The big game is almost upon us and the Phils-Rays matchup has been looked at from every angle. Yet one question remains unanswered: who will Charlie Manuel use as a DH?

ESPN’s Rob Neyer says “the speculation is that Chris Coste will DH against the lefty (Scott Kazmir) and Matt Stairs may take the lead against the righties (everybody else).” But Neyer isn’t sold on Stairs:

I’m not so wild about Matt Stairs. I’m thrilled to death that there’s still room in Major League Baseball for a 40-year-old fire hydrant. But there’s not a great deal of evidence suggesting that he’s a better hitter against right-handed pitching than Geoff Jenkins or (especially) Greg Dobbs. And you know both of those guys are faster than Stairs. Then again, Dobbs should probably be starting at third base (instead of Pedro Feliz) against righties, and the difference between Stairs and Jenkins is marginal. So I’ll just say this: If Dobbs isn’t in the lineup for Game 2, Manuel has probably messed up. Otherwise, everything’s copacetic.

Neyer is right, Dobbs should be starting against righties. That’s a pretty easy decision. But I don’t understand why Neyer is ignoring the possibility of using Pat Burrell at DH and putting a better defensive player in left field.

I was watching ESPN’s First Take this morning (Jay Crawford, who cut his teeth as a sports reporter in Tampa, was on vacation and I can only assume that he’s back home in Florida painting himself blue as I type this). One of the show’s guests was speculating that the Phillies will probably use Burrell as the DH in Game 1 and play Eric Bruntlett in left. This has been my preference all along. The Phillies are an above average defensive team at every position except left field and first base (and third base when Greg Dobbs is in the lineup). Manuel, for whatever reason, has already stated that he won’t use Ryan Howard as the DH. So that leaves Burrell who, for all his offensive success, is a complete liability in left field.

This season, Manuel has frequently removed Burrell late in games for a defensive replacement. Paul and I debated this strategy a while back over email, and here’s what Paul had to say:

Looking at Burrell in 2007, his defense in left allowed 19.6 more runs to score than the average LFer would have in his 1028 innings. So per inning, Burrell‘s defense is worth negative 0.019 runs. Eric Bruntlett is not the best defensive LFer in the game. probably pretty far from it. so let’s be generous and say that bruntlett is a top 10 LFer and give him Jason Tyner’s UZR, which is 4.8 runs prevented over 311 innings, which is .0154 runs prevented per inning. So in comparison with Burrell, Tyner’s defense was worth about .0344 runs per inning, which means that every 29 innings, Tyner’s glove prevents one more run from scoring than Burrell would.

Over the course of a season, Burrell’s offense makes up for his poor defense, but just barely (5 runs). But here’s the thing: Because of the DH, the Phillies don’t have to choose between Burrell’s offense and defense. At least, not in games one and two.

Bruntlett, while he hasn’t exactly been Babe Ruth, has hit well against left handed pitching this season. He’s got an OBP of .361 against southpaws.

And Coste, for his part, has been great against lefties in his career (.316/.361/.503.). He probably should be playing in game one. So why not play him at catcher, rather than at DH? He’s not much of a defensive downgrade from Carlos Ruiz, who threw out 23.5 percent of runners, compared to Coste’s 22.8 percent.

Against Kazmir, the Phillies could use Coste at catcher, Burrell at DH and Bruntlett in left field.

What should the Phillies do in game 2, when righty James Shields takes the mound? I think Neyer is correct — the Phillies need to have Greg Dobbs in the lineup. But I would put Dobbs in left field and use Burrell as the DH, while keeping Pedro Feliz at third base. Dobbs has played the outfield before and there’s plenty of speculation that he’ll be handed the job full time next season, once Burrell departs as a free agent. He had a range factor of 2.25 in 2008, which is a major upgrade over Burrell’s 1.61, though admittedly that’s based on a tiny sample size that includes only two starts (Last year, in ten starts, Dobbs’ range factor was 1.95). Despite his inexperience, I think Dobbs is a defensive upgrade over Burrell and playing him in left would enable the Phillies to keep Burrell’s bat in the lineup and play Feliz, who is a wizard defensively, at third.

Now, there’s one more wrinkle. Burrell has been vocal about the fact that he doesn’t like to DH. He says he’s a better hitter when he gets to play the field. That may be true. But it’s the World Series and, I’m sorry to say this Pat, but you run like Howard the Duck. So you’re just going to have to suck it up and DH. At least, that’s what I would do if I were Charlie Manuel.

4 Responses to “The great DH debate”

  1. Paul Moro says:

    Wow, I totally forgot that we had this conversation before… In retrospect, I think I was too generous in Bruntlett’s defensive abilities. I just had way too little a sample size to do a statistical evaluation. But it is a fair assessment that he is far better than Pat Burrell in left. Because no one was worse this year.

  2. Coley Ward says:

    Right. You could put a golden retriever in left and that would be an upgrade over Burrell.

  3. Paul Moro says:

    Coley, was that an “Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch” reference? Or totally accidental?

  4. Well Dobbs could have been replaced with a wooden cigar statue last night at DH and no one would have noticed. *sigh*

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