Oct
27

World Series Preview: Phillies Infield

By

We’ve previewed the Yankees along with their opponents through the ALDS and ALCS. Instead of re-re-rehashing all of that, we’re going to stick with just the opponents this time.

Catcher: Carlos Ruiz

Yankees fans do not have fond memories of Carlos Ruiz. When the Phillies came to town in May he went 6 for 8 with 3 RBI. Two of those RBI came in the second inning of the first game, when he hit a home run off A.J. Burnett. The other, a double in the 11th inning in Sunday’s game, broke a 3-3 tie and gave the Phillies the series. It was especially frustrating because Ruiz had never slugged above .400 in his career (in seasons with over 100 PA).

Ruiz went on to have a career year at age 30, hitting .255/.355/.425. After losing time to an oblique injury earlier in the year, Ruiz took over the full-time role in the second half and rewarded the team with a .276/.375/.487 line after the break. His emergence as an offensive weapon makes the Phillies lineup that much tougher.

The postseason apparently brings out the best in Ruiz. After going 1 for 14 in last year’s NLDS, he went 5 for 16 in the NLCS, followed by a World Series in which he went 6 for 16 with four walks, two doubles, and a home run. He’s continued his postseason run this year, going 9 for 26 with a double, a homer, and seven walks in the first two rounds, most of which came in the NLCS (5 for 13, 1 2B, 1 HR, 5 BB). In 96 postseason plate appearance, Ruiz has struck out just four times.

The Yanks had to deal with Jeff Mathis in the ALCS, and will face no less pesky a foe in Ruiz for the World Series. He’s no Posada with the bat normally, but it seems like October is a completely different season for him. He’ll hit eighth, possibly ninth in the Bronx, which could create a tough stretch when Philly rolls over the lineup.

Fun fact: Like Posada, Ruiz was a second baseman, but the Phillies converted him to a catcher once they signed him because they didn’t like his mobility at second.

First base: Ryan Howard

Ryan Howard’s name is recognizable to even the most casual fan. His story since breaking into the majors is remarkable. Replacing an injured Jim Thome, he hit 22 home runs in just 348 plate appearances, earning him the 2005 NL Rookie of the Year award. The next season, his first full one in the majors, he hit 58 home runs and drove in 149 runs, leading the NL in both, on his way to an MVP award.

The path to the majors wasn’t easy for Howard. The Phillies drafted him in the fifth round in 2001 and he hit pretty well in his first two minor league seasons, racking up 27 homers and 122 RBI in 773 plate appearances in Short Season A and Low A. The concern seemed to be his strikeouts, 200 in that span. Still, with a quality batting average and OBP, and with developing power skills, it appeared that Howard could move quickly through the Phillies’ system.

But after the 2002 season, the Phillies signed Jim Thome to a six-year, $85 million contract. That seemingly blocked Howard. Further hurting him was Thome’s debut season in Philadelphia, wherein he led the NL in homers with 57 (and also strikeouts with 182). Howard, meanwhile, found his power stroke, hitting 23 homers and 32 doubles in 553 plate appearances in Advanced A, and an overall .304/.374/.514 batting line. It’s a wonder why they never promoted him in-season — he was already 23 years old in Advanced A.

Howard would shine again in 2004, tearing apart AA with 37 homers and 18 doubles in 433 PA, and subsequently hammering AAA pitching before getting a September call-up. He then started 2005 destroying the ball in AAA, with 16 homers and 19 doubles in 257 PA. He came up for a stretch in May and hit poorly, but once Jim Thome hit the DL at the end of June, the first-base job was Howard’s. He so fully convinced the Phillies of his greatness that they traded Thome to the White Sox after the season.

If Howard has a weakness, it’s his inability to hit left-handed pitching. While he dominated righties this season, he hit lefties horribly, posting a .207/.298/.356 line in 252 plate appearances. The Yankees will have CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte starting three to five games in the series, which should help out against Howard. A.J. Burnett’s curve is also a weapon against lefties. Then there are Damaso Marte and Phil Coke in the bullpen. Expect them to face Howard in almost every late-inning bullpen situation.

Fun fact: The first basemen in this series each led his league in RBI.

Second base: Chase Utley

Compared to his last two seasons, 2009 was a down year for Chase Utley. Even so, he put up the second best offensive numbers of any MLB second baseman and No. 1, Ben Zobrist, played other positions. He’s the best second baseman in the MLB, and even in a season during which he recovered from hip surgery he posted ridiculous numbers: .282/.397/.508. Even a down year for Utley is a monster.

A 2000 first round pick by the Phillies out of UCLA, Utley had high expectations attached to him and for the most part met them. He posted a .827 OPS in the New York Penn League after the 2000 draft, but then dropped a bit next year to a .746 OPS in Advanced A. That was mostly on his poor batting average, .257. He had a similar mark upon a promotion to AAA in 2002, but raised his OBP and SLG to get his OPS above .800. Unfortunately, the Phillies had just traded for another second baseman, Placido Polanco.

Polanco was just a stopgap, or at least that’s how it seemed. The Phillies got him, along with Bud Smith (of no-hitter fame) and Mike Timlin, for Scott Rolen before the trade deadline in 2002. He played well for the Phillies in 2003 and 2004, while Utley continued to dominate AAA. In 2003 his OPS was .907, and in 2004 it was .880. Yet when Polanco became a free agent after the 2004 season, the Phillies re-signed him. It seems like quite the absurd decision in hindsight.

Utley made his own case in 2005, though, hitting .302/.378/.532 in April and May, forcing the Phillies to trade Polanco on June 8. From 2005 through 2009 Utley has posted an OPS above .900 every season, peaking in 2007 with a .332/.410/.566 line that earned him just eighth place in the MVP voting. Having Ryan Howard as a teammate certainly doesn’t help his case, but Utley might be even more valuable than Howard — after all, Utley’s 7.7 WAR topped Howard’s 4.9.

Not only is Utley an excellent hitter, certainly the best among second basemen over the past three years, he is also one of the best defenders, if not the best. His 8.8 UZR/150 topped every other second baseman in the league (second was, guess who, Polanco), and which is his third straight year leading the majors in the stat. The combination of power bat and slick fielding puts Utley on a level rivaled only by Zobrist — and the latter still has to prove that 2009 wasn’t a fluke.

After a monster first round of the playoffs against the Rockies — 6 for 14 with a homer and four walks — Utley dropped off against the Dodgers. He was just 4 for 19 in the NLCS with no extra base hits and has many wondering whether his foot is still bothering him. He fouled a pitch off it in early September.

Robinson Cano is a fine second baseman. UZR doesn’t treat him well, but he hits as well as almost any other second baseman. He just doesn’t compare to Utley. Which is no shame, really — no second baseman compares to Utley.

Fun fact: Utley has led the NL in HBP for the past three years.

Third base: Pedro Feliz

Like Utley, Pedro Feliz is an excellent defender. In fact, most of his 1.2 WAR comes from his defense at third base, where he posted a 14.3 UZR/150 in 2009, tops in the NL. That compensates for his bat, which can be described as balsa wood at best. He posted a .302 wOBA in 2009 and OPS’d around .700 for the fourth straight year.

There’s not much more to say about Feliz other than he’s a great defender who doesn’t hit well at all. He provided some power with his bat earlier in his career, but he last hit 20 home runs in 2007, the year before he became a Phillie. He’s hit 14 and 12 with the Phillies while keeping his OBP around .300. Again, without his glove he’d be a pretty worthless player, but his glove does add significant value, especially because he’s surrounded by such prolific hitters.

The only upshot of Feliz’s playoff run this season is that three of his five hits have gone for extra bases (one of each type). Still, he is just 5 for 31 over the first two rounds, walking just twice. For the Phillies’ sake he’d better save quite a few runs with his glove in the World Series, because otherwise it makes little sense to continue playing him. His bat is that bad.

Fun fact: Feliz’s .308 OBP this season was the highest of any year in his entire major league career. He topped that mark only twice in the minors. once at .310, the other .337, but that was in a league where Bubba Crosby hit .361/.410/.635 one season.

Shortstop: Jimmy Rollins

Jimmy Rollins had a disappointing 2009, his worst season since 2002. After winning the MVP in 2007, Rollins has dropped off in each of the past two years. In 2009 he hit just .250/.296/.432, and even though he had 31 stolen bases in 39 attempts, he still managed a wOBA of just .316. But the regular season doesn’t matter much at this point, right? We know Rollins’ true talent level, and if he picks it up in the playoffs all is forgiven.

Yet this postseason, as in almost all of his postseason series, Rollins has been a disappointment. After an excellent 2008 NLDS in which he went 5 for 16 with two doubles and a homer, Rollins has been horrible in the postseason. In the four series since then he is just 18 for 84 (.214) with one home run and five doubles. His only postseason triple came in the 2007 NLDS loss to the Rockies. Despite his speed, Rollins hasn’t stolen a postseason base since the 2008 NLCS. This is mainly because he has failed to reach base in general, just 21 times in 90 plate appearances over the past four postseason series.

Like the players who surround him, Rollins is good with the glove. He posted a 2.3 UZR/150 this season, which isn’t great but is certainly solid. It seems he took a step backward from last season, when he led the majors in UZR/150. Even if we disregard comparisons of UZR from year to year because of how it scales, we can still recognize a drop-off when a guy goes from tops in the league to 13th.

Against the Yankees this season, Rollins went 3 for 13 with two walks and a home run. That home run, though, hurt particularly badly. He hit it off A.J. Burnett on the first pitch in the first game of the series. It set the tone for a bad Yankees loss.

Fun fact: I thought about trying to connect Rollins to his friend CC Sabathia since they grew up near each other, but there’s an even better connection. Rollins’s cousin is Tony Tarasco, who was parked under a Derek Jeter fly ball in the 1996 ALCS when a young Jeff Maier reached over and brought it in.

Edges

Just so we’re not completely leaving out comparisons, here’s how I think the teams stack up.

First base: Even, leaning towards Phillies. Howard has trouble with lefties, which hurts him, but has been as hot as it gets this postseason. That can all turn around, though, for both him and for Teixeira, who has been cold (save for a few big hits).

Second base: Phillies. I love Cano, but unless Utley’s foot is really bothering him, the Philes have a clear edge at second.

Third base: Yankees. Feliz might get to everything hit on the ground in his direction, but that can’t make up for the canyon that separates his bat from A-Rod‘s. Alex has also played fine defense this postseason.

Shortstop: Yankees. No explanation needed.

Categories : Playoffs

69 Comments»

  1. J.R. says:

    Shorstop: Yankees. No explanation needed.

    There’s a reason he’s the captain.

  2. What’s nuts about Utley is that his UZR/150 took a 12.6 run hit and he was still positive with it. Dude’s out of control.

  3. Reggie C. says:

    The Phillies are going to need to hit on ALL cylinders to pull off the upset. If Utley and Rollins don’t get on base, Yanks will take the series in 5 games. Hopefully these guys are over-anxious to snap out of their respective funks and start swinging carelessly.

  4. Yankees edges at 3B and SS >>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Phillies edges at 1B and 2B

  5. I can’t buy a push leaning Phillies at 1B. Howard has faced inferior pitching in the playoffs and taking that sample size over the regular season is iffy at best anyway. By that token, Lidge is a solid pen option for them relative to Hughes. Regular season, Howard has the power edge but Teix has him by miles in OBP (23 points in the tougher league) and on defense. Add in, like you said, Howard is looking at 5 of 7 games started by lefties and 2 in the pen being saved for his part of the lineup and I just don’t see us not getting the nod.

    • Tom Zig says:

      Well if you put it like that, then yes I see the Yankees having the advantage. Tex has shown life with his bat recently as well.

    • Doug says:

      I know that UZR for firstbaseman is incomplete at best, but Howard’s UZR/150 is 1.4 while Tex’s is -2.4.

      So, not sure you can say that “Teix has him by miles … on defense”

      And yes, I know that Tex is a whiz by the bag, but there’s no quantifiable metric to measure this (at least none that I know of)

      • Chris says:

        There are plenty of scouting reports that identify Tex as a superior defensive first baseman. I haven’t seen an example where there is a significant deviation between the scouting reports and UZR (and I’m not talking about a ‘scouting report’ done by Kruk on baseball tonight), so I tend to put some weight on those reports.

        • What both of you said. Its missing a large portion of a 1B’s job (preventing other errors) and defensive metrics tend to vary more year to year. (Also, you just wonder how much is hit types. Teix had significantly fewer balls in his zone, less fielding errors and more plays out of zone, so its atleast plausible that Howard simply had easier chances. Another thing that will be awesome to apply hit f/x to.)

          Of course, on the flipside, Rollins is a better defenive SS than Jeter despite Jeter having better metrics this year. So we gain one on the numbers and lose one.

    • Mike HC says:

      I completely agree with this. Even if you thought Howard was better than Teix, which I don’t, the fact that the Yanks are throwing 2 of 3 lefty starters at him put the advantage with the Yanks.

      • While that’s true, the countermanding evidence that weighs back in Howard’s favor is the fact that he’s currently red hot (.355/.462/.742 in the postseason) and Tex is not (.205/.273/.308).

        So yes, Tex is probably a slightly better hitter overall and doesn’t have a platoon split that can be exploited, but he’s not seeing/squaring the ball well this month and Howard is locked in and crushing it.

        • Rob in CT says:

          Do you really think that’s predictive? How many times has a guy been ice cold and then had a monster series, or a guy been red hot and then stunk in the next round?

          • I’m not saying it’s predictive. I’m saying it’s useful evidence. That useful evidence, along with all the other useful evidence we have, leads me to be perfectly fine calling it a draw, or even giving the slight advantage to Howard.

            • I guess what I’m not seeing is how its close enough to a draw heading into the playoffs to allow for the last ~35 PAs to give a slight nudge for Howard. 23 points of OBP, in the AL, outweighs 19 points of isoP. I’d argue by a lot. Doing some fine recent work against the Dodgers and Rockies is hardly enough for me to nod Howard. (And I trust you’ll agree after CC and Pettitte and the LTOGYs work him over repeatedly.)

        • Chris says:

          But Tex seemed to be getting in a groove in the last two games on the ALCS going 4 for 9.

          • Agreed. Maybe he heats up.

            Maybe Howard doesn’t cool off, though. All of this is fairly academic. We don’t know. What we do know is they’re both good hitters, and there’s plenty of reason to believe they’ll both be good hitters this Series.

            • Mike HC says:

              Exactly. They are both so talented that it is impossible to predict who will hit better in this 4-7 game stretch, even with the Yanks throwing 2 lefties. A draw is really the correct breakdown I now believe.

              • Chris says:

                this 4-7 game stretch

                Where’s the faith? It should be:

                this 4-5 game stretch where the Yankees decide whether or not to allow the Phillies a single win so they can maintain some pride.

            • Chris says:

              The interesting thing about Howard is that he didn’t have his typical platoon splits in the NLCS:

              vs RHP: .375/.500/.800/1.300 (10PA, 1 HR, 1 2B, 1 1B, 2 BB)
              vs LHP: .286/.364/.857/1.221 (11PA, 1 HR, 1 3B, 4 BB)

              • That triple might underscore the harm in extrapolating small sample sizes.

                • Chris says:

                  Of course, but it’s still interesting that (for whatever reason) the Dodgers left handed pitchers were not effective against him. I doubt there was any fundamental change in Howard, so it will be interesting to see if this streak of hot hitting against left handers continues.

                  Also, I had an error in those stats – the 3B was off a righty and the 2B was off a lefty (the slash stats were correct).

  6. Free Mike Vick says:

    If Chase Utley miss fires on a throw tomorrow night…you know the crowd will be all over him…and that could get real bad for him.

  7. Ivan says:

    Tex>>>Howard IMHO.

    • steve s says:

      I agree and the test I use is subjective but works; Do you think it would be a good move if the Yanks would trade Tex for Howard (just for this series if you could). Same theory when discussion was Abreu vs. Swisher.

  8. Esteban says:

    I think Jimmy Rollins has been overrated his whole career. He’s had only 3 seasons with an OBP above .340, and his .329 career OBP is inadequate for a leadoff hitter. He’s a solid player and his power makes him an above average hitter for a SS, but I don’t think he’s much more than an above average player. I even did some lineup analysis and the best lineup (using 3 year averages) using the tool at http://www.baseballmusings.com.....nalysis.py was
    1) Werth
    2) Utley
    3) Vicotrino
    4) Howard
    5) Ibanez
    6) Feliz
    7) Ruiz
    8) Rollins
    9) Pitcher

    The Phillies likely cost themselves runs (and wins) putting Jimmy Rollins leadoff

    • pat says:

      I like that Jimmy is wearing sunglasses chillin out in the 8 hole.

    • MatyRuggz says:

      Maybe Rollins isn’t their best leadoff hitter, but hitting him 8th (last in an NL line-up) is absurd. He should be no worse than 6th, since Feliz and Ruiz are no more than banjo hitters (and no, Ruiz’s playoff success and small sample success against the Yankees do not count!)

      Praise be to Mo!

      • Ruiz actually had a pretty solid year. .355 OBP, .171 isoP from your catcher is quite good.

        Feliz sucks. I’m convinced half his PAs end in forced weak contact only meant to avoid a strikeout. More tapped GBs and soft pops than any hitter I can recall.

      • Esteban says:

        You’re probably right, but that’s what the lineup analyzer thought was the best lineup.

    • DF says:

      But…but…Rollins is fast! Prototypical leadoff hitter! He steals bases!

    • Doug says:

      Nice tool. Determined our best lineup, splitting it out vs. lefties and righties

      vs. lefties:
      1. Jeter
      2. Rodriguez
      3. Posada
      4. Matsui
      5. Teixeira
      6. Cano
      7. Damon
      8. Cabrera
      9. Swisher

      Runs per game of 6.616. Present-day lineup scores 6.472

      vs. righties:
      1. Rodriguez
      2. Posada
      3. Matsui
      4. Teixeira
      5. Damon
      6. Swisher
      7. Cano
      8. Cabrera
      9. Jeter

      Runs per game of 6.319. Present-day lineup scores 6.182

      • Kiersten says:

        That vs. righties lineup is just… strange.

      • pete says:

        is this based on this year’s stats? I would think that an a-rod with a prototypical (for a-rod) 40+ HR season would bat third, get him a few more runners on base.

        • Doug says:

          yeah, this year’s stats only.

          and while his raw #s were down due to his time missed, his OBP and SLG were almost in line with prior seasons. and it’s OBP and SLG that this lineup tool uses.

          • pete says:

            that’s really interesting. i would have thought a-rod’s power makes you want him behind guys, but i guess his high obp and maybe ability to steal bases with superb efficiency? outweigh the power. weird. cool.

            • Doug says:

              yeah, his OBP is best on the team by a decent margin while his slugging lags a bit behind tex and posada, and is only a tad better than damon, cano, and swisher. that’s why they have him batting leadoff.

      • Doug says:

        and here’s the best lineup overall:

        1. Rodriguez
        2. Matsui
        3. Damon
        4. Teixeira
        5. Swisher
        6. Cano
        7. Posada
        8. Cabrera
        9. Jeter

        Runs per game of 6.351. Present-day lineup scores 6.264

    • Chris says:

      I don’t know if it’s taken into account at all, but I think you really need to have Werth in there to break up Utley/Howard/Ibanez. Victorino is a fine hitter, but he’s not going to stop an opposing manager from bringing in one LOOGY to face all 4 of them. Werth probably would.

  9. Salty Buggah says:

    Heh, Jeter is easily better as a player than Rollins. But Rollins has a lot of cockyness:

    “Of course, we’re gonna win,” Rollins told Jay Leno. “If we’re nice, we’ll let it go six, but I’m thinking five, close it out at home.”

    I love me some player predicts go horribly wrong. Here’s to it happening again.

    • Salty Buggah says:

      Oh man, so many errors…

      *predictions
      *going

    • Salty Buggah says:

      And God disagrees:

      “I could care less about what he says, because that’s not going to happen.”

    • mustang says:

      I always wonder why players do things like this why give the other team bulletin board stuff.

      I think Mr. Rollins is bit confused the Yankees don’t play in Queens.

      • Tank the Frank says:

        Dude, the Phillies fans and their team (which is more surprising) have been begging to play the Yankees all along. Rollins reminds me too much of Torii Hunter; a whole lotta talk, not much going on on the field. Torii wouldn’t shut up the entire ALCS. He still wouldn’t shut up after he got sent home. He would start off with the cliche at first: They’re the better team and they deserve it blah blah blah, but then would be sure to inject some crybaby remark at the end: We just couldn’t beat their payroll.

        Anyway, my point is that even though the Yankees are the favorites, I think the Phillies are coming into the series way, way overconfident.

  10. Rose says:

    Is Howard’s defense really that good? To the point where Teixeira’s isn’t really a factor in the comparison?

  11. Rose says:

    The infield is quite comparable…I really don’t want to see the Outfield comparisons though lol. While it’s not THAT bad…I’d much rather have theirs I think…

    • Doug says:

      yup, probably in all 3 spots:
      ibanez > damon, victorino > melky, werth > swisher

      though none by a wide margin if swisher can get himself going

  12. MarcV says:

    Saw Baseball tonight last night (I know my first mistake)but Peter Gammons did it again! in the position by position comparison he picks Ruiz over Posada! He even prefaced the pick by saying “I know Ruiz is no Posda but….”. It must really kill him that his Sox and Pedroia are no longer playing

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