Saturday, May 14, 2011

What’s the single most important ingredient to having a winning team?

First off, let me say if I actually did know this, I wouldn’t be here writing a blog, I’d be off travelling first class in Europe!

Having been part of a hugely successful franchise with my years spent playing for the Hogtown Bombers, I do have some insight into this that I’d like to share. After all, the team was a softball juggernaut during the time it existed.

Based on many years of watching baseball, I’ve come to some conclusions, and I think they make sense. By all means, please disagree with me, because I’m sure all the other long-time fans reading the blog probably have their own strong opinions and can support their conclusions. Let’s make this post the start of a very lively discussion.

It’s often stated that good pitching beats good hitting, and looking at the records of winning teams, this is born out over the years. A winning team needs two solid starters and two pretty good starters, or failing that, you need two huge aces and a bunch of other starters who can sort of get the job done most of the time. There was truth in the old Braves’ doggerel, “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain.”*

As pitching has gotten more specialized over the years, the bullpen has also gained in importance. A successful team needs at least three very reliable pitchers and a good closer at the very least. This number goes up as the stats of the starting rotation deteriorate. I’ll bet Bill James even has a formula for this.

So basically, if you have a killer pitching staff, you’re most of the way to the playoffs.

What? Did he actually say that?!

I did – and here’s why: behind that great pitching staff you need great defense, unless you have terrific hitting.

These days, outside of a few teams with really deep pockets, no one can afford to have an amazing pitching staff and great hitting. It’s just too unaffordable. So teams make decisions and cut corners here and there, putting together a roster that should have enough pitching and enough hitting. That means a couple of elite pitchers, maybe an elite closer and two or three good boppers for the middle of the line-up. Get about another half-dozen players having surprisingly good years (every team has a few of those guys) and you just might get to the playoffs.

But would it be possible to get to the playoffs if had the best pitching staff in the league, backed up by a defense of guys who can really flash the leather, but who don’t necessarily hit really well? How good would that offense need to be?

On the other hand, what if a team built a fearsome hitting lineup, and tried to make it with a less-than-ideal pitching staff? Hmmm... Somehow, I don’t think it would work because teams with some good pitching of their own would win too often (remember: good pitching beats good hitting) and even a weak pitcher can have a good day. I haven’t researched any numbers to back up my assumption, but I’m feel pretty certain I’m right.

Lastly, there’s the one thing no team has control over: injuries. A team can have the best line-up of all times and if there are enough key injuries, they’re screwed. Even though they’re not play-off material yet, the Jays are really suffering from the injury bug at the moment. They haven’t had their ideal starting line-up on the field for more than a handful of games to this point in the season.

So please weigh in all you armchair managers. Would a team with a truly great pitching staff, good defense and adequate hitting wind up getting to the World Series?

*Sports editor Gerald V. Hern’s poem in the Boston Post which was eventually shortened to the epigram, “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain.” According to the Baseball Almanac, the original doggerel appeared in Hern’s column on September 14, 1948:

First we’ll use Spahn

then we’ll use Sain

Then an off day

followed by rain

Back will come Spahn

followed by Sain

And followed
 we hope

by two days of rain.


Will Braund said...

I have to agree with Rick when he argues that the top teams have the best pitching, There have been few exceptions. One would be the 1975, '76 Big Red Machine, whose only great pitcher was Don Gullett. The Brooklyn Dodgers of the 50's had great hitters but their starters, including Don Newcombe and Carl Erskine, gave up a lot of runs.
As for teams that had little or no hitting, the 1906 Chicago Cubs spring to mind. Apart from Frank Chance and Harry Steinfeldt, 'the Hitless Wonders', had no hitting at all. Okay, Tinkers, Evers, and Chance turned some double plays, but not really all that many compared tho their peers. Having 3-Finger Brown (1.04 ERA), Jack Pfiester (1.51), and Ed Reulbach (1.65) on the mound helped though.
The Mets of the early '70's had Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack and Tug McGraw, but no power - until Rusty Staub arrived.
The '62 Dodgers had one really good hitter - Tommy Davis - and Maurie Wills could steal a base or two when he got on. Koufax and Drysdale tended to keep them in games though.
Having been inspired by Rick's rants, I shall write on Tuesday about the greatest starting rotations of all time.

Rick Blechta said...

You do that, William, YOU DO THAT!

The Ranter

John the Tomahawk Trembath said...

Well, I guess you both are right about pitching. Even though the talk is about the home run lately Winning teams have good pitching. So Will, I shall compare the tale of two teams for Thursday. By the way, the Big Red Machine did have some pitching in the persons of Fred Norman and Gary Nolan with 15 wins and the famous closer Rawley Eastwick who had a better record than Dan Gullet as starter to generate 108 wins in 75. The rest of the rotation was mediocre. For sure the bats were huge and most are in the HOF. All in all, do remember Dave Stieb, a great pitcher who had no lumber behind him to work the opposite side for the win.