Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Pick your Poison

As of today, it looks as if the Cardinals are most likely to play either the Dodgers or the Giants in the first round of the playoffs. Of course, the Braves only have a 1.5 game lead over the Dodgers for the #2 seed, and it isn't out of the question that the Dodgers could overtake them. But considering that the Dodgers have a tougher schedule, let's assume for now that the NL East winner can hang onto the #2 seed, regardless as to if we're talking about LA or SF. Which team would you rather play?

Head to Head

The Cardinals went 4-2 against the Dodgers, 3-3 against the Giants. While that's not much of a sample size, it at least tells us that the Cardinals should be favored to win against either team, with anything being possible.


The Cardinals and the Giants are the top 2 run scoring teams in the NL, with the Dodgers having scored the 9th most. In regard to team OPS, St. Louis is 1st at 806, San Francisco 3rd at 793, and Los Angeles 8th at 762. The Cardinals have the edge, with the Giants right behind.


Right now the Cardinals have the best ERA in the NL at 3.69, with the Dodgers 4th at 3.94, the Giants 15th at 4.38. In regard to OPS allowed, the Cardinals once again lead the NL at 707, with the Dodgers 4th at 721, Giants 16th at 757. Despite recent struggles, the Cardinals are still arguably the top pitching staff in the NL, with the Dodgers right behind.


This is harder to measure, but we can at least get a feel for the better defending teams. The Dodgers have the best fielding percentage at .988, with the Cardinals 6th at .985, Giants 8th at .984. Of course, since the difference between .988 and .984 is 4 errors over 1000 chances, we do not see much seperation between the three teams using that metric.

If we introduce range factor into the discussion, the Cardinals are 2nd in the NL at 38.4, the Giants 4th at 37.8, and the Dodgers 9th at 37.3. The Cardinals make more putouts and assists per 9 innings than either the Giants or the Dodgers, but that could be due to a staff that strikes out out fewer batters.

In order to get one more stat for fielding, let's look at zone rating. The Dodgers lead the NL at .865, the Cardinals are 2nd at .859, and the Giants are 15th at .833. Combining all three stats to paint a picture, I think we can gather that all three teams are solid defensively, with the Cardinals probably the best, the Dodgers 2nd, and the Giants 3rd (potentially a distant 3rd based on zone rating).

Park Factors

Of course - we all know that both the Dodgers and the Giants play in parks that favor pitchers, so their offensive numbers are devalued, while their pitching numbers are made to look better than reality. Is this the case in 2004?

Using ESPN's park factor stats, I found something interesting - SBC Park is not pitcher friendly this year! If you look at the park factors for runs scored, home runs, and hits, you see the following.

Runs HR Hits
Busch .933 (19th) .790 (27th) 1.000 (13th)
Dodger .914 (23rd) 1.055 (12th) .972 (20th)
SBC 1.064 (10th) .885 (23rd) 1.071 (7th)

To read the above table, you simply read the value under a column and compare it to the league average, which would be 1.000. So, Busch stadium has had 6.7% fewer runs scored in it's games than the league average (19th in the majors), while SBC park has had 6.4% more runs scored than the average (10th in the majors).

So, according to this table, Cardinal hitters are actually at a disadvantage this year in the home run department, making the numbers Pujols and Edmonds are putting up even more impressive. SBC park is still hard to get home runs in, but in regard to overall scoring the park is actually hitter friendly. And Dodger stadium, as usual, is hard to score runs in, but not so hard to hit home runs in. If we adjust runs scored and runs allowed based on the above information, we can get a better comparison between the three teams.

Runs Scored

To adjust runs scored values, we will assume that half of all runs scored were on the road, and thus in a neutral park. This isn't exactly fair, since NL West teams play more games in Colorado, but it can at least give us a bit of an adjustment taking park factors into account.

Cardinals 396*1.067+396 = 818
Giants 393.5/1.064+393.5 = 763
Dodgers 353*1.086+353 = 736

When you adjust for park factor, the Giants offense doesn't look nearly as impressive as that of the Cardinals. And while the Dodgers look a little better, they still don't stack up very nicely.

Runs Allowed

Cardinals 300.5*1.067+300.5 = 621
Dodgers 308*1.086+308 = 642
Giants 363/1.064+363 = 704

This data provides for quite a bit more seperation between the Giants and the other two potential playoff opponents.


Simply comparing the Giants and Dodgers, we see that the Giants have the best offense, with the Dodgers leading in pitching and defense. In head to head games, the Cardinals had slightly better success with the Dodgers, but only by the tune of one game.

Personally, I think the Cardinals match up well with either of these teams. In all honesty, I think that the Cardinals would be better of playing the Giants in the NLDS, even though I know many Redbird fans who are frightened of Jason Schmidt and Barry Bonds in a short series. While we know that either or both of them could dominate over a 5 game set, they are human.

Cardinal hitters held Bonds to .167/.318/.500 - 818 OPS over 21 plate appearances. The potential for the Cards to carry Kline, King, and Ankiel in the playoffs would further help them get favorable match-ups with the heavily padded one. As far as Jason Schmidt goes - has anyone else noticed that he has a 1-2 record in September with a 6.26 ERA? He could be wearing down.

So yes - if I were chosing, I think I would take the Giants. Do they scare me in a 5 game series? To be honest, the Pittsburgh Pirates would scare me in a best of 5 series if my life were on the line. But all things considered, I think the Cardinals match up very will with San Francisco.


At 2:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

SBC Park may have a higher RS and hits park effect, but the HR is still 23rd in the league, Bonds notwithstanding. Busch had higher park factors last year, because our pitching sucked, so we saw a lot of 8-6 or similar games there. So goes it with the 2004 G-men, I think.

And the Pads aren't out of it by any stretch, with three more games against the Giants plus six with the D-backs, but they'd better win at least 9 of their last 11 -- with a sweep of the Giants.

At 8:04 AM, Blogger Robb said...

Park factors - for the most part - are not very effected by the home team being good or bad, since both the home and away teams are used in the calculation. In other words, the 2003 Cardinals pitching was bad both at home and on the road. By using both the home and away teams in each game at each stadium, however, you factor out the good and bad teams.

Using SBC as an example this year, the Giants have scored 416 runs at home, while their opponents have scored 385, which adds up to 801. On the road, however, the Giants have scored 380 runs, giving up 343 for a total of 723. The Giants themselves only account for half of the data at SBC, thus cancelling out anything "fishy."

The effects of other parks have to be taken into consideration, but that is a basic example of why a good or bad team isn't the biggest impact on a park factor during a given year. Usually, the difference from year to year is weather. St. Louis is a good example, as the Summer was much cooler and much less humid than typical, which most likely resulted in lower scoring games due to the ball flying out of the park less.

Some people prefer to calculate park factors using the last 3 to 5 years to help average out weather patterns, as well as to get a better sample size to avoid potential problems like those you mentioned.


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