Friday, October 15, 2010

Epic Game 1 Showdown: Freak vs. Doc

Game 1 of the NLCS will feature two pitchers who are most recently credited for throwing two of the greatest postseason games in baseball history. In game 1 of the NLDS versus the Reds, a high powered offense, Roy Halladay – in his first ever playoff appearance – threw the second no-hitter in postseason history. He was brilliant, and many claimed they knew the man would throw a no-no after three innings. In game 1 of the NLDS versus the Braves, admittedly a crippled lineup, Tim Lincecum – in his first ever playoff appearance – threw a 119 pitch, 14 strikeout, 2 hit, one to nothing gem – complete with 31 swings and misses, tops for a game in 2010. Many would fervently argue Halladay (Bill James Game Score: 94) was better, and yet a handful of others, brilliant others, would argue Lincecum was better (B.J.G.S.: 96). Determining which was, is irrelevant, and now these very dissimilar rotation ballasts will face off in what’s being tabbed as an epic matchup.

Posnanski on Halladay: "Halladay’s no-hitter was so dominating that when he walked Jay Bruce, my only thought was: 'Oh, that’s too bad. Now he will only throw a no-hitter instead of a perfect game.' And that was in the fifth inning — two or three innings AFTER I felt sure that the Reds would not get a hit."

Posnanski on Lincecum: "At one point in Thursday’s mind-blowing game, Lincecum struck out Brooks Conrad on some sort of ridiculous super pitch — Conrad seemed to literally swing through the ball (he foul-tipped it). Bob Brenly called it a changeup. I shouted, 'Come on Bob, that wasn’t a changeup. That was a curveball.' And so I rewound the thing and watched it. And I said, 'Oh wait, maybe he was right. Maybe it was a changeup.' I rewound again and watched and said, 'No, that wasn’t a changeup. That was a slider.' I rewound again and watched and said, 'No, wait, I think that WAS a curveball.' I rewound again and finally settled on it being a slider. But really it was some sort of shape-shifting pitch. It could be whatever you wanted it to be."

Halladay pitches with grace, purpose and precision; he is Rembrandt. Halladay is basically good to great at everything. He strikes out nearly 8 batters per 9 IP (7.86) – and that’s pretty much where the just good ends – he walks few (1.08) – that’s a ratio of 7.30! – and limits the HR (.86). He keeps people off of the base paths with a 1.04 WHIP. His ERA was fantastic at 2.44 and his FIP excellent too at 3.01. He’s also an efficient ground ball pitcher (51.2%), which is to his benefit given his home digs at the launching pad Citizens Bank Park. He also basically led the world in complete games with 9 and shutouts with 4. And Halladay has all but answered the question: What happens when you take the best pitcher (who was on a mediocre team) in the best division in baseball, and put him on a very good team in the National League? Anyone who disagrees he will win the Cy Young award is highly deluded.

He’s a battleship with all the weapons, and built like one too – he’ll throw 4 above average pitches at you, at any time, and he usually has all four working. That includes a fastball at 91-93, his cutter and best pitch at just a tick under the same speed, an excellent and big curveball and finally, a changeup (with a split finger grip, ala Lincecum) that he learned this season and has been throwing more often, more effectively than he ever has. What truly sets this big Ace apart, however, is that Halladay thows each of his offerings with almost sharp shooter accuracy. How does that sound, Giants hitters?

Lincecum pitches with electricity, contortion and distortion; he is Van Gogh. The Freak is a slight in stature strikeout machine and one of only three men to lead the NL in punchouts since WWII in three straight seasons, the others Randy Johnson and Warren Spahn. This is good company. Amidst his 2010 struggles – which were unbelievably overblown – Lincecum K’d 9.79/9 IP. He walked 3.22, which isn’t great, but distributed most of those walks in his struggling months of May and August. He continued to limit the HR nicely with .76 per 9, but that is likely somewhat aided with the home ballpark. His ERA was a high – for him – 3.43 but his FIP a nice 3.15. While Lincecum was struggling, he was battered by a high BABIP at times which resulted in an uncharacteristically high .324 for the season. He too does a good job at inducing the ground ball and finished with a mark of 48.9%. His WHIP finished at 1.27 which I’d posit is at least moderately higher than we can expect going forward. Despite all of his struggles, Keith Law would have given Lincecum a No. 5 nod on his Cy Young ballot.

Lincecum, like Halladay, attacks with multiple weapons. His best weapon during his two Cy Young seasons was the fastball and changeup combination. He’d also been mixing in a cutter behaving slider and a 12:6 curveball which was the main strikeout pitch he’d carried over from amateur baseball. For whatever reason, Lincecum appears to have lost a feel for that pitch and has since almost ceased throwing it all together. His fastball isn’t the 93-96 it once was, but continues to dart across the strike zone with excellent lateral movement and sinking action; he throws mostly two-seamers. I think everyone knows about his changeup. But, few know that Lincecum too has replaced one of his less effective offerings and modified it. For him it’s his slider. On September 12th, so the story goes, prior to a game against the Padres, Lincecum started fooling with a slider grip taught to him by Matt Cain. He quickly put it to use. Since that start, Lincecum has given up a total of 5 runs in 36 innings and been striking out batters at the incredible rate he’s known for. This slider has two-plane break instead of just the right to left movement he was getting prior. He throws it at roughly the same speed as his changeup with the same arm speed and arm slot. The result: Did you see the Braves hitters in the NLDS game 1? This addition gives him two devastating finish pitches that behave similarly, but in the opposite direction.

The implications of this matchup demand baseball fans to tune in.

stats grabbed from fangraphs

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