Why the Fangraphs 2022 World Series Predictions are Wrong
by Cary Greene
June 27, 2022
There’s no shortage of reading material out there about how great various players on the Yankees are doing and what a great season the Yankees are having. Fangraphs now gives the Yankees a 100% chance of making the playoffs, a 94.4% chance of clinching a first round bye and a 12.3% chance of winning the World Series.
Today I am starting a three-part series to provide a glimpse of what the Yankees postseason path this year is going to look like. Doing that involves making sound predictions rooted in baseball history, but also using current stats.
Read on for the answers to the most perplexing questions regarding the Yankees 2022 postseason future imaginable!
Who Are the Supposed Contenders?
Before we throw the World Series victory parade now because this is the greatest Yankees team ever, we ought to consider that Fangraphs lists the Astros chances of winning the World Series at 14.1%, they list the Dodgers chances at 13.7%, and Braves chances at 12.3% - which means there are two other ball clubs that Fangraphs feels are better presently equipped to win in the playoffs than the Yankees are and one other team with absolutely just as good of a chance of winning it all as the Yankees. Fangraphs also feels the Mets chances of a championship are extremely good, giving them a 11.9% chance.
Suffice it say, Fangraphs thinks there are five heavyweight contenders who’s silhouettes loom very imposingly in the ring and that’s not even counting other team’s who are in the conversation as being possible contenders, such as the Padres (8.4%), Blue Jays (6.4%), Brewers (4.6%), Giants (3.9%), Red Sox (2.4%) and Cardinals (2.3%) who before you start laughing out loud, collectively have a 19.6% chance of winning it all.
Personally, I couldn’t disagree more with Fangraphs World Series odds by team. I think they vastly overrated the Mets, Blue Jays, Giants, Cardinals and White Sox while simultaneously underrating the Dodgers, Astros, Yankees, Braves, Red Sox, Rays and Brewers. The truth is, there are four cosmic powered entities in the baseball universe and no, Galactus and Thanos aren’t good enough this year to win it all, neither has the pitching.
How Far Into the Season Are We?
Compounding all of this is that there is still more than half of a MLB season yet to be played, as we’re still only 44% of the way to the finish line that would mark the end of the season the beginning of what will be a spectacular playoffs stage, the competitive likes of which MLB has not seen in a very long team.
What’s the Most Important Ingredient of a Championship Team?
I’ve long-studied World Series championship teams, going all the way back to 1903 in the process and have learned a great deal. Only seven times in World Series history as a team with a below average Regular Season ERA+ won it all. Pitching is therefore what separates the real McCoy’s from the bourgeois. If a franchise really wants to win it all, they had better not overlook pitching, lest they toil away in vain, bopping home runs for nothing more than the sake of selling hot dogs and cold beers.
Can a Team with Below Average Pitching Win it All?
The short answer is yes, it’s remotely possible. It’s been done, but we can actually weed five of these teams out though, because each of them won in part because their pitching got dramatically better in the World Series than it was in the regular season.
1. Most recently, 2012 Giants won with an ERA+ 5 points below League Average, but their pitching staff was lights out in the World Series, posting a 1.46 ERA, compared to their 3.68 regular season mark - so I’d have to conclude that in the end, the ‘12 Giants won because of vastly improved postseason pitching.
2. The 2006 Cardinals also won with below average regular season pitching but the Cards pitching heated up during the postseason and was actually a big reason they won on ‘06
3. In 1987, the Twins repeated the dubious feat and proved the theory that below average regular season pitching can actually be overcome, as they won the World Series that year despite their pitching staff turning in a 99 ERA+, which was two points below the League Average of 101 that season. The Twins ‘97 postseason ERA of 3.75 was a massive +0.87 points better than the staff’s 4.62 regular season mark though, so again, a team with below average regular season pitching performed significantly better in the World Series - mainly because both Frank Viola and Bert Blyleven ate up most of the World Series Innings for the Twins that year, as they edged the Cardinals four games to three.
4. I had to go all the way back to 1913 to find another example of a team managing to win the World Series despite having below league average pitching. The 1913 Philadelphia A’s managed to win the World Series despite having the second worst regular season pitching in MLB. That was an amazing stat! Their ERA+ that season was an 87, which was 13 points below the League Average of 100. The A’s offense was led by Home Run Baker and Eddie Collins, and they led the league's number one offense that year - in a season that culminated with Series victory of the New York Giants four games to one. However, the A’s clinched the series by winning game five behind staff ace Eddie Plank, 3-1 so obviously their pitching staff was a big reason they won that series so easily, in fact, they posted a 2.15 staff ERA in the World Series that season.
Only Three Teams Won Championships with Below Average Pitching:
I did find three examples of truly anomalous teams though. Two were very clear-cut and one barely qualifies as an example. The 2017 Astros, the 2014 Giants won with below average regular season pitching that was even worse in the World Series. The other team that we can group with the ‘17 Astros and the ‘14 Giants is the 2011 Cardinals. Let’s look at each example briefly:
The 2017 Houston Astros have to be the most glaring example ever of a team who won that shouldn’t have. History says their overall pitching really wasn’t good enough to win a World Series. The Astros had a regular season ERA+ of 99 that season, which was two-points below the league average of 101. What makes the Astros even more of an outlier though, is that in the World Series that year against the Dodgers, the Astros pitching staff had a 4.64 ERA, which was +.052 worse than their season average of 4.12. Obviously this team cheated and its well documented. The Astros truly did steal the World Series, as if they knew which pitches were being thrown ahead of time, by out slugging the Dodgers (and the Yankees prior). The ‘17 Astros won despite pitching that wasn’t very good overall.
Ironically, only three-years prior, the 2014 Giants, another anomalous team in history, won a World Series on the backs of Madison Bumgarner, Hunter Pence, and Pablo Sandoval. Their 99 ERA+ during the regular season was also two-points below League Average (101) and during the Series, their staff pitched to a 3.98 ERA which was a half a run worse than their 3.50 regular season mark. Of course, Bumgarner ate up 21 innings in the hard-fought seven-game classic, pitching to a virtually unhittable 0.43 ERA. Still, the rest of the rotation was pretty putrid overall, but fortunately for the Giants, they had a decent bullpen anchored by Sergio Romo, who was also instrumental in the series win and of course, their offense was able to carry them.
The last anomalous team in history was the 2011 Cardinals. The Cards had a regular season ERA+ a mere two points below average and in the World Series, their team ERA was +0.08 higher than their regular season mark - 3.86 to 3.74 so technically, they are only the third team ever to win with below average regular season pitching and World Series pitching that was even worse.
Mathematically speaking, a team with below average regular season pitching has only a 6% chance of winning the World Series. Though it can be done, it would pretty much take a near-miracle for a team with below average pitching to win it all. Therefore, Fangraphs is lending a great deal too-much legitimacy to many teams who have miniscule real chances of winning it all.
This means, Fangraphs is really off base. For example, they’re giving the Mets better than a 10% chance to win the World Series - but the Mets don’t have anywhere close to the level of pitching that the last 117 years worth of past World Series champions averaged. Something’s amuck!
Tomorrow I will explain more about how off base Fangraphs is this year….