The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

 

Dodgers-Cardinals Prospectus

The Playoff Prospectus I wrote for the Dodgers-Cardinals series is up at BP. It's epic in length, which somehow explains why I didn't get to see the final inning of the Game 163 play-in, because I didn't set my TiVo to record more than an extra hour of the game, and by the time I got a chance to watch -- starting at 11 PM, though I'd seen the first few innings while making dinner -- it was already in the books. FML, as the kids say.

Anyway, as for the Dodgers and Cardinals, here's the rotation segment as an excerpt:
Dodgers                  IP     ERA  SNLVAR  SNWP
LHP Randy Wolf         214.1   3.23   6.0   .564
LHP Clayton Kershaw    171.0   2.79   6.5   .600
RHP Vicente Padilla    147.1   4.46   3.1   .508*
RHP Chad Billingsley   196.1   4.03   3.8   .502

Cardinals               IP     ERA  SNLVAR  SNWP
RHP Chris Carpenter    192.2   2.24   8.0   .673
RHP Adam Wainwright    233.0   2.63   8.5   .630
RHP Joel Pineiro       214.0   3.49   4.6   .532
RHP John Smoltz         78.0   6.35   0.5   .414*
RHP Kyle Lohse         117.2   4.74   1.1   .436 
* Full season statistics
Though the Dodger and Cardinal rotations finished tied for third in the National League in SNLVAR (23.2) and among the top four in ERA — L.A.'s 3.58 was second, St. Louis' 3.66 was fourth — the two teams differ greatly in how they got there. The Cardinal starters absorbed a league-high 69.7 percent of their team's workload, an average of 6.20 innings per start. They did so by being efficient, posting the league's lowest walk and homer rates (2.4 per nine and 0.7 per nine, respectively) to counteract having just the 11th-best strikeout rate. Dodger starters, by contrast, shouldered the fourth-lightest workload among NL starters at 62.5 percent, though that owes something playing an MLB-high 21 extra inning games. Their 5.68 innings per start was the sixth-lowest in the league, a byproduct of a high strikeout rate (7.5 per nine, third in the league) and a high walk rate (3.5 per nine, fourth). Unquestionably, it's the Dodgers who enter the postseason with the greater number of concerns about their rotation, as their top four starters all missed time down the stretch.

Despite a paltry total of 11 wins — a figure sure to be remarked upon by the mainstream media — Wolf enjoyed something of a career year as he set personal bests for starts (34), innings pitched and ERA+ (129). Thanks in no small part to a league-low .254 BABIP, he finished a strong 11th in SNLVAR and tied for fourth in Quality Starts (24), a ranking which reflects his sheer consistency. In the second half, he delivered at least six innings in 17 straight starts; though he skipped a turn due to elbow soreness amid that stretch in early September, it doesn't appear to be a lingering issue. There's considerably greater concern for Kershaw, who made just two starts after September 4 after separating his glove-side shoulder shagging balls in the outfield, an injury which nonetheless kept the 21-year-old from blowing too far past last year's combined minor and major league innings total. The kid misses bats; his 9.7 K/9 ranked fifth among NL ERA qualifiers, and his hit rate (6.3 per nine) was by far the league's lowest. He matches up well with these Cardinals, who have collected nothing more harmful than three doubles off him in 100 PA over his short career.

After losing Hiroki Kuroda for the series and perhaps the remainder of the year due to a herniated cervical disc, Torre has settled on Padilla to start Game Three. The former Ranger pitched well (3.20 ERA, .553 SNWP and 8.7 K/9) after being picked up on waivers in early August, owing much to the easier league and the friendlier park. More interesting is that his start is guaranteed while that of Billingsley, who entered the year as the staff ace, isn't. Though Billingsley led the Dodgers in wins (12) and finished just six strikeouts behind Kershaw, he struggled the second half, with a 5.20 ERA and six quality starts out of 13. His woes may owe something to a hyperextended knee suffered early in August, or simply a lack of stamina; he gave up 16 runs in the nine sixth innings he pitched during that stretch, including six against the Cards on July 28 after shutting them out in the previous five frames, a showing that almost certainly entered into Torre's decision.

The Cardinals go into this series with two of the league's top three pitchers in terms of Support Neutral Winning Percentage in Carpenter and Wainwright; the two placed first and fourth, respectively, in ERA as well. Carpenter's comeback from two seasons in the weeds (four starts in 207-2008) due to elbow miseries has been so complete that it's easy to forget what a question mark he was coming into the year. His stellar performance, which may culminate in a second Cy Young award, is the main reason the Cards outdid their PECOTA projection by eight games. While he doesn't strike out as many hitters as he used to, his walk rate (1.8 per nine, third in the league) is microscopic, and his NL-best home run rate (0.3 per nine) even moreso. If he doesn't win the Cy, Wainwright might; he led the league in wins (19) and innings while significantly boosting his strikeout rate thanks to improved command of his curveball, which enabled him to smother righties (.217/.255/.290), representing a real problem for the Dodgers.

Pineiro, who will start Game Three, enjoyed a strong rebound of his own this year thanks to the league's fourth-best homer rate (0.5) and best walk rate (1.1 per nine); twice, he reeled off four-start stretches without walking a single hitter, and he hasn't walked more than two in a start since April 15. As for the choice in Game Four, Smoltz pitched much better upon being picked up by the Cardinals (4.26 ERA, .508 SNWP, 9.5 K/9) than he did in Boston, though his final start was a dud. As the all-time leader in postseason wins (15), he's likely to have the inside track on Lohse, who has posted a 5.40 ERA and 1.6 HR/9 since his forearm troubles emerged in late May, but neither pitcher is likely to have a very long leash.
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I'd have excerpted the part about the batting orders, except that it's much longer and, because I didn't have the Cardinals Game One lineup by press time, wrong. As if to spite me for the sarcasm with which I use the term "genius" to describe him, Tony LaRussa decided to start lefty-hitting Skip Schumaker at second after all, and he walked and came around to score the game's first run, poor performance against lefties be damned. On the run-scoring play, Ronnie Belliard failed to catch a blooper into center field that one can only wonder whether Orlando Hudson — whose starting job he usurped — might have, but he also started an inning-ending double play.

Whoa, and Matt Kemp blasts one to straightaway center field to put the Dodgers up 2-1... I gotta get back to this game.

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