Can this team win in October?

By these measures, the Yankees come away looking like the most balanced team in the American League, with the Rangers making a strong case as well. And contrary to popular belief, it’s actually Boston who could desperately use some pitching help, as their rotation is a bona fide disaster right now.

But of course these numbers include 5th starters and spot starters who aren’t likely to be making starts in the playoffs, and the postseason is as much about individual matchups as overall rotation strength. So let’s look at each team on the level of the four individuals most likely to comprise their playoff rotations. The list of players I’m assuming comprise this list as of now are as follows:

Yankees: C.C. Sabathia, Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, A.J. Burnett

Red Sox: Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Alfredo Aceves

Tigers: Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, Brad Penny

Angels: Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Ervin Santana, Joel Pineiro

Indians: Justin Masterson, Josh Tomlin, Carlos Carrasco, Fausto Carmona

Rangers: C.J. Wilson, Alexi Ogando, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland

For this exercise, we’ll just use each starter’s FIP so far:

Again, the Yankees stack up pretty darn well in each matchup, and look even better when you consider the possibility of Sabathia starting on 3 days rest, thereby maximizing the number of starts he can make. The Angels would have the clear advantage by this standard, but they’re currently on the outside looking in and probably don’t have the bats to catch Texas in the West. The Red Sox again come out looking like they’re in a precarious position, with the worst third starter by far and a less than stellar fourth starter as well, considering that it’s Aceves. Boston could decide to give that start to Tim Wakefield, but he’s currently rocking a 5.08 FIP.

Of course, the real worry for the Yankees is that Colon and Garcia can’t hold up that long and that you can’t count on Burnett not to suck when his number’s called. And those are fair concerns, there’s just not really anything you do about them. If the Yankees can get an upgrade to the rotation at a reasonable price that would be great, but ovepaying for someone because you worry the clock might strike midnight too soon isn’t a wise way of doing business. Not to be too hokey, but sometimes you just have to roll the dice and hope the baseball gods smile upon you.

Thankfully the Yankees match up quite well against the other teams in the American League, so they’re as good a bet as anyone else to win the World Series right now.

About Brien Jackson

Born in Southwestern Ohio and currently residing on the Chesapeake Bay, Brien is a former editor-in-chief of IIATMS who now spends most of his time sitting on his deck watching his tomatoes ripen and consuming far more MLB Network programming than is safe for one's health or sanity.

15 thoughts on “Can this team win in October?

  1. Hi Brien,

    I love reading the posts you guys put up, just wish I knew about this site years ago, instead of a few months ago.

    Not sure if you get this request often – as I usually skip over most comments, but do you have a legend for all of the statistic categories you reference? Im sure it would help me understand a little better some of the conversation.

    Thanks a lot and keep up the awesome blog!

    •… If you put your cursor over the categories at the top, click away to whatever you're looking for. Great section of the site to waste a day at work learning about sabermetrics. Since I have nothing better to do I'll provide a summary of the 3 Brien mentioned:

      Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) measures what a player’s ERA should have looked like over a given time period, assuming that performance on balls in play and timing were league average. … Pitchers have little control over balls in play, so a better way to assess a pitcher’s talent level is by looking at things a pitcher can control: strikeouts, walks, hit by pitches, and homeruns.

      Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) is a regressed version of FIP. It’s calculated exactly the same as FIP, except it replaces a pitcher’s homerun rate with the league-average rate (10.6% HR/FB) since pitcher homerun rates have been shown to be very unstable over time. xFIP has the highest correlation with future ERA of all the pitching metrics.

      Weighted Runs Created (wRC) attempts to quantify a player’s total offensive value and measure it by runs. Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) measures how a player or team's wRC compares with league average. League average is 100 and every point above 100 is a percentage point above league average. For example, a 125 wRC+ means a player or team created 25% more runs than league average.

      • wRC+ is also park adjusted.

        Still, I don't think it's a bad idea, and when I have a few minutes I might create a glossary of the stats we cite frequently to make it easy on people.

        • Thanks a lot both of you – Brien, totally appreciate you taking the time to put something like that together in the future! Keep it up!

  2. I wasted some more time since I was looking for the FIP averages of the top 4 starters for each team Brien provided:
    Angels: 3.31
    Yankees: 3.55
    Rangers: 3.59
    Tigers: 3.84
    Indians: 3.92
    Red Sox: 4.02

  3. Aceves hasn't been in the BoSox rotation since May. I expect, if Buchholz hasn't recovered and they don't make a trade, Andrew Miller probably gets Game 4, with Kyle Wieland and Kevin Millwood as darkhorses.

    Also, Pineiro has been pitching worse and worse over the course of the season and has probably lost his spot to Tyler Chatwood, unless he picks things up dramatically.

    Not that this changes your overall thesis, but worth noting.

    • I didn't know what to do with those two spots. I was going on current rosters, and read that the Sox don't expect Buchholz to come back, so I assumed they'd go with Aceves over Wakefield, but you're probably right. And Pineiro and Chatwood have identical FIP's at the moment, so I just sort of picked one of them.

  4. I just can't back up the "what if Colon and Garcia don't hold up" argument. We've been looking for them to fail for months now and they haven't. Garcia has gotten better, actually.

    Put it this way: If Colon and Garcia were having this kind of season but were on the Rockies instead, I'm damn sure the Yankees would be interested in trading for them. But the team has them already, and it isn't good enough?

    The rotation is excellent. At this point, you have to put some faith in these guys and live and die on their performance.

    • I think it's fair to worry, especially with Colon, who could ultimately just wear out from fatigue at this point. But there's a limit to what you can do about it. You can't just give up something valuable for a 5th starter or 4th playoff starter because you're worried about a contingency that's out of your control. The results are there right now, so you might just have to role with what you have.

  5. It certainly won't be easy. In the postseason, guys like Swisher, Tex, and Gardner aren't the same hitters they are in the regular season.. Doesn't mean they can't still have big postseasons but it's highly unlikely.

    And some of the guys I DO trust (namely Jeter and Arod) aren't getting a younger.

    Put it this way….. the Yankees will have to pitch GREAT (even very good won't cut it) to win the world series… because this lineup won't be consistently scoring 5,6,7 runs a game in October.

  6. I would still say that the Phillies or Giants would have a better shot at winning the WS this year over any AL team. Can we get the same breakdown of the NL teams likely to make the playoffs?

  7. I wonder if it would make a difference to recalculate that chart with the numbers against likely playoff teams.

      • Am sure you are right, Brien. But I have a feeling (especially considering the record v Bosox so far!) that thos stats would be greatly less favourable. And that, I think, is what's on everyone's minds who is (loudly or quietly) hoping for a trade of some kind: we're all imagining Garcia v Bosox in Game 3 of the ALCS, or something simiar, and not wanting to roll those particular dice. Rightly or wrongly.