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October 23, 2010

Playoff Prospectus

NLCS Game Six Pitching Matchup

by Matt Swartz

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Phillies vs. Giants
Jonathan Sanchez: 3.07 ERA, 3.70 SIERA
Sanchez’s modus operandi has been that he strikes many batters out, but walks many as well. When facing with the Braves in Game Three of the NLDS, Sanchez only followed the first part of that plan—he walked just one hitter while striking out 11 of the 25 batters he faced. However, Sanchez fell victim to walks as well in his NLCS Game Two start against the Phillies, letting three walks push a run across in the first inning. However, he also struck out three in the first and four more before rebounding to complete seven innings. This was not enough for the Giants, who surrendered the series lead to the Phillies. For Game Six, the series lead is at stake again as the Giants lead 3-2. Sanchez was handled reasonably well by the Phillies’ left-handers in Game Two, but he is a good bet to dominate them Saturday given his career trends against lefties. The key will be preventing the Phillies right-handers from reaching base. If Sanchez is wild again, he could put the Giants in a big hole in their attempt to clinch the pennant. If he controls the strike zone and strikes hitters out like he can, he will be a formidable opponent to the Phillies as they face elimination again.

From his NLDS start: Sanchez’s ERA has been all over the place the last three years, but his SIERA has stayed in the same range, gradually falling from 3.92 in 2008 to 3.80 in 2009, and now to 3.70 in 2010. His walk and strikeout numbers are both extremely high, while his batted-ball rates are pretty average across the board. Sanchez has struck out 25 percent of hitters he has faced in each of the last two seasons, while walking 12 percent, making him a pitcher who is bound to aggregate large pitch counts quickly. In fact, Sanchez has averaged 4.0 pitches per hitter in each of the last two years and thus only 5.8 innings per start in 2010 and 5.4 in 2009. The key for the Braves will be to drive his pitch count up, because he is tough to hit otherwise. Sanchez has been the beneficiary of lucky BABIP this year of just .255 overall, thanks to a .114 on outfield fly balls, well below the .179 league average, and he also has just a .667 BABIP on line drives, below the league average of .716. These have enabled him to accumulate more innings this season than last. As his luck normalizes, he can be chased after closer to five innings than six on average, and if the Braves are patient, they will have another chance to tally some runs against the Giants’ bullpen.

Roy Oswalt: 2.76 ERA, 3.33 SIERA
Oswalt struggled with the longball in Game Two of the NLDS against the Reds, but he still struck out five and walked only one. Thus, it was not too surprising when he dominated the Giants in Game Two of the NLCS, with nine strikeouts in eight innings of one-run ball. Oswalt had an odd relief appearance in Game Four and surrendered the winning run in the bottom of the ninth. Pitching in relief in key playoff games on a throw-day is not that uncommon for veteran starters, but what was abnormal was that Oswalt had already thrown his bullpen earlier that day. Whether that is the reason that Oswalt surrendered the losing run for the Phillies is not something we can say either way, nor is there any way to know whether this will affect him in Game Six. Oswalt has a rubber arm, and has pitched capably for the Phillies down the stretch, but he faces the biggest start of his short Philadelphia career Saturday night as he attempts to send the NLCS to a deciding seventh game.

 From his NLDS start: Oswalt joined the Phillies in late July and posted a 1.74 ERA in 12 starts and an inning of relief. The Phillies won 10 of his 12 starts, but his SIERA of 3.33 was a dead ringer for his 3.31 SIERA in his 20 starts with the Astros. Oswalt’s .227 BABIP with the Phillies was due to very few ground balls finding holes and outfield flies staying catchable more often than can be expected in the future. However, both his 2010 SIERA in Philadelphia and in Houston were far better than his recent years’ SIERAs of 3.89, 3.63, and 3.86 from 2007-09. The reason is that Oswalt struck out more hitters than he had since his 2001 rookie year, raising his strikeout rate from 18.2 percent in 2009 to 23.1 percent in 2010. Oswalt began using his changeup more in 2010 with the Astros early on, and began using it even more after working with Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee. Thus, Oswalt has the sixth-best SIERA among all starters in the playoffs and 13thoverall, after finishing only 33rd in the majors in 2009.   

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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Playoff Prospectus: NL... (10/23)
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