Which MLB Playoff Contender Projects to Be the Toughest Postseason Test?
Billy Beane isn’t one to sugarcoat anything. He tells it like it is, and he did exactly that in the best-selling book Moneyball, when he bluntly said “My [poop] doesn’t work in the playoffs.” The statistical mastermind admittedly had no formula to overcome the A’s previous postseason blunders.
Inspired by his infamous quote, a select group of Baseball Prospectus writers synced the final chapter of their book Baseball Between the Numbers to answer the question: “Why Doesn’t Billy Beane’s [Poop] Work in the Playoffs?”
Nate Silver and Dayn Perry led the charge in putting together a study that collected pretty much every statistical variable of a 180 team sample to see how each related to postseason success. They found three statistical categories that had a significant correlation to winning in the postseason:
1. Closer performance: Closers are much more crucial in October than a team’s bullpen because managers stretch their innings and use them in more high-leverage situations. Teams also bolster their bullpens with the back of their rotations, downgrading the importance of middle inning relievers. To examine closer performance, we’ll use closer wins above replacement (fWAR).
2. Pitcher strikeout rate: In other words, preventing hits. What better way to prevent hits than striking out the opposition? To evaluate starting pitcher strikeout rate, we’ll combine the punch-out percentages of each team’s projected four-man postseason rotation.
3. Defense: Pitchers aren’t going to sit down 27 guys on any given night, so when the ball is put into play, it’s vital to have defenders that can handle their duties in the field. Through FanGraphs ultimate zone rating (UZR), we’ll value each team’s defensive ability by the number of runs they’ve saved this season.
Surprisingly, they didn’t find a relationship between any offensive statistics and making a deep postseason run. But to win the World Series, you need to win at least 11 playoff games. And to win playoff games - or games in general - you need to score runs. So we’re going to tag on a catch-all, park-adjusted run scoring measure. I mean, come on, who doesn’t love runs?
4. Offensive run value: Team weighted Runs Created plus (wRC+) gives us the best measure of total run production while accounting for varying ballpark factors.
Similar to their study, we’re going to implement a Playoff Point System by ranking all of the postseason contenders - teams within three games of the wild card - in each category, and give them a point value based on their ranking. The highest ranked team will receive five points. Second highest, four points. Third highest, three points. Fourth highest, two points. And fifth highest, one point. Easy enough, right?
Let’s get this show on the road.