Potential Clues to Post Season Success
In discussing how little the regular season matters in the playoffs, Ron Gardenhire said that the post-season is determined by which team gets hot. It is a simplistic but quite accurate formula if you look at recent playoff runs by various teams. How hot were they going into the post-season?
Certainly there are other consistent factors in determining playoff success? One factor that most analysts assess is the strength of the pitching staff and in particular the top pitchers who will get the bulk of the post-season action. But “who’s hot” makes a compelling case.
So which team comes into the 2012 playoffs on a roll? That variable should be and is a pretty strong indicator of post-season success.
Last season in the American League the Detroit Tigers had a record of 20-6 in September, the Yankees 16-12, Tampa Bay 17-10 and Texas was 19-6. True to form, the Tigers and the Rangers prevailed in the ALDS and met in the ALCS where the Rangers won it by a 4-2 margin.
In the National League a similar assessment shows that the Phillies had a 16-14 record in September, the Brewers 15-10, the Diamondbacks 16-9, and the Cardinals were 18-8. The Cardinals were the hottest team going into the post-season and they showed it by beating the Brewers. But the Brewers had limped into the post season and yet they prevailed against the Diamondbacks who were playing good baseball in September.
Not to take a single year, the 2010 season shows that Tampa Bay had a 15-15 record in the last month, Minneosta 18-12, Texas 16-14, and the Yankees were 13-17. There was no team that had a “hot” September, but the Twins should have prevailed in the playoffs according to the “Hot Team” thesis. They failed to win a game against the Yankees and the Rangers beat Tampa and New York to advance to the World Series.
In the National League in 2010 the Phillies were an amazing 23-7 over the final month of the season. The San Francisco Giants were also hot winning 19 and losing 10 in the final month. Neither the Reds nor Braves played well in September. The hot team analysis holds extremely well as both the Phillies and Giants prevailed. But the Giants won both the NLCS and the World Series, whereas the Phillies were the predictive favorite.
So while there does seem some predictive value in the play of a team approaching the playoffs, it is not fool proof. It is not impossible for a team to be flat in September and bounce back and win in the post-season, but it is difficult. And the hottest team in September is no guarantee not to meet a team that is even hotter for the month of October. That is the month that counts after all.
Last season in a Seamheads Podcast, Mark Patrick and Phil Van Horne opined that the age of the Yankees worked against them in the playoffs. They asserted that the wear and tear of the long season takes more out of a veteran team than a younger one in the post-season. So one might expect the team with the greatest average age to be susceptible to this concern.
In 2011 the Cardinals were the oldest team in the National League playoffs and ended up winning the whole thing. In the American League the Yankees were indeed the oldest team and it was not even close. Their average age was 30.8 years, almost two full years more than the rest of the contenders. It seems like no consistent analysis exists for age, although at some point it may tip the scales when a veteran team is a little too experienced.
Looking to 2012, the teams that are hottest coming down the stretch are the San Francisco and Atlanta in the National League. In the AL the Yankees, Athletics and Orioles are all 20-11 for the last month of the season–September and October. Not surprisingly, the Yankees are the only team where age is a factor again. They are even older with an average age of 31.5 in 2012.
Using these two variables–admittedly eccentric ones to say the least–the Orioles should prevail in the Wild Card and face the Yankees in the ALDS. Oakland should beat Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander to face the Orioles for the AL Championship. The irony of such a match-up is worth the idea and I will be pulling for them since they were both fighting for the cellar in all pre-season polls of the two leagues.
I would put my money on the Orioles in a contest against Oakland, but if age has anything to say about it, the Athletics are the hungrier and more energetic team by far. San Francisco and Atlanta should win in the NL and in the Championship it is a toss-up.
Of course I am hoping that Ron Gardenhire is just blowing smoke. The Nationals have a respectable 18-13 record for the last month of the season and have a fine combination of experience and youth. I will take bets that they run the table. But the recent trends suggest they face an uphill battle to do so. And of course there is “Mr. What-if.” That is the “X” factor. How motivated will Washington be not to have to read all the second-guessing for the next four months. That is a powerful motivator.
Whatever the odds are, it is time to start your engines. Tee it up, baby. Let’s play five!!