The Pirates fooled me last year and maybe it’s because I wanted to get fooled. Outside of the Phillies somehow managing to wrest control of the NL East back from the Nationals, this is the outlook I hope is the most inaccurate to the downside. For the second consecutive year, the Pittsburgh Pirates, the team with the unfathomable twenty-year run of under .500 finishes, had themselves in the thick of a pennant race well into August. After beating St. Louis 6-3 in a thrilling Sunday afternoon-into-late-night 19-inning game, exactly three-fourths of the 2012 season was over and the Pirates were 13 games over .500 and leading the pack for the second Wild Card berth.
Last year had to be both pleasing and depressing for Brewers fans. Pleasing because the team that lost Prince Fielder to free agency still finished as the highest-scoring team in the National League. Depressing because while the average bullpen in the major leagues had an ERA of 3.77, the relievers for the Brewers had a 4.66 ERA – the worst in baseball. If Milwaukee had simply had an average bullpen, over the 512 innings pitched, they would have given up 51 less runs. 51 runs equate to something between five and six wins and the Brewers finished five games out of the final wild card spot. It does seem a shame that they wasted a second straight MVP-caliber season from Ryan Braun and traded away Zack Greinke with two months left in the season all because the bullpen was horrendous.
161 games. A lot went right for Cincinnati in a lot of different ways but the most obvious element is represented by 161 games. That’s the number of starts made by the Reds starting rotation. How rare is that in this day and age? 272 pitchers started an MLB game in 2012 which means each team had an average of a little more than 9 different pitchers start a game. There were only 73 pitchers in all of baseball who started at least 30 games and the Reds had 5 of them. Stated another way, the average team’s 5th starting pitcher only started 14 games and the top 5 averaged 27.5 For the Reds, that means they got 25 more starts from the Opening Day rotation than the average MLB team. That’s incredibly fortunate health for a team’s pitching staff, and it’s also incredibly valuable because 25 starts from replacement level pitchers are <.500 propositions.
Masked by the nine games they finished behind the Cincinnati Reds during the regular season, the Cardinals near-run to a second National League pennant (and perhaps a second-straight World Championship) seemed to surprise fans, especially given the stunningly dramatic way they ousted the Washington Nationals in the NLDS. However, on a restated runs basis – as shown above – stripping out all the effects of cluster luck the Cardinals were the second best team in the National League during the regular season behind only Washington. And once Washington decided to shut down Stephen Strasburg, you could certainly argue the two-game spread they enjoyed in that ranking completely disappeared.
I wasn’t going to write a lot about the Rockies. A reader took exception to my assertion that, because San Francisco was the highest scoring team in the National League over 81 games on the road (and second in all of baseball), the Giants therefore had a great offense. (Or, at the very least, it was vastly underrated and unfairly maligned because of the peculiar home environment that they play half their games in.) My reader disagreed. The Giants, I was told, only scored a lot of road runs because they had tremendous success at Coors Field and they get to play there a lot because the Rockies are in the NL West too.