World Series Preview: Phillies StartersBy
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.
The Phillies haven’t officially announced their full World Series rotation yet, but they have said that trade deadline pickup Cliff Lee will get the ball in Game One. Earlier today Jon Heyman said the team is leaning towards starting Pedro Martinez in Game Two and Cole Hamels in Game Three, before bringing Lee back on short rest in Games Four and Seven. That leaves Games Five and Six still up in the air.
As a team, the Philadelphia starters have put up a 3.11 ERA (3.69 FIP) this postseason, second only to Yanks. Their 6.71 K/9 in October mirrors their 6.87 regular season mark, however they’ve excelled at avoiding the free pass (1.47 BB/9) despite throwing 4.09 pitches per batter, well above the Major League average of 3.80. The Phillies’ rotation has certainly gotten the job done this postseason, so let’s meet the cast of characters.
The 2009 edition of the World Series really couldn’t start with a better pitching matchup. You’ve got the last two American League Cy Young Award winners, two former Cleveland Indians that have since moved on to greener pastures. Unlike CC Sabathia, who’s career progressed year after year in textbook fashion, Lee has had his ups and downs. While Sabathia was busy winning the Cy in 2007, Lee was struggling so badly that he was sent back to the minors.
However, Lee has been as good as any pitcher in baseball the last two years, and 75% of that time was spent in the big boy league. In his three postseason starts (the first three of his career), Lee’s recorded 73 of 81 possible outs, and put just 17 runners on base. As good as Sabathia has been in his three postseason starts, Cliff Lee’s actually been better. Of course, Sabathia didn’t get to pitch in the AAAA League, but you can only pitch against the competition you’re scheduled to face.
If you want a reason to be optimistic, then you should know that some of the Yankee regulars have really, really good numbers against Lee in their careers. Derek Jeter‘s hit .407-.467-.519 in his career off Lee, Mark Teixeira .391-.462-.696, A-Rod .333-.450-.733, Jorge Posada .286-.273-.667, and Nick Swisher .333-.458-.444. These aren’t the biggest of sample sizes (all around 25 at-bats), but it’s what we got.
Pedro is certainly no stranger to the Yankees, and vice versa. Now, this obviously isn’t the same Pedro Martinez that tore apart baseball a decade ago, but he’s still been effective for the Phillies. His strong, but abbreviated, regular season was propped up by an unsustainably high 83.7% strand rate (league average is 71.9%), something a patient and powerful team like the Yankees could correct in a hurry.
In his one playoff start, Pedro held the Dodgers to just two hits and zero runs in seven innings, but got just four swinging strikes out of 87 pitches. He’s a contact pitcher with extreme fly-ball tendencies (0.67 GB/FB), and again, that plays right into the Yankees’ strengths.
As a Yankee fan, I hope and pray we see Pedro start Game Two of the World Series. Not because I want to chant “Who’s Your Daddy?” or anything like that, but because he’s probably the least equipped member of the Phightin’s rotation to combat the Yankees.
Last year’s Philadelphia playoff hero suffered through a down season in 2009, but upon further inspection, you can see that his performance really didn’t drop off all that much. Check it out:
|1st Pitch Strikes||61.6%||60.7%|
Well look at that, everything’s practically identical!
So why was Hamels’ ERA nearly a run and a quarter higher this year than last? Well, most of it has to do with a unluckiness. His BABIP was 55 pts higher this year, and he stranded about 4% fewer runners as well. More balls dropping in means more runs cross the plate, it’s that simple. The Phillies as a team went from a +14.8 UZR/150 to just +5.8 this year, so Hamels was working with a lesser defense. The peripherals indicate that the lefty from San Diego who was drafted one spot after Nick Swisher in 2002 is still a world class pitcher.
After all that, why does it appear that the Phillies will push Hamels back to Game Three instead of getting him out there as early as possible? Well, Hamels was considerably worse on the road this year, so they probably want him pitching in the comfort of home. Just check out the splits. At home he’s Yovani Gallardo, on the road he’s Mike Pelfrey.
Hamels has made three starts already this postseason, one against Colorado and two against the Dodgers. Opponents have tagged him for a .328-.344-.672 batting line in 14.2 IP, and the damage is pretty spread out. It’s not like one clunker did him in. Ironically enough, the best of those three starts came on the road. Go figure.
Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ
Both Blanton and Happ have made one start each for the Phillies this postseason; Blanton was on the hook for the loss in Game Four of the NLCS until Jimmy Rollins walked off, and Happ lasted just three innings in Game Three of the NLDS. Blanton’s made a pair of long relief appearances this postseason, and Happ’s done the LOOGY thing a few times.
Blanton, Swisher’s roommate in Oakland, has made four starts against the Bombers over the years, and they pretty much owned him: 20 runs in 22 IP and an .814 OPS against. Happ made one start in the Bronx earlier this year, holding the Matsui and Posada-less Yanks to two runs over six innings. Unless he’s needed in long relief at some point early in the series, I suspect Blanton would get a World Series start if needed. Happ hasn’t thrown more than 76 pitches in a month, and he just might not be physically up to making a start in the playoffs.
Outside of Cliff Lee, the Phillies don’t have a pitcher that they can count on for a quality start. None of the above guys feature above average velocity, and it’s been proven time and time again that power pitching wins in the playoffs. Sure, Hamels has a chance to be great, but he’s been mediocre in the playoffs and can’t be expected to shut down the best offense in the majors.