Small Sample Sizes Be Damned! Your Phillies 2009 World Series Pitching Preview

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As I'm sure you are all blatantly aware, due to some ham-handed statements by both Rob and me around these parts, I am very much a New Jersey native, dago and a Yankees fan. As such, this World Series preview (note: even calling it this would be most generous) will feature no prognostication or any attempt to consider either of the contending parties as a whole. Rather, we shall be using statistics to consider how the Phillies front four starting pitchers, Cliff Lee, Pedro Martinez, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton, match up against the Yankees lineup. That OK with you? No? Well, I'm doing it anyway.

(pulls on latex gloves)

Let's begin.

To get the obvious out of the way first, yes, the Yankees and Phillies did play each other in 2009 already and yes, the Phillies won 2 of the 3 played games in NY. That was from May 22nd - May 24th. The starters in those games for the Yankees? Sabathia, Burnett and Pettitte. Oooh, creepy! Before you mortgage your house to bet on the Phillies, keep in mind this series happened in May and that only one of those games (the Burnett game, naturally) was a clear victory for the NL team. The other two contests featured both parties struggling to victory. Cliff Lee wasn't even on the team yet blah blah blah you get the idea. Therefore, we'll let this 3 game set fall into the shallow grave of small sample sizes from days of yore and never speak of it again.

The truly unique thing about the Phillies rotation is that three of the four majors players had all spent significant time pitching in the American League at one point in their career or another. Only Hamels can claim to be a non-expatriate of the AL as his flowing locks have graced the Senior Circuit throughout his young career. This detail about the Fightins' starters means that nerds like me have access to far larger sample sizes than would normally be the case. Granted, these sample sizes could still easily be considered quite "small" even by the most liberal of definitions so the subsequent analysis certainly isn't infallible. Moreover, the Yankee lineup that these starters (namely Pedro) faced is in all actuality quite different from the one taking the field this evening. This fact will obviously obscure some of the data and as such, l will also be employing some career secondary statistics to hopefully paint a more vivid picture for you. The big question here today though? How much can the Phillies be expected to help the Yankees beat them?

Making 'Em Work & Clogging Yer Bases

Quick! Name something the Yankees are good at! OK, "spending lots of money" would have been my first guess too. After that though, everybody knows that the Yankees lineup likes to work counts and make the opposing pitchers throw more pitches. How do we know this? Simple, every broadcaster ever will belabor this point ad infinitum. But are the Phillies likely to put extra Yankees on base?

If we just look at WHIP, the answer appears to be yes. All four starters WHIPs inflate when they face the Yankees. Cliff Lee is probably the most egregious example of this a detail that helps to explain why his career numbers against the Yankees are quite underwhelming to put it modestly. Hamels' and Blanton's WHIPs also both increase (around 0.2 upping for each) when they face the Pinstripes. Pedro's WHIP number does go up, but from an excellent 1.054 to a simply superb 1.075. That's just sickening.

BUT we can tease some more out of this analysis by looking at the number of batters faced per inning for each of these starters when they go against the Yankees. In doing so we see that Lee (4.5), Blanton (4.5), Pedro (4.2) and Hamels (4.2), on average, all end up seeing more than the recommended dosage of 3 batters per frame when they are playing the Pinstripes. This wouldn't be such a big deal except the Yankees led all of the major leagues by a wide margin in wOBA, wRC, and wRAA. In short, despite the LOB epidemic that has plagued many teams this postseason, you simply don't want to have to face the Yankees with runners on. Let's see if the Phillies rotation can accomplish this task.

Great Balls (In Play) Of Fire

We'll expand now a little to the Phillies pitching staff as a whole and start looking at the secondary stats I mentioned earlier. Here's a few things to consider. One the one hand, the Phillies had the 6th worst ERA-FIP differential in Major League Baseball (-0.20). However, the Fightins' defense was the 5th best in baseball according to UZR/150. If nothing else, this shows just how dependent the pitchers are on the superb defense behind them and it gives the Phillies a distinct and obvious advantage over their opponents in the defensive realm as a whole. Chalk one up for the Fightins and their pitching staff in that batted ball department.

Nevertheless, not all batted balls are good things for the team from Pennsylvania. The Phillies had the 3rd worst HR/9 in baseball. Part of this can certainly be attributed to park factors, but unless the Phillies up and move for the World Series, the numbers are still going to be there staring everyone in the face. Does this bode well for the Yankees in particular? Well, the team from NY puts the ball in the air at a middle of the pack rate (37.3%). Moreover though, they do have the highest HR/FB ratio in all of baseball, something that doesn't necessarily bode well for their NL opponent give the previous statistics. The Yankees were also in the top 10 in LD% on the year. So if the Phillies starters give in to their historical propensity to put men on base against the Pinstripes, it could be a long day for the Fightins indeed if the Yankees start driving the ball...

(All statistical stuff courtesy of the usual Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference)

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Even a smaller sample size: home runs at Yankee Stadium are down about 65% in the postseason, mostly due to better pitching and colder weather and the fact that I like to cherry-pick things.

This is tremendous. Awesome work. My only gripe/curiosity is: What was the average number of batters faced per inning for the Phils starters against non-Yankee opponents? Three is the BEST you can hope for in any given inning, so how does their 4.3-ish average vs NYY stack up against their other efforts?

Also, I am dumb/lazy/ignorant and don't know how to or want to look things up on my own, so I ask others to do it for free.

Damn, 310, way to bring the good stuff!

Even a smaller sample size: home runs at Yankee Stadium are down about 65% in the postseason

Just a hunch, but that's going to change tomorrow evening.

Good question. I didn't totally eliminate the Yankees because I don't have time at the moment but for career:

Cliff Lee = 4.24 (His NL only = 4.1 batters/inning)
Cole Hamels = 4.1 batters/inning
Pedro = 4.03 batters/inning
Blanton = 4.25 batters/inning

As you were doing that, I pulled their numbers for just 2009 (includes games vs NYY):

Lee - 4.16
Hamels - 4.20
Pedro - 4.28
Blanton - 4.29

Lee and Blanton have the most dramatic increases, whereas Hamels remains flat with his super-tiny sample size vs NY.

Give a man a fish/Teach a man to fish

I prefer my fish with a nice lemon brodetto.

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