We’re down to the 2014 Major League Baseball Season’s Final Four. Four teams have sufficiently survived both their own stupidity and the stupidity of others in order to still be playing baseball games in mid-October. Things that matter a lot in the regular season like “getting on base and not consuming outs” matter less than you might think in the postseason. More important to postseason success is whether or not a team starts hitting a plethora of random WTF dingers (I’m looking at you, Cardinals; and you, Royals, with your ∗‰∅∉ing Mike Moustakas – what actually the hell is going on?), avoids pissing the bed on defense (not like this), and possesses a bullpen that decides to actually slam the door in the later innings (not like this)… ORRRRRR… possess a bullpen that avoids pissing the bed on defense (NOT LIKE THIS).
mattythep drives by Moustakas’s adolescent alma (Stony Point High School in Chatsworth, CA) almost every day during his commute.
Hallowed ground, we’re sure. Clearly, Matty Patty is touched by destiny and you are not.
Moustakas’s enduring legacy aside, let us explore what the 2014 World Series might have in store for us. Which pairing of final combatants would make for the most compelling series? Which would (undoubtedly) sport the best narrative? And which would be most likely to cause a Fox executive to inflict severe harm to his own person? Do any of these things matter so long as we get to hear Joe Buck talk? We explore all of these facets and probably more to bring you:
SWEET NOTHINGS AND HARDBALL’S 2014 MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL WORLD SERIES MATCHUP POWER RANKINGS
The LCSes start today – the Kansas City Royals and Baltimore Orioles tip off in mere hours, while the Giants and Cardinals first put up their dukes on Saturday. Most brackets (including that of yours truly) are completely ablaze; seriously, my bracket got straight up nuked.
Beardfaceman’s bracket fared much better in the LDS round – he nailed 3 of 4 advancing teams. Sadly, the one he missed was the big cahouna – those Silly Tiggies will NOT be warpathing their way to that World Series title for which they have so long starved.
While it may seem disingenuous for most anyone to try to save face and “expertly” provide you with a handicap of upcoming round after such disintegration of the best laid plans. I’m going to do it anyway, giving you a quick and dirty LCS primer while taking some pains to review the relevant developments from the LDSes along the way. Feel free to go back and review the Sweet Nothings and Hardball Postseason Primer, as well. You and I both know, however, that you are the type of person that skips to the end of a well-thought-out and well-written review just to see the score. You’ve done it. I’ve done it. We will do it again. Onward.
SWEET NOTHINGS AND HARDBALL’S 2014 MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP PRIMER
If you care – not that you do, but if you did – here are the dudes’ 2014 postseason brackets. One is “never exceeding the speed limit with automatic transmission,” while the other is “buckle up, buckle up again, and close your eyes because you won’t be able to read the speed limit signs as we blow by them, anyway.” This is probably a valuable insight into how both of us live. Probably.
If you need a primer on the postseason contenders, check out our 2014 Major League Baseball Postseason Primer. Also, before you get your panties bunched up over our releasing our brackets after the completion of the wild card games, you should probably know that both of the dudes consider the Wild Card game to be more of an extension of the regular season than the beginning of the postseason. Observe:
MattyTheP: “Conceptually, [the wild card games] are more ‘Regular Season Game 163′ than ‘Playoff Game 1’ to me.”
BeardFaceMan (simultaneously): “[The wild card games] are essentially a mandatory 163rd game.”
Let the actual playoffs begin.
Matty Patty will be taking the “Baseball is Predictable” approach to his postseason picks this year.
On the Matchups Guaranteed to Happen:
Orioles peck Tiggies’ eyeses out in 4
Both teams can bang. Admittedly, the Tigers possess the superior starting pitching talent, and it is not especially close, but it says here that the Orioles will sufficiently feast upon the rotting meat that is the Tiger bullpen to neutralize the talent gap. Seriously, the Tiger bullpen is hysterical. Hysterical bullpens fail in October. Failing bullpens make teams go home. The Tigers are going home very soon.
Angels prove even Royalty can go to heaven (in 4 short days)
Day 1: Angels win. Day 2: Angels win. Day 3: Angels and Royals travel to Kansas City. Day 4: Angels win.
The talent gap here is severe. The only hope for the Royals is for their decent rotation to somehow neutralize the awesome Angels lineup better than the Halos’ rotation abuses the abysmal Sovereign bats so the absurd KC bullpen can put 6th inning leads away. That is how a thing such as that can happen; things such as that will not very, very probably will not happen.
Dodgers shoot Cardinals in a hunting accident; Cardinals die 4 games later
Isn’t that what rich, powerful people do? Shoot small creatures with big guns? And don’t other rich, powerful people sometimes look like small creatures in the heat of the moment? I’ll have to take rich, power people at their words on this one – after all, who wants to upset rich, powerful people?
The Dodgers are absurdly talented from top-to-bottom (NINE players over 3.0 WAR this season, plus another three over 2.0). While their bullpen is quite questionable outside of Kenley Jansen, their bats will probably put up enough runs and their rotation will probably give up so few that the bullpen will only be able to screw it up once. I wouldn’t count on Yasiel Puig to pull a repeat of last October’s hilarious tragically self-destructive shenanigans, either.
The Nationals slaughter the Giants in a quick, comparatively humane fashion
If I were to pick a team that is most capable of pulling off a first round upset, it would be the Giants. Their lineup is pretty solid, their rotation will probably get the job done reasonably well, and Bruce Bochy plays October bullpen chess like no one else managing today. It’s just that everything the Giants do well, the Nationals do better. More power, more walks, vastly superior starting pitching, and superior bullpen production. To be fair, the Giants’ bullpen was quite good outside of Sergio Romo this season, and Romo will (please please please) not pitch high leverage innings this October. The Giants have an abundance of October experience, respectable talent, and the resilience of a cockroach that has served them well in other seemingly Kobayashi Maru situations, but my brain is telling my heart that the magic finally stops here. Nationals in no more than 4 games.
Briney Deep will be taking the ‘Baseball Is Awesome’ approach to his postseason picks this year.
On the Matchups Guaranteed to Happen:
TIGERS MUNCH O’S IN 5
The Tigers have three Cy Young winners, and an old slow guy who is having the greatest year of his career at age 38. They got the blue ribbon at the trade deadline this year by nabbing David Price for this playoff run. Miguel Cabrera turned down his playoff bonus money because he feels it is World Series or Bust this year. The Tigers have postseason experience and a window that will likely start closing next year. The time is now for the Detroit Tigers.
ROYALS ROLL CONTINUES
If you need any more evidence that everything is breaking good for the Royals, you’ll see it here. I put the ceiling for this team as the ALCS, and they’ve been rolling hard 8’s all year, so why stop now? Some early runs off a vulnerable Angels starting rotation, and the fearsome (and deep) Kansas City bullpen makes it hold up for the shocker upset of the postseason.
SWEEP DREAMS; CARDS BLANK BIG BLUE IN 3
With the first two games in pitcher-friendly Chavez Ravine, the Cardinal pitching pedigree finds its mojo. The sleeping giant Dodgers team will get ambushed by a fearsome Cardinals squad that had to battle all the way down the stretch. Expect a low-scoring affair, but I see the Cards coming out the winners, building off their hunger from last year’s playoff experience.
GIANTS CRUSH NATIONALS; MLB TO REVIEW PLAYOFF FORMAT IN WAKE OF INSANE GAME 4 BLOWOUT:
The Giants have won two World Series baseball championships in the last handful of seasons. Fans of the team enjoy this fact, but a select subsection of casual followers have complained that the Giants tend to clinch these epic feats on the road. Heeding this gripe, the Giants will make an effort this year to clinch all of their remaining playoff series at home. Game 4 is the last game of this series that could be played in San Francisco, and the Nationals are a fairly good baseball team, so I’ll pencil them in for winning one of the first two games played in Washington. The Giants will flip the switch once they arrive home and take care of business in Games 3 and 4, clinching the series in San Francisco for the fans who were not satisfied by the previous championships because they didn’t occur within walking distance of their house.
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October is (basically) here. The crucible of baseball games pretty much every day for six months has eroded away 67% of the field. Gone (officially) from our everyday baseball musings is the wretched refuse – the teams that make people scream “WHAT ACTUALLY ARE YOU GUYS DOING?!?!” Let’s just cut to the chase – the teams that do things like this:
Oh, the Angels made three errors on the same play back in April, you say?
The Dodgers threw the ball all around the field during pennant chase in September?
Alright, so playoff teams do dumb stuff, too. Actually, they do an awful lot of dumb things when all is said and done. On the balance, however, they do bad things a bit less than do, well, bad teams. Think about it: the teams with the three best records in all of Major League Baseball still spent the equivalent of over two months losing games this year (64 losses for the Angels, 66 for the Orioles and Nationals). The six-month regular season is a matter of surviving the humanity of one’s self and one’s teammates as much as it is surviving the onslaught of one’s opponents.
Six months is also a long time for you, sports fan. We know you have lot pictures of cats to peruse on the internet are busy, we know you have a life, and we know that following even one team everyday for six months can be a challenge. Fear not – we have your back. The dudes will bring you up to speed on the ten teams that managed to survive the summer a little better than the rest – the teams that will wake up on September 30th and still have a mathematically verifiable chance to win the 2014 World Series. We have the Cliff Notes non-trademarked quick summaries, we have the graphs, and we have the punchy tale-of-the-tape numeric profiles that will make you the envy of every water cooler discussion. Then? It is up to you. You won’t find any brackets or World Series picks here – YOU get to fearlessly decide who will be winning it all. Trolls, we give you:
SWEET NOTHINGS AND HARDBALL’S 2014 MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL POSTSEASON PRIMER
“When Buster Posey one day moves from behind the plate to a corner (infield) office at first base, will his bat be good enough to provide valuable returns while playing a position at which run production is at a premium?” My instincts told me “yeah, probably,” and my subsequent half-assed analytical journey provided neither harsh objection nor resounding confirmation. The largest takeaway was that Buster Posey is a special talent and that we are lucky to have the opportunity to watch him, though this is hardly news to anyone who has watched more than a few hours or baseball-related content during the past three years. Special talents tend to find ways to be special regardless of the position from which they play – Ronnie Lott was an all-pro at cornerback, free safety, and strong safety; Craig Biggio was an all-star at catcher and at second base; Kate Upton has been successful from any number of positions.
So as we attempt to answer this question, are there numbers that can tell us how Buster Posey has performed while playing first base? You’re so glad you asked!
Splits (no, not Kate Upton doing the splits)
Splits are a useful tool for isolating a how a player’s performance is affected by any number of disparate factors. For example, one can separate a player’s production at home from his production on the road and gain some insight into how much a player helps his team while wearing the home whites as opposed to the road grays. OR… a player’s production in each of the months of a baseball season can be collated – one might find that an ordinary player managed to pour it on in August and September last season, then find out that he has had a knack for getting hot in the crucible of the playoff chase throughout his career (before Joe Buck has the chance to inform you he’s a “clutch” performer). On the surface, there would seem to be a split that can immediately and succinctly answer our question: offensive production split by defensive positions played. So, given that the question is (more or less) “is Buster Posey a better hitter while playing first base or catcher?” AND there is a statistic that can be found for free on the internets that parses offensive production by positions played, we are seemingly about to put the issue to bed and not think about Buster Posey until pitchers and catcher report in February. I LOVE EASY MONEY!
Buster Posey Positional Splits courtesy of Fangraphs (click on each to view full-sized)
What do these position splits tell us? The more traditional stats highlight that he has played over four times as many games at catcher as he has at first base – a disparity that makes quantitative comparisons somewhat difficult to conceptualize. One might also be inclined to believe that 80 games at first base is a fairly small sample size from which to draw conclusions, and one would be correct; however, let’s agree to throw such caution to the wind for a moment. What’s that there at the end? Posey has hit .299 as a catcher and .357 as a first baseman? NOW WE’RE TALKING.
Given the disparity between plate appearances at each position, perhaps we will find the second set of statistics more useful – they are almost all qualitative (ratio-based) as opposed to quantitative. We first see that Posey draws walks and strikes out at roughly the same rate regardless of position – this should not surprise us. Posey makes a lot of contact (good for suppressing strike out totals) and has developed a good deal of patience (roughly 11% of his PAs have ended in walks the past two years – up from roughly 6% his rookie season). The real disparities begin to creep up when one looks at batting average (AVG), on-base percentage (OBP), slugging-percentage (SLG) on-base-plus-slugging-percentage (OPS), isolated power (ISO), and batting average on ball in play (BABIP) – we see that all of these numbers are significantly higher when Posey plays first base. To summarize in layman’s terms: while playing first base, Posey has had significantly more balls fall in for hits (BABIP), which has yielded a higher batting average, which in turn has boosted his OBP and SLG (both of which are heavily constructed on the foundation of batting average); we also see that he has a higher ISO (calculated by subtracting AVG from SLG to ISOLATE how much of the slugging percentage is actual raw power). In short, Posey has done a lot of hitter-things better while playing first base than he does while playing catcher.
While I will not get into what those final four metrics TOO much as they are in-house Fangraphs metrics, I will highlight weighted runs created adjusted plus (wRC+): this fangraphs metric builds upon an existing Moneyball concept called “runs created.” Baseball statisticians realized that traditional run-production statistics such as “runs scored” and “runs batted in” were heavily reliant on the successes or failings of other players to be used as assessment tools – a great player surrounded by poor teammates simply is not going to have the same number of opportunities to score or drive in runs as a player surrounded by talented teammates. Runs created attempts to isolate how many runs a player actually helped generate on all by himself (an explanation of the formulae for the various iterations of runs created can be found here). Fangraphs has its own version of the runs created formula (wRC) which attempts to normalize the ballparks in which the created runs are being compiled (after all, it is harder to score in AT&T park than it is in Great American Ballpark) and offensive climate(s) of the season(s) in question (creating offense was a different proposition for Babe Ruth than it was for Barry Bonds). When comparing to league-average (that is, comparing a player’s wRC to the hypothetical Plain-Jane-Average Major League Baseball player), we can roughly gauge how much more quickly a player generated runs than his most-average of peers – this comparison gives us wRC+. wRC+ sets the league-average baseline at 100 – a number above 100 is above-average run production, and a number below 100 is below-average. Each integer roughly correlates to a percentage point – a player compiling a wRC+ of 115 is producing runs roughly 15% more quickly than the average player. In Posey’s case, he produces runs 34% more rapidly than average as a catcher and 76% more rapidly as a first baseman. We would seem to have our answer, kiddos.
Even a little bit of common sense would suggest that a player’s position is a touch on the circumstantial side. Oh sure, Posey probably has less on his mind as a first baseman (catching the ball) than as a catcher (catching the ball, gameplans and hitter scouting reports, the stuff and confidence of his pitchers that day, the positioning of his infielders) and he undoubtedly takes less of a beating. These factors were certainly on my mind as I began my query. Perhaps Posey can focus a little more on hitting and gets less worn down over the course of games (and, hypothetically, over the course of a season) while playing first base. It is not a stretch to think that these factors would have SOME positive bearing on his offensive production, but a roughly 42% improvement? Something else must be at play.