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October 10, 2008

Prospectus Preview

NLCS Game Two

by Caleb Peiffer

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Matchup: Dodgers (84-78) at Phillies (92-70), 4:35 p.m. ET, FOX
Probable Starters: Chad Billingsley (200 2/3 IP, 3.41 RA, 1.34 WHIP, 201 K) vs. Brett Myers (190, 4.88, 1.38, 163)
Pythagorean Record: Los Angeles, 87-75 (700 RS, 648 RA); Philadelphia, 93-69 (799 RS, 680 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Los Angeles, #11; Philadelphia, #5
Series Favorite: Phillies, 60.1%
Prospectus: Derek Lowe had given up two home runs in a start just once this year entering yesterday's Game One, but the Phillies smacked a pair against him, accounting for all of their scoring in a 3-2 victory to open what should be an outstanding NLCS. Philadelphia has scored eight runs in the last two playoff games, all of them on the long ball. That is a continuation of the combustion-fueled offense that the NL leader in homers lived by all season, as discussed by Jay Jaffe in his comprehensive series preview. Chase Utley provided the biggest blow of the game, pulling a ball over the right-field wall for a two-run shot that tied the score in the sixth. Utley went through a period of 27 games from late August to late September without a home run (equaling the longest stretch of his career), and intensifying speculation that he is not completely healthy, but he hit two in Philly's last six games of the year before adding another yesterday.

Billingsley was just about as stingy as Lowe with the long ball this year; he gave up the same amount of home runs during the regular season (14) in only 10 fewer innings, the ninth-best HR/9 among NL qualifiers. Myers allowed more than double that total (29), but the vast majority of those came in the season's first three months, before he was sent to the minors to work on his fastball after his command of the pitch and its velocity had inexplicably left him. At the time he went down, Myers was way out in front of all other pitchers with 24 homers allowed, but since coming back up he has surrendered only five in 95 1/3 innings, or less than 0.5 HR/9. Myers has also displayed a sizable home/road split this year. Including his effort in Game Two of the NLDS against Milwaukee, his RA is exactly three full runs lower at Citizens Bank Park: 3.41 in 105 2/3 innings at home, 6.41 in 91 1/3 on the road.

Both Myers and Billingsley are power pitchers, but Myers is actually much more reliant upon his breaking and off-speed stuff than the typical hurler. He threw his heater less than half the time this year (48.2 percent), whereas Billingsley showed off his low-90s gas close to 60 percent of the time, and threw either a fastball or a cut fastball nearly four out of every five pitches. Among the 88 pitchers who qualified for the ERA title this year, the only one who threw a variety of fastball (two- or four-seam, cutter, or split) less often than Myers was Ted Lilly, according to the Pitch-f/x data available at Fangraphs.com. Myers made two starts against the Dodgers this year, both in August after he came back from the minors. He gave up three runs in seven innings in the first outing at Dodger Stadium, and no runs in seven the second time out at home, striking out eight men in each. On both occasions Myers worked on establishing his fastball early before then moving more often to his curveball and slider, pitches of which he has excellent command. Billingsley uses the curve as his breaking ball, with infrequent dosages of slider and changeup mixed in as well. He gave up three runs in six innings and walked a season-high five in his one start versus Philadelphia this year, in late August at Citizens Bank Park.

The Phillies' historic 84.5 percentage on stolen bases that they put up in the regular season was the second-best in major league history to that of last year's Philadelphia squad, but they didn't utilize their base-stealing acumen last night. However, their speed did play an important role in the game's outcome. After Lowe cruised through the first five innings, Shane Victorino led off the bottom of the sixth by slapping a ball to shortstop Rafael Furcal. Recognizing that he had to hustle, Furcal scooped it up and unloaded to first in one motion, but his throw was high and wide. That error would loom large, as it preceded Utley's game-tying blast. Reached on Error (ROE) is a statistic whose value is hidden-it doesn't show up as a positive in any offensive metric, but it nonetheless adds to a player's overall offensive value. The one variable with an ability to cut through the random noise behind a batter reaching via the error is speed-Ichiro led the major leagues in ROE, and Victorino got on via the error eight times in the regular season. Both of these teams have the ability to pressure the defense with speed, between Victorino, Jimmy Rollins, and Werth for Philly, and Furcal, Matt Kemp, and Russell Martin for the Dodgers.

Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can be reached here.

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