Behind the ScoreboardOctober 15, 2009
NLCS Preview: Phillies vs. Dodgers
By Sky Andrecheck

Today some of the Baseball Analysts team will be previewing the National League Championship Series between the Phillies and the Dodgers. Dave Allen will be talking about the hitting matchups, I'll be tackling the pitching staffs, and Sully will be taking on the fielding of the two clubs.

The Hitting:

Russell Martin
588 PA | .250/.352/.329 | 82 OPS+

Carlos Ruiz
379 PA | .255/.355/.425 | 103 OPS+

Martin is having a down year offensively as his BABIP has fallen to a career low of .285, taking his batting average and power with it. Still he has been able to take enough walks to keep a good OBP. Ruiz, similarly, has a low batting average, but takes walk and has a good OBP. With Ruiz, though, that is expected as he has a history of poor BABIP.

The difference between the two is power, with Ruiz besting Martin. I am going to call this position a wash with Ruiz's edge in performance this year equalizing Martin's edge in past performance.

First Base
James Loney
651 PA | .281/.357/.399 | 100 OPS+

Ryan Howard
703 PA | .279/.360/.571 | 139 OPS+

Howard is clearly the better hitter, as the two have nearly identical on base skills by Howard has the huge edge in power. The only issue here is Howard's extreme platoon split, against lefties his numbers this year collapse down to .207/.298/.356. He is a horrible hitter against lefties, he really should be platooned. The Dodgers have two lefties in their rotation (Clayton Kershaw and Randy Wolf), so at least half of the games will be started by a lefty. With this taken into consideration the position is a lot closer than at first appearance.

Second Base
Ronnie Belliard
83 PA | .351/.398/.636 | 168 OPS+

Chase Utley
687 PA | .282/.397/.508 | 135 OPS+

Looks like Belliard is the better hitter. Edge to the Dodgers. Oops, no. It turns out that funny things can happen over a sample of just 80 PAs.

Joe Torre is playing the hot hand, choosing Belliard over Orlando Hudson, a questionable decision. Either way second base is a huge edge for the Phillies.

Rafael Furcal
680 PA | .269/.335/.375 | 88 OPS+

Jimmy Rollins
725 PA | .250/.296/.423 | 85 OPS+

Pretty close here. Two guys who have had down years: Furcal because his power evaporated and Rollins because his BABIP fell to uncharted depths (.253, ouch). Furcal still takes some walks to keep his OBP up, while Rollins still hits for some power to keep his SLG up. OPS doesn't properly weight OBP versus SLG, giving too much credit to slugging, so I guess I will give Furcal the slight edge here.

Third Base
Casey Blake
565 PA | .280/.363/.468 | 118 OPS+

Pedro Feliz
625 PA | .266/.308/.386 | 80 OPS+

No surprises at third. Big offensive edge to the Dodgers here.

Right Field
Andre Ethier
685 PA | .272/.361/.508 | 127 OPS+

Jayson Werth
676 PA | .268/.373/.506 | 127 OPS+

Two very good young outfielders with similar numbers. Looks like a push to me.

Center Field
Matt Kemp
667 PA | .297/.352/.490 | 120 OPS+

Shane Victorino
694 PA | .292/.358/.445 | 109 OPS+

Again two solid outfielders. The edge goes to the Dodgers and Kemp because of the advantage in power.

Left Field
Manny Ramirez
431 PA | .290/.418/.531 | 149 OPS+

Raul Ibanez
565 PA | .272/.347/.552 | 130 OPS+

Manny nearly had another .300/.400/.500 season, it is clear he can still hit. The edge goes to the Dodgers, but Ibanez is no slouch.

Overall two very good offenses. I call it a push at catcher and right field, give the Philllies a big edge at 2nd and, to a smaller degree because of the platoon issues, at 1st. The Dodgers have a small edge at short and bigger, but not huge, ones at center left, and a big edge at third.

The matchup is an interesting study in offensive contrasts. I really like how the Hardball Times displays team offense as OBP by ISO. Generally a team scores runs but not making outs (OBP) and hitting for power (ISO). The Dodgers have a middling ISO, but the best OBP. They have a number of guys who take walks and get on base in spite of having not much power, like Martin, Loney and Furcal. The Phillies, on the other hand, have far and away the best ISO and an ok, but not great, OBP. Two different ways to score lots of runs. Overall I think the offenses are pretty close.

The Pitching:

Like team's offenses, the pitching staffs of the two clubs are built completely differently. The Phillies have a top-heavy starting rotation with Lee and Hamels as their aces, and then have a significant drop off with Happ, Blanton, and Martinez as the options at the back half. Meanwhile the Dodgers have an extremely balanced pitching staff with no true aces, but six above average starters: Randy Wolf, Clayton Kershaw, Vicente Padilla, Hiroki Kuroda, Chad Billingsley, and Jon Garland. Meanwhile the bullpen has been a major strength for LA, but a major weakness of Philadelphia.

Let's look at the stats of the Dodgers potential starters:


One of these starters is going to be left off the roster and one will be relegated to bullpen duty in an already strong pen. From the stats, it appears there is one candidate who clearly stands out as the worst of the bunch: Padilla. His ERA and FIP are significantly higher than most of his peers and 3-year ERA is pretty poor. Even if you subscribe to the hot-hand theory he's only the 5th best out of 6. As for bullpen duty, Garland has a fairly strong case with his ERA, FIP, and 3-year ERA near the bottom of his peers. While it seems like Kershaw has a strong case for ace of the staff, the other three starters all are fairly comparable.

So what does Torre make of the situation? Not only is Padilla on the roster, but he'll be starting two games. According to Torre and Colletti, the Dodgers figure to use Kershaw in games 1 and 5, Padilla in games 2 and 6, Kuroda in games 3 and 7, and Wolf in game 4. Torre seems to be relying not only on the hot hand theory, but in the case of Kuroda, amazingly he thinks the hot hand theory carries over from last postseason! Not to say that Kuroda doesn't deserve a spot, but I'd say that pitching well in two playoff games a year ago isn't the best reason. While the Dodgers' have a superior staff to Philadelphia, I think Torre's management of the staff causes LA to lose some of that edge. Throwing Padilla out there for two starts, Wolf for just one, and Billingsley for none doesn't seem like a good move to me.

How about the Phillies? They have similar choices to make. With Hamels and Lee obviously starting twice for them, they need to choose among the other three - who starts twice, who starts once, and who goes to the pen? The stats are below:


As you can see there's not a lot to choose between the three. Of the three I'd rank them the following way: 1) Happ, 2) Martinez, 3) Blanton. Manuel hasn't disclosed anything more than starting Hamels as his game 1 starter, he's hinted that he'll start Martinez in game 2, and Happ in game 4, with Blanton out of the pen. Of course that assumes that each can come out of the bullpen equally effectively. Happ has the most bullpen experience of the three, although Blanton did so in the LDS and Martinez did it back in his glory days.

While the Phillies can compete with the Dodgers in the starting rotation, the Dodgers have a major edge in the bullpen. With Broxton (FIP 1.97), Sherrill (FIP 3.17), Belisario (FIP 3.51), and Kuo (FIP 3.33) they're well equipped to dominate the game in the late innings. Kuo and Sherrill are especially important as they'll need lefties to shut down the left-handed thunder in the Philadelphia lineup.

The Phillies on the other hand, feature a bullpen in flux. Manuel seems to have decided on Lidge as his closer. Despite getting two saves, he didn't exactly blow away the Rockies in his two outings. His robust 5.45 FIP gives confirms that his stuff hasn't been good this year. The rest of the bullpen isn't hugely better with Madson (FIP 3.23), Eyre (FIP 4.63), and Durbin (FIP 5.14) rounding out their top four. Manuel will also have whoever he decides not to start out there in the pen, but overall it's a pretty sorry staff for a playoff team.

The Defense:

Defensively, these two teams are close. Let's start from a high level. Philadelphia strikes out fewer batters on the mound than Los Angeles does, and the Phillies also make less contact at the plate. So before diving into specific advantages and disadvantages that either team may have at a given position, I should note that Philadelphia's defense figures to be working harder. I don't think this point will have too much of a bearing on the series, however, because it looks to me like the Phillies field the slightly better defensive unit anyway. They're equipped to handle a few more balls in play.

While the Phils may lack the defensive standouts that Los Angeles boasts, they're solid all the way through. While it's difficult to quantify defensive catching, based on observation and reputation, Carlos Ruiz does a splendid job behind the dish. On the right side of the field, Chase Utley once again shows as one of the very best defensive second basemen in the game, while Jayson Werth and Ryan Howard both more than hold their own with the glove. On the left side, Jimmy Rollins and Pedro Feliz still constitute a rock-solid shortstop-third base combination. In left field, while he had been one of the very worst fielders in baseball coming into this season, Raul Ibanez has actually shown up favorably according to UZR in 2009. I'll let you decide if you think that's for real. In center field, Shane Victorino's range leaves a bit to be desired but his strong arm can cover some of that up. He still nets out a bit below average, however, and with the Dodgers running the great Matt Kemp out there in center field, it's a position where the Phillies are giving a bit back defensively to Los Angeles.

But while the Dodgers may field Kemp - and Rafael Furcal and Casey Blake for that matter - they also field Manny Ramirez and Andre Ethier. In other words, Kemp had better cover a lot of ground. For the Dodgers, Furcal, Blake and Kemp are all excellent - top of their class for their respective positions. Moreover, James Loney and Ronnie Belliard are just fine with the glove, too. Russell Martin is not considered to be particularly strong with the glove, and their corner outfield is atrocious. Net it all out and the Dodgers are a fine defensive team, just not the unit Philadelphia can claim. But then again, as I noted earlier, given their pitchers' ability to notch K's and the Phillies' propensity to strike out, the Dodgers shouldn't have to be quite as good as the Phillies anyway.

For anyone really interested in digging into the teams' fielding ability, you have to check out the data available at Fangraphs.

Now that we've given you the rundown, Dave, Sully, I will make our bold predictions:

Sky: Despite Torre's rotation choices, I think the Dodgers bullpen advantage will be too great to overcome for Philadelphia. The series will be won or lost in the late innings, and I predict the at least one blown outing by the Phillies bullpen will swing the series. Dodgers in 6.

Dave: I like the Dodgers in 6 because of home field advantage and their much stronger pen.

Sully: I was on the record in the LDS with a Red Sox and Cardinals win on this site, so take this for what it's worth. But this will be Clayton Kershaw's coming out party. He's absolutely hell on lefties, and has a chance to negate Howard, Utley and Ibanez. I think he wins twice and takes the NLCS MVP. Dodgers in 6.


Two questions.

1. Would it be useful to compare benches, especially as in the NL there may be pinch hitters for the pitcher? They also might be useful to consider as defensive replacements.

2. This has been a peeve of mine forever, and I apologize in advance for raising the issue again. I admit that I may be obsessing over a petty point, but it continues to bother me that sites evaluate offenses by comparing players according to position rather than according to their place in the lineup.

Why compare Utley as a hitter to Belliard when Chase bats third and Ronnie bats seventh? Shouldn't the comparisons be Rollins to Furcal, Victorino to Kemp, Utley to Ethier, Howard to Ramirez, Werth to Loney, Ibanez to Blake, Feliz to Belliard and Ruiz to Martin? I suppose you might consider the pitchers as hitters also.

I know that research seems to indicate that lineup construction is relatively insignificant, but by comparing that way we get a better perspective on each team's offensive approach and possibilities as well as a clearer view of exactly how the two lineups compare.

You make an interesting point Bob. The position by position comparision gives a lot of obvious picks. But if you do it by lineup position (or better, rank the players on each team by hitting strength), you would see differences between the teams much more clearly.

From my seat, I see the Dodgers #1 hitter (Ramirez) more deadly than the #1 Phillies hitter (Utley). I also see the Dodgers 7th and 8th best hitters (Furcal, Martin) as better than Ruiz and Feliz for the Phillies. However I like the Phillies in the other spots (Howard over Ethier, Werth over Kemp, Ibanez over Blake, Victorino over Loney, Rollins over Belliard).

Interesting way to think about it....

oops, and here's the snarky hindsight post....Dodgers pen coughs up 3-run shot to Ibanez after 2 consecutive BB, and Lidge survives the 9th! Home field advantage also now lost for LA.
All kidding aside though, I too thought LA in 5 or 6...

How's those predictions looking now, guys ;-)

Snarky, I know, but I just can't resist. This series results has been the opposite of what everyone thought.