NLDS Preview: Philadelphia (Lincoln-Douglas Remix)

Eno Sarris and I will be covering the Philadelphia Phillies for the duration of the postseason.

In lieu of a proper series preview, we have elected instead — really for no reason whatsoever, other than it’s a fantastic idea — we’ve elected to explore the Phils’ chances versus Cincinnati via the splendors of Lincoln-Douglas (LD) style debate.

As is custom in LD-type debate, we begin this one with a case, as follows:

Resolved: The Phillies will defeat the Reds in the NLDS.

As is also custom in LD debate, one of us (Sarris, in this case) will take the Affirmative side; the other (I, Carson America Cistulli) will take the Negative.

It should be noted that there are a number of things here that are most certainly not proper to typical LD debate. For one thing, we basically just stop after the second cross-examination. For another, we have no idea what we’re doing.

Finally, the reader should understand that, in what follows, Sarris and I are probably just as interested in cataloging the relative strengths and weaknesses of each club as we are of actually “predicting” a winner. Obviously, in such a short series, one can only really speak in probabilities of victory.

Affirmative Constructive
In which the Affirmative makes his case.

The gentleman from Wisconsin may think he’s the Mr. Lincoln in this debate, but the Affirmative in this case is the side that will more likely stand the test of time. There are seemingly no terms to define — we all know that “wins” means “scores (much) more than the opponent in (probably the first three, but at least) the majority of games in the series,” I assume — so we can get on with the debate.

Here on this electronic paper are the most obvious reasons the “Phillies” will “win” this “series.”

1. Their “Big 3” in the starting rotation is better.
The best three starters on the Phillies averaged an 3.28 FIP this year. The Reds’ best (or first) three starters averaged an 4.19 FIP. That’s a stark difference. Oh, and a starter on the Phillies will probably win the Cy Young this year if you are into that hardware thing.

2. Their lineup is deeper.
Take out Joey Votto, the Reds’ best hitter, and the rest of the lineup averages an .340 wOBA. Take out Jayson Werth, the Phillies’ best hitter this year, and the rest of the lineup averages a .347 wOBA. And in some ways that’s understating the Phillies’ depth: their “worst” regular this year was Jimmy Rollins with his .317 wOBA, but he was hurt for much of this year, and his career wOBA is .336. You might be able to pitch around Votto, but how do you pitch around the “scariest” Phillie batter? And how do you identify the scariest Phillie batter?

Cross Examination: Negative Questions
In which the Negative asks the Affirmative questions.

Q. Could the gentleman from California please inform the reader what other factors — besides starting pitching, that is — what other factors contribute at a significant level to run production and run prevention (and, therefore, wins and losses).

Q. The gentleman from California has given the team wOBAs of the Phillies and Reds sans each respective team’s best hitter. Is there a new rule of which I’m unaware that expressly forbids each team from playing its best hitter? Are there any other reasons why neither Jayson Werth nor Joey Votto would play in these games?

Q. Does the gentleman from California’s face hurt? Because it’s sure hurting me.

Cross Examination: Affirmative Answers
In which the Affirmative responds.

A. Yes, there are other things. Like, let’s say a bullpen. The Phillies’ bullpen had a 3.87 FIP this year, the Reds a 3.90. Look at their closers – Brad Lidge (3.87 FIP, 4.06 xFIP) versus Francisco Cordero (3.92 FIP, 4.53 xFIP). “Lights-out” Lidge ain’t great, but at least he’s no Co-Co. The Phillies, in a remarkable twist of fate for that franchise, own the mound in this series.

A. There are ways to deal with singular, impressive hitters. I know that the sabres can rattle in some circles when you mention the intentional walk, but walking Joey Votto and facing Scott Rolen doesn’t quite have the same “scaritude factor” as walking Chase Utley to get to Ryan Howard. The point is, the Phillies lineup is scary from top to bottom. The Reds have some good hitters, but they also have Orlando Cabrera and his .303 OBP (.292 wOBA) in the second spot in the lineup. Thanks Dusty!

A. The gentleman from Wisconsin is no gentle man. If he would like to get petty, I’d get down in the muck with him, but I’ve shown I can be the better man and continue with the discourse at hand.

Negative Constructive (and first Negative Rebuttal)
In which the Negative states his case and addresses the Affirmative’s case.

Though the Affirmative has very much abused the few liberties granted him in the Negative’s cross-examination period, that is ultimately not my concern. Rather, my concern is to argue sanely and convincingly why the resolution — i.e. that Philadelphia will win this series — is likely false.

While my opponent has attempted to obscure Truth by parsing the data in a manner to best fit his argument, allow me to take a more holistic approach — namely, by examining the WAR of each respective team.

What do we find when we do this? The results might surprise you. (It surely will surprise the betting public, who’ve driven the current line on the series to -305 in Philadelphia’s favor.) For the upstart Cincinnati Reds, we get 49.2 WAR (33.7 from hitting/fielding and 15.5 for pitching). For the Phillies, on the other hand? A less impressive 42.4 WAR, including 23.9 WAR from hitting/fielding and 18.5 from pitching. That leaves Philadelphia with an approximate 7.0-win deficit.

The intelligent reader likely has three reactions to the above. First, he is generally surprised that Cincinnati has posted such excellent numbers. Second, he is wondering if the Negative is so foolish as to treat WAR as gospel. Finally, he will wonder if the Negative has properly considered the effects of injured Phillies (ones who’ve returned from injury) in my assessments.

To the second point, it is not my intention to suggest that WAR is infallible. It has its limits, assuredly. But some measure of uncertainty is inherent to the present dispute; otherwise, it wouldn’t be a dispute at all. The question is, what’s the best information we have? Is it the sort my opponent has provided: team wOBAs sans each lineups best hitter? FIPs for closers (i.e. that most fickle of creatures)? Or is it the production of the entire team, including factors such as fielding and positional adjustments, which are slightly more difficult to estimate? I will argue that it’s the latter.

To the final point: yes, indeed, the Phillies have had injuries. But let’s not overstate the case. Perennial MVP-candidate Chase Utley missed 47 games this season. In his time on the field, he still managed to top the team’s WAR leaderboard for field players, posting a 5.1 WAR. But even if he’d played a full season, he wouldn’t have likely compiled more than 8.0 WAR. The team’s other major injury concern, Jimmy Rollins, missed approximately half the season. Still, had he played a full slate of games, his extra time wouldn’t have been worth more than +2.0 over his replacement. In other words, even in a best case scenario, the Phillies are unable to make up the margin.

To the first point, your surprise is justified, reader. Besides having the best player in this series (Joey Votto and his 7.5 WAR), the Reds also have players such as Scott Rolen (5.0 WAR) and Drew Stubbs (3.2) whose production is, again, harder to “eyeball,” but exists nonetheless.

In summary, I’ll ask my opponent to look at the whole of each team, not merely the parts which suit his case.

Cross Examination: Affirmative Questions (and Rebuttal and Summary)
In which the Affirmative asks the Negative questions (in such a manner as to more or less end the debate).

In order to open the less-than-gentle man’s eyes to the reasons for the Affirmative’s cherry-picking of statistical measures, I will first admit a failing. I’m well aware that the Reds have the edge in team wOBA, UZR, and WARs other than pitching. It’s a conundrum even for a statistically minded objective observer of much baseball, as the Phillies seem like the better team, don’t they? (There goes objectivity.) On to the questioning:

Q. How often does the Negative think that WAR predicts series winners? In the playoffs last year, it was every time (not so good for our hero), but how about the year before? Three out of six matchups were predicted correctly by WAR. 2007? Four out of six, but you might remember that the Rockies swept the Phillies in three games despite the latter owning a 34.8 to 22.8 lead in WAR. WAR is not a predictive measure, it’s an evaluative measure that works best in hindsight.

Q. The Negative also looks at the whole of the teams, but will the whole of the two teams engage in this series? How many at-bats will Chris Heisey, Laynce Nix, Miguel Cairo and Paul Janish ammass? That’s 5.9 WAR of contributions from role players that stepped in when others were hurt – and 5.9 WAR that probably won’t figure into this series much. The Phillies may not be as deep, but they’ll probably be happy to miss the 2.5 WAR that Wilson Valdez, Brian Schneider, Ross Gload and John Mayberry donated to the team. There is a slimming down that occurs in the postseason, so the question for the Negative would be: do you take the “stars” on the Reds over the “stars” on the Phillies?

Q. Lastly, how hungry does the gentleman from Wisconsin think Roy Halladay is? Like, “ready to eat a whole restaurant full of postseason play” hungry? How satiated is Bronson Arroyo? Like maybe “he’d eat if there was food on his plate, in front of him, but he doesn’t feel like making dinner” hungry?

Cross Examination: Negative Answers
In which the Negative resorts to ad hominem attacks.

A. Has the Affirmative ever considered, even for a second, why it is that he has a butt where his face should be?

A. That’s all, actually. Just the thing about having a butt instead of a face.

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Carson Cistulli has just published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.

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I really liked the *idea* of this; however, I think it fell into the same trap as a lot of Carson’s writing does: being far too clever for its own good. The dialogue is witty (by the standards of a baseball stats site, anyway) and the format was unique.

Unfortunately, in a post that probably 3x the length of the other previews I gleaned the following information:
1) The Phillies starting pitchers are better, the Phil’s bullpen marginally better.
2) The Reds’ overall WAR is higher than the Phils’, even when taking injury into account. This fact may or may not be significant.
3) The Phillies’ lineup as a whole has a greater wOBA than the Reds.

Again, I’m left feeling that while Carson is probably the kind of zany guy I’d enjoy having a beer with, I just wish he’s employ more of his prodigious talent analyzing the game.


If the Phllies have the better starting pitching and higher wOBA, but the Reds have higher WAR, does that mean the Reds have much much better bullpen and defense?