Balance best formula to win in majors

Jun 29, 2004 1:01 AM

There are so many different statistical angles when it comes to analyzing baseball that it’s not always easy to categorize the most important stats. For instance, the old adage says that pitching wins in October more so than hitting.

Well, last season the Florida Marlins were seventh in the National League in pitching ERA and won the World Series. In fact, four of the six NL teams ahead of Florida in ERA didn’t even make the playoffs. Offensively, the Marlins were even lower on the statistical totem pole — fifth in batting average, 11th in homers, 13th in walks.

So what is the bottom line for successful baseball? Winning, of course. However, there’s no single formula to build a winning team.

In the 1970s the Orioles had success constructing their teams on pitching, defense and the three-run homer. In the 1980s, Whitey Herzog went to St. Louis preaching speed. That formula brought the Cardinals three NL pennants and a World Series title in 1982. In the 90s, the Yankees combined a deep farm system with piles of money to build four World Series champions.

For this season, clearly pitching isn’t everything, as some claim. Four of the top 10 ERA teams in each league are struggling, even though their pitching is very good. The last place Mariners are third in the AL, yet have little shot at the playoffs in what has been a frustrating season.

A balanced offense is always a plus. Managers prefer teams that have a good batting average, draw some walks and can frequently pop the ball out of the park. On the other hand, the Cleveland Indians and Colorado Rockies have some impressive offensive numbers, but are focused more on getting above .500. Both the Indians and Rockies have poor pitching, both in the bullpen and in their starting rotations.

The Yankees have excellent balance between pitching and offense, despite recent injuries to some of their starters. The same can be said of the A’s and Red Sox. It’s also worth noting that Anaheim is ranked sixth in pitching, just missing the list.

The Angels do rank third in batting, despite a rash of injuries to many key offensive players. Combined with a strong batting average (third) and the fact that they’ve suffered a rash of injuries to offensive players who are just starting to return, the Angels have very good balance, as well.

In the National League, the Mets and Padres are atop the pitching stats, but that might be more because they play in large, pitcher-friendly parks. Both teams are struggling around the .500 mark and rank last in the NL along with Montreal in RBI. The Mets also have the second worst batting average in the NL while the Padres are dead last in home runs.

The Cubs and Dodgers currently have impressive balance between pitching and hitting. While the Florida Marlins didn’t dazzle statistically and surprised many with their run to the championship last fall, remember that in 2002 the Angels were second in the American League in ERA and first in batting average (.282). They went on to win the World Series aided by that great balance between hitting and pitching.