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October 22, 2010

Playoff Prospectus

ALCS Game Six Pitching Matchup

by Matt Swartz

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Yankees at Rangers

Phil Hughes: 4.19 ERA, 4.00 SIERA
Hughes followed up seven strong scoreless innings in the ALDS with seven runs in just four innings in Game Two of the ALCS. He walked three and struck out three, facing 24 hitters en route to his 12 outs. It takes something less than a wizard of an analyst to see that Hughes’ true talent level lies between these two performances. His fly-ball weakness showed against the Rangers, when he only got six grounders of 18 balls in play, but his strike zone dominance showed against the Twins. Chances are that Hughes turns in a performance somewhere between these two extremes the third time around.

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
Lewis has been wild in the playoffs, walking five in five innings during the ALDS and walking three in 5 2/3 innings in Game Two of the ALCS. However, Lewis has struck out 11 in 10 2/3 innings, allowing him to limit the damage of his walks. He got away with no runs against the Rays even amidst his five walks in ALDS Game Three, and only allowed two in ALCS Game Two. He is going to eventually start allowing opponents to cash in their free passes if he does not start throwing strikes, but his 3.50 SIERA on the season shows he should be able to limit the damage. His walk rate was only 7.7 percent in 2010, so it would not be surprising to see him find the strike zone in Game Six.

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.

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:  Phil Hughes

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