Tagged: World Series

Great World Series Hitting Performances from Unlikely Sources

Regular season baseball is all about large sample sizes. The season is 162 games long; batters have over 500 plate appearances; starting pitchers throw more than 150 innings.  These large sample sizes cause, for the most part, the cream to rise to the top. Those players who are great are the players who lead in ERA, WHIP, OBP, and WAR. The MVPs and the Cy Young winners are most often players who are great having great seasons.

The playoffs are a different matter. Instead of a 162 game sample, player stats in the playoffs represent what happened over a minimum sample of three games and a maximum sample of nineteen games. Now, look at the World Series. The sample size ranges from four to nine games[1]. When the sample size gets that small, the odds of a great performance from a great player versus the odds of a great performance shrinks substantially. This has led to some memorable World Series performances from players who were nothing special during their careers. In this case, we are looking at high level World Series performances from players with a career WAR under 10. Here are the memorable World Series performances I found that fit the bill:

George Rohe (1901, 1905-1907), 3B, Chicago White Sox, 1906 World Series

G AB H HR R RBI AVG OBP SLG WAR/oWAR
Career 269 868 197 3 81 92 .227 .294 .266 2.6/2.7
1906 77 225 58 0 14 25 .258 .316 .289 1.4/1.0
World Series  6 21 7 0 2 4 .333 .440 .571 N/A

George Rohe was a utility infielder for the White Sox. In fact, he was not the first choice to start in the World Series. Before the World Series, White Sox shortstop George Davis got injured. This led the White Sox to move their starting third baseman, Lee Tannehill, to shortstop and put Rohe at third base. His performance in the World Series helped the White Sox beat the Cubs in six and Charles Comiskey, the owner of the White Sox, stated that Rohe would have a place on the team for life. After putting up a .213/.274/.255 slash line as a starter, the White Sox released him and he never played professional baseball again.

Bobby Brown (’46-’52, ’54), 3B, New York Yankees, 1949 World Series

G AB H HR R RBI AVG OBP SLG WAR
Career 548 1619 452 22 233 237 .279 .367 .376 7.1/7.2
1906 104 343 97 6 61 61 .283 .359 .399 1.7/1.6
World Series  4 12 6 0 4 5 .500 .571 .917 N/A

Probably better known for being the sixth president of the American League, Bobby Brown led the Yankees in AVG, OBP, SLG, hits, runs, RBIs, and triples among players with at least three ABs in the Yankees triumph over the Dodgers in five. On a team with Dimaggio, Berra, Henrich, Rizzuto, and Mize, it’s amazing that they were all outperformed at the plate by Brown. Had there been a World Series MVP in ’49[2], only Allie Reynolds, who outdueled Don Newcombe in Game 1 and closed out Game 4 with 3.1 innings of shutout ball, could have taken the award from him.

Billy Martin (’50-’53, ’55-’61), 2B, New York Yankees, 1953 World Series

G AB H HR R RBI AVG OBP SLG WAR/oWAR
Career 1021 3419 877 64 425 333 .257 .300 .369 3.7/5.2
1953 149 587 151 15 72 75 .257 .319 .395 2.6/1.8
World Series  6 24 12 2 5 8 .500 .520 .958 N/A

Most remember him for his time as manager of the Bronx Bombers during the mid-to-late 1970s and the 1908s (George Steinbrenner is probably handing another pink slip to Billy Martin in Heaven right now), but his play in the 1953 World Series against the Dodgers may have been the second most remembered event during his time as a player[3]. In the six game series victory over the Dodgers, Martin led the Yankees in hits, HRs, RBIs, AVG, SLG, and OPS. That’s no small feat on a team with Mantle and Berra.

Bobby Richardson (’55-’66), 2B, New York Yankees, 1960 World Series

G AB H HR R RBI AVG OBP SLG WAR/oWAR
Career 1412 5386 1432 34 643 390 .266 .299 .335 5.6/5.5
1960 150 460 116 1 45 26 .252 .303 .298 0.0/0.2
World Series  7 30 11 1 8 12 .367 .387 .667 N/A

 What we talk about when we are taking about WAR is the value (in this case wins) a player gives to a team above a replacement level player. In 1960, Bobby Richardson performed at the level of a replacement player. So it would have been hard to imagine, going into the 1960 World Series against the Pirates, that Richardson would end up leading the Yankees in triples, runs, and RBIs. He won the MVP award for the series making him the Chuck Howley of baseball (or does that make Chuck Howley the Bobby Richardson of the NFL?). That is not to say he was the Yankees’ greatest performer in the series. That distinction goes to Mickey Mantle. However, Mantle and Richardson, along with Maris, Berra, and Elson Howard, were not enough as the Yankees lost the fantastically lopsided 1960 World Series to the Pirates in seven[4].

Willie Aikens (’77, ’79-’85), 1B, Kansas City Royals, 1980 World Series

G AB H HR R RBI AVG OBP SLG WAR/oWAR
Career 774 2492 675 110 301 415 .271 .354 .455 6.3/7.4
1980 151 543 151 20 70 98 .278 .356 .433 1.3/1.4
World Series  6 20 8 4 5 8 .400 .538 1.100 N/A

In a series with stars like George Brett, Mike Schmidt, and Steve Carlton, Willie Aikens outshone them all. In Game 1 and Game 4, he hit two home runs and until Chase Utley in 2009, he was the only player to ever hit two home runs in a game twice in the World Series. He also knocked in the game winning RBI in the 10th inning of Game 3. He led all players in the series in triples, HRs, RBI, SLG, and OPS and led the Royals in runs as well. Despite his performance, the Royals lost the series in six to the Philadelphia Phillies.

Billy Hatcher (’84-’95), LF/CF, Cincinnati Reds, 1990 World Series

G AB H HR R RBI AVG OBP SLG WAR/oWAR
Career 1233 4339 1146 54 586 399 .264 .312 .364 2.0/6.1
1990 139 504 139 5 68 25 .276 .327 .381 1.6/1.5
World Series  4 12 9 0 6 2 .750 .800 1.250 N/A

The numbers say it all. Billy Hatcher, of all people, put together one of the greatest hitting performances in the history of the World Series. Let’s ignore how the performance stacks up relative to the other players in the series. He started out the series with seven consecutive hits. Hatcher set the record for batting average, and OBP in a World Series (min. 18 PA). He finished second in OPS for a series (behind 2.433 by Gehrig in ’28) and sixth in SLG (behind Gehrig ’28, Matsui ’09, Ruth ’28, Bonds ’02…ugh, Gowdy ’14 and tied with Jackson ’77). At  I would argue that it is the third greatest of all time (behind Gehrig and Ruth in ’28). Hatcher and the Reds swept the favored Oakland Atheltics. Hatcher did not win the MVP for the World Series as that honor went to a deserved Jose Rijo.

Mark Lemke (’88-’98), 2B, Atlanta Braves, 1991 World Series

G AB H HR R RBI AVG OBP SLG WAR/oWAR
Career 1069 3230 795 32 349 270 .246 .317 .324 5.3/-1.5
1990 136 308 63 2 36 23 .234 .305 .312 1.6/1.5
World Series  6 24 10 0 4 4 .417 .462 .708 N/A

The greatest World Series ever played deserved a great performance from an unexpected source. That is not to say that Lemke’s series began well. In Game 2, a miscommunication by between David Justice and Lemke led to Dan Gladden reach second on a routine pop up. This led to the Twins scoring two in the first and they went on to win the game 3-2 with just four hits on an eighth inning home run by Scott Leius. However, Game 3 and Game 4 saw Lemke play the role of hero. In Game 3, Lemke’s single in the 12th with two outs scored Justice and the Braves won their first game of the series. In Game 4, Lemke’s hook slide allowed him to avoid the tag by Brian Harper and won the game in the bottom of the ninth. Lemke led all player in the series in triples, AVG, OBP, and SLG (min. 5 AB). Had the Braves won the series, the MVP would have gone to him or John Smoltz.

(All WAR numbers come from Baseball-Reference.com)

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AL vs. NL: The Success of Regular Season Champions

In the previous blog post, I talked about how the Phillies regular season dominance does not guarantee that they will be successful in October. However, is the lack of success among National League teams that finished with the best record mirrored by the American League? Let’s see what the numbers say.

Team with the Best Record in the MLB:

Era National League American League
1903-1968 36.4% 63.6%
1969-1993 44% 56%
1995-2010 43.8% 56.2%

Team With the Best Record in the MLB Winning the Pennant:

Era National League American League
1903-1968 100% 100%
1969-1993 54.5% 78.6%
1995-2010 28.6% 44.4%

The Team with the Best Record in the MLB Winning the World Series:

Era National League American League
1903-1968 41.7% 64.3%
1969-1993 27.3% 28.5%
1995-2010 0% 33.3%

These numbers show that historically an AL team who finishes with the best record in the MLB has been more successful than their NL counterparts in winning the pennant and the World Series. This also holds true for each era. While the introduction of Championship Series in 1969 and Divisional Series in 1995 have reduced the likelihood that the team with the best record will win the pennant and/or World Series, the AL still maintains an advantage. What could be the source of this disparity? Well, let’s look at what the numbers would look like if we took the achievements of the New York Yankees out of the equation.

Team with the Best Record in the MLB (w/0 Yankees):

Era National League American League
1903-1968 54.5% (+18.1) 45.4% (-18.2)
1969-1993 47.8% (+3.8) 52.2% (-3.8)
1995-2010 58.3% (+14.5) 41.7% (-14.5)

Team With the Best Record in the MLB Winning the Pennant (w/o Yankees):

Era National League American League
1903-1968 100% 100%
1969-1993 54.5% 83.3% (+4.7)
1995-2010 28.6% 40.0% (-4.4)

The Team with the Best Record in the MLB Winning the World Series:

Era National League American League
1903-1968 52.6% (+10.9) 55% (-9.3)
1969-1993 27.3% 27.3% (-1.2)
1995-2010 0% 33.3%

First, understand the method that was chosen was not perfect and it will be described at the end of the blog. However, the presence of the Yankees has given the AL an advantage over the NL when it comes to having teams that succeed in both the regular season and the playoffs.

The Yankees may provide the AL teams with external pressures to innovate and build rosters. And in the attempt to catch up with the Yankees the AL has had a motivating factor the NL did not have. While that is a speculation, here is what is not. The Yankees give the American League dominant team. Dominant teams the National League has not often had. The National League has only 13 teams that have had the best record in the Majors and won the World Series. The Yankees have 20 teams who have accomplished such a feat.

One could look at lists made about the greatest teams in the history of baseball and two things are certain. The list will be AL dominant and the Yankees will have by far the most representatives of any other franchise. For example, Tom Verducci’s list of the 10 greatest baseball teams includes five Yankees teams (’27, ’39, ’98, ’61, ’32) and only two NL teams from the World Series era (’75 Reds and 1907 Cubs). The Sporting News’ list contains five Yankee teams (’27, ’39, ’98, ’61, ’53) and three NL teams (’75 Reds, ’55 Dodgers, ’42 Cardinals). Roger Weber’s list for Baseball Almanac had four Yankees teams (’27, ’39, ’32, and ’98) and three NL teams from the World Series era (1907 Cubs, 1905 Giants, and 1906 Cubs)[1].

There may be another reason behind the success of these teams when they come from the AL. For example, the end of the Dead Ball Era coincides with the dominance of AL teams. Could it be possible that National League teams did not adjust to the changing times and clung onto players, managers, and a philosophy of playing the game that was anachronistic? I have no clue no being a baseball historian. But, we all know the legends that have played on so many great Yankees teams, that it is hard to dispute that the gap between the AL and NL  is not, at the very least, the fault of the New York Yankees.

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2011 Phillies: Regular Season Success Means Little In October

Barring an absolute collapse, the Phillies look primed to win more than 100 games and have the best record in all of baseball. They are ahead of the Yankees by 7 games in the loss column. Even if the Yankees won all their games from here on out, the Phillies would only need to go 12-6 to be the sole possessors of the best record in the MLB. This comes as no surprise. In the weaker league and with a pitching staff as deep as the 1997 Braves, it would have been a surprise if they did not win the National League at least.

Now, does the Phillies regular season dominance mean anything come October? How much is regular season prowess correlated to winning the World Series? Let’s look back at the history of NL teams that have ended the regular season with the best record in the Majors.

Since the World Series started in 1903, a team in the National League has finished with the best record in 42 seasons or 39.2% of the time [1]. Looking at the 18 teams who accomplished this after 1968[2], only eight made it to the World Series (44.4%). However, after the 1994 season[3], only two of the seven teams made it to the Fall Classic (28.6%).

Let’s take it a step further and look how these regular season titans did when it came to winning the World Series. Of those 42 teams, only 13 teams have won the World Series giving those teams a success rate of 31.0%. However, only three of those World Series champions won after 1968. With 18 NL teams having finished with the best record, since 1968, the success rate of those squads was 16.7%. And since 1994, no National League team has won the World Series after achieving the best record in the MLB.

Obviously it looks like the Phillies regular season dominance guarantees them nothing when it comes to the playoffs[4].

While the Phillies pitching speaks for itself, the age and the offense of the Phillies raise some red flags. The Philles have the oldest batting age in all the MLB at 31.5 years. Compare this to the ’86 Mets (28.0), ’76 Reds (29.3), and the ’75 Reds (28.6). In fact, should the Phillies win the World Series this season, they would have the third oldest batting age of a World Series champion[5].

Offensively, the Philles are a slightly above average offense putting up a team slash line of .255/.325/.402. Compare that to the more prolific offenses of the Mets and the Reds. The ’86 Mets put up a slash line of .263/.339/.401 and lead the NL in each of those categories. The ’75 Reds had a slash line of .271/.353/.401 which ranked 2/1/3 in the NL. The ’76 Reds led the MLB in each slash line category posting a .280/.357/.424 line.

While the Phillies pitching staff is better than those three teams, the margin of error for the staff is small. Last season, the Phillies ran into a staff that could match them pitch for pitch in the San Francisco Giants. This year, they could potentially avoid such a team due to the question marks about the health of Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens of the Braves. There is one team that the Phillies must be wary of in the NL and that is the Milwaukee Brewers.

In a series against the Phillies, the Brewers have the better overall lineup. They would have four of the six best offensive players in the series. Then, factor in the uncertainty of Jimmy Rollin’s and Chase Utley’s health going into the playoffs and the Brewers have a big advantage offensively.

While the pitching of the Brewers does not match that of the Phillies, they have the right kind of pitchers to win in the postseason. Their trio of starters (Gallardo, Greinke, and Marcum) are all pitchers who can get strikeouts when they need them. In the playoffs, that is a critical aspect of starting pitching since it helps pitchers get out of jams with minimal damage. When comparing the bullpen’s it pretty much a wash.

The Phillies have had a remarkable regular season and there is no one who can take that away from them. However, World Series are only lost from April to September. They are won in October. So once the playoffs begin, you can throw out the regular season records. In baseball, all you have to do is get in and you have a shot at becoming champions.

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