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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Mets - Phillies Series Preview 

The Phillies have never really had a great rivalry the way the Dodgers & Giants, the Yankees and Red Sox and the Cardinals and Cubs have. Despite sharing the same state, the same league and the same division for nearly three decades, the Phillies and Pirates don’t have any sort of a rivalry, a factor owing to the cultural differences between the two cities. (Philly is very East Coast, Pittsburgh is really a Midwestern city whose natural rivals are Cleveland, Buffalo and even Chicago.) The sole team that the Phillies have any sort of a rivalry with is the Mets.

The cities of New York and Philadelphia are great natural rivals: geographically proximate with histories going back to the colonial era, Philly and New York are made to dislike each other. New York is arrogant, Philly nurses a deep-rooted inferiority complex. New York is the cultural center and biggest city in America, while Philly should have be (and could have been had George Washington not decided to plop our nation’s capitol in a swamp). I grew up in Chester County and used to do my clothes shopping at the outlets in Lancaster: it used to amuse me to listen to the tourists from New York, down for the day to check out the Amish, a people whose lifestyle is very antithetical to theirs. I’d stand there and listen to them point and exclaim in raspy New York accents their utter amazement someone could live without a TV, a radio, or a car. I thought these New Yorkers were pushy, annoying and I was glad to see them leave.

So the Phillies and Mets are great natural rivals the way the Nats, Marlins and Braves cannot be. The Nats are too new, and Marlins and Braves are blah teams (colorless, bland) from blah cities. There is heat and intensity from New York and Philly, and a bit of history: the Philadelphia A’s and Yankees had a terrific rivalry during the 1920s and early 1930s.

With the Phillies sliding fast after their scorching 12-1 home-stand (record since: 3-9), the Mets-Phillies series should be a desperate one to see which team can hang in the NL East pennant race. The loser of this series is going to be stuck in fifth, languishing far behind the team that won’t die, the Washington Nationals. Here is how the teams match up:

Batting: Offensively the Phillies are an impressive team. Not an offensive juggernaut the way I expected (largely thanks to Jim Thome’s struggles), but they lead the NL in OBP (.348), while the Mets are thirteenth. Aside from OBP and Runs scored, the Mets have a decided advantage at the plate. They are much more explosive than the power-challenged Phillies:

Phillies / Mets
OBP: .348 (1st) / .326 (13th)
SLG: .411 (11th) / .417 (8th)
HR: 75 (9th) / 79 (7th)
Runs: 349 (3rd) / 327 (8th)
ISO: .141 (14th) / .158 (7th)
BB/PA: .100 (1st) / .084 (9th)

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I use defined:
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)
BB / PA (Walks per plate appearance): (BB / PA = .BB/PA Avg)
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.

The Mets lead the NL in stolen bases (56 in 76 attempts), but the Phillies aren’t far behind (51 in 67 attempts) in third place.

What struck me, looking at the Mets stats, was that they should be doing a lot better than this: Carlos Beltran has been a disappointment (9 home runs, a .429 slugging percentage?), and the rest of the offensive lineup wasn’t improved enough during the offseason, in my opinion. David Wright (.384 OBP) and Mike Cameron (.414 OBP / .555 SLG) are playing well, as is Cliff Floyd (.347 OBP / .538 SLG), but Piazza and Beltran have been mediocre. Kazuo Matsui, despite predictions he’d play better this season, is really struggling: .288 OBP.

The Phillies, in contrast, have an emerging murderer’s row with Jim Thome (.365 OBP), Bobby Abreu (.436 OBP), Pat Burrell (.387 OBP) and Chase Utley (.382 OBP). Aside from Thome’s struggles at hitting for power (.373 SLG), the Phillies do have a fearsome foursome. Abreu, Burrell and Utley are all hitting over .300 in Gross Productive Average. After those four, the Phillies have some real struggles: Jimmy Rollins, their leadoff man, has a .318 OBP. David Bell’s GPA is a measly .225. The Big Four are (mostly) getting the job done, but their teammates aren’t.

Pitching: I’m mildly surprised to see the Mets with such better pitching stats. True, Pedro has been spectacular and worth every penny the Mets paid, but the rest of their rotation doesn’t impress me. First, here are the stats

Phillies / Mets
ERA: 4.56 (12th) / 4.12 (8th)
WHIP: 1.35 (7th) / 1.34 (5th)
K/9: 6.80 (6th) / 6.85 (5th)
DIPS: 4.63 (12th) / 4.09 (5th)
FIP: 4.56 (12th) / 4.03 (5th)

More stats defined:
WHIP – Walks plus hits by innings pitched: (BB + H) / IP = WHIP
ERA – Earned Run Average: (Earned Runs * 9) / IP = ERA
FIP – Fielding Independent Pitching: (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).
DIPS – Basically the same thing as FIP, but with a more accurate formula.
DER – Defense Efficiency Ratio: (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.
K/9 – Strikeouts per nine innings.

Kris Benson’s 3.90 ERA obscures the fact that his FIP (4.72) is nearly a run higher. Tom Glavine’s ERA is +5.00. The Mets bullpen, thought to be a weakness, is actually decently ok. The Mets need to ride Pedro’s arm and pray he doesn’t break down.

As for the Phillies, I think Cory Lidle is the most under-rated starter in the NL. I’m disappointed that Jon Lieber has struggled the way he has, but I think the Phillies have a decent 1-2 punch with Lidle and Myers:

Lidle: 3.47
Myers: 3.64

Fielding: I find it difficult to evaluate team fielding now that CNNSI and ESPN have removed team fielding stats (and no, I don’t have the time to manually write them), but if you scope out DER, the Phillies are third (.705) in the NL and the Mets are seventh (.691). As both teams are running ahead of the league average (.691), I think we can safely say that the Phillies and Mets are pretty good defensively.

Because so much is at stake I expect the Mets and Phillies to be a hard-fought series and maybe the beginning to a good rivalry. Both these teams should be good in the long-term. Both are natural rivals.

New York v. Philly. Let the battle begin.

Although the Mets pitching may be a bit stronger at this point in the season, I like the Phils in this series because Willie Randolf seems to either have too much stubborn Yankee mentality or fear of ruffling egos, batting the struggling Beltran and Piazza 3 and 4. Move Wright and Floyd up there and the Mets could smoke.
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good analysis of the new york-phila situation. i think one of the reasons why a rivalry hasnt popped up over the past 40 years with the mets is the fact that both teams were never really good at the same time. everytime the phils finished in first the mets seemed to be in last or close to it and vice versa. i think all it will take is one year in which the phils and mets battle it out for first place. you know, a real pennant race where one team wins the division and the other a wild card. i personally cant stand the mets and their fans but i think it would be great to have a rivalry such as this.
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