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October 9, 2010

Playoff Prospectus

Saturday LDS Pitching Matchups

by Matt Swartz

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Rangers vs. Rays
Matt Garza: 3.91 ERA, 4.29 SIERA
Garza maintained a similar ERA in 2010 to last year’s 3.95, but his SIERA rose from 3.83 to 4.29 due a drop in his strikeout rate. Garza struck out 22 percent of hitters in 2009 only to whiff 17.5 percent in 2010. Garza maintained his ERA because his BABIP was .247 with men on and .208 with runners in scoring position. His walk rate fell from 9.2 to 7.4 as well, which meant that he allowed a similar number of baserunners even though he allowed more hits due to the decreased strikeout rate. However, Garza is likely to allow more of those runners to score as his BABIP in high-leverage situations increases. Garza may look like a solid second starter with his ERA, but this season he pitched like an average pitcher.

Colby Lewis: 3.72 ERA, 3.50 SIERA
You have to credit to our own Clay Davenport for this one—he saw it coming. After striking out only 15.2 percent of hitters in the majors before heading to Japan, Lewis appeared to be benefiting from weaker competition. However, the Davenport Translations saw Lewis' performance in Japan as indicative of reaching a higher skill level, and he met this assertion by posting a solid 23.2 percent strikeout rate for the Rangers in 2010. Credit the Rangers too, while you're at it—they forked over the cash and signed the guy! With an average-ish 7.7 percent walk rate and only a 39 percent ground-ball rate, Lewis' success is derived from his strikeout rate. He is nearly as good at whiffing left-handed hitters as right-handed hitters, striking out 22 percent of lefties and 24 percent of righties. However, he is able to avoid walks far better against righties, walking them at nearly half the rate (5.5 vs. 9.9 percent). The righty’s batted-ball numbers are distributed pretty evenly by handedness as well. The Rays may appear to have an even pitching matchup here, but this one should go to the Rangers, at least as far as starting pitching is concerned.

Yankees vs. Twins
Brian Duensing: 2.62 ERA, 4.22 SIERA
Duensing thrives on weak contact. He only struck out 14.6 percent of hitters he faced, while walking 5.6 percent of them. Of his balls in play, he was able to keep 54 percent on the ground, which is the reason for his success. However, when a pitcher strikes out so few hitters, there isn’t much margin for error. This is bound to be particularly true when facing off against a top lineup like the Yankees. Duensing did improve a bit on his walk rate from last year, which did yield more success, but some of this was just luck. His BABIP overall was .275, but it was .206 vs. LHB, which exaggerates his skill level against them (which, with a 4.9 K/BB ratio, is still very good). His .209 BABIP with RISP is particularly crucial in explaining why his ERA was so low in 2010, and that is where he is unlikely to repeat himself. The ERA advantage in this game might appear substantial, but given that Duensing's BABIP with RISP is so unlikely to persist, the advantage does not belong to the Twins here.

Phil Hughes: 4.19 ERA, 4.00 SIERA
Hughes struck out exactly one out of every five hitters he faced in 2010, solidly above average—particularly for a pitcher who pitches in the AL East. He does not walk too many either—just 8 percent of hitters he faces. His weakness is that he surrenders a lot of fly balls, with just a 36 percent ground-ball rate. However, he also induced popups on 11.4 percent of balls in play (where the league average was 7.5 percent), which contributed to his .275 BABIP. He did allow 14.3 percent of his fly balls to leave the yard, but his real problem was his 862 OPS against with RISP compared to his 651 OPS with the bases empty. All of this luck more or less cancelled out, and Hughes ended up with an ERA that was slightly above his SIERA, with the difference easily attributed to pitching in a hitter’s park. He is the type of pitcher who can keep the Yankees in the game, and that’s what they are going to need. After CC Sabathia, the Yankees do not have the kind of rotation that can dominate, but their lineup is good enough that pitchers like Hughes can do enough to win.

Matt Swartz is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Matt's other articles. You can contact Matt by clicking here

Related Content:  Brian Duensing

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