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League Championship Series predictions

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Predicting the LCS teams, pitching match-ups, and outcomes.

Will Justin Verlander be pitching in the World Series?
Will Justin Verlander be pitching in the World Series?
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

My last post discussed my thoughts on what teams would make the playoffs and win the Divisional Series in each league -- for the American League I predicted underdogs Detroit and Oakland, and in the NL the easier-to-pick LA Dodgers and Washington. There's a linked Google Docs spreadsheet in that post that also shows my best guess for who the starting pitchers will be for the rest of the season for all teams in playoff contention.

This post discusses the Championship Series for each league, and I've added another twist. In addition to showing the pitching match-ups, I also ran simulations using former BtBS contributor Matt Hunter's SaberSim. Beginning with the AL, this is my best guess for the pitching match-ups in a Tigers-Athletics ALCS:

Date Tm Pitcher Tm Pitcher
Friday, Oct 10 A's Sonny Gray @ Tigers David Price
Saturday, Oct 11 A's Jon Lester @ Tigers Max Scherzer
Monday, Oct 13 A's Jeff Samardzija Tigers Rick Porcello
Tuesday, Oct 14 A's Scott Kazmir Tigers Justin Verlander
Wednesday, Oct 15 A's Sonny Gray Tigers David Price
Friday, Oct 17 A's Jon Lester @ Tigers Max Scherzer
Saturday, Oct 18 A's Jeff Samardzija @ Tigers Rick Porcello

This is a fine-looking series from a pitching match-up basis and shows how the July trades Billy Beane made completely shook up the A's starting rotation. Add to that a solid first full season from Sonny Gray and a stunning re-emergence from Scott Kazmir, and it's a rotation to be reckoned with. They may not be the 1971 Orioles, and while the A's have gone 29-34 since acquiring Jeff Samardzija (through Tuesday), pitching is still pitching. One brief comment -- I highly doubt that Sonny Gray will be the starter in the first game if the A's can do anything about it.

Contrast them with the Tigers, the team whose pitchers can match up with the A's almost man-to-man, and this doesn't even take Anibal Sanchez into account. The Wall Street Journal opined in August (prior to Sanchez' injury) that Verlander might not even be a starter in the postseason. This no longer appears likely.

I used Matt Hunter's SaberSim to see how these pitching match-ups might turn out. There are caveats galore in using this, mainly that I would prefer to use actual in-season performance versus a set of projections, but anything is better than nothing. I chose to run five sets of 1,000 games, taking game location into account. Here are the surprising results:

Date Team SP 1 2 3 4 5 Team SP 1 2 3 4 5
Fri, Oct 10 OAK Gray 568 560 561 533 570 @ DET Price 432 440 439 467 430
Sat, Oct 11 OAK Lester 500 520 536 494 524 @ DET Scherzer 500 480 464 506 476
Mon, Oct 13 OAK Samardzija 594 584 602 574 595 DET Porcello 406 416 398 426 405
Tue, Oct 14 OAK Kazmir 496 530 516 524 529 DET Verlander 504 470 484 476 471
Wed, Oct 15 OAK Gray 529 588 559 563 546 DET Price 471 412 441 437 454
Fri, Oct 17 OAK Lester 527 527 506 531 514 @ DET Scherzer 473 473 494 469 486
Sat, Oct 18 OAK Samardzija 598 567 593 573 597 @ DET Porcello 402 433 407 427 403

In all cases, 2014 ZiPS Projections were used

In seven games and five sets of projections, 35 total, a grand total of two had the Tigers winning a game, let alone the series. I find this nothing less than stunning, since I consider the staffs to be almost equal. I will give the Oakland offense the slight advantage over the Tigers, recent performance notwithstanding, but not enough to explain these lopsided results.

These are the projections -- in my mind, it's a seven-game series, and I'll go with the Tigers, taking their home field advantage and postseason experience into account. If this series actually occurs, it should be outstanding baseball.

The National League looks like this:

Date Tm Pitcher Tm Pitcher
Sat, Oct 11 Dodgers Clayton Kershaw @ Nationals Stephen Strasburg
Sun, Oct 12 Dodgers Dan Haren @ Nationals Tanner Roark
Tue, Oct 14 Dodgers Hyun-jin Ryu
Nationals Doug Fister
Wed, Oct 15 Dodgers Zack Greinke Nationals Jordan Zimmermann
Thu, Oct 16 Dodgers Clayton Kershaw Nationals Stephen Strasburg
Sat, Oct 18 Dodgers Dan Haren @ Nationals Tanner Roark
Sun, Oct 19 Dodgers Hyun-jin Ryu
@ Nationals Doug Fister

The Nationals will be the home team, but I have a hard time picking against the Dodgers. They have the best pitcher in the game in Clayton Kershaw, a deeper starting rotation and a very potent offense. This is how SaberSim sees these match-ups:

Date Team SP 1 2 3 4 5 Team SP 1 2 3 4 5
Sat, Oct 11 LAD Kershaw 504 473 479 512 503 @ WAS Strasburg 496 527 521 488 497
Sun, Oct 12 LAD Haren 511 534 509 535 517 @ WAS Roark 489 446 491 465 483
Tue, Oct 14 LAD Ryu 523 477 450 482 473 WAS Fister 477 523 550 518 527
Wed, Oct 15 LAD Greinke 529 540 512 535 527 WAS Zimmermann 471 460 488 465 473
Thu, Oct 16 LAD Kershaw 532 523 544 531 584 WAS Strasburg 468 477 456 469 416
Sat, Oct 18 LAD Haren 511 534 509 535 517 @ WAS Roark 489 446 491 465 483
Sun, Oct 19 LAD Ryu 414 425 384 400 387 @ WAS Fister 586 575 616 600 613

While not as stark a difference as in the ALCS, SaberSim clearly prefers the Dodgers. I'm not seeing the Haren-Roark match-ups as clearly favoring Dan Haren like SaberSim does, but that's nit-picking. Similar to my thinking on the Tigers, the Dodgers pitching and playoff experience should be enough to win, although I again see this as a seven-game series.

I will be absolutely shocked if these scenarios play out, since any combination of playoff defeat or finishing series early would render the match-ups moot. In addition, games rarely ever play out the way they should -- in 2012, the Tigers swept the Yankees 4-0 in the ALCS whereas it took the Giants seven games to defeat the Cardinals in the NLCS. All the chatter centered on the "advantage" the Tigers would have in setting their rotation, resting their players and meet the Giants fresh. Other than being swept swept 4-0 in the World Series, it turned out well for them.

A Tigers-Dodgers World Series would feature outstanding pitching and a match-up we haven't seen before. Due to the All-Star Game, the Tigers would be the home team, and I wrote some time back on how the home team is favored in recent World Series history. I'll discuss this potential match-up next Monday.

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All simulations from Matt Hunter's SaberSim. Any mistakes in running the simulations are the author's.

Scott Lindholm lives in Davenport, IA. Follow him on Twitter @ScottLindholm.