NLDS Preview – Los Angeles

At long last, the second season is upon us. St Louis will play the Dodgers in the NLDS. Winner gets the winner of Philadelphia/Colorado. Loser thinks of ‘what might have been’.

Los Angeles has been the best team in the National League this season. St Louis turned a fantastic run from late July through early September into a National League Central Crown.

End of the Year Snapshot

St Louis: NL Central Champions, but lost 8 of their last 10 games, including getting swept at home by Milwaukee.

Los Angeles: NL West Champions, best record in the league. Lost 6 of their last 10 games, but won on Saturday and Sunday.

Playoff History

The Cardinals and Dodgers have met three times in the playoffs since the advent of the divisional format in 1969. They played a memorable NLCS in 1985, won by St Louis in 6, which included two of the more memorable HRs hit in Cardinal playoff history – the ‘Go Crazy, Folks!’ Ozzie Smith HR to win Game 5, and Tommy Lasorda’s famous last words to Tom Niedenfuer (‘Don’t give him anything good to hit’), which led to a fat fastball deposited high up the LF bleachers by Jack Clark. They’ve met twice in the Divisional round – 2004 (Cardinal sweep), and 2005 (Cardinals in 4).

So to summarize: 3 series, all won by St Louis. St Louis is 3-3 in Chavez Ravine and 7-0 in St Louis against the Dodgers.

Team Metrics

wOBA. Los Angeles finished tied for 4th in the NL in weighted On Base Average. Ronnie Belliard (.446), Manny (.396), Andre Ethier (.370), and Matt Kemp (.367) lead the way for the Dodgers. It will be interesting to see if Joe Torre continues to play Belliard over Orlando Hudson (.342). Guys dragging them down include the formerly formidable Russell Martin (.307), Blake DeWitt (.271), and Mark Loretta (.265).

St Louis finished 8th in the league, paced by Albert Pujols (.449). Of the potential starters Holliday (.423), Molina (.337), and Schumaker (.336) come next. Julio Lugo (.351) has put up good numbers, but as we’ll see, his defense is, shall we say, suspect. Guys not getting on include Rasmus (.311) DeRosa (.304), and Ankiel (.288). LaRussa hasn’t gotten much out of CF with the bat this season.

Just for the heck of it, here’s a comparision of individual hitters (standard AVG / OBP / SLG format) by position.

1B Loney (.281/.357/.399) Pujols (.327/.443/.658)
2B Belliard (.351/.398/.636) Schumaker (.302/.364/.393)
3B Blake (.280/.363/.468) DeRosa (.228/.291/.405)
SS Furcal (.269/.335/.375) Ryan (.292/.340/.400)
C Martin (.250/.352/.329) Molina (.293/.366/.383)
LF Ramirez (.290/.418/.531) Holliday (.353/.419/.604)
CF Kemp (.297/.352/.490) Rasmus (.251/.307/.407)
RF Ethier (.272/.366/.508) Ludwick (.265/.329/.447)
PH Thome (.249/.366/.481) Ankiel (.231/.285/.387)
BN Hudson (.283/.357/.417) Lugo (.281/.357/.399)
BN Pierre (.308/.365/.392)

Comments. Thome’s numbers are for his time with the Chisox and Dodgers, since he only has 32 PA as a Dodger. Lugo’s numbers are with the Cardinals only, he has 170 PA. Belliard is hitting WAY over his head (career line: .275/.339/.418). He is the hot hand at the moment, but I wouldn’t expect it to continue in the playoffs and I would expect Hudson to get playing time. The Cardinals have no real threat off the bench, especially from the right side. Ankiel has not been a good hitter this season and is unreliable at best as a pinch hitter. Your right side options are LaRue, Lugo, Glaus, and Thurston. Wow.

Lineups are a wash. LA has the better bench. Advantage LA.

UZR. LA is 7th in fielding based on UZR, with a 4.4 rating. STL comes in just behind them (8th), but with a -8.0 rating. If we normalize the defensive metric to UZR/150, the Cardinals and Dodgers switch places (-1.2 to -0.2, respectively). In other words, they are average defensively.

Let’s look at individual fielders:

1B Loney (1.5) Pujols (1.8)
2B Belliard (-0.9)/Hudson (-4.1) Schumaker (-4.9)
3B Blake (7.6) DeRosa (-0.2)
SS Furcal (8.1) Ryan (12.4)
C Martin (.994 fielding pct) Molina (.995 fielding pct)
LF Ramirez (-7.8) Holliday (-1.8)
CF Kemp (4.4)/Pierre (6.2) Rasmus (9.2)/Ankiel (6.4)
RF Ethier (-14.1) Ludwick (1.5)

The Dodgers are better at 2B, but frankly that’s not a surprise seeing as Schumaker is playing his first season as a middle infielder. DeRosa has been average at 3B (LF/2B are his natural positions), and Blake is pretty good with the glove. However, St Louis has defensive advantages everywhere else on the diamond. UZR is not calculated for catchers, so I went with the archaic fielding percentage. Two interesting things stand out:

– Loney has been Pujols’ peer with the glove this season
– Ethier is a terrible defensive RF.

Give the edge to St Louis. The Cardinals are a better defensive club.

FIP. Fielding Independent Pitching gives a better measure of pitching prowess than ERA, because it (as the name implies) attempts to take the defense effect out of the equation. The mathematical definition can be found here.

The Dodgers and Cardinals are a virtual dead heat in FIP, 3.80 to 3.82, respectively. How do the starters stack up?

1 Wolf (3.96) Carpenter (2.78)
2 Kershaw (3.08) Wainwright (3.11)
3 Padilla (3.40) Pineiro (3.28)
4? Billingsley (3.82) Lohse (4.55)

Very similar starting staffs. Here’s another argument for using Smoltz in the rotation instead of Lohse: Smoltz’s FIP is 2.73 as a Cardinal.

Bullpens. Looking at the bullpens, I evaluated innings pitched and stranded runner percentage for each. To me, stranded runner percentage is a better metric of how good a bullpen is; if they can prevent inherited runners from scoring, they are pretty effective. Innings pitched gives some indication of how tired the pen is, and perhaps whether or not their effectiveness will be diminished.

LA: 553 IP (2nd most in NL to San Diego), 71% of inherited runners stranded (6th in NL)
STL: 437 IP (lowest in NL), 77% of inherited runners stranded (best in NL).


Joe Torre.
This will be his second foray into the playoffs as the Dodgers’ manager. As you probably recall, he advanced to the NLCS last year, but lost to Philadelphia and was really derailed by Matt Stairs’ mammoth HR in game 5. He’s been to the playoffs 15 times via 13 division titles (1 with ATL, 10 with NYY, 2 with LA), and 2 wild cards (both with the Yankees). He’s also been to the playoffs for 14 consecutive years as a manager, which I believe ties Bobby Cox’s major league record. He hasn’t won a league pennant since 2003, and last year was the first time since 2004 he’d taken his team to the LCS. A savvy, experienced manager, Torre’s won 6 League Championships and 4 World Series, all with the Yankees.

Tony LaRussa. LaRussa returns to the playoffs for the first time since winning the World Series in 2006. This will be his 13th post-season appearance overall. Tony’s had a lot of success in the Divisional Round, but not so much at the LCS/WS level, however, he does have 5 League Championships and 2 World Series titles to his credit (3 and 1 with Oakland, 2 and 1 with the Cardinals). There’s not much, if anything, Joe Torre can dream up that LaRussa hasn’t either thought of or implemented.

Pitching Matchups

Game 1: Chris Carpenter (17-4, 2.24) vs Randy Wolf (11-7, 3.23).
Carpenter: 37-24 career on 5 days rest. He’s never lost to the Dodgers (5-0, 2.24), and won both starts against them in 2009. In Chavez Ravine, he’s 2-0, but with a 4.85 ERA – and that’s including his 8-inning, 1 run masterpiece on August 17. He has handled the current Dodger roster – .216/.282/.344 against in 245 PA. Best hitters against him: Manny (.267/.371/.533, 2 HR) and Thome (.292/.393/.708, also 2 HR).

Wolf: Left-handed pitcher. Pitching on regular rest (58-49 career on 4 days rest). He’s 3-5, 3.64 career vs St Louis, and 4-3, 3.63 in 18 starts at home in 2009. He faced the Cardinals once in 2009, losing in St Louis on July 27. Best Cardinal hitters against him: AP (.313/.368/.375), and Holliday (.313/.389/.688, HR). Cardinals as a team have hit .255/.331/.362 in 162 PA.

Game 2: Adam Wainwright (19-8, 2.63) vs Clayton Kershaw (8-8, 2.79). Rematch of 19 August game won by St Louis.
Wainwright: 15-9 career on 5 days rest. He faced the Dodgers twice in 2009, winning in St Louis on July 28, getting no decision in LA on August 19. Career he’s 2-2, 3.13 against the Dodgers, but 1-1, 5.60 in the smog. Best Dodgers against him: Furcal (.438/.438/.563), Martin (.500/.563/.643), and Belliard (.400/.400/.700, HR). Dodgers as a team are .257/.297/.414 in 149 PA.

Kershaw: Left-handed pitcher working on regular rest (8-5, 3.13 in 30 starts on 4 days rest). Kershaw’s .3-4, 1.83 ERA at home this season. He’s not lost to the Cardinals (1-0, 1.82 ERA in 4 starts), and faced them twice this season, getting no decision in both starts (July 29 and August 19). Best Cardinal hitters against him are Holliday (.400/.571/.400), and AP (.571/.727/.857 – 4 for 7). Cardinals as a team are .216/.326/.257 in 88 PA.

Game 3: Vincente Padilla (4-0, 3.20 as a Dodger) vs Joel Pineiro (15-12, 3.53).
Padilla: The Dodger Padilla more closely resembles the 2002 version as opposed to the Texas Ranger version. He’s 24-22, 4.56 career on 5 days rest. He did not face the Cardinals in 2009, and hasn’t started a game against St Louis since August 15 2003. That’s also the last time he faced them. The Cardinals have only 73 PA against him. AP is 4-9.

Pineiro: 31-25, 4.08 career on 5 days rest. Pineiro is 2-0, 3.38 career (3 starts) against the Dodgers, and 7-6, 2.87 this year at Busch. Joel beat the Dodgers in St Louis on July 27. Manny has owned him (.424/.560/.788, 4 HR), and Blake (.450/.476/.750, HR) likes his pitches too. As a team the Dodgers have hit .305/.340/.463 in 201 PA.

Game 4 (if needed): Chad Billingsley (12-11. 4.03) vs John Smoltz (3-8, 6.35)
Billingsley: Hasn’t pitched since September 29. On 6 or more days of rest, he’s 5-2, 3.76 in 8 starts. He’s 1-2, 4.40 in 6 games (5 starts) against St Louis, and was 1-1, 6.17 this season against the Cardinals. His loss came in St Louis on July 28. He’s never won in St Louis. Only Yadier is hitting over .300 off Billingsley, but Matt Holliday has hit 3 HR off Chad. Cardinals are .212/.330/.376 in 101 PA.

Consider this a strenuous vote for Smoltz to start Game 4 if LaRussa goes with 4 starters. I think the body of his playoff work, as well as his much better FIP this season, make him a better fit at this point. Smoltz did not face the Dodgers in 2009. Career he’s 16-14, 2.89 against LA, and 1-1, 3.12 ERA in 4 starts at Neo-Busch. Current Dodgers are hitting .268/.301/.401 in 169 PA; Thome has 4 HR and Hudson is 4-9 against him.

This should be a great series. I can’t wait – let’s START already!


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Filed under 2009 post-season, Cardinals Preview

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