Over the past week or so, there have been baseball playoffs. And, like you, I have heard so many different opinions about what it takes to win a World Series Championship. Usually you hear “pitching wins championships”. This year, it’s “destiny”, “shut down bullpens”, and being a member of the San Francisco Giants. But what about hitting? Why is everyone so down on hitting? Isn’t it weird that the part of baseball people marvel at is brushed aside when trying to explain success in the postseason? Why have we never heard this?
Since I mostly despise the people that exclaim “THEY JUST KNOW HOW TO PLAY IN THE POSTSEASON” without any regard to statistics, I went back and looked at the World Series winners since 2002. I only went to 2002 because some data isn’t available on FanGraphs for the stats that I wanted to use.
The stats I used for this article
Starting Pitching and Relief Pitching
Wins, Saves, and Beard Length GB%, K%-BB%, and WAR because these are generally the three most looked at stats in terms of success for starting pitchers. I also felt it would give me a broader picture of the staff instead of just looking at WAR and being done with it.
Runs, RBI, Bunts wRC+ instead of WAR because I wanted to isolate what the player did at the plate. We’ll look at defense and base running later. I also used K%, BB%, BB/K, ISO, and O-Contact%. I used the percentage and ratio stats to see if good discipline or free swinging mattered most. ISO is a better indicator of power than SLG and home runs. Using O-Contact%, however was a niche of mine that I threw in because I’ve always been scared of guys that have a bigger strike zone than others. It was also inspired by this Ken Arneson series of tweets. In theory, guys with higher O-Contact% rates are also harder to strike out, are more prone to BABIP luck, and also “put more pressure on the defense.”
I used BsR to measure both the weight in stolen bases and base running performance.
Even though it is far from perfect, I used UZR to quantify defense. Inspired by the Kansas City Royals, I also included outfielder UZR for this exercise.
I picked out every WS winner since 2002 and wrote down the number of each stat mentioned above, and the league rank that went along with it. Here is my Excel spreadsheet, if you’re interested. I picked out the importance of each statistic based on top-5 and top-10 rank, and, to mirror the successes, bottom-10 and bottom-5 rank.
If you looked at the spreadsheet that I linked to, you’ll notice that the statistic with the most top-5 rankings, the fewest bottom-10 rankings, AND the highest average ranking is wRC+. In fact, four of the top five stats with the highest average rank were hitting statistics. The top-5 with average rank: wRC+ 7.58, BB/K 9.17, SP WAR 10.17, ISO 10.25, O-Contact% 10.42. I’m not trying to say nothing else matters, but the data seems to suggest that teams need a better offense more than they do starting pitching, if only slightly so.
On the flip side of things, the statistic with the most bottom-10 ranks, and lowest overall ranking (K% would be lowest, but remember, lower is better with K%) is GB% for starting pitchers. Only the ’04 and ’11 Cardinals had a top-5 GB% while also getting league average (Rank > or = to 15) WAR from their starting pitchers. Six out of the 12 teams listed here posted bottom-10 ranks in GB%, which is incredibly interesting, given the theories behind ground ball pitchers that are so commonly found on the web nowadays. Does this mean ground balls are not important? Well, no. But it does mean that they may not be as important as they once were thought to be.
Base running didn’t end up being as big of a factor as I thought it would be, the Cardinals apparently care not for good defense, but look at O-Contact%! It was the fifth most important stat by average rank, and finished with only one team (’04 Red Sox) in the bottom ten, as opposed to six top ten placements. Furthermore, the rate at which teams struck out mattered more than how often they walked, but BB/K is the peripheral that seems to be the most telling.
We’ll probably never hear about how an offense won a team a World Series. In fact, we’ll probably instead hear it spun as a pitcher blowing the game. But at least now we have statistical evidence (even if it is only the past 12 years) that offense IS a major player in deciding who wins the World Series. We also have evidence to suggest that maybe hitters who expand the strike zone to their advantage are more valuable than has been discussed recently. Admittedly, this would take another article to deduce. Any takers?