Monday, August 15, 2011

Teams You Don't Want to Face in the Playoffs


Jonah Keri has a new article on Grantland today talking about the teams that you wouldn't want to face in the playoffs and it got me thinking.

He bases his teams on the work done for Baseball Prospectus by Nate Silver and Dayn Perry (which Obsessive Giants Compulsive is always reminding us about when we need to calm down about the lousy offense) that says that playoff success is based primarily on three things:

1. A pitching staff with a high strikeout rate
2. A dominant closer
3. Great team defense

Keri explicitly leaves off the Giants because he is looking for upsets and as the defending champs, they don't fit the mold as a team that would be an underdog. I don't blame him for this at all, but it still leaves us with the opportunity to see how the Giants measure up.

1. A pitching staff with a high strikeout rate:

The Giants rank number one in the majors with a K/9 of 8.25 for the entire pitching staff. They are number one with a K/9 of 8.11 for their starting pitchers and number three with a K/9 of 8.54 for their relief pitchers.

I think that it is pretty safe to say the Giants have a pitching staff with a very high strikeout rate.

2. A dominant closer:

Brian Wilson hasn't been nearly as good this season but he still ranks as an above average relief pitcher and if you look at him since 2009, to try to control some of the variation in year-to-year numbers, he is one of the top ten relief pitchers in all of baseball with a FIP of 2.61 and a strikeout rate above ten.

In addition, the Giants have shutdown setup guys that make for an embarrassment of riches. Jaiver Lopez is death to left handed batters (but really shouldn't face too many righties) and Sergio Romo has been arguably the best reliever in baseball this season with a ridiculous stat line of 1.20 FIP with a K/9 of 12.66.

This may not be as slam dunk as the high strikeout rate category, but I think the Giants meet the criteria pretty well.

3. Great team defense

This is probably the weakest part on the Giants resume.

The team plays a bunch of below average, older veterans in the field but makes up for it with some splendid defenders in others. When everything is taken into account, they are an okay team but maybe only slightly better than average.

The team UZR for this season is 7.3 runs saved which ranks eighth in all of baseball. When we look at UZR/150, they come in at 1.4 runs saved per 150 defensive games played, which is good enough for ninth place.

The Giants have the ability to play a better defensive team but they often sacrifice defense to try to scare up some more offense. The ratings say that they are above average but at times they don't look it with guys like Jeff Keppinger and Orlando Cabrera moving awfully slow up the middle.

UPDATE: Julian from Giants Nirvana poinst out the Baseball Prospectus defensive efficiency has them ranked as the sixth best team, which is in line with UZR. Maybe they are actually a team that is pretty good defensively or at least better than what I expected.

Thoughts:

When you look at everything the Giants have, they are well suited again to make a run at the playoffs. The trouble for them will be getting there.

As of this morning, Baseball Prospectus still has them as the favorites in the NL West with a 75% chance to win the division, but with their poor play as of late, they have lost a lot of ground. Getting back on solid footing with a .500 road trip would be a big step forward for this team and could take them a long way in getting into the playoffs where they have the "secret sauce" to make a nice run at another World Series title.

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