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October 5, 2005

Playoff Prospectus

Division Series, Day One

by Paul Swydan

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"If I owned this place and Hell, I'd rent this place out and live in Hell." This is how every Red Sox fan must feel about New Comiskey...er, US Cellular Field...after witnessing the worst loss in Red Sox playoff history yesterday. But as frightening as this game was, the most frightening thing I learned yesterday was that Rocky V is Chone Figgins' favorite movie.

Jonah Keri takes on Laundry Day in Chicago in his Game of the Week, so here are some notes from the other two Division Series games played Tuesday.

  • If not for Mark Loretta, Chris Carpenter would have had a very easy day:
    
    Carpenter pitch count, Game 1
    
    Batter         # pit    % pit
    Mark Loretta    25       27.5
    Others          66       72.5
    Total           91      100.0
    
    
    Of course, not all at-bats are created equal. Khalil Greene made two outs on just two pitches, significantly reducing Carpenter's pitch count. Loretta also helped take the luster off his great at-bats by killing a third-inning rally with a double play. In this he was not alone--Ramon Hernandez and Joe Randa were also nice enough to ground into double plays. Carpenter's G/F ratio was a concern entering the game, and though his G/F ratio for the game (1.5 on 9 GB & 6 FB) was below his season average of 1.98, the three double plays are a signal that Carpenter can still get a ground ball when he needs one.

  • Was this Jake Peavy's worst start ever? No, but it was his worst start in two years:
    
    Jake Peavy's Worst Starts
    
    Date        OPP    IP     GSc
    08/18/02   @MON   3.1      12
    07/04/03     SF   4.0      14
    07/26/02   @ARI   4.1      14
    10/04/05   @SLN   4.1      15
    08/25/03   @ARI   2.0      17
    
    2005 Avg          6.7      61
    
    
    However, five days after these other four starts, Peavy was back on the mound. Now he's on the mend. Peavy's cracked ribs will keep him out the rest of the season, and he likely took San Diego's post-season hopes and dreams with him.

  • When Jason Isringhausen allowed the tying run to get to the plate in the ninth inning, ESPN announcers Jon Miller and Joe Morgan raised the issue of whether closers do better in an 8-5 game rather than an 8-2 game. Looking at Izzy's Leverage (LEV) stats for 2005, we can get to the bottom of this (thanks to Keith Woolner for the info):
    
    Isringhausen 2005 Stats by Situation
    
    LEV                  IP    ERA    H/9   K/BB
    less than .75      20.0   3.60   6.30    2.0
    .75-1.25           20.0   2.15   6.03    3.2
    more than 1.25     18.0   7.00   7.50    1.4
    
    
    Sample-size issues aside, it appears that Isringhausen does nearly as well in low-leverage situations as he does in average-leverage situations. In any event, you would not look at this data and conclude that giving up four hits in 2/3 inning would be a regular occurrence, no matter the score.

  • A lot was made of the fact that Mike Mussina had a much higher ERA in the second half than the first: 5.16 to 3.97. While some of this is due to a rise in his walk rate, more of this can be traced to an increased hit rate and BABIP, which is largely out of Mussina's control. Looking at his three-true-outcome statistics, we can see that though he has not pitched as much during the second half, it has not been all doom and gloom:
    
    Half        IP   K/BB    K/9   BB/9   HR/9
    First    113.0   2.96   6.37   2.15   1.19
    Second    66.1   3.10   8.44   2.72   1.09
    
    
    Finishing 2005 with a VORP of 23.3, Mussina is certainly not the pitcher he was in 2003, when his VORP totaled 59.1. But like all aging pitchers, he still has a few tricks up his sleeve. Mix in a home plate umpire with a huge strike zone (Gary Darling ranks sixth overall in 2005 strike %), and tonight's outing no longer seems that strange.

  • Mike Scioscia really makes you wonder which is more important: trying to win games or appeasing his veterans. Neither Darin Erstad nor Steve Finley has had much success versus right-handed pitching this season. But this has not stopped Scioscia from playing them over Casey Kotchman. Admittedly, Finley hit some balls hard last night, and one even fell in for a double, but one night does not atone for a season of misdeeds:
    
    2005 stats vs. RHP
    
    Player      AB    AVG    OPS
    Kotchman    94   .277    896
    Erstad     419   .291    733
    Finley     288   .201    600
    
    
    Not only did Scioscia not start Kotchman, but when he did insert him, it was in the wrong situation, pinch-hitting for Juan Rivera during the ninth. While Kotchman does enjoy good success against righties, Mariano Rivera chews up lefties, and always has. Conversely, Juan Rivera handles righties just fine and was 2-for-3 on the night. In the end this amounts to nitpicking. The main issue is that Kotchman should be the starting DH or first baseman, Rivera should be the starting center fielder, and Finley and/or Erstad should be bench players.

  • Erstad and Scioscia also combined to kill the sixth inning for the Angels. With Vladimir Guerrero on first in the sixth, the Angels elected to hit-and-run (something the fabulous Joe and Tim failed to recognize) with Erstad, even though Erstad was the player in the lineup least suited for the job:
    
    Game 1 Lineup 2005 SO Rates
    
                    Overall                vs. LHP
    Player      SO    PA   SO Rate    SO    PA   SO Rate
    Erstad     109   667     .1634    39   212     .1840
    Finley      71   440     .1614    16   126     .1270
    Figgins    101   720     .1403    38   252     .1508
    Anderson    84   603     .1393    32   196     .1633
    Kennedy     64   460     .1391    19   140     .1357
    Rivera      44   376     .1170    12   150     .0800
    Molina      41   449     .0913    10   137     .0730
    Cabrera     50   587     .0852    11   176     .0625
    Guerrero    48   594     .0808     9   170     .0529
    
    
    Not only does Erstad strike out more than every other regular on the team, he also strikes out more than everyone versus left-handers. This wasn't stopping the Angels, who are aggressive to a fault. Had they not hit-and-run, and if Erstad had reached (keyword being if), Molina's home run would have made a much greater impact.

Paul Swydan is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can be reached here.

Related Content:  Darin Erstad

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