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

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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