“Pitching Wins Championships” – Finally Putting this Myth to Bed

By this point in the 2010 MLB season, we are all aware that “Pitching Wins Championships,” “Experienced Teams have the Edge,” and “The Hot Teams always Prevail.” These baseball sayings have been beaten into our head all season long, but are they really true? Follow me as we dive into a little “Fact vs. Fiction” for this year’s MLB Playoffs. And maybe…just maybe, after it’s all said and done, we will have a better idea of who will be World Series Champs this year.

Pitching Wins Championships

This is a baseball saying that we are all comfortable with. We throw it around willy-nilly at the water cooler, on the softball field, and from the bleachers behind home plate. But it’s been a while since this phrase has been examined. Does it still hold water? Do teams with superior pitching generally make the playoffs or win the World Series?

Best Pitching Staffs of 2010

Eight teams make the postseason each year, Four from the NL and Four from the AL. In order to win a championship, you have to make the playoffs first right? Ranked in order of Team ERA, here are the rankings of the pitching staffs of the 2010 Playoff Teams

Staff ERA of Playoff Teams

Team

MLB Rank ERA
San Francisco Giants 1 3.36
Atlanta Braves 3 3.56
Philadelphia Phillies 6 3.67
Tampa Bay Rays 8 3.78
Texas Rangers 10 3.93
Minnesota Twins 11 3.95
Cincinnati Reds 12 4.01
NY Yankees 15

4.06

So what does this tell us? It tells us that pitching sure is important because no playoff team is in the bottom half of the league’s rankings in terms of Team ERA, but it also tells us that pitching is not everything because there are 6 teams watching the playoffs from their couch who had better Team ERA’s than the Yankees.

Best Offensive Clubs of 2010

Ok, so maybe it’s not pitching, maybe it’s run production that defines a championship worthy team. Lets take a look at how the eight playoff teams ranked in terms of total runs on the season.

Total Runs on Season of Playoff Teams

Team MLB Rank Runs
NY Yankees 1 859
Tampa Bay Rays 3 802
Cincinnati Reds 4 790
Texas Rangers 5 787
Minnesota Twins 6 781
Philadelphia Phillies 7 772
Atlanta Braves 13 738
San Francisco Giants 17 697

 

So what does this tell us? I think this tells us a little more than the pitching stats did. The pitching stats were all over the place, but the bulk of the teams seemed to be in the 8-12th place range. In terms of batting stats, 6/8 teams ranked in the top 7 spots in terms of offensive production. Basically, if you could keep runs crossing the plate, you were in better shape than those who stopped runs from crossing the plate.

How did this shape up last year (2009)?

Let’s take the World Series Champion Yankees and the runner up Phillies from last year. During the 2009 regular season, the Phillies pitching was 8th in the league – not too bad. The Yankees staff was ranked 12th. I know there is some skewing because of AL/NL styles of play, but we will sort all that out later on.

On offense, the Yankees and Phillies were ranked 1st and 4th in run production. See a trend?

Maybe Last Year was an Anomaly, what about 2006-2008?

2008 featured the Rays and the Phillies, with the Phils coming out as the victor. In terms of pitching, the Rays and Phillies were ranked 3rd and 6th respectively. Offensively, they were ranked 13th and 9th respectively. This is a little more normal – right?

2007 had the Red Sox and Rockies squaring off. Boston and Colorado had the 4th and 5th ranked offenses in the league and the 2nd and 14th ranked pitching staffs.

To round out the last 5 years, 2006 featured the Tigers and the Cardinals. Offensively ranked 8th and 14th, with their pitching staffs ranked 1st and 16th.

Overall Pitching vs. Offense Comparison

Over the last 5 years (2006-2010), we have compiled the regular season offensive and pitching rankings for each of the champions and runners up. In the case of 2010, we used each of the 4 remaining teams to calculate our stats. How did it shape up?

Offense

Offensive Ranking by Year*

Year Rank
2006 11
2007 4.5
2008 11
2009 2.5
2010 7.5
Average 7.3

Pitching

Pitching Staff Ranking By Year*

Year Rank
2006 8.5
2007 8
2008 4.5
2009 10
2010 8
Average 7.8

*Of World Series Finalists (or in the case of 2010, Remaining Participants)

In the last five years, only once have the World Series participants combined to have a top 5 pitching staff. In fact, that was the only time they broke the top 8. By contrast, twice in the past 5 years the World Series participants have combined to make a top 5 offensive team and three times have they been ranked in the top 8. The trend is shifting towards the offense – there’s no doubt about it.

Pitching gets you far, but not as far as teams who can slug. If the trend continues, look for the Yanks and Phils to meet again in the Fall Classic.

*Editor’s Note: Yes I know the Yankees and Phillies are down pretty big in their respective series, but I don’t think it downplays the shifting trend towards stronger offensive teams prevailing over stronger pitching staffs.

About Aaron Garcia

Aaron is an avid sports fan who passionately follows the NFL, NBA and MLB, in addition to NCAA Sports. He is an Arizona State University grad who loves the Dodgers and the Patriots.

2 comments

  1. Pitching always wins! But the run to the play offs, the “play offs” and World Series need their own catagory. In my opinion September is when these stats matter. 1985 had Saberhagen and Tim Gubizau. The 1986 red sox won 25 games in August behind the Rocket, Oil Can Boyd, and Bruce Hirsh. (It’s the ground ball to 1st base that always gets you. Ask Buckner or Huff last night!) The Dodgers of 1988 had the
    pitching of Orel and rookie Tim Belcher come alive in September and surely you recall the “bloody sock” of 04. For this old guy, pitching in “September” always wins.

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