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Friday, April 15, 2005

Braves v. Phillies: Preview 

I think we can call the next few days a critical stretch to the year: 6 games at home against the Mets and Braves. Games against division foes are always important, but the fact that the Phillies have a six game stretch at home makes it doubly so. Given the Phillies total befuddlement when playing the Marlins (yeah, Wednesday's game was rather discouraging), it would be nice to see the Phillies make up some ground on division foes they've actually been able to beat in the past. It would also be nice to see guys like David Bell and Jim Thome start to hit and six home games at home with nice weather would be just the tonic.

The Braves and Phillies look like very different teams right now, despite the fact that their records are virtually identical. The Phillies are +6 in run differential (49 for, 43 against), while the Braves are -5 (34 for, 39 against). If you go by pythagorean records the Braves and Phillies records should be inverted (!):

NL East (actual) (as of 4-14)
Braves 5-4
Nats 5-4
Marlins 5-4
Phillies 4-5
Mets 3-5

NL East (pythagorean)
Marlins 8-1
Phillies 5-4
Braves 4-5
Mets 3-5
Nats 3-6

So the Phillies are in a good spot: they are just a game out and the only team looking strong is the Marlins. They have a real shot at taking some games from the Mets and Braves, which would help them keep the pace with the Fish and put the competition behind the eight-ball.

So how do the two teams stack up? Here are the pitching matchups:

Friday: Floyd v. Ramirez
Saturday: Lieber v. Smoltz
Sunday: Myers v. Hampton

I like Friday because Floyd is hurling so well. Saturday is a tossup and I'd give the Braves the edge on Sunday. I'm eager for Lieber to turn in a dominating performance. So far he hasn't but he's also pitched well. It's time for him to put the whole thing together.

Atlanta: 3.96 / 4.59
Phillies: 3.99 / 4.26

I never thought I'd see the day when the Phillies could arguably say that they were out-pitching the Braves. The two teams are remarkably similar: the Phillies are surrendering a .454 slugging percentage, the Braves a .450 (NL average: .420). The Phillies are surrendering fewer walks (2.28 v. 3.43 per nine innings), but the Braves are surrendering fewer home runs (1.14 v. 1.18). For now the Braves near-legendary pitching advantage is no more.

The Phillies don't have much of an advantage at the plate: while the Phillies are out-slugging the Braves .392 to .369, they are both well under the .420 league average. The Phillies advantage is their ability to get on base: .345 OBP over a .314 ... The Braves actually have the lowest GPA in the NL right now, a scary thought for Smoltz, Hudson and Hampton to consider. The Braves margin for error is zero.

Defensively the Phillies aren't doing as well as their NL East competitors:
NL East: (DER)
Marlins: .771
Mets: .706
Nats: .693
Braves: .686
Phillies: .676

I'm finding it difficult to process and assimilate defensive information because ESPN and CNNSI don't have sortable team fielding stats, but I did look at the team stats for each. Here is what team Zone Rating (ZR) looks like:

NL East (ZR)
Marlins: .896
Mets: .862
Braves: .859
Nationals: .855
Phillies: .806

Not a promising sign, is it? Defense was supposed to be the Phillies ace in the hole. We are actually lagging badly.

Eric Milton Watch: 9 & 2/3 innings pitched, five home runs allowed. If Milton pitches as many innings (201) as he did last year with the Phillies and keeps up at this pace, he'll surrender 104 home runs this season. Reds fans: we warned you.

Confused by the stats I just mentioned? Here is what the stats mean:
GPA (Gross Productive Average): (1.8 * .OBP + .SLG) / 4 = .GPA. Invented by The Hardball Times Aaron Gleeman, GPA measures a players production by weighing his ability to get on base and hit with power. This is my preferred all-around stat.
ISO (Isolated Power): .SLG - .BA = .ISO. Measures a player’s raw power by subtracting singles from their slugging percentage.
OBP (On-Base Percentage): How often a player gets on base. (H + BB + HBP) / (Plate Appearances)
ZR (Zone Rating): Is a stat which measures a player’s defensive ability by measuring plays they should have made. Admittedly, this is a stat left open to subjective opinions.
Defense Efficiency Ratio (DER): (Batters Faced – (Hits + Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) / (Batters Faced – (Home Runs, Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) How often fielders convert balls put into play into outs.
Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP): (13*HR+3*BB-2*K / IP) + League Factor Evaluates a pitching by how he would have done with an average defense behind him by keeping track of things that a pitcher can control (walks, strikeouts, home runs allowed) as opposed to things he cannot (hits allowed, runs allowed).

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