« Yankees Bloggers Pre-Playoffs Predictions | Main | Fit To Be Tied - And That Would Be Good »

September 25, 2007

Yanks Contact Skills To Help This Post-Season?

You know that I've always had this thing about teams needing to make contact in October. Well, three years ago, Vinay Kumar did a study that suggested the following:

Interestingly, the only batting category that shows as a strong indicator of post-season success is batters' strikeouts -- the one category that sabermetricians have long called meaningless. I initially didn't consider this alarming, because HR and K are highly negative-correlated; the players who knock a lot of balls over the fences also whiff more than their share of the time. So strikeouts and home runs would have to balance, I thought; once you know how poorly homers show up on the list, it's not additionally surprising that contact hitting shows up so high.

But then I looked at the data, and while strikeouts and home runs are strongly related for individuals, that's not the case for teams; the team with more home runs than its opponent struck out more often only 33/63 times (another way to put this: the correlation between home runs and strikeouts among playoff teams is only .091 -- virtually nothing). So maybe the statheads have been missing something.

Tying this all together, I decided to use the Complete Baseball Encyclopedia to see which teams do (and do not) whiff a lot - compared to thier league average, as of today:

STRIKEOUTS                      DIFF   PLAYER   LEAGUE   
1    Twins                      -199      809     1008   
2    Dodgers                    -177      825     1002   
3    Mariners                   -174      822      996   
4    Angels                     -154      846     1000   
5    Giants                     -136      883     1019   
6    Cardinals                  -125      871      996   
7    Orioles                    -108      906     1014   
8    Yankees                     -66      940     1006   
9    Mets                        -54      949     1003   
10   Astros                      -18     1004     1022   
11   Blue Jays                    -2     1005     1007   
12   Cubs                          3     1005     1002   
T13  Tigers                        7     1024     1017   
T13  Red Sox                       7     1004      997   
15   Royals                       19     1034     1015   
16   A's                          56     1082     1026   
17   Reds                         60     1072     1012   
18   Diamondbacks                 67     1055      988   
19   Nationals                    72     1084     1012   
20   Pirates                      87     1097     1010   
T21  Brewers                      88     1087      999   
T21  Rockies                      88     1092     1004   
23   Braves                       93     1103     1010   
24   White Sox                    95     1110     1015   
25   Phillies                    148     1160     1012   
26   Indians                     149     1151     1002   
27   Padres                      156     1168     1012   
28   Rangers                     168     1185     1017   
29   Marlins                     263     1272     1009   
30   Devil Rays                  267     1276     1009  

Based on the above, it appears that the only 2007 post-season team out there who is better than the Yankees, in terms of making contact, is the Angels. (Although the Mets are close.) Perhaps this "skill" will be an edge for the Yanks this post-season?

Here's where the Yankees ranked, in the AL, for this stat, in the last few years:

2006

STRIKEOUTS                      DIFF   PLAYER   LEAGUE   
T1   Orioles                    -132      878     1010   
T1   Twins                      -132      872     1004   
3    Angels                     -102      914     1016   
4    Blue Jays                   -95      906     1001   
5    Mariners                    -47      974     1021   
6    A's                         -41      976     1017   
7    Royals                       24     1040     1016   
8    Red Sox                      38     1056     1018   
9    White Sox                    40     1056     1016   
10   Yankees                      46     1053     1007   
11   Rangers                      47     1061     1014   
12   Devil Rays                   96     1106     1010   
13   Tigers                      118     1133     1015   
14   Indians                     205     1204      999  

2005

STRIKEOUTS                      DIFF   PLAYER   LEAGUE   
1    A's                        -171      819      990   
2    Angels                     -140      848      988   
3    Orioles                     -75      902      977   
4    Blue Jays                   -26      955      981   
5    Twins                       -18      978      996   
6    Mariners                      6      986      980   
7    White Sox                    14     1002      988   
T8   Devil Rays                   18      990      972   
T8   Yankees                      18      989      971   
10   Royals                       30     1008      978   
11   Tigers                       56     1038      982   
12   Red Sox                      78     1044      966   
13   Indians                     112     1093      981   
14   Rangers                     125     1112      987  

2004

STRIKEOUTS                      DIFF   PLAYER   LEAGUE   
1    Orioles                     -93      949     1042   
2    Angels                      -86      942     1028   
3    Devil Rays                  -75      944     1019   
4    Twins                       -59      982     1041   
5    Yankees                     -42      982     1024   
6    Indians                     -34     1009     1043   
7    Mariners                      4     1058     1054   
8    White Sox                     5     1030     1025   
9    A's                          14     1061     1047   
10   Royals                       23     1057     1034   
11   Blue Jays                    58     1083     1025   
12   Rangers                      73     1099     1026   
13   Tigers                      114     1144     1030   
14   Red Sox                     163     1189     1026  

The Yankees contact "skill" (as a team) this year looks to be the best that they've had since 2004. By the way, why didn't it help them in 2004?

Clearly, in addition to making contact, you need to have some pitching too - if you want to win in October.

Posted by Steve Lombardi at September 25, 2007 12:06 PM

Comments

I'm skeptical.

What good is comparing full season stats when the playoff rosters (and usage) will be different? Why should Josh Phelps or Miguel Cairo's early season at bats be an indicator of post-season performance?

The team that pitches best and holds leads will most likely prove to be the winner.

Posted by: RICH [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 25, 2007 02:07 PM

Fair point Rich.
I wondered about that too, privately – meaning, if Giambi whiffs a lot, and his numbers impact the team totals, if Torre doesn’t play him in October, then the Yankees “skill” in the LDS, LCS, etc., would be better than during the regular season.

Posted by: Steve Lombardi [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 25, 2007 03:28 PM

offtopic: there has to be someone better than igawa to replace clemens...wheres desalvo, clippard, wright at?

Posted by: Corey [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 25, 2007 03:43 PM

The big question, though, is WHY? Why do certain things become more valuable in the playoffs? What changes? Here's what I come up with...

Better starting pitching -- not only the better rotations, but the better parts of the rotations

Better fielding -- this would seem to make contact less valuable, though.

Better hitting -- strikeout pitchers more valuable?

Closer games (I assume) -- great relievers will have more opportunities to protect leads, key stolen bases are more important, and highly-variable/big output events (3-run HRs) are less efficient.

Fewer games -- you don't rest your best hitters and your top relievers.

Do any of those explain anything? Any others?

Posted by: Sky [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 25, 2007 04:01 PM

Good points Sky.

Well, if you believe that luck comes into play in a best of 5 or 7, then, having the ball bounce, or drop in, allows for luck to happen - lucky bounces, etc. Whereas, with the whiff, outside of a Mickey Owens, it's hard to get lucky.

Posted by: Steve Lombardi [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 25, 2007 04:17 PM