Forecasting the 2016 Postseason

Predicting the results of a short series, let alone a whole tournament, is a fool’s errand.  This fool, though, had some measure of success in attempting to do so last season with a model I called Playoff Runs.

The basic premise of the Playoff Runs model is that the talent on a team’s 25-man postseason roster will likely vary significantly from the results that team put up over 162 games, with various measures of injuries, designations for assignment, prospect call-ups, and trades changing the makeup of the team from week to week throughout the year.

The model assumes a certain volume of innings pitched and fielded and plate appearances from each of 25 roles on a standard playoff roster, assigns players to each of those roles, and multiplies each player’s Runs Above Replacement (for pitchers and hitters) or Runs Above Average (for fielders and baserunners) per inning pitched or plate appearance by the volume assigned to his role.  A score is calculated for each team over a best-of-1-, 5-, or 7-game series and I anoint the team with more aggregate value on the field (or, more Playoff Runs) the likely winner.

Thanks to input from readers of this site and others, I’ve assembled the following table of likely participants in this month’s festivities:

[table id=317 /]

 

Starting with pitchers, let’s look at Runs Above Replacement per inning pitched in 2016, per Fangraphs.  This includes games pitched for other teams, where applicable:

[table id=318 /]

 

These figures correspond to the same cells in the prior table, so you may have to maximize both tables to read them.  The biggest number- that .447 in the left-handed setup role in the Cubs column- is Aroldis Chapman.  Along with Kenley Jansen and Andrew Miller, Chapman tops the best starter (Clayton Kershaw’s .366) on a per-inning basis.  The smallest number, -.070, represents Jeff Manship, who may or may not be on Cleveland’s postseason roster.  As you’ll see below, it won’t make much difference.

On to the position players.  Here are Fielding Runs Above Average (Def) per plate appearance for the players I expect to take the field at some point this month:

[table id=319 /]

 

As you may have ascertained, these figures include the positional adjustment, which is why most shortstops and catchers are positive, while most first basemen and corner outfielders are negative.  I used PA as a baseline, rather than innings fielded, because the positional adjustment would make for some wonky numbers if a player was primarily a DH, but played a few innings in the field.  The biggest numbers belong to two backup catchers: Washington’s Pedro Severino (.052) and Chicago’s David Ross (.043), who had just 33 and 205 PA, respectively.  Severino will be forced into duty with Wilson Ramos injured, while Ross will be one of three catchers on the Cubs roster, something my system can’t account for, but which won’t make a material difference in the overall scoring.  Among the regulars, Brandon Crawford and Francisco Lindor rank as the best fielders, having saved .043 and .041 runs per PA, respectively.  The worst fielders both flank Adam Jones in the Orioles’ outfield: Hyun Soo Kim at -.030 and Mark Trumbo at -.027.

Let’s do the same for hitters, showing total hitting and baserunning Runs Above Replacement per plate appearance for the guys likely to bat:

[table id=320 /]

 

These lineups are all either actual lineups used at some point in the last week of the regular season or actual lineups tweaked to include a missing player or two.  I gave all the NL teams a DH to put them on even footing with the AL teams.  Obviously, these are more formidable lineups than we’ll see from NL teams before the World Series.  The best hitter in the sample is Daniel Murphy at .107, with teammate Trea Turner riding an impressive performance over a small sample to the next-best mark (.105).  Kris Bryant and Josh Donaldson are the only other players who added more than a run per ten plate appearances this year with their bats and legs.  At the other end, backup catchers Caleb Joseph (-.083) and Robinson Chirinos (-.052) drag their teams’ Playoff Runs down the most.

The next step is to project how many innings each pitcher will pitch and how many plate appearances each player will get in the playoffs.  We know that teams will lean on their top starters and best relievers to the greatest extent possible, and that players who hit at the top of the order will bat more than the guys at the bottom (by about 1/9 of a PA per lineup spot per game).  Using some real data (for instance, starters averaged 5.8 IP per start this year, but the #1 starters on the ten playoff teams averaged 6.7) and some guesses (a best-of-five series has a 20% chance of ending in a sweep and a 30% chance of going the distance), I made these projections and multiplied them by a weighted expected number of innings in a series of each length (best-of-1, best-of-5, best-of-7).  I checked the innings pitched assumptions against last year’s actual postseason pitcher usage and they were close enough not to recommend any tweaks this year.  The only contribution for the player I deemed Pinch Runner was Baserunning Runs Above Average per game times an expected one opportunity per playoff game.  The sum of the pitching, fielding, hitting, and baserunning scores gives us a team’s Playoff Runs.

Here’s how the four teams playing in the Wild Card games stack up in a one-game projection:

[table id=321 /]

 

The Blue Jays project to outpitch, outhit, and outfield the Orioles, even without their top starters available.  Noah Syndergaard’s crazy strikeout rate helps push the Mets ahead of the Giants, though the model gives Madison Bumgarner no credit for his bat.

Here’s what all the playoff teams look like over best-of-five or -seven series.  For simplicity’s sake, I did not shuffle starters around based on which teams are forced to burn their aces in the playoff games.  It rarely makes a difference in terms of which team looks better than their potential opponent.

[table id=322 /]

 

[table id=323 /]

 

Three teams stand out above for dominating one aspect of the game.  Boston’s offense is just over a run better than the runner-up Cubs and almost three runs better than that of any other American League team.  The Dodgers’ pitching is more than two runs better than the runner-up Mets.  Most impressively, the Cubs’ fielding is more than two runs better than the runner-up Giants.  The Cubs exceed the average fielding team in the playoffs by 2 1/3 times more than anyone else.  If Kyle Hendricks or Jon Lester wins the Cy Young Award this year, he should break off a chunk for Addison Russell, Jason Heyward, and Javier Baez.

The Playoff Runs model tells us that the Red Sox, Blue Jays, Cubs, and Dodgers are favorites to reach the Championship Series and the Cubs should beat the Red Sox for the title.  The Dodgers’ proximity to the Cubs’ total score is probably the biggest surprise here, but it depends on Kershaw and Rich Hill being healthy enough to pitch deep into games, as their RAR/IP may be inflated by their low innings counts this year.  Texas is the 9th best team in the playoffs by this measure, but they could easily reach the World Series just by beating numbers 10 (Orioles) and 8 (Indians)

For a look at each projected series, with notes about flaws in the model and how they could impact each series, read the companion piece here.

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[…] Click here for the companion piece, with player-level detail for every team at every position. […]

David P
David P
4 years ago

Cleveland’s plans were thrown a major monkey wrench by Kluber’s late season injury. Instead of having the option of bringing him back on short rest to start game 4, they now have to start Trevor Bauer on short rest or use rookie Mike Clevinger. My guess is that Tito goes with Bauer, asks him to pitch all out for 3-5 innings, and then, assuming the game is close, turns the game over to the “Bullpen of Death”. And then you still have Kluber to pitch game 5, if there is a game 5.

David P
David P
4 years ago
Reply to  Bryan O'Connor

Thanks Bryan, though I was talking about game 4. Tito really burned through his bullpen last night. Kluber, coming off an injury, really needs to go at least 7 innings today.

Voomo Zanzibar
Voomo Zanzibar
4 years ago

Well, I’ve got to applaud Zach Britton for the poise and grace and articulation he showed in his interview after the game. I would have said a few things less politically correct.

Britton since the end of April:
57 IP
ONE earned run… That’s a 0.16 ERA

Ubaldo as a relief pitcher this year:
10.1 IP
10 ER … That’s an 8.71 ERA.

Somewhere in Colorado, Goose Gossage just threw his moustache at the television.

Doug
Doug
4 years ago
Reply to  Voomo Zanzibar

I was surprised that Showalter started Tillman over Jimenez for the WC game. Toronto has owned Tillman at Rogers Centre (7.01 ERA in 68 IP from .313/.372/.622) while Jimenez has mostly had Toronto’s number, home or away, allowing 2 runs or less in 8 of his last 10 starts against the Blue Jays, and pitching 5+ innings in 9 of his last 10. However, Jimenez is a starter, not a reliever. As I’ve mentioned on another post, I am not a fan of managers using their starters as relievers in the post-season, so bringing in Jimenez before the bullpen has… Read more »

Doug
Doug
4 years ago

Don’t have the number yet, but have to think that Conor Gillaspie has become the first player to post .400+ WPA in two elimination games in the same post-season.

As I type this, the Cubs just tied it in the 9th, so Gillaspie possibly could lose that distinction with some negative WPA the rest of the game.

Doug
Doug
4 years ago
Reply to  Doug

Gillaspie did get a .500 WPA for his eighth inning triple, but scored just .307 for the game. Will have to be content, for now, with 0.3 WPA in two elimination games, tied with three others, most recently Jose Bautista last year.

But, Gillaspie gets another shot tonight.

Voomo Zanzibar
Voomo Zanzibar
4 years ago

Looking at Wade Davis’ stats since he became a reliever. 8.9 WAR in 183 IP Don’t know how to do searches for best-three-year-stretches, but looking at stats for seasons 6 through 8 of players’ careers (min 100 IP), here’s where Davis ranks in: ERA 1.18 … Wade Davis (183 IP) 1.42 … Walter Johnson (1087 IP) 1.45 … Eric O’Flaherty (149 IP) 1.53 … Mordecai Brown 1.56 … Addie Joss 1.59 … Aroldis Chapman (seasons 6 and 7) 1.65 … Chief Bender 1.66 … Ed Walsh 1.69 … Pete Alexander ____________ WHIP .719 … Kenley Jansen (2015-2016) .886 … Clayton… Read more »

David P
David P
4 years ago

Assuming I did the search correctly, Corey Kluber is just the 10th pitcher to throw 6+ shutout innings in his first two postseason starts. No one has ever done it in his first three postseason starts.

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
4 years ago
Reply to  David P

Christy Mathewson pitched 3 shutouts in his first 3 postseason starts (1905 WS).

David P
David P
4 years ago

Thanks Richard! Unfortunately, the pitching game finder only goes back to 1913.

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
4 years ago
Reply to  David P

But for postseason the pitching game finder goes back to 1903.

David P
David P
4 years ago

Ah yes. Well, I did start off by saying “Asssuming I did the search correctly”. And now I see where I went wrong. I put “2” in the box that says “In players first ____ career gm. So anyone that did it in each of their first 3 or more games obviously had no chance of showing up in my search results.

David P
David P
4 years ago

Indians are the first team to win a postseason game in which no pitcher recorded more than 5 outs. That’s gotta be pretty rare in the regular sesason as well I imagine.

birtelcom
Editor
4 years ago
Reply to  David P

And the first AL team to win a 9-inning post-season game using more than six pitchers.

Doug
Doug
4 years ago
Reply to  David P

Rare indeed, David. In fact, if I’ve done my searching correctly, these are the only regular season 9 inning games that match the Indians’ feat on Monday of a win and zero pitchers with 2+ IP. – Sep 11, 1967 – Astros 11, Cubs 10 – Jun 21, 2015 – Orioles 13, Blue Jays 9 – Jul 9, 2015 – Rockies 5, Braves 3 If the Tribe wins tonight, they’ll be the third team (after the 2007 Rockies and 2014 Royals) to sweep the LDS and LCS. I know you’re hoping they become the first to do that and take… Read more »

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
4 years ago
Reply to  David P

In the regular season, on 10-2-1949, the St. Louis Browns used 9 pitchers, each of whom pitched 1 inning. It was an end of season shenanigan. Didn’t help the Browns much, they lost 4-3.

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
4 years ago

Incidentally that may have been the last day in which only 2 umpires worked a game. Six umpires were used for the more important Yankees-Red Sox game which determined the pennant winner and created a shortage of umpires for the other AL games.

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
4 years ago

Here is a list of teams for which no pitcher got more than 5 outs for 9 inning games. It shows the team, its opponent, date of game and number of pitchers. SLB …. CHW …. 1949-10-02 (1) …. 9 ATL …. WSN …. 9/3/2015 …. 8 BAL …. BOS …. 2011-09-19 (2) …. 8 COL …. ATL …. 7/9/2015 …. 8 DET …. MIN …. 8/22/2014 …. 8 HOU …. CHC …. 9/11/1967 …. 8 PIT …. ATL …. 9/8/2010 …. 8 PIT …. LAD …. 9/18/2011 …. 8 STL …. NYM …. 10/3/1964 …. 8 ATL …. HOU… Read more »

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
4 years ago

BTW that list is regardless of whether or not the team won. There were 3 winning teams, the ones listed in Doug’s post #20.

David P
David P
4 years ago

And now the Indians are the first time to have a postsesason shutout in which the starter went fewer than 5 innings.

Mike L
Mike L
4 years ago

Having no other place to put this, I want to note Curt Schilling will be challenging Elizabeth Warren for Senate in 2018. Bloody sock to blood sport?

David P
David P
4 years ago
Reply to  Mike L

And I got blocked on twitter today by Schilling. Seems he loves to dish out insults all day long but say one bad thing about him and he blocks you. Complete coward.

Mike L
Mike L
4 years ago
Reply to  David P

I haven’t been blocked by anyone yet, but then again, I haven’t said anything Schilling (and won’t). Occasionally I get retweeted by Trump followers. Which, I have to admit, is a tad surprising.

David P
David P
4 years ago
Reply to  Mike L

I think most people are better off with less Schilling in their life.

Anyway, even if he somehow wins the Republican nomination, he will get destroyed by Warren. Doubt it will make him more humble though.

BTW, he announced a few months back that he was first going to gain statewide office and then run for President in either 2020 or 2024, depending on whether Clinton or Trump won in 2016. Talk about delusional.

Mike L
Mike L
4 years ago

Interesting article in the NY Times by Billy Wirtz about the Cubs’ Spring Training on Catalina Island. nyti.ms/2ej2yq9

David P
David P
4 years ago

There were a total of 20 runs scored in the 5 game series between the Indians and the Blue Jays. Has to be the lowest scoring 5 game series in a long, long time.

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
4 years ago
Reply to  David P

WS wise there were 18 runs scored in the 1905 5-game series.

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
4 years ago

I found 1 other 5 game postseason series with fewer than 20 runs scored. In the 1981 NLDS between the Dodgers and the Astros there was a total of 19 runs scored.

Daniel Longmire
Daniel Longmire
4 years ago

The Clevelanders also had the lowest-ever batting average (.168) by a winning team in a series.

In addition, the Blue Jays lost in five games, despite their bullpen tossing 12 and 2/3 innings of scoreless ball. Is that ALSO a postseason record?

Doug
Doug
4 years ago

Another Cleveland team won a most unusual series in beating Boston in 1948.

First 4 games – 11 runs total for both teams
Last 2 games – 23 runs total for both teams (incl. 11 by Boston to win game 5)

Those 11 runs are the fewest in the first 4 games of any series of that length or longer.

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
4 years ago

I did research for the WS for 5 game series. I am not 100% sure that this is a WS record but the 1941 Yankee relievers yielded 0 runs in 9.0 IP by Johnny Murphy and Marv Breuer.

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
4 years ago

Continued from post 42. I came up empty-handed for the ALCS, NLCS, ALDS and NLDS for 5 game series. I did find that in the 1981 ALCS, Yankee relievers yielded 0 runs in 11.2 innings in a 3 game set.

Daniel Longmire
Daniel Longmire
4 years ago

Nice work, Doug and Richard. I was actually assuming that some victorious team would have had a bullpen that delivered more goose eggs than the Jays, but perhaps not.

I was more interested in whether or not a LOSING team has ever pitched spotless relief in a series; the two concepts don’t seem to be compatible in my mind. I thought that the ’66 Dodgers might be a fit, but even they gave up 3 earned runs.

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
4 years ago

Reply to # 44:
Here’s what I found for losing teams:

WS, 1922 Yankees with 3.0 IP
NLCS, 1997 Braves with 10.2 IP
ALDS, 1981 Royals with 6.1 IP

David P
David P
4 years ago

Indians 12 runs scored was fewer than both the ´81 Dodgers (13) and the ’05 Giants (15).

And their single game high of 4 runs scored could be some sort of low for a team that won a 7 game series. The one team that I found that did the same was the ’72 A’s. The A’s won the series 4 game to 3, despite never scoring more than 4 runs in a single game. And the one time they scored 4 runs, they actually lost!

Doug
Doug
4 years ago

Lowest and Highest Run Totals by Length of Series.
4 games – 15 (1966 WS), 56 (1932 WS, 2002 ALDS)
5 games – 18 (1905 WS), 79 (1999 ALDS)
6 games – 19 (1918 WS), 81 (1993 WS)
7 games – 29 (1920 WS), 86 (2004 ALCS)

oneblankspace
oneblankspace
4 years ago
Reply to  Doug

That 1920 WS was Indians-Dodgers. The 1918 Series was of course BoSox-Cubs and featured some Babe named Ruth winning a 1-0 decision at 35th & Shields.

Doug
Doug
4 years ago
Reply to  oneblankspace

The Indians were up 2-0 in that 1999 ALDS, then lost the the last three games by a combined score of 44-18.

Imagine if someone offered you a bet after game 2 and spotted you those 18 runs – how could you turn it down?

Voomo Zanzibar
Voomo Zanzibar
4 years ago

Andrew Miller’s career postseason stats:

20 IP
0 R
31 SO
0.450 WHIP

David P
David P
4 years ago
Reply to  Voomo Zanzibar

The record for most scoreless appearances from the beginning of a “postseason career” is 19, held by two different pitchers. No idea who but I checked and Mariano Rivera isn’t one of them.

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
4 years ago
Reply to  David P

My PI search showed 3 such pitchers with 19 games: Trevor Rosenthal, Dennis Cook and Chad Bradford. Rivera is second with 18 games, tied with John Rocker, Randy Myers, Alan Embree and Santiago Casilla.

David P
David P
4 years ago

Thanks Richard though it seems like there’s something off with your search.

First, just to clarify…the group with 18 is 18 straight from the beginning of their career? Or 18 of their first 19 games?

Anyway, I’m not sure how Mariano Rivera ended up on the list. He gave up runs in both his 9th and 13th playoff games. Not sure if the others belong or not but Mariano clearly doesn’t.

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
4 years ago
Reply to  David P

David: You are right, I did slip up. Cook and Bradford are the 2 guys with the 19 Games from the start of their postseason careers. Next are Rosenthal and Jonathan Papelbon who did it for their first 17 games. Thanks for checking it out.