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A Brief Look At The Phillies

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NLCS: Phillies vs. Dodgers
Game 1   
Dodger Stadium 5:07pm
Game 2   
Dodger Stadium 1:07pm
Game 3 Sun Citizens Bank Park  
Game 4 Mon Citizens Bank Park 5:07pm
Game 5*   
Oct 21   
Citizens Bank Park
Game 6*   
Oct 23   
Dodger Stadium 5:07pm
Game 7*   
Oct 24   
Dodger Stadium 5:07pm
*if necessary All times Pacific
All games televised on TBS

I can still remember the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach as Matt Stairs' mammoth home run sucked the air out of Dodger Stadium in Game 4 of last year's NLCS.  There are so many painful memories of that series:  the Furcal error in Game 1, the sure Manny Ramirez home run that somehow was hit to the only part of the park it wouldn't have been a home run, the Chad Billingsley performances that we still have to hear about to this day, the Victorino laser beam home run that may have been eight feet off the ground during it's entire flight, the foul popout to end the series just like Thurman Munson squeezing the final out of the 1978 World Series at Dodger Stadium.  A new year, however, brings a new opportunity, so with the NLCS rematch set to begin tomorrow, here are a few notes heading into the series:

Cole Hamels is the same pitcher as last season

On first glance, it may seem like Phillies' pitcher Cole Hamels is having a down year.  After all, his ERA is up over a run from last season, from 3.09 to 4.32.  However, his peripherals are nearly identical to last season:

2008 3.07% 5.04% 21.47% 21.8% 39.5% 3.70 3.78 3.09 .262
2009 2.95% 4.79% 20.64% 20.8% 40.4% 3.71 3.75 4.32 .321

Hamels has pitched basically the same in both years, yet as we can see by his batting average on balls in play, he has been less fortunate this season, and as a result his ERA has skyrocketed.  The truth about Hamels is that he's probably somewhere in between an unstoppable super ace and a struggling pitcher.  But, he's the same pitcher as last year, fundamentally, so if you think he's not capable of reeling off another amazing October run, think again.

Phillies against LHP will be a factor

Much has been made about the Dodgers have the left-handed pitching to combat the Phillies' lineup.  Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Raul Ibanez are forces to contend with from the left side of home plate, as are switch-hitters Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino at the top of the lineup.  Conventional baseball wisdom suggests that the Dodgers and their southpaw pitchers would have an advantage, but the Phillies have performed quite well against lefties this season.  David S. Cohen of The Good Phight tackled the issue yesterday:

Yes, the Phillies lefties do worse against lefthanded pitching, but only going from an .814 OPS against righties to a .793 OPS against lefties.  The big difference is that the Phillies righties do much better against lefthanded pitching, going from a .717 OPS against righties to a .783 OPS against lefties.

And, measured against the rest of the league, the Phillies here are at a huge advantage.  The Phillies' lefties sOPS+ (measure of how good the team's OPS is against the league for this split, with 100+ being better and below 100 being worse) is 108 against righties but goes up to 125 against lefties.  The team's righties sOPS+ goes from 98 against righties to 102 against lefties.

It's true: Utley, Ibanez, and Victorino all hit better against lefties than righties.  Rollins has hit worse against LHP this season, but is slightly better in his career.  To me, the slew of Dodger lefties matter for one reason: Ryan Howard.  Howard against RHP is the best hitter in the National League (.319/.395/.691 this year, .307/.409/.661 career), but against LHP he becomes invisible (.207/.298/.356 in 2009, .226/.310/.444 career).  Clayton Kershaw, Randy Wolf, Hong-Chih Kuo, and George Sherrill will play a huge role in attempting to shut Howard down.

As for the rest of the lefties in the Phillies' lineup, I have to believe the Dodger lefties are good enough to get them out.  Left-handed batters have hit just .193/.268/.317 against Dodger southpaws, the fourth best sOPS+ in the league.  Here is how the Phillies' lefties have fared against the top NL lefty squads this season:

LHP Against LHB, 2009
vs MLB LHB vs Phillies LHB
Cardinals .170/.244/.213 .457 .273/..385/.273 .657
Reds .178/.255/.240 .494 .211/.286/.579 .865
Braves .203/.267/.304 .571 .191/.283/.340 .623
Dodgers .193/.268/.317 .585 .189/.254/.358 .613

Teams whose left-handed pitchers have done the best against the league's lefty batters have also done well against the Phillies.  A couple of home runs off Danny Herrera inflated the Phillies' LHB OPS off the Reds, but I'm going out on a limb saying the Dodgers possess better LHP options than that.  Dodger lefthanders have struck out an MLB-best 32.5% of left-handed batters this season.

Struggling shortstops may be the key to the series

Any time a regular player has an on-base percentage below .300, it's a cause for concern.  Jimmy Rollins has a .296 OBP this season, yet there he is at the top of the Philadelphia lineup, game after game.  However, he is still having a good season.  His BABIP is just .251 this season, after fluctuating between .281 and .309 over the last six years, suggesting some bad luck.

The Hardball Times features a stat called PrOPS, which is short for "Predicted OPS."  They describe it thusly:

PrOPS stands for "Predicted OPS." It was developed by J.C. Bradbury amd introduced in this article. PrOPS isn't really a new stat; it's a formula for predicting what a player's OPS is likely to be in the future based on his batted balls, strikeouts, home runs and walks.

Based on his underlying data, Rollins' prOPS this season is .783 (.290/.331/.452), which is right in line with his career:

Year prOPS Actual OPS
2004 .769 .803
2005 .767 .770
2006 .820 .811
2007 .831 .875
2008 .816 .786
2009 .783 .719

Rollins is still a force to be reckoned with, despite his low OBP.

As for Rafael Furcal, a healthy back has made him a force to be reckoned with at the top of the lineup, which shifts the Dodger offense into a higher gear.  Furcal hit .330/400/.491 since the beginning of September, but more importantly he was six for seven in stolen base attempts.  Furcal has had the green light to run all season, but only attempted 11 steals in the first five months of the season.  That he is on the move again suggests he finally feels healthy, a great sign for the Dodgers.  Furcal hit .500/.500/.667 in the NLDS against the Cardinals.

Brad Lidge is improving, but still struggling

Lidge, one year removed from a "perfect" season (no blown saves in 2008), is having quite the imperfect season in 2009.  This year he has blown a whopping 11 saves, including two to the Dodgers back in June on back-to-back days.  He has been consistent in his struggling, but a look at the underlying data suggests some improvement later in the season:

April 8.2 1 7.27 6.96
May 14.2 3 7.98 5.33
June 4.0 2 6.75 8.40
July 10.2 0 5.91 5.40
August 10.2 3 6.75 4.74
Sept/Oct    10.0 2 8.10 3.35
2009 Totals    58.2 11 7.21 5.35

Even as his FIP improved  into acceptable levels later in the season, he still struggled, blowing five saves over the final two months.  He had two saves in the division series, but he also walked two of the six batters he faced.  On the season, Lidge has walked 5.22 batters per nine innings, so the key for the Dodgers will be patience and discipline.  Not that I would ever want the Phillies to have a lead, but if Lidge enters the game with a one-run lead the Dodgers will take those odds.

Who says voodoo dolls don't work?

Since July 1, including the postseason, Matt Stairs has four hits in 50 at-bats, and is hitting .080/.281/.240.

Just like the NLDS with the Cardinals, this NLCS is a closely-matched series between two very good teams.  I anticipate a good series, and by "good" I mean "the Dodgers will win in six."