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NLDS Preview

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Dodgers Mets
820 Runs Scored 834
.276 Average .264
.348 On Base .334
.432 Slugging .445
Russell Martin .282/.355/.436 C Paul LoDuca .318/.355/.428
Nomar Garciaparra .301/.367/.505 1B Carlos Delgado .265/.361/.548
Jeff Kent .292/.385/.477 2B Jose Valentin .271/.330/.490
Wilson Betemit .263/.326/.469 3B David Wright .311/.381/.531
Rafael Furcal .300/.369/.445 SS Jose Reyes .300/.354/.487
Marlon Anderson .297/.354/.513 LF Cliff Floyd .244/.324/.407
Kenny Lofton .301/.360/.403 CF Carlos Beltran .275/.388/.594
J.D. Drew .283/.393/.498 RF Shawn Green .277/.344/.432
Andre Ethier .308/.365/.477 BN Endy Chavez .306/.347/.431
Olmedo Saenz .296/.363/.564 BN Julio Franco .273/.330/.370
Julio Lugo .278/.341/.421 BN Lastings Milledge .241/.310/.380

While the Mets offense has been highly touted, they only scored 14 more runs than a Dodgers offense were no one hit more than 20 home runs. While the Mets are far more threatening in the middle of the order, they do have holes in the lineup. While Cliff Floyd and Shawn Green aren't exactly the Cesar Izturis/Alex Cora/Brent Mayne trifecta the Dodgers used in their last playoff appearance, they're both below average corner outfielders. Floyd has struggled with injury all year and has never really got going, while Green has a .711 OPS in the second half.

However, the Dodgers offense isn't without its problems. It's questionable if Nomar will even be able to play, and even if he does, he's only contributed .694 OPS in the second half, ahead of only Shea Hillenbrand and Sean Casey amongst first basemen. In left field, the Dodgers have Marlon Anderson and Andre Ethier. For now, Ethier is a solid player who had some gaudy numbers thanks to getting lucky on balls in play. His vicious regression to the mean in September means that Grady Little is unlikely to trust him in the playoffs. This leaves Marlon Anderson, who was the fifth best hitter in baseball in September, but has a career .710 OPS. If the likely scenario of Anderson coming back down to Earth occurs, the Dodgers lineup, which relies on not having any holes, could have a giant hole in it. Apart from that, the worst hitters in the Dodgers lineup are the centerfielder with a .360 on base percentage and the third baseman with a .209 isolated power. I can live with that.

The main advantage the Dodgers have over the Mets offensively is depth on the bench. They have players like Ethier, Olmedo Saenz, Julio Lugo, and James Loney avialablre. The Mets have Endy Chavez, who somehow pulled together a .775 OPS this year. While skill won't be a huge factor when the benches get 10 at bats or less, the Dodgers have options, while the Mets are pretty much stuck with the guys they have on the field. Overall, I'd give a slight offensive edge to the Mets, because even though the Dodger superior depth allows them to be just as productive in the long run, the Mets can rely solely on their big hitters in a short series.

With all the time I've spent on offense, it's not nearly as important in the playoffs. According to Baseball Prospectus' Nate Silver, only three factors directly correlate to post season success: a power pitching staff, a good closer, and strong defense. In those categories, here's how the Dodgers rank in amongst post season teams:

Defense (measured by fielding runs above average): last
Power pitching (measured by K/9): fifth
Closer (measured by wins above replacement): fifth

Overall, the Dodgers rank seventh amongst in these categories. I thought the defensive ranking might have been flawed, since the Dodgers seemed to have good defense this year, but it just isn't true. To use another stat, the Dodgers rank 20th in defensive efficiency, the percentage of balls in play turned into outs, last amongst playoff teams.

The pitching could be more interesting. Both the Dodgers and the Mets are missing their best strike out pitchers. Pedro Martinez probably won't be back until June next year, and Brad Penny is either hurt, or stinks. (To be fair to Penny, his DIPS ERA, a stat that approximates ERA based on peripherals, is 4.45 in the second half, a big improvement over his actual post All-Star break ERA of 6.25). Here's how the teams likely starters look in terms of K/9:

Dodgers K/9 ERA Mets K/9 ERA
Derek Lowe 5.08 3.63 Orlando Hernandez 9.09 4.66
Hong-Chih Kuo* 10.75 3.07 Tom Glavine 5.38 3.83
Greg Maddux 5.01 4.20 Steve Trachsel 5.94 4.97
Brad Penny 7.05 4.33 John Maine 7.10 3.60

Orlando Hernandez stuck out a batter an inning? Wow. The addition of Kuo and the loss of Pedro gives the Dodgers a very slight edge in terms of power pitching, but is it enough to matter? Also, who would have guessed that Hong-Chih Kuo is the closest to a sure thing the Dodgers have in this series, given the Mets struggles against lefties.

Now, the one big advantage the Mets have over the Dodgers is their bullpen. Once a year, some team hits the middle relief lottery, and this year it was the Mets. After Billy Wagner, the Mets pen contains Chad Bradford, Roberto Hernandez, Aaron Heilman, Pedro Feliciano, Guillermo Mota, and Darren Oliver. Of these players, Heilman's 3.62 ERA is the worst.

As a counter point, after Jonathan Broxton and Takashi Saito, it can be argued the Dodgers don't even have any middle relievers. Joe Beimel has a low ERA, but still scares me, while Brett Tomko, and whatever mix of Giovanni Cararra, Elmer Dessens, Mark Hendrickson and Aaron Sele are all near useless. Chad Billingsley might prove to be a solid option, but the Dodgers are in trouble in the likely scenario that one of our starters gets knocked out early.

The final note that I want to add is that there is no correlation between winning down the strectch and playoff performance. This is mentioned in Nate Silver's article, and is backed up by the research done by Mike Carmanitti of Mike's Baseball Rants. Also, how early you clinch is also not a factor. So, the Dodgers sweep of the final road trip and the Mets stumbling at the end has no effect on this series.

I think this series is going to be close, but if I had to make a prediction, I'd say the Mets in five, almost entirely due to the bullpen. Since both teams have powerful offenses and no dominant starters, middle relief is going to come into play early and often, and the Dodgers simply don't have it. Combine this with the slight edge the Mets have in two of the three keys to playoff success, and they have to be the favorites.