Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Scouting Report: Dodgers at Nationals (8/26)

Again, while I'm on vacation I'm just posting the simple pitching previews and predictions. If the scheduled starters changed since Friday, that won't be reflected here.

Pitching Match-Up

Derek Lowe: I previewed Lowe's start on July 26 against the Nationals. You may remember Lowe threw 8 innings of one-hit, shutout ball, a game that was in the middle of an 0-6 West Coast trip featuring 19 straight scoreless innings.

I don't have anything to add to what I wrote then, so if you read this already, sorry. Well, I will add that since I wrote this Lowe has had six starts--five good ones and one total clunker against the Cardinals. I'd also add that minus Lo Duca and Lopez, the Nationals' biggest problem at the plate is no longer over-aggressiveness across the board. In fact, Bonifacio and Kearns in particular should probably be swinging at more early-count strikes.

But otherwise, everything else is the same. So here's the encore edition of my Derek Lowe preview:
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.
Collin Balester: Aside from is first two starts and a clunker against the Mets last week, his command has been outstanding. Overall, he's walked 3.14 per 9, which ain't great but for a kid just getting started is acceptable. But if you take out those first two and the Mets game, he has walked just 4.2% of batters faced, which is truly elite command. Now of course, you can't take out those other starts, but I think it's noteworthy that in six of his nine starts he's had not only good command, but fantastic, brilliant, "big high five and do a little dance with LMillz" command.

Another thing that's been very consistent for Collin is the groundball rate. Overall, he has a 1.43 GB/FB rate, and in all but one start he got more groundballs than flyballs. That's a real strength because although flyballs become outs slightly more often than groundballs, groundballs produce less runs overall. After all, a groundball can't leave the yard.

One final note. On July 23, Balester's ERA was 5.75. On August 1, the Nationals upgraded their infield defense by inserting Bonifacio at second base, dumping Felipe Lopez, and ending the Paul Lo Duca at 1B debacle. Over five starts since, this groundball pitcher has seen his ERA fall to 4.99. That's not a coincidence. As I've said before, I want to see our best defensive infield behind Balester every time. I think right now that means Zimm, Hernandez, Bonifacio, and... well... probably Larry Broadway, but since Bowden wants to play the final three months of the year with no firstbaseman I guess it's Ronnie Belliard.

What to Look For
--The Dodgers have been one of the NL's weaker offenses this year, but since Manny arrived, they are a different team. Team OPS without Manny: .697. Team OPS with Manny: .803. Runs per game have jumped from 4.17 to 4.53. That's more of an effect than one guy can have alone. The data say that "lineup protection" is very overrated generally, so maybe there's some correlation not causation here. And indeed, Kent has gotten hot for instance, and that's probably just a coincidence. But regardless you can't argue that the Dodgers aren't a much more dangerous team now. I wasn't a fan of the deal at the time, and I'm still not, because I don't think the Dodgers have the horses to win it all this year, and I think they gave up talent that makes the further from their next championship. But so far, Manny's having he desired effect.

--Everyone was wondering how Torre would handle his five outfielders. I gotta hand it to him, he seems to be doing mostly the right thing. Manny and Kemp play every day. Ethier also mostly plays, but Pierre is getting a start every 3-4 days. Andruw Jones, one of those high-priced free agents we're supposed to want so bad, has been banished.

Fearless Prediction
Lowe does that sinkerballer trick and the Nationals go down 5-0.


phil dunn said...

Anybody with a half a brain should have figured out that Andruw Jones was washed up after last season. Ned Colletti should be fired for signing him. That deal tops any of Bowden's blunders.

Hendo said...

Ned Colletti is capable of any number of blunders, most centered around his love of old guys and his apparent fear of getting slimed by Bill Plaschke as his predecessor, Paul DePodesta, did.

We could do worse.

We could also do better. DePo, we need you!

Anonymous said...

None of Colletti's blunders come close to Jimbo's!!
Com'on his love of old broken, overrated (by jimbo himself) Reds. His contract extensions for old OVERWEIGHT 1B, that he probably split the contract with, his skimming of Dominican kids bonuses...hello he is horrible, and I am sure he has embezzled enough money by now, so let him go, he will live happily ever after and maybe we can get a win!!