Friday, November 29, 2013

2013 MLB Review

This has been long time coming. I'm up to my neck in football footage but needed this off my chest. First, the embarrassing part: my picks with my wife, Ems.

So, not so good. Some background: I lost last year's Cremant Decanter (the winner's cup for my sports picking competition with @BPix). My wife then ridiculed me as it seemed countless hours of watching film and statistical analysis had gone to waste. Determined to prove her wrong, we decided to go head to head in the same competition.

I had the first overall pick by virtue of a coin flip and picked the Detroit Tigers, who at the time, had pole position in their division, the two best pitchers in the league, and a power-hitting lineup. My wife? She picked by geography, specifically places she'd like to visit or had cool names (notice the map at the bottom of the page?). And she likes Boston. That will come into play later (obviously). I followed with the A's (who were leading their division), the Rays (coming on strong, as usual), and the Rangers (insurance for the A's) sandwiched around her selections of the Orioles, Mariners, and Indians. Quite confident

In the NL, she somehow had the prescience to get the Pirates (I did show her how the ESPN standings work and what the numbers mean). I followed with the Braves and she with the Nationals (chortling). With my second pick, I really should have taken the Cardinals. Despite being in a furious division race with the Pirates and Reds, I wanted the safety of taking a division winner, one on an insane winning streak to boot. Plus, I figured she'd pick some random team from a city she'd like to visit - St. Louis wasn't on that list was it? Well, she did it. She up and picked the Cardinals. Crap.

After the play-in games, I led 3-1 in the AL and 2-2 in the NL. I needed the Rays to beat the Red Sox to really sew up the win, but alas, their starting pitching fell apart on the way to a disheartening loss, and we tied in both leagues. Then, Armageddon. Both the Sox and Cards won, erasing my 2-team lead, and with the two playing each other in the Classic, Ems was guaranteed a point and the win.

The salvation was that I diversified risk a bit and did take the Cardinals in my "official" picks with @BPix. Their run to the World Series, along with a Dodgers win over the Braves did him in:

First, I think this year's statistical analysis mostly held. Red Sox pitching was probably better than average, but their hitting blew away star pitcher after star pitcher. Detroit certainly turned out to be playoff material and gave the Sox a great series. Tampa was unable to overcome mediocre pitching and some bad batting, and Oakland wasn't able to generate enough timely offense to overcome the Tigers, despite some sensational pitching from rookie Sonny Gray (more on this later). In the ALCS, injuries really showed in the Tigers' loss to the Sox (more on this later as well).

The stats really didn't tell the whole story about this year's Dodgers due to the emergence of Yasiel Puig and the moving parts in the lineup, but their bats made short work of the Braves in the NLDS. St. Louis' entire pitching staff was far superior to that of Pittsburgh's during the season and it showed in their series. In the NLCS, the injury to Nelson Cruz did the Rangers in, which brings me to things we learned from the playoffs:

  1. Injuries matter. Injuries to Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Beltran, and Cruz dramatically affected the way the playoffs went. I'm not convinced the Red Sox didn't deserve to win, as health is part of winning, but a bad bounce here and there really screwed things up. Miguel's injury was particularly bad: he was not only bad offensively, turning into at best a singles hitter, but was a disaster at third, making managing that team a messy. Segue...
  2. Managing matters. Don Mattingly butchering of things in the Cardinals series not only belied statistics, but proved his purposes utterly incomprehensible. I think he united the blogosphere/twittersphere (no small feat) in outrage. Just read/watch Game 1 of the NLCS again. I really can't describe how I feel about Don. I know he's trying to do the right thing; he can't be purposefully sabotaging his team, right?  But time after time he not only made the wrong call, but then failed to make use of what little advantages his decisions gave him. It was like trading in a dollar bill for three quarters, then giving two of them away. I'm befuddled.
  3. Pens matters. The Cardinals had the best bullpen in baseball and it really shone in the NLCS against L.A. Mike Matheny managed them well. Pitching Lance Lynn in relief was genius: it kept him warm for a start and got him some solid innings in a high-leverage situation. But they ran into a Red Sox pen that was just a bit hotter at closer and setup. Craig Breslow aside, John Farrell also managed a gem, getting Lackey in one game and consistently pitching his best relievers for more than their regular workload. Koji Uehara is so efficient, there isn't much difference between facing 3, 4, 5 batters anyway. Next year I would like to find a way to quantify how good these pens are.
  4. Wow, the young pitchers. Gray Michael Wacha. Carlos Martinez. Trevor Rosenthal. I cannot wait to see these guys more. Especially Martinez, who I hope will get a full-time gig. He mixes a fastball that bites with a whole range of secondaries that he can throw for strikes. If he can consistently get control of that slider that betrayed him a bit in the Series, he can be really special.
  5. Pitch counts. The Red Sox are known for their patience, but my question is, why? Shouldn't everyone be patient? We know what an advantage taking pitches, chasing starters, and keeping pressure on the defense does. Why do so many times still swing freely at the first pitch? Every Red Sox batter, even the ones who were in dire slumps at various points, seemed to be a pain to get out. That sets up David Ortiz to hit homers off tired pitchers or relievers in big spots. What a Series he had. And congratulations to the Red Sox, who are worthy of one last footnote:
  6. If you thought I would end this praising the Sox, well you were wrong! During the Series I realized one addition to my "Why I Hate the Red Sox" list. What are their colors? By my estimation, they have laid claim to Red, White, Gray, Blue, and Green. SERIOUSLY!? What the hey? Here are the rules to team colors: One primary, bold color, in this case, red. One secondary color used tastefully and in moderation that contrasts well with the primary color and can be used as an alternate primary color for special occasions (or home/away). For the Sox that would be blue. Finally, one tertiary color that must be a shade of white or black. Pure white would be it for the Sox. That's all you get. Red, a little blue, and white, and one little footnote to spite the 2013 World Series Champions. See you next year!

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