Saturday, October 25, 2008

World Series Point/Counterpoint: Myself on the Rays.

Apologies for the lateness of this piece, the counterpoint to Mike’s argument in favour of the Phillies. I got caught up in Journal work this week, as most of our sports contributors contracted severe cases of midtermitis, leaving me to carry even more of the load then normal (I wrote a personal-record five game stories, one column, one profile and one brief for Friday’s issue). Thus, there wasn’t a lot of time to do much of anything on the blogging front. In any case, though, with the Rays and Phillies splitting the first two games of the World Series, it’s still very much up for grabs, so I figured it would still be worth writing this piece: just consider it a preview of the best-of-five series that remains.

In my far-from-expert opinion, the Rays are going to take this series. It’s going to be close, as the Phillies are a very talented ball club, but the Rays win this matchup on depth. That depth is a triple-barreled advantage; it’s present in pitching, offence and defence, and it’s why Philadelphia’s championship drought will continue for at least another year.

First, consider the pitching. As Game 1 demonstrated, there isn’t a great deal of difference between the two staff aces, Cole Hamels of the Phillies and Scott Kazmir of the Rays (Hamels has an edge, but it isn’t a ridiculous one). The matchups start to favour Tampa Bay after this, though. Philly’s only other starting pitchers with an ERA+ above 100 (better than average) are Jamie Moyer (3.71 ERA, 120 ERA+) and Joe Blanton (4.20, 106). Brett Myers is slightly below league average (4.55 ERA, 98 ERA+). Moyer is 45 and threw just under 200 innings in the regular-season: he’s still got talent, but I’m not sure if I’d want him as a key starter at this point in his career. Blanton only appeared in 13 games this season and threw 70 innings: he appears to have some talent, but I wouldn’t pin my hopes on him either.

By contrast, Tampa has five solid starters. Kazmir, James Shields and Matt Garza are all hovering around 120 in ERA+, while Andy Sonnanstine and Edwin Jackson are at 100 and 99 respectively. These guys are all very impressive. Philadelphia has a bit of an edge in bullpen depth, but Tampa has some strong options too in Grant Balfour, Dan Wheeler, J.P. Howell and David Price. If Tampa’s starters can eat enough innings, bullpen depth may not be an issue.

On offence, it’s a similar story. Looking through the Game 1 starters, there isn’t a great deal of difference between the batting lineups using regular-season statistical comparisons (a larger sample size than the postseason). Tampa has a slight edge in batting average (.270 to .263) and on-base percentage (.346 to .344), but Philly leads in slugging percentage (.455 to .432) and OPS (.799 to .778). Interestingly enough, though, Tampa has the edge in OPS+ (110 to 106), which seems odd when you look at the raw OPS numbers, but is probably due to the league and park factors OPS+ takes into consideration.

The offensive edge comes from the depth, though. Philadelphia has a couple of black holes in the batting order in Carlos Ruiz (.219/.320/.300, 63 OPS+) and Pedro Feliz (.249/.302/.402, 81). Those two players are worse offensively than anyone in Tampa’s starting lineup. Chris Coste, who’s DHing in the games in Tampa, isn’t much better (.263/.325/.423, 93): his OPS+ only beats Tampa shortstop Jason Bartlett (who, as the brilliant Joe Posnanski pointed out, was a bizarre choice for Tampa’s MVP: probably picked for his defence and his .286 batting average, but he doesn’t get on base too frequently and he doesn’t have a great deal of power) and outfielder Carl Crawford, whose speed increases his value. The Rays also have terrific depth off the bench, with the likes of Rocco Baldelli, Cliff Floyd and Gabe Gross available. It’s the depth throughout the lineup that makes the Rays an appealing pick. I say they take it in six.

1 comment:

  1. I just thought something was lost coming back for 3 innings and then the Series is over...for the sake of history, I was hoping for a full 9 inning game on the same day...2 World Series in 126 years for the Phillies? I could be waiting for a while as a Canucks fan.