October 19, 2002
World Series Preview and Prediction
Before I get to my preview of the World Series, I just want to remind everyone to go check out my article, "Minnesota Twins: A Plan for the Future" over at BaseballPrimer.com.
It is part 1 of a 2-parter and I think you will all enjoy reading it.
Okay, on to the preview...
Jason Schmidt (13-8, 3.45 ERA, .524 SNPct) vs. Jarrod Washburn (18-6, 3.15 ERA, .658 SNPct)
Russ Ortiz (14-10, 3.61 ERA, .550 SNPct) vs. Kevin Appier (14-12, 3.92 ERA, .558 SNPct)
Livan Hernandez (12-16, 4.38 ERA, .450 SNPct) vs. Ramon Ortiz (15-9, 3.77 ERA, .584 SNPct)
Kirk Rueter (14-8, 3.23 ERA, .547 SNPct) vs. John Lackey (9-4, 3.66 ERA, .520 SNPct)
Schmidt vs. Washburn
Ortiz vs. Appier
Hernandez vs. Ortiz
Team Stats (League Ranking):
Runs Scored: San Francisco 783 (3) / Anaheim 851 (4)
Runs Allowed: San Francisco 616 (2) / Anaheim (1)
Defensive Efficiency: San Francisco .7194 (4) / Anaheim .7314 (1)
Team EqA: San Francisco .283 (1) / Anaheim .265 (5)
Relievers' Adjusted Runs Prevented: San Francisco 48.2 (2) / Anaheim 68.0 (1)
These are probably the best teams from each league.
Yeah, I know, that isn't exactly a shocking thing to say about the two teams in the World Series.
But, neither of these teams actually won their division and it is somewhat common for a team that is very clearly not the best team in the league to get hot in the playoffs, catch a few breaks here and there and advance to the Fall Classic.
This time however, these teams are pretty clearly the class of their respective leagues.
Anaheim led the AL with a .636 Pythagorean Winning Percentage (which is a calculation of a team's expected winning %, using their runs scored and runs allowed).
And San Francisco led the NL at .618.
Plus, both teams played in the best division in their league, the AL and NL Wests.
On the surface, the success of both teams looks rather similar.
The Giants scored the 3rd most runs in the NL and allowed the 2nd fewest, Anaheim scored the 4th most runs in the AL and allowed the least.
However, Pac Bell Park does funny things to the Giants' numbers because it was one of the most pitcher friendly parks in all of baseball this year.
Which means the Giants hitters are actually quite a bit better than their stats would tell you, and the Giants pitchers are quite a bit less impressive.
Check out the San Francisco home and road hitting splits:
at Home = .258/.339/.409
on Road = .273/.350/.471
Add in the fact that most teams tend to actually hit slightly better at home and you have yourselves a dramatic dip in raw offensive numbers as a result of Pac Bell Park.
And the same thing goes for the SF pitchers' home and road splits:
at Home = 3.03 ERA
on Road = 4.09 ERA
The Giants were third in the NL in runs scored, which is an absolutely amazing stat considering the severity of Pac Bell's affect on hitting.
With home ballpark taken into account, they were clearly the best offensive team in the National League and very likely the best offensive team in baseball.
And their pitching, which allowed the second fewest runs in the NL, well, they were actually pretty average.
Without adjusting to context, the Giants appear to be good offensive team and a good pitching team.
In reality however, the Giants are a phenomenal offensive team and a middle of the pack pitching team.
With the Angels, what the numbers tell you is pretty much what you get.
Their home park plays slightly in the hitters favor, but not anything significant.
They are a team that is very good at preventing runs and a fairly good at scoring them.
Of course, during the post-season, they have been pretty damn good at scoring them too.
Okay, so the matchup is:
Great Hitting/Decent Pitching vs. Decent Hitting/Great Pitching
Well, most baseball "people" and the majority of cliches will tell you that great pitching beats great hitting.
In my preview of the Braves/Giants series I posed that same question and came to the conclusion that in that case, the great hitting was so great that it would beat the great Atlanta pitching.
The Giants did beat the Braves, although it was the only first round series that I correctly predicted, so I didn't really end up looking that smart because of it.
On the other hand, the Angels offense has been looking almost unstoppable in the playoffs thus far.
I think it is possible that a team that has an offense based almost entirely upon batting average, as the Angels do, might actually have an advantage in the post-season, when the pitchers probably tend to walk a few less people and home runs start becoming a little harder to get.
That is a theory.
The walks and 3-run homer believer in me says that teams reliant heavily on batting average can get extremely hot at times and can go into extreme slumps at times, and that the Angels post-season hitting thus far has just been one of those extremely hot times.
One person that is certain not to go into a slump is Barry Bonds.
Sure, Barry could go zero for the World Series, but I have a feeling he is going to be seeing an awful lot of intentional passes, which means no matter how many hits he gets (or doesn't get), he is going to be on base a ton.
I can't say that I blame Anaheim if they decide to "pitch around" Mr. Bonds, although I am not so sure it is the best strategy in the world.
If the Giants have a man on second base and first base open with Bonds coming to the plate, walking him is a no-brainer.
But there are going to be times in this series when Mike Scioscia decides to walk Bonds intentionally or "unintentionally intentionally" in situations that aren't "no-brainers."
Basically, unless Scioscia suddenly gets really brave, the Giants are going to have a spot in their lineup that simply does not make outs and even though being scared to pitch to Bonds is understandable, not allowing him to at least make some outs, is a huge disadvantage.
"You see, there's a sort of "hidden cost" to walking Bonds every time, which is that he won't make any outs when he walks. Sure, if you pitch to him he's going to kill you with his walks and his home runs and his batting average.
But mixed in with all that bad stuff will be at least a few outs. If you don't pitch to him, he's going to kill you with the walks, and there won't be any outs mixed in."
Rob also suggests that Scioscia doesn't like to intentionally walk people and thus will be more willing than, say, Tony LaRussa was, to pitch to Bonds.
I think it is possible that Scioscia will pitch to Bonds a reasonable amount of the time, at least at the start of the series, but I do not think it will be the case as the series progresses.
The further the series goes and the closer Mike Scioscia gets to seeing the championship light at the end of the baseball tunnel, the more he is going to be thinking, "I am not going to let Barry Bonds beat me."
Certainly an understandable thought, like I said.
In a close game, if you tell me the next two batters are going to be Barry Bonds and Benito Santiago, I am pretty sure Benito Santiago is going to be hitting with a man on first base via the walk.
But there is a large difference between an understandable strategy and a correct strategy.
If Bonds starts getting walked in bunches, the Giants are getting 11% of their lineup almost totally free from making outs.
As the great Earl Weaver said, "Your most precious possessions on offense are your twenty-seven outs."
For a really great look at when and in what situations Scioscia should walk Bonds and when he shouldn't, check out "Dear Mike, You Should Walk Barry When..." at BaseballPrimer.com.
So, one key issue in this series is going to be the amount of times over 50% that Barry Bonds is on base, while another big key is going to be the bullpens.
At this point, Anaheim is basically working with a 4 man bullpen, with Francisco Rodriguez, Troy Percival, Ben Weber and Brendan Donnelly.
Scott Schoeneweis also made some relief appearances in the playoffs, but I don't foresee him doing much of anything, except for possibly coming in to face Bonds if Mike Scioscia suddenly gets frisky.
Percival is going to be great, that much we know.
The real question is, will Francisco Rodriguez continue to pitch like he has or will he come back down to earth a bit?
I talked about Rodriguez's abilities in greater detail in an earlier entry, but suffice it to say that it is unlikely he will come back down to earth much more than he already has, because, simply, he is really this good.
I do think that one of the main reason's for his incredible success in the post-season thus far, in addition to his great stuff, has been the lack of preparation and scouting the other teams have had for him.
The guy pitched a grand total of 5 innings in the big leagues prior to the playoffs and I think it is possible that the Yankees and Twins were simply not prepared to face him.
Or at least that's what the Giants better be hoping.
The Giants have a pretty good bullpen of their own, including their own dominant closer in Robb Nen.
The Giants also have their own version of Francisco Rodriguez to bridge the gap between starter and closer, in Felix Rodriguez, who struggled a bit during the regular season, but who has been fabulous in the playoffs.
In addition to the closer and setup men, the Giants have a couple of quality right handers, just like the Angels have in Weber and Donnelly.
The Giants pair is Jay Witasick and Tim Worrell.
And they have their very own lefty specialist, once again just like the Angels, in Scott Eyre.
So both teams have a dominant closer, a great setup man, 2 good right handers and a lefty specialist.
Other than those 10 pitchers, I wouldn't expect to see anyone else appear in relief in a game that isn't a complete blowout.
Overall, I would give a slight bullpen edge to the Angels.
I think Percival is a little bit more reliable than Nen and I think that if Francisco Rodriguez is pitching anything like he has thus far, he is better than Felix Rodriguez.
The other 3 guys for each team are essentially a draw.
Okay, so that covers the relievers.
What about the starters?
When I first started writing this preview I thought Kirk Rueter was going to be starting games 2 and 6.
I was going to write about what a bad decision this was for the Giants and how I thought Rueter was the worst possible starter for them to throw against the Angels.
It looks like Dusty Baker, or at least someone on the Giants, had pretty much the same thoughts that I did about Rueter's chances against Anaheim, because he is now slated to start only one game in this series, game 4.
I thought Rueter would be/will be bad against the Angels for two main reasons:
1) He doesn't strike anyone out.
This is a disadvantage to any pitcher, against any team, but it is specifically a disadvantage against a team like the Angels who rarely strike out.
You throw Rueter against the Angels and you might end up with only 1 or 2 strikeouts in a game and that means a ton of balls are going to be in the hands of the San Francisco fielders.
And putting balls in play is what got Anaheim to this point.
2) He throws left handed.
In the regular season, here are Anaheim's hitting splits against righties and lefties:
vs righties = .278/.336/.425
vs lefties = .292/.351/.451
The Angels are simply a much better hitting ballclub against left handed pitching.
And in the playoffs, that has become even more apparent.
vs righties = .312/.352/.528
vs lefties = .363/.394/.588
Now, the Angels have hit very well against whatever armed pitcher happened to be pitching against them lately and the playoffs are obviously a very small sample size to be making judgments based upon.
However, when a team is significantly better against lefties in the regular season AND they hit .363 against lefties in the post-season, well, let's just say I think the Giants are making a great decision only letting Rueter start one game.
I would expect the Giants to lose game 4, but of course, predicting the outcome of a series is tough enough and trying to predict one game is just silly.
What about the other 6 games?
One of the fun things about a seven game series between teams that each use 4 man rotations is that you get repeat matchups of each of the first 3 pitching duels.
Washburn and Schmidt are going to hook up in game 1 and game 5.
Appier and (Russ) Ortiz are going in game 2 and game 6.
And (Ramon) Ortiz and Hernandez will be matched up in game 3 and game 7.
But, take it from a Twins fan that saw Joe Mays dominate the Angels and beat Kevin Appier in game one of the ALCS and then lose the exact same pitching matchup in game 5, what happens in the first matchup doesn't always mean much when the second game comes around.
While checking out the career stats of some of the players involved in this series, I found some incredibly interesting things about Jason Schmidt's performance.
Schmidt has pitched over 100 innings in a season 5 different times.
Check out his strikeout rates in those seasons:
Year Inn SOs K/9
1997 188 136 6.5
1998 214 158 6.6
1999 213 148 6.3
2001 150 142 8.5
2002 185 196 9.5
Okay class, which of those numbers are not like the rest?
Schmidt has always been an above average strikeout pitcher.
But in the last two season and specifically this season, he has been striking out significantly more batters than he ever had in his career.
Looking at the numbers, it seems fairly obviously that it has something to do with the San Francisco Giants.
Since joining the Giants in the middle of last year, here are Schmidt's combined numbers:
Inn SOs K/9
251 261 9.4
Not so coincidentally, Schmidt's two stints with the Giants are the only two times in his career that his ERA has been under 4.00.
It was 3.39 in 66 innings with SF last year and 3.45 in 185 innings with them this year.
As I said before, Pac Bell is a great place for a pitcher, so that certainly has a lot to do with Schmidt's lower ERA.
But the strikeouts are playing a big part too.
It seems to me that Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti deserves some credit for producing the Giants' game 1 starter.
The other game 1 starter, Jarrod Washburn was great this year, winning 18 games with an ERA in the low 3s.
He is most likely the best starting pitcher on either team.
But in looking at how the Giants do against left handed pitching and how the Angels do against right handed pitching, I think the Giants would be my picks to win games 1 and 5.
Giants against lefties this year:
Barry Bonds .384/.556/.976
Jeff Kent .366/.439/.669
Okay, I have to stop here.
Seeing Bonds with a .976 slugging % against lefties makes me shake my head every time, it is simply amazing.
Jeff Kent absolutely murders lefties also.
Reggie Sanders .289/.358/.537
Benito Santiago .276/.341/.474
So you have 4 players, arguably the Giants best 4 hitters, and they all hit very well against lefties, significantly better than they hit righties.
Add in David Bell (.263/.333/.416 vs lefties in '02) and J.T. Snow (.229/.382/.429) who both hit as well or slightly better against lefties than they did against righties and you have 6 San Francisco hitters that do pretty well against southpaws.
Rich Aurilia struggled big time against lefties this year, hitting only .241/.276/.336.
I am not quite sure what took make of his struggles though, because he hit .322/.359/.650 against them last year and .286/.368/.521 against them in 2000.
The 8th everyday Giant is Kenny Lofton.
Lofton did very well against lefties since coming over to the Giants mid-season, hitting .300/.378/.475.
But those numbers came in only 40 total at bats, which is an incredibly small amount of playing time to make judgments on.
Before coming to the National League, Lofton hit only .217/.289/.261 against lefties in 69 at bats with the White Sox.
So he had 40 very good at bats and 69 very bad at bats this year against lefties, which doesn't tell you a whole lot.
Of the 8 everyday Giants players, 2 of them (Bonds, Kent) are incredible against lefties and 2 more (Santiago, Sanders) are significantly better against lefties.
2 others (Snow, Bell) about as good against lefties as they are against righties.
Aurilia has been awesome against lefties in prior years, but horrible against them this year.
And Lofton has pretty much always struggled against them.
There is going to be a 9th Giant hitter, a DH in the first game and a pitcher in the 5th game, but who knows which DH Dusty will go with.
Add that all up and I think Jarrod Washburn is probably in for some trouble.
He is going to have to pitch to Kent with Bonds batting behind him and Kent crushes lefties.
And if he walks Bonds, Santiago and Sanders are batting behind him and were both very solid against lefties in 2002.
Okay, so far I would give the Giants the edge in each of the Washburn/Schmidt matchups and the Angels the edge in the Rueter/Lackey game.
The games 2 and 6 pitching matchup is extremely evenly matched.
Two good right handed starters.
Both won 14 games this year.
Both had ERAs in the mid-to-upper 3s.
Both had Support Neutral Winning %s around .550.
So how do you decide whether Kevin Appier or Russ Ortiz has the better chance of winning?
Well, let's take a look at what they have done lately.
Here are the playoff starts...
1) 7 IP, 2 ER vs ATL
2) 5.1 IP, 1 ER vs ATL
3) 4.2 IP, 4 ER vs STL
Okay, so he has 1 good, 1 bad and 1 decent.
1) 5 IP, 3 ER vs NYY
2) 5 IP, 2 ER vs NYY
3) 5.1 IP, 2 ER vs MIN
3 decent starts for Appier, but for whatever reason, he has become a 5-inning starter in the post-season.
Let's take a look at how they finished the regular season...
Ortiz in August and September:
11 Games Started, 7-3 with a 2.62 ERA in 79 Innings Pitched.
Appier in August and September:
11 Games Started, 5-4 with a 3.41 ERA in 66 Innings Pitched.
Both pitchers were pretty good down the stretch, but Ortiz was a little bit better.
Appier struggled, particularly in September, going 1-3 with a 5.08 ERA.
He hasn't finished 7 innings of work in a start since September 4th.
That said, this is a very evenly matched set of pitchers.
If I had to give the edge to one of them, it would be to Russ Ortiz because he has outperformed Appier over the last couple of months and Appier seems to be having some problems going deep into games.
Which brings us to the final pitching matchup of the series.
Livan Hernandez and Ramon Ortiz will hook up in games 3 and 7.
One of the downsides to a straight 4 man rotation for a 7 game series is that your #1 starter usually does not get a chance to start game 7.
Now, obviously, this is only a downside if the series goes to a game 7.
If this series does go to a game 7, the pitching matchup will feature two guys with a lot of question marks.
Ramon Ortiz was very good during the regular season and was likely the Angels 2nd best starter and one of the top dozen or so starters in the American League.
In the post-season thus far, he has been knocked around a little bit.
1) 2.2 IP, 6 ER vs NYY
2) 5.1 IP, 3 ER vs MIN
That 2nd start, against Minnesota, doesn't look that bad, but consider Ortiz gave up 10 hits in those 5 innings.
2 games is not enough to make predictions based upon and Ortiz has been very solid the entire season, so I would expect him to pitch reasonably well in his two World Series starts.
His opponent, Livan Hernandez, I am not so sure about.
If you look at his regular season numbers over his career, Livan is not the kind of guy you want starting in the 7th game of the World Series.
He is basically a "innings-eater" type of starter, who gives up a lot of hits and a lot of runs, but who can eat up innings and be valuable at the back end of a pitching rotation.
Last year he ate up 227 innings and had a 13-15 record with a 5.24 ERA
This year he devoured 216 innings with a 12-16 record and a 4.38 ERA.
Like I said, certainly a valuable guy to have on a pitching staff, but those aren't the numbers that cry out "Game 7 starter."
In the post-season though, Livan has been a completely different pitcher.
If you include this year's post-season, along with his previous experience with the Marlins in 1997 and the Giants in 2000, here are Livan's career totals for post-season:
In this year's post-season, Livan has been a little more vulnerable, giving up 17 hits in 16 innings, to go along with 5 runs.
So, which Livan Hernandez will show up?
The innings eating guy who gives up a lot of hits and a lot of runs in the regular season?
Or the playoff pitcher, who gives up less hits and lowers his ERA by 2 runs in the playoffs?
If I knew the answer to that question, I would be in Vegas right now, placing a nice, fat bet.
I am going to guess that the regular season Livan shows up for one game and the playoff Livan shows up for the other.
The big question is obviously, which guy shows up in which game?
Let's recap the pitching matchups.
I would give the slight edge to Jason Schmidt against Jarrod Washburn and Russ Ortiz against Kevin Appier.
I would give a small advantage to Ramon Ortiz against Livan Hernandez and I would give a huge advantage to John Lackey versus Kirk Rueter.
Giants = small edge in 4 games.
Angels = small edge in 2 games and huge edge in 1 game.
As you can see, I expect this series to go 6 or 7 games.
I am definitely rooting for the Giants, but in the back of my mind I am thinking about how dominant the Angels have been this entire post-season.
I think the starting pitching matchups are pretty even.
I think the Angels have a very small advantage in the bullpen.
I think the Angels have the DH/Bench advantage.
But, I think the Giants are the best offensive team in baseball and become even better when Barry Bonds is getting walked almost every time to the plate (which I think is what will happen during this series).
In short (which is funny to say, since this article is like 500 pages long), I am predicting that the guys batting behind Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent will get enough hits in important situations for the Giants to win this series.
Considering I am relying upon a 37-year old catcher, a right fielder with a career .196 playoff batting average and a first baseman who can't hit, that may be one of the dumber predictions I have ever made.
Anyone who has read my predictions on the AL and NL division and championship series could tell you that me making bad predictions is nothing new (for the record, I am 3-3 so far predicting the winners of series).
I am sticking with Superman and counting on his friends to get the job done and drive him in.
Prediction: Giants in 7