Over the past several years, many teams have been striving to find a team that is cheap, but able to compete for a championship. If you look at the previous champions, (2015 Royals, 2014, 2012 Giants, 2013 Red Sox, and 2011 Cardinals) it is evident that teams should search for a top flight bullpen and a high batting average.
Although it is not surprising to note that teams with better hitting wins championships, it is interesting observe that of the last five champions none had a batting average that was worse than 10th in MLB during the regular season and 4 of the teams ranked inside the top 5 in batting average. The team that finished 10th was the 2014 Giants and they could be considered an outlier because Madison Bumgarner put forth the best postseason pitching performances in the last 50 years. Another interesting development to analyze is that winning teams do not necessarily have high on base percentages or great home run hitting ability. In terms of on base percentages, only two teams ranked inside the top 5 in MLB, Red Sox and Cardinals, and two teams ranked outside 10th in the league in on base percentage, Royals and 2014 Giants. The number of home runs by World Series winning teams is even more startling. Over the past 5 champions, only one ranked inside the top 10 in home runs and three even ranked in the bottom half of the league in home runs. In theory, this goes against Billy Beans’ model, but makes sense because the best pitchers are unlikely to walk opposing hitters or allow home runs. As the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals displayed during their championship run, it is necessary to put the ball in play and put pressure on defenders to make a play.
Another common aspect of championship teams is successful postseason relief pitching. Over the past several years, the game has altered and team’s bullpens have become nearly impossible to hit. The ability for managers to shorten the game with 3 great bullpen arms adds confidence and allows for starters to face a lineup only twice. Among the previous five champions, only one team, 2011 Cardinals, had a bullpen ERA over 2.35 and no team had a Batting Average Against of over .215. This means that the bullpens of the championship teams were totally dominant and nearly unhittable. In addition, the notion that great starting pitching wins World Series is incorrect. Over the past five years, only the San Francisco’s starters in 2012 had an ERA in the top ten in the league during the regular season. Although they ranked top ten, their ERA was 3.74, which would be an average ERA in most years.
Hitters That Teams Should Target:
Jason Heyward: Although Jason Heyward does not have the power numbers of a typical $200 million player, he will likely net a contract near that number this offseason. Heyward is a very good player because he hits for average, .293, plays extraordinary defense, and stills has the potential to turn into a 20 home run player. Unlike the other top outfielders on the market, Heyward is not a boom or bust player who will strikeout over 200 times per season and hit 40 home runs. Heyward may not be the team’s best player, but he will be a cornerstone player for a championship team.
Howie Kendrick: Since Kendrick has entered the league, he has shown a propensity to hit at a high level. Last season in Los Angeles, Kendrick batted .295 with 9 home runs. Although Kendrick will not transcend a team, he has the potential to extend a lineup. Even though Kendrick will not hit home runs, he can help maintain a rally and collect important hits.
Alex Gordon: Over the past two seasons with the Royals, Gordon displayed his talent and clutch factor. For teams that want a player like Heyward, but cannot afford to pay for his services, Gordon would be a great alternate. Although Gordon dealt with injuries this season, he still hit over .270 while playing great defense, and clubbing 13 home runs. Unlike Heyward, Gordon has World Series experience and success, which should attract many contenders this offseason.
Pitchers That Teams Should Target:
Darren O’Day: Although O’Day’s delivery is awkward, his success on the field cannot be denied. Over his career, he has totaled an ERA un 2.30 in 6 of his past 7 seasons. Even though O’Day is not a closer, he would be a great addition because he can lock down the 6th – 8th inning of a game. Unlike top flight starters who could command 9 fighures, O’Day will only cost between $25-35 million for three or four years.
Aroldis Chapman or Craig Kimbrel: During the trade deadline, Kimbrel and Chapman were two of the biggest names, but neither was dealt. However, this offseason, it appears Chapman will definitely be dealt and it is likely that Kimbrel will change teams. Chapman and Kimbrel are probably the best two closers in the league so they could have a dramatic effect on a team’s bullpen, although they will demand high compensation.