 BB/IP and 0.97 K/IP. During the LCS, the six have maintained a similar strikeout rate of 0.94 K/IP, but their walk rate has almost quadrupled to 1.13 BB/IP. Though this is a small sample size, the bullpen can’t keep giving up over one walk per inning and expect to hold the Yankees scoreless. As seen in game one, the Yankees are too good to give them one or more free base runners in an inning.
Becker writes: “One of the reasons Bochy decided for the change is because Sanchez was stellar in his two regular-season starts against the Phillies this year.”
So, some notes on that statement:
1. Obviously, the reference to “two regular-season starts” sets off the Small Sample Size Alarm in the baseballing nerd’s heart. It’s very probable that Sanchez’s season (and career) numbers — and the Phillies’ team platoon split — can tell us more about tonight’s match-up than two isolated starts this season.
2. As for Philadelphia’s lefty-righty platoon split, here’s what we get: per Baseball Reference, they recorded a 111 OPS+ versus lefties (relative to other teams versus lefties) as opposed to just a 102 OPS+ versus righties. Broadly speaking, the Phillies are probably better versus lefties than righties.
3. Even though Sanchez conceded only 2 ER in those 2 GS versus Philadelphia this season (the first at San Francisco on April 26, the second at Philadelphia on August 19), he didn’t actually pitch all that well. In 13 IP, his K:BB was 13:7, and of the 31 BIP, only 10 of them were grounders. If we figure Sanchez’s xFIP over those two starts, we get something like 4.60 or thereabouts.
The Giants, Oswalt, and Homers
Among National League teams, the Giants had the most homers in September (and October): 39 in 1048 PAs. They also had the NL’s highest HR/FB rate at 12.6%. Buster Posey had eight of the homers; Juan Uribe, seven; Pat Burrell, six; Freddy Sanchez, four; and Aubrey Huff, four. All are likely to start tonight.
Curiously, after coming to Philadelphia, Roy Oswalt saw his groundball rate increase to a level unseen since his 2008 season. After getting grounders on only 43.0% of balls in play with Houston this season — and 43.3% last year — Oswalt saw that number jump to 50.2% in his 12 starts with the Phillies.
There are obvious, and predictable, caveats here: 12 starts isn’t very many, and ground balls are prone to bias. BUT, it’s also possible that what we see here is Oswalt attempting to adjust to his new, more homer-friendly home park.
If I Had My Druthers
• Andres Torres and Chase Utley would spiral into a Handsome Vortex.
• Kool Keith would write an album of the same name.
• Handsome Vortex, that is.
It couldn’t have turned out any better than this. Whether or not you want to label 2010 as the “Year of the Pitcher,” a Tim Lincecum vs. Roy Halladay matchup is a pitcher’s pitcher matchup of all pitcher matchups. It still gives me shivers to think that just over a week ago, Halladay threw the second no-hitter in postseason history and not to mention in his first playoff start. According to Game Score, Lincecum topped that performance (96 vs. 94) with a franchise playoff-record 14 strikeouts. The National League Championship Series figures to be a wild ride, but we’ll first have to get through two of the best pitchers in the early 21st century.
Because of the much-anticipated matchup, Lincecum will need to be almost perfect if he wants to beat Halladay, making as few mistakes as possible against the Phillies. Although the Phillies’ offense has not exhibited as much firepower as in recent seasons in which they made the NLCS, their slugging is decent enough to keep any pitcher humble. The Giants’ lineup, on the other hand, will have to take advantage of the few mistakes that Halladay will make. Every pitcher will throw at least a few pitches that they wish they could take back, even if the batter doesn’t take advantage of them. As much as we’d like to think that Halladay is a baseball demigod (which, I have confirmed with the baseball gods, he is), he will certainly throw at least a few pitches that can be hit, whether it’s a no-movement fastball down the middle, a hanging curveball, or a misplaced cutter.
The key for the Giants’ offense is to attempt as much as possible to go deep in the count. Halladay found himself ahead of the count on 32.2% of pitches during the regular season compared to behind in the count 22.0% of the time. An additional strategy is to be aggressive against the pitches that Halladay looks weaker with early in the game. Halladay throws four effective pitches: a mid-90s sinking two-seam fastball, a high-70s curveball, a low-90s cutter, and a mid-80s changeup.
Here’s a look at which pitches each Giants’ starting batter was successful against in 2010 along with their pitch type runs above average per 100 pitches:
Because pitch type values for batters vary greatly from year to year, coupled with the fact that Halladay throws a fastball with sinking motion, take these numbers with a grain of salt. But what is clear in the second list is that Halladay’s out pitch (the cutter) andhis newest pitch (the changeup) have also been weaknesses for most of the Giants’ lineup during the 2010 regular season. And let’s not forget Halladay has a killer curve and a sinking fastball that breaks toward RHH.
As for Lincecum, we know about his most deadly pitch, a mid-80s changeup; an amazing 25.4% of RHH and 27.7% of LHH whiff on his changeups (league average of swinging strikes on all pitches is 8.5%). For the Phillies’ offense, it looks like Raul Ibanez (wCH/C of 2.67) and Jayson Werth (2.40) have been successful against changeups while Shane Victorino (-2.35) and Ryan Howard (-1.85) have not.
We can break down Halladay, Lincecum, and each NLCS team’s lineup all we want, but anything can happen in a pitcher’s duel. Come Saturday, feel free to sit back, relax, scrap this analysis, and grab the popcorn for what might be the most anticipated pitcher’s duel in the history of the League Championship Series.
Here are a few notes I have on today’s game and the entire series.
The Rangers need to take notice that the weather is cooling down and batted balls will not travel as far when hit. As Robert Adair notes in the Physics of Baseball, a 400 foot fly ball hit to center field will travel four feet less for every ten degrees in temperature drop. The temperature for today’s game is projected to be about 10 degrees cooler than many of the late season night games. Acknowledging this change is especially important when the Rangers are at home. All players should be running as if the ball is in the park until they know for sure that they hit a home run.
The umpires have been announced for the series and they probably will work home plate in the following order: Gerry Davis, Tony Randazzo, Jim Reynolds, Angel Hernandez, Fieldin Culbreth, and Brian Gorman. Game one’s home plate umpire, Gerry Davis, has one of the smallest strike zones in the league. Here is a comparison of Davis’s, Tony Randazzo’s (umpire in the crew closest to a standard zone) and Brian Gorman’s (most pitcher friendly umpire of the crew) strike zones for right and left handed hitters.
The scale given is the ratio of called strikes to the total number of called strikes and balls. The box is the rule book strike zone with the inner circle for reference only.
Well it is Game 5 for the Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. The game is a near mirror match up of Game 1 in the series with lefties Cliff Lee and David Price pitching . I have absolutely nothing to add that hasn’t been said over the last week, except grab your favorite refreshing beverage, sit down and enjoy the game.
This game will be mentioned as the game that let the Rangers win their first post-season series and propelled them into the ALCS versus the Yankees -or- the game that sent them home again disappointed. Games like this is why we follow baseball. Enjoy the game and a complete over-the-hill analysis will be available after the game no matter which team wins.
This is the fifth meeting within seven days for these two teams. They know each other pretty well by now, meaning few secrets remain. Perhaps the only secret is which player Joe Maddon will start at designated hitter. The two options are Dan Johnson and Willy Aybar.
The switch-hitting Aybar would be the intuitive choice with lefty-tossing Cliff Lee on the mound. Lee doesn’t have much of a platoon split himself, though, and lefties have actually fared better against him this season than righties. Besides, Aybar had a miserable season all around and posted a .304 wOBA versus lefties. The previous two seasons with the Rays included wOBA of .347 and .381 against abnormal humans, so you can see how this is a new experience for Aybar, who displayed less power and less motivation for free passes.
Johnson bats lefty but has a career .330 wOBA against same-handed pitchers in nearly 400 plate appearances. His skill set is an interesting one given Lee’s dominance in the strike zone. Johnson nary swings at pitches outside of the strike zone and only swings at pitches in the zone a little more often. He’s a take hitter which seemingly makes him a poor matchup against Lee – after all, two takes and it could be 0-2 already.
History suggests Maddon will roll with Aybar, as he did in two of the three regular season affairs, but it is worth noting that the Rays left Aybar off the postseason roster entirely in favor of Rocco Baldelli. That’s relevant because if one didn’t know better, Baldelli’s entire purpose on the roster was to play in game one before ducking out due to fatigue. Whoever Maddon decides to play, it’s not expected to matter much, but who knows what will happen in one last game.
The game of musical DH chairs will end tomorrow night and so will one of these teams’ seasons.
Although Rick Ankiel‘s extra-inning homer and Troy Glaus‘s (!) defensive wizardry in Game Two already cemented this series as the most “interesting” of the 2010 playoffs’ divisional round, Game Three, a.k.a. the ‘Brooks Conrad Game’ managed to take things to a new level of surreality. Up two games to one, San Francisco is back in control, but given how this series has played out so far, the Giants shouldn’t get too comfortable.
While there were rumors that the Giants’ Game Four starter would be Tim Lincecum on three days rest, the team has decided to go with rookie Madison Bumgarner. It makes sense: the Giants aren’t facing elimination, and given Lincecum’s value to the franchise, if either Lincecum or the Giants’ staff isn’t comfortable with him pitching on short rest for whatever reason that should settle it.
Bumgarner himself isn’t exactly a slouch. Despite concerns about his drop in velocity during 2009, he seemed get it back in 2010, and he fared well in his 18 major-league starts for the Giants this season (3.00 ERA, 3.66 FIP, 4.03 xFIP, 3.59 tERA, 2.0 WAR in 111 innings). Bumgarner’s major league strikeout rate is only average-ish so far, but combined with a low walk rate, he’s been an above-average starter for San Francisco. Bumgarner isn’t a ground ball machine, but he isn’t a flyball pitcher, either, so home runs shouldn’t be a particular problem for him. Of specific interest for the game tonight is that Bumgarner does not show an especially large platoon split (albeit in a very small sample), so he won’t be at a marked disadvantage against the Braves right-handed hitters. Moreover, platoon splits are a two-way street — both pitchers and hitters have their own “personal” platoon skillls — and while Atlanta rookie Jason Heyward has a small sample and catcher Brian McCann has a smaller-than-usual-for-lefties platoon split, Bumgarner will have a platoon advantage on the two best hitters in the Braves’ injury-ravaged lineup. If Bumgarner does get into trouble, the whole San Francisco bullpen should be available due to an off-day on Tuesday. Look for plenty of commentary on Bumgarner’s lack of playoff experience given the way absence of such experience recently has been a big problem for pitchers like Lincecum and Roy Halladay.
The Giants’ offense is supposed their biggest edge over the Braves, but that edge hasn’t manifested itself in the series so far, mostly because the Braves have excellent pitchers of their own. With the Braves facing elimination, they shouldn’t hesitate to empty their bullpen, and Bobby Cox usually doesn’t. Until last night, the Braves ‘pen had been pretty much untouchable in the series (and even last night the Giants needed some “help”), and their regular-season numbers bear that out. With Billy Wagner injured, the Braves have put Takashi Saito back on the roster, giving them a lot of situational flexibility. [An an aside: I've noticed that some seem to think that Bobby Cox made the wrong call in bringing in Michael Dunn to face Aubrey Huff last night because Huff has hit lefties and righties equally well this season. I won't go over the specific calculations in detail. Although in 188 plate appearances against southpaws in 2010 Huff hit them almost as well as northpaws, from 2002 to the present he has had 1672 plate appearances against lefties in which he displayed a roughly average split. Moreover, Dunn's platoon skill factors in as well, and he has been devastating against lefties. Cox's decision regarding the platoon aspect of the situation was right on.] And that is before even considering Braves’ starter Derek Lowe, who can still pitch, as he displayed in holding the Giants to one run in Game One. Lowe has had success when pitching on short rest before, and again, the Braves have a great bullpen to call on if he gets into trouble or if they need to pinch-hit for him early.
The Giants have good reason to feel confident about their situation. Despite being on the road, they only have to win one of the next two games (and if a second game is necessary it will be at home with their ace on the mound), and despite their general offensive ineffectiveness so far they are still better off than the decimated Braves lineup. However, the Braves’ own good pitchers have shown that they are able to keep the Giants from pulling away, and given how the last two games have ended, it would be surprising if there weren’t more surprises that took this series down to its final out.
Against all odds, my attempt Friday to predict not only the exact score, but also to provide a precise play-by-play rendering of Game Two in the Philadelphia-Cincinnati NLDS series — well, it wasn’t a rousing success. As it happened, Roy Oswaltdidn’t strike out 15 batters, and Chase Utleydidn’t hit the inside-the-park home run I was so sure he would. Nor was I able to account for the Reds’defensive woes.
With regard to my failure, all I can say is that, like a politician who’s recently been tied to a New York City-based call-girl ring, I am humbled.
On the subject of humility, however, there appears to be one resident of Philadelphia who’s not feeling too much of it presently — namely, Mr. Charlie Manuel. With Cole Hamels set to start Game Three this evening (at 8:07 ET), and Roys Halladay and Oswalt ready to pitch hypothetical Games Four and Five, Manuel’s feeling pretty confident, as evidenced by his comments in AP writer Jay Cohen’s game preview:
[W]hile Reds manager Dusty Baker is talking about faith, his time in the military and a self-help book he read earlier this year, Manuel feels comfortable enough to say he doesn’t like Cincinnati’s chances of advancing.
“It can happen,” the grinning manager said Saturday. “It ain’t goin’ to happen, but it can happen.”
I can’t say for sure what the proper response is to these comments. Does it demonstrate undue hubris? Is Manuel merely being realistic? Ought Jay Cohen be given a Pulitzer immediately for accurately rendering Charlie Manuel’s spoken English in print?
I don’t know.
In any case, here were this author’s reactions, one-by-one:
1. Wow, did he really say that?
2. [Re-reading] Yes, he appears to’ve said that.
3. [Thinking in My Brain] He maybe shouldn’t've said that. The payoff for being correct is much lower than the penalty for being incorrect. Unjustified or unfulilled or un-whatever hubris is generally taboo in the sporting world.
4. On the other hand, he’s probably right. Even if these two teams are evenly matched and only home-field advantage informs the resulting outcomes, that still gives Philadelphia about an 87% chance of winning the series [1 - (.542*.542*.458)].
5. I should note this in that frigging game preview I have to write.
Before I continue, let’s agree on one thing, please — that the subject of “guaranteed victories” is a tired one. Joe Namath’s was pretty excellent, I suppose, because it’s the oldest famous one. But subsequent guarantees — and, seriously, I refuse to spend even one second of my life cataloging them — ring hollow. By definition, one needs to speak in probabilities when it comes to victory.
In any case, this is what makes Manuel’s statements notable — both (a) his acknowledgement of the probabilities and (b) recognition that the Phils’ chances of winning their series are really high. Where usually a player or manager might say, “Yeah, we just gotta go out there and continue to play our game” and/or “That’s a good team in that other dugout,” Manuel’s basically like, “We’re at least as good as the other team, and we have a 2-0 games lead. You fill in the blanks, dogg.”
Is this making a mountain out of the proverbial mole hill? Perhaps, except for two things: (a) I, personally, haven’t ever seen a manager make comments of this nature precisely, and (b) because this is the playoffs, all such comments are necessarily magnified.
After Friday night’s surreal game in San Francisco, the Giants might be ready for a change of scenery. However, the trip to Atlanta won’t be a leisurely visit. The Giants managed to knock Tommy Hanson around well enough in Game Two before things went haywire, but they were handled fairly well in Game One by Derek Lowe, needing an awesome performance from their ace Tim Lincecum to get the victory. Neither of those games have any significant predictive relevance for this one, of course, but seeing another groundball machine inTim Hudson (whose stats beyond ERA are remarkably similar to Lowe’s this season) on the mound won’t be much cause for comfort. Well, maybe a bit — the more groundballs the Giants put into play, the more likely Brooks Conrad is to have to try and field them.
The Giants aren’t bereft of their own pitching talent, sending Jonathan Sanchez out on Sunday against Hudson. On the surface, their numbers are somewhat similar. Each has an ERA about a run better than his xFIP, although neither has a career line that shows the ability to consistently “outpitch” his xFIP significantly. Each has a 2010 WAR just over 2.5 and a tERA under 4. Their actual methods are quite different, however. Hudson is a right-handed groundballer with a below average strikeout rake who doesn’t walk many; Sanchez is a left-handed flyballer with a great strikeout rate who has a problem with walks. CHONE’s August update does not see them as overall equals, projecting Sanchez’s context-neutral ERA (nERA) at 4.42 and Hudson’s at 3.95; do with that what you will.
While the series has evened up and Altanta has homefield advantage for the moment (however you want to quantify that), the Giants still have the superior offense. While some have raised the concern that the Giants are too right-handed on offense given Atlanta’s right-handed top three pitchers, this might be a bit overblown. True, of the Giants good hitters, only Aubrey Huff is left-handed. However, of their switch hitters, Andres Torres has a close-to even platoon split for his career, Pablo Sandoval (one bad year doesn’t make him a bad hitter) hits righties better than lefties, and Buster Posey (whose platoon sample in the majors is too small to say either way) has hit everyone well so far in his brief MLB sojourn. Right-handed hitter Pat Burrell has a smaller-than-average observed platoon split for his career, and curiously enough, a reverse split in both 2009 and 2010, although the sample size should dissuade one from overemphasizing those two seasons. Of greater concern for Giants’ hitters than platoon issues will be how to deal with the Braves’ relievers, as the Atlanta bullpen has been every bit as good and deep as advertised. Even with Takaski Saito and now Billy Wagner out, they have enough arms to go the bullpen early if necessary, and given enough room to work, can set up tough matchups for hitters.
As a flyball pitcher, Sanchez is a good fit for the Giants’ home park, which lowers home run rates. Turner Field isn’t a hitter’s haven, but it isn’t as forgiving to pitchers regarding the long ball. However, that issue isn’t quite as worrisome as it might be, as the left-handed throwing Sanchez will have the platoon advantage against the Braves’ best hitters — Jason Heyward, Brian McCann, and, of course, feared Giantslayer Rick Ankiel (ahem).
As a baseball fan without a vested rooting interest in this match up, here’s hoping Game Three offers as many surprising twists as its predecessor, whomever comes out on top.
Must-win game number two for Tampa Bay will feature Wade Davis as starting pitcher. Monday will be an off-day whether the series continues or not, meaning just about everyone on Tampa Bay’s staff shy of David Price (if he’s saved for a potential game five) and Matt Garza (who started Saturday’s game) would be available in relief work if Davis happens to stumble.
Davis’ likelihood to slip and slide may or may not be more unpredictable than other pitches, but it sure feels like it. From June until August, Davis’ xFIP finished in the 4.8s, yet his peripherals danced across the floor to a foreign pattern. One month, Davis would look like a pitcher with a flair for the three true outcomes. The next he would be a contact aficionado. Based on his six five, 220 pound frame and low-to-mid 90s heater (his adoration for which is no secret) one would think Davis is closer to the pitcher who will strike some out and walk some more, but in a perfect world he falls into his September numbers; where he compiled a 7.49 K/9 and 2.94 BB/9.
The only thing with more rate changes than his numbers is his favorability amongst the locals that stems from an improved ERA and win-loss record. In fact, since returning from the disabled list on August 5, Davis went 3-1 with a 3.76 ERA. A good chunk of that improvement can be attributed to only giving up five home runs in 50-plus innings. Consider that at one point, Davis gave up five home runs in an 11 innings span and `18 over his first 94 innings.
Has Davis improved in anything but luck? One would like to think so (and the numbers spell this out to some degree as well) but expect Joe Maddon to have his pen ready at a whim. After all, he pulled James Shields and Matt Garza well before either hit the 100-pitches mark, and neither were in games that could force a decisive game five.
In the first two games of the series the Yankees threw lefties on the road. Now they’ll flip that by throwing a righty at home. The Twins will counter by trotting out a different lineup than they did in Games 1 and 2. While righties Delmon Young and Michael Cuddyer presented the largest dangers in those games, the lefties will bat higher in the lineup tonight. Phil Hughes will face the lefty gauntlet in Joe Mauer,Jim Thome , and Jason Kubel.
In his first full season as a starter, Phil Hughes had problems at times keeping the ball in the park. His 1.28 HR/9 ranked sixth among qualified AL starters. Most of those came at home and against left-handed pitching. Of the 25 home runs he allowed, 17 came against left-handed pitching (1.68 HR/9). Twenty of them came at home (1.69 HR/9). He also strikes out fewer hitters and walks more when pitching at Yankee Stadium.
If Hughes is going to be successful against those three big lefties, he’ll have to attack them with his secondary stuff. While his fastball rates well in pitch type values (16.7, 0.88 per nine), lefties have hit it out of the park 12 times.
He has also used the cutter to bust lefties inside, but he has paid when leaving it out over the plate.
Only one time has a lefty hit a curveball for a home run, and no lefty hit his changeup for a home run all season. That changeup might play an important role in this game. If Hughes can locate his cutter he can use that, but if he doesn’t he’ll need another pitch. His changeup has come along very slowly because he throws it so infrequently — just 2.7 percent of the time. Looking at the strike zone plot, it’s easy to see why.
Hughes started going to the changeup more often as the season progressed; he threw it 7.1 percent of the time during September and October. He is also throwing the curveball more often, a pitch on which opponents hit just two home runs this season — though it graded out poorly per pitch type values, -5.0 (-1.2 per nine). If Hughes can command these two off-speed pitches, his fastball, which already rates highly, he will be even more effective.
Saturday night’s affair marks the first of (potentially) three games where the Rays face elimination in this series. The 2001 Yankees are the only home team to lose the first two games of the series and wind up advancing. History does not bode well for the Rays and nor do simulations or probabilities. Say, for instance, the Rays hold a 60% chance of winning each game. They do not, but say they do. That would result in about a 22% shot of winning the series.
Certain human beings like to say that games are not played on calculators (or spreadsheets) and instead are played on the field. Those human beings are correct, and so here we are, with Matt Garza and Colby Lewis dueling in the Arlington dusk. Words cannot express how tempting the idea of invoking wordplay about gunslingers and the whole Wild West lexicon is – I mean, I just used dueling and dusk – but alas, Lewis slings no heated-metal cylinders and ruins the whole scheme.
Even without the Texas heat, Lewis held the superior strikeout rates to Garza, while also besting him in every run metric featured on FanGraphs. That’s a bad sign for Tampa Bay’s chances, but hey, Lewis throws with this right arm. That means the return of Matt Joyce to the starting lineup. Joyce hit .263/.388/.526 against righties this year, and could slide into the lineup behind Evan Longoria. Carl Crawford, who could be playing in his final game while wearing Rays garb, hit .334/.381/.554 versus righties this year too. Carlos Pena, John Jaso, Dan Johnson seem likely to join the starting lineup as well.
Those numbers do not guarantee success in a single game, but you know, after the first two games, can the offense really play any worse? If the Rays do win, it’ll be interesting to see if the Rays stick with Wade Davis in game four or slide to David Price, making James Shields the default starter for a potential game five with the entire staff available in relief. That’s getting ahead of the count though – something the Rays’ offense hasn’t done enough this series.
Not to take anything away from Tim Lincecum and his game score of 96 last night, but the Giants look good tonight, too, with Matt Cain going out there. Cain increased his K/9 and decreased his BB/9 since last year while improving his FIP from 3.89 to 3.65. Interestingly enough, Cain’s strand rate reduced from 81.6% to 75.3%, which most will point toward regression to the mean. His BABIP is still low at .260, while his FIP has outperformed his xFIP every year since joining the big leagues. Much of this is due to pitching at a pitcher’s ballpark all of his career, keeping Giants’ pitchers at low HR/FB ratios (a very good 7.4% for Cain in 2010). Cain can keep the ball in the ballpark at home, especially for Braves hitters who don’t exhibit particularly great power.
If last night’s 1-0 result was any indication, there will probably be very few runs scored in this game as well. Except for a few mistimed sinkers to right-handed hitters Buster Posey and Cody Ross, Derek Lowe was particularly effective in preventing hard hits (9 groundouts, 1 flyout). Still, the Giants’ strength at drawing walks was evident last night, and if the collective lineup remains patient against Tommy Hanson, they will be a few hanging curveballs or over-the-plate fastballs away from a couple of runs. Hanson has drawn swings from outside the strike zone the same as the MLB average (29.3%), so he isn’t particularly deceptive on out-of-the-zone pitches. Rather, Hanson gets most of his whiffs inside the strike zone, so the key for the Giants is to wait for a good pitch to hit and not let Hanson get ahead in the count (then again, isn’t it always?).
As noted by the fielding of Brooks Conrad and Rick Ankiel last night, the Braves defense may be the worst in the National League. Hanson’s GB% is almost identical with his FB%, and I’m not sure which batted-ball type is to the Braves’ advantage based on the lack of quality fielding. Assuming that Hanson doesn’t adjust his pitch selection and sequencing based on last night’s fielding, look for ground balls off Hanson’s changeups and curveballs put in play.
In my preview for yesterday’s game, I noted the strength and depth of the Giants’ bullpen this season. Lincecum’s complete game shutout provides another advantage for the Giants against the Braves going forward in addition to being two wins closer to the NLCS. The Braves’ bullpen is also one of the best in the Majors right alongside the Giants’. But with Jonny Venters throwing 1.2 IP last night (albeit in an efficient 13 pitches) with appearances from Peter Moylan, Michael Dunn, and Craig Kimbrel, the Braves would like to get major innings from Hanson. An off day between Games Two and Three will suppress this advantage, but Giants will be able to freely use any of their bullpen arms tonight should Cain need to exit early.
Carson Cistulli challenged his fellow writers today by predicting the entire box score of the Phillies-Reds matchup tonight. As one of the newer writers and one who is slow to adopt new policies, I will only venture a guess at the final score, which will be 3-0 Giants for a 2-0 lead in the series.
After being shut down by Tim Lincecum in game one, the Braves get to hit the reset button in game two.
The Hitting Even though Lincecum pitched well last night, a good chunk of his success stemmed from the Braves’ offensive ineptitude. Timmy was leaving fastballs up in the zone, and the Braves didn’t end up doing much with them. Making matters worse, most of Lincecum’s strikeouts were on balls out of the zone, so the Braves’ hitters need to do a much better job of controlling the dish and keep the flailing to a minimum.
Atlanta should have an easier go of things tonight, as Matt Cain doesn’t have nearly the same swing-and-miss stuff as Lincecum. The Braves are going to need to try to take advantage of Cain’s fly ball tendencies, and try to stroke shots into the gaps as much as possible.
The Starter After being nailed in the eye during batting practice yesterday, Tommy Hanson is good to go against the Braves this evening. Hanson put up very similar numbers to Matt Cain this year, so I’m expecting a fair fight on the mound.
Hanson was a highly-touted prospect just a year ago, but hasn’t done anything spectacular in the bigs. Don’t get me wrong, he’s been worth 4.3 WAR this year, but his numbers are far from superstar status.
One of Hanson’s biggest problems this year has been finding a consistent release point, and a simple glance at a pitch f/x chart will show how erratic he has been. If there is any good news to be taken from his release point, it should be noted that he is not necessarily tipping his pitches, as he’s had trouble with all of his offerings.
As far as his actual pitches go, Hanson relies on a hard four-seam fastball, which should be clocking in around 93 mph tonight. He also has a slider with good movement that he can throw for strikes, along with a slower, looping curveball. None of his pitches get a whole lot of whiffs, so the Giants may be able to keep the strikeouts to a minimum this evening.
The Defense According to UZR, the Braves defense has been one of the worst in the league, coming in at 34 runs below average. Hanson gives up fly balls and grounders at the same rate, but he should try to keep the ball on the ground as much as possible tonight, thanks to an outfield defense that is often, shall we say, lacking? If the Braves play Rick Ankiel over Nate McLouth tonight, the defense doesn’t look so bad, otherwise it could be a death sentence if the Giants can pound balls towards center.
Accuscore has the Braves losing by a full run in their simulations, and I tend to agree. I see Cain shutting down Atlanta, with the Giants taking a two game lead thanks to a 3-2 victory.
As the reader will already know, my colleagues here at FanGraphs have gone to great lengths to provide learned previews for each of the postseason games thus far. Certainly, the writing and the analysis, it’s quite good — nor would I dare change it.
Having said that, though, I will level criticism on one ground — namely, for their (i.e. my colleagues’) inability to predict the future, or even to offer a prediction of same.
That’s fine — all of it — but one thing is conspicuous by its absence from Cameron’s preview: the exact score of the game and the specific events leading to said score.
With all due respect to Cameron, I’m forced to ask: Is this still 2009, or something? If FanGraphs is going to lead the way in baseballing analysis, Dave, we’re gonna have to go the extra mile.
It’s with those shortcomings in mind that I offer to the reader this “Preemptive Review” of Game Two of the Cincy-Philly Divisional Series — in which the author (I, Carson One-Million-Dollars Cistulli) provide a review of a game that has as yet to occur.
You can find an image of the game’s exact box score below and a can see both the box score and play-by-play by clicking here. In the meantime, however, here are some things that will definitely, no-questions-asked occur tonight:
1. Roy Oswalt will strike out 15 batters, en route to a 5-2 victory.
It’s a true fact!
2. Chase Utley will hit two homers, one of the inside-the-park variety.
It’s been pre-ordained!
3. Aaron Harang will pitch 0.1 IP in relief.
Doubt it at your own risk!
4. Laynce Nix will twice be “frozen” on a strike three.
It’s getting cold in here!
5. With two outs in the sixth inning, Drew Stubbs will limit Placido Polanco to a single on a line drive “smoked” to right-center field
Why even question it?!?