Previewing the MLB Playoffs Through Advanced Analytics
I don't know about y'all, but I'm jacked for the playoffs to start this year. Mike Trout on a national stage, a one-game playoff involving Jon Lester and James Shields, and Jayson Werth's beard in all of its disheveled glory. Can't get much better than that.
When you add to that a lack of a clear-cut favorite, you have a recipe for illness. To try to sort through the madness, we'd need a mystical, legendary tool capable of settling the greatest of quandaries. A mechanism so magnificent that even the greatest of debates could meet their demise.
Welcome to numberFire, kiddos, a fantasy land so dope that such a machine does exist. And, baby, it is glorious.
I'll be using numberFire's power rankings to see what they would project for the playoffs. Now, let me be 100 percent clear: I am just selecting the team with the higher nERD rating. In reality, numberFire's algorithms are smarter than this. I just wanted to see what the result would be if we pumped this out straight after tracking the site's power rankings throughout the course of the regular season.
nERD is numberFire's stat to project a run differential between two teams on a neutral site. You can read more about it in our glossary. That's what I'll be using as the strict decider of these games, but you can get far better projections with a numberFire Premium membership by checking out the game projections page. It's seriously the greatest.
Now that I'm done slobbering all over the algorithms, let's get to predicting, home skillets.
Wild Card Round
Oakland Athletics vs. Kansas City Royals
Oakland nERD: 0.82 | Kansas City nERD: -0.09
The A's have basically been slaying in the nERD department all season, which makes far too much sense when you consider they have a guy that looks as King of the Nerds-y as Eric Sogard. They have no problem in this one.
The Royals just so happen to be the lowest-ranked team to make the playoffs at 16th in the power rankings. They outperformed their Pythagorean Win-Loss by five games. This doesn't change the fact that they're a sickly awesome story. They just don't have the fire-power necessary to get far in the postseason.
(Note: for a more in-depth and far tastier preview of this match-up, check out John Stolnis's complete breakdown here.)
San Francisco Giants at Pittsburgh Pirates
San Francisco nERD: 0.48 | Pittsburgh nERD: 0.55
Raise the Jolly Roger! In a meeting between the fifth- and seventh-ranked teams in in our power rankings, the Pirates hold a slim advantage. Who said you need to win the division to have fun?
Despite the projection, I'd doubt you'd see Madison Bumgarner go full-Cueto on the mound. Don't expect an exact replica of last year's Wild Card matchup. But, those Pirates also didn't have post-freakout Josh Harrison pumping out silly stats yet. This is going to be a dandy of a game, and the winner would have the potential to make some noise...you know, if they weren't facing the Nats.
Detroit Tigers vs. Baltimore Orioles
Detroit nERD: 0.30 | Baltimore nERD: 0.49
On Opening Day this season, the Tigers topped numberFire's power rankings. They have not been back since. They enter postseason play as the 10th-ranked team, behind both the Seattle Mariners and Tampa Bay Rays. Similar to the Royals, they greatly out-performed their Pythagorean Win-Loss, winning 90 games as opposed to the projected 86. They're just not as good as they seem.
Baltimore seems to be teetering just outside of that top-tier of teams. Their 0.49 nERD ranks sixth, the third-highest total in the A.L. While they may not have the starting pitching of Detroit, their bullpen is more competent than a tipsy toddler. The same cannot be said of the Tigers. Baltimore moves on.
Oakland Athletics vs. Los Angeles Angels
Oakland nERD: 0.82 | L.A. Angels nERD: 0.79
The algorithms are restless! Down go the 98-win Angels! Though, if we go back to that Pythagorean Win-Loss, the Angels were projected to have 96 wins; Oakland was at 99. iViva la Moneyball!
The big concern here for Angels fans is the rotation. When you take into account that Matt Shoemaker will make his first start since September 15th in Game Three, there would not be a single game in this series in which I would rather have the Angels' starter than the A's. That's the formula for an upset, amigos.
St. Louis Cardinals vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
St. Louis nERD: 0.21 | L.A. Dodgers nERD: 1.00
It ain't fair, y'all. Unleashing Clayton Kershaw on the 13th-ranked team is just cruel. The cardinal is a peaceful bird and not deserving of such injustice.
Not only is it Kershaw, but the entire Dodgers' line-up, too. They out-slugged the Cards .406 to .369 and bested them in every relevant statistical category except for strikeout percentage. This one could be over very quickly. But it's the Cardinals, and they are the masters of just randomly becoming competent when it counts. They would need a small miracle to pull this one off, though.
Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Washington Nationals
Pittsburgh nERD: 0.55 | Washington nERD: 0.74
These Nasty Nats are all right at this baseball thing. After the Jordan Zimmermann no-hitter, they would be sitting pretty in the momentum column if there were evidence that actually existed.
Yesterday, numberFire's John Stolnis wrote about how Washington may have the best rotation in all of baseball. It's hard to disagree right now. The fact that one of those starters will be pitching in relief in the playoffs is straight nuts. Washington tops a very good Pittsburgh team here.
Oakland Athletics vs. Baltimore Orioles
Oakland nERD: 0.82 | Baltimore nERD: 0.49
If you've been tracking nERD with us throughout the season, this isn't a huge shock. The gap between the top four teams (the two LA's, Oakland and Washington) has been fairly sizable the entire second half of the season. The Orioles are a talented squad, but when the A's are on, they are the truth.
Basically, once the A's got past the Angels, it was smooth sailing. Those two teams have been the class of the A.L. since the start of June. With that said, Baltimore's nERD rating has shot up in the second half. If they play like they did in the second half (and especially if Oakland does as well), we could see the O's do some damage.
Washington Nationals vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
Washington nERD: 0.74 | L.A. Dodgers nERD: 1.00
After all of the slobber I laid on the Nationals earlier, they come in here and fall to the Dodgers. That's nothing to be ashamed of, though: the Dodgers have just nERD-ed out this year.
With the strength of both of these pitching staffs, the difference-maker is the line-ups. As much as I love Werth, Denard Span and Anthony Rendon, the Dodgers bested the Nationals in each of the triple-slash categories and wOBA during the regular season. That's enough to put them over the Nats and send them to their 16th World Series, but first since 1988.
Oakland nERD: 0.82 | L.A. Dodgers nERD: 1.00
This would be the third time the two teams have faced in the Fall Classic following the 1988 "Kirk Gibson" World Series and the 1974 edition, in which the A's won in five games. This one, based on its nERD scores, would most likely be a dandy.
This conclusion is concurrent with the World Series odds listed on the power rankings page. The Dodgers enter postseason play with a 22.0 percent chance of winning it all; the Angels are second at 16.9. The Angels have higher odds than the A's because they have one less contest to mow through to even make it to the ALDS. But that can't top the Dodgers, your 2014 nERD Series Champions.