The San Francisco Giants’ championship in 2010 was supposed to usher in a new era of pitching dominance. With offense levels reaching long-time lows, the conventional wisdom suggested that only with a strong starting rotation could a team hope to make the World Series. Then, 2011 happened.
The Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals have each advanced to this year’s Fall Classic despite lackluster starting pitching. In fact, the teams’ respective rotation ERAs of 5.62 and 5.43 rank near the bottom among the field of eight that began the postseason. Even more incredibly, the two teams combined had only one starter go at least six innings (C.J. Wilson in game 5 of the ALCS) in their recent LCS triumphs, and the Cardinals actually logged more innings from the bullpen than the starting rotation (28 2/3 vs. 24 1/3) during its victory over the Milwaukee Brewers.
Postseason ERAs by Starting Rotation
So, how exactly have the Rangers and Cardinals managed to survive with such poor starting pitching? Dominant relief pitching and lots of runs scored. In 42 2/3 innings a piece, Texas’ and St. Louis’ relievers have posted ERAs of 2.34 and 2.55, respectively, while their offenses have averaged at least 5.5 runs per game. Only the Yankees achieved more impressive rates in both categories, which makes the Bronx Bombers’ loss to the Tigers an even greater example of the randomness of postseason outcomes.
Pitching/Offensive Performance of 2011 Playoff Teams
|Team||G||RS||RA||Diff/G||Starters ERA||Bullpen ERA||R/G|
What makes the relatively poor pitching in this year’s postseason seem so stark is the comparison to last year. In 2010, postseason starters compiled an ERA of 3.35, the third lowest rate during the wild card era. This year, however, the composite ERA of 5.27 would rank next to last. Although the two run difference represents a seismic shift, it’s worth noting that neither year stands out considerably. Instead, the performance of starters in October has seemed to fluctuate randomly.
So, if starting pitching doesn’t win championships, what does? It might be a simple answer, but the best way to win the World Series is by using the same formula that applies during the regular season: score more runs than your opponent. Whether a team relies on dominant starters, a shutdown bullpen, or a lineup of sluggers, the bottom line remains the same. Championships are won on the scoreboard, not by comparing the line score for each team’s starting rotation.