Playoffs

Stop Praising Brian Sabean

Sorry but I’m a little tired of hearing how Cody Ross was a brilliant move by Brian Sabean, the General Manager of the Giants. I’d like to note the obvious before I ramble: no one expected half of the production that Ross has given the Giants while on his way to win the NLCS MVP award. I’m not doubting his production or anything.

What I am doubting is the good foresight by Sabean in acquiring Ross. If you don’t know, the Giants got Ross by claiming him off waivers from the Florida Marlins. Waivers works in a way that any team can claim the player, but the waiver is awarded to the team with the worst record, who is also in the same league. For example, if a winning-record team from the NL claims Ross and so does a losing-record team from the AL, the waiver is still awarded to the team from the NL. That’s just how the system works. At any rate, I find it hard to believe Sabean claimed Ross on the belief he was going to go on a rip in the playoffs. The Giants didn’t even need an outfielder, as they had a lot of depth at the position. So why do it?

For one Sabean had to know the San Diego Padres were interested in acquiring Ross. The simple fact is Sabean blocked the Padres from getting the guy (since the Padres at the time had a better record than the Giants).

I’ll admit this was a fantastic move if you’re playing chess, or you’re studying game theory. But please don’t praise Sabean for his foresight, as this required none of it. I think any businessman would have done the same thing: block your competitor from receiving the right supplies. Simple as that. Now I have little proof that the same thing occurred with Pat Burrell, but the Giants definitely lucked out with Burrell feeling allegiance to his hometown team (Burrell grew up in San Jose, CA).

This is another reason why I think the Giants are astonishingly lucky this postseason, offensively. While I admit they are on a tear right now pitching wise, and they look pretty good in the World Series, please don’t praise Brian Sabean for the great luck that has blessed the city by the bay.

Note: I covered instances where random role players have given their teams enough offense to win games in the postseason, but none as wild as Ross, who has only been with the Giants for 2 months, while those other random MVP-winners were with clubs the entire season.

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Playoffs

Starting Your Best Player, Third

I wanted to get this post out before the start of tonight’s game 6 game consisting of New York trying to force a game 7 against the Texas Rangers. There was an article on Fangraphs (that you can find here) last week discussing the effects of starting Cliff Lee (the Ranger’s best starting pitcher option) in games 3 and 7 (in game 7, if the series goes that far). A lot of writers have been chiming in discussing how starting Cliff in those games puts Texas at a disadvantage, since the game 7 start is not guaranteed. Thus the disadvantage stems from sending the best pitcher in the postseason out only once.

To summarize the article, Dave Cameron points to the idea that, assuming Cliff can win both his starts, the Rangers need to find ways to win at least two non-Cliff Lee games. Winning these games is independent of when Cliff Lee starts. Albeit, pitching match-ups are important, the message is still clear and simple: the Rangers still need to win two non-Cliff Lee games.

This discussion got me thinking more broadly about the psychology behind 7 game series.

The fact is most people view the goal of a 7 game series is to win 4 games first. Through the first 4 games of both championship series, teams were up 3-1. And then in game 5’s, both series went to 3-2. While most fans believe there’s bad history in clinching a series, the fact is the order of games won doesn’t matter. Each game is independent. For example, coming back from a 3-1 deficit to win a series would be the same as teams alternating wins to force a sudden death game 7. Maybe hearts are broken in the former, but the outcome is the same. All I’m trying to say is if New York or Philadelphia end up going to the world series, don’t be too sad, Texas/SF fans that your team couldn’t just win one more game. The order of the games won shouldn’t matter.

I think to prove my point, series would have to be played through 7 games, no matter if a team wins the first four (or any other combination of wins-losses that doesn’t force a game 7).

But the mentality of being one win away from advancing can be pretty heart-breaking when you still don’t advance. But I just don’t see the necessity in calling it ‘bad history’ when games are won independently of each other.

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Playoffs

Why the Yankees dominate Minnesota

As a fan and statistician, it is upsetting to think about the past 4 times Minnesota has played the Yankees in the playoffs. They have not one a single game against those Bombers; nothing to show or prove to fans of their successful season. A big fat zero in the win column. As Fangraphs points out, it’s almost illogical that one team can dominate like this over a span of 5+ years. The turnaround from each year’s team essentially makes each playoff match totally different from the year’s past. The only thing associating each year’s team together is team location and mascots.

So what’s the deal, Twin city? There one thing I noticed when watching the recent ALDS between the two teams.

It was obvious this team was scared from the seventh inning on. You could see it in how they played, and how commentators continually associated the bottom of the ninth with Mariano Rivera. Honestly in the post-season, I can see why such a reputation can be pretty intimidating. Especially with his manager’s low tolerance for trouble even in the eighth, he will turn to Mariano. So even if you muster a hit in the eighth, Joe Girardi will with no doubt bring out his big guns. Thus I don’t know how Minnesota could muster uup confidence in those situations. We saw it in the first two games. Minnesota blew a lead in the 6th, 7th innings, and couldn’t find their way out of the deficit. The Yankees are in the Twinkie’s heads. Better yet, Mariano Rivera is in the heads of the Twins.

And maybe this team is just too young. In the beginning of the year, i thought they were going to be great, anchored by a pitching staff including coming-of-age aces Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey. I still think fondly of these pitchers, but apparently they weren’t good enough to be slotted into the playoff rotation. Maybe we just haven’t seen the best of this Twins team. Better yet, we know each year’s team is drastically different, so why not be hopeful that the 2011 Twins > 2011 Yankees? It can happen.

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Playoffs

Postseason Play

It’s October already. Which means one thing: MLB playoffs! A lot of people like to predict who’s going to win, but that’s kinda boring to me (especially since a lot of the time, the commentators are completely wrong). What I am willing to discuss is what I think are the most important aspects of a team in order to get to the World Series. What makes the postseason so much different from the regular season? The most important difference is that the sample size (the amount of games played) shrinks from 162 to about less than 20 games. Obviously, that’s how it works in all playoff games, but it seems more important for baseball. Here it goes:

  • This point is somewhat taken from ‘Moneyball’. I’ve already expressed my opinion on pitcher’s volatility, but in the playoffs it seems like their variability in performance is utterly important to a team’s success. In all of baseball, the pitcher has the most control of a game. The Yankees might have the best offense this year on paper, but can they really match up against the best pitcher, on one of his good nights? I don’t think so. If a team is going to control the make up of a playoff series, they need their pitchers to either be in control (and are super super good), or are just on a really hot streak. So teams tend to have one or two for sure pitchers, with pitchers who could make or break a team’s chances. Luck’s on one team than the other perhaps? Back in the day, the A’s had three for sures, yet they couldn’t even get out of the first round (sigh). Shows how 2/3 won’t do, you need that coveted third win!!
  • Smallball is the strategy. The Angels did it a couple years back, so did the White Sox. What I mean about smallball is recognizing there will be no ‘big inning’; one run through advancing runners (no matter the cost) is more important than having to wish for a lucky home run. It’s evident you won’t get too many blowouts in the playoffs, there’s just too much on the line. Thus, smallball is used lots of time to sacrifice an out or two to advance a runner and bring him in via Sac Fly or something. This is an offense taking control of its own fate; once you get a single or double off a really good pitcher, it isn’t too hard to hit a sac fly off him. A pitcher isn’t going to give up much, thus an offense needs to make that hit meaningful. Out of 51 World Series games played in the past decade, only 14 have ended with a team winning by 4 or more.
  • What kills me is when people talk about a team’s offense being their focal point, and how it will carry them through the playoffs. For one thing, the sample size of the playoffs is so small, anything can happen! An offense can be just as good as they have been, or players can hit a cold streak. Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez would know. They’re on the best offense this season, yet they have yet to prove themselves in the small sample sizes of the past three or four post seasons they’ve been in. You can also see how this is true since we often see a very random, usually a role player of a team be the one to win the series MVP award. In recent memory: Mike Lowell (2007 WS), David Eckstein (2006 WS), or Placido Polanco (2006 ALCS). So, don’t et your hopes up this season if you’re a Yankee fan and expecting their offense to get them through the playoffs, despite a mediocre pitching staff behind CC Sabathia. It. Just. might. Not. Happen.

There are two teams in the playoffs this year that seem to fit the mold I’ve just talked about. The Phillies have a solid pitching staff with 2.5 for sures (Hamels, Martinez and Happ each count as half for sures) with 2.5 other ‘if they get lucky streaks’ pitchers. Their offense has been solid all season, but if they don’t hit well, Charilie Manuel is always looking to win one run difference games. Boston also has solid pitching with Beckett and Lester being the essence of for sures. Their issue is they haven’t been very successful against two of the other AL playoff teams: the Yankees and Angels. That’s why I think the AL is a bit iffy in calling the winner, it’s all up for grabs since it seems each team has a huge gaping hole. The NL, the Phillies just look like the best of the best, with the Cards giving them a good run for their money. The Dodgers? Sorry…I don’t believe in teams who drag their feet to the playoffs.

So who’s gonna win? I’ll ask IceBat next time I see him…

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