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October 16, 2010

Playoff Prospectus

Saturday LCS Matchups

by Matt Swartz

Yankees at Rangers
Phil Hughes: 4.19 ERA, 4.00 SIERA
Hughes pitched six scoreless innings in the clinching Game Three of the Yankees’ ALDS sweep of the Twins. He struck out six and walked only one, sprinkling four hits along the way. He certainly showed that he had whatever mentality people were afraid he lacked in the ALDS, and now he is slotted to start both of his games on the road in the ALCS.

Hughes struck out exactly one out of every five hitters he faced in 2010, solidly above average—particularly for someone 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.

Colby Lewis: 3.72 ERA, 3.50 SIERA
Despite showing solid control during the season, Lewis was wild in Game Three of the ALDS against the Rays. He walked five hitters out of the 22 he faced, but he did not allow any runs to score in five innings pitched. After he was pulled, the Rangers' bullpen allowed the game to get out of hand. Lewis had a solid season overall, however, and is unlikely to be as wild in his second start as he was in his first

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 bases on balls 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.

 

Giants at Phillies
Roy Halladay: 2.44 ERA, 2.93 SIERA
The Doc was a flat-out surgeon in the first post-season start of his career in the NLDS, tossing the second no-hitter in post-season history, with Don Larsen’s 1956 perfect game in the World Series being the first. Doc struck out eight Reds hitters, walked only one, and showed why he led the major leagues in SIERA in 2010. Only four batters even hit the ball to the outfield, as Halladay kept the ball on the ground and induced infield popups all day. Chances are that Halladay will allow a hit today, but he will still be an intimidating target for the Giants lineup even with an ace of their own to face him. Below is the pre-no-hitter summary from last week.

Halladay leads the major leagues with a 2.93 SIERA, though his 2.44 ERA is even below that mark. No pitcher other than Cliff Lee issues fewer bases on balls than Halladay, who only walked 3.0 percent. Halladay also struck out 22 percent of hitters he faced, and kept 53 percent of all balls in play on the ground. Doc led the league in outs recorded (three times innings pitched) and with only 3.59 pitches per hitter, he was able to average 7.6 innings pitched per start. With a Phillies bullpen that is among the weakest in the postseason outside of closer Brad Lidge and set-up man Ryan Madson, getting two of their five NLDS games pitched by a guy that made it through at least seven innings in all but five of his 33 starts is a major advantage.

Tim Lincecum: 3.43 ERA, 3.16 SIERA
Lincecum is almost always the better pitcher in his matchups but Saturday night is far from clear. He led the National Leauge in SIERA in 2008 and was a close second in 2009, but Halladay finished on top in 2010 while Lincecum was just eighth. Lincecum's NLDS performance was nothing short of masterful, as he baffled the Braves for 14 strikeouts. He may not have pitched a no-hitter, but he was almost unhittable and would have been celebrated more if not for Halladay’s performance a day earlier. Furthermore, Lincecum's 14 strikeouts bode well for his ability to keep runs off the board going forward. He has little margin for error going up against Halladay, but he certainly gives the Giants the best shot at winning Saturday.

 Lincecum’s ERA increased by 0.95 runs in 2010, but his SIERA only went up by 0.43 runs. His strikeout rate did decline from his lofty 2008 and 2009 levels of 28.6 and 28.8 percent to 25.8 in 2010. While striking out as many hitters as any starting pitcher did during his Cy Young years in 2008 and 2009, Lincecum was able to get away with mediocre walk and ground-ball rates. However, as his velocity declined, Lincecum became slightly more hittable and batters were able to get more runs off him. Lincecum did put up a career-best 50 percent ground-ball rate in 2010, suggesting that he is learning how to pitch smarter. However, he also had some bad luck as well—his BABIP was .315, primarily due to a 20.9 percent line-drive rate. This sounds bad, but line-drive rate is the least persistent pitcher statistic. In his career, Lincecum has allowed a .301 BABIP, so there is little reason to expect this to change. He is still one of the top 10 pitchers in the league. Lincecum will still strike out about a quarter of hitters he faces, Two starts against Lincecum are not going to be easy, though, and the righty gives the Giants a real ace and a chance to win each post-season series.

 

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

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