Welcome to the first edition of The Hardball Times “Dancing with the Playoff Stats”! Matt Philip (a.k.a Pip) from Fungoes and I will bring you some postseason entertainment—and be informative as well.
In our contest we list the 16 ballplayers most likely to have the greatest influence in the postseason. As the playoffs progress, twice a week four judges will vote off two ballplayers each time. The judges will be me, Matt Philip and Hardball Times writers Jeffrey Gross and Joe Dimino. As judges (just like in “American Idol” and “Dancing with the Stars”), we have the power to dump ballplayers based on any reasoning we choose (which is always helpful), and we can bring back any ballplayer we want at the close of each series. In the end, we will have one World Series MVP-caliber champion, BCS style, but champion nonetheless.
Are you ready to meet the 2010 contestants?
NYY CC Sabathia
NYY Robinson Cano
TEX Josh Hamilton
TEX Neftali Feliz
MIN Jim Thome
MIN Joe Mauer
TBR David Price
TBR Carl Crawford
PHI Roy Halladay
PHI Carlos Ruiz
CIN Joey Votto
CIN Brandon Phillips
SFG Tim Lincecum
SPG Buster Posey
ATL Tommy Hanson
ATL Jason Heyward
Before we introduce you to the judges, we’ll let you read our chat about the thought process behind who we chose. You’ll see Matt’s brilliant reasoning, and then you’ll see what you always do out of me—just a mix of everything. Aside from Ruiz, Carlos Pena and Francisco Liriano, our picks were identical! (And, that’s with using different rationale for picking them.)
Matt: Good evening!
Anna: Hey there!
Matt: Well, we now have our playoff teams in place!
Anna: Yep, shall we let the fun begin? So, Sabathia. I thought long and hard about having him on our list, but left him on in the end. He’s the Yankees’ standout player this year.
Matt: Yeah, I liked Sabathia because he’s such a wild card. For example, he was the luckiest pitcher in baseball this year! He had a 9.87 LUCK factor. He’s interesting for me, because his W-L record belies his true ability.
Anna: Well, perfect then. And since he started the season off surviving stupid questions from Regis and Kelly on an appearance in April, he has moved to becoming the staff ace.
Matt: As for Cano, he’s had a career year with a .390 wOBA, but prior to 2010, he hasn’t converted in the playoffs, with only a .266wOBA.
Anna: He also had his 200th hit of the season which makes him the first Yankee second basemen to get 200 hits in back-to-back seasons.
Matt: Also, Cano led Yankee batters with 3.55 Win-Probability Added. Now Josh Hamilton, he was third in MLB with 4.66. Obviously his return from injury intrigues as well.
Anna: Hamilton also has a really cool tattoo. That should count for something.
Matt: Heh. Neftali Feliz, he was third in the AL for reliever in WXRL (Win Expectancy Over Replacement) with 4.68.
Anna: Just curious, why did you like that stat for him?
Matt: I prefer it to something like saves, because it does a little better job of assessing a pitcher. It’s also part of the controversial “Secret Sauce” recipe of success for playoff teams.
Anna: That’s exactly what I was wanting to hear.
Matt: Francisco Liriano for the Twins is compelling because of his Comeback Player of the Year credentials… returned from a 5.80 ERA season in 2009 to post a career high 6.0 WAR.
Anna: I had trouble with this one, what about Jim Thome? We can’t leave Joe Mauer off.
Matt: I know! Shall I get some stats on Thome?
Anna: Thome has his Sports Illustrated cover this year, that should suffice. I guess he doesn’t get to play “Dancing with the Playoff Stars.”
Matt: But… Thome in his age-39 season, topped his career rates in OBP, SLG and wOBA…
Anna: Ooh, now I don’t know.
Matt: He also was second on the team behind Morneau in WPA/LI. Imagine him in a late-inning situation, tie game…
Anna: Yeah, he has to stay. Sorry Liriano.
Matt: In a playoffs featuring impact catchers, Mauer led all in WPA and wOBA.
Anna: And I’ve never even mentioned to you my theory on catchers. (I’ll leave that comment thread out and save it for another article someday.)
Matt: Okay, Halladay. Quite simply the best pitcher in the game … active leader in pitcher WAR, led majors with 2.93 xFIP in 2010.
Anna: Enough said on that.
Matt: Ruiz: Best nickname of the playoffs and .420 career playoff OBP. But Chooch isn’t an October-only fluke… improved on his 2009 wOBA of .337 by hitting .365 in 2010.
Anna: Why’d you leave Jayson Werth and Ryan Howard off?
Matt: They’re good, too. Just thought they’ve been overexposed. They’re not as interesting as Ruiz, nor as dominant as Halladay
Anna: I left them off because I still have bad memories from last postseason.
Matt: Heh, yeah. Okay, Rays. I like Crawford because he’s the franchise player and has some fun “big-game” stats… had two homers in 2008 World Series; 2009 All-Star Game MVP.
Anna: And Rays fans can hope he continues to like a big stage. I had Pena as well, for the emotional factor.
Matt: Yes. I’m torn on the other Rays. Soriano or Price? On one hand Soriano had a dominant season in relief: second in AL with 5.682 WXRL… And you don’t go out and get Scott Boras to represent you this winter if you don’t have a great chance of getting paid.
Matt: Okay, Price. Price is intriguing because he cut his teeth in the 2008 World Series and was like this year’s Aroldis Chapman. His rookie year (2008), he came up and pitched only 14 innings so that the Rays could use him in relief in the playoffs. He pitched five and two thirds innings in the playoffs that year and struck out eight! He literally broke into pro baseball and played in the World Series in the same year.
Matt: Okay, Reds. Brandon Phillips led the league in tongue-wagging.
Anna: We know we have to have Votto in there, but Scott Rolen crossed my mind.
Matt: Well, Rolen was the second most valuable on the team, he has a playoff history with the Cards, 5.0 WAR—his highest WAR since 2006, when he led Cards to the World Series title.
Anna: Well, I’ll need fodder material, how about we keep Phillips? Shall we just say, Joey Votto—nough said?
Matt: Yep, and led NL in WPA, and in WAR, and wOBA.
Anna: San Francisco guys were easiest picks for me.
Matt: Posey is third among Giants batters with 3.8 WAR despite playing only 108 games. Lincecum led the staff with 3.21 xFIP
Anna: He’s a little different to me than CC. Why would you put him in there above another position player?
Matt: Well, he’s one of the elite pitchers in the game….and he’s the opposite of CC. Lincecum gets overlooked because of a bad W-L record, but is more talented.
Anna: Dare we say that?
Matt: Like Halladay, he can single-handedly dominate a short playoff series. You might say he’s better than his record suggests.
Anna: Ultimately I felt he’s going to make a huge impact as well.
Matt: Heyward: Likely NL rookie of Year, fourth in NL in WPA… just turned 21. Hudson … you know what? Can I change that pick? Either Tommy Hanson or Craig Kimbrel…
Anna: I’m looking as well …
Matt: Kimbrel depends on whether he’s eligible for postseason…debuted late in the season, but had a staggering 17.42 K/9!
Anna: Your call.
Matt: Hanson’s fun because he’d be less known than Hudson, despite leading the team’s starters in xFIP. And if we’re talking about how lucky CC was, Hanson was the opposite—sixth most “unlucky” in baseball.
Matt: Scratch that. He did NOT lead team’s starters in xFIP, just regular old FIP at 3.31.
Anna: Even better.
Now you know how we got to our 2010 contestants. Here are our Dancing with the Playoff Stats judges:
And now… one last look at the stars with the stats: