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October 16, 2008

Prospectus Today

The Forgotten Narrative

by Joe Sheehan

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The Cubs had the 100-year itch and the whole "best team in the league" thing. The Dodgers had Manny! and Joe! and that big-market attractiveness. The Brewers rode CC Sabathia's amazing run to end a quarter-century absence from the playoffs.

The Phillies? We weren't talking much about them. They'd been here, briefly, a year ago, but even then they were a candidate for "Best Supporting Actor in a Drama." They played a Bill Pullman role to consecutive late-season disappointments by the Mets, the plot centering on how New York didn't win rather than how they did. The Phillies closed 13-4 last year, 13-3 this year, but the term "collapse," rather than "closing rush," was the one we heard and read about. Even in making the playoffs last year, they were just an extra in the hit show "Rocktober."

The thing is, they were no worse than the second-best team in the league this year, with the second-best record and second-best run differential. They were fourth in third-order record, although the difference between them and second was tiny. They had, if not a bye to the LCS, the best matchup of any Division Series team, facing a Brewers squad whose ace starter was coming in having been worked very hard and which was probably the weakest post-season team. The Dodgers beating the Cubs was a bonus; as well as the Dodgers played, and as much as their playoff lineup was incomparable to their regular-season lineup, they would be an easier foe to dispatch than the best team in the league.

Dispatch them, they did, and the main surprise is that it went just five games, continuing the trend of matchups which look likely to give us a dramatic series going on to disappoint. Just two of the five games were particularly competitive, although both of those were very good. The Dodgers' starting pitching was probably the biggest difference, as they got just one quality start in five games, after going three-for-three in the Division Series:


         G    IP    H    R   BB   SO   HR
NLDS     3   19.0  19    3    4   17    1
NLCS     5   21.1  29   18   10   19    3

This was to be expected. The matchups in this series were not as favorable, with the Phillies' better lineup balance posing a tougher matchup for the Dodgers' starters than the Cubs' righty-heavy lineup. Chad Billingsley, the Dodger starter with the biggest platoon split and most trouble against left-handed batters, never saw the fourth inning in two starts.

Cole Hamels is the Dodgers' version of Billingsley, a young starter developing into a star. Hamels is a year ahead of Billingsley, however, with slightly better raw stuff and much better command of it. Hamels is the breakout star of the NL postseason, the senior circuit's counterpart to B.J. Upton in the AL. In three starts, Hamels has thrown at least seven innings every time and allowed zero, two, and one runs. He has a 22/6 K/BB ratio in 22 innings, and only in Game One of the NLCS, when he gave up some extra-base hits that the Dodgers converted to runs, was he ever at risk of losing a game. He's pitch-efficient-14 pitches an inning-and shows both raw talent and a feel for a game. I know that stylistically he's a match for Johan Santana, but I still can't get past the Mike Mussina comp for him.

The Phillies backed him with another long ball-Jimmy Rollins in the first-and with crooked numbers in the third and fifth. They've spread out their offense a bit more of late, but they're still scoring in bunches, last night taking advantage of Billingsley's wildness and some wretched Dodgers defense in equal parts. Even with Ryan Howard on the sidelines thus far-.258/.410/.323-the Phillies are getting by offensively, with 4.4 runs per game. They've allowed just 3.2, though, which is the biggest reason why they'll be playing in the World Series next Wednesday. In addition to Hamels, the Phillies' bullpen has been outstanding, with a 1.88 ERA and just one homer allowed in 28 2/3 innings. Only once, in Game Four against the Dodgers, did the Phillies' bullpen hurt the team, and the Phillies came back to win that game. I'd be concerned with their penchant for walking people, because their World Series opponent will be a team with good plate discipline, but so far they've been effective.

The Dodgers' season was a success, even with the unhappy ending. We place so much emphasis on the postseason now that losing in it can be perceived as a significant failure, but seven of eight teams do just that at some point. The Dodgers may not have been a great team this season, but they had an exciting late-season run to win their division, and certainly the team they put on the field in October was competitive with the NL's best. The narrative-Joe Torre managed and Manny Ramirez carried this team to the postseason-is a little simple, and Ned Colletti's ability to see past that to what he really has in front of him will go a long way in determining whether or not the Dodgers get back here a year from now. Perhaps no team has a more complicated set of decisions to work through regarding its personnel, and along with the credit Colletti does deserve for the mid-season upgrade to Ramirez, there's also the blame he deserves for many of the decisions that preceded it. After all, Dodgers Dioner Navarro and Edwin Jackson are going to the World Series... as Rays... and the Dodgers squandered those two for absolutely nothing.

---

The Rays will start Scott Kazmir ahead of James Shields in tonight's ALCS Game Five. I don't hate the decision-Kazmir is pitching on full rest (ah, ridiculous scheduling)-but I'm not a real fan of the idea that the splits of the players may have played a part in it. Home/road and park splits over a period of years are more noise than signal, and best ignored in assigning playing time.

The primary cost of the decision is pushed into the World Series. Should the Rays lose tonight but advance, Shields, starting Saturday, would not be able to pitch Game One of the World Series, or would have to start on short rest. In fact, a seven-game outcome in the ALCS would leave the Rays choosing from among Kazmir, Andy Sonnanstine, and a short-rest Shields against Hamels next Wednesday, none of which are optimal. With that in mind, I probably would have started Shields tonight, with an eye towards the World Series that, with my team up 3-1, is reasonable to consider in making the decision.

Let me throw one idea out there about the Red Sox. In the absence of Mike Lowell, they've gone with Kevin Youkilis at third and Mark Kotsay at first base. This weakens the team defensively at both spots, and not by a small amount. Youkilis is a below-average third baseman now, and one of the best first basemen in the game. Kotsay is fair at first base.

Kotsay isn't a particularly good hitter: .276/.329/.403 for the season, which is a reasonable estimate of his ability. Would the Red Sox be better off playing Alex Cora (.270/.371/.349) at third base and Youkilis at first, trading off the offensive difference between Kotsay and Cora in exchange for a defensive upgrade at two spots? I don't think it's going to change the world-Cora probably wouldn't have had a play on all but one or two of the Rays' bombs this week-but in looking for edges, this may be one to take. Kotsay's bat just isn't so good that you'd force it into the lineup, and if nothing else, Cora works counts and adds speed at the bottom of the lineup, where it's most useful.

As long as I'm proffering advice... Jon Lester has to pitch in a Game Six. You can't let your season end without putting your best starter back on the mound with full rest. Whatever is going on with Josh Beckett, he hasn't been better than Lester all year; push him back to Game Seven, hope the extra rest helps him, and have him on a quick hook. If Lester doesn't start Game Six, that will be a very big mistake by Francona.

And I do think there will be a Game Six...

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

Related Content:  Dodgers,  Best

22 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Aaron Cameron

"After all, Dodgers Dioner Navarro and Edwin Jackson are going to the World Series... as Rays..."

I mean, I guess I see what you're trying to say, but, dude...at least let 'em play Game #5, first!

Oct 16, 2008 11:48 AM
rating: 1
 
Vinegar Bend
(477)

Yeah -- was that intentional, Joe? The Rays ARE GOING to the world series?

Oct 16, 2008 12:16 PM
rating: 0
 
Scott D. Simon

any reason the "print article" link isn't on this article?

Oct 16, 2008 11:49 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Dave Pease
BP staff
(2)

we're updating the print functionality... it'll be back very soon. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Oct 16, 2008 11:53 AM
 
BP staff member Dave Pease
BP staff
(2)

Actually, try printing from your browser--it should be formatted OK. There's an Unfiltered post up today with more info.

Oct 16, 2008 17:17 PM
 
caliphornian

Whoever the Phillies face have pitching staffs that are stingy with the base hits. The Rays staff gave up 1349 hits, second in the league, and the Sox gave up 1369, fourth best. This is the critical matchup. If the Phils scratch out around 9 hits or 12 walks+hits per game, the likelihood of victory starts to shrink for the AL team.

My point of the critical matchup is further proved by the #1 home run hitting team (the Phils) versus the #1 home run preventing team (the Dodgers). Each of the five home runs ended up playing a critical role in each of the Phils wins except Game 2's, which I attribute to Brett Ty Cobb.

Oct 16, 2008 11:57 AM
rating: 0
 
relliott22

When I heard the announcement for the pitching change, I figured that Maddon smelled blood regarding Beckett and wanted the biggest mismatch he could get. Even if we followed suit by moving Lester, that's at least an even matchup and leaves a mismatch v. Garza on the last game. Kazmir and his pen is even money v. Matsuzaka and ours, so why not try to stack the cards as much in your favor for one of the other games?

Also, Upton still haunts me, and I can't sleep at nights.

Oct 16, 2008 11:58 AM
rating: 0
 
pkeffer

Well Upton's laziness should be motivation for all of us.

http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=jackson/081015&sportCat=mlb

Oct 16, 2008 17:12 PM
rating: 0
 
mglick0718

I've never understood the "you can't let your season end without putting your best starter back on the mound" argument for pushing up a starter when facing elimination. The Red Sox need to win 3 games and lose none, and Lester can start only one game, so what difference does it make that it's game 6 or 7? Granted, he would have full rest and Beckett might be more effective with an extra day of rest (both of which Joe points out), but these are a different line of argument. I guess I'm just surprised that Joe would make such a point.

Oct 16, 2008 12:02 PM
rating: 4
 
eighteen

Because you have to win Game 6 to get a Game 7.

If you had to win 3 straight games, and you had Halladay, Lincecum, and Livan Hernandez, would you send Hernandez out there for the first game? Of course not, because that first game is the most important - you don't win it, you don't get a shot at the next 2 games; and that's what you're playing for in Game 1. In Game 2, you're playing for a chance to play Game 3. Only if you make it to Game 3 are you playing to win the series - but you have to get there first.

When facing elimination, games are not equally important.

Oct 16, 2008 15:16 PM
rating: 1
 
Richie

This is logically fallacious. If you wind up losing game 6 or 7, then in retrospect the win in game 5 had no value. Of course they're all equal in value.

Oct 16, 2008 19:42 PM
rating: 1
 
Nick J

Hey Joe, since as you say the Dodgers face "a more complicated set of decisions (than anyone) to work through regarding its personnel," how about a "you play GM" article similar to what you did with the Yankees?

Oct 16, 2008 12:05 PM
rating: 0
 
Dr. Dave

"Youkilis is a below-average third baseman now."

Joe, you've said this a couple of times now -- what are you basing it on? Youkilis had an absurdly high Rate2 of 117 at 3B this season, and his RZR of .729 is essentially identical to Evan Longoria's. All of the evidence I can find says that he's not only an excellent 3B this year, but farther above average at 3B than at 1B at the moment.

Oct 16, 2008 12:30 PM
rating: 3
 
leez34

I think I've been your most vociferous defender here on the boards, Joe, but you've made several mentions now of "ridiculous scheduling." Exactly what is wrong with having some scheduled off days? Some of us have work to do at nights, kids to play with, other things to do...it's nice to have the games staggered so that I don't feel obligated to watch the game every single night of the week. If the Series is in November, then sure, complain away, but this year we'll be done in October just like every other year. Why act like we want the postseason over with as soon as possible? I like the postseason, and I don't mind that it's still here.

Oct 16, 2008 15:17 PM
rating: 0
 
Richie

A stretch of bad weather in Philly still certainly could push the final games into November. Certainly will some year. And if you get frigid weather for a late-October night game, are you going to say "well it's still not November, so that makes it OK"? The later the Series goes, the greater the likelihood of playing in winter weather.

Oct 16, 2008 19:49 PM
rating: -1
 
eighteen

"Perhaps no team has a more complicated set of decisions to work through regarding its personnel..."

Seems to me the Cubs have a lot more problems to address than the Dodgers. Ramirez, Soriano, and Lee are a year older; DeRosa isn't going to repeat what he did this year; Edmonds is done, and Pie doesn't seem to be the answer; Right Field's a vacuum; Zambrano's a question mark (as of now, though he probably pulls things together by Spring); ditto Harden holding up for another full year; ditto Dempster repeating; Marmol and Wood are the only decent bullpen arms...

And Sammy Zell probably sells the team this offseason for such a large nickel the new owner(s) are hamstrung in the FA market.

2009 could be a big disapointment in Wrigleyville.

Oct 16, 2008 15:34 PM
rating: -1
 
Adam Madison

Those really aren't any "decisions to work through"; you're stuck with Harden and Zambrano, Dempster is assumed to be resigning, you're stuck with Soriano, Lee, and Ramirez, etc... The cards fall as they may.

Anyway, your post was quite pessimistic. I could just as easily say, "The Cubs have the productive core of Ramirez, Soriano and Lee to build around for at least one more season; Mark DeRosa is is an above-average 2B who can spot in the outfield; Kosuke Fukudome will likely be at least a league-average outfielder with plus defense and speed, if not outright moved to center field, Edmonds and Reed Johnson are useful spare parts, Pie can be used for value in a trade..."

Oct 16, 2008 16:03 PM
rating: 1
 
ithistle

"Would the Red Sox be better off playing Alex Cora (.270/.371/.349) at third base and Youkilis at first, trading off the offensive difference between Kotsay and Cora in exchange for a defensive upgrade at two spots? I don't think it's going to change the world—Cora probably wouldn't have had a play on all but one or two of the Rays' bombs this week—but in looking for edges, this may be one to take. Kotsay's bat just isn't so good that you'd force it into the lineup, and if nothing else, Cora works counts and adds speed at the bottom of the lineup, where it's most useful."

Cora's not really that fast anymore and has poor range. I cringe when he is at short in place of Lowrie and he's only attempted 4 steals in the last two years. He does work a count a bit better than Kotsay, but I have been impressed with Kotsay's defense at first thus far and as Dr. Dave posted above, Youkilis isn't a below-average defender at third by either the naked eye or any defensive metrics I've seen.

Oct 16, 2008 15:45 PM
rating: 2
 
johnpark99

Thanks to Joe Sheehan for writing this article, which touches upon an idea that I've had for a while. It has been strange to me how much the media (and BP, to some extent) have found it easier to explain the Phils' success to-date as more a result of poor play and decisions (and dare I say, "choking"???) on the part of the Phils' opponents. This year's version of Philadelphia baseball is a good (maybe not great) team, and I'm happy to finally read some material that starts to label them appropriately. Though I dread that--IF IF IF the Phils win their rings this year--I'll be reading stories about how the Rays were too inexperienced, or the Sox were too riddled with injuries.

Oct 17, 2008 05:21 AM
rating: 1
 
John Carter

Here is possibly another good reason why Francona is playing Youkilis at third base: it allows Youki to be more ready for the World Series where he will have to play third, while Big Papi unburies his glove to play first.

Oct 17, 2008 07:15 AM
rating: -1
 
sbnirish77

Whats wrong with a Mike Mussina comp? The good side of the bet has Mike getting more wins than Johan Santana over their careers.

Oct 17, 2008 11:44 AM
rating: 0
 
Wharton93

The comments here are a pretty clear indicator of the "forgotten narrative". Even in an article about the Phillies, the world is preoccuipied with Mike Mussina, Youk's defense, the Cubs, and the print button at BP =) Heh, Sportscenter opened every broadcast with a Mets loss rather than a Phillies win...it's the way Media is.

Oct 18, 2008 09:39 AM
rating: 0
 
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