Wednesday, January 11, 2012

PQS in the Playoffs (second in series)

I published the first in the series last month here.  The PQS stats there looked OK, but not too conclusive with just two year's worth of data.  I'm covering 2009 and 2008 in this post.


In 2009, the team with the higher PQS wins won 4 of the 5 times (with two ties).  The team with the higher PQS average won 5 of 5 series (two ties).  Higher DOM does appear to correlate with winning series in 2009.

In games where the pitcher was expected to win, the higher DOM pitcher's team had a 13-3 record (.813 win percentage).  There were 14 ties.  Where pitchers had a DOM start, their teams went 18-10 (.650 win pct), but there were 8 games where both pitchers had a DOM start, so removing those games leaves the games where one pitcher had a DOM and the other didn't, and those teams with the DOM went 10-2 (.867).

There was good but not great pitching with 47% DOM and 25% DIS starts overall.  Pitching was pretty good, as indicated by the 47% DOM, but not great (DOM over 50%) or elite (DOM over 70%).  In addition, there was a fair amount of bad pitching with 25% DIS (under 20% is good, under 10% great, under 5% elite).


In 2008, the DOM's had it.  The team with the most PQS wins, as well as best average PQS score, won all seven series.  The expected team to win went 19-1 and teams where their pitcher had a DOM start went 20-7, or 14-1 when you remove all games where both starters had a DOM start.  Teams where their starters had a DIS start went 3-18, or 1-16 when you remove all games where both starters had a DIS start.


The results appear very conclusive already.  So I might not even continue going back to older series.  Over the four seasons of playoffs, the expected team to win went 67-15, the team having a DOM start went 81-37, and 56-12 when you take out the ties.  Teams with DIS starts had a 25-57 record, 11-43 without ties.

As I have been writing about for a number of years now, to maximize your team's chances of winning in the playoffs, you want to have a rotation of starters who have high DOM percentages  The Giants have that with Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner, and Vogelsong.  And Sanchez was good too.

As the 2011 Phillies showed, you can get DOM starts from all your starters in a series and still lose the series to a lesser team.  Getting DOM starts is no guarantee.  But as the results of the past four seasons studied here shows, it is better than the alternative (DIS starts in particular).

One valid reaction to this is "so what, what's new about getting good starts means you win a lot?"  First, this is the first study I know of that studied PQS advantage in the playoffs.  Of course, it's better, but by what degree.  And that is the second thing, it quantifies the advantage of getting a DOM start and the disadvantage of a DIS start.  Teams with a DOM start went 81-37, those with DIS went 25-57, and more crucially, 11-43 when against better pitching.

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Giants Thoughts

Sabermetrics have not done pitching much favors.  From DIPS to the denigrating of the value of pitchers because they only play 1 game out of 5, I think the masses of sabers don't appreciate the true value and power of pitching, particularly starting pitching.

This conundrum has been haunting me for years now.  As I've documented in my business plan series, pitching is a huge component of building not only a team, but a team that is capable of going deeper into the playoffs than other teams.  Mainly because such good pitching is such a rare commodity.  But I think I'm ready to expose the fallacy of some common sabermetric thinking that is wrong.

First off, the question of a player's relative contribution to a game.   The wrong metric, in my opinion, has been used by most sabers:  games.  The common rule is that a starter is in only one game of four, while a position player plays every game.

I think plate appearances is a better metric.  By that measure, most position players accumulate no more than 4-5 plate appearances per game, which usually have around 35-40 PA in total, or about 10-13% of the total PA in a game.  Over a 5 game period, that is roughly 50-65% of a game for any position player.   A good pitcher, however, normally have about 70% (roughly over 6 innings) of the PA in any game they start.

Counting the defensive side for position players while contrasting with the offensive side (which is essentially nothing for pitchers) probably brings things closer, in terms of PA, but should not put them over, except for maybe shortstop or 1B.

But then that gets to my second point, for as the PQS data shows, pitchers can have a strong effect on how a games turns out:  again, not something that nobody knows, but the PQS methodology gives us a way of quantifying the advantages of having a staff of great to elite pitchers, as the Giants have, in the playoffs.

As I have shown, certain pitchers are able to keep their DOM% at 70% and higher, others between 50-70%, but the vast majority of starting pitchers are not able to get their DOM% consistently above 50% every season.  The Giants achieved a 67% DOM in the 2010 playoffs.  During the season, I recorded 52% DOM (which included the poorer starts of Zito) for the Giants.

Compare this to the data so far:  over the four seasons of playoffs studied, 45% DOM was achieved.  As the data showed, teams with a pitcher with a DOM start won almost 69% of those starts.  And when paired against a non-DOM start (55% of the starts, 68 starts in all), won over 82% of those starts.  That's as close to a slam dunk in baseball.  In 2011, Lincecum had 73% DOM, Cain 73%, Bumgarner 70%, and Vogelsong 61%.  Not only that, but their DIS% was lose too, 6%, 3%, 15%, and 7%, respectively.

Pitchers Have More Control And Influence Than Thought

Pitchers can control an entire game, contrary to current sabermetric thinking and tendencies.  With a good starter followed by good relievers, an entire game can be controlled by pitching, from first pitch to last.  That is why you see no-hitters regularly in the majors, while hitters who hit 4 homers in a game are usually once in a generation or two.

Hitters do not control much at all in any particular game or series, though they can clearly impact it.  Cody Ross is the latest example, but the one I thought of long ago was Gene Tenace of the A's.  But Ross's heroics would have been for naught if the pitching and fielding didn't shut down the opponents enough so that he could win it for us, much like that game in the 2002 World Series where the Giants scored 10 runs but lost the game.

Good hitters can take advantage of lesser pitchers but against the best pitchers they are effeetively neutralized in the playoffs:  .824 winning percentage for DOM starts against a non-DOM start suggests that when a team like the Giants can throw a rotation that has roughly 70% DOM at other teams, they have an advantage over other teams (that's 3-4 games out of 5, where you only need 3 to win, and 5 games out of 7, when you only need 4 games).

For example, for all other teams, they had 45% DOM over the four playoffs.  That means at minimum, 25% of the games the Giants are expected to win the game against those baseball teams.  Working out the matrix of probabilities, on average, the Giants are expected to win 38.5% of the games (and remember, in these games, the team expecting to win had a .817 winning percentage).  They were expected to lose 21.0% of the time.  And they would be tied 40.5% of the time.

Assuming ties are .500, the Giants expect to win 58.75% of the lose and lose 41.25%.  In a 5 game series, the Giants are expected to win 66% of the time, and in a 7 game series, they expect to win 69% of the series.  So even with a 70% DOM staff vs. 45% DOM, random luck would still result in the Giants losing a series over 30% of the time.  That the expected team to win does not always win (but almost at .817) brings these series win percentage down even lower.

So the fact is that luck can play a large role for any team that wins a championship.  However, one should never forget the role of the human spirit in sporting endeavors.  The will to win can be powerful at times.  And as the saying goes, "That's why they play the games."  And the research and this data also clearly says that pitching is a key to winning too.

Unfortunately, such probablistic tendencies are never good enough for the average fan.  They need the biggest, the best, and more importantly, MORE, before they presumably are satiated.  But as one can see with Yankees fans, fans level of satiation can't be ever met, even with the Yankee's revenue largesse.

Now some may point to the Phillies loss in last season's playoffs where they had 5 DOM starts and yet lost their series as an example of why pitching dominance is no panacea.  That obscures the fact that there is NO panacea in baseball, only improved probabilities of winning.  And that the two major studies on playoff success - that is, going deep into the playoffs - is tied to good pitching and defense, but has no ties to anything related to offense.

So the focus by many fans on the offense is misguided at best, ruinous if it leads to trading our great pitching for hitting, as long as the lineup is projected to do well enough offensively to win 90+ games with our defense.  And at the moment, it is.

Pitching is the Way to Control Games, Not Offense

What I have tried to show is that in baseball, there is not a lot of control.  A hitter may get hot but that does nothing if the other 7 position players don't hit much in support.  Having a Barry Bonds may help you score 10 runs, but that don't matter when the other team scores 11.  In baseball, offense is a team sport, you need all the cylinders running to score regularly.

But pitchers are in control of the defense.  That is why great pitchers like Lincecum and Cain can churn out consecutive seasons of 50%, 60%, 70% DOM starts, where the vast majority of pitchers are in the 40% range or lower.  Fielding defense helps, and that is where Sabean's focus on fielding defense has helped:  the Giants have been among leaders in defensive runs saved the past 3 seasons according to the Fielding Bible Plus/Minus system.  Fielding has been contributing on average over 4 wins per season to the Giants the past three seasons (and remember, that equals to over 8 games over .500, for it is a loss converted into a win).

That is why the Giants were right in not trading any of their top four starters previously, when many fans and the media, who thought they knew better, wanted to trade them for hitting, not realizing that, at best, that is a zero sum game, and at worse, well, suppose we had traded Lincecum for Rios as MANY fans wanted to, including one prominent media figure.

In addition, trading good pitching for hitting, research has shown (and as I noted above), results in REDUCING your chances of winning in the playoffs, as pitching contributes to success in the playoffs, while offense does not.

Riddle me this:  if a team trades a 5 WAR pitcher for a 5 WAR hitter, how has that improved the team?  Or do people really expect the other team to trade a better player to your team just because it is a pitcher?  Theoretically any trade should add nothing to your team, if perfect, you are just trading one thing for another.  Typically, a team would do the trade because it has a similar player ready to take the place of the traded player, and thus is trading to get value in another part of the team.  But most trades I've seen suggested does nothing more than shuffle the deck of cards, it does nothing for making sure you have a great hand.

Some have also wanted to make the trade to improve the offense, and ostensibly win more games (not realizing that with no pitchers ready in the minors, we do not replace the pitching production we just traded away) and, in their minds, improve the Giants chances of making the playoffs.  But what is more important, what good is improving your chances of the playoffs if you just reduced your chances of winning it all?

Teams with High DOM% Regularly Do Well In The Playoffs

My study so far of DOM and DIS in the playoffs shows that generally teams with higher DOM wins most series and games.  It is no guarantee, but is as close to one that you can get in baseball, honestly, it is a very clear advantage, most of the time.  And having a staff capable of high DOM%, like the Giants do, maximizes the team's chances of going deep into the playoffs and thus its chances of winning it all.  That is why I've been saying for the past few years that the 2010's will be known as the Decade of the Giants when all is said and done.

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