Giants vs. Braves
Tim Lincecum: 3.43 ERA, 3.16 SIERA
Lincecum’s ERA increased by 0.95 runs in 2010, but his SIERA only went up by 0.43 runs. His strikeout rate did decline from his lofty 2008 and 2009 levels of 28.6 and 28.8 percent to 25.8 in 2010. While striking out as many hitters as any starting pitcher did during his Cy Young years, Lincecum was able to get away with mediocre walk and ground-ball rates. However, as his velocity declined, Lincecum became slightly more hittable and batters were able to get more runs off of him. Lincecum did put up a career-best 50 percent ground-ball rate in 2010, suggesting that he is learning how to pitch smarter. However, he also had some bad luck as well—his BABIP was .315, primarily due to a 20.9 percent line-drive rate. This sounds bad, but line-drive rate is the least persistent pitcher statistic. In his career, Lincecum has allowed a .301 BABIP, so there is little reason to expect this to change. He is still one of the top 10 pitchers in the league, and this will not be an easy matchup for the Braves. Lincecum will still strike out about a quarter of hitters he faces, which means the Braves need to take advantage when they do make contact and work pitch counts consistently. Two starts against Lincecum are not going to be easy, though, and the righty gives the Giants a real ace to try to start each post-seasn series with a win.
Derek Lowe: 4.00 ERA, 3.74 SIERA
Lowe rebounded nicely from an ugly 2009 season. His SIERA had declined from 3.19 to 3.33 in his last year with the Dodgers to 4.26 in his first year with the Braves, but Lowe rediscovered his ability to strike out hitters in 2010. His strikeout rates were 17.7 and 17.3 percent in 2007 and 2008, but fell to 13.0 percent in 2009. However, this season, Lowe struck out 16.5 percent of hitters, which was more than enough to restore his status as one of the better pitchers in the game. His ground-ball rate of 59 percent is the main reason that Lowe was successful in 2010 and is getting a Game One start in NLDS. His ground-ball rate had never actually declined, as his 2009 rate was still 58 percent, but when you do not strike out hitters, a high ground-ball rate is only useful enough to get the double plays necessary to keep your spot in the rotation. Now, Lowe has put himself in a position where he has the daunting task of getting enough ground balls to keep the Braves in a game against Lincecum.
Rays vs. Rangers
James Shields: 5.18 ERA, 3.57 SIERA
I talked about Shields a couple weeks ago, and he remains a better option despite his efforts to make me look bad since then. Striking out 20.8 percent of hitters while only walking 5.7 percent, Shields has a great formula for future success, and it would have been a mistake for the Rays to push him back in the rotation. Shields may have had a very unlucky season with some hard-hit balls leading to a .344 BABIP and home runs on 18.1 percent of all fly balls, but the takeaway from this is that those hard-hit balls are unlikely to persist. Pitchers who give up hard-hit batted balls also allow more contact and more fly balls, but Shields has remained solid at keeping the ball on the ground and missing bats. He could be in line to redeem himself significantly in the postseason, making Rays fans forget his regular-season troubles.
C.J. Wilson: 3.35 ERA, 4.18 SIERA
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 Rays’ lefties will likely struggle against him.
Twins vs. Yankees
Carl Pavano: 3.75 ERA, 4.15 SIERA
Sometimes the storylines write themselves, don’t they? After frustrating Yankees fans by making just 26 starts during a four-year, $39.95 million contract, Pavano put up just a 5.10 ERA for the Indians and Twins in 2009. However, he bounced back to a 3.75 ERA in 2010. Of course, those who saw Pavano’s 3.92 SIERA in 2009 were probably less surprised as his .330 BABIP and 14.1 percent home runs per fly ball regressed to the mean. In 2010, he was actually on the lucky side with a .283 BABIP that pushed his ERA south of his SIERA by 0.40 points. Pavano’s strength is his control and his ability to generate ground balls. He only walked 4.1 percent of hitters in 2010 and had a solid 53 percent ground-ball rate, but his strikeout rate was far below average at 12.9 percent. The key with Pavano is maintaining that weak contact because he does not miss many bats. If he can keep the ball on the ground and avoid walks like he has, then he has a shot at getting through the Yankees’ lineup. However, he has very little margin for error and the Yankees could delight their fans by chasing him early if he starts getting the ball up.
Andy Pettitte: 3.28 ERA, 4.00 SIERA
Pettitte’s ERA dropped by nearly a full run from 2009 to 2010, though his shortened season this year was actually pretty similar to last year in terms of skill level. His SIERA only fell from 4.33 to 4.00. His walk rate did drop from 9.0 to 7.5 percent, and his ground ball rate went up from 44 to 46 percent, but his strikeout rate held steady at 18 percent. Pettitte is not a pitcher who regularly pitches ahead of his peripherals, either. He has become a pretty average pitcher over the last few years. However, his numbers in 2010 have been buoyed by a .265 BABIP with men on, and a .230 BABIP with runners in scoring position. The result is what looks like an improvement from the 38-year-old southpaw, but the reality is that he is now quite beatable.
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