Friday, October 11, 2013

2013 Season: Oakland Playoff Defeat Post-Mortem, PQS Style

As you all know, I like to use PQS to analyze pitching and team success in the playoffs.  As I've shown - and I know, not surprisingly - pitchers who throw quality starts give their teams a great chance to win, typically 75--80% of the time when the other team don't throw a quality start, and that happens a majority of the time.  And thus I've advocated for building up a rotation of high DOM% starters (and ideally low DIS%, but typically if you are high DOM% that results in low DIS%) as a way to be more successful in the playoffs.  So I thought I would look into the Tigers-A's series now (I've been normally doing all the playoff series after the playoffs are all over and the new World Champion is crowned, but I'm going through this series in depth here, whereas I just went through the numbers before).

ogc thoughts

The results are heart breaking for the A's and their fans, doubly so because they arguably outpitched the Tigers, at least from the perspective of the starters.  They should have won Game 4 with Straily pitching so well, but the bullpen cost them the game as well as their offense did not take it to Fister when they had a chance.  It was the only game in the series where the team with the higher PQS score did not win the game, and that tipped the balance and the series to the Tigers, in what was a mostly equal battle of starting pitchers.  As I have shown previously, PQS is no sure thing to playoff success, but it sure does make it a easier.

Both sides were very close in terms of performance in the series.  Detroit averaged 3.4 PQS, Oakland 3.6 PQS.  Both had 60% DOM (that is, both had 3 DOM starts), but Oakland didn't have one DIS start, while Detroit had one, and that cost them, they lost that game.  However, as noted, Straily had a DOM start in game 4 but the bullpen lost that game, as Fister had a good game in spite of his poor pitching, where he gave up more hits than IP and didn't strike out that many (only one).

A's Vs. Goliath

But, wow, talk about stacked!  As I've been writing, having a pitcher over 40% is good, over 50% DOM is great, and over 70% is elite, and the Tiger's ROTATION averaged 72% DOM with only 8% DIS.  That means their rotation is elite, as a whole.  Meanwhile, the A's had a good, almost great, rotation, with 49% DOM but their 18% is on the high side for good rotations, you ideally want it in the low teens or lower.

Here are the Tigers starters' PQS:
  • Scherzer:  91% DOM/3% DIS
  • Verlander:  65% DOM/9% DIS
  • Sanchez:  72% DOM/7% DIS
  • Fister:  63% DOM/13% DIS
Amazingly, Verlander was third in their rotation, and very close to being the low man on the totem pole.  The report was that he had a poor season, and you can see it there in his PQS, which, while good for most people, is a down year for him.  Still, 65% DOM is still darn good!

Here are the A's PQS:
  • Colon:  43% DOM/13% DIS
  • Gray:  80% DOM/10% DIS (but only 10 starts)
  • Parker:  56% DOM/16% DIS
  • Straily:  37% DOM/30% DIS
So, lining up high to low, the Tigers were better than the A's top to bottom.  They should have blown them out, but the A's benefited from Sanchez's rare DIS start:  he only had two all season, and basically none after the ASB.  And they should have lost Straily's start, but he manned up and pitched a great game, too bad the bullpen blew it for him. 

Take a Chance on Me

Melvin took a chance on his young stud starter, Gray, who pitched the game of his lifetime, only to lose to Verlander in their first duel, but I think that was a mistake.  First of all, he was pitching on short rest, usually not a good recipe (all the articles I saw reacting to the Dodgers pitching Kershaw with less rest showed that pitchers usually performed noticeably worse with less rest, but the hope is that a reduced Kershaw is still a pretty well-pitched game), though Verlander was too (and he did well in spite of it, taking a no-hitter deep into the game), so maybe Melvin was hoping that both of them were similarly affected. 

Second of all, no matter how cocky a player might be, pitching as well as Gray did in the first duel but still losing to Verlander has to affect his performance.  You got that little gremlin talking in your head about how you can't afford a mistake against the Tigers or you've lost to Verlander and the Tigers, and lo and behold, Gray made a mistake to Miguel Cabrera and he blasted a two-run homer, which won the game for the Tigers, ultimately.  I think the A's might have been better off with Colon starting, but with a short leash to Gray, if necessary. 

Third of all, Colon ended the season with a strong stretch of pitching,  picking it up late season.  He ended the season with 4 straight DOM starts, plus a DOM start in the first game, for five in a row. However, Gray also ended the season strong (hard not to when you have 8 DOM starts out of 10), so this is more of a quibble. 

Still, that's picking your poison, because Colon only had 43% DOM for the season, barely good.  Though he did pick it up at the end of the season, that rest he got in August - he appears to have been DLed, as he missed a few starts - refreshed him, as he pitched a whole lot better than he had at any other point in this season.  He did not even have one back-to-back 5 PQS start before, but then ran a string of 3 in September.

A's Blew Chance Big Time!

Based on seasonal PQS, Detroit should have blown easily through the A's, but the A's were the ones who should have won the series.  Gray outdueled Verlander and Parker did enough better than Sanchez, to give the A's the lead, and Straily, in spite of his ups and downs during the season (37% DOM but horrible 30% DIS), outdueled Fister with a 5 PQS start (Fister only had a 2 PQS due to his lack of strikeouts), and the A's should have closed out the series in that game.  Instead, the hitters couldn't take advantage of Fister and the bullpen gave up too many runs, and they ended up losing that game. 

Then Melvin (and I don't blame him, but still) tempted the fates again by throwing Gray to face Verlander.  Not that Colon would have necessarily done better, but again, to expect to beat Verlander twice with the same 23 YO rookie, who was not even ace material in 2012 while in AA, takes a lot of brass cajones to do.  I'm sure there are A's fans wondering why he didn't start Colon instead, but I was impressed that he did, Gray was arguably better this season, based solely on what was done this season. 

Though I would note that based on what Gray did in AAA this season, his ERA should have been a lot worse than it was.  But somehow he did the incredible, he upped his K/9 and lowered his BB/9 in the majors over what he did in AAA, somehow it was easier for him up here.  He had a great K/BB too, as well as great K/9, and if he keeps it up, they got their future ace going right now. 

High DOM% Rules!

This is an example of how having high DOM starters don't always result in a great series for that team, though at least Detroit won the series in spite of that, unlike the Phillies in 2011.  The A's pitched above where they were during the season, while the Tigers pitched under, and that, of course, is how things happen in short series, this is not unusual.  Still, the team with the higher PQS score went 3-1 in this series (there was one tie), showing how having a dominant pitching staff is a key ingredient for any team hoping to make it through the playoff gauntlet and be the World Champs.

This is also an example of how Billy Beane's sh!t does not work in the playoffs.  Even after BP wrote about how it don't work and prescribed how they should do it if the A's want to go deep into the playoffs, Beane still tolerates low DOM starters, which generally coincide with low K/9 pitchers.  Oakland as a team only had a 7.3 K/9 for the staff, under the 7.6 K/9 average for the majors.  They were also 4th lowest in the AL in K/9, out of 15 teams, meaning 11 teams had better rate.  And for just the starters, they averaged 6.9 K/9, and was 20th in the majors (out of 30; Giants, FYI, was 5th with 7.8 K/9), 10th in the AL (out of 15).

That resulted in their having an overall 49% DOM and 18% DIS average for their starters in the playoffs (though if Gray had pitched like this for a whole season, they have have easily been over 50%).   Which actually not that bad, but not that good either.  Plus, they were forced to use Straily as their 4th starter.  And yet they came very close to winning the series, but instead was ousted again in the first round.

Team Playoff Strategy:  Rotation Full of High DOM% Starters

As much as many Giants fans didn't like Sanchez, he was a much better pitcher overall than Straily, perfect for 2010's 4th starter position, and a big reason why we won the Phillies series, as he got to face Blanton, who was not as good and we won that match up (as we should have, in most instances).  Straily did do well, but if you plugged that game into a simulator, his team would have lost most of the time, as he was facing Fister, who has been better than Straily has been. 

That is how you want to put together your rotation, that way, no matter how your series end, sweep or 5-7 games, you can still start off with a great to elite starter in every series.  And in the obvious statement that more QS is always better than less.  Plus, in some series, you will have a key differentiator, having a rotation full of good DOM% and then the other team is forced to throw up a Blanton or Straily against your good starters.  

And as nice as Fister is in throwing DOM starts, his K/9 was only 6.9 this season, and he is Detroit's weak link.  The A's should have had them in game 4, as Straily outpitched him sabermetrically, but it twas not to be for them.    Although he pitched well in last year's World Series, Fister was facing Bumgarner in game 2, and who would you rather have as your starter in that case?   And we ended up with Cain pitching game 4 with plenty of rest, and with a 3-0 series lead, you only have that luxury if you have a strong rotation, though Detroit wasn't that shabby either, throwing Scherzer at us (he wasn't as dominant last season as this, but still pretty darn good in 2012). 

The A's only had one truly dominant starter in Gray.  Parker, their #2, is good, with 56% DOM, but, for example, he was less than the worse Detroit starter, Fister, who was 20 DOM/4 DIS out of 32 starts, while Parker was 18:5/32.  Their 4th starter was more dominant than the A's 2nd starter.  And if Straily is in their playoff rotation again next season, he better have figured out how to strike out a lot more guys plus give up less hits and homers, or it will probably be one and done again.

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