CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

<< Previous Article
Premium Article GM for a Day: Chicago ... (10/20)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Playoff Prospectus: AL... (10/19)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Playoff Prospectus: We... (10/20)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Playoff Prospectus: We... (10/20)

October 20, 2010

Playoff Prospectus

Wednesday LCS Pitching Matchups

by Matt Swartz

the archives are now free.

All Baseball Prospectus Premium and Fantasy articles more than a year old are now free as a thank you to the entire Internet for making our work possible.

Not a subscriber? Get exclusive content like this delivered hot to your inbox every weekday. Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get instant access to the best baseball content on the web.

Subscribe for $4.95 per month
Recurring subscription - cancel anytime.


a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Purchase a $39.95 gift subscription
a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Already a subscriber? Click here and use the blue login bar to log in.

NLCS Game Four: Phillies at Giants
Joe Blanton: 4.82 ERA, 4.01 SIERA
Blanton gets his first start of the 2010 postseason, and at first glance, he would appear to be a liability for the Phillies after struggling to get his ERA below 5.00 all season. However, with a 4.01 SIERA, Blanton gives the Phillies one of the best fourth starters in baseball to carry them in Game Four. His 2009 SIERA was even stronger at 3.92. The story that people tell about Blanton is that he is a mediocre, hittable pitcher, but that was before he increased his strikeout rate. In 2008, he had punched out only 11.3 percent of batters when the Athletics traded him to the Phillie then he increase that to 16.1 after moving to the National League. However, Blanton also walked more batters as a 2008 Phillie as well. In 2009, Blanton suddenly began punching hitters out—19.5 percent struck out against him, the best rate in his career. In 2010, he did not fall back much, continuing to strike out 17.6 percent of hitters faced. Unfortunately, Blanton had already allowed a lot of hits, and also struggled early when returning from an oblique injury, so he spent the rest of 2010 trying to bring down his ERA. However, the reality told by SIERA is pretty clear—the control pitcher from the A’s has become a well-rounded pitcher with the Phillies who can also strike hitters out. He even lowered his walk rate in 2010 as well, from 7.1 in 2009 to just 4.8. The Giants will have an easier opponent in Game Four than any other game in this series, but seeing Blanton as a soft spot would be a mistake. This pitching matchup is not decisive either way, and the Giants could be in for a surprise from Kentucky Joe.

Madison Bumgarner: 3.00 ERA, 3.88 SIERA
Bumgarner’s post-season debut was a strong one, as he allowed just two runs in six innings, struck out five, and walked only one. The Giants gave him the three runs he needed and the bullpen sealed the deal en route to an NLDS-clinching win in Atlanta. Bumgarner’s biggest strength is that he avoids walks and that limits the damage, but he has a tougher lineup to face this time around. The Phillies will hit the ball hard, and if Bumgarner is not careful, he could be vulnerable to a crooked number. Bumgarner struck out 30 lefties in 125 plate appearances this season, which bodes well for facing the Phillies’ best hitters. However, as I noted on Sunday, the rest of the Phillies’ lineup actually gives them an advantage against lefties, and he will need to be careful not to give away hits to righties if he is to provide the Giants an important Game Four win.

From the NLDS: Bumgarner, the highly touted prospect, appeared to be the Giants’ fifth starter heading into spring training, but he struggled with his fastball velocity and did not make the team. However, the Giants gave him his shot in late June and he did not disappoint over 18 starts. His velocity is back, helping him strike out a respectable 18.2 percent of hitters in 2010. He was also very good at limiting walks in his rookie season, issuing them to only 5.5 percent of batters. Bumgarner also generated a 46 percent ground ball rate, which is about average as well. The key to Bumgarner’s success in 2010 was his control, but he also had some luck go his way. He had a similar rate on home runs per fly ball that other Giants’ starters had, and his overall BABIP was actually a high .314 despite the Giants’ overall team BABIP of .286. However, Bumgarner allowed just a .253 BABIP with runners in scoring position and a .269 BABIP with runners on base overall. Thus, despite a modest WHIP of 1.31, his baserunners were frequently stranded. The ability to induce a weaker BABIP with runners on base is not something that pitchers tend to consistently repeat. While some pitchers are better at dodging home runs with men on and better at pitching to contact with the bases empty, the results do not tend to carry over to BABIP. Bumgarner is certainly beatable, despite his low ERA. He is not going to issue walks often, so the [Phillies] will need to make solid contact when they get a pitch to hit.

ALCS Game Five: Rangers at Yankees
C.J. Wilson: 3.35 ERA, 4.18 SIERA
Wilson pitched the Rangers to a win in Game Two of the ALDS against the Rays, and thought he had given them a clutch Game One victory in the ALCS against the Yankees when he started the eighth inning by allowing a couple of hits wih a 5-1 lead. The Rangers’ bullpen coughed up the game after he exited. It was not a flashy start, as Wilson walked two and struck out four, but it should have been enough for the win. Wilson’s weakness is his walk rate, and in walking only two batters in each of his two playoff starts, he has kept the Rangers in the game. The Yankees draw plenty of walks, so Wilson will have to continue to be careful to avoid bases on balls if the Rangers are to pull this one out in Yankee Stadium.

From the ALDS: Wilson appeared to transition from relieving to starting relatively well season, though his strikeout rate actually fell by 30 percent, which is more than the approximately 17 percent that the average pitcher sees when going from the rotation (according to Tom Tango’s oft-cited “Rule of 17”). Wilson’s walk rate in 2010 was 11.0 percent, just a little bit higher than last year’s 9.9 percent, explaining why his SIERA was so high despite his still solid 20.0 percent strikeout rate. However, Wilson allowed only a .267 BABIP and 6.1 percent home runs per outfield fly ball, masking some of the difficulties that he had in his transition. Wilson is definitely good at getting left-handed hitters out, but his .204 BABIP against them in 2010 led to a .144/.224/.176 slash line that exaggerates his skill level. Even so, his 3.8 K/BB ratio against them is certainly elite and the [Yankees’] lefties will likely struggle against him.

CC Sabathia: 3.18 ERA, 3.75 SIERA
Sabathia was the hero of the Yankees’ title run in 2009, throwing 36 1/3 innings in five post-season starts and walking only nine hitters as he ate inning after inning. In 2010, Sabathia has already walked seven hitters in just 10 innings of work during his first pair of starts. Fortunately for Sabathia and the Yankees, their mighty lineup has bailed him out both times. In a crucial Game Five for the Yankees, Sabathia will try to resemble the hero of 2009 without relying on a late-inning crooked number from the Yankees’ bats again. As I explained in the reprinted summary of his 2010 season below, the difference between Sabathia now and his superior performance in recent years is primarily his walk rate. If he can throw strikes and go deep in the game, the Yankees will have a far better chance this afternoon.

 From the ALDS: Sabathia put up a 3.25 SIERA in 2007 and 3.05 in 2008, but has fallen slightly to 3.70 and 3.75 in his first two years with the Yankees. His walk rate has increased from 3.8 percent in 2007 to 5.8 percent in 2008 to 7.1 in percent in 2009, and finally to 7.6 percent in 2010. Meanwhile, his strikeout rate has fallen to 20.3 percent this year, down from a high point of 24.5 percent in 2008. Some of this is the competition—the hitters that he faces in the AL East are much better on average than the hitters he faced in the AL Central or NL Central. The rest is quite possibly Sabathia regressing to the mean. Now, Sabathia’s 3.75 SIERA is still great, especially for the AL East, and he does have a tendency to beat his SIERA—this is his third year in a row of doing so by at least 0.33 points. While he is not the best pitcher in the playoffs this year, his endurance and ability to pitch three games in a seven-game series may be enough to help him get more batters out than other pitchers with lower SIERAs.  

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:  Madison Bumgarner

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

BP Comment Quick Links

jlefty

Blanton one of the best 4th starters in baseball? He's not even the best 4th starter pitching tonight.

Oct 20, 2010 08:56 AM
rating: 0
 
rcrary

Surely he could be both "one of the best 4th starters in baseball" while also being "not even the best 4th starter pitching tonight", no? The latter is debatable in any event.

Oct 20, 2010 09:18 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Matt Swartz
BP staff

Check Blanton's SIERA the past two years (3.92, 4.05) and let me know if you think that something about Blanton's pitching that makes him unable to match his SIERA. I don't see any reason to think he's something other than a 4.00-4.10 ERA pitcher when it comes to true talent level. Keep in mind his ERA last year was right on with his SIERA, as it has been in years past.

Bumgarner is a great fourth starter as well. Both are leagues better than the majority of fourth starters in the league. How many other teams have four starters with talent levels of 4.10 or better?

Oct 20, 2010 10:05 AM
 
jlefty

Well, I'd be a little reluctant to simply take his SIERA and say that's his true ERA talent. It all depends on what you look at. For example, BIS data has his LD% down by a half a percent this year, whereas pitch fx data has his LD% up by almost 3 percent. I can't tell you which one is more correct.

But his BABIP on GB has actually gone down 10 points this year, while his BABIP on LD has shot up 40 points. Seems plausible that he's getting hit harder and more often this year.

He also stranded a ton of runners last year and is much closer to his career level this year. He's also been a tad better (luckier?) with his HR/FB.

I'm not entirely sure if he is or isn't capable of matching his SIERA, but is "he's done it in the past" the only argument that he is? He also has a lot more years in the past striking out less than 6 per nine than he has striking out more than 7.

Oct 20, 2010 11:09 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Matt Swartz
BP staff

I discussed Blanton's 2010 season at length here: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=11954

Firstly, I would strongly advise you not to use line drive rate to measure pitcher performance. The correlation between a pitcher's line drive rate relative to his team is 0.003. Strikeout rate is the most persistent pitcher statistic, which is why it was not surprising to see Blanton maintain most of his strikeout rate this year.

Also worth noting is that Blanton had a 3.48 ERA in the second half with a 20% K-rate, correcting some of the flaws he had in early 2010 with being hard hit.

My argument for Blanton not being the kind of pitcher to pitch behind his SIERA is not simply the career history of doing so. It is also that he is a very normal pitcher. He doesn't have a knuckleball or anything that confuses these things. He doesn't have a bizarre pop-up inducing tendency. He doesn't have major splits within bases empty and men on. He doesn't throw very fast or very slow. He throws an average fastball at 89-90mph, mixing in primarily a changeup and a slider with an occassional curve or cutter. He's got years of matching peripherals and now has been able to inducing more whiffs than he did in Oakland.

He's a pretty classic case of being hit a little bit harder and more balls falling in, but all in a non-repeatable way. And it hasn't been repeating since the All-Star Break, when I started chirping that he was going to improve.

(Now cue jinxed Blanton having a small-sample size implosion in 4.5 hours...)

Oct 20, 2010 11:25 AM
 
jlefty

From a logical point of view, yeah obviously he could be both (Surely you understood my implication that I believe he's not, for more reasons than just the one I gave, no?). But in writing up a matchup it's not really appropriate to label the lesser of the two as one of the best while not acknowledging his opponent's superiority--in fact, Bumgarner's writeup is largely negative.

Oct 20, 2010 10:38 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Matt Swartz
BP staff

Bumgarner had a 3.88 SIERA this year, and Blanton had a 4.01 SIERA this year. Blanton walked 5% of hitters, Bumgarner walked 5% of hitters. Blanton struck out 18% of hitters, Bumgarner struck out 18% of hitter. Bumgarner had a 46% ground ball rate to Blanton's 43% ground ball rate. Their talent level is very similar right now.

The point of SIERA is to isolate skill level from luck, and I have generally explained the good luck for pitchers with ERAs below their SIERAs and bad luck for pitchers above their SIERAs. In cases where I did not believe that was appropriate, I highlighted pitchers like Matt Cain who seems to have a unique skill at beating his SIERA. I'm not convinced Bumgarner has that. He will probably improve going forward, but that doesn't make him a decisively better pitcher in today's game.

Both are very good 4th starters, so "one of the best fourth starters" would be equating his skill level for Bumgarner's, generally acknowledged as a good fourth starter.

Oct 20, 2010 10:47 AM
 
rcrary

I'd think the apparent defense of Blanton versus the relatively negative writeup of Bumgarner is because people such as yourself are assuming the matchup clearly favors Bumgarner when it does not.

Oct 20, 2010 11:40 AM
rating: 0
 
You must be a Premium subscriber to post a comment.
Not a subscriber? Sign up today!
<< Previous Article
Premium Article GM for a Day: Chicago ... (10/20)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Playoff Prospectus: AL... (10/19)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Playoff Prospectus: We... (10/20)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Playoff Prospectus: We... (10/20)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Every Team's Moneyball: Cincinnati Reds: Go ...
Every Team's Moneyball: Chicago White Sox: T...
Premium Article Some Projection Left: The Moran Mystery
Notes from the Field: Seven Days and 32 Pros...
Spring Training Notebook: Cactus League
Premium Article Rubbing Mud: The Demise of the Two-Out Rally
Some Projection Left: Matuella has Tommy Joh...

MORE FROM OCTOBER 20, 2010
Playoff Prospectus: ALCS Game Four
Premium Article Playoff Prospectus: Fear and Loathing from t...
Premium Article Playoff Prospectus: NLCS Game Three: Basebal...
Premium Article Playoff Prospectus: Wednesday LCS Game Proje...
Premium Article GM for a Day: Chicago Cubs
A Worthy Tradition
Premium Article On the Beat: Reviving The Rangers

MORE BY MATT SWARTZ
2010-10-23 - Premium Article Playoff Prospectus: NLCS Game Six Pitching M...
2010-10-22 - Premium Article Playoff Prospectus: ALCS Game Six Pitching M...
2010-10-21 - Premium Article Playoff Prospectus: Thursday NLCS Game Five ...
2010-10-20 - Premium Article Playoff Prospectus: Wednesday LCS Pitching M...
2010-10-19 - Premium Article Playoff Prospectus: Tuesday LCS Pitching Mat...
2010-10-18 - Premium Article Playoff Prospectus: Monday ALCS Pitching Mat...
2010-10-17 - Premium Article Playoff Prospectus: Sunday NLCS Pitching Mat...
More...

MORE PLAYOFF PROSPECTUS
2010-10-20 - Premium Article Playoff Prospectus: Fear and Loathing from t...
2010-10-20 - Premium Article Playoff Prospectus: NLCS Game Three: Basebal...
2010-10-20 - Premium Article Playoff Prospectus: Wednesday LCS Game Proje...
2010-10-20 - Premium Article Playoff Prospectus: Wednesday LCS Pitching M...
2010-10-19 - Premium Article Playoff Prospectus: ALCS Game Three
2010-10-19 - Premium Article Playoff Prospectus: Like Drinking Coffee wit...
2010-10-19 - Premium Article Playoff Prospectus: Tuesday LCS Pitching Mat...
More...