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Hitting Wins Championships(?)

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

I used 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.


I used 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?

The Dodgers and Jacoby Ellsbury

Before we start, I want to get a few things clear:

-Yes, I know the whole “Jacoby Ellsbury to the Dodgers” thing was probably a product of Scott Boras and the media.

-Yes, I know Matt Kemp should be ready by the start of 2014 to play center field.

-Yes, I know the Dodgers already have four outfielders, three of which have massive contracts, and three of which are injury prone.

-Yes, I know Ellsbury is injury prone. This example is operating in a vacuum.

-No, I don’t think the Dodgers will end up signing Ellsbury. There are just too many things that need to happen in order for the signing to make sense. And even then, depending on contracts, the signing STILL might not make sense due to Ellsbury’s injury history, along with how much money the Dodgers would have to eat on the contracts of their traded outfielders, and how badly that money would hamstring them for the future.

Okay. Now that we’ve gotten that cleared up, let’s begin.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, when healthy, have one of the best offensive outfields in the league. But, despite having a couple gold glove winners out there, they lack something when it comes to the fielding department, specifically in center field.

In 2013, the Dodgers trotted out five different players for a combined total of 1450.1 innings in center field, with Andre Ethier (645.1) and Kemp (576.1) getting the lion’s share of playing time. Now, Kemp hasn’t looked awful in center field (besides running into walls, which we’ll cover in a second), but UZR has less-than-friendly reviews on him. With Ethier, he looked somewhat usable while healthy in center, but just looked bad in the NLCS while trying to play with one good ankle. For the record, UZR gives Ethier a -1.8 for his efforts this season. The other three that played center for the Dodgers this season were Skip Schumaker (167 IP, -1.3 UZR), Yasiel Puig (55.1 IP), and Nick “Chili” Buss (6.1 IP). Schumaker shouldn’t be a starter, Puig’s natural position is right field, and I’m not even going to talk about Buss being in there as a viable option.

So, that brings us to comparing UZR for Kemp and Ellsbury.

Year Kemp (IP, UZR) Ellsbury (IP, UZR)
2009 1355.1, 3.2 1302.2, -9.7
2010 1346, -25.8 104.2, 1.3
2011 1380, -4.8 1358.1, 16.0
2012 911, -9.0 611.1, 3.0
2013 576.1, -16.2 1188.1, 10.0

If we take the three seasons with the greatest sample size, Ellsbury is clearly the optimal choice in the field. Granted, he doesn’t have the arm strength that Kemp has, but UZR factors that into its ratings as well. The signing of Ellsbury to play center field would likely move Kemp to left, and would make Ethier and Carl Crawford expendable. Moving Kemp to left field also saves him from the rigors of center field that have plagued him over the past couple years.

Offensively, the acquisition would be relative. Yes, Ethier would probably hit more home runs, but Ellsbury would offset that with stolen bases. In 2013, Ethier posted a wRC+ of 120 without being able to hit lefties at all (wRC+ of 73 vs LHP) and Ellsbury wasn’t far behind with a 113 RC+ and troubles against lefties of his own (w RC+ of 78 vs LHP). Ellsbury represents more of an upgrade in speed over both Crawford and Ethier, and would give the offense a new dynamic to go with Puig atop the order in front of Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Kemp, and newly-signed Alexander Guerrero.

Given what a healthy Kemp has meant to this team in the past (which was just as recently as April, 2012), he is arguably the most important piece in their lineup. If moving him out of center field and into left field can save him from some of the numerous hamstring and shoulder injuries that he has experienced, it would be a huge win for the Dodgers to finally acquire a proper center fielder without giving up any value on offense.