Sunday, October 13, 2013

MLB Playoffs: Day Ten

For awhile now, we've been warning about the problems faced by Moneyball-style offenses.  Against a really good pitcher, taking a lot of first pitches means that you're facing an 0-1 count.  Against a really good pitcher, swinging for the fences means that you are going to strike out a lot.

Over the last few days, we have seen these problems become more and more vivid, as offense has almost disappeared from the playoffs.  Consider the Dodgers, who held St. Louis to only four runs in 22 innings of baseball over two games in Busch Stadium.  That would seem to be really good, but the Dodgers scored only two runs of their own -- and have been shut out in the last 19 innings they've played.  Yesterday the Dodgers got spectacular pitching from their ace Clayton Kershaw, as the Cardinals got only two hits.  But the Cardinals did manage to scratch across a single run -- which was better than the Dodgers could do.  The Cardinals' 1-0 victory, compared with their 3-2 thirteen-inning victory on Friday night, puts St. Louis in firm control of the NLCS.

In the nightcap, Detroit pitchers came this close to pitching a no-hitter against Boston.  The Bosox did manage to scratch out one hit in the ninth inning, but it wasn't enough as the Tigers prevailed 1-0.

So, for all the folks who watched both games yesterday, that's two runs in 18 innings.  It will be interesting to see whether teams start adjusting their approach, or whether we continue to see lots and lots of strikeouts and pop-ups.

National League Championship Series (Best of Seven):
St. Louis leads Los Angeles 2-0

American League Championship Series (Best of Seven):
Detroit leads Boston 1-0

Tonight's game:
Detroit at Boston (7:07 Central on FOX)


  1. Whitey Herzog was just as successful a manager as Earl Weaver, but no one plays Whitey ball. I find it so odd that every team now plays for the big home run innings.

  2. As a Kansas Citian and a Royals fan, Bill James spent a lot of time thinking about Whitey Herzog. He always made the point that Herzog's teams actually hit with a lot of power -- it's just that because of the parks that they played in, a lot of their hits were doubles and triples instead of home runs.

    These days, the Moneyball guys like to use a stat they call "OPS," which is derived by adding on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Here are the OPS numbers for Herzog's good teams:

    1976 Royals: .699 (4th in the AL)
    1977 Royals: .776 (4th in the AL)
    1978 Royals: .728 (4th in the AL)
    1982 Cardinals: .697 (7th in the NL)
    1985 Cardinals: .714 (2d in the NL)
    1987 Cardinals: .718 (9th in the NL)

    As you can see, most of these teams did very well by an OPS measurement -- all those walks, doubles, and triples add up. The two exceptions are the 1982 and 1987 Cardinals. In 1982, the Cardinal offense really was pretty average -- they were 5th in the NL in runs scored. But they led the league in runs allowed. So that team mainly won with pitching. In 1987, however, the Cardinals were 2d in runs scored despite being 9th in OPS -- they stole 248 bases that year and were thrown out only 72 times. So that was the one time Herzog's teams won without much power in the lineup. Even then, it should be noted, the 1987 Cardinals led the NL in walks.

    In short, therefore, Herzog's teams seem to be very solid when viewed through a Moneyball prism -- and I think if guys like George Brett and Willie McGee had played in today's smaller parks, they would have hit a lot more home runs.