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.
To my eye, the Arizona Diamondbacks ended the 2012 season very much like the New York Mets – a team much closer to making the postseason than their final record indicated. It’s hard for me to understand how the front office could look at last year’s team and feel much different about it than they did the year before when they made the playoffs. After all, last year’s squad scored as many runs as it did the 2011 unit (actually 3 more) and only gave up 26 more. Beneath the surface, there was more evidence of progression, not regression: The 2012 team hit for a higher average, got on base at a higher rate, and had a higher slugging percentage. On the mound, the year-over-year improvement, yes, improvement, in 2012 was even more striking. The staff struck out batters at a much higher rate, walked them less frequently and induced way more ground balls – an important factor in Arizona. Yet they gave up more runs. Why? Because of the cruel mistress that is cluster luck.
Like the San Francisco Giants, playing in a home park that suppresses scoring makes it hard to see just how promising an offense the San Diego Padres possessed last year. The Padres were 23rd in the majors in total runs scored but a more respectable 17th if you just look at all teams’ away games. The good news for San Diego is that coming into 2013, league-average looks like the floor for the team’s offensive potential. When healthy, the Padres have a projected lineup comprised entirely of 30-and-under talent and every one of them has already produced at an above-average level in the major leagues. Like no other projected lineup in the majors, this is an entire team poised for a breakout season.