Following up on my last post supporting the argument that pitching equals success in the MLB, I will play devil's advocate and (gulp!) try to support the fact that regardless of how good your pitching staff is, you can still win games by simply pounding the baseball and scoring tons of runs.
Fact: ERA is sometimes skewed when teams put in “mop up” guys to close out games when they're up or down big.
Taking this into consideration, ERA ranks may or may not tell the full story of a team's success.
When push comes to shove, if you win a game 14-13, no one cares about how bad the pitching is but rather how great the offense is. This, I cannot argue with.
The Texas Rangers pound the baseball – 1st in runs, batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage. And thanks to a pitching staff that generally does a decent job pitching with a lead, they're able to maintain their winning ways (in a rather unimpressive AL West). Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Colby Lewis, Derek “Horrible Mustache” Holland, and Scott Feldman/Neftali Feliz are the guys who take the hill every fifth day for them. Household names? No way!
The Boston Red Sox pound the baseball – to the tune of 306 runs (3rd in MLB), a .269 batting average (3rd in MLB), a .330 on base percentage (6th in MLB), and a .447 slugging percentage (5th in MLB). The problem with them is they can't pitch worth a damn. They've allowed 286 runs, fourth worst in the majors. Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard, and Felix Doubront make up their staff. Household names? Beckett and Lester, absolutely.
Maybe wins and losses depends on which division you're playing in. The AL East is a bear market, while the AL West is a two-team race every year.
I'm going to do some number crunching and sort out the top ten run scoring teams in the majors this year. Again, before I go into this I am going to make a prediction: at least four of the top ten have no chance of making the postseason.
Let's take a look at the top ten teams in terms of runs scored.
|Rank||Team||Runs Scored||Place in Division (GB)||Record||ERA Rank|
|1||TEX||322||1st, AL West (-)||35-26||8th|
|2||STL||307||2nd, NL Central (2)||31-30||13th|
|3||BOS||306||5th, AL East (6)||29-31||28th|
|4||COL*||301||4th, NL West (14)||24-35||30th|
|5||TOR||293||4th, AL East (4)||31-29||16th|
|6||CWS||291||1st, AL Central (-)||33-27||17th|
|7||ATL||288||2nd, NL East (2)||34-26||19th|
|281||2nd, AL East (.5)||34-25||11th|
|9||LAD||268||1st, NL West (-)||39-22||2nd|
|10||MIL||264||3rd, NL Central (4.5)||28-32||24th|
The Blue Jays are the only team with two players in the top ten in RBI in the majors (Bautista and Encarnacion both have 44 RBI). Hamilton has 61 for the Rangers, Beltran has 46 for St. Louis, Ethier has 52 for the Dodgers, Carlos Gonzalez has 48 for the Rockies, Dunn has 46 for the White Sox, and Uggla has 41 for the Braves. The Yankees have four players with 30+ RBI (Cano has 29). Will these guys continue to drive guys in? If Beltran, Uggla, and Hamilton can stay healthy, absolutely.
Driving in runs is directly correlated to the guys hitting in front of you getting on base. It's really a crap shoot. So far, these guys have done a great job of being clutch and driving in runs for their teams when they need to.
So, can great run-producing team succeed? It seems like it. The Rangers, White Sox, and Dodgers are all in the driver's seat in their divisions. The Cardinals, Braves, and Yankees are all in second place in their divisions.
However good the lineup is for these six, only two are in the top ten in ERA. Eventually, even great hitters go into slumps at which point the pitching staff needs to pick up the slack. Do all these teams possess a pitching staff than can carry a team? The Rangers probably do because of the pitifulness (is that a word? of their division. The White Sox I'm not so sure of, although Chris Sale is a stud. The Dodgers certainly have the firepower throughout their staff and have the largest division lead of any team in baseball. The Cardinals' lineup is scary, and their pitching staff is a two-man show (Lynn and Lohse). It's also a two-man staff in Atlanta, with Beachy and Hanson. They also have one of the most dominant closers in baseball in Craig Kimbrel. Soriano is not Rivera and for this reason the Yankees are a big question mark.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox, Rockies, Blue Jays, and Brewers are all towards the bottom of their divisions.
Will the Red Sox figure it out? They sure seem like a team destined for an epic blowup at some point this season. The Blue Jays, they're just not as good as the top three teams in the AL East (Rays, Yankees, Orioles). The Brewers? They're missing their Prince but are managing to stay afloat thanks to their big three on the mound – Greinke, Marcum, and Gallardo. The Rockies, I think, have already been eliminated from postseason play.
Digging further into the numbers, only half of the top ten are more than five games over .500, three of which are in the top half of the majors in team ERA.
Is pitching overrated? Possibly, but just because you score a ton of runs doesn't mean you're guaranteed success. Think about this – five of the top ten in runs scored in 2011 DID NOT make the playoffs (Boston, Toronto, Colorado, Cincinnati, Kansas City). Those five also happened to be in the bottom third of the league in ERA. Coincidence?
If you're asking me, a strong pitching staff is essential to playing deep into October.
Something to keep in mind, however, is that the MLB is expanding the playoffs to ten teams this year instead of the usual eight. It's almost turning into amateur sports, where everyone gets a participation trophy just for showing up, but that's for a different day.
[*You can throw every stat away when the Rockies are concerned. I'm guessing the Rockies pitching staff would rather drink and eat wings in the clubhouse (a la the 2011 Red Sox) than make a scheduled start at Coors Field.]
(The Dodgers and (now) Rangers are the only teams in the top ten of both runs scored and ERA.)