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Thread: The Postseason Secret Sauce

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    The Postseason Secret Sauce

    A few years ago, Nate Silver introduced the idea of the special ingredients that go into a postseason run. Of course, he wasn’t the first analyst to examine what drives postseason success; however, his analysis was exhaustive, data-driven, and interesting. I won’t belabor Silver’s study on the “Secret Sauce” here; instead, I’d like to focus on the implications of his work and what that means for the Reds’ potential postseason chances. [For the jinx police: please note that I was careful to qualify postseason chances as potential.]

    For those interested in the Secret Sauce, see any of these articles:
    http://www.baseballprospectus.com/ar...articleid=5541
    http://www.baseballprospectus.com/unfiltered/?p=548
    http://nymag.com/guides/fallpreview/2009/sports/58501/

    Silver’s most significant finding was that regular season offense performance is irrelevant to postseason success. Here’s what Silver said about why strong offenses really don’t matter in the postseason:

    The reasons are too complicated to get into here, but have to do with what happens when good offenses face good pitching. Pitching does have some tendency to dominate these match-ups, whether they occur in the regular season or in the playoffs. Because "plus pitching" versus "plus hitting" duels occur more frequently in the post-season, we tend to notice the effects more then.
    This conclusion may be unsettling to some people. . . Offense is half of the game, and to suggest that it doesn’t correlate with postseason winning is preposterous. However, the postseason is littered with great offensive teams that have had limited postseason success. Recent history provides several examples: the 2006/2007 Yankees (the modern-day Murderer’s Row), the 2005 Red Sox, early 2000s A’s, and mid-90’s Indians. Even the 2001 Mariners (927 runs and 116 wins!) failed to reach their postseason expectations. So be prepared to toss aside the Reds’ league leading offense. If the Reds were to traverse the regular season gauntlet (back off, jinx police), the offense would a big reason why they may make the postseason. For purposes of postseason chances, the offense is largely irrelevant. Sad to say.

    Instead, Silver’s research indicates that three run-prevention attributes—the key elements of the postseason “Secret Sauce”—reflect how well a team performs in postseason:

    • A good defense, as measured by Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA).
    • A power pitching staff, as measured by normalized strikeout rate.
    • A good closer, as measured by WXRL.

    Baseball Prospectus tracks these three measures on its stats page. The current results for the Reds paint an overall picture that isn’t pretty: the Reds are 6th, 22st, and 20th respectively in those three categories. Overall, the Reds are 18th in the majors and rank behind the acclaimed Cubs, A’s, Angels, Mets, and Marlins in possessing the ingredients of postseason secret sauce. Most notably, the Reds are *last* among NL challengers and 9th among the 11 MLB contenders. That’s hardly encouraging.

    How much can we trust these measures, and how likely are they to change before the end of the year? Most importantly, what can the Reds do to optimize their chance of winning in the postseason?

    Defense
    Clearly, the defense is outstanding. If Rolen and Phillips are healthy, then the Reds can go to the bank knowing that the defense would be a difference maker.

    Likewise, Reds fans should be prepared to throw their shoes at the TV (or in the direction of the dugout, if you can get tickets) if Gomes were to start any postseason game in LF. Giving away outs--even in left field--often results in early postseason exits.

    Strikeouts
    The starting pitcher element is trickier. The Reds are lacking a strikeout ace among the rotation candidates. Cincinnati’s starters have survived via rotation depth, great defensive plays, a potent offense, and grinding out innings. Cueto is probably the Reds nominal ace, but his K rates are below his career numbers, and it’s likely he will hit the wall in September. Arroyo is the staff innings-eater, but his K rates are painfully low and his peripherals are scary for someone with a sub-4.00 ERA. Leake reached his wall in June. Harang hasn’t pitched in months and may have reached the end of his rope. Wood has been the team’s best pitcher for the past month or so (San Fran start notwithstanding), but he’s a rookie. And he has only pitched one game in Cincinnati, which warrants mentioning with the significant home/road splits for nearly everyone in the rotation. Bailey and Volquez have both shown some promising signs and provided mixed results; both pitchers are coming off injuries too. In total, this rotation doesn’t paint a pretty picture for October success. Not good at all.

    The wild card in this scenario is that we've learned how difficult it is for the staff to pitch in the GABP during the dog days of July-August. But don't know how the stadium will play in October games at night. Consequently, the threat of the easy taters may be lessened in the postseason, and strikeouts may be easier to come by. Who knows?

    My position is that the Reds should roll the dice with those pitchers most likely to pitch an outstanding October baseball game, even at the risk of embarrassing the club with a bad performance. Go big or go home. I think the front three should include Cueto, Bailey, and Volquez. All three have thrown in a few stinkers in the past week. . . Nevertheless, they have the best “stuff” and would be the most likely candidates to dominate on any given night. Arroyo should start a game 4, if the Reds need a fourth starter. It will be hard to pass up the veterans (Arroyo and Harang) for a postseason rotation slot, but I think it’s the best shot the Reds would have of advancing in the postseason.

    Closer
    You probably don’t need me to remind everyone that Cordero hasn’t had a good year. To his credit, he has looked much better in his past 6-7 games. Let’s hope he’s made the appropriate adjustments and is turning the corner.

    If not, then the Reds need to get creative with the bullpen. It’s interesting that Silver’s research suggests the rest of the bullpen doesn’t matter as much as the closer, but that’s probably a function of how closers are used in the postseason (Mariano Rivera as the archetype) rather than a reflection of the importance of middle relievers. It's doubtful that Dusty use the Reds best relievers (i.e., Massett and Rhodes) in the same way that the Yankees have used Rivera. A reasonably good approach might be to employ a short leash with the starters and bring in Masset and Rhodes to snuff out the high-leverage situations. Perhaps Chapman can also fill a similar role when he is called up, but relying on a rookie with a month of big league experience might be too much.
    Last edited by D-Man; 08-28-2010 at 12:20 AM.

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    Member redsfandan's Avatar
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    Re: The Postseason Secret Sauce

    Thousand Island dressing?

    Seriously, I'll disagree on this part:
    My position is that the Reds should roll the dice with those pitchers most likely to pitch an outstanding October baseball game, even at the risk of embarrassing the club with a bad performance. Go big or go home. I think the front three should include Cueto, Bailey, and Volquez. All three have thrown in a few stinkers in the past week. . . Nevertheless, they have the best “stuff” and would be the most likely candidates to dominate on any given night. Arroyo should start a game 4, if the Reds need a fourth starter. It will be hard to pass up the veterans (Arroyo and Harang) for a postseason rotation slot, but I think it’s the best shot the Reds would have of advancing in the postseason.
    Gotta have Arroyo as one of the projected postseason starting pitchers instead of Volquez. But that's just me.
    "Now that's a real shame when folks be throwin' away a perfectly good white boy like that."

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    Re: The Postseason Secret Sauce

    Quote Originally Posted by redsfandan View Post
    Gotta have Arroyo as one of the projected postseason starting pitchers instead of Volquez. But that's just me.
    Sadly, with Arroyo's 4.7 K/9, he's likely to end up with a postseason performance reminiscent of Chien-Ming Wang (ERA north of mid-7).

    That doesn't mean that I would choose Volquez as an ideal postseason starter, not by any stretch. I just don't see the Ks coming from anyone else.

    Rotation depth is nice in August, but it's irrelevant in October.

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    Re: The Postseason Secret Sauce

    How'd the Cards do with their studs last year? Those 2 "should" define what makes a staff successful in the post season. As should the big 3 of Atlanta for years. It's all who's hot at the right time. There is no "secret sauce".

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    Re: The Postseason Secret Sauce

    Secret sauce - Someone coming out of nowhere and dominating

    Reds 2010 secret sauce = Chapman
    Tim McCarver: Baseball Quotes
    I remember one time going out to the mound to talk with Bob Gibson. He told me to get back behind the batter, that the only thing I knew about pitching was that it was hard to hit.

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    Re: The Postseason Secret Sauce

    Quote Originally Posted by redsfandan View Post
    Gotta have Arroyo as one of the projected postseason starting pitchers instead of Volquez. But that's just me.
    I agree with that. I get the Secret Sauce and agree with much of it, but it's one thing to compare teams and isolate the K/9 as a success factor, but quite another leap to suggest pulling a pitcher that's more consistently effective in favor of another pitcher solely because of K/9.
    Not all who wander are lost

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    Re: The Postseason Secret Sauce

    Quote Originally Posted by hebroncougar View Post
    How'd the Cards do with their studs last year? Those 2 "should" define what makes a staff successful in the post season. As should the big 3 of Atlanta for years. It's all who's hot at the right time. There is no "secret sauce".
    I think you're missing a few key points:

    *If you read the third article cited above (nymag one), Silver had the 2009 Dodgers as the 2nd best team in the postseason, better than the Cards. By inference, the model probably predicted the Dodgers to beat the Cards, and they did. Remember, it's not postseason aces--it strikeouts per inning, closers, and defense.

    *The importance of what Silver did is that he didn't focus on a specific example (e.g. the 2009 Cards lost but should've won); instead, he gathered 30 years of data, added it up, tested some theories, and looked at the big picture. What were the prevailing trends? That's what he's sifted through for our benefit.
    Last edited by D-Man; 08-27-2010 at 11:16 PM.

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    Re: The Postseason Secret Sauce

    All well and good, but it really isn't like there is anything teams can do about it, even if its absolutely true. What it takes to survive the 162 game grind may not play well in postseason, but you have to do that to get there in the first place. The Cards may very well be a perfect example of a very dangerous postseason team with Wainwright and Carpenter that is very possibly not going to make the postseason.
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    Et tu, Brutus? Brutus's Avatar
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    Re: The Postseason Secret Sauce

    Quote Originally Posted by D-Man View Post
    I think you're missing a few key points:

    *If you read the third article cited above (nymag one), Silver had the 2009 Dodgers as the 2nd best team in the postseason, better than the Cards. By inference, the model probably predicted the Dodgers to beaten the Cards, and they did. Remember, it's not just postseason aces--it strikeouts per inning, closers, and defense.

    *The importance of what Silver did is that he didn't focus on a specific example (e.g. the 2009 Cards lost but should've won); instead, he gathered 30 years of data, added it up, tested some theories, and looked at the big picture. What were the prevailing trends? That's what he's sifted through for our benefit.
    Those things are definitely important. And I think there's an element of truth to what Silver said (his natural slant toward Baseball Prospectus aside)... but at the same time, the playoffs are also a giant crapshoot. In a short series, especially a 5-game series, anything can happen between two good teams.
    "No matter how good you are, you're going to lose one-third of your games. No matter how bad you are you're going to win one-third of your games. It's the other third that makes the difference." ~Tommy Lasorda

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    Re: The Postseason Secret Sauce

    Quote Originally Posted by IslandRed View Post
    I agree with that. I get the Secret Sauce and agree with much of it, but it's one thing to compare teams and isolate the K/9 as a success factor, but quite another leap to suggest pulling a pitcher that's more consistently effective in favor of another pitcher solely because of K/9.
    Is it a leap? Really?

    Let me put it a different way. Arroyo has started 6 games against likely playoff teams (Padres, Braves, and Cards). In 26 innings (less than 5 innings per start), he's surrendered 24 runs.

    http://espn.go.com/mlb/players/splits?playerId=4416

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    Who, What, Where, When? Tornon's Avatar
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    Re: The Postseason Secret Sauce

    Jeff Suppan absolutely dominated in the 2006 postseason. If Suppan can have that much success, I'd hope Arroyo could at least be a viable starter. Arroyo has struggled in the postseason in his career, but that was in the AL and he's matured as a pitcher since then

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    Re: The Postseason Secret Sauce

    Quote Originally Posted by Brutus the Pimp View Post
    Those things are definitely important. And I think there's an element of truth to what Silver said (his natural slant toward Baseball Prospectus aside)... but at the same time, the playoffs are also a giant crapshoot. In a short series, especially a 5-game series, anything can happen between two good teams.
    Yep, that's so true.
    Quote Originally Posted by D-Man View Post
    Is it a leap? Really?

    Let me put it a different way. Arroyo has started 6 games against likely playoff teams (Padres, Braves, and Cards). In 26 innings (less than 5 innings per start), he's surrendered 24 runs.

    http://espn.go.com/mlb/players/splits?playerId=4416
    That's a valid point about what Arroyo has done vs possible playoff teams. But, I'm one that thinks that k/9 isn't quite as important as k/bb and I just don't think we should expect too much from Volquez this soon.
    "Now that's a real shame when folks be throwin' away a perfectly good white boy like that."

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    Re: The Postseason Secret Sauce

    Here's an element that I find particularly telling, re: the worst ranking teams. . .

    In any event, this "secret sauce" is fairly pungent. The two teams that rated most favorably in these categories in the 2005 playoffs were the White Sox and the Astros, who met in the World Series. The formula also predicts the success of some surprise World Series winners like the 1990 Reds and 1979 Pirates. Conversely, of the ten post-season teams since 1972 that rated worst in the "secret sauce" rankings, none advanced beyond their LCS.

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    Re: The Postseason Secret Sauce

    It's "pungent"? Does it need some deodorant?? What the ...
    "Now that's a real shame when folks be throwin' away a perfectly good white boy like that."

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    Re: The Postseason Secret Sauce

    Quote Originally Posted by D-Man View Post
    In 26 innings (less than 5 innings per start), he's surrendered 24 runs.
    He got bombed in his one start against San Diego, true enough, but San Diego isn't going to the playoffs because of their offense. He's pitched better against better. That rocking aside, he's done as well in his five starts against Atlanta and St. Louis as anyone else on our staff is likely to do. I certainly don't think today's Volquez gives us a better chance to win a playoff game. Next year's, probably, but not today's. And here's why. While strikeout rate is a component of success in the Secret Sauce, here's a stat I bet would show up in a reverse study looking to isolate reasons teams fail in the postseason: walking too many batters.
    Not all who wander are lost


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