Scoring and run prevention of World Series teams

If you’ve read through the comments on my latest Hardball Times feature—Pitching (almost) always wins championships —you’ll notice that a few have pointed out that my graph may be misleading. Full disclosure: It is. Given that, I’d like to post a couple of additional graphs and some thoughts as an addendum to the original piece.

Tangotiger thought it was interesting and posted it on his The Book blog. That without a doubt helped the discussion along and has given me some idea of where to go from here. So here goes:

First, I apparently could have used R/G+ and RA/G+ which would have been more appropriate. Well, I don’t have access to those figures and I don’t want to throw away what I’ve already done. Instead, I’ll attempt to tweak it a bit knowing it’s not going to be perfect.

To start, we can look at the American League champions by themselves. We’d like to look at all the championship teams together, but unfortunately the league-average OPS+ in the AL is around 99 (because of interleague play, I presume), while the NL is routinely around 93 or 94. Because of this we will want to look at the AL from 1973 to 2010 by itself, which will give us the DH era. You’ll notice the red line that marks where league-average offense resides is now at 99, just left of where it was before.

You should notice that the importance of pitching is no longer nearly as stark as it was in my initial graph. It is still incredibly important; it’s just no longer so much more important than scoring runs. You have three teams (2005 White Sox, 1987 Twins, 1985 Royals) that fell left of the league-average hitting line of a 99 OPS+ (14.29 percent) and only one beneath the league-average pitching line of 100 ERA+ (4.76 percent): the 1987 Twins. It’s also clear from this that the vast majority of champions are well-equipped in terms of both scoring and preventing runs.

I’ve also done this for the remainder of the champions, which is every NL champion in history as well as each AL champion before 1973, starting with the 1972 Oakland A’s. For this graph, I’ve set the league-average mark at around 93 OPS+ because that’s where it tends to be, between 92 and 94, throughout history.

The results are again very similar. Pitching is still a vital component of winning a World Series. That said, where in the graph of my initial post hitting was more of a “nice to have,” it’s now clear it’s another very important aspect of winning it all. Intuitively, this makes sense, though I still believe an argument can be made that pitching is more important.

The below league-average offenses are now the 1906 White Sox, 1907 Cubs, 1914 Boston Braves, 1933 New York Giants, 1940 Cincinnati Reds, 1959 Dodgers, 1965 Dodgers, 1969 Mets, 1988 Dodgers, and 1995 Braves. That’s 10 of 85 or 11.76 percent of the time. Comparatively, only the 2006 Cardinals and 1913 Philadelphia A’s have below-average pitching: two of 85, or 2.35 percent of the time.

Putting it all together, 13 of 106 (12.26 percent) World Series winners have won it with a below-average offense while just three of 106 (2.86 percent) have done so with below-average pitching. This is still telling us something, I think. I’d also like to note that pitching is greatly impacted both positively and negatively by defense, and I failed to mention this previously.

Congratulations are in order, as there’s one additional repercussion with the changes I’ve made: The 1987 Twins appear now to be the only team in history with both below-average offense and below-average pitching. The 2006 Cardinals used to accompany them, but are now off the hook.

This method is perhaps not the best way of determining how important an offense and pitching are for a World Series winner, but it’s certainly a way to do it. With these new visuals, I’m compelled to temper my previous position: Pitching (almost) always wins championships. Instead, I propose a new title: Winning a World Series with so-so pitching… good luck with that.

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13 years ago

Great research, as usual.

This article and your prior article are additional evidence of how pitching and fielding are the key competitive differentiators for teams in the playoffs.

The Hardball Times had previously published a study a number of years ago showing that offense was no factor in success in the playoffs. 

In addition, Baseball Prospectus’ book, Baseball Between the Numbers, in the chapter on why Billy Beane’s “stuff” doesn’t work in the playoffs, came to the same conclusion, using a quantitative method to analyze things.  They also did something similar to what was done here, except they used their metrics, coming to the same conclusion:  offense has no effect, good or bad, in getting a team deep into the playoffs, while pitching and fielding defense does have some effect, though still not a sure thing factor.

Still, it does provide some advantage, whereas offense, whether via scoring a lot of runs, scoring via homers, or anything related to the offense, did not have a statistically significant positive effect in getting a team deep into the playoffs.

This is exactly why I’ve been saying for a couple of seasons now that the 2010’s will be known as the Decade of the Giants.  They had the pitching and fielding, had just enough offense to win enough games, and now they have been winning the past two seasons.  People don’t realize that when you have pitching/fielding defense that is among the best in the majors, you don’t need an average offense to compete for the title, and when you have one close to average, you can win over 90 games and win the title.  Now they only need the money to keep all the pitching together as long as possible plus as healthy as possible.

The Willies
13 years ago

I expect 3B to be improved defensively this season, as Pablo is more mobile with his better conditioning.  At the same time, I expect Tejada to have less range than Uribe did, so the defense at short could be a little worse.  We’ll see.

Hank G
13 years ago

I hesitate to draw any conclusions, but perhaps your research shows that it is (slightly) easier to assemble an above average pitching staff than an above average offensive team?

Since the “better” team does not always win the World Series, it would be interesting to see the charts for all league champions. Perhaps the advantage of pitching would be lessened even more.

13 years ago

Rory, I really like your ambition and presentation here. But your charts aren’t saying anything anything other than World Series winners are good at hitting and pitching.

If you want to make the claim you’re making, you also need to show World Series “losers.” Otherwise, you’re just comparing the winning teams to all 29 other teams.

Suggestions (pick one):

1. Include data points for WS losers. If the distribution isn’t really any different, then you haven’t proven anything about pitching vs. offense.

2. Include data points for all postseason participants, highlighting WS winners, but change the defensive and offensive averages to the sample of postseason participants. Same point about the distribution applies.

3. Change the averages above to the average for WS participants only.