Saturday, July 26, 2008

Scouting Report: Nationals at Dodgers (7/26)

Nationals at Dodgers: Saturday, July 26 at 10:40 ET
It's another NattyDelite! Special, as the Nationals Fan Club of Hawai'i gets together at 8:40 local to watch game 2 of the Nationals vs. the Dodgers. It'll be another gorgeous night for baseball in Chavez Ravine, 69 and clear. The Nationals enter the leading by a half game in the Stephen Strasburg Sweepstakes (meaning they once again have the worst record in baseball, setting them up for the #1 pick in the draft).

Pitching match-up
Derek Lowe: The Dodgers took a lot of heat when they "overpaid" Lowe four years and $36 million after he posted a 5.42 ERA for Boston in 2004. Well, it turns out that Paul DePodesta knew something everyone else didn't--that Lowe's control problems, which left him with a career-worst 3.50 BB/9, and his bad luck, which yielded a .338 BABIP, were both aberrations and that the always-durable Lowe would give him far more value than the contract would pay.

I know I sound like a broken record, but if the Nationals aren't more patient at the plate, they're in trouble tonight. I think it might be helpful at this point to lay out my oh-so-sophisticated philosophy for how to be successful as a hitter in MLB. Buckle up, kiddos--I've done a lot of detailed statistical analysis, all informed by 2 very solid years in little league 20 years ago. Here it is:
  1. Wait for a good pitch to hit
  2. Hit it hard
Whew!! I need a break. Being a blogger is hard!! OK, seriously, I kind of think it's not much more complicated than that. Breaking down the skill set a bit further, you need a good enough eye to take pitches out of the zone, especially early in the AB. Also on strike one and two, you need the eye to take pitchers' pitches, like good breaking balls in the zone or fastballs down and away--if you put these balls in play, you're more than likely going to make outs. Then if you do those things well, you are more often in hitters' counts when pitchers need to throw strikes. You are more likely to get easier pitches to hit, i.e. a fastball over the plate. If you fall behind and end up with two strikes, you have to have the bat control and pitch recognition to foul off good pitches. Then, if you can get the count full, again you have a much better chance of getting something over the plate. Then, once you get that "pitch to hit," you need the talent to beat the hell out of it.

The Nationals have a bunch of guys who lack the skills or patience for #1 and therefore never get to #2. Lo Duca, Guzman, and Lopez just hack hack hack no matter what. Kearns is good on #1 but just so-so on #2. Flores, Zimmerman, and Harris are the only ones doing both well with any consistency right now, and Harris is going to turn into a pumpkin any day now.

Which brings us back to Derek Lowe. He is a groundball machine. Gophers fear him like character actors fear their next appearance on The Sopranos. He throws a sinker that feels like a bowling ball on your bat. The way to beat him, like all sinker-ballers, is to wait till he misses up in the zone and then pound it into the Natmosphere. He's not going to fool you on velocity, because 60-70% of his pitches are the same, and the rest are sliders and change-ups that are only 6 mph slower. The whole point is to get you to swing at his pitch, a two-seam, bowling ball fastball down in the zone.

Actually, he's throwing slightly fewer sinkers
this year (59.9%, compared with 65-70% in the past) and more sliders. Perhaps as a result, he's getting fewer groundball outs (58.8%, still way more than the 42% league average) and more strikeouts (6.54/9; he was in the low 5's from '02-'06). Still, if I was him I'd go back to 65-70% sinkers tonight and go for the CG. If he does, we could be looking at another CG shutout.

Odalis Perez: Perez has a 3.99 ERA, but he's been lucky, leaving an unsustainable 78.5% of his runners on base. Imagine where Collin Balester
would be if his 58% LOB rate was 20 points better. There's no real evidence that pitchers can consistently pitch better with runners on than they do the rest of the time, and only the very best pitchers in baseball can consistently maintain an LOB number as high as Odalis's. In his salad days as a slim, young Dodger ace, he was known as a control freak (in a good way), but his BB/9 number is double what it was at his best (still a fine 3.33/9, but nothing special). He throws a fastball, cutter, change, and a curve. Bottom line, he's been quite good for us, the bargain that KC expected but didn't get, but we should expect a decline in the last third of the season.

The other plotline here is that he was a chased out of L.A. with a reputation for being a bad seed, and after seeing him flip out and get ejected early in his last start, you have to wonder about his first return to the scene of his greatest triumphs and ignominius departure.

What To Look For
Lots of small sample sizes, but most of our guys have flopped against Lowe, except FLop, ironically.

Not to jinx him, but Hanrahan looked pretty damn good last night. Chico Harlan gave us the lazy sportswriter story about how the turning point was when an athlete turned it all around by gaining confidence or focus or whatever. But the reality is that Hanrahan always had great stuff and is just throwing more strikes now than he has before. Maybe that's mental, but I say his mechanics are cleaner, and he's just pitching better.

The Dodgers really shouldn't send Kent and Nomar out there with Lowe on the mound.

Casey Blake makes his debut for the Dodgers, blocking Blake DeWitt and Andy Laroche. Golly, Ned Colletti really hates the kids.

Will Ethier really sit again? For Juan Pierre and Andruw Jones? Golly, Torre really hates the kids.

Fearless Prediction
(Season record: 3-1, 1 bull's eye)
Last night going into the 8th, I was in line for my second straight bull's eye after predicting a 3-1 Dodger win, but Zimmerman and Langerhans got a run across on Billingsley. Still, the Nationals are proving to be a frustratingly easy team to predict. Until they prove me wrong, I'm looking for another long night of 3-pitch at bats and ground-ball outs. Odalis I think loses his composure (such as it is) on his return to L.A. and gets lit up as the Nationals go down 8-3 in for their fifth straight loss.
  • Update: Torre found a way to get Blake, Kent, Garciaparra, Jones, Pierre and Angel Berroa all in the lineup, with LaRoche, DeWitt, Ethier, and Loney all sitting. Golly, the Dodgers hate the kids.
  • Update 2: Unfortunately it appears that Matt Kemp was not benched. Damn I hate being right like this....


Mike said...

With the Padres win and the Nats loss, they gained a game in the race for Strasburg!

Hendo said...

You said everything that needed to be said, and it got listened to about as per usual.


Steven said...

Christ that was one ghastly awful display. I kinda hoped that Cordero's presence might be a rallying point, but if he had any influence it was as a depressant, which is I guess more predictable. I really wanted Kearnsy to hit one out at the end just for pride.

And the fucking asshole drunken wife-beating motherfucking Phillies next week.

Sorry. I try to keep it a family blog. I'm bummed tonight though.

Hendo said...

The blog proper is suitable and fun for the whole family. I try to do the same with mine.

But perhaps the readers should send the kiddies to bed before reading the comments... >8^}