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October 25, 2008

Prospectus Today

On the Road Again

by Joe Sheehan

If you're a Phillies fan, what gets you going right now is the potential for your team to win the World Series without ever going back on the road. By winning one game in Tampa, the Phillies took home-field advantage back for the remainder of the series. Although home-field advantage in baseball is generally small-and certainly not worth using as an incentive for the All-Star Game-the Rays were a much different team at home than they were away: 57-24 with a +92 run differential at Tropicana Dome; 40-41, +11 everywhere else.

As the Series shifts to Citizens Bank Park tonight, with the Rays needing at least one road win to send the series back to Florida, it's worth looking at that split in the Rays' performance to see what changed for them away from St. Petersburg. Yes, they had a run differential a full run per game better at home, but what elements went into that gap?

The biggest thing that jumps out is that the team had a massive BABIP split in its favor both at home and on the road. At home, the Rays hit for a batting average on balls in play of .317. On the road, that mark was .287. For their pitchers, though, the home mark was .264, and the road mark .295. While these splits were the proximate cause of the Rays' home/road divergence-almost the entire difference in their batting and opposing batting lines is the 30 points of BABIP-there's no clear indication of why that would be the case.

For pitchers, BABIP is primarily determined by GB/FB rates, line-drive rates, and team defense, only the last of which ever varies substantially by location. For hitters, BABIP is a skill, one that is a key determinant of overall value. While, again, a big split could just be a home-park effect, the fact that the overall BABIPs for home and road are close indicate that the dome isn't the issue. The Rays' 2008 splits are strange, and at the same time, render the discussion of their road record a pretty simple one: at home, the balls fell in for their hitters, and for their pitchers, they fell in... to the gloves of the Rays' defense.

There are some other minor drivers worth mentioning. The Rays hitters were much less disciplined on the road, walking in 8.6 percent of their plate appearances and posting a K/BB of 2.3. At home: walks in 11.9 percent of PA and a K/BB of 1.9. They ran less on the road, which was probably a function of the missing baserunners as fewer hits were falling in and fewer walks were taken. On the road, their pitchers were not very effective-in addition to the BABIP jump, which of course bumps singles, doubles, and triples higher, the Rays allowed more than 30 percent more homers on the road.

Set aside the BABIP split as noise, and focus on the plate discipline and the homers. For a young team, the Rays produce a ton of good at-bats, but it does seem that they may have been a bit more anxious on the road. They'll have to control that trait, especially in Game Three against Jamie Moyer, who exploits that kind of impatience. On the mound, Matt Garza has been one of the Rays' best pitchers at keeping the ball in the park, and that will have to continue tonight. The Phillies' offense has been underwhelming, scoring on two home runs, an infield out, and an error; some long balls for a team that hit them by the bushel would go a long way. Hit them early, because the Rays and their bullpen have shown that they will not let the Phillies hit them late, Eric Bruntlett notwithstanding.

---

At 10 a.m. local time, it's drizzling in Philadelphia. No one I've spoken to in the city-mostly non-baseball folks-think they'll be able to play the game tonight. I'm not sure whether they will or not, but with the official chance of rain at 70 percent, it's clearly unlikely.

So here's a public request on behalf of every fan holding a ticket to Game Three: MLB, please don't be oblivious. If the game isn't going to be played, if it shouldn't be played, make that decision early, three o'clock, maybe four. Don't make people go down to the ballpark, pay whatever usurious charge is in place for parking, sit in the rain for a few hours, and spend money on concessions and souvenirs. If there's real doubt-and based on the skies I'm looking at, there is-I'm fine with trying to get the game in. If there's not, though please, MLB, make it much easier on the paying customers by calling it off without opening the gates. Doing otherwise just makes it look like an attempt to squeeze cash out of people.

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

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

BP Comment Quick Links

Mountainhawk

Weather.com calls it only a 20% shot at rain at the 8pm start time. Unforunately, it looks like the rain isn't going to stop until between 6 and 8pm, so I suspect they'll wait to the last minute before making a decision.

Oct 25, 2008 09:53 AM
rating: 0
 
papadopoulos
(452)

"The Rays hitters were much less disciplined on the road ... on the road, their pitchers were not very effective ..." Rays are 3-2 on the road this postseason, have scored 28 runs in their last three postseason road against the defending world champs (and the team with the best third-order W-L pctg in the league), including 9-1 and 12-4 disembowelings. Anyone thinking this Rays club will suddenly fold upon having to play in Philadelphia is suffering from serious Cheez Whiz substance abuse.

Oct 25, 2008 11:38 AM
rating: -2
 
mdolin9

As a Philadelphia fan who also lives near Philly, I will say that nothing I have seen weather wise would convince me to call off the game. The weather is also supposed to get better as the day goes on.

Now if the Phillies can only get a hit with people on base...

Oct 25, 2008 11:45 AM
rating: 0
 
Shotgun

Here's a request on behalf of the millions of baseball fans that want to see a World Series game tonight: please do not cancel the game 3 hours early if there is a chance that baseball can be played tonight. The 40,000 fans fortunate enough to to have tickets won't melt if they have to sit in a little rain.

Oct 25, 2008 12:30 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

I think you missed the point. A rain *delay*--hey, you deal. What I didn't want to see was a 45,000 people allowed to spend a bunch of extra money to see NO baseball if calling the game earlier could avoid that. That's pretty violently anti-customer.

It's all moot now. At 6:20 p.m. ET, it's windy and misty--with some pretty unpleasant gust--up to a drizzle at times. No BP, tarp's on the field. Rain is supposed to taper off in the next few hours, and the general consensus is the game will be delayed, though not interminably. I drew 8:53 in the pool and I feel good about it.

And I can't get that Katy Perry song out of my head.

Oct 25, 2008 15:35 PM
 
keef66

What counts as interminable when the game already starts so late? 90 minutes? It would be pretty stupid for MLB to begin a WS game at 10 p.m., given that these games last a minimum of 3 1/2 hours. An ending time of 1:30 a.m. seems very likely right now. Infuriating to EST fans.

Oct 25, 2008 17:05 PM
rating: 1
 
sbnirish77

posted on Sunday morning ... I don't think a more accurate prediction has been made at the BP site than this one.

Oct 26, 2008 08:43 AM
rating: 0
 
dedelman
(734)

Joe-- is it possible that defense DOES vary between home and road? The Trop is the only park that has artificial turf and full cut-out infield base paths, which might create unique bounces that the Rays play much better than their opponents... sort of like the Green Monster of infields.

Oct 25, 2008 12:32 PM
rating: 0
 
jthomas25

Joe, maybe they should have just postponed the whole post-season until next year to see if the Yankees could qualify.

Then again, a rain out would be beneficial to the Phillies since they could trot out Hamels on Monday in Game 4 rather than Game 5.

Oct 25, 2008 13:23 PM
rating: -1
 
Ross11903

Ya, but if the game is rained out then they wouldn't have the off-day anymore. Hamels would be able to pitch on full rest for game 4 but probably wouldn't start anymore games. If they don't get rained out, the Phillies (if the choose) can always start Hamels on three days rest for game 4 and again for a potential game 7.

Oct 25, 2008 14:08 PM
rating: 0
 
GregJP

Jay: Joe, who do you think will win the game tonight?
Joe: I really have no clue, as it's a single game between two major league teams.
Jay: Well then why are we wasting so many brain cells with all of this game to game "analysis"?
Joe: I guess our subscribers expect us to do something for the playoffs
Jay: I thought our subscribers were more intelligent than that
Joe: Good point

Oct 25, 2008 16:05 PM
rating: -1
 
Adam Madison

I agree with this to an extent, but then again, it is his job to come up with fresh articles -- it's called Prospectus Today for a reason.

Oct 25, 2008 19:52 PM
rating: 0
 
sbnirish77

I think we need a lot more reserch into true value of BABIP (and the associated assumption that deviations are purely the result of random sampling). This has been pretty much be accepted as gospel at BP and we see few articles here examing that assumption compared to all the articles that dismiss real perfromance on the basis of a trend in BABIP. Statemets such as

"at home, the balls fell in for their hitters, and for their pitchers, they fell in... to the gloves of the Rays' defense."

should realy cause us to question the value of the statistic rather than just accept the conclusion the Rays were just lucky at home ... which seems incredibaly over simplistic.

Oct 26, 2008 08:42 AM
rating: 0
 
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