If you're also a reader of The Cub Reporter and think you may have come across this same post earlier today, you're right: it ran there this morning. If you're not a reader of The Cub Reporter, I am very disappointed in you and think you need to take a long, hard look at yourself in the mirror and question the direction of your life.
In Moneyball, Michael Lewis quotes Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane as saying:
“My shit doesn't work in the playoffs. My job is to get us to the playoffs. What happens after that is fucking luck.”
In Baseball Between The Numbers, the editors of Baseball Prospectus ask the question raised by Beane’s frank self-analysis:
Why hasn't the guy’s shit worked?
To get to the answer, BP identified 26 different measures of team quality—everything from things like regular season won-loss record, late-season W-L record, run differential, and team playoff experience to the more arcane Percent Of Runs Scored On Home Runs and Isolated Power—and after a lot of number-crunching and analysis, they concluded that three factors have “the most fundamental and direct relationship” to playoff success:
Closer’s Win Expectation Above Replacement (WXRL)
Defined here, WXRL measures the contribution of a team’s closer, i.e., the guy who receives the majority of the save opportunities, toward increasing his team’s probability of winning games.
Pitchers' Strikeout Rate
Just what it sounds like.
Fielding Runs Above Replacement (FRAR)
The total number of runs a team’s fielders saved compared to replacement-level fielders (guys you freely find on the waiver wire or in the minor leagues at a moment's notice).
So how do this year’s NL playoff teams compare on these three key measures? Here’s a look:
Arizona (Valverde), 4.269; 4th in NL
Colorado (Corpas), 4.158; 6th in NL
CUBS (Dempster), 2.657; 24th in NL
Philadelphia (Myers), 1.647; 40th in NL
Pitchers’ Striketout Rate (K/9)
Fielding Runs Above Replacement
Not a bad picture for the Cubs, eh? The team’s weak link according to these numbers is pretty obvious. It has red hair, an engaging personality, and in 15 games since September 1st, an ERA of 9.82.
The good news, of course, is that the Cubs have alternatives to Ryan Dempster. Bob Howry (3.129) is 17th in WXRL among NL relievers. Carlos Marmol (3.694) shows up 11th.
Would Lou Piniella entrust closing duties in the playoffs to the 25-year-old Marmol, who has exactly one career save? Almost certainly not—personally, I’d love to see it--but that still leaves Howry. Given how horribly Dempster has pitched lately, I’d argue that Howry, though only 8-for-12 in save opps this season, is actually the smart choice.
Plug Howry into the closer's spot and the team that Jim Hendry built looks fairly formidable according to BP’s yardstick.
And in case you’re wondering about the Billy Beane question posed at the beginning of this post, BP points to a combination of factors that led to the downfall of Beane's 2000-03 playoff teams. These included at various times bad luck, a veteran pitching staff “cobbled together from the waiver wire,” an immature bullpen and some defensively challenged rosters like the 2000 club with an outfield of Ben Grieve, Terrence Long and Matt Stairs, “one of the worst defensive groups in recent memory."