MLB Playoff Predictions: Power Ranking the Teams in the Stats That Really Matter

Lewie PollisSenior Analyst IIIOctober 6, 2010

MLB Playoff Predictions: Power Ranking The Teams In The Stats That Really Matter

0 of 8

    SAN FRANCISCO - OCTOBER 03:  Pablo Sandoval #48 of the San Francisco Giants celebrates after the end of the top of the sixth inning of their game against the San Diego Padres at AT&T Park on October 3, 2010 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Sh
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    In Baseball Between the Numbers: Why Everything You Know About the Game is Wrong, Nate Silver and Dayn Perry tackled a question that had mystified fans and analysts for more than a century: What are the most important qualities for a team to have in the playoffs?

    Through the magic of statistics, Silver and Perry found that only three aspects of the game had any correlation with teams doing well once they got to the postseason. The results: good defense, a lights-out closer, and a pitching staff’s strikeout rate.

    After re-reading their essay last week, I started to wonder how this year’s best teams stacked up in terms of these core qualities. So I did a bit of research and found some interesting results.

    I ranked each of the eight playoff teams in all three categories, using FanGraphs’ ultimate zone rating for fielding and Baseball Prospectus’ win expectation above replacement to measure closers. Then I took each team’s average rankings and sorted them that way. 

    The results are by no means conclusive—I certainly don’t advocate using this list as the end-all be-all—but it’s interesting to see what the math has to say instead of just waiting to hear Joe Morgan’s idiotic rant du jour.

No. 8: Minnesota Twins (Average Rank: 6.0)

1 of 8

    CHICAGO - SEPTEMBER 14: Starting pitcher Francisco Liriano #47 of the Minnesota Twins delivers the ball against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field on September 14, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Strikeout rate: 6.49 K/9 (8th) 

    Fielding: 32.6 UZR (3rd)

    Closer: 2.076 WXRL (7th)

    The Twins have had a successful season thanks to a well-balanced roster without any real holes. Unfortunately, their strengths—consistent hitting and good control in the rotation—don’t correlate well with postseason success.

No. 7: Cincinnati Reds (5.7)

2 of 8

    CINCINNATI - SEPTEMBER 12:  Francisco Cordero #48 of the Cincinnati Reds is bent over during the ninth inning in which he allowed 3 runs during the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Great American Ballpark on September 12, 2010 in Cincinnati, Ohio.Pi
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Strikeout rate: 7.00 K/9 (7th)

    Fielding: 44.8 UZR (2nd)

    Closer: 1.088 WXRL (8th)

    The Reds’ outstanding defense spares them the embarrassment of ranking at the bottom, but subpar pitching—especially from closer Francisco Cordero—will likely be their undoing.

No. T5: Philadelphia Phillies (5.3)

3 of 8

    ST. LOUIS - JULY 22: Relief pitcher Brad Lidge #54 of the Philadelphia Phillies throws against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on July 22, 2010 in St. Louis, Missouri. The Phillies defeated the Cardinals 2-0.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Imag
    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    Strikeout rate: 7.31 K/9 (4th) 

    Fielding: -7.1 UZR (7th)

    Closer: 2.864 WXRL (5th)

    Using strikeout rate alone might not paint a fair picture of a pitching staff with the best one-two-three punch in baseball, but it might be a wash since WXRL doesn’t factor in Brad Lidge’s disastrous performance last year.

No. T5: Atlanta Braves (5.3)

4 of 8

    ATLANTA - OCTOBER 3:  Closer Billy Wagner #13 of the Atlanta Braves celebrates after the last out in the the game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Turner Field on October 3, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  The Braves beat the Phillies 8-7.  (Photo by Mike
    Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

    Strikeout rate: 7.76 K/9 (2nd) 

    Fielding: -34.4 UZR (8th)

    Closer: 2.430 WXRL (6th)

    Surprised to see Billy Wagner ranked so low? I was too. But don’t make that the scapegoat for Atlanta’s rank in the bottom half of the list—the Swiss cheese that is the Braves’ defense is a major liability.

No. 4: New York Yankees (5.0)

5 of 8

    BOSTON - OCTOBER 3:  Derek Jeter #2 of the New York Yankees watches a the flight a foul ball during a game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, October 3, 2010, in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    Strikeout rate: 7.20 K/9 (6th)

    Fielding: 19.7 UZR (5th)

    Closer: 3.772 WXRL (4th)

    Gone are the days when the Yankees could count great pitching to carry them through the playoffs. Once the ninth inning rolls around and Rivera is in, the Bombers are set. But what about the first eight?

No. 3: Texas Rangers (4.7)

6 of 8

    BALTIMORE - AUGUST 22:  Neftali Feliz #30 of the Texas Rangers pitches against the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards on August 22, 2010 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Rangers beat the Orioles 6-4.  (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
    Greg Fiume/Getty Images

    Strikeout rate: 7.30 K/9 (5th) 

    Fielding: 15.0 UZR (6th)

    Closer: 4.667 WXRL (3rd)

    The Rangers posting solid marks in non-offensive categories? Weird, I know. But Neftali Feliz will be more than capable of preserving the leads Cliff Lee, C.J. Wilson, and Colby Lewis deliver to him.

No. 2: Tampa Bay Rays (3.0)

7 of 8

    ST. PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 15:  Relief pitcher Rafael Soriano #29 of the Tampa Bay Rays celebrates his save against the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field on September 15, 2010 in St. Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
    J. Meric/Getty Images

    Strikeout rate: 7.36 K/9 (3rd) 

    Fielding: 32.4 UZR (4th)

    Closer: 5.914 WXRL (2nd)

    The Rays’ offense may not have been as intimidating as the Red Sox’ and Yankees’, but they finished with the best run differential in baseball thanks to their fantastic pitching and defense. Throw in a lights-out closer (Rafael Soriano), and you’ve got a recipe for success.

No. 1: San Francisco Giants (1.0)

8 of 8

    SAN FRANCISCO - OCTOBER 03:  Buster Posey #28 and Brian Wilson #38 of the San Francisco Giants celebrate after they beat the San Diego Padres to win the National League West Title at AT&T Park on October 3, 2010 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ez
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Strikeout rate: 8.20 K/9 (1st) 

    Fielding: 54.4 UZR (1st)

    Closer: 6.271 WXRL (1st)

    When I sat down to write this article, I expected that there would be a clear distinction between the best-ranked team and the worst, and I figured that the Giants would probably rank near the top. But I had no idea that San Francisco would end up winning every single category. 

    Of course, this doesn’t mean that we should start preparing the victory parade—Silver and Perry found that these three components make up just 11 percent of playoff success, meaning a whopping 89 percent is pure luck. But it’s an eye-popping statistic, and there’s a realistic chance that the Giants could pull an upset this October.