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happy new year ev'yone. good responses to the weekend discussion thread, partic vis-vis the issue of playoff pitching. Dagniel posed this question: "Should it really have been (and should it continue to be) jocketty's first priority to bring in a power pitcher for the number two slot in the rotation? is that really the difference between winning a championship and not winning a championship for this team? it seems to me that recently it has become commonly excepted here at veb that the power pitcher is necessary, but why?"

Zubin shared the skepticism: "For every Roy Oswalt or Curt Schilling there is a Woody Williams or Jeff Suppan (guys who manage to 'up' their performance come October)." and MRCARD asked rhetorically: "If the answer to why we didn't win the world series the past two years is `dominant pitching,' then why didn't Houston win last year? How could anyone say that imperically, Chisox pitching (especially their top 3) was better than Houston's (overall) in 2005? . . . . We've had two utter hitting collapses in the playoffs the last two years. Our pitching HAS been good enough to win (mostly). Our hitting has not."

Dagniel again: "i have the sneaking suspicion that lboros (or others) has seen some data to support his theory about the power pitcher in the playoffs, but if not i feel like we should question it, especially with the market for starting pitchers the way it is."

and the truth is, i had no data; my jones for a power pitcher is sheer prejudice. i think a pitcher who lives on the corners lives very dangerously come october; the hitters are too disciplined to chase stuff that's a couple inches off the plate, and too talented to miss stuff that's a couple of inches over the plate. give me a hard thrower who doesn't have to thread the needle on every pitch, who can be the aggressor and force hitters into a defensive approach. Valatan put it this way in the weekend discussion: "A good fastball/slider pitcher is the one thing that cannot be countered by anything else--if you have a guy who is on, like Oswalt in that game 6, or RJ/Schilling in 2001, or Pedro that one time he came out in relief against the indians and threw 7 shutout innings, then noone can screw it up, not clever at-bats, not stupid umps, not goofy stadiums."

but is there any evidence to support the notion that power pitching actually confers an october advantage? would adding a power pitcher increase the cards' likelihood of postseason success?

i put the question to the test, constructing a little empirical study modeled on the one that bill james described in one of the baseball abstracts (i think it was the 1984 edition).

i gathered data on the last 10 years' worth of postseason teams -- 80 teams in all -- and looked at each team's regular-season performance in the following pitching categories:

  • wins
  • era
  • strikeouts per 9 innings (k/9)
  • hits per 9 innings (h/9)
  • walks per 9 innings (w/9)
  • hr allowed (hr)
  • groundout-flyout ratio (g/f)
for each postseason series, i matched the participants head to head on all 7 criteria and asked: which team had a better regular-season performance -- the team that won the series, or the team that lost? just to take an example, here's a quick look at the stl-sd matchup in last year's nlds:
stl sd team w adv won/lost series
wins 100 82 stl won
era 3.49 4.48 stl won
k/9 6.1 7.0 sd lost
h/9 8.6 9.0 stl won
w/9 2.7 3.1 stl won
hr allowed 153 146 sd lost
g/f ratio 1.72 1.12 stl won

i excluded world series matchups from this study because the designated hitter causes al teams and nl teams to profile differently, making head-to-head comparisons problematic. eliminating those 10 series from the study left me with 60 playoff series. i tallied up the wins and losses for each category and found the following:

series won series lost win pct
the team that allowed fewer h/9 39 17 .696
the team that had more k/9 37 23 .617
the team that allowed fewer hr 35 24 .593
the team with the lower era 35 25 .583
the team that gave up fewer w/9 31 25 .554
the team with more wins 27 31 .466
the team with the higher g/f ratio 14 28 .333

based on this chart, the single most important advantage a team can have over a postseason foe is a lower regular-season h/9 rate. that's a power-pitching stat. check out the league leaders in fewest h/9 from 2005:

national american
clemens 6.4 santana 7.0
pedro 6.6 zito 7.3
zambrano 6.9 contreras 7.8
peavy 7.2 blanton 8.0
carpenter 7.6 big unit 8.3

another power-pitching stat, k/9, ranks as the second most important advantage for a postseason team. over the last 10 years, teams that excel in these two categories have won more often than teams that excel in any other pitching category.

now, this is a very modest study and i don't want to oversell any conclusions based upon it. but it's got to mean something that high-strikeout teams have won playoff series more reliably than low-era teams. it also strongly suggests that the cards do indeed need another power pitcher; their current guys give up so many hits and strike out so few batters that st louis will almost never hold the head-to-head edge in either of these crucial categories against any postseason foe. that doesn't mean they can't win; it just means it's less likely. if you're playing the percentages, you have to bet on the cardinals' opponent.

the cards do have one starter -- carpenter -- with excellent h/9 and k/9 rates. but see how the rest of the rotation fares:

05 k/9 car. k/9 05 h/9 car. h/9 car. avg
marquis 4.3 5.7 9.0 9.1 .265
mulder 4.9 5.8 9.3 9.0 .262
suppan 5.3 5.1 9.5 9.8 .278

no pennant-winning team of the last decade has had a pitching staff so heavily skewed toward put-it-in-play pitching. even last year's white sox, who were not a particularly dominant power-pitching team, had three of four playoff starters with k/9 rates above 5.7 (and in the american league that ain't hay). for that matter, three of the cards' four playoff starters in pennant-winning 2004 were at 5.8 k/9 or above; if carpenter had been healthy, all four cardinal starters would have been at 5.8 or above in 2004.

jocketty's search this winter for rotation help has been focused on exactly the type of starting pitcher -- high k/9, low h/9 -- that profiles well for october. check out the lines of the hurlers he has pursued (or has been rumored to have pursued) this offseason:

05 k/9 car. k/9 05 h/9 car. h/9 car. avg
burnett 8.5 7.9 7.9 7.6 .230
contreras 6.8 7.6 7.8 8.0 .236
zito 6.7 7.0 7.3 7.6 .228
vazquez 8.0 7.8 9.3 9.1 .260

a second power pitcher alone won't guarantee the cards' postseason success in 2006 (indeed, it might be a good idea to play the regular season first, and then worry about the playoffs). but it's also not true that for ev'y schilling or johnson, there's a suppan or marquis. the successful suppan/marquis types are far more exception than rule in october; you can't count on upsets forever.