The storylines for the 2017 World Series haven’t come to the forefront quite yet. We don’t know whose parents played for the other team, who grew up in the other city, who was traded from the other team back when they were a prospect.
From a pure baseball perspective, the Astros and Dodgers clash so nicely. The Astros have a historically great offense; the Dodgers’ pitching remains some of the league’s best. They carried themselves to and through the playoffs on completely different paths, but here they are, both in the World Series.
As a team, the Astros went on to post a 121 wRC+ this season, ranking 1st in the Major Leagues by a 13-point margin. As a team, the Astros’ were 21 percent better than the league average hitter at creating runs, and this stat is even adjusted for playing in both a hitter-friendly park and the American League, which tends to be higher scoring league when compared to the Senior Circuit.
The Dodgers were nearly the anti-Astros. Their stellar pitching is what carried them to the World Series; as a team, their ERA- was 82, meaning that their collective ERA was 18 points below the league-average, ranking third in baseball. Across the board, only the Indians had a better staff than Los Angeles, and the disparity between the two teams was negligible at best.
This, of course, already sets us up for an epic World Series. (Let’s be honest, we get a pretty good World Series seemingly every single year. That’s been amazing.)
The two teams, though, regardless of their strengths and weaknesses, represent a win in another field: sabermetrics.
This year's World Series pits the team with the largest analytics department (LAD) against the team most aggressive in using analytics (HOU)— keithlaw (@keithlaw) October 22, 2017
It’s no secret that the Astros love sabermetrics. Ever since Jeff Luhnow took the helm as general manager in 2011, the team has implemented some amazing techniques to get them to where they are today. Houston seemingly “tanked” in order to gain the advantages that poor teams have — high draft picks and high waiver priority — and many of the young players currently on their roster can be traced back to that tanking.
Luhnow established one of the most comprehensive analytics departments in the game after becoming the general manager. He hired a director of decision sciences, Sig Mejdal, from NASA, and a PITCHF/x expert and former engineer, Mike Fast, among others. Luhnow began on-the-field shifting before any other team, and Sports Illustrated loved the Astros’ plan so much that they called them the 2017 World Series Champions back in 2014. (If ultimately true, that would become a prediction of a lifetime.)
Then, there are the Dodgers, who, as Law says, have the largest department in the game. On the Front Office page of the team’s website, there are 48 people listed under “Baseball Operations” that all work in a variety of roles. Thirteen of them have “analyst” as part of their job title; another eight have “research” in their title. This makes teams like the crosstown Angels—who list just eight executives, period without a single analyst—look like they are falling way behind.
The Dodgers’ jumped into the waters of sabermetrics when they hired Andrew Friedman to lead their baseball operations department in 2014. The team has consistently had gigantic payrolls in the years since, but the postseason success has been scant. Under Friedman’s leadership, the Dodgers have made the postseason every season, but they fell in the NLDS in 2015 and the NLCS in 2016.
For Friedman, this is his second World Series appearance; he took the low-budget Tampa Bay Rays to the Fall Classic in 2008 and was named the Major League Executive of the Year by Sporting News as a result.
Immediately after Law tweeted his original tweet, he received an amusing response from @JeffBillings15:
Oh stop it, they also have the best collection of players.— Jeff Billings (@JeffBillings15) October 22, 2017
My guess is that the stress on analytics is what allowed them to acquire the “best collection of players,” Jeff.
So, no matter which team win the World Series this year, it will be well deserved. But, a victory won’t just be a win for the team or the city. It will be a win for sports analytics across all four professional sports, giving concrete proof that numbers can, in fact, win games and win championships.
Devan Fink is a Featured Writer for Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.