Meeting of the Minds: ALDS Edition | The Process Report

Meeting of the Minds: ALDS Edition

One of the best parts of having a few days in between games is being able to have prolonged discussions about them. In this case, I was joined by five men around the Rays’ world that I respect immensely to discuss the Rangers. Please send your appreciation in the direction of Steve Slowinski and Bradley Woodrum of DRaysBay, Jason Collette of Dock of the Rays, and Jonah Keri of just about everywhere (please check out his podcast).


R.J. Anderson
Cliff Lee is a problem. A guy who pounds the zone with his heater early, late, and in between against an offense grow on an OBPium farm is just a horrible marriage. I guess what I’m saying is, uh, is there any way the Mariners can take Cliff Lee back for this series?

Steve Slowinski
Ugh, I certainly hope so. I know we beat Lee earlier this season, but if you wanted to create a pitcher that’d be good at beating the Rays, he’s just about as good as you could do. He’s a lefty that strikes out a lot of batters, doesn’t walk many, and he has a great fastball. And our first game against him will be in the Trop, meaning we won’t even get any help from that home run haven of a ballpark in Arlington.

That said, I’m almost more worried about the rest of the Rangers’ rotation. If we can’t beat both CJ Wilson and Colby Lewis, we’re going to need to beat Lee at least once to win the series…and Wilson and Lewis aren’t exactly pushovers. This is a team that’s built to succeed in a short postseason series, and I could easily see them giving the Rays’ offense fits.

R.J. Anderson
We’ll have more on Lewis from his biological father (Carson Cistulli) in the next few days, but Wilson might be the story of the rotation even with Lewis around. This guy was one of the finer relievers in the American League and flipped the switch this season to become a pretty good starting pitcher who gets by through pitching to the corners which has to be an irritating experience as a batter.

Tommy Rancel
I’m sure Carmen Fusco wishes this could happen. Back when Lee-mania was sweeping the Bay Area, I wondered if the added wins of Cliff Lee to the 2010 Tampa Bay team would be worth the future (potentially more) wins of a Desmond Jennings type to a future Rays team whose fate was undetermined.

As I look at the rotation now, having Price and Lee at the top of the Rays’ rotation would sure ease a lot of anxiety going into the post season. The hardest part of Andrew Friedman’s job is weighting the value of the future at the cost of the present. Hopefully he made the right move.

Bradley Woodrum
I really do hope that Maddon has some secret, repeatable method for beating Cliff Lee. As Jason points out, we seem to have had Lee’s number in the past. I don’t believe Maddon marched out special lineups on those days, so maybe he’s just got some scouting that helps the batters gain the edge.

If the Rays don’t have some secret advantage, then game one might be as good as a Rangers ‘W.’

I may be in a limited crowd, but I honestly think Cliff Lee aught be in the Cy Young discussion. Among starting AL pitchers, no one else has a lower xFIP with a lower LOB% (see chart). His near-career low LOB% indicates he’s been unlucky — yet he still sports a crazy 3.24 xFIP. On top of that, xFIP may undervalue him because his career HR/FB% is actually closer to 8% — and closer to 6% in recent years.

Against this Cliff Lee, we are sending Price — who has a 4.00 xFIP and a 78% LOB%. I know some argue that Price has become an exception to these stats, but if they’re wrong, then game one will feature Rangers home runs and Rays strikeouts.

R.J. Anderson
I think it’s impossible to say whether Price is immune to the norms of the starting pitching world so far, but take CC Sabathia. Similar pitcher with a more plump exterior. His career home run rate is under 9% and his strand rate is nearly 73%.

Jason Collette
Cliff Lee’s struggles against the Rays are one of my confusing parts about this season. A team that was shut out by Bruce Chen this week is 3-0 against Lee this season. Lee has 25 strikeouts and just two walks against the Rays but has been rather unfortunate as the Rays have dinked and dunked their way to 12 runs against him in just under 24 innings. Additionally, this offense limped into the playoffs without Longoria in the lineup and facing Lee is the last thing a struggling lineup should have to deal with. Then again, I had these same concerns the last time the Rays had to face Sabathia and look how that turned out.

R.J. Anderson
Let’s talk about the bullpen. I thought Minnesota’s relief staff may have caused the Rays problems with so many lefties available, but the Rangers aren’t exactly chopped liver. Doesn’t this seem like an area where Maddon can outmaneuver Ron Washington in high-leverage spots?

Jonah Keri
Maddon would have outfoxed Washington no matter what, simply because no manager has a better feel for tactical decisions, and more willingness to use data to inform his decisions, than Maddon does.

That aside, the Rays have more enticing bullpen options, period. Grant Balfour coming back to (near?) full strength is a boon to this team, as the Rays now have three reliable, high-K options who can pitch to either side. Add Choate/McGee vs. LH and Wheeler vs. RH and you’ve got a deep pen that will work that much better (and allow for more Maddon manipulation) in a playoff format where days off are obviously more frequent.

Bradley Woodrum
Given the Rangers relative strength in relief pitching, I wouldn’t mind seeing our batters swing early and often. The sooner we reach the Rangers ‘pen, the shorter the game may be. Neftali Feliz and Darren Oliver have been lights out. Also, Frank Francisco has an extra nifty xFIP. BUT! Ol’ Ron Washington seems enamored with Darren O’Day — a mostly average reliever (4.00 xFIP) with an extra large LOB%.

As a whole, the Rangers had the 4th best slew of AL relievers in 2010 (the Rays are #2), so our success against their ‘pen will depend on how judiciously Washington uses the combo of Feliz, Oliver, and Francisco. If he leans on O-Day or Alexi Ogando (low xFIP, high LOB%), we should see more 8th-inning magic.

Expect Maddon to make infinitely fewer bullpen mistakes than Washington.

Steve Slowinski
Great, way to jinx us now Bradley. Watch Maddon call to the bullpen and bring in Bobby Ramos’s boxers by accident.

R.J. Anderson
Thankfully Francisco will miss the ALDS with a rib injury, so he’s one less guy to worry about.

Tommy Rancel
Jon Daniels has built a near fool-proof bullpen for Ron Washington to manage. Their top five relievers have done a fine job of getting hitters out on both sides of the plate including lefty specialist Darren Oliver – who will turn 40 on Wednesday.

Both Darren O’Day (BABIP) and Alexi Ogando (strand rate) have been lucky this season, but other than them crashing down to earth in the next week, the Rays will need to have good at-bats and hope for the regression gods to smile down on them.

Washington may have the easier decisions to make, but let’s hope Joe Maddon continues to be the master of the match-ups.

R.J. Anderson
With the exception of Josh Hamilton, which batter fits the bill as a potential nightmare for the Rays?

Jonah Keri
The Rangers have very little lefty hitting talent aside from Hamilton, which could help Shields, Garza and Davis a lot. Here’s a supersleeper Rangers headache: Mitch Moreland. 14.5% walk rate this year, pretty solid minor league rates too, plus some pop. Shields is a strike-thrower, so maybe not as big a deal there. But I could see Davis issuing a key walk to Moreland or grooving a 3-1 pitch to him after a worked count, or Garza failing to be the crane against him in a big spot.

Huge upgrade over Chris Davis at 1B in the smallish sample size he’s been in the lineup.

Jason Collette
Nelson Cruz, if both games have to be played in Arlington. He is a complete beast in that ballpark hitting .371 with a 1.099 OPS and you have to figure he’ll be hitting behind Hamilton so he has the potential to do double the damage. The Rays have not seen him one time this year as he was on the disabled list both times the two clubs met in 2010 but they did see him in 2009 and he had a .993 OPS. I can see working around Hamilton but they’ll have to pitch to Cruz and he’s a mere mortal on the road but he’s the Hispanic Clark Kent in Arlington.

Tommy Rancel
Vladimir Guerrero may not crush fastballs like he once did (2.1 w/FB this year). But, he still has the ability to hit change-ups and breaking balls with authority. He leads the major leagues in run values on curveballs and is in the top 10 against change-ups.

One thing that hasn’t changed is his free swinging ways. Vladdy is swinging at nearly 50(!) % of pitches out size of the strikezone, yet he striking out less than 11% of the time.

For a pitcher like James Shields who relies on his off-speed pitches and getting hitters to chase out of the zone, this could present a huge problem.

Steve Slowinski
I want to say Jorge Cantu because he used to be one of my all-time favorite Rays (what does that say about our organization’s history?), but I can’t believe he’ll even see the light of day in this series. Still, I used to love watching him bat with his batting helmet pulled down all the way over his eyes, and I’ll probably get a chuckle if he gets an at bat in this series. For our offense’s sake, here’s hoping the Rangers somehow decide to play him in the field late in a game..

Seriously, I’ve always been a fan of Ian Kinsler. The Rangers have plenty of threatening bats in their line-up, so it’s easy for Kinsler to get overlooked, but he packs a lot of punch for a second baseman. His was injured early in the season and his power hasn’t returned yet (only a .125 ISO after last season’s .241), but he still walks a ton and hits for a decent average. As his .794 OPS and .357 wOBA show, he’s not someone to overlook even if he’s not hitting as well as he has in the past. He also has hit change-ups well this season, so James Shields better watch out.

R.J. Anderson
Jeez guys, and I thought Taylor Teagarden was the one guy in this lineup you really had to circle. I’ll go with Michael Young. I’m proof positive the Rays will shift him at least a few times and he’ll pull the ball each and every time up. He seems like the annoying type.



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