2010 Post-Season / 2010 Reds / Big Red Machine / Whiny Little B******

NLDS Preview: The Starting Eight

Yesterday, we previewed the starting pitching matchups in the National League Division Series between the Reds and the Philadelphia Phillies. Today, a look at the everyday starting lineups for the Reds and Phils.

Let’s get this one out of the way first: Advantage Cincinnati. The Cincinnati Reds have the greatest everyday starting eight in the history of the National League.

Period.

It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? Bench, Perez, Morgan, Rose, Concepcion, Foster, Geronimo, Griffey…beat that, Placido Polanco!

Wait…what? Okay, okay, okay. Enough fun for today. Our friend and fellow ESPN SweetSpotter Bill Baer of Phllies blog Crashburn Alley gave his analysis of the positional matchups yesterday; let’s take our own look at the matchups:

Catcher

We’ve all been pretty pleased with the performance of Cincinnati’s two-headed catching tandem of Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hanigan…and not only because neither is named Paul Bako. Hernandez and Hanigan have shared the position almost equally, though Hanigan missed some time with injury. When healthy, Dusty Baker has done a good job of juggling playing time between the two, keeping each fresh.

Hanigan has become a bit of a fan-favorite, largely because of his penchant for hitting in RBI situations and the fact that he controls the opponent’s running game so effectively. At the plate, Hanigan hit .300/.405/.429 with 5 HR and 40 RBI and a 127 OPS+. Ramon Hernandez, on the other hand, has been nearly as effective at the plate (if lagging defensively): .297/.364/.428 with 7 HR, 48 RBI, and a 114 OPS+. Together, they’ve been among the top 3 catching tandems in the league.

Philadelphia’s primary catcher is Carlos Ruiz, who hit .302/.400/.447 with 8 HR, 53 RBI, and a fine 128 OPS+. Here’s what Bill says about Ruiz:

Ruiz is a very intelligent hitter, very aware of the ins and outs of hitting eighth in the batting order — he is content to take those unintentional-intentional walks. Aside from his great success at the plate in 2010, Ruiz is known for two other items: blocking pitches in the dirt and coming up huge in October (or, as it is more affectionately called in Philadelphia, Choochtober).

Three good catchers here.

Advantage: PUSH

First Base

Cincinnati’s Joey Votto: MVP.

Philadelphia’s Ryan Howard: well, his manager loved him so much that he picked him for the All-Star team over Votto. It’s been a somewhat disappointing season for Howard: .276.353/.505 with 31 HR and 108 RBI. You watch the guy and it seems like he flails miserably vs. lefties, but his splits aren’t as bad as you’d expect.

Votto, of course, leads the league in wOBA at .439 (Pujols is the only other 1B over .400. Howard clocks in at 7th in the NL among first basemen (.367, behind our old buddy Adam Dunn and Adrian Gonzalez). I’m not going to assess this matchup too closely. Howard isn’t a bad player by any stretch of the imagination, but Joey Votto is much, much better.

Advantage: Cincinnati

Second Base

Before he crashed and burned at the end of the season, this had been a breakout season for Brandon Phillips. He made his first All-Star team, he’s still a good bet to win his second Gold Glove award, and he made friends all across the league when he spoke some truth.

At the plate, despite the horrible final month that was due in no small part to a hand injury sustained when hit by a pitch in San Francisco, BP tied his career-high OPS+ (105), and put up a line of .275/.332/.430 with 18 homers. That OBP was a career-high, and it was a direct result of Phillips being moved to the leadoff spot mid-season (and again, it looked much better before the injury). In the last couple of weeks, the power has returned a bit and BP is finally starting to look like the player we saw for most of the season. He’s been an asset to this team in 2010.

Philadelphia’s 2B is Chase Utley, and he’s a guy that everyone would love to have on their team. Utley is a fine defensive 2B who hit .275/.387/.445 with 16 HR and a 124 OPS+. No need to delve into advanced metrics here. Philadelphia has the clear edge.

Advantage: Philadelphia

Third Base

Scott Rolen has been a big part of what the Reds have been doing this year. His defense has been excellent; though he’s lost a half-step, perhaps, Rolen has been better than anyone not named Zimmerman or Headley. With the bat, Rolen has surprised many of us, putting up a line of .285/.358/.497 with 20 HR, 83 RBI, and a 129 OPS+. His wOBA is second only to Ryan Zimmerman.

Let’s not ignore the elephant in the room: Rolen hasn’t been nearly as good in the second half as he was in the first. He’s been banged up a little bit, and he’s about 100 years old, so it’s no surprise that Rolen might be worn down a bit. At 133 games, Rolen has played more this season than he has in any season except one since 2004. Dusty has tried his best to get Rolen rest when possible, and take a look at his splits; Rolen has still been a pretty good 3B in the second half, if not the exceptional one we saw before the All-Star break.

The Phillies counter with Placido Polanco. Polanco has been banged up this year, and will be undergoing elbow surgery after the season. He’s put up a line of .298/.339/.386, and his wOBA of .323 puts him barely in the bottom half of qualifying NL 3B. Here’s Bill’s analysis:

Although he finished the season hitting .316 in the last ten games, he had only hit .235 since August 18. At one point he was a legitimate contender for the NL batting title, but his slump — likely due to his elbow — put the kibosh on that. Overall, he hits around the league average without much power.

Advantage: Cincinnati

Shortstop

Orlando Cabrera is the starting shortstop for the Reds, whether we like it or not. Everyone credits Cabrera with being a great guy in the clubhouse and an exemplary leader of men. We’ve all enjoyed his antics, and it’s clear that everyone likes the guy. That, however, is where OC’s positive contribution to this team ends.

I’ve actually grown somewhat fond of Cabrera this year, but I gotta be honest: I don’t know how to spin this to make Cabrera seem even adequate. He hit .263/.303/.354 with a miserable 78 OPS+ and a .292 wOBA. His hands are soft, and he doesn’t make dumb errors, but his range is limited at this point in his career, making him an average defender at best. Again, I don’t know how to spin this; almost every metric shows that Cabrera is one of the worst shortstops in the league.

But hey, it was cool when he was the bat boy that one game, huh?

Former MVP Jimmy Rollins hasn’t been as good as optimistic Philadelphians might have hoped for: .243/.320/.374 with a OPS+ of 86 and a wOBA of .317. That’s another step in a pattern of decline we’ve seen from Rollins in recent years. Says Bill:

His power is way down this year — his .133 ISO is his lowest since 2003. He still managed to be efficient on the bases, stealing 17 bases in 18 attempts (94 percent). In 21 games between July 17 and August 20, he stole 12 bases in as many attempts. Since then, he’s attempted only three steals in 25 games. Rollins still received a good grade from UZR on all counts except avoiding errors — in nearly half the innings, he matched his errors total from last year with six.

The real question is whether Rollins is fully healthy; he hasn’t been healthy very often this year. Still, the choice is clear here.

Advantage: Philadelphia

Left Field

Jonny Gomes is the consummate Cincinnati fan favorite. With his crazy mohawk and intense, all-out playing style, plus his backstory, Gomes has become a very popular man in Cincinnati. Even those who like to look at the numbers — like me, for example — just like the guy, for any number of reasons.

Those numbers, though. In 148 games, Gomes his .266/.327/.431 with 18 homers and 86 RBI, although much of that production can be attributed to an exceptionally hot month and a half pre-All-Star break. On the surface, those numbers excite people like Thom Brennaman, who particularly enjoys tossing out Gomes’ .333 batting average with two outs and runners in scoring position. Heck, Gomes has come through for this team in some crucial situations. And that mohawk!

Unfortunately, Gomes has been better than only two other NL left fielders this year (Carlos Lee and Melky Cabrera) in both wOBA and WAR. His defense is bad, and despite all the rah-rah effort, Gomes hasn’t hit a cutoff man since the Clinton administration. He did put together a bit of a hitting streak in September, however, and there is reason to hope that Gomes’ bat is heating up again, just in time.

The good news: Philadelphia doesn’t have a clear advantage here because Raul Ibanez ranks barely above Gomes in most advanced metrics. He hit .275/.349/.444 with 16 HR and 83 RBI. His OPS+ is 112, his wOBA is .341 (as compared to Gomes’ .330 wOBA). Defensively, as Bill says, “Ibanez lacks range and has a mediocre arm.” Sounds like Gomes.

Interestingly, Ibanez has one of the more pronounced righty/lefty platoon splits among Philly regulars, so pay attention to that when late-game matchups come into play. Also, since we gave Gomes credit for this, we must acknowledge that Ibanez has been hitting much better recently.

Advantage: Philadelphia (barely)

Center Field

Drew Stubbs has had an exceptional year in many respects, especially when you consider it’s his first full year in the big leagues. In making a head-to-head comparison, I was struck by this matchup above all others. Take a look at Stubbs’ numbers next to Philadelphia’s Shane Victorino:

Stubbs: .255/.329/.444, 22 HR, 77 RBI, 108 OPS+, .345 wOBA, 3.2 WAR
Victorino: .259/.327/.429, 18 HR, 69 RBI, 102 OPS+, .339 wOBA, 3.6 WAR

Defensively, they are side-by-side in the advanced metrics, both speedy guys who cover a lot of ground, with Victorino possibly having a slight edge. Eerily similar. Over the next five years, I’d rather have Stubbs (who turned 26 yesterday) over Victorino (who will turn 30 next month). Over the next five games, they are effectively the same player.

Advantage: PUSH

Right Field

If we could just take six weeks of Bruce’s summer out of the numbers, we have an elite right fielder on our hands. For the entire season, Bruce hit .281/.353/.493 with 25 homers, 70 RBI, a 127 OPS+, and a .363 wOBA. Defensively, Jay Bruce has an argument as the best right fielder in the game, with outstanding range complemented by a cannon arm.

The strides Bruce has made are obvious. Coming into this season, one of the criticisms Bruce heard was that he often looked silly against left-handed pitchers. Early in the season, Bruce talked about following Joey Votto’s approach to facing lefties, and taking pride in improving in that area. Improve he did, as Bruce actually hit lefties better than righties this year (a reverse platoon split of 78 OPS points). Lately, Bruce’s power against lefties has been mesmerizing: he hit 11 of his 25 homers against lefties, including 3 of his last 4.

The talking heads have all credited the acquisition of Jim Edmonds with Bruce’s improved approach at the plate. Bruce himself has given Edmonds some credit. An equally plausible explanation for the 23-year-old Bruce’s massive improvement since returning from an oblique injury — and this is an explanation provided by Bruce himself — is that the injury forced him to be more relaxed at the plate in order to keep from re-aggravating the injury. Whatever the reason, Bruce has been a monster since returning: .346/.433/.750 with 7 HR and 12 RBI in 18 games to finish the season. This is the Jay Bruce who was the number one prospect in baseball a couple of years ago.

Philadelphia boasts an outstanding right fielder as well in Jayson Werth. Werth had an exceptional season, hitting .296/.388/.532 with a 145 OPS+ and a league-best (for RF) .397 wOBA. The guy can mash, no doubt about it. Here’s Bill’s assessment:

Werth has exceptional plate discipline, consistently working deep counts. In each of the past two seasons, he led the NL in pitches per plate appearance with 4.5 in ’09 and 4.3 in ’10.

Throughout the season, though, Werth was dogged by criticism of his failure with runners in scoring position — particularly with two outs. Although he had better production in recent weeks in those situations, he still finished the season with lackluster numbers. Fortunately though, those numbers come in small sample sizes and are not indicative of his skill.

Surprisingly, Werth has a reverse platoon split — he hit better against right-handers than left-handers in 2010: .932 to .878 in terms of OPS. He’s also a base running threat, stealing 53 bases in 60 attempts (88 percent) since the start of the 2008 season.

As mentioned above, Bruce had a similar platoon split. Defensively, Werth is below average, although his strong arm makes up for some of those deficiencies.

My evaluation here is likely to be controversial, but when you consider Bruce’s enormous defensive advantage combined with the improved approach at the plate, it’s defensible.

Advantage: PUSH

Let’s tally up the scores, Gene Rayburn.

C: Push
1B: Reds
2B: Phillies
3B: Reds
SS: Phillies
LF: Phillies
CF: Push
RF: Push

I know everyone thinks the Phillies should be huge favorites in this series, and I can’t argue that the Reds are the underdogs. However, much of the advantage held by Philadelphia comes from the pitchers. Cincinnati’s team offense has ranked among baseball’s leaders all year, and they’ve out-hit and out-scored Philadelphia. Defensively, Cincinnati also has an edge.

It’s going to be a fun series.

More previews to come, including a back-and-forth with Crashburn Alley. Stay tuned.

27 thoughts on “NLDS Preview: The Starting Eight

  1. Ever so often you amaze me with your analysis. And it’s hard to be amazed when I’ve come to expect great analysis from this site.😀

  2. It was interesting reading the Phillies blog, as well as the subsequent comments. A couple of Reds fans commented that BP defense was underrated in the comparison, to which several Phillies fans were mortified because Utley’s UZR is higher than BPs. Obviously these Philly fans have never watched a Reds game.

    • Obviously these Philly fans have never watched a Reds game.

      To be fair, they don’t get many chances to see us on national TV. We can only play the Mets, Dodgers or Cubs so many times in a season.

  3. Good stuff, Chad.

    Here are the comments I posted over at Crashburn Alley:

    – The Reds are a VERY streaky team. Particularly Gomes, Bruce, and Stubbs. Stubbs OPS’ed 643 in June/July, then 943 in Aug/Sept/Oct. I would not be surprised to see those guys go 3 for 40 in a Phillies sweep, or to see them 20 for 50 with 6 HR in a Reds sweep. Votto will hit. If two other guys get hot, the Reds have a good chance to win. If not, it will be over quickly.

    – Phillips and Utley are both really, really good defensively. I think BP has more range; Utley turns a double-play better. I’m not comfortable that UZR is anything more than a tiebreaker, though.

    – Gomes is a true butcher in LF. He hustles, to be sure. But he takes bad routes, fails to communicate with Stubbs, and hasn’t hit a cutoff man since Memorial Day. He’s a potential double, every pitch.

    – I find the “Ruiz’ postseason experience gives him the edge” argument a little weak, considering that Ramon Hernandez played in the playoffs four years in a row for Oakland. He played poorly, but he’s been there.

    – Jay Bruce is an elite defender. While Werth is athletic, I don’t think he’s at Bruce’s level. Very strong, very accurate arm; excellent routes to the gap; closes to the line as well as anyone I’ve seen; and equally good on balls in front and behind him. The most interesting thing to watch for is his aggression/hustle in the OF. He gets to singles faster than anyone I’ve watched. The Phils should not try to stretch a single to right.

    – I’m much more sabermetrically inclined than not, but this Reds club has been exceptionally resilient. They’ve taken a few significant body blows this year (a sweep in Seattle, the pre-ASG debacle in Philly, and the awful STL series in September. After those three series, they went on runs of 8-2, 6-4, and 8-2. I don’t know what this means in a short series, but I definitely wouldn’t count them out if they lose game 1.

    By Chris G on Oct 5, 2010
    Last thing: I know this was a starting eight post, but the Reds bench will be an important key to this series:

    – Chris Heisey had 4 HR and a 3B in 23 pinch hit ABs.
    – Paul Janish is a gold-glove defender if Dusty lets him spell Cabrera.
    – Miguel Cairo somehow hit .290 .353 .410 (though he sucked as a PH).
    – Plus, they have whichever catcher isn’t starting.

    I don’t expect the Phils to use their bench as much, but only Francisco appears to be a legitimate offensive weapon off the bench for them. (Correct me if I’m wrong).

  4. I also just tried to find some sort of silver lining for Cabrera. I quickly browsed his game logs, trying to find ANYTHING that looked like a hot streak. I couldn’t. Not really.

    The best I could do was the stretch right after he came off the DL in early September, and still wasn’t playing full-time. In 10 games over 14 days (2 vs. STL, 1 @ DEN, 2 vs. PIT, 4 vs. PHX, and 1 @ HOU), Cabrera hit: .333 .349 .571 (920)

    The best we can hope for is that Cabrera will be well-rested again on Wednesday.

    Actually, as much as this schedule favors the Phillies (only requiring 3 starting pitchers), it does help the Reds keep Cabrera, Ramon, and Rolen fresh.

  5. I’d like to restate that Drew Stubbs point I cross-posted:

    Since August 1, he’s hit .308 .393 .550 (943 OPS), and is 12/15 in SB.

    Pro-rate that to a full season: 33 2b, 7 3b, 30 HR, 75 BB, 185 K, and 39/49 SB.

    A 943 OPS would’ve ranked 5th in the NL this season. Thirty-nine SB would’ve ranked 2nd. Plus Gold Glove lite defense in CF. That’s MVP performance, over a not-tiny sample size.

  6. Good posts over there, Chris. I think the whole series hinges on the streakiness of our hitters. Like Chris said, Bruce/Stubbs/Gomes could be great or they could be horrible. By the same token, Howard/Victorino/Polanco could lay an egg as well.
    If we win, we’ll look back and say, yeah, the Phillies run gasped its last breath in 2010……..or, if we lose, the Reds weren’t quite ready for prime time and lost to the best NL team of the last 10 years.

    On a side note, I was in Vegas over the weekend for the Matador Records showcase. On saturday afternoon I was strolling thru Caesar’s Forum Shops and look over to see Pete Rose hawking this or that in a memorabilia shop. It was sad, to say the least. Here’s this little old guy sitting w/ his 25 year old girlfriend at a table….uncomfortably alone. No one was ponying up any cash to meet the guy/get an autograph. I didn’t either, it was just too pathetic, like paying a stripper to talk to you. That’s not how I envisioned meeting my childhood hero. *sigh*

  7. Anybody think Corky will be on the bench for the postseason? If he is even eligible? I figure there is no better hitter we can add to the bench than bringing up Corky so Dusty would feel free to use the C who isn’t playing.

    I’m not sure of it’s been announced or not. But, at least to me, I think that would be smart, and allow the ‘stache to see postseason play.

  8. Speaking of Sean Casey (sortof): I was just filling out a SweetSpot MVP ballot, and wrote Paul Konerko’s name in my top 10. Sigh.

  9. Dusty is making it abundantly clear he intends to use our 4 lefties early and often. Can’t say I disagree. If we can get 5-6 great innings instead of needing 7 decent innings from our starters, it leaves us in a better position to win.

  10. And the umps for this series:
    John Hirschbeck, Bruce Dreckman, Sam Holbrook, Ed Rapuano, Gary Cederstrom, Rob Drake.

  11. I think that the left field situation is more complex than is being discussed. Nix is going to play in game 2, and I would not be shocked to see him in game 4 also, if he hits well in game 2. Or Edmonds, if he’s healthy. If Edmonds were healthy and platooning I would give the edge to the Reds. Slight edge.

  12. @Sultan of Swaff: You never need more than 5 innings from a starter in the modern MLB playoffs. This really could neutralize some of the SP advantage the Phils have, by making it only a 5/9th advantage instead of say a 7/9th advantage, if that makes sense.

    Again, I repeat: the Reds can pitch Chapman, Masset, EVERY DAY. There’s an off day between each game. OK, not exactly, but only once are there back to back days.

    The Phillies are probably more likely to avoid their bullpen just because of their great 3 pitchers. This could matter in a key situation with Votto or Bruce up, because whereas the Reds would bring in a Chapman, the Phils will likely stick with a possibly tired, right-handed starter.

    • You never need more than 5 innings from a starter in the modern MLB playoffs.This really could neutralize some of the SP advantage the Phils have, by making it only a 5/9th advantage instead of say a 7/9th advantage, if that makes sense.

      Again, I repeat: the Reds can pitch Chapman, Masset, EVERY DAY.There’s an off day between each game.OK, not exactly, but only once are there back to back days.

      The Phillies are probably more likely to avoid their bullpen just because of their great 3 pitchers. This could matter in a key situation with Votto or Bruce up, because whereas the Reds would bring in a Chapman, the Phils will likely stick with a possibly tired, right-handed starter.

      I think this is absolutely correct.

  13. Man, Chapman ended the season with 13.1 IP, 19K, 5 BB, 9 hits.

    Of the 9 hits, one was for extra bases, the “double” that lost the game against the Pads, which was really an error. Three of those hits were in one game vs Colorado, which consisted of a humpback liner, the ground ball where Janish fell down on his butt and then threw it into right field, and a 30 foot single.

    Not too bad.

    I saw the stats of this guy Kimbrel for the Braves, he throws “only” 98, and has 20 IP and 40K. Wow. However, he has 16 BB.

  14. One thing I was thinking earlier today, and I mentioned it on the podcast I’ll be posting shortly…

    I’d much rather play the Phils in a 5-game series. The cream is more likely to rise to the top in a longer series. An underdog is more likely to catch fire and pull an upset in a short series.

    Of course, the more I look at this series, the more I feel like the Reds match up well. I do acknowledge that I may have rose-colored glasses on.

    • @Chad Dotson:

      One thing I was thinking earlier today, and I mentioned it on the podcast I’ll be posting shortly…I’d much rather play the Phils in a 5-game series. The cream is more likely to rise to the top in a longer series. An underdog is more likely to catch fire and pull an upset in a short series.

      I wouldn’t even say they have to catch fire- split the 2 road games, win both home games it’s over. Let’s look at the odds of avoiding going back to Philly by winning 2 in a row at home compared to 3 in a row of a 7 game series based on 2010.
      # of times Phils lost 3 straight in a road series: 3
      # of times Phils lost 2 straight in a road series: 7
      # of times Reds won 3 straight in a home series: 4
      # of times Reds won 2 straight in a home series: 13

  15. Reality Check Time People: Jayson Stark has pointed out a few things you may want to consider (besides the fact that your position by position analysis is a joke):

    Listen to the reaction I got from one scout who followed the Phillies around for a while, in case his team wound up playing them in the postseason:

    “The gist of my report was: ‘Good luck, boys,'” he said.

    Now listen to an NL executive whose team has seen plenty of the Phillies:

    “The only team that can beat the Phillies,” he said, “is the Phillies.”

    And you know what? He might be right. Since the day Roy Oswalt showed up in this team’s clubhouse, the Phillies have been the best team in baseball, by any standard:

    • They’re 41-19 since then. Only one other team in either league — Minnesota (38-22) — is within seven wins of them.

    • They played 10 series and 29 games in that span against teams that were .500 or better at the time. They won all 10 series and went 24-5.

    • They lost their first two road games after Oswalt arrived — then went 21-5 on the road the rest of the way, winning nine straight series.

    • Their team ERA, post-Oswalt, was a spectacular 3.23. That’s seven-tenths of a run lower than it was before Oswalt checked in, and the second-best in baseball, only microscopically higher than the Giants’ (3.21), since then. And Oswalt, Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels were a combined 21-7, 2.33. Scary.

    • Finally, no other team in either league had a better record against the other teams in the postseason field. The Phillies went 21-15 against the Braves, Reds, Giants, Yankees and Twins this year. The only other club that was more than one game above .500 against fellow playoff teams was Tampa Bay (20-15).

    The Phillies earned the right to pick the Division Series with the extra off day. So they head into this scrum knowing that they should be able to start Halladay, Oswalt or Hamels in 17 of a possible 19 postseason games. And that’s not a promising development for the rest of the sport.

    Oswalt lost his Phillies debut hours after hopping off the plane from Houston. But from that game on, through the day the Phillies clinched, he, Halladay and Hamels made 32 starts. The Phillies had a .781 winning percentage (25-7) in those starts.

    Let’s put that into perspective without the decimal points: A team that won at that rate over a 162-game season would finish 92 games over .500 (127-35). And remember, the Phillies figure to start that big three in all but two games in the entire postseason.

    GOOD LUCK, BUT THE RUN WILL END SHORTLY

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