Win 11 games. That's how a team wins a World Series. Make it 12 if you're a wild card team. There are some other conditions too, but none really sums up the 'how' of winning a World Series. That type of advice is analogous to 'win the most games in your division' when asked 'how do you make the postseason?' Or 'build a set in a basement' when asked 'how do you get to the moon?'
When someone asks you 'how do you make the postseason?', 'score the most runs' is an appropriate answer now. It's actually a pretty revolutionary idea and a much simpler goal -- in theory -- than 'win the most games.' It at least presents the baseball season as goal-oriented. Over the past four seasons, the team that scored the most runs in their division won their division 12 out of 24 times. Kind of underwhelming odds actually.
However, in context, the Colorado Rockies have scored the most runs in the NL West the past four seasons because of their hitter-friendly ballpark. Their playoff prospects have not been good. The 2011 Diamondbacks finished with only four fewer runs. There are definitely some anomalies, but context can explain most of them. For instance, the 2011 New York Mets scored five more runs than the 102-win Phillies but finished fourth in the NL East. However, upon further inspection, both teams finished sixth and seventh in the National League in runs scored. That is to say, neither team was an offensive powerhouse. Furthermore, if a team scores the most runs and doesn't win the division, they can still make the postseason via the wild card, like the Pirates did last season.
I digress. How does a team win the World Series though? Usually 'it's a crapshoot' gets thrown around; they are the 'Anything-Can-Happen-Offs'. After a very long and grueling season that nearly guarantees only the best teams will get to play in October, what adjustments can teams make to increase their chances for the Fall Classic? Let's take a look at some postseason numbers starting with a blind comparison.
|Stat||Team 1||Team 2|
As you can see, team 2 is noticeably better at getting on base and "hitting it where they ain't" while not being any measurable amount better at slugging the ball. I have deceived you; both teams are the Kansas City Royals. Team 1 is their regular season numbers, while Team 2 is their ALCS numbers. Let's see how they beat the Orioles, keeping in mind we are working with very, very small sample sizes.
Wow. The Orioles were dominated by those numbers. Let's take a quick look at the Orioles ALCS numbers against the Orioles regular season numbers.
So, the difference between the Orioles on-base percentage is -.022 while the difference between the Royals on-base percentage is +.038. Based on this, one could guess that the Royals offense was a more pivotal factor than the Royals pitching. That is to say, that the Royals increased their OBP by more than the Orioles decreased it could be telling us something. However, while the Royals' slugging percentage didn't change meaningfully, the Orioles' slugging disappeared, dropping by an astounding .123. Therefore, it appears the Royals' ability to prevent extra bases from the Orioles seems also to have played a pivotal role.
Let's take a look at the 2014 NLCS now.
Despite being out-slugged by .068, the Giants still won that series. It appears the 30 points in OBP and the 40 points in BABIP were more important. This is in quite a bit of contrast from the ALCS.
I should be candid now. I had a theory coming into this article that BABIP would be the deciding factor in most series. However, finding the BABIP of postseason teams has proved more difficult than I thought. In fact, the above BABIP numbers are calculated by yours truly; so, if there's an error, it is my own. Over this extremely small sample size, it appears my theory is somewhat validated. It really shouldn't come as a surprise though. The team that seems to out-crapshoot the postseason crapshoot tends to succeed more at BABIP. Whether that is in a team's preparation of facing a specific team (studying opposing spray charts, working on specifically beating one team's shift alignments, etc.) or getting "hot" or just plain old luck at the right time of the year is still open for discussion. It wouldn't be fair to take a look at the 2014 World Series numbers though.
|Stat||Team 1||Team 2|
Team 1 handily beat Team 2 in BABIP and OBP while barely getting out-slugged. As I'm sure you can guess, Team 1 won the World Series and Team 2 is the Kansas City Royals.
Let's take a brief look at previous years with a couple caveats. First, a reminder that these numbers are calculated by me because postseason BABIP is actually surprisingly difficult to find. Therefore, any errors are my own. Second, I pulled the stats from ESPN.com which apparently doesn't keep postseason statistics beyond 2008.
|2013||Boston Red Sox||.282|
|2013||St. Louis Cardinals||.276|
|2012||San Francisco Giants||.322|
|2011||St. Louis Cardinals||.274|
|2010||San Francisco Giants||.294|
|2009||New York Yankees||.316|
Only one team in the past six seasons has had a better BABIP but lost the World Series. Maybe 2011 is just an anomaly. After all, the series did go seven games, and the Cardinals had a run differential of only +8 despite scoring 16 runs in game three. Not to mention the Rangers were one strike away from winning the whole thing not once but twice.
However, it could also be indicating something completely different. The BABIPs are close (separated by only .016), but 2013 is even closer. What 2011 indicates though is anyone's guess. Pray to the BABIP dragons with more vigour than the 2011 Rangers? Don't let your opponents come back to tie a game in the ninth inning? And when they do, definitely don't let them tie it again in the 10th inning?
While none of this is hard analysis, I would bank on the victor of October (which could actually go into November this year) succeeding in BABIP. Or maybe making the other team fail at BABIP. Either one of those...Whatever that means.
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Michael Bradburn is a Featured Writer for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @mwbii or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.