As any astute reader knows, the two denizens of the Office hold ESPN talking head and writer Peter Gammons in high esteem.
Therefore, I’ve been pondering a worrisome observation he made a few nights ago. The Ichabod Craneian music lover and former Boston Globe scribe pointed out that the home team’s pitching staff ranks last in the National League in strikeouts. That’s bad because power pitching often rules the postseason, the gaunt Gammons opined.
That’s the conventional wisdom, and I would tend to agree based simply on feel and watching games. Think of Schilling and Johnson with the 2001 D-Backs, Schilling and Pedro last season, and so on. In fact, the ’95 Braves led the National League in strikeouts. Brian Jordan was quoted in the AJC the past couple of days saying any hitter prefers to face finesse pitchers in the postseason.
But the power-pitching rule is not infallible. The 2004 NL pennant-winning Cardinals ranked 10th in the league in Ks. They’re 13th this year and the consensus favorite to repeat. The 2003 Marlins were fifth in the NL and the ’02 Angels were only eighth in the junior circuit, while that year’s NL champion Giants were 13th in the NL.
This year, two of the National League playoff teams, the good guys and the Cardinals, are not even in the top 10 in the league in strikeouts. Yet three of the four playoff teams, assuming Houston is the wild card, are in the top five in team ERA, the best general measure of effectiveness. St. Louis is first, Houston second and the Braves fifth.
Another dent in the power-rules-October theory is the Cubs. Their staff leads the NL in strikeouts this year and, of course, won’t sniff the playoffs. They’ve had about the whiffingest staff around for the past four or five seasons and have not won a pennant, and made the NLCS only once.
Braves pitchers don’t strike out a lot of hitters, but the Braves play superb defense, committing 84 errors. Only Houston, with 83, has fewer. And with more strikeouts they’ve had fewer plays to make – 154 fewer total chances on the season.
Not to go stat crazy, but it’s interesting to note that Houston and St. Louis rank 15th and 16th in the league in stolen bases, with 53 and 32 respectively. Speed shouldn’t be a concern for Redbird postseason opponents: their would-be stealers have also been caught 32 times. The Braves have swiped 86 bags and been caught just 35 times. Among the playoff teams, San Diego ranks highest in steals at fifth, with 93.