Monday, August 14, 2006
So the race is on for the wildcard and the Phillies really need to win these games. The Mets are beatable, no doubt. Had Jon Lieber not thrown away that toss to first last weekend the Phillies might be sitting in first place for the wildcard, because that loss seems to have taken a lot out of the Phils. But the point is that the Mets are hardly invincible. They are a beatable team. Not very, because they are clearly the best team in the NL right now, but they are beatable.
Why are the Mets winning? They are, simply put, the most balanced team in the NL right now. They lead the NL in scoring at 5.39 runs per game and they allow the third-fewest, at 4.54, just behind the Pads (4.49) and Rockies (4.41). Nearly every contender in the NL was serious flaws: the Dodgers are streaky, the Reds are getting by with a lot of offense and little defense or pitching, the Cardinals have the second-worst pitching in the NL (4.87 FIP, as compared with the Phillies much-maligned staff and their 4.71), the Astros, Pads and Rockies have no offense, and the Giants have Barry Bonds. The Phillies have the Reds problem: they are all offense and no defense. The Mets excel at offense, they have the fourth-best fielding team in the majors, and their pitching staff is sixth, but they are much, much better than the league average (4.42 vs. 4.55 FIP ERA). The Mets are, essentially, the deepest and most balanced team that the NL has to offer. The chances of a replay of the 2000 World Series, the subway series between the Mets and Yankees that made the NY-obsessed sports media giddy way back, is a possibility.
Can the Phillies win? Sure. Offensively, the Phillies are pretty similar:
Runs Per Game:
N.L. Average: 4.78
N.L. Average: .163
Gross Productive Average:
N.L. Average: .258
Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
Gross Productive Average (GPA): (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.
Isolated Power (ISO): .SLG - .BA = .ISO. Measures a player’s raw power by subtracting singles from their slugging percentage.
On-Base Percentage (OBP): How often a player gets on base. (H + BB + HBP) / (Plate Appearances)
Slugging Percentage (SLG): Total Bases / At-Bats = Slugging Percentage. Power at the plate.
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).
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.
Aside from …
BA / RISP (Runners in Scoring Position)
N.L. Average: .266
The Phillies are, incidentally, the worst in the NL at batting average w/ RISP. I have no clue why, but they are terrible when they have opportunities to bat their guys home. I looked through the AL and I only found one team worse, the Oakland A’s (.240). Bad luck? I suspect that the answer is that teams that rely on power offenses tend to struggle with “clutch” situations, while teams that rely on “clutch” hitting tend to go into run-outages when the hits don’t fall. E.g., the Dodgers were playing well and leading the N.L. in BA/RISP and then struggled badly after the All-Star Break when the hits stopped falling. As I write this the Dodgers still lead the league in BA/RISP at .288, but they were doing much better (over .300) before the break. Teams that rely on power offense, like the Mets and Phillies, tend to survive “bad luck” struggles better.
There is a world of difference between the Phillies and Mets in terms of defense and pitching. Bottom-line, the Mets are keeping people from scoring the Phillies aren’t:
N.L. Average: 4.90
N.L. Average: 4.55
N.L. Average: .691
There is really no phase of the game where the Phillies are doing well here. While some have argued that the Phillies pitchers have hurt the fielders ability to make plays by allowing line-drives, I’d note that Phillies pitchers allow roughly the same number of line-drives as the Mets (20% to 19%), and yet the Mets are much, much better (.025 better) at converting balls put into play into outs. In the past the Phillies fielders have labored with a pitching staff that allows a lot of balls to be put into play and still managed to rank second, third and fourth in the N.L. in DER in 2005, 2004 and 2003 respectively. While the Mets are playing good defense, the Phillies aren’t.
But all isn’t lost. The Mets are way in front and have little to play for these next few weeks. The Phillies are in the thick of a wildcard race and know that they need to win to stay alive. Add in the fact that this series is at Citizens, and you’d think that the Phillies might have a slight edge going into this series. We’ll see. Tonight is the big matchup: Cole Hamels vs. Pedro Martinez.