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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Rockies - Phillies Preview 

And so it comes to this … the first time that the Phillies have played a post-season game since Joe Carter launched a Mitch Williams fastball on October 23, 1993, to close out Game Six of the 1993 World Series with a 8-6 Blue Jays victory and a World Series title. Once more, the Phillies return to post-season play, this time against the Colorado Rockies, a team that was in its inaugural season in 1993 and has only made the playoff once before in its history, when it took the wildcard in 1995 and lost to the Atlanta Braves three games to one in the 1995 NLDS.

I wanted the Padres to take the one-game playoff yesterday and become the Phillies foe for this series, but the streaking Rockies dashed those hopes. Aside from a close 4-2 loss to the Diamondbacks on September 28, the Rockies haven’t lost a game since September 14, when they got clobbered by the Florida Marlins 10-2. The next day the Rockies dispatched the Fishstripes 13-0 and went on to win fourteen of their next fifteen games to go from 76-72 to 90-73. You hate to go into a series with a team that is playing so well, but Phillies fans can take heart: on paper, the Phillies have the edge, though the Rockies are the trendy choice to win amongst pundits.

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
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.
Runs Created (RC): A stat originally created by Bill James to measure a player’s total contribution to his team’s lineup. Here is the formula: [(H + BB + HBP - CS - GIDP) times ((S * 1.125) + (D * 1.69) + (T * 3.02) + (HR * 3.73) + (.29 * (BB + HBP – IBB)) + (.492 * (SB + SF + SH)) – (.04 * K))] divided by (AB + BB + HBP + SH+ SF).
Zone Rating (ZR): 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.
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.
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).
HR/9 – Home Runs allowed per nine innings: (HR * 9) / IP
BB/9 – Walks per nine innings: (BB * 9) / IP
K/9 – Strikeouts per nine innings: (K * 9) / IP

The Phillies Offense vs. the Rockies Pitching … The Phillies boasted a fearsome order in 2007, featuring Jimmy Rollins (30 Home Runs, 20 Triples, 38 Doubles, 139 Runs Scored, 94 RBI, 41 steals in 47 attempts), Ryan Howard (47 Home Runs, 136 RBI, .392 OBP), Pat Burrell (30 Home Runs, 97 RBI, .400 OBP), Chase Utley (22 Home Runs, 103 RBI, 48 Doubles, .410 OBP), etc. From top to bottom the Phillies feature power at the plate, speed, and the ability to get on base. The Phillies lineup has no weaknesses. They led the league in runs scored and most other categories.

Do you want speed? Jimmy Rollins took 41 of 47 steals, Shane Victorino took 37 of 41, Michael Bourn took 18 of 19 and Chase Utley took 9 of 10. Jimmy Rollins hit twenty triples, best in the N.L. Overall the Phillies ranked second in the National League in stolen bases, first in triples and ranked dead-last in runners caught stealing.

Do you want power? The Phillies were second in the N.L. in Home Runs with 213. Five Phillies hit twenty or more home runs.

The ability to get on base? The Phillies led the N.L. in OBP at .354 and the Phillies had two players with OBPs of .400 or better: specifically Burrell (.400) and Utley (.410). Burrell and Ryan Howard drew over 100 walks.

Aside from weak play at third base from Abraham Nunez and Wes Helms – here’s hoping Greg Dobbs gets the start – the Phillies have a tough lineup to get through. Waiting on the bench are deadly pinch-hitters like Chris Coste and speedsters like Chris Roberson. I believe that Michael Bourn will not be playing …

The Phillies are much deeper and more diverse at the plate than they have been in years past. No longer a collection of slow-footed sluggers, the Phillies can run, steal and hammer the ball. Watch for Jimmy Rollins to have a big series. In seven games against the Rockies in 2007 he hit two home runs, a double and stole four bases in five tries. The Rockies pitchers seemed to have a lot of difficulty with him.

The Rockies pitchers didn't scare me at first glance, but I thought it was interesting to see how their numbers defied my expectations. The Rockies FIP ERA is 4.43, exactly the N.L. average and eighth overall. This is a major departure from years past when the Rockies pitchers posted the worst ERA in the majors routinely. Coors Field has had an effect on their stats, but the Rockies decision to employ a humidor has helped their pitchers. Also, the Rockies have done a better job recently of developing young arms and giving them support.

The Rockies best pitcher is Jeff Francis, who will be going tonight against Cole Hamels. On paper this is a mismatch, Hamels being far superior statistically, but Francis is actually a pretty good pitcher. He was 17-9 with a 4.22 ERA in 2007. His FIP ERA was a very respectable 4.12. Francis struck-out 7.0 K/9 and surrendered just 63 walks and 25 home runs in 215 & 1/3 innings of work. It is hard not to be impressed by Francis ability to keep the ball down.

In games two and three the Rockies send Mark Redman and Josh Fogg to the mound. Redman, the journeyman former Oakland A, Pittsburgh Pirate, Kansas City Royal and Atlanta Brave, has hurled just forty-one and a third innings this season. Fogg has thrown 165 & 2/3 innings this season – hey, another Pirates cast-off – and went 10-9 with a 4.94 ERA. Fogg’s stats aren’t really that good: he struck-out just 4.9 K/9 and gave up 59 walks and 23 home runs. Fogg’s FIP ERA is a hefty 5.12. He could really get shelled in game three. Should there be a game four Ubaldo Jimenez, 4-4 4.28 ERA, takes the mound. Francis is back for game five.

What bothers me, if I were the Rockies, is how many walks their four starters surrender:

Francis: 2.7
Redman: 2.8
Fogg: 3.1
Jimenez: 4.1

The Rockies pitching might have improved in recent history, but they sending some weak pitchers to the mound in games 2-4 against a Phillies lineup that likes to work the count and get on base. The Rockies and Phillies hitters tied for the N.L. led in pitches per place appearance with 3.88. If the Rockies pitchers fall behind of the Phillies, they will be in trouble.

The Rockies Offense vs. the Phillies Pitching … The Rockies are pretty good at the plate, pretty much the only team in the N.L. that came come close to the Phillies. The Rockies were second in the N.L. in runs scored, after the Phillies, and led the N.L. in On-Base Percentage at .354, just like the Phillies. Both teams have incorporated an element of small-ball into their respective games. While the Phillies like to run, the Rockies like to bunt. For the second year in a row, the Rockies led the N.L. in sacrifice hits, a clear indication that the Rockies aren’t just about swinging for the fences.

The Rockies run a little too – their 100 stolen bases in 131 tries is pretty good and ranks them seventh in the N.L. – but they like to employ the sac bunt a lot.

They’ve got some big bats: Matt Holliday (36 Home Runs, 137 RBI, 129 Runs Created), Garrett Atkins (25 Home Runs, 111 RBI, 101 Runs Created), Brad Hawqe (29 Home Runs, 116 RBI, 99 Runs Created) and Todd Helton (17 Home Runs, 91 RBI, 110 Runs Created), form a pretty tough middle order to get through. Kaz Matsui and Willy Taveras are the Rockies speed guys, with 32 steals in 36 attempts and 33 in 41 attempts respectively.

Let’s turn out eye to the Phillies pitching. The Phillies send Cole Hamels to the mound to battle Francis tonight. Clearly Hamels is the best the Phillies have: 15-5, 3.39 ERA. Had he not been injured late in the year he would have factored in the Cy Young race. His numbers are impressive: 9.3 K/9, 2.3 BB/9. His 3.80 FIP ERA is easily the best on the Phillies roster. Aside from giving up a fair number of home runs, Hamels is virtually unhittable. He got four times as many strikeouts as walks. He’s going to be tough for the Rockies to hit.

After that, the Phillies send Kyle Kendrick and Jamie Moyer to the mound in games two and three. I see the Phillies as having a major edge over the Rockies in these matchups. Kendrick has surprised me: 10-4, 3.87 ERA. He doesn’t get many strikeouts – 3.8 K/9 – but he’s also very good about not allowing walks – 2.0 BB/9 – and he allows fewer home runs than any other Phillies starter. Sure his FIP is nearly a run higher than his “real” ERA, but Kendrick seems to be having success letting his fielders get to the ball. I actually think he’ll do quite well.

Crafty old Jamie Moyer is the perfect pitcher to throw game three: 14-12, 5.01 ERA, he’s actually pitching much, much better than his ERA indicates. If the Phillies could play better defense behind him, I think Moyer could really obliterate the Rockies hitters. He’s got a frustratingly slow fastball and a nice changeup that could really throw the Rockies hitters off-balance.

As for the Phillies much maligned bullpen, they’ve been pitching very well down the stretch and looked pretty good these last few weeks. Brett Myers has been virtually unhittable as the Phillies closer – 21 of 24 saves – and J.C. Romero has been pitching well too. I actually think that the Phillies bullpen could really work some magic in the NLDS and might turn out to be the Phillies savior.

Fielding … Here’s a surprise: the Colorado Rockies are a pretty good defensive team. The proof is in the numbers. The Rockies surrendered 52 unearned runs in 2007, tied for the fifth-fewest in the N.L. They ranked first in Plus / Minus rating, at +58, the best in the N.L. They also ranked third in relative zone rating at .835. Their .702 Defense Efficiency Ratio (DER) ranked second in the N.L. This is really impressive given that they play in a park that is so unfriendly to fielders with its wide power alleys and the thin air where the ball carries.

The Phillies, in contrast, aren’t as good. They gave up 54 unearned runs, eighth in the N.L., but place much lower than the Rocks everywhere else. Their +24 Plus / Minus rating was eighth in the N.L., their .808 RZR was twelfth, and their .687 DER was ninth in the N.L. After ranking near the bottom in these stats all year, to see the Phillies near the middle means that they’ve been improving. I suspect that they are coming into the playoffs playing very well defensively, but I cannot confirm that with numbers. Time shall tell.

This is a slight edge to the Rockies.

Intangibles … This is a battle between the two teams of destiny. The Rockies have won 14 of 15 games coming in to tonight. The Phillies have taken 13 of 17. The Rockies came from nowhere to win the wildcard. The Phillies came from nowhere to win the N.L. East. Momentum sits with both teams. I give a slight edge to the Phillies, who have been so close so often, here because I think the hardened Phillies are more determined. Teams that have “nothing to lose” typically flame-out and I think the Rockies will here. Oh yeah, and the Rockies have to play Wednesday and Thursday at Citizens Bank Ballpark, with the thousands of screaming fans waving towels and shouting. Homefield could be the edge here.

Prediction: Phillies in four.

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Nice summary...and let's not overlook ...that J-Roll, Victorino, Bourne, and a few other Phils ought to be salivating at the prospect of running on Yorvit Torrealba.
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