Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Before the Royals Get Eliminated

This is something I noticed last weekend, posted it to a Facebook group, and was mentioned this morning on the Effectively Wild podcast:
I noticed that Royals relievers Kelvin Herrera (1.43), Wade Davis (1.00), and Greg Holland (1.44) all have ERAs below 1.50. I used the Play Index and discovered that they're the second team in history with three pitchers, 60+ innings pitched, ERA below 1.50. The other team: the 1907 Cubs, who used a total of eight pitchers that year and had a TEAM ERA of 1.73. Of course, the Cubs' three pitchers were all starters.
The typical modern team carries 12 or 13 pitchers and, over the course of a season, uses 25 or so, including trades, call-ups, etc. Of the Cubs' eight pitchers, one was a 20-year-old who appeared in five games. So they had seven pitchers who pitched 1356.2 innings, or about 193.2 per pitcher. 

Your On The Field Of Play Postseason Primer

Postseason play starts today. I'm going to throw out some opinions and predictions. I don't pretend that they'll be right or anything like that. I'll update them as we get deeper into October. For a clever, funny take on the postseason, check out Hardball Talk's Craig Calcaterra on whom to support in the American League and the National League.

American League Wild Card Game. Predicting the outcome of one game in baseball is sheer folly, and I'm not going to do it. This isn't the NFL, where bad teams almost never beat good teams. This year the Los Angeles Angels had the best record in the American League (and, for that matter, all of baseball). The Texas Rangers had the worst. The Angels, as you might expect, beat up on the Rangers, winning the season series 14-5. That means the Rangers won 26% of their games with LA. That's dominance over 19 games, but for any one game between the clubs, the Rangers had a better than one-in-four chance of winning. So predicting the winner of one game between two good clubs? It's just silly.

Anyway, tonight's AL wild card game is Oakland at Kansas City. (Throughout this post, the links will be to my most recent 30-day flyovers of the teams. Keep in mind that the data and commentaries in the links are relevant as of the day of the post.) Whatever happens, this game will break my heart, because these are possibly the two most compelling teams in the entire postseason as far as I'm concerned. Consider:

  • The Royals are making their first postseason appearance since they won the World Series in 1985. By contrast, the A's have been to the postseason seven times since the current format (Divisional Series-Championship Series-World Series) was instituted in 1995, and they've lost seven Divisional Series excruciatingly, three games to two. In the other year, 2006, they were swept in the ALCS by the Tigers. So both teams are due.
  • I am a sucker for small-market, low-payroll teams. This year, only three teams made the postseason with payrolls below the major league median of $95.8 million: The Royals ($89.3 million), the A's ($74.9 million), and the Pirates ($71.5 million). Those three teams were 17th, 26th, and 27th in total payroll. The other seven playoff teams were 1st, 4th, 6th, 9th, 10th, 11th, and 15th. The A's-Royals game will eliminate one of the three low-payroll teams.
  • The A's were tied for the second-worst record in baseball (5-8) over the last two weeks of the season. They had the worst record (10-18) over the last 30 days. They tied for the fourth-worst record (29-38) since the All-Star break. Yet they finished with the best run differential (729 scored, 572 allowed) in the majors. Kansas City, by contrast, scored only 27 more runs than they allowed, the second-lowest differential (St. Louis' was 16).
  • The Oakland Moneyball teams were famous for drawing walks and hitting home runs. (This year's version was only eighth in homers but lead the league in walks.) The Royals were last in the league in both.
  • The starting pitcher for the Royals, James Shields, was acquired by the team in a big trade last year (that many criticized because of the hitter that they gave up, Wil Myers) specifically for his ability to win big games like tonight's. The starting pitcher for the A's, Jon Lester, was acquired by the team in a big trade this year (that many criticized because of the hitter they gave up, Yoenis Cespedes) specifically for his ability to win big games like tonight's.
That's a lot of words for a single game that I think is unpredictable. Either way, it's going to be sad to see the loser go.

National League Wild Card Game. Again, predicting the outcome of one game in baseball is sheer folly, and I'm not going to do it. A few interesting points about San Francisco at Pittsburgh: The Giants travel to PNC Park, where the Pirates tied for the league lead for the best record at home (51-30). The Giants' road record of 43-38 was the third best in the league, however. The Giants' starting pitcher, Madison Bumgarner, will get Cy Young Award votes this year: He was fourth in wins (18), innings pitched (217.1), strikeouts (219), and strikeouts/walks (5.1), and seventh in WHIP (1.09). He also led all pitchers in home runs (4), RBI (15), and, among those with over 40 plate appearances, batting average (.258), on base percentage (.286), and slugging percentage (.470). The Pirates' starter, Edinson Volquez, had a career-best 3.04 ERA, aided by a career-low walk rate of 8.8% of plate appearances. On the other hand, he batted only .038--he's no Madison Bumgarner--and in his one postseason appearance, for the Reds in the 2010 Divisional Series against the Phillies, he didn't make it out of the second inning: four hits, two walks, and no strikeouts in an inning and two-thirds, good for a 21.60 ERA. If the Pirates lose, we'll be down to just one small-market low-payroll team in the postseason.

American League Divisional Series: Detroit-Baltimore. Let's go over the negatives first: The O's have been lucky (32-23 record in one run games--that's luck, not skill), they don't get on base enough (.311 on base percentage, fifth worst in the league), and they're without three of their best players (catcher Matt Wieters, third baseman Manny Machado, first baseman Chris Davis). The Tigers' supposedly invincible rotation of Max Scherzer, David Price, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello had the sixth-worst ERA (3.95) in the league since the All-Star Break; and defending two-time MVP Miguel Cabrera has been only really good (seventh in batting average at .313, tenth in on-base percentage at .371, seventh in slugging percentage at .524) instead of sensational. Overall, there's part of me that thinks that the Orioles have been doing it with mirrors: Starting rotation led by Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, and Miguel Gonzalez, 54-29 with a 3.44 ERA after a combined 109-104, 4.16 ERA in their prior seasons? Home run champion Nelson Cruz with 40 bombs at age 33 after never hitting more than 33 in a season? Outfielder Steve Pearce with a .556 slugging percentage after slugging .377 in seven prior seasons? Still, I think there are legitimate questions about the Tigers pitching, and I have a mild aversion to first-year managers (the Tigers' Brad Ausmus) in the postseason, particularly when the other guys have Buck Showalter. I favor the Orioles.

American League Divisional Series: Wild Card-Los Angeles. The Angels had the best record in baseball at 98-66; a three-game losing streak at the end of the year prevented them from getting 100 victories. And they will play, with home field advantage, a wild card team with serious flaws, as the A's can't win (at least since the All-Star Break) and the Royals can't hit. Still, I could see a potential upset here. The Angels' best starting pitcher, Garrett Richards (13-4, 2.61 ERA), is out for the year with a knee injury. Their second-best starter, Matt Shoemaker (16-4, 3.04 ERA) hasn't pitched since September 15 due to a strained oblique. Jered Weaver (18-9, 3.59) has had a good season, but after that, they are probably going to tax their pretty-good-but-not-great bullpen. They're the best hitting team in the league (4.8 runs per game, 0.1 better than the Tigers) and they have the league's MVP, Mike Trout, so I'm not going to pick against them. But I wouldn't be surprised if they were to lose.

National League Divisional Series: St. Louis-Los Angeles. For whatever it's worth, I'll bet you there are more people rooting against these two teams than the other eight in the postseason combined. Of course, the biggest reason for that is that the Yankees and Red Sox aren't playing. But the Cardinals have become a postseason constant (they've missed it only four times since 2000) and their claim to the "best fans in baseball" annoys everyone who doesn't follow the team. As for the Dodgers, they've supplanted the Yankees as the big-payroll behemoth ($213 million payroll vs. $208 million for the Yankees) and they have one of the most polarizing players in baseball, Yasiel Puig. (I like him, but his antics irk a lot of people). As for the teams, they have their weaknesses--the Cardinals' offense (tenth in the league in scoring 3.8 runs per game), and the Dodgers' bullpen (eighth in the league in runs allowed per nine innings at 3.8). They have the likely 1-2 Cy Young Award finishers: The Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw (21-3, 1.77 ERA) is a mortal lock, and the Redbirds' Adam Wainwright (20-9, 2.38 ERA) is almost certainly the runner-up. The Cardinals, though, have been kind of lucky, as their run differential (619 scored, 603 allowed) is the lowest among the playoff teams, aided by a second-in-the-league 32-23 record in one-run games. That's enough for me to think the Dodgers will avenge last year's NLCS loss.

National League Divisional Series: Wild Card-Washington. As I said in my Nationals 30-day flyover: 
The Nationals don't seem to me to have any noticeable holes. The bullpen's not great, but with that starting rotation, they aren't overly reliant on their relievers. They'll get the winner of the Giants-Pirates wild card game for a five-game series starting Friday. They will be favored to win, with good reason.
(I also added, "which probably means they'll get swept or something." As FanGraphs managing editor Dave Cameron said in a chat last week, referring to success in the postseason, "There's no secret formula that works better than others. It's basically random.") This isn't a knock on the two wild card teams. I think the Pirates and Giants are both better teams than the American League entries. It's just that the Nationals have the league's best starting rotation, no glaring weaknesses in the lineup, and a bullpen that's not sensational but good enough. They're my pick to go all the way.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Flyover: Washington Nationals

Well, the season's over--dramatically, in the case of the Washington Nationals--and so is this series. At this point, the relevant teams are the ten that could still win the World Series. Nine of them are the OriolesTigers, RoyalsA'sAngelsCardinalsPiratesDodgers, and Giants. Washington's the tenth. As a reminder, for each team, I'm looking at how they've done over the past 30 days.

How Are They Doing Lately? The Nationals have the best record in the majors over the past 30 days, 20-9. They scored 4.0 runs per game, seventh in the league, and gave up 3.1, the third fewest. (The league averages were 3.9 per game). At 96-66, they tied the Orioles for the second-best record in baseball. 

What's Going Right? They're seventh in batting average (.254), fifth in on base percentage (.325), and fifth in slugging percentage (.397) over the past 30 days. The league average slash line, by contrast, is .249/.310/.379. They've walked in 8.5% of plate appearances, second most in the league, indicative of their good plate discipline (swinging at 30% of pitches outside the strike zone, fourth fewest in the league). They're fourth in the league in homers with 30, as is their percentage of fly balls that go over the fence, 12%. The latter, well above the league average of 9%, suggests they may have been a little homer-lucky, as their full season average is 10.6%. Complementing their power, the Nationals led the league in stolen bases over the past 30 days with 22, and they've been more successful at their stolen base attempts (73%) than average (68%). All told, the offense has been good and balanced.

The pitchers' 2.59 ERA over the past 30 days is second in the league. The starters' 2.32 is easily first (the Pirates are second at 2.56) and the bullpen's 3.23 is seventh compared to the league average of 3.73. The pitchers have also epitomized the On The Field Of Play mantra, it's good to throw strikes, it's better to get strikes, as they've been the best in the league at throwing strikes over the past 30 days (51.3% of pitches in the strike zone) and the best at getting strikes (opposing batters swinging at 33.6% of pitches outside the strike zone). 

What's Going Wrong? The starting pitchers have probably been a little lucky. Three of their indicators of luck--batting average on balls in play, home runs as a percentage of fly balls, and baserunners stranded--are so far below the league averages over the past 30 days that they are likely to revert toward the mean. The starters have allowed just a .262 batting average on (non-homer) balls in play compared to a league average of .307, they've allowed homers on only 5.6% of fly balls compared to a league average of 8.5%, and they've stranded 76% of baserunners compared to a league average of 72%. I'm not suggesting they'll revert to the mean--this is a talented rotation--but their seasonlong averages of .292, 8.5%, and 75% seem more realistic. Not to worry, though: Washington's 3.04 ERA for the full year is the best in the majors.

Who's Hot? The Nats' outfield, that's who. Bryce Harper in left, Denard Span in center, and Jayson Werth in right have combined to bat .308 with a .398 on base percentage and a .488 slugging percentage over the past 30 days. Again, the league average slash line is just .249/.310/.379. Werth, who's drawn 20 walks, second most in the league, has a league-high on base percentage at .470. Third baseman Anthony Rendon has also been hot too, batting .319 with a .406 on base percentage and .484 slugging percentage.

As for the starting pitchers, the big question going into the postseason is which one goes to the bullpen. The starting five is Jordan Zimmermann (4-0, 1.32 ERA), Stephen Strasburg (4-1, 1.13 ERA), Doug Fister (4-1, 1.87 ERA), Gio Gonzalez (4-1, 2.48 ERA), and Tanner Roark (3-2, 3.09 ERA). Drew Storen took over as the team's closer and didn't allow an earned run during the month, compiling ten saves.

Who's Not? The only hitters with a cold bat over the past 30 days are second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera, acquired from the Indians at the trade deadline (.211/.287/.344 slash line) and catcher Wilson Ramos (.185/.202/.272). The bullpen, despite Storen's September, is probably the team's weak spot. Storen got his job because Rafael Soriano blew up, compiling a 6.48 ERA in the second half of the season after a 0.97 ERA up to the All-Star break. Over the past 30 days, no Nationals reliever with over seven innings pitched has an ERA below 3.50 except Storen.
  
What's the Outlook? The Nationals don't seem to me to have any noticeable holes. The bullpen's not great, but with that starting rotation, they aren't overly reliant on their relievers. They'll get the winner of the Giants-Pirates wild card game for a five-game series starting Friday. They will be favored to win, with good reason. Which probably means they'll get swept or something. 

Trailing 30 - September 29

Here are the top (and bottom) performers over the past 30 days, made possible through the magic of FanGraphs and its fabulous Leaders application. Comment for the week: Obviously, this is it for the year. Looks to me as if the AL and NL Players of the Month are Detroit's Victor Martinez and Los Angeles' Matt Kemp, respectively--feel stronger about Kemp than Martinez. The AL Pitcher of the Month should probably be Corey Kluber but I'll bet a playoff team's starter gets the nod: Bud Norris of the Orioles or Yordano Ventura of the Royals. In the National League, I imagine Washington's Jordan Zimmermann's season-ending no-hitter and 4-0 record give him the nod. 

   American League              National League
   Team W-L                     Team W-L      
1. Baltimore       19-10     1. Washington       20-9       
2. Los Angeles     17-11     2. Los Angeles      18-9        
3. Detroit         17-12     3. St. Louis       19-10         
4. Toronto         16-12     4. Pittsburgh      18-10   
5. Cleveland       16-13     5. New York        16-11        

   Worst Team W-L               Worst Team W-L
1. Oakland         10-18     1. Arizona          8-20      
2. Minnesota       11-17     2. Atlanta          8-19       
3. Boston          12-16     3. Milwaukee        9-19      
4. Tampa Bay       12-15     4. Cincinnati      11-16
5. Chicago         13-15     5. Miami           12-17

   Batting Average              Batting Average     
1. Brantley, Cle    .405     1. Uribe, LA        .378        
2. Altuve, Hou      .387     2. Posey, SF        .375      
3. Aoki, KC         .375     3. Crawford, SF     .358           
4. Kendrick, LA     .372     4. Morneau, Col     .355          
5. V Martinez, Det  .370     5. Marte, Pit       .347       

   Lowest Batting Average       Lowest Batting Average  
1. Fuld, Oak        .169     1. Baez, Chi        .149          
2. Teixeira, NY     .173     2. Alcantara, Chi   .165       
3. Morales, Sea     .190     3. J Upton, Atl     .176
4. Gordon, KC       .200     4. Pence, SF        .200           
   Valencia, Tor    .200     5. Utley, Phi       .209      

   On Base Percentage           On Base Percentage  
1. V Martinez, Det  .471     1. Werth, Was       .470           
2. Brantley, Cle    .455     2. McCutchen, Pit   .451          
3. Bautista, Tor    .426     3. Gomez, Mil       .420         
4. Aoki, KC         .423     4. Posey, SF        .418          
5. Beltre, Tex      .420     5. Morneau, Col     .414       
      
   Slugging Percentage          Slugging Percentage   
1. Cabrera, Det     .673     1. Kemp, LA         .704         
2. V Martinez, Det  .620     2. Gonzalez, LA     .600     
3. Cruz, Bal        .605     3. Holliday, SL     .586       
4. Bautista, Tor    .585     4. Posey, SF        .580       
5. Trout, LA        .576     5. McCutchen, Pit   .574        
          
   Home Runs                    Home Runs
1. Bautista, Tor       8     1. Gonzalez, LA        9
   Cabrera, Det        8        Kemp, LA            9        
   McCann, NY          8     3. Frazier, Cin        7
4. Encarnacion, Tor    7        Holliday, SL        7
5. 6 with              6        LaRoche, Was        7
        
   Runs                         Runs    
1. Bautista, Tor      24     1. Kemp, LA           22        
   Trout, LA          24     2. Puig, LA           21     
3. Betts, Bos         23     3. Gonzalez, LA       20
4. Calhoun, LA        22        McCutchen, Pit     20
   Santana, Min       22     5. Gordon, LA         19

   RBI                          RBI      
1. Bautista, Tor      23     1. Gonzalez, LA       26        
   Pujols, LA         23        Kemp, LA           26      
3. Encarnacion, Tor   22     3. Trumbo, Ari        23       
4. 3 with             21     4. LaRoche, Was       22
                             5. Holliday, SL       21
                             
   Stolen Bases                 Stolen Bases             
1. Martin, Tex         9     1. Revere, Phi        10            
2. Santana, Min        8     2. Lagares, NY         8     
3. 6 with              7     3. Bonifacio, Atl      7   
                                Desmond, Was        7
                                Inciarte, Ari       7

   Saves                        Saves
1. Rodney, Sea        10     1. Storen, Was        10
2. Britton, Bal        8     2. Chapman, Cin        8
3. Nathan, Det         7        Cishek, Mia         8
   Street, LA          7        Mejia, NY           8
5. 4 with              6        Melancon, Pit       8

   ERA                          ERA
1. Feldman, Hou     1.45     1. Arrieta, Chi     0.95
2. House, Cle       1.45     2. Volquez, Pit     1.08
3. Holland, Tex     1.46     3. Strasburg, Was   1.13
4. McHugh, Hou      1.59     4. Peavy, SF        1.15
5. Carrasco, Cle    1.62     5. Zimmermann, Was  1.32

   Worst ERA                    Worst ERA
1. Iwakuma, Sea     6.98     1. Santana, Atl     6.51
2. Kazmir, Oak      5.85     2. Bergman, Col     6.11
3. Porcello, Det    5.46        Leake, Cin       6.11
4. Gibson, Min      5.09     4. Burnett, Phi     6.06
5. Noesi, Chi       4.78     5. Vogelsong, SF    5.53

   WHIP                         WHIP
1. McHugh, Hou      0.56     1. Arrieta, Chi     0.71
2. Pineda, NY       0.79     2. Haren, LA        0.73
3. Samardzija, Oak  0.80     3. Zimmermann, Was  0.74
4. Hammel, Oak      0.80     4. Strasburg, Was   0.76
5. Shields, KC      0.86     5. Collmenter, Ari  0.79

   Strikeouts                   Strikeouts
1. Kluber, Cle        56     1. Kershaw, LA        45      
2. Carrasco, Cle      54        Cole, Pit          45
3. Hutchison, Tor     50     3. Cueto, Cin         43
4. Price, Det         47     4. 4 with             40
5. Samardzija, Oak    46        

Sweet Play of the Day: September 28

I stopped doing these a while ago--I figured you can look up plays on the mlb.com video page as well as I--but I thought this was remarkable. Last day of the season, Washington's Jordan Zimmermann has a no-hitter through eight and two-thirds innings. In the top of the ninth, manager Matt Williams replaced left fielder Ryan Zimmerman with September rookie callup Steven Souza. So Zimmermann's one out away from a no-hitter:

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Flyover: Kansas City Royals

With the season winding down, and the postseason pretty much set, I figured I'd wrap this up by covering the remaining contenders, starting with the Kansas City Royals. Here are my links to the OriolesTigersA'sAngelsCardinalsPiratesDodgers, and Giants. As a reminder, for each team, I'm looking at how they've done over the past 30 days.

How Are They Doing Lately? They've kind of slouched into the postseason. A month ago, the Royals were 2.5 games up on Detroit in the AL Central. Were they to fall out of the top slot, they were four games behind the Athletics and two ahead of the Mariners for the wild card. Since then, the Tigers have taken control of the division, going 18-11, while Kansas City's played .500 ball, 14-14. However, they've pulled away from the A's (9-19, worst in the league) and the Mariners (13-15). If the season were to end today, they'd host Oakland for the wild card play-in game. They'e scored 3.46 runs per game, just tenth in the league, while giving up 3.75, the seventh fewest, over the past 30 days.

What's Going Right? The Royals haven't scored a lot due to a lack of power, as I'll explain below, but they're OK at getting on base: fifth in batting average over the past 30 days at .259, sixth in on base percentage at .317. Not great, but OK. They could help themselves by walking more (7% of plate appearances, fifth fewest in the league), but that's not been a Royals team strength--they're last in the league, walking in just 6% of plate appearances, for the full year. Once on base, they've been the league's most prolific basestealers (36 over the past 30 days, no other team's even at 30) and competent as well (success on 80% of attempts compared to a league average of 76%). 

The team ERA of 3.25 is fifth in the league over the past 30 days: 3.26 for the starters (sixth), 3.23 for the relievers (fifth). They've been extremely stingy with the long ball, allowing the fewest homers (ten) and the lowest percentage of fly balls becoming home runs (4.3%). Those numbers are particularly impressive when you consider that the Royals pitchers don't get to pitch to the Royals hitters. They've followed the On The Field Of Play mantra, it's good to throw strikes, but better to get strikes. They've been a little below average at throwing strikes, with 48.4% of pitches in the strike zone, fifth fewest in the league over the last 30 days, but well above average at getting strikes, inducing batters to swing at a fifth-highest 32.0% of pitches outside the strike zone.

Part of the success of the pitchers is attributable to the team's defense. Virtually every fielding metric ranks the Orioles and Royals as the best-fielding teams in the league by a fair margin.

What's Going Wrong? The Royals have had a power outage all year, slugging .376, fourth lowest in the league compared to a league average of .390, and the last 30 days fit the pattern. They've hit ten homers, fewest in the league. Their isolated slugging--slugging percentage less batting average--is .098, second lowest. Some of that is probably bad luck, as their percentage of fly balls that go over the fence has been just 4.1% over the past 30 days, second lowest in the league and less than half the league average of 8.7%, but they're last over the full year (6.5% vs. the league's 9.5%) as well, so it's not like this is something new.

As for their inability to draw walks, last year their GM, Dayton Moore, fairly improbably blamed their home field, Kauffman Stadium, for their lack of walks, claiming the ballpark suppresses free passes. If that were true, the Royals would draw more walks in road games than at home. In actuality, they've walked more frequently at home (6.4% of plate appearances) than on the road (6.1%) this year. Good try, though, Dayton.

Who's Hot? Right fielder Nori Aoki is batting .361 over the past 30 days, fifth in the league, and has an on base percentage of .415, sixth. Center fielder Lornezo Cain's batting .327 and is tied for third in the league with seven stolen bases. Shortstop Alcides Escobar is batting .321 (though with a barely higher .336 on base percentage, as he's drawn only two walks) and is tied for eighth with six steals. The best power source has been first baseman Eric Hosmer, batting .310 with a .368 on base percentage and .529 slugging percentage (eleventh in the league).

The top of the Royals rotation looks set for the postseason. The top four starters are James Shields, who's 2-1 with a 2.14 ERA over the past 30 days, Jeremy Guthrie (3-1, 3.25) and rookie Yordano Ventura (4-1, 1.62). Lefty starter Danny Duffy, sidelined much of September with shoulder pain, put up good numbers in his first start over two weeks on Monday, holding Cleveland to six hits, two walks, and no runs while striking out five in six innings, though not everyone was impressed

If the Royals starter goes six innings, the Royals hand the ball over to Kelvin Herrera in the seventh, Wade Davis in the eighth, and Greg Holland in the ninth. Over the past 30 days, those three have combined for 40 appearances covering 38.2 innings, during which they've allowed 25 hits and eight walks while striking out 49 with a 1.16 ERA. The thing is, that's not a big outlier for this trio: they all have ERAs below 1.50 for the full season, the main reason the Royals are 64-4 in games they've led after six innnings. If the three maintain their sub-1.50 ERAs, the Royals will join the 1907 Chicago Cubs as the only teams in history with three pitchers with over 60 innings pitched with ERAs that low. (Fun facts: Those Cubs won the World Series, had a team ERA of 1.73, used only eight pitchers all year, and the three with sub-1.50 ERAs were all starters: Mordecai Brown had a 1.39 ERA over 233 innings, Carl Lundgren was 1.17 over 207 innings, and Jack Pfeister was 1.15 over 195 innings.)

Who's Not? Left fielder Alex Gordon is a lock for a Gold Glove award, but he's batting only .188 over the past 30 days, striking out in 27% of his plate appearances. Third baseman Mike Moustakis has a .211/.273/.244 slash line (the league average is .249/.309/.380) and DH Billy Butler has barely been better at .219/.286/.281.

If Duffy's not right, the No. 4 postseason starter will be Jason Vargas, who's been bad (6.46 ERA) over the past 30 days. But we may be getting a bit ahead of ourselves talking about a No. 4 starter in the postseason anyway.
  
What's the Outlook? The Royals are one of the nice stories of this season, as they'll play in the postseason for the first time since they won the World Series in 1985. As of now, they'll host Oakland for a one-game play-in on Tuesday. However, they could win the division (they enter play today a game behind Detroit), their wild card opponent could be Seattle (which is two games behind Oakland), and they could lose the home field advantage in the play-in (if they lose their last two games and Oakland wins theirs).

Assuming the Royals are a wild-card team, a victory would take them to a best-of-five Divisional Series against the Angels, who have the best record in the American League and against whom the Royals split six games this year. They're not a good hitting team. They'll be the only American League postseason team to score a below-average number of runs (unless Seattle sneaks past Oakland). But with their solid starters and lockdown bullpen, they're well-positioned for the postseason, where good pitching beats good hitting, right? Except, as I showed yesterday, that's not the case. The Royals' long postseason drought has ended, but maybe not for long.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Postseason Narratives

Here is a link to an article of mine that FanGraphs published today in its Community section. It discusses six narratives you hear this time of year about the kinds of teams that are likely to succeed in the postseason. For each narrative, I explained how I tested it and the results. If you click on the link, you can read the whole thing. If you'd rather just know the results, they are:
  1. Does prior postseason experience matter? There is no evidence to support this claim.
  2. Do veteran players have an edge in the postseason? There is scant evidence to support this claim, and if you exclude one year, 2009, when a bunch of older teams did well, there is no evidence.
  3. How important is momentum leading into the postseason? There is almost no evidence that finishing the season strong makes a difference, and that scant evidence applies only to the Divisional Series. There is no evidence to suggest that the hot team has an edge in the Championship Series or World Series.
  4. Does good pitching stop good hitting? There is almost no evidence to support this claim. In the series in which a good-hitting team played a good-pitching team, the good-hitting team won 49% of the series and good-pitching team won 51%. It was basically a coin flip.
  5. Are teams reliant on home runs at a disadvantage? There is almost no evidence to support this claim, and if you exclude the 2012 postseason, when the low-homer Giants won the Series, there is no evidence.
  6. Is having one or more ace starters an advantage? There is almost no evidence to support this claim, and once again, excluding one year--2001, when the Johnson/Schilling Diamondbacks beat the Clemens/Mussina Yankees--eliminates the slim evidence that exists.
So, to summarize, prior postseason experience doesn't help, having veteran players doesn't help, ending the season strongly doesn't help nor ending it poorly hurt, good pitching doesn't necessarily overcome good hitting, being reliant on home runs for scoring runs doesn't hurt, and having aces in the rotation doesn't help.

Sorry about that. Now, about Santa Claus...