As a Yankee fan, I am appalled at their post-season offensive performance this year. The Yankee archives have volumes of postseason history but I don’t know if anyone expected a chapter in their storybook where they would set a record for the worst team-offensive performance ever. In the game of baseball, the general consensus is that pitching wins championship. In the American League divisional and championship series this proved to be spot on.
The Orioles, Yankees and Tigers pitching efforts were some of the best I have seen in recent memory. Offenses loaded with big power—and subsequently big contracts (Yankees and Tigers)—were held well below seasonal offensive averages. Every base runner was considered a rarity. So how is it that teams that spent hundreds of millions of dollars on offensive players (Cabrera, A-Rod, Texeira, Cano, Fielder) saw so little return on that investment? Simple.
In baseball, the way you play during a grueling 162-game season is quite different than how you must play in the postseason. Take a look at the Yankees—they are a team built around power hitters.
Here is how the Yankees win:
1st inning – Jeter walks; Granderson strikes out; A-Rod strikes out; Cano hits a two-run home run.
2nd inning – Texeira flies out; Swisher hits a home run; Martin grounds out; Ichiro slaps a softball single; Gardner walks; Jeter walks; Granderson hits a grand slam.
By the second inning, the Yankees are up 7-0. Even after not being able to get another big hit and the pitching staff losing large chunks of the lead during the 4th, 7th and 8th innings, the Yankees win the game 7-6. This kind of game plan works in June, but not in October.
In October, the offense has to look more like this: Jeter walks; Granderson hits and grounds out on a hit-and-run. Cano flies out to deep right field, Jeter tags up and makes it to third. A-Rod, with two strikes, fights off a tough sinker low and away and punches a single to shallow right; Jeter scores.
See the difference? Getting on base; moving runners into scoring position; every out needs to be “productive” and you have to be able to get hits with two outs to score.
With runs at a premium in the crisp air of October, your pitching staff needs to treat every inning as if it were the last. A leadoff walk might be the worst omen for any pitcher. Mishandling the toss on a double-play ball at second base could be the beginning of the end. Pitchers need to make quality pitches to every batter, not just the first four guys in the lineup.
With the World Series matchup finalized between the Giants and Tigers, if I were building a dashboard to measure the performance of these two teams in the Fall Classic, here are the metrics I would have front and center:
- On-base percentage – Not every at-bat needs to result in a hit. I want batters that will see a lot of pitches and find a way to get on base. In 2004, Barry Bonds set a record of reaching base safely 61% of the time! Apparently, when you hit a lot of home runs, people walk you a lot, too! You can’t score when you are on bench after a strike out. I’ll take a hitter that will put pressure on the defense by walking or at least making contact most of the time over a home run or player that strikes out any day.
- Batting average with runners in scoring position – Championship teams get the big hits. No, I am not talking home runs. I am talking about that “Texas-league single” with runners on second and third in the 7th inning.
- Hits with two outs – If base runners are scarce in the postseason, having that runner in scoring position with less than two outs is even more rare. Productive outs were often used to get the runner into scoring position. To win, you have to be able to hit safely with two outs.
- Walks & hits per innings pitched – This is probably my favorite metric for pitchers. Giving up a home run sucks, but it sucks a lot worse when you walk a guy first. Pitchers need to keep the bases clear to avoid giving the offense a chance at a big inning. Three solo home runs over six innings gives my team a chance to win. Five walks, two doubles, and six singles is almost a guaranteed loss.
- Ground-ball outs – Double plays are the best rally killer in baseball. Give me a pitcher who induces a lot of ground balls and I will show you a pitcher that will rarely give the other team a big scoring inning.
- Fielding percentage – I say I want a pitcher that induces a lot of ground balls, right? Well, only if my team can field them and turn double plays. A pitcher who has confidence in the guys playing defense behind him knows that he doesn’t have to strike out everyone that comes up the plate. You want your starting pitching to go deep into the game; the most efficient pitchers throw to make contact knowing that their team’s defense will make plays. I would rather have a pitcher throw 10 pitches an inning with three ground outs instead of 24 pitches and three strike outs.
I wouldn’t want to look at only the batting average or just the field percentage. I would want to see each statistic for offense and defense all in the same place, at the same time: the ultimate baseball dashboard. I want the numbers next to each other; I’ll put them in whatever order I want; I need them all right in front of me so I can compare stats between metrics and then think of ways that team could improve. If I were a CEO of a company, I’d want the exact same thing for my business – a kind of dashboard that, early or late in the season, would help me know exactly how to play every time we stepped up to bat.