Scoring Runs Does Not Correlates with Postseason Success
In their study, BP correlated postseason success, using a value system that awarded points based on what a team did in the playoffs ultimately, with various baseball metrics. The first important result: while preventing runs correlates with postseason success, scoring runs does not. They note:
There is literally no relationship between regular-season offense and postseason success in our data set; the correlation is 0.0014 - in other words, it doesn't exist.Kind of hard to misinterpret that.
They also made the point that, oddly enough, it isn't that hard to detect:
- Since 1972, there have been 27 teams that made the postseason in spite of having below-average offenses. Of these, seven won the World Series. All of these seven had excellent pitching staffs. It's hard to make the playoffs with a below-average offense unless you have an excellent pitching staff.
- Conversely, 20 teams have made the post-season with below-average run prevention. None of them won the World Series, and only two even played for the championship. 16 of 20 lost their first playoff series.
They did not speculate on what this means, but in my mind, there is a number of ways this can tie back to playoff success. To me, I view SBA as a general measure of the team's speed overall. Sure some managers just run, but generally, faster teams steal more, which indicates team speed. And team speed shows up not only in SBA, but in things that are not measured as well, such as baserunning effectiveness (taking extra base regularly), getting to balls as a defender, heck, getting on base more often too, as their BABIP should be higher.
Great Pitching Has Slight Advantage Over Great Hitting
BP studied this by going through baseball history for great pitching but average offense teams that played great offense but average pitching teams. They found that the great pitching team beat the great offense team more than expected, resulting in an extra win 2 to 3 percent of the time. That's not huge, but at least consistent with the above.
In addition, they correlated the top-three starting pitchers VORP and found that there was a higher correlation. This shows that it is especially important to have three great starters in the post-season. They also did it for all starting pitcher VORP and it was even higher. They speculate that this makes sense as teams often start four starters today and fifth starters are sometimes useful out of the bullpen.
Other Factoids From Study
- The performance of non-closer relievers is of very little importance in the post-season, generally.
- Highest correlation is opponents' batting average.
- Avoiding walks doesn't seem to have much relationship with playoff success. And it makes sense, better to walk the other team's best hitter than give up homer.
BP identified three factors that have "the most fundamental and direct relationship" with playoff success:
- Closer WXRL
- Pitching staff strikeout rate
- FRAA (Fielding Runs Above Average)
And when you combine that with great fielding, it can become nearly impossible for opponents to get hits and generate rallies. Of the 33 teams to win the World Series since 1972, only five had a below-average defense and none were truly bad.
BP did note that this is not a "secret sauce", as the effect of the three accounts for only 11% of playoff success. As they wrote, "the majority of the time, it's plain old luck that prevails."
However, when a team has all three factors going well, "they can become quite powerful." They ranked the 180 playoff teams in their study in each of these three categories. What they found is that the teams that did the best overall in the three categories overall (creating a composite score) not only typically ended up in the World Series, but they also won it. 7 of the top 10 won the World Series. In fact, two of the losing teams lost to one of the ten in the playoffs. Taking out those two results would mean 7 of 8 teams won the World Series and all got in.
I had compiled where the Giants would have ranked among the Top 10, and as I noted, I lost my original writing and research. However, I can say that the Giants were best in the majors in strikeout rate in 2010, and I know that Brian Wilson was among the leaders in WRXL (though I cannot locate the stat anymore). I still cannot find FRAA on BP, but using UZR as a proxy for it, the Giants had the best UZR in the majors in 2010, and especially so by UZR/150. I would surmise that the Giants probably would have made the Top 10 list had I been able to figure out each ranking.
Meanwhile, the worse 10 in composite ranking did not make the World Series once. They lost in the division series four times and in the championship series six times. All together, these teams had a 16-35 record in the playoffs.
As I've been noting for many years now, the Giants have been built in a way that maximizes these factors and thus give them a competitive advantage in the playoffs, even if it is slight according to the study. Offense gives ZERO advantage.
Thus, a good business person wanting to maximize his chances in the playoffs, and accepts that the BP study gives a blueprint for your strategy, would focus most of his or her energies into obtaining and developing a high strikeout pitching staff, developing a highly effective closer, and focusing on having a good defense. Offense will be a secondary matter until that pitching is set up nicely. That is, you focus your scarce resources - your first round draft pick - on pitching, pitching, and more pitching, then select hitters hoping that some develop more often due to good scouting.
That is what the Giants have done. Sabean has forever focused on having good fielding teams and having a good closer. The strikeout pitching staff came with the personnel he picked up, Lincecum, Sanchez, Wilson, though Cain and Bumgarner are no slouches either. And Romo is excellent too.
They have not wasted a lot of first round draft picks on position players until after their pitching staff was full up with great starters and a great closer. And they still picked up a good pitcher in Zack Wheeler in the draft after selecting Buster .
Instead, they have signed up veterans where they needed them, and left spots for their young position players who showed some potential of becoming a major league starter, whether it was Lance Niekro, Jason Ellison, Fred Lewis, Kevin Frandsen, Pablo Sandoval, Travis Ishikawa, Emmanuel Burriss, John Bowker, Nate Schierholtz. And they traded away Bengie Molina when they thought that Buster Posey was ready.
Free agents are hit and miss (for example, most fans would have been for the Giants signing Carlos Beltran when he was available, but he's considered a lost contract now to the Mets), but when you have one of the best pitching and fielding teams in the majors, you do not have to generate much offense in order to win with this great defensive team. So you can sit back and try different things with your offense and still be at least treading water overall, when you have this great pitching and fielding.
I don't know if the Giants offense will ever get started in 2011. History says that it should, particularly once Sandoval starts hitting, but you never know when history says that these old players will finally hit the wall: Andres Torres, Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell, Miguel Tejada. Even Cody Ross is a possibility there as well.
Impatience Can Cost Us A Better Future
But the point to me is that the Giants are set up nicely for the rest of the decade. Better to not trade away some of that future in order to get into the playoffs in 2011, as that would hurt multiple years in the future when a young player would contribute value and at a cheaper price. Just pick up spare parts like Bill Hall and see how they go.
Now, if I were in Milwaukee's shoes, yeah, I can see trading away everything to win now. They did not plan out their team structure very well, and they were impatient a few years back too and traded away a lot of young players, and their best players will soon either go free agent or go past their prime years. Their window is closing fast.
But the Giants look great in their pitching staff for the long run and the position players are looking nice as well, in a couple of years. The team should start to gel, both offense and defense, in a year or two, at which point we could start thinking about a long-term dynasty similar to the late 90's Yankees. How good is a team that could lose a Tim Lincecum or Matt Cain and not skip too big of a beat?
It's not that I think offense is totally useless, it is just that offense NOW, at the cost of reducing the chances of a great future, is not a tradeoff I would take. This is just a resource decision that I disagree with, we need the young players for the future, assuming the Giants consider them untouchables. That tradeoff is a position that people who do not believe in this great future would take, because they just cannot see how great our future can be.
Sticks and Stones
Call me whatever names under the sun, but until I see something LOGICAL and backed by baseball studies, I'm not changing my position. Sabean may not be perfect, but I'm not looking for perfect. And any Naysayer clearly outs themselves by pointing out all Sabean's mistakes: the point of your GM is not to avoid mistakes, it is to put together a great team capable of winning it all, warts, mistakes, and all. The longer a GM has been in charge, the longer the laundry list of mistakes. The Big Picture is what the future looks like, in spite of the mistakes along the way (and not all his doing either, like Barry Zito and probably the Pierzynski trade)
I love the makeup of the Giants pitching staff and farm system that SABEAN PUT TOGETHER. Some parts were luck, undoubtedly, but that's true of anyone then, even Brian Cashman, so I'm not sure what the point is when the Naysayers point that out. They don't really think through the logical consequences of such a stance (basically their position leads to the conclusion that baseball is all about luck, in which case, why do they bother to watch the players, go play APBA then or a video game version).
Ultimately Sabean is the one who decided to keep them all together and not trade any of them away, as many of his Naysayers been saying he should do for years now. That's smarts, not luck.