Tuesday, October 23, 2012

2012 World Series preview

By Rick Morris

As noted in our World Series notes/oddities column, the star wattage of this World Series isn’t as deep as some of the past years.  There’s only really four players per team who deserve the “star” designation: Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Austin Jackson for Detroit and Matt Cain, Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong for San Francisco.  What’s striking about that, however, is the “superstar” magnitude of the aforementioned list.  Those stars who are here are very, very good and there’s the outside chance that the AL and NL Cy Young and MVP winners may be playing in this series (Verlander and Cain are both dark horses for the pitching honors, but Cabrera and Posey have strong chances at MVP). 
[There are also some interesting notes about the best players in this series.  Cabrera (Florida ’03), Verlander (Detroit ’06) and Posey (San Fran ’10) have only played in the World Series as rookies, the latter two players having won Rookie of the Year.  Cain, now firmly out of the shadows of Tim Lincecum, has a chance to be earn the respect that has already been accorded to many of the other top arms of his generation with a second World Series win.  And, as noted in our ALCS/NLCS notes/oddities column, franchise pitchers are more likely than franchise hitters to win the World Series, so expectations are deservedly high for Justin Verlander to cross this accomplishment off of his wish list en route to Cooperstown.]
What’s even MORE striking than the high level of star power in this final series, however, is that the keys to this series are held by the grizzled, tobacco-loving baseball lifers on the respective benches.
As also noted in our notes/oddities column, Bruce Bochy and Jim Leyland are part of a rare managerial matchup in the World Series, one in which both skippers come in having won at least three pennants.  These are clearly two of the top leaders of their generation, potentially two future Hall-of-Famers, and each is burdened by a lineup that is incomplete at best.
Starting in 2011, we devised a system for analyzing teams in the postseason in certain key areas.  Here’s how the teams look in this World Series:
Great – 5 points
Very Good – 4 points
Decent – 3 points
Poor – 2 points
Horrible – 1 point
Lineup Explosiveness: Very Good
Lineup Depth: Decent
Starting Pitching, Top-End: Great
Starting Pitching Depth: Decent
Bullpen: Decent
Lineup Explosiveness: Horrible
Lineup Depth: Poor
Starting Pitching, Top-End: Great
Starting Pitching Depth: Very Good
Bullpen: Very Good
For what it’s worth, St. Louis tallied 17 points on our system and our score going into last year’s World Series was Texas 21, St. Louis 19.  So neither team, on paper, is as good as either team in last year’s seven-game all-time classic.
There’s just not much depth in either lineup.  San Francisco makes their lineup from two years ago, or the ’88 Dodgers for that matter, resemble the ’27 Yankees.  Their anemic 103 home runs bring up the rear in all of Major League Baseball, behind 16th-ranked Detroit by 60 – although they only trail the Tigers by 23 RBI and eight runs!  Timely hitting, indeed.
You should not draw any conclusions about the length of the swings involved for the two teams based on the power numbers, however, as neither struck out very much.  Detroit was tied for 24th with 1103 whiffs, while San Francisco was just behind them in 26th with 1097.  Similarly, the Giants were 5th in batting average at .269 and the Tigers were 6th at .268.  So, while neither offense is anywhere near being deemed a juggernaut, they both make contact and can keep innings alive.
The speed comparison is almost an inversion of the power one, though, as San Fran ranked 10th with 118 swipes and the Tigers lagged in 29th with only 59 stolen bases.
Both pitching staffs mix an excellent top end with depth and have comparable numbers.  The Giants were 7th in ERA at 3.68 and 12th in strikeouts with 1237, while the Tigers were 9th in ERA at 3.75 and tied for 5th in strikeouts with 1318. 
Going against the usual grain, neither bullpen is completely impeccable at the back end, at Brian Wilson missed most of the year for Frisco with an arm injury and has been replaced by a pretty good committee; Detroit has struggled with Jose Valverde this postseason.  So there could be more drama than usual in save situations this year.
The DH situation doesn’t really favor either team.  The Giants barely have enough competent starting bats for regular National League play, so putting the likes of Aubrey Huff in the lineup in Detroit won’t yield much above the level of their decent-batting pitchers.  Detroit, however, will face regrettable defensive issues in the Bay Area games with Delmon Young in the outfield.
The Giants have more in the way of upside-wild-cards than the Tigers, with Lincecum, Barry Zito and Pablo Sandoval having achieved past stardom – and in the case of Zito and Lincecum, pretty good success in this postseason.  Detroit will work to avoid memories of 2006, when they also had plenty of time to sit after winning the pennant and came out rusty and ineffective against a hot Cardinal squad.  They face a similar foe this time, as San Francisco proved impossible to finish off in the National League playoffs, down 2-0 to Cincinnati and 3-1 to the previously unkillable Cards.  In an odd twist, Detroit will have some familiarity with their surroundings, becoming the first team ever to return to the same greater metropolitan area to face a second team in the playoffs (after dispatching Oakland in the ALDS).  But this is a small nugget to place up against home field, the unbeatable spirit surrounding the Giants and the season-long propensity for summoning the right hit at the right time from the hero of the day.  It’s very difficult to pick a team with a lineup as classically weak as San Fran’s, but they’re not facing a Washington or Texas team that threatens to mash them right off the field.  On paper, most of these games should be close and low-scoring, but in the spirit of the National League playoffs, look for some rock-and-sock affairs where you least expect them and look for the Giants to win their second world championship in three years.  San Francisco in 6 (playoff picks thus far are 3-5).


Unknown said...

Excellent article, but how does your system account for a guy like Marco Scutaro, who had an astounding 14 hits in the NLCS and, generally, was not considered a big offensive threat before the Series? Steve K.

Rick Morris said...

Interesting question, Steve. He's hot at the moment and has performed well for them down the stretch, but my assessment is about the lineup as a whole over a longer period of time, so I didn't factor his production into giving San Fran a stronger grade than I otherwise would have.