Does Good Pitching Win Championships?: Part 1 of 3

Does Good Pitching Win Championships? Part 1

Do teams with good pitching win Championships? The answer is yes. Does the team with the best pitching win Championships; the answer is yes, but not as often as believed. Since 1969 when the playoff format was expanded to 4 teams and even more so since 1996 when it was expanded to 8 teams hitting has been more important a factor in determining a World Series Champion.

Many times a teams pitching staff will improve while in the playoffs, sometimes they win, and sometimes they lose. However, there is no example I can find of a team where the pitching staff met the expectation set from the regular season and the offense outperformed itself lost a series. If a team wins 100 games in the regular season with a 3.25 ERA should they not expect to win 60% of their games in the playoffs if they maintain that pace? If a team shrinks that average to 2.25 should they not expect to win 80% of the games.

The answer is they can expect to win but the batters still have to score runs. The only way to win a game is score more runs, the pitcher and defense have never scored a run in the history of baseball so how can pitching win you championships?

Before 1969, the team with the best pitching usually won the pennant. This was the case throughout most of the 1960s; the best pitching team was winning. Then in October the best pitching team in the AL would meet the best pitching team in the NL. To win a pennant there was usually a need to have good hitting. So pre-1969 pennant winners were almost always in the top 2 or 3 in batting and pitching. Between 1969-1993 the best pitching team usually made the playoffs but was hung up now and again in the LCS. Since 1995 we have seen more average teams seeking into the playoffs and even into the final and winning the World Series. This trumps the typical assumption that “great pitching and fielding wins Championships”.

Upper echelon teams usually play .500 ball against other top teams regardless of their team type. When good pitching teams collapse in the playoffs it is not so much that they collapse as it is a result of the pitching or batting failing them it is having to win 11 games against 3 teams that they roughly had a .500 record against.

The strength of a teams pitching is graded on the regular season. Good pitching keeps a team competitive in the regular season pre-division format as well as now. This is for the reason that the best pitching team will rarely lose to bad hitting teams. In each league there are 3-5 bad hitting teams. This means that a good pitching team should be able to beat the bad hitting teams almost every night.

In part two we’ll look at specific numerical data showing the surprising frequency of teams losing in the playoffs, even though they give up few R/G in the regular season.

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  • “Since 1995 we have seen more average teams seeking into the playoffs and even into the final and winning the World Series. This trumps the typical assumption that “great pitching and fielding wins Championships”.”

    In the past 11 years, I can only think of 2 World Series winning teams that didn’t have “great” pitching. That would be this year’s St. Louis Cardinals and maybe the 1996 New York Yankees. Again, as I have said before, pitching and defense wins championships has not a lot to do with the regular season stats since your 5th starter and many bullpen guys (who drag a team’s overall ERA down) often do not get a sniff of postseason play. In a short series of 5 or 7 games (often times with only 3 or 4 needing to be played) there is greater importance placed on a starting rotation that is often composed of only 3 starters. The best example of this is the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks with their front loaded rotation of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. Not only were they both dominant in their starts, but Johnson was able to come on in relief the day following his start. This would likely never happen in the regular season. I can’t think of any of these World Series winning teams having poor defense, but I can think of one team that defense caused the team to lose, and that would be Tony Fernandez of the Cleveland Indians. HELLO!

  • Kman

    Dirty. The Indians were one of the anomoly teams, with Jaret Wright & Chad Ogea coming out of nowhere to become playoff superstuds.

    I’ll skip this round but Early, I’m interested in your response to Calman.

  • Early

    Average pitching teams winning is not an anomoly. The ’97 Indians were not an anomoly, they were an average pitching team that counted on slugging. Thier 86-76 record is very reflective of a team with average pitching and good hitting, they easily could have won the 1997 WS as Nagy+Ogea+Wright neutralised the Marlins superior pitching. As we will see in parts 2&3 when these teams make the playoffs (which they don’t regularly) it is not an anomoly that they win in the playoffs.
    Defense is hard to judge as turning a double play isn’t reflected in stats and def range factor are confusing to many. I agree with Callum that defense is important except that defense cannot win a series but bad defense can lose a series (’25 Sens, ’86 BoSox, ’97 Indians, ’06 Tigers).
    2001 Arizona was a great team all-around, they were second in league def R/G. And they were amongst the leaders in off R/G. The Yankees won 3 one-run games in that series and the DBacks had two blowouts. And in game 7 the Dbacks got 3 runs off of Clemens and Rivera to win the series. This is a series they easily could have lost. And since 1995 there have been 100% more WS winners that have had average def R/G than you think. They are ’96 Yanks, ’00 Yanks, ’02 Marlins and ’06 Cards. You say “In a short series of 5 or 7 games (often times with only 3 or 4 needing to be played) there is greater importance placed on a starting rotation that is often composed of only 3 starters.” This is exactly right. And what this does is neutralise the a team with great pitching. This fact aids the team that has a weak back end. When two great pitching teams match-up ie 2001 they neutralise each other Johnson+Shilling+Batista=Clemens+Mussina+Pettite. When we get an average pitching team shortened to three men we see that Beckett+Penny+Pavano vs Clemens+Mussina+Pettite, the Yanks still have an edge and thier numbers were maginally better in the series but it is not as blatant as when we add the 4 and 5 men, as you say. The Marlins pitching, tho inferior was good enough to keep them close enough to win 4 games by a total of 6 runs, 6 runs scored by their offense. Therefore good pitching does not win Championships.

  • One of the problems I have with your premise is your subjective reasoning.

    “Does the team with the best pitching win Championships; the answer is yes, but not as often as believed.”

    Not as often as believed? What is the level of belief? Who believes this? I’m not really sure what you are getting at, if pitching and defense win championships or they don’t. I also can’t get my head around the bad, average, good and great criteria that you label the pitching and pitching teams. Hopefully you explain it in the next part of the series.

    The greater importance of a 3 man starting rotation is an example of why R/G over the regular season cannot be meaningfully applied to the postseason. The 2000 New York Yankees did in fact have a great pitching team and furthered that by being able to drop bum Neagle and his 5.81 ERA from the starting rotation. With Doc Gooden, Mike Stanton, Jeff Nelson and Mariano Rivera in the pen they were a force to be reckoned with, definitely not “neutralized” as you say. The ’02 Marlins weren’t even in the World Series so I don’t know what you are talking about.

    “Do teams with good pitching win Championships? The answer is yes.”
    “Therefore good pitching does not win Championships. ”

    Which one is it Earl?

  • Early

    ’02 Marlins is a typo, ’03 Marlins. Anyways, I cannot say that “Good pitching and fielding wins Championships”, when almost 40% of the Championship teams have won the WS with mediocre pitching, and they have beaten teams with superior pitching. The ’05 White Sox won with great pitching yes, but they still had to score runs or they would have wound up like the ’05 Astros, who also had great pitching. The ’06 Cards had average def R/G and won. What we are looking at in this is how great pitching is neutralised and how easy it is to do it by average pitching teams. In the future articles we will see that great pitching doesn’t usually falter in the playoffs, def R/G is usually the same. You said, “The 2000 New York Yankees did in fact have a great pitching team and furthered that by being able to drop bum Neagle and his 5.81 ERA from the starting rotation.” I have a problem with this, the Yanks were 6th in team ERA and 6th in def R/G. In both categories they were barely above league median. The names are good but the performance was average, Doc Gooden was ok in the 13 games he came in as a reliever. The 2000 Yanks won 87 games and were the 5th best team in the AL. Yanks won a bunch of close games throughout the playoffs which is typical of an average pitching team beating a great pitching team. The 2000 Yanks avg pitching staff neutralised the great staffs of Oak, Sea and NYM, not the other way around.

  • Early

    Clarification on Definition

    I had included this but forgot to put it back in when I was editing. What I did was split each league in 3rds. Typically the top third was good, bottom third bad and middle third average. There are some special cases where a team is on the bubble, they are in 5th place in league hitting but are closer to the top than the middle. In these rare cases I compared them to the average, the median and the mean, and whoever they belonged with is where I put them. There were only a few teams that this applied to in the 196 teams included in my study. And to who it applies to I can’t remember.