National / Sports / October 21, 2009

Championship series commonalities

The Philadelphia Phillies, Los Angeles Angels, New York Yankees, and Los Angeles Dodgers are the four remaining teams in Major League Baseball’s postseason — but why? Are they the fastest? The smartest? Do they try the hardest? Do they play small-ball?

Well, no. I don’t really think so, at least.

I want to pinpoint why these teams are in the postseason, statistically, of course. Basically, what makes these teams so good? The old-timey baseball theories bandied about in the first line represent what some people will inevitably say about whomever walks away with the World Series, but I’m not buying it. Although I am going into this with quite a bit of knowledge about each team — rendering this experiment of sorts basically useless — I could still be wrong in my evaluations.

Here are my theories:

1. Each team is in the top 15 in the league in on-base percentage.

2. Each team is in the top 15 in the league in FIP — a measurement of pitching performance wholly independent of defense.

3. Each team is in the top 15 defensively using universal zone rating as the metric.

4. Each team is in the top 15 offensively using wOBA (weighted on-base average).

Well, how did I do? On the first hypothesis, I was correct. Each team was in the top 15, with three of them in the top four (Yankees, Angels, Dodgers) and the Phillies barely in at 14. An offensive player’s greatest asset is his ability to not make an out, and teams that get on base win games. Now the Phillies more than likely compensated for this with absurd power numbers, due to an offensive nucleus that features Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jayson Werth and Raul Ibañez — but that will be examined when we look at wOBA.

For FIP, only the Dodgers and Yankees finished in the top 15. The Angels and Phillies were each in the bottom half of the league, which may be unfair for Philadelphia, as the late addition of Cliff Lee definitely bolstered their pitching staff. So this theory is incorrect. What does it mean exactly? I’m not sure, but if I’m to hazard a guess, it’d be that the two teams outside of the top half in fielding independent pitching statistics will be very good at defense.

My instincts were correct: both the Angels and the Phillies place in the top 10 in the league in UZR. The Dodgers are also in the top 15, while the Yankees rank in the bottom half. On the surface, it appears that teams can compensate for their pitching with good defense, and can slag defensively if they have good pitching. While great pitching staffs are often made by great defenses, teams with strikeout prone pitchers can skimp a bit defensively. But that should be no surprise — it’s Sabermetrics 101.

Weighted on-base average (wOBA) is a version of on-base percentage that accounts for power. It’s like a cleaned-up version of the now accepted OPS (on-base plus slugging). The Phillies, Yankees and Angels place in the top five and the Dodgers once again find themselves in the top half.

While my hypotheses were only half right, it appears that the teams are fairly evenly matched. While the Yankees are dominant offensively, their defense leaves something to be desired, but that’s an aspect of the game that will be more present over the course of 162 games. With a power pitching staff and an elite offense, I’d be mildly surprised if they don’t win the World Series.

At this point, it appears it could be New York and Philadelphia — a series which, while being unpalatable for those of us who find both fan bases abhorrent, will be a fantastic series for baseball. Of course, being in London and unable to partake in the series, I’m hoping for a slaughter.

Kevin Morris

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