Before I take a glance, a note: The sky isn’t falling. I take a realistic (and pretty accurate) look at things on this blog, but I tend toward the positive in my reactions because what’s the point of being negative, really?
You watch sports for fun. Yeah, you have to get disappointed at times, because if you don’t feel the down, you don’t feel the up. And certainly this is one of those woefully disappointing times. But the amount of overreaction is amazing. This is a franchise with a bright future. If it was a one-hit wonder, you could have expected to see a bigtime trade in July for a mercenary. That’s not the case. It’s built to win, and it’s built on young, powerful pitching. Jeremy Bonderman may have broke our hearts Sunday, but he is 23. He may have a few years experience under him, but that belies the fact he’s still a kid in baseball terms. The team has a bright future.
It had a surprise breakout in 2006 — a year before it was designed to do — where it played above its head at times, and then played beneath its level for a month. It got back to about normal, only to lose focus (Jim Leyland’s analysis) after clinching last week. I think the team lost focus after the 6-0 lead Sunday. They seemed too happy too soon. Again, they’re somewhere in the middle. Hopefully they remember the 9 inning mantra in the playoffs, stay focussed and play mad.
The truth is, the actual level of this team just isn’t known. We kept seeing different perspectives of it throughout the season, but if you grab any one of them and think it’s the actual picture, you’re probably wrong. The only one that matters now is the October perspective, and you cannot say with any certainty which one that is.
Baseball Prospectus research by Nate Silver found that successful teams in October have a few things in common: A power pitching staff (found by looking at K/9); a good closer (wins expected above replacement); and a good defense (fielding runs above average). In other words, Silver says, more important than runs scored (Yankees) is runs prevented (Tigers). Silver also notes the secret sauce recipe, as he calls it, has good predicting abilities. [a statistical note, when you work backwards in statistical research in any topic, this tends to be the case. What really counts is when you can use your formula to predict forward. Thus this is still unproven.]
In any event, this “secret sauce” is fairly pungent. The two teams that rated most favorably in these categories in the 2005 playoffs were the White Sox and the Astros, who met in the World Series. The formula also predicts the success of some surprise World Series winners like the 1990 Reds and 1979 Pirates. Conversely, of the ten post-season teams since 1972 that rated worst in the “secret sauce” rankings, none advanced beyond their LCS.
Because as my previous links have pointed out, it’s pretty impossible to say whether momentum matters in the playoffs, I’m not going to include it. It might matter but it appears random. September has to be thrown out. It’s also worth noting the 1997 Marlins managed by Leyland posted the same record in September as the Tigers … whether or not they were missing their second baseman for most of it, I don’t know.
Silver: his Yankees club is the strongest iteration of the dynasty since 1998. Much of that assessment is tied up in the powerful offense, which this method will neglect. In the run prevention department, the Yanks are a mixed bag. They do have an adequate defense for the first time in years, as well as Mariano Rivera. But pitchers like Chien-Ming Wang aren’t usually the type to find post-season success. The catch is that the three AL teams the Yankees are most likely to face in the regular season arenï¿½t power hitting clubs
The good news for the Tigers is that performance down the stretch run bears little relationship with post-season success. The bad news is that they still donï¿½t make for all that great a playoff team. While the defense is fantastic, the starting pitchers donï¿½t miss enough bats to have an advantage against teams like the Yankees, and they have the wrong man installed as closer–replacing Todd Jones with Joel Zumaya would move them ahead of the Yankees.
He wrote that Sept. 20. Since then, the Tigers have in fact moved ahead of the Yankees in the secret sauce rankings. Detroit is seventh overall of 30 teams, second of the four American League playoff teams.
Detroit’s defense ranks No. 1 in fielding runs. [Brandon Inge, Carlos Guillen, please don't do anything to mess that up.] Their relief wins above replacement ranks 10th. It would rank higher with Zumaya, as noted. Probably would rank higher if Jones never pitchd more than an inning, too, but neither of those points matters. Finally, the strikeout ranking is 23rd. That doesn’t bode well despite a nice staff ERA. With Bonderman pegged to pitch fourth — the if-needed game — the strikeout ranking is worse in the guaranteed games.
I’ve included a look at how pitchers did against the White Sox as an attempt at a substitute for the quality of batting New York has. It’s not perfect, maybe it’s not useful, that’s your call, but it might help. Nate Robertson was not especially effective against the power-hitting White Sox (6.75) or the Yankees (4.60). Justin Verlander (7.82 Sox, 10.80 Yankees). Kenny Rogers hasn’t seen the Yankees, but allowed seven runs (four unearned) in 33 innings to Chicago. Bonderman has 3.54 vs Chicago, 5.68 against the Yankees. Conclusion: Starters probably aren’t a good matchup, despite the fact Detroit had the best starting ERA in the AL.
New York has Mariano Rivera. Scott Proctor is pretty decent in the pen. However, to say that gives them the edge ignores the fact you have to hand Rivera a lead first and he won’t be pitching every inning of relief. Oh, and he’s coming off an injury. I think Detroit gets the slight edge in bullpen, despite Todd Jones. It would be neat to see Joel Zumaya close in October, of course, and I think he has the mental makeup and stuff now, but he won’t. Detroit has the second best relief ERA in the AL behind the Twins.
Oh, and Detroit did finish with the best ERA in baseball as a team in the American League — and it’s best division at that.
Finally, in recent history (late August) the Tigers pitchers did fine against the Yankees but the batters didn’t come through. So, while I think you still look at this and, realistically, say the Yankees offense is going to be better than the Tigers defense, I wouldn’t put the edge too big.
The Yankees ranked 10th in the MLB in the secret sauce formula, but unlike the Tigers, they were more consistent across the rankings. They weren’t awesome at any one stat, nor too bad either. They ranked sixth in defense, 13th in power pitching and 8th in closer.
Of course, the Yankees pitching is not fully built on power eithe. Chien-Ming Wang is a groundball pitcher with few strikeouts. Mike Mussina is obviously awesome. Randy Johnson, a power pitcher, is injured and might miss the round. That wouldn’ be a bad thing. Don’t let his ERA (5.00) fool you, he’s owned Detroit. They can’t hit power lefties, except for some reason, Liriano. Jaret Wright appears to be picked for the fourth starter. He, too, isn’t exactly scary. Conclusion: The Yankees are hittable, especially without Johnson.
- Starter analyis at MLB.com
I won’t spend uch time on the offense because it’s obvious. Detroit has a lot of home run power — the same as the Yankees actually. New York has one of the best lineups the MLB has seen in many, many, many years.
The question comes down to this: Can Detroit’s pitching staff stop those batters ENOUGH for the Tigers offense to get ahead? It’s not a bet you’d want to make, is my guess.
This is pretty much David vs. Goliath. Fortunately, home field doesn’t matter in baseball (50/50 split) and the series is only 5 games. This is the kind of series everyone thinks they know what’s going to happen and then it doesn’t and everyone gets interested fast. If Detroit’s pitching comes through, the Tigers can win. Fortunately, 48 of 50 states will be rooting the Tigers on. At least we’re the good guys.
I’m going to cheat now and lay down two predictions: 3-0, Yankees, or 3-2, Yankees. I like Bonderman winning the Wright matchup too much to say New York wins that game. Either the Yankees sweep or it goes 5. Rationally, this very well could be a sweep, but you just don’t know until the play the games.
Baseball Prospectus just put out its look at the matchup. I haven’t even read it yet.
Look, we can sit here and tell you the Yankees are favored to win the series, and of course they are, as every pundit in America will tell you. Or we could look cute and predict the Tigers to pull the upset, and risk looking like morons in a week. The bottom line is that while the Yankees are the favorites, even heavy favorites, that means less in a five-game series than most people realize. The Yankees have, what, a 65% chance of winning the series? Even that might be generous. The Yankees won exactly two more games than the Tigers did this season, and while the Tigers were awful down the stretch, Nate Silver showed that a teamâ€™s winning percentage from September 1st on is actually negatively correlated with their postseason performance.
It says here that they wonâ€™t, not with the teamâ€™s greatest strengthâ€”their pitching staffâ€”showing signs of wear and tear, particularly in the rotation. Yankees in four, but I wouldnâ€™t mind being wrong just this once.