Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Prelude To A Championship

All stats from Disclaimer: I tried to put this in layman terms as much as I could.

In 2007, the Boston Red Sox defeated the Colorado Rockies in the World Series. The Rockies had never been in the Series before and had made only one other postseason appearance in franchise history. The Sox had won it all in 2004 and this was their fourth postseason appearance in five years. In 2006, the St. Louis Cardinals won only 83 games but beat the 95-win Detroit Tigers in the World Series. The Cardinals had earned their third consecutive postseason berth (including a 2004 pennant) and their fourth in five years. The Tigers had not made the playoffs since 1987.

So were the Rockies and Tigers just happy to be there? Or, to put it differently and quantifiably, did the postseason experience of Boston and St. Louis put them over the top? Can we use that to predict what will happen this year, with Philadelphia having been in the postseason and Tampa having never won more than 70 games?

Uh, no.

With the caveat that I am neither Nate Silver nor Rob Neyer, I charted out all of the World Series matchups since 1980, looking at the difference in consecutive postseason appearances by each team, the number of postseason appearances in five years, and each team's regular season wins. Then, I ran a regression analysis using an AL win as the dependent variable and the differences as the independent variables. This is the kind of stuff I do for a living and I obviously love my job.

You can find the spreadsheet here and the data on the regression analyses (I did one for all Series since 1980 and one for only those since the Wild Card started in 1995) here. Each of the independent variables are not anywhere near close to significant at any level you would want to use. Only the constant (the b in the y=mx+b best-fit line slope equation) was a predictor (as you'd expect) and that was because the AL has won 16 of 27 World Series since 1980 and 8 of 13 since 1995. So if, for the heck of it, you actually fill in the best-fit equation with this year's data, the Rays have about a 63% chance of winning but only because of how dominant the AL -- mostly the Yankees -- has been.

Well, shucks. With that out of the way, we actually have to look at what will happen on the field. Let's check out the platoon splits. The Phillies were a very strong offensive team this year. Using an index of the average Major League OPS at 100, the Phillies were 112 against LHP and 102 against RHP. Obviously, they'll see only one lefty starter (Game 1's Kazmir) from that Rays rotation. The Rays were at 108 against RHP but only 93 against LHP. They'll face two lefties (Hamels and Moyer). Of course, the Rays touched Boston lefty Jon Lester for 7 ER in 12-2/3 IP during the ALCS. When it comes to pitching, the Phillies had OPS against (again using 100 as the Major League index but lower being better) of 94 against righties and 102 against lefties. Tampa was equal against righties with 94, but scored a 87 against lefties. With Utley and Howard being left-handed, Burrell will have to come up big (as he has so far) along with Rollins and Victorino from the right sides.

Cole Hamels has been near untouchable this postseason and there's no reason for that to change. Matt Garza was equally as impressive against Boston, but not so much against the White Sox in the ALDS and he doesn't have the pedigree of Hamels. Also, Cole Hamels is married to Heidi (of Heidi and Jenna) from Survivor: Amazon. Which makes him that much more awesome.

Here is the Baseball Prospectus take. My take: This should be a very entertaining series and while I admit that I'm biased to rooting for the Phillies, I would in no way be disappointed if the Rays were to shock the world and win it all. I just think the Phillies can book two wins with Hamels and that makes the margin of error slim for Tampa. If Hamels breaks down and Jimmy Rollins is exceptionally bad, the Phillies may have problems. On the other hand, if Rollins gets hot, the series may be over quickly. I'll split the difference.

Philadelphia in 6.


Anonymous said...

Even if playoff experience did matter, the only other time the Phillies made the playoffs in the last 10 years was last season, when they got swept by the Rockies in a best of five series. Based on the Rays edge in pitching and defense, I'm picking them in seven.

Was anyone else surprised by the selection of Matt Garza as ALCS MVP? I'm not saying he didn't have a great series, but I would have gone with Upton or Longoria.


Josh said...

Yeah, I don't know how you don't pick Longoria. He was the key to everything.