Is it good news or bad news that the number of post-season baseball games continues to expand? We will, herewith, leave the opining to others (you can all exhale now...); herein we are merely counting results.
And what we count here is a small subset of recent post-season activity. Five years' worth (2010-14), to be exact. (You might quibble that it's not a full five years, and you'd be right. Consider it four years and counting.)
Why such a short time frame? A snapshot in time just might, in this case, be more informative and interesting than the complete data set. (We can always do that later...for example, when this year's post-season has concluded.)
More informative? Possibly. What teams have dominated the post-season (which, in its own way, has become a mini-marathon) in five-year clusters? "Domination" might be too strong a word...how abou simply discovered who has played the most post-season games in any five-year stretch? (Or, whose total of post-season games is the highest percentage of any five-year total of post-season games?)
Interesting, yes? Earth-shattering...likely not. But something with which to pass a little time while we wait for the next round of the post-season to commence.
So...would you be surprised to know that the St. Louis Cardinals have played the most post-season games since 2010? As of Tuesday night, they've been in 52 post-season contests, which easily outdistances the Detroit Tigers (38) and the San Francisco Giants (36).
We've organized the 2010-14 post-season performance (at right) by winning percentage. We've color coded teams by the number of post-season games they've played. The Cardinals are the "hottest," so they have the "hot orange" coloring; on the other side of the spectrum, teams with less than five post-season games are displayed in pale blue.
What leaps out from this table is the post-season performance of the San Francisco Giants. With two World Series wins (2010, 2012) to their credit, we could expect that they'd be safely above .500, but to be playing better than .700 ball in the post-season is more than simply stunning.
(Of course, missing the playoffs entirely, as they did in 2011 and 2013, might be part of the recipe for such a stellar WPCT. No "three and out" division series performances to sully things. But--give them credit: when the Giants get to the post-season, they have clearly been able to gear-shift upwards.)
So the question is--how have they done that? As is often the case, Forman et fils can help us to understand that.
It turns out that the Giants are doing it with great pitching. (Which is probably what you'd suspected was the case.) Giants' starters are a combined 18-9 over the timespan covered (beginning with the 2010 post-season and ending with the 2014 division series). The starters' aggregate ERA in these games is 2.44.
While Madison Bumgarner is now anointed as the Giants' best starter, it turns out that he's only 4-3 in the post-season with a 3.08 ERA. That's not bad, but that's actually a bit worse than the overall performance of demoted multiple CYA winner Tim Lincecum (4-2, 3.05).
Matt Cain (currently on the shelf) has been the Giants' post-season ace (4-2, 2.10), and the Giants have been able to replace him with Jake Peavy and Tim Hudson, both of whom stepped up nicely in their first post-season appearances.
But the real "secret weapon" for the Giants--at least since 2012--is Ryan Vogelsong, who's now 3-0 with a 1.19 ERA over 30 1/3 post-season innings. Vogelsong made his fifth consecutive post-season start in which he gave up one run or less on Tuesday night.
And the Giants' bullpen has been superb in the post-season as well. They simply haven't given any games away, and have proven to be great pitchers in tie games--all of which adds up to an overall 8-1 record with a 2.51 ERA.
Aside from fine performances from the three different closers who were in place during each of the Giants' post-season appearances (Brian Wilson in 2010, Sergio Romo in 2012, Santiago Casilla in 2014), Bruce Bochy has gotten amazing work from his two lefties--Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt--who've been on all three post-season squads and have combined to allow just eight hits and three runs (two earned) in 25 2/3 IP.
When you put all of that together, it's probably not all that surprising that the Giants have such a stellar post-season WPCT over the past five years. We'll wait 'til the 2014 post-season comes to an end before undertaking a more systematic examination, but you'd have to give the Giants a solid chance at being in the top five "five-year performers" since the post-season added its "third prong" in 1995. Stay tuned...