Saturday, October 8, 2011

Quick Look at the Final Four

Just a few weeks ago, it was a widely believed that baseball's Final Four would include the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies and a team the Phillies would defeat. After Chris Carpenter pitched himself into eastern Missouri and southern Illinois folklore last night, the Final Four is quite unexpected: Rangers, Tigers, Brewers, and Cardinals.
This won't be a year where someone "bought" a championship. Looking at the payrolls of the four semifinalists show this year's playoffs have boiled down to a battle of the middle class.

Team, Payroll (MLB Rank)
Tigers, $105.7 M (10th)
Cardinals, $105.4 M (11th)
Rangers, $92.3 M (13th)
Brewers, $85.5 M (17th)

Predicting future performance is what got us here, confused and lost, imagining a World Series played by two cities usually seen in an NFC Championship Game.

We won't be breaking down any match-ups in the standard position by position format. What's the point? Roy Halladay was supposed to go undefeated in the postseason, yet the Phillies are back in their homes, after losing a game he started. Instead, we will simply share a few factoids with no beginning or end. Take from them what you wish, and enjoy the rest of the postseason.

Team, ERA+ (MLB Rank)
Rangers, 118 (3rd)
Brewers, 108 (7th)
Tigers, 102 (16th)
Cardinals, 97 (21st)

Team, xFIP (MLB Rank)
Brewers, 3.58 (3rd)
Cardinals, 3.79 (7th)
Rangers, 3.83 (9th)
Tigers, 4.00 (15th)

Keep in mind, the quick fury of a postseason series is very different from the daily grind of a regular season. Fifth starters, swingmen, and other replacement players aren't generally leaned upon in postseason moments. Still, the numbers above show the results of a body of work and a proverbial starting point for each of the staffs still pitching.

I thought about evaluating each team's 1-2 starters, but it turned out to be fruitless, as the Tigers have Doug Fister throwing Game 4, and I couldn't even decide on the top 2 starters for the Rangers. First of all, the Rangers are starting C.J. Wilson and Derek Holland in the first two games, but I considered Colby Lewis in their top 2. Did you know Matt Harrison was the 2nd most valuable pitcher on the Rangers, based on Wins Above Replacement? It's true! Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference agree.

On the defensive side of things, numbers are extremely hazy. Many experts say that defensive stats should be looked at over multiple seasons to enhance their credibility. I'm not about to that right now, so presenting this with a grain of salt, here's one quick chart on defense:

Team, UZR/150 (MLB Rank)
Rangers, 3.6 (7th)
Brewers, 0.9 (12th)
Tigers, 0.3 (13th)
Cardinals, -5.0 (27th)

On the offensive side of the ball, losing Delmon Young could be a tough blow for the Tigers, but he is a streaky player who was in line for something like a 2 for 21 run. Replacing Young with a less powerful, but more patient, hitter may actually help their offense in the ALCS.

Team, OPS+ (MLB Rank)
Cardinals, 113 (2nd)
Tigers, 110 (3rd)
Rangers, 108 (4th)
Brewers, 102 (8th)

Team, wRC+ (MLB Rank)
Rangers, 113 (2nd)
Cardinals, 111 (4th)
Tigers, 109 (5th)
Brewers, 105 (6th)

Could it be that the new market inefficiency is hitting? The Top 9 payrolls in baseball are out of the running, and they've presumably spent money on top of money on pitching, pitching, pitching. The Rangers lost out on the Cliff Lee sweepstakes and spent their money on Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli, who are producing tremendous offensive numbers from two positions where offense is difficult to find.

Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli are a dynamic duo for the 2011 Rangers.

So after this incomplete and rambling non-preview, who do you like? We have been thinking Tigers/Brewers for a little while, but if these numbers tell us anything, it's that the Rangers are better than we have been giving them credit for all season. The Rangers might be the smart picks to win it all, and the way this post season has been going, that may be the scariest thing of all, for their fans. We would love to hear your thoughts on the postseason. Please feel free to write in our comments section (below), on our Facebook page, or at my twitter. Thanks!

All stats courtesy of Fangraphs or Baseball-Reference.

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