Michael/Male/26-30. Lives in United States/Pennsylvania/Wexford/Christopher Wren, speaks English. Spends 20% of daytime online. Uses a Fast (128k-512k) connection. And likes baseball /politics.
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United States, Pennsylvania, Wexford, Christopher Wren, English, Michael, Male, 26-30, baseball , politics.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Fans Dig the Long Ball: Reds vs. Phillies Preview 

The Phillies begin a four-game series tonight at Citizens Bank Ballpark with the Cincinnati Reds. Bring your gloves tonight kids, because you just might catch a home run when these two teams play each other. Plus you have a chance to catch some history as Ken Griffey, Jr. goes for #600. Fans dig the long ball.

Since the Phillies and Reds opened Citizens Bank and Great American Ballpark both teams have played in what are probably the two most home-run oriented ballparks in the majors after Coors Field. In 2007 the Home Run Factor for Citizens and Great American was 145 and 133 respectively (i.e., the two parks are 45% and 33% more likely to see a home run hit in them), tops in the major leagues. Because their ballparks are so oriented towards home run-hitting, both teams have shaped their rosters accordingly. Check out the Home Run totals for the last five seasons (including '08) and each team's N.L. rank:

Cincinnati / Philadelphia
2004: 194 (6th) / 215 (2nd)
2005: 222 (1st) / 194 (8th)
2006: 217 (2nd) / 216 (3rd)
2007: 204 (3rd) / 213 (2nd)
2008: 65 (T-3rd) / 85 (1st)

As you can see, this season is no exception. The Phillies continue to whack the ball into the cheap seats at a rate of 1.47 times per game. Extrapolated out of a 162 game season, then the Phillies are on a pace to hit 237 home runs this season. And it just became June, when the air gets a little warmer and the balls really fly out of the park. 240-250 home runs wouldn't be out of the question for the Phillies. The Reds, meanwhile, are on a pace to hit "just" 188 home runs.

The Reds top players are the 24-year old rookie Joey Votto (10 home runs, 29 RBI), second baseman Brandon Phillips (11 home runs, 31 RBI) and outfielder Adam Dunn (14 home runs, 36 RBI, .409 OBP). All three are young (Dunn is the eldest at 28) and all three pack a whallop at the plate. The Reds biggest problem is that they continue to feature Ken Griffey, Jr., out in rightfield. Griffey has seen his once-bright, Hall of Fame future crumble into a bitter disappointment as he has struggled through nearly a decade now in Cincinnati watching from the sidelines on the D.L. Crippling injuries have stolen the prime years of Griffey's career from him. At age 38 he's a decade older than Dunn and nearly every other regular starter on the Reds roster. He's also not producing much anymore: just a .336 OBP and six home runs to go with 27 RBI. If the Reds are engaged in a youth movement, then Griffey needs to go.

But not before Griffey becomes the sixth player to top six hundred home runs. More on that later ...

The Phillies, meanwhile, continue to kill the baseball. Chase Utley leads the N.L. with 20 home runs and 50 RBI. Pat Burrell and Ryan Howard have hit 13 and 15 home runs respectively. Extrapolated over a 162-game season, that means that these players will hit, respectively:

Home Runs:
Chase Utley: 56
Ryan Howard: 43
Pat Burrell: 38

I wonder how many teams have featured teammates with 40+ home runs, let alone any that featured three players with 40+ home runs. The most exceptional part of the Phillies home run production this year is the fact that Jimmy Rollins has hit just three and the Phillies survived over a month with the light-hitting Eric Bruntlett (two home runs in 117 At Bats) in the lineup.

Pitching matchups: Of course it is up to the Phillies and Reds pitchers to make sure that the other side doesn't manage to club some home runs. More particularly, Phillies pitchers want to make sure they aren't the one to surrender #600.

Monday: Kyle Kendrick vs. Bronson Arroyo. Kyle Kendrick hopefully won't be the one to surrender #600. So far this season he's done pretty good not allowing home runs: just five in 57 & 2/3 innings, or 0.74 HR/9. This is an even matchup between Arroyo and Kendrick, although they have different styles. Kendrick is a pitcher who pitches to contact. Arroyo is a strikeout artist. Kendrick gets half the strikeouts Arroyo gets (8.0 K/9 vs. 4.0), walks fewer hitters (3.4 K/9 vs. 2.7), allows fewer homers (1.05 vs. 0.74) and throws fewer pitches per plate appearance (4.0 vs. 3.6).

Tuesday: Adam Eaton vs. Aaron Harang. Bring your gloves Tuesday night because if Kendrick can get past Ken Griffey, Jr. tonight, chances are Adam Eaton will go down in history as Mr. 600. Eaton has been struggling a lot this season. Not as much as last season, but he's been struggling of late. Harang has a nearly 4-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio, so this one looks like a mismatch. Harang's Achillies Heel, however is is penchant for surrendering home runs: 11 in 82 & 2/3 of an inning.

Wednesday: Brett Myers vs. Edinson Volquez. I hope Myers recent strong outing (eight innings, three earned runs, just six hits and eleven strikeouts) is a harbinger of better outings to come. Volquez is a formitable hurler thus far this season. He's 7-2 with a 1.46 ERA. Don't be fooled - he isn't pitching that well - but he's still pitching very well. Like Arroyo and Harang, Volquez is a pitcher who throws a lot of pitches. Unlike guys to pitch to contact like Kendrick, pitchers like Volquez nibble around the edges of the strike zone and play coy with hitters. Volquez has K'd a phenomenal 83 batters this season (11.4 K/9) and has allowed just three home runs (0.41 HR/9), but he's walked 36 batters (5.0 BB/9) and his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) ERA is a run and a half higher at 2.96. This will be a very interesting game.

Thursday: Cole Hamels vs. Homer Bailey. Cole Hamels gets to pitch again against the Reds for the second time this season. He won the first game 5-3, going seven innings and allowing just a single earned run. Some of Hamels most memorable starts have been against the Reds. He made his rookie debut against them in '06 and his eight inning, 15-strikeout masterpiece against them in '07 was the critical game that lifted the Phillies from their 4-11 start and got them back into the playoff race. Homer Bailey is a talented rookie who made his MLB debut in '07 for the team.

Intangibles: the Reds are leading the N.L. in strikeouts at 8.0 K/9, which is pretty impressive. Reds pitchers have to have good stuff however, because they get no help behind them. The Reds rank fifteenth (second to last) in the N.L. in Defense Efficiency Ratio (DER) at .679. The Phillies are more willing to pitch to contact because their defense is better, although at .693 it is still below the league average of .695. I'm amazed that the fact that the Phillies have the fifth-best ERA in the N.L. is flying completely under the radar with most observers. Such a maligned pitching staff playing behind a so-so defense ... Why don't people notice?

Enjoy ... I plan to have a discussion of the '08 MLB Draft tomorrow.

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3 teams have had teammates hit 40 HR: the 1973 Braves (Evans, Johnson, Aaron), 1996 Rockies (Castilla, Galarraga, Walker), and 1997 Rockies (Castilla, Galarraga, Burks). 24 teams have had two teammates with 40.

A correction regarding Phillies' fielding - in April they allowed 16 unearned runs. In May they allowed 4 unearned runs - the lowest in the National League. The stability of the lineup over the past month has much to do with this improvement.

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