Let's take a look at how the power rankings see in each of the playoff teams. These data are restricted to 2010 data, and so they are not as good of a measure of team quality as something based on projections (see the cool PECOTA stuff that Colin and Eric are doing at BPro). And it certainly doesn't look at the specific playoff rosters, rotations, etc. But it should provide a good measure of how these teams have performed during the regular season this year.
Below I'll report the following statistics for each team:
wOBA* = a park-adjusted version (using Patriot's latest 2010 park factors) of wOBA, which includes base runs hitting plus BPro's EqBRR baserunning statistics.
eERA = An average of a park-adjusted FIP and xFIP. This essentially regresses HR/FB half way to league average.
Field = a composite team fielding statistic based on UZR, DRS, an in-house catching statistic, and the difference between park-adjusted FIP and park-adjusted base runs.
cW% = Component winning percentage. We estimate offense based on the wOBA above, defense based on pitching and fielding, and then plug them into pythagenpat to get this number.
SoS = Strength of Schedule, based on the average cW%. It is calculated iteratively.
cW%s = Strength of schedule-adjusted cW%. When we account for the fact that teams with tough schedules likely have depressed statistics (and vice versa), how different do the teams look?
On the surface, the two teams look pretty tightly matched. They have almost the same hitting performance once you adjust for the parks. Both have equally good, plus fielding performances. The Rays have a slight edge in estimated ERA, so you give them the edge...but it's probably not overwhelming.
There is one big difference between the two teams, however: the Rangers tied for the easiest schedule in the American League (with the White Sox). They got to play lots of games against Seattle and the Angels, and as a result we can expect that their component statistics are inflated compared to how they would look against average competition. When we adjust for this, it pulls Texas down dramatically, almost back to 0.500.
Now, I think they're better than that. If nothing else, they only had Cliff Lee for a half-season. And obviously, they've had their way with the Rays so far in this series. But the Rays have had the better season.
Here's another case where the schedule may substantially alter our perceptions of a matchup (well...or not, given the press leading up to this match-up). The Reds' offense ranks 2nd overall in the National League, while the Phillies' seems merely above average. The Reds' pitching has not been as good, but this is at least partially mitigated by the Reds' superior fielding performance. As a result, based on component stats alone, the Reds look like the better performing ballclub. Now granted, the Phillies had all kinds of injuries, didn't have the services of Roy Oswalt all season, and have the ability to leverage their pitching far better than the Reds in a series with lots of days off. But we're just looking at team performance here...
The thing is, however, the Reds had the easiest schedule in the National League. The Phillies had one of the toughest. When you account for this, the expected winning percentage of the two teams flip-flops to favor the Phillies. I do think the Phillies are the better team, and especially are a better playoff team. But it's closer than a lot of analysts leading up to the series seemed to think. That's what I tell myself, anyway, after what happened Wednesday night.
This is the kind of match up that I love. One one hand, we have the Yankees. Their pitching isn't bad, and their fielding is decent (essentially average). But they have a terrific offense, putting up the best numbers in baseball this season. They go up against a team that's sort of the opposite: the Twins have a good, above-average offense, but it's not on the level of the Yankees'. But they're a good fielding club, and their pitching has been very good. The result are two teams with extremely similar performances, with perhaps a slight edge to the Yankees because their schedule was a bit tougher.
Can good pitching and defense beat good hitting? Sometimes, yes. But sometimes, the Yankees win the first two games of the series.
This is another interesting one. Both teams played against difficult schedules. And they are both defense-oriented teams. But they do it in different ways. The Braves have a slight advantage in eERA--theirs is the best in the league--which amounts to about a 46 run advantage over a full season. The Giants, on the other hand, have good pitching but are a fantastic fielding team, with the second best fielding rating in baseball behind only the Athletics. It is, essentially, a wash. The reason the Braves come out ahead is their offense; itranks a bit above average while the Giants' ranks a bit below average. The difference of 10 points of wOBA amounts to an estimated 56 runs over the course of the season, which has us ballparking the Braves as a 95 win team and the Giants as "just" an 89 win team.
So the Braves look better, at least at the level of 2010 regular season performance. I like the Giants in this series, however. I see their top three starters as being a tad better than the Braves', and they have a lot of bats on the team now that didn't spend the first half playing in San Francisco. Perhaps more importantly, the Braves have been sort of gutted by injuries: losing Prado and Jones really hurts this lineup.
At least as far as the power rankings go, however, the two teams ended within 3-4 wins of their projected marks, which is within the realm of expected variance around an estimate like this. But the Braves ended below their mark, while the Giants ended above their mark, which might have folks scratching their heads when they see the Braves listed as a better team. It could be that the component stats are missing a bit on these teams. Or, it could just be that one team overperformed while the other team underperformed. Or both. I don't think we can really know which it is with any real certainty.