November 2, 2009
BASEBALL: Expected Goats
The World Series often produces unexpected heroes and goats. But thus far, the goats, at least, of the 2009 World Series have been exactly who Phillies phans might have expected from the 2009 regular season: Cole Hamels and Brad Lidge.
The Yankees couldn't do anything with Cliff Lee in Game One, and the Phils couldn't touch the revived AJ Burnett in Game Two; these things happen. But when Philly got to Andy Pettitte early in Game Three, that was their opportunity, and they're behind the 8-ball now in large part because the man who was supposed to be their ace this season, Hamels, just wasn't up to holding a 3-0 lead, coughing up a 2-run homer to A-Rod in the 4th before being KO'd by a 3-run rally in the 5th highlighted by Pettitte's RBI single.
What ailed Hamels this year? This is a guy who was 15-5 with a 3.39 ERA in 2007, only 14-10 but with a 3.09 ERA in 2008. At 25, he should be one of the top starters in the game, yet he slumped to 10-11 with a 4.32 ERA.
The evidence of a dramatic falloff is hard to find in Hamels' HR/BB/K per 9 IP data:
2007: 1.2 HR, 2.1 BB, 8.7 K
2008: 1.1 HR, 2.1 BB, 7.8 K
2009: 1.1 HR, 2.0 BB, 7.8 K
As you can see, the dip in Hamels' strikeut rate came in 2008, not 2009, and otherwise he's been exactly the same pitcher. The Hardball Times lists Hamels' xFIP (a fielding-independent ERA measure) for the past four years as 3.91, 3.53, 3.78 and 3.75. In other words, with an average defense, Hamels has been the same pitcher all along - never as good as his best ERAs, nor as bad as his worst (another sign that 2008's ERA was an outlier: Hamels allowed 11 unearned runs compared to 3 in 2007, 2 in 2009). His groundball/flyball percentage has also remained somewhat stable, although his percentage of line drives allowed among balls in play shot up (along with the lower K rate) from 19.4% in 2007 to 21.8% in 2008, before dipping to 20.8% this year. Basically the whole difference is that the Defensive Efficiency Rating behind him (percentage of balls in play converted to outs) went from a stellar .721 in 2007, to an astounding .741 in 2008, to a poor .683 in 2009. That being said, even if Hamels' problems this year were bad defense and/or bad luck, they stayed with him in Game Three.
Game Four will be controversial because of the decision to start Joe Blanton rather than Cliff Lee on short rest (a decision that also means Hamels will start if there's a Game Seven). But Lee has, so far as I can tell, never started a game on three days' rest, let alone two in a row, and it's not like Blanton's been terrible this year. I can understand the decision. But the game ultimately came down to Lidge vs Mariano Rivera, and we all know how that ends. Lidge has had a seesaw career since his catastrophic 2005 postseason, and this year has been all saw, to the point where the Phillies should hope he goes the Jay Howell route and gets suspended for the rest of the series. Unlike Hamels, there's no mystery with Lidge: he went from 0.3 HR/9, 4.5 BB & 11.9 K in 2008, when he was 4th in the Cy Young balloting, to 1.7 HR, 5.2 BB & 9.4 K this year. But for good measure, the DER behind him also cratered from .704 to .645. (On the whole, the Phils' DER this year was off only slightly, from .695 to .691, but other than JA Happ, all the really high DERs were behind the Phillies' middle relievers).
The final point: I have not run the numbers or seen if anyone has, but this Series has to be approaching the all-time record, if not shattering it, for percentage of the total runs scored in the Series that are scoring on home runs.
PS: On the other hand, it's ironic that the team using only 3 starters is the one having trouble getting middle relief help.
Speaking of Lidge, on ESPN radio (Mike & Mike) this morning, they played a spoof song about Lidge that was written after his last postseason collapse: "Lidge over Troubled Waters." I don't know if it's on the internet anywhere, but it's worth looking up. Pretty funny.
Meanwhile, and as usual, Jeter and Rivera are having a great postseason. If it ended right now, I'd have Rivera has the WS MVP.
I'm also glad to see A-Rod come through. Given how poorly Teixeira is hitting, the media attention on A-Rod has been unfair.
As a Yankee fan who watched this team all season, the bullpen issues are extremely befuddling. Our bullpen was dominant for long stretches of time, I would consider it the best in the game starting in mid-May. Alfredo Aceves could be counted on for 1 scoreless inning or 4. Hughes had no fear.
The craziest thing about it is that Marte is the guy who I LEAST trusted in the bullpen in the regular season, but who has done the best job here. And why, why, WHY did Joba, after an extremely shaky season as a starter suddenly get vaulted to a position of extreme importance? And what happened to Phil Coke? Coke hasn't given up a run this postseason, Joba has given up plenty. Girardi's managing of the pen this year has really made me question his intelligence as a manager, but one thing to remember is that this is the first extended postseason for a lot of the guys on our team, and Girardi might be using kid gloves a little bit. If we win it, all will be forgiven, and its clear that Hughes' days as heir apparent to Rivera are finished. Can't wait to see him as a starter next year.
The real issue is how poorly Rollins, Victorino, Howard, and Ibanez are hitting. Some (of course) is due to Yankee pitching. But I think it is also due to poor pitch recognition. Last night a bunch of Phillie hitters kept swinging at very low breaking balls.
They need to stop swinging at bad pitches.
While it is doubtful that Lee will turn in a stinker there is sort of a "this could get ugly early" feeling to this game tonight. I can see the Yankees going up 4-1 early and then busting it open, wide open in the later innings. I think you can stick a fork in the Phillies.
Crank, Hamels was 14-10 in '08, not 14-20.
As a Yankee fan, that's what I'd like to happen, but Burnett is a wild card on normal rest, and who knows what he's like on three-day's rest. I'm not so sure that Burnett is any more likely than Lee to perform well.
Plus, having Molina and Gardner rather than Cabrera and Posada makes the bottom half of the line-up much weaker. Of course, Posada will eventually be in the lineup if the Yankees aren't way ahead when Burnett exits.
This is a very loseable game for the Yankees, but I'm not terribly concerned if they don't close it out tonight.
". . . the Phillies should hope he goes the Jay Howell route and get suspended for the rest of the series"
Crank, you are being too hard on Brad Lidge! Lidge does NOT have a blown save in the 2009 post season. Kudos go to Johnny Damon in Game 4. His 9 pitch at bat resulted in a single followed by the two stolen bases on one pitch. In the future when the Phillies use the Ted Williams/Willie McCovey/Ryan Howard shift Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley should stay home at short and second and Pedro Felix should be in short right field between Ryan Howard and Utley. If Rollins was at shortstop for Damon's 9th inning steal it would would have only been a solo stolen base and Lidge's pitch selection to Teixeira (and others if need be) would have been different.
Oh, I think Burnett is a wack-job but this sort of has the feeling of the Game 7 of KC-St. Louis after the blown call at first in game 6. Things are going the Yankees way, they are the better team and I can see something small turning this game on its ear and into a Yankee route. Not routing for that but I have been resigned to the Yanks winning the Series for some time now.
Why must people remind me of 2005? Everyone remembers the moon shot Lidge gave up to Pujols in the NLCS. But the Astros went on to win the next game. What I think "broke" Lidge was the game-losing HR he gave up to Scott Podsednik.
It's one thing to be highlight-reeled by Pujols, who is a once-in-a-lifetime type of talent. It's another, very different, thing to give up a World Series game-losing homerun to a guy who didn't hit any during the regular season.
Excuse me while I go cry a little.
I am a Yankee fan and I picked them to win in 6, but this thing isn't over until its over. Even thought they have all the momentum, I would not be surprised if they lost tonight with Lee pitching. That said, I hope Lee is just a little tight tonight, makes some early mistakes and then the Yankees just go nuts.
Oh well. With their #1 pitcher pitching and our staff in suck mode-we still got the tying run up to bat.
Yankees in 6-who is your daddy Pedro?