I have no idea who will win the World Series. I am biased for the Phillies, so I feel like they will win, but I have no idea. Supposed experts throw guesses around, and many will be right and claim they knew it all along. Others will be wrong, and will claim they failed to notice something crucial they now see. In reality, there will be luck in play. There was luck to get here for both teams, and there will continue to be luck on both sides throughout the series. What I intend to do here is give you information. Here is what you need to know about the teams, matchups, and players to understand what may happen. I’ll post first about the teams in general, and break down into a discussion about the players themselves in a subsequent post soon later.
Tradesports: Phillies at 43%
Baseball Prospectus: Phillies at 52%
Coolstandings: Phillies at 47%
Now, let’s look at some general team metrics to see how those odds got there.
The Rays won more games, a good sign for them. Now, let’s adjust for runs scored and runs against.
It seems that the Phillies outscored their opponents more convincingly. Does that mean that if luck were removed, the Phillies would have demonstrated that they were the superior team this year? It depends, but probably not. Why is it that the Rays outperformed their Pythagorean Record by six games? Is it a good bullpen, good one run strategies, letting blowouts get out of hand while letting guys get in work? Or is it luck? That’s a good question.
Let’s analyze a little further. Second order Pythagorean Record adjusts for RS/RA luck by looking at EQR/EQRA—how much would expect a team with their batting line to score, and how much do you expect a team with their batting line against to allow?
2nd order Pythagorean Record:
The difference comes from the Phillies allowing 55 fewer runs than their batting line against would predict, and the Rays scoring 43 fewer runs than their batting line against would suggest.
Is that luck? It could be. It also may be that there is something about the composition of the team that persistently will recreate this effect. Let’s dig a little deeper.
With bases empty, the Phillies’ opponents sOPS+ was 100—in other words, the team was fairly average with bases empty at pitching compared to other teams ability with bases empty (sOPS+ compares a team or player’s split compared to the league in the same situation: so sOPS+ for bases empty would compare how well the Phillies pitchers allowed their opponents to hit with the bases empty compared to other teams’ pitchers allowed their opponents to hit). Suddenly, with men on base, the Phillies sOPS+ drops to 93, in part due to a .287 BABIP in that situation (.013 lower than their BABIP with bases empty). This is especially pronounced with bases loaded, where the team allowed an OPS of only .587, good for an sOPS+ of 53—way better than average with bases loaded, thanks to a .234 BABIP in this situation. Undoubtedly, a large part of the Phillies solid performance relative to their 2nd order Pythagorean Record is luck. The team frequently deployed JC Romero and Chad Durbin with men on base late in the game. Both of them were far better with men on base than bases empty. This could be luck—neither of them shows this trend in his career numbers—or it could be that Manuel took advantage of matchups. It is tough to say. Certainly, some of the Phillies record can be attributed lucky defense retiring guys with men on base. If you figure that they probably could have been expected to allow about 11 more singles with bases loaded when they instead recorded outs and in fact 19 double plays in this situation which seems a tiny bit high for 177 PA (assuming many of those bases loaded situations came with two outs, and that typically 0 or 1 out situations with a man on first turn into double plays about 1 in 8 times), so that accounts for probably 30-40 runs or so right there.
The Rays, on the other hand, were worse at hitting with runners on, putting up an sOPS+ of 97 with runners on and an sOPS+ of 108 with bases empty. The biggest culprit was Longoria, putting up an sOPS+ of 147 with bases empty and an sOPS+ of 112 with men on. As his BB/K ratio was nearly the same with men on and with bases empty, I would guess this is mostly just bad luck. I’m not sure about the lesser contributors on the team, but it does seem reasonable to think the Rays probably were better offensively than their 774 runs scored suggest.
The 3rd order Pythagorean Record accounts for difficulty of opponents.
3rd order Pythagorean Record:
Clearly, the Rays played in a tougher division and a tougher league than the Phillies.
I always feel that another adjustment needs to be made—for balls in play. There is simply no reason that analysis should ignore this fact. BABIP is notoriously unreliable, compared to other outcomes, such as BB rate, K rate, and HR rate. This is true for hitters and for pitchers. Defense is a true skill, and some teams are bound to have better (lower) BABIPs allowed, and hitting line drives is a skill, as is being able to hit groundballs and flyballs for hits, and so BABIP is somewhat skill based too. 2008 team BABIP has a .329 correlation with 2007 team BABIP. Breaking this down by hit type, groundball BABIP correlate strongly at 0.528, and flyball BABIP correlates strongly at 0.516. Line-drive BABIP has nearly no correlation, at 0.032. For pitching/defense, 2008 overall team BABIP correlates with 2007 overall team BABIP with a correlation of .138. Groundballs, flyballs, and line-drives register year-to-year correlations of .335, .346, and .207. Clearly, there is more luck involved in getting hits on linedrives. The Rays were a bit lucky on this front—hitting .731 compared to the league’s average on line drives in play over .718. The Phillies were neutral at .716. The Phillies were far below their historical BABIPs on groundballs and flyballs though, contributing to their abnormally low BABIP of .283. Given the small persistence of BABIP, you would expect this number of be higher. See my earlier posts on this topic for more information, but I think it’s reasonable to assume that we probably would have scored about 40 more runs with more luck on balls in play. Interestingly, the team BABIP once I posted that article on our BABIP was just about league average from that point on…I think I was on to something. On the other hand, the Rays BABIP against was very low—just .280. That is a persistent skill, but probably is lower than should be expected. The key cause of their low BABIP was batting average on line drives and flyballs. On groundballs, they were fairly close to league average. Their strength seems to come predominantly on flyballs and linedrives to leftfield and to centerfield. Given CBP’s small dimensions in left and left-center, I would be inclined to guess that our park is pretty conducive to neutralizing some of
Taking into account that I think the Phillies should have scored 40 more runs and the Rays should have allowed 20 fewer runs, after adjusting for all this difficulty, I’ll approximate what I think a 4th order Pythagorean Record would look like:
All in all, the indication is that the Phillies are probably not as good over an 162 game season as the Rays. However, the playoffs are a totally different story. Perhaps the Phillies are especially built for the playoffs? Well, Baseball Prospectus uses a formula called “secret sauce” which is based on three factors that have historically corresponded to postseason success—WXRL (bullpen contribution weighted by situational leverage), FRAA (fielding ability, in terms of outs on balls in play), and pitcher’s K rate. The Rays have a bit of an advantage there as well. But those three things are just statistical correlations—very important, but every statistician knows that you need a structural understanding of what is causing those things to matter most. Remember one thing that’s very important—other factors do not historically correlate with postseason success. Run scoring ability is not strongly correlated. Not power hitting, not-on base skill. We’ll come back to that in a second.
Firstly, WXRL is especially important in playoff games because of the difference between use of relievers in the playoffs and during the regular season. With frequent off days, and little concern for long run health effects, closers and star middle relievers get used more frequently. Furthermore, as playoff games are pitched by good pitchers more often, they are more likely to be close games as well. Those would explain the importance of WXRL for sure. The FRAA is a bit harder to explain. I would guess that it’s probably not an especially strong affect in the playoffs, just one that doesn’t disappear. K rate is probably very important because good hitters tend to do well on balls in play and tend to hit for power. Minimizing contact is more important when you’re facing a strong lineup than when you’re playing a light hitting club. There does seem to be of a historical tendency for power pitchers to be relatively strong in the playoffs, and it’s probably this effect. This could explain why good hitting teams do not generally succeed much more than others in the playoffs—they are often neutralized by good pitching. In other words, contact pitchers may have a comparative disadvantage in the playoffs and power pitchers may have a comparative advantage in the playoffs. Contact pitchers let hitters get themselves out, something good hitters do less frequently. Good pitching may in fact beat good hitting, but it’s not voodoo or anything else commentators who spend more time on their hair than their baseball analysis will tell you. It’s probably minimized contact by playoff pitchers. Another reason that K rate is very important is that teams with high K rates as a whole are probably more likely to have an ace. No one has five guys who start and put up strong K numbers. More likely, high team K rates come from having a couple of ace pitchers. And ace pitchers pitch more in the playoffs. We haven’t seen Adam Eaton, Kyle Kendrick, and we’ll only even see Blanton once. If this series goes seven games, Cole Hamels will have pitched in five of the team’s fourteen playoff games—more than two times more than he would pitch over a fourteen game span in the regular season. That is a large reason that teams with aces do well in playoffs, though I believe this correlation showed up lightly in some of the research done by Baseball Prospectus on this topic. Surely, however, it’s impossible to deny that a team should be analyzed according to how you expect them to perform with the players who are playing, and aces are relatively important in the playoffs. Certainly, weaker fourth and fifth starters are less important.
For this reason, I think this series is very close. Cole Hamels can come out and win a couple of games, and that would be enough as long as the Phillies take two out of the other five games. That’s key.
Baseball Prospectus has listed the Phillies playoff odds as 52%. The reasoning that they are so much higher on the Phillies than betting odds is that they see that the Rays struggle against lefties, putting up a weak 93 sOPS+ against LHP (with a .396 SLG), compared with an 108 sOPS+ against RHP. The Phillies are starting lefties four times against the Rays in seven games. Of course, neither Hamels nor Moyer has terribly deep platoon splits, so chances are that this effect is exaggerated, especially since most of the traditional platoon split comes from underlying difference in pitchers instead of underlying differences in hitters, I believe, though it is a bit of both.
Breaking things down further, other team splits show that the Rays are a strong hitting team at home, relative to other teams, but not especially strong on the road. The Phillies are evenly good at both, relative to other teams. The Rays also pitch much better at home, but are about average on the road. The Phillies are similar to other teams in their pitching home/away splits as well.
It does seem like either of these teams could win. The Rays are likely an overall better team, but the Phillies do have some advantages in the playoffs with a better ace, a better closer, and an advantage against the Rays’ heavily left-handed lineup. I will post a little later about the players themselves.