Change-UpOctober 06, 2010
Playoff Primer
By Patrick Sullivan

There is no shortage of great sites where you can catch LDS previews. Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs are both running in-depth previews of each series. Team-oriented sites like The Process Report, River Avenue Blues, Pinstriped Bible, Aaron Gleeman, Lonestar Ball, Crashburn Alley, Red Leg Nation, Red Reporter, McCovey Chronicles and Capitol Avenue Club also have you covered.

I thought we could take a different approach here and just pull out a handful of thematic storylines running through the 2011 post-season and have a look. For starters, let's look at two of the better rookies in recent memory set to square off out in San Francisco for the National League Division Series.

Jason Heyward wasted no time making a name for himself in 2010, homering in his first career plate appearance off of Chicago's Carlos Zambrano. If you don't think he's captivated the Atlanta faithful, I urge you to check this out:

It's with good reason, too. Heyward is the most promising player his age to come along in decades. Below is a look at the five best 20-year old seasons in terms of OPS+ since 1946 (65 years). Minimum 300 plate appearances:

Num Year OPS+
1 Frank Robinson 1956 142
2 Jason Heyward 2010 131
3 Vada Pinson 1959 128
4 Orlando Cepeda 1958 125
5 Bob Horner 1978 124

On its own, that's compelling but with names like Pinson and Horner on there, are there any guarantees that Heyward will become a superstar? Well there are no guarantees, but this next table tells you why Heyward stands out from the bunch at this stage. It's all about his approach.

Year BB%
Frank Robinson 1956 9.6
Jason Heyward 2010 14.6
Vada Pinson 1959 7.8
Orlando Cepeda 1958 4.5
Bob Horner 1978 6.7

Heyward's walk rate stands way above the others on that list, which bodes extrardinarily well for his future.

In the NLDS Heyward and the Braves face the San Francisco Giants and their standout rookie, Buster Posey. Here are the best OPS+ seasons by a catcher 23 and under with 300 plate appearances since 1961 (50 years):

Num Year OPS+
1 Brian McCann 2006 143
2 Johnny Bench 1970 141
3 Joe Torre 1964 140
4 Gary Carter 1977 137
5 Buster Posey 2010 128

Posey and Heyward play critical roles on their respective teams, too. Heyward trails only McCann among Braves position players in Fangraphs WAR. Posey trails only Andres Torres and Aubrey Huff on the Giants.


New Digs

From the entirely non-predictive department, the last two teams to qualify for the playoffs in their first season in a new ballpark won the World Series. Both the 2009 New York Yankees and 2006 St. Louis Cardinals won the Fall Classic their first year in new Yankee and Busch Stadiums, respectively.

This year, the Twins will give it a go. It's been an incredible debut year for Minnesota at Target Field, as they have posted a home record of 53-28. The Twins will be without the services of Justin Morneau, one of the very best players in baseball, but they're used to it at this point. Since Morneau played his last game on July 7th, the Twins actually improved their record, going 49-29 to close the season. Over that same span, the Yankees were 41-36.


2002 K-Rod Candidates

Jeff Fletcher has a good piece on Aroldis Chapman today, and how his presence to the Reds could be what Francisco Rodriguez was to the 2002 Angels. I agree with Fletcher, but there are others who fit that category too.

For one, there's AL Rookie of the Year candidate Neftali Feliz. The Rangers could expand their Closer's role to include additional high-leverage work. Remember, Feliz came up through the Minors as a starter. He could handle additional innings here and there.

There's also Craig Kimbrel of the Atlanta Braves, who has 40 strikeouts in just 20.2 innings of Big League work. He'll have to improve his control if he is going to dominate the way Atlanta might like him to. Kimbrel has 16 walks to go along with those 40 punch-outs. At the same time, the Braves won't need to lean too heavily on him given their relief depth, should Kimbrel struggle.


Lefties Reign in the AL

Top-5 American League playoff starters by Fangraphs WAR:

Num Pitcher fWAR
1 Cliff Lee 7.0
2 Francisco Liriano 6.0
3 C.C. Sabathia 5.2
4 C.J. Wilson 5.1
5 David Price 4.3

Notice any commonality there?

The top righty was Carl Pavano of the Twins.


Things You Should Read

This Dave Cameron piece on how Dusty Baker should deploy his pitching staff in Game One. Sure, the schedule allows Philly the chance to deploy its big-3, but it also allows the Reds to keep their outstanding bullpen fresh.

This guest post by Mike Fast on David Price on The Process Report was outstanding. Jeremy will really appreciate it, I think.

Joe Pawlikowski's take on A.J. Burnett's move to the Yankee bullpen is terrific, too.

So you want to dabble in the free agent pitching market, huh? Sure you might net yourself a gem like C.C. Sabathia. But how about Barry Zito, Javier Vazquez and Burnett? Where would the Red Sox be had John Lackey and Josh Beckett pitched the way Boston had hoped? In Zito, Vazquez, Burnett, Lackey and Beckett, that's $76.5 million doled out to starters who will not be taking a playoff rotation turn.


Yes, I always enjoy Mike Fast's work. David Price's not so much. That 27/1 Rays World Series ticket just got a whole lot less valuable.

It's a shame that Scheppers and McGee aren't on the Rangers/Rays postseason rosters, as they'd both make good K-Rod candidates. Also unfortunate that the Angels didn't make the playoffs, because Jordan Walden is unreal.