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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

NLCS Breakdown: Phils may face all righties

Game one of the 2008 NLCS begins Thursday at 8:22 pm. My bet is the first pitch will occur after 8:22. Cole Hamels will face righty Derek Lowe.

Derek Lowe is a groundball pitcher, with a very high groundball-to-flyball ratio. Virtually everyone in the Phillies lineup (Howard, Utley, Werth, Burrell, Rollins, Victorino) fares better against groundball pitchers than neutral or flyball pitchers. Cole Hamels, on the other hand, is a slight flyball pitcher. Thankfully, the Dodgers also fare better against groundball pitchers than flyball pitchers (remember when Kendrick got shelled in LA? Yes, yes you do.).

However, Rafael Furcal has obscene numbers versus lefties this year, albeit a small sample size. Manny Ramirez kills lefties, as does Russell Martin and Matt Kemp. Cole Hamels counters with his own platoon splits: Hamels is more effective against righties than he is lefties, due to his changeup (remember Delgado killing Hamels? Yes, yes you do.). So, I'm hypothesizing that the right-handed hitters in the Dodgers lineup have accumulated their superior numbers versus left-handers because they are facing lefty pitchers who prefer lefty hitters. Hamels is not one of those. The changeup should neutralize the Dodgers' righties.

Furcal, Ramirez, and Martin will be on base. It is up to Hamels to make sure he doesn't allow any of the Dodgers' lefties (Andre Ethier, 2-hole; James Loney, 5-hole; Blake Dewitt, 8-hole) to do any damage. Ethier and Loney both have considerably better numbers vs. righties than lefties, and Dewitt is a rookie at the bottom of the lineup with a .402 OBP vs. LHP in only 84 ABs. I couldn't find his minor league splits, but it seems like he doesn't mind lefties as much as Loney or Ethier. So, assuming Dewitt is in the 8-hole, Hamels should not be afraid to pitch around Dewitt in any RBI-situations to get to Lowe.

Just as Hamels must control the Dodgers' lefties, Lowe must control the Phils' righties. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard (Howard especially) are more dangerous against righties, so Lowe may be more willing to go after Jayson Werth or Pat Burrell. These two righties are not pushovers, as we saw in game 4 when they combined for 3 homers, all against RHP. Burrell owns a .351 OBP vs. RHP this year, while Werth carries a .360 OBP. Lowe dominates righties, with a career .286 OBP-allowed vs. RHB, with a pedestrian .337 vs. LHB. Feliz struggles against righties, and Hamels is not a groundball pitcher, so Feliz has no business starting game one (or two, for that matter). Against such a strong pitcher, you must maximize your offensive output. I will be very disappointed if Feliz (.279 OBP vs. RHP this year!) starts either of the first 2 games.

Hamels is better than Lowe. The Phillies have better RHBs than the Dodgers have lefty batters. The Phillies hit groundball pitchers more effectively than flyball pitchers. The Dodgers are facing a lefty starter for the first time since September 24th (coincidentally, the 15th anniversary of the series premiere of Boy Meets World). The bullpens are about even, so I'm going to give game one to the Phils, 4-3.

Game 2: Phillies are facing Chad Billingsley, who owns a 1.41 career WHIP and has walked 80 batters in 200 IP this year. He is 8th in the NL in walks allowed. It is imperative for the Phillies to display some plate discipline in game 2. Rollins has been more patient lately, setting a career high in walks this year despitea career low in PAs. Werth and Burrell are extremely patient, while Utley and Howard have been known to draw a walk or two. Billingsley owns a Kendrick-like .381 OBP-allowed vs. lefties, while countering with .294 vs. righties. Therefore, Greg Dobbs must start on Friday afternoon (awful start-time, by the way). It is not an option. (Call me crazy, but here's what I would do. Start Matt Stairs instead of Burrell. Billingsley owns righties, so stick another lefty in there. Yes, Stairs and Burrell own similar OBPs vs. righties, but Billingsley's splits make Stairs the better option. Rollins-Utley-Werth-Howard-Victorino-Stairs-Dobbs-Ruiz-Hamels. This way, when the Dodgers bring in their lefty reliever, Joe Beimel, they will bring him in for Howard. Howard struggles against lefties, so if this happens in the 8th inning, you can pinch-hit Burrell for Howard so Burrell gets a free at-bat vs. a lefty. Beimel would stay in for both Victorino and Stairs, so you can pinch-hit Feliz for Stairs. At this point, you can put Burrell in left, move Dobbs to first, and have Feliz play third base. They would either leave the lefty in to face Feliz and Dobbs, or bring a righty in to face Feliz, then go to their second lefty, Hong-Chih Kuo, to face Dobbs. If that happens, you use Coste to bat against Kuo, and have Coste play first. You'll still have Taguchi and Bruntlett on your bench after all that. Yes, you're benching Pat Burrell, but when you do that, you have a monster RHB that you can use whenever they bring in a lefty. And, yes, you're removing Howard from the lineup in the 8th inning, but you're replacing him with Burrell. That's better than replacing Burrell with Bruntlett, which often happens earlier than the 8th. And, finally, your defense improves. Feliz replaces Dobbs at third - huge upgrade - and someone else besides Howard plays first - implied upgrade. However, all of this relies on Utley batting second and Werth third. If Utley and Howard are back-to-back, which they unfortunately will be, this doesn't work).

Anyway, the point is Billingsley struggles against lefties, and stacking the lineup with as many lefties as possible (sans Jenkins over Werth) is worth it. Brett Myers is a slight groundball pitcher, which the Dodgers may exploit. Billingsley is also a groundball pitcher, so this balances Myers' groundball tendency. Myers is full of confidence, and he does not struggle against righties or lefties as much as Billingsley does with lefties. Rollins, Victorino, Utley, Howard, and Dobbs must take a patient approach to Billingsley and get some early runs. Phils win this one, 6-3.

Game 3: The Phils will face a third consecutive righty, Hiroki Kuroda. He owns a .290 OBP vs. righties, but, since Jamie Moyer is starting and Dobbs will probably be coming off at least one start, I bet Feliz gets the start over Dobbs. This guy is another righty groundball pitcher, but his WHIP is 1.21. I'm more afraid of this clown than Billingsley. Moyer is a slight groundball pitcher though as well, and the Dodgers fare better against lefties than righties. I see the Dodgers taking game 3 by a score of 6-2.

Game 4: The Dodgers are either going to start lefty Clayton Kershaw or Lowe on 3-days rest. Unless they are up 3-0, I'm putting my money on Lowe again. I seriously doubt the Phils will go with Hamels on 3-days rest, especially after Blanton's performance in Milwaukee. Blanton has historically been a neutral pitcher, and he is pitching in a large park against a team that prefers grounball pitchers. The matchup, therefore, is essentially a toss-up. But, in the end, it's Lowe vs. Blanton. Dodgers win 5-3. Look for an awful managerial move late in the game by Uncle C.

Game 5: If Lowe starts game 4, Billingsley starts game 5. Who pitches for the Phils? Hamels. Phils win game 5 in L.A., 7-2.

[NOTE: If Lowe doesn't start game 4, he'll start game 5. In that case, Phils win game four, 7-5, and lose game five, 3-2.]

Game 6: Myers, at home, vs. Kuroda with a chance to clinch. Dear Lord. Phils clinch, 3-2.

If it goes to game 7, we'll have Moyer facing Lowe on full rest. Disaster area. Phils would lose that one, 5-2.

Overall, the Phils run differential is +119, Dodgers +52. However, since Manny went to L.A., the Phils are +45, Dodgers +34. Phils have a slight edge both ways you look at it. By the grace of God, Phils in six.


Scott Graham said...

Well touche. You provide such a glamorous argument Mr. Musser. I'll take the Phillies in 5. However, I have on stipulation. They need to win 2 of the first 3 games.

Andy Musser said...
This comment has been removed by the author.