In his second (and final) season as Reds manager, Davey Johnson led his 1995 squad to its first playoff berth since their 1990 World Series victory. He then saw his team advance to the National League Championship Series against the juggernaut Braves. A sweep resulted with Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Greg Maddux inflicting most of the damage and Steve Avery finishing the series with six shutout innings. Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels might not be on the level of those first three names, but the Reds have their hands full if they hope to engage the Braves in a NLCS rematch 15 years later.
Everyone knows Halladay’s numbers are impressive. His name is equally intimidating. How does he do it? Superb fastball command allows Halladay to use his fastballs nearly three-fourths of the time while avoiding the middle of the plate and the upper part of the zone. Imagine the strikezone as a series of nine boxes. Now ignore the top row and draw a block-shaped U in the bottom two rows. Within that figure is where Halladay locates 75-80% of the time he throws a pitch in the zone.
Unlike many pitchers who use their changeups exclusively against opposite-handed batters, Halladay throws his off-speed pitch versus both hands at equal rates. Same with his breaking pitches. He lives to throw down and in (or away) against southpaws and northpaws alike. It should come as no surprise that Halladay’s career groundball percentage is over 50% versus both and nearing 60% versus lefties. The Book suggests that groundball pitchers generally own groundball hitters (and the same holds true for flyball pitchers and hitters), meaning Halladay is a nightmare for groundball-heavy lineups.
While the Reds are near the bottom of the league in team offensive groundball percentage, their lineup does not seem to be one built for combat with Halladay (not that many are). The Reds’ leadoff hitter is Brandon Phillips, who happens to be an extreme groundball hitter. Phillips’ career .705 OPS versus pitchers with groundhog stuff suggests he falls into the “generally” category when it comes to groundball hitters being muted by groundball pitchers.
From there, the Reds will bat Orlando Cabrera second. Now, far be it from me to question Dusty Baker’s lineup-making expertise, but Cabrera’s season-best on-base percentage is the .322 that he posted in late May. Cabrera could not even manage an above-average on-base percentage after the first few plate appearances on the season. That leads to Joey Votto who has the same career OPS versus groundball and flyball pitchers (.934) and then a combination of Scott Rolen, Jay Bruce, and Jonny Gomes which tend to fare better than the guys in front of Votto, but not as good as Votto himself. Drew Stubbs and both catchers are also groundball hitters (although only slightly for Stubbs) which plays into Halladay’s hands as well.
Obviously that does not guarantee every groundball hitter as an out or anything, but the Reds have a collective line against groundballers this season of .253/.324/.390 compared to .272/.340/.450 versus flyball pitchers and .284/.346/.452 versus neutral pitchers. That gives them the lowest OPS against groundballers among NL playoff squads and places them at 16th overall. Unsurprisingly, Halladay completed 17 innings against the Reds this season with 19 strikeouts, one walk, and four earned runs. Too small of a sample size to mean much at all, but given what we know about both sides, there could very well be a sequel to those starts in this series.
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