Feist Facts by Jim Feist | While home runs mostly dot the top of the memorial landscape, October baseball can also feature memorable defensive plays and great pitching performances from starters and relievers.
We’ve already witnessed this in the ALCS. The Rays and Red Sox were ranked No. 3 and 4 in the American League in fewest errors made, and rated second and fourth in team ERA. The Angels, with baseball’s best record, were third in team ERA and one of the top defensive teams. Only one of the bottom nine AL teams in errors allowed made the postseason (White Sox).
This is important from a betting perspective. The surprise team of the season was Tampa Bay, just as a year ago pitching and defense keyed the Colorado Rockies to the NL pennant. Both the Rays and Rockies were 100-1 to win the World Series before the season started. The Rockies pitching improved from 13th in 2006 to eighth in 2007 when they were tops in the majors in team defense.
Taking a content analysis of the last 12 years of the World Series, pitching and defense shine a bit more on the October stage than offense. Over that time there have been 39 unders, 28 overs and 2 pushes in World Series play.
Since this is the last battle of the season, managers are using their best pitchers. This is why you see three-and four-man rotations in the World Series, whereas in the regular season teams employ a five and sometimes six.
The same is true for relief pitchers: A team generally has two or three quality relievers and three or four marginal/below average arms. Naturally, a manager is going to use his best often and go to his weakest arms only if necessary.
The Yankees spent millions on an offensive lineup for the ages the last three seasons, leading the majors in runs scored twice. However, offensive teams are built for the regular season. Teams stocked with a balanced lineup and excess pitching are built for October.
In addition, defense is a subtle, often overlooked aspect of baseball. There’s an old adage that teams win with pitching, hitting and defense, and that’s true. This is why you often see teams with outstanding center fielders, shortstops and catchers in the World Series because you need to be strong up the middle.
Finally, the weather is far colder in October than in July and August, and it’s tougher to hit a baseball when it’s cool. Two years ago, the A’s and Tigers hooked up for Game 3 in Detroit. It was 42 degrees at game time, the lowest for a postseason game since it was 38 in Cleveland at the 1997 World Series.
The final score? 3-0 Tigers, far under the total.
Back in the 2003 World Series between the Yankees and Marlins, five of the six games went under, capped by Josh Beckett’s 2-0 clincher at Yankee Stadium in Game 6.
So don’t be surprised if pitching and defense shines a bit more than offense, especially in cool climates.