Evaluating the National League Playoff Contenders

 As we head into the playoffs, letís take a quick look at the contenders to represent the National League in the World Series. Weíll start with each teamís 2004 regular season offensive statistics. (In parentheses is the teamís ranking for the applicable category among the 16 NL teams.)

Batting On-Base % Slugging %
St. Louis (1st) .278 St. Louis (4th) .344 St. Louis (1st) .460
Atlanta (4th) .270 Atlanta (5th) .343 Houston (6th) .436
Houston (7th) .267 Houston (6th) .342 Atlanta (7th) .434
Los Angeles (10th) .262 Los Angeles (8th) .332 Los Angeles (8th) .423

Runs scored Homeruns Stolen Bases
St. Louis (1st) 855 St. Louis (3rd) 214 St. Louis (2nd) 111
Atlanta (5th-t) 803 Los Angeles (4th) 203 Los Angeles (5th) 102
Houston (5th-t) 803 Houston (7th) 187 Houston (8th) 89
Los Angeles (9th) 761 Atlanta (9th) 178 Atlanta (9th) 86

Observation #1:  The Cardinals are an offensive machine! But how in the world do they have such a powerful lineup yet still have so many stolen bases? They do everything possible to score runs.

Observation #2:  The Dodgersí offense ranks last in several categories. Quite a contrast from the Cardinals, their first-round opponent. Their mediocre percentages can be partly explained by their ballpark. But how does that explain observation #3?

Observation #3:  The Dodgers, lowest among the playoff teams in average, on-base, slug, and the most important of all, runs scored, still hit over 200 homeruns! That surely isnít apparent in their slugging percentage. In comparison to the rest of the categories, that seems to be a very odd stat.

Observation #4:  Itís a bit difficult to distinguish Houston from Atlanta, first-round opponents. Though slightly behind the Braves in hitting and on-base, Houstonís leap over Atlanta in slugging percentage could likely be due to their ballpark.

The only interesting aspect of the sacrifice bunt statistic is the great disparity between the Astros and the rest:

Sacrifice Bunts
Houston (2nd) 98
Atlanta (8th) 75
St. Louis (9th) 73
Los Angeles (10th) 69

Watch the Astros to see if this becomes a factor in their series.

Letís turn our focus to pitching.

ERA

Batting allowed

On-Base allowed

Slug allowed

Atlanta (1st)

3.74

St. Louis (2nd)

.251

St. Louis (1st)

.313

Atlanta (2nd)

.400

St. Louis (2nd)

3.75

Los Angeles (3rd)

.254

Los Angeles (5th)

.323

St. Louis (3rd)

.403

Los Angeles (4th)

4.01

Houston (5th)

.258

Houston (7th)

.328

Los Angeles (5th)

.408

Houston (6th)

4.05

Atlanta (10th)

.265

Atlanta (8th)

.329

Houston (8th)

.417

 

 

 

 

Observation #1:  It takes a good pitching staff to make it through 162 games. Of the 12 non-playoff teams in the NL, only two had an ERA comparable with the playoff teams.

Observation #2: Slugging percentage must play a significant role in scoring runs. Otherwise, how else would Atlantaís ERA hold up as best in the league when they allow baserunners at an ordinary rate?

Observation #3:  St. Louis is not just a good offensive ballclub. The lineup gets all the pub, but the ptiching staff is for real.

Observation #4: Explaining away the Dodgersí hitting vulnerabilities because of their ballpark does not do their pitching staff any favors. There has to be more to the Dodgersí hitting woes than simply the ballpark.

Observation #5:  According to these numbers, Houstonís pitching staff appears to be the most consistently mediocre.

Letís break it down between starting pitchers and relievers.

Startersí ERA Batting allowed On-Base allowed Slug allowed
Atlanta (2nd) 3.84 Houston (5th) .260 St. Louis (5th) .321 Atlanta (1st) .400
Houston (3rd) 4.03 Los Angeles (6th) .262 Los Angeles (7th) .324 Houston (3rd) .410
St. Louis (5th) 4.08 St. Louis (8th) .263 Houston (8th) .328 St. Louis (9th) .427
Los Angeles (10th) 4.53 Atlanta (9th) .265 Atlanta (9th) .330 Los Angeles (11th) .437

 

Bullpen ERA Batting allowed On-Base allowed Slug allowed
St. Louis (1st) 3.01 St. Louis (1st) .225 St. Louis (1st) .294 St. Louis (1st) .347
Los Angeles (2nd) 3.06 Los Angeles (2nd) .240 Los Angeles (5th) .321 Los Angeles (2nd) .355
Atlanta (3rd) 3.57 Houston (8th) .254 Atlanta (6th) .327 Atlanta (5th) .399
Houston (10th) 4.10 Atlanta (12th) .267 Houston (7th) .328 Houston (13th) .429

Observation #1: The Cardinals bullpen is top notch! If their starters are steady enough, they may not blow any late leads.

Observation #2: Houstonís starters compare more favorably to the others than their bullpen does. The Astrosí bullpen numbers fail to show how dominate Brad Lidge has been in the closer role. The other three bullpens have the top three bullpen ERAs in the NL.

Observation #3: The Braves consistently allow a high batting average though, as shown by the overall pitching numbers, they shine most by not allowing many extra-base hits.

Observation #4: The Dodgersí numbers remain difficult to forecast. The startersí numbers are tainted by Hideo Nomo who had a horrible season and most surely will not be on the playoff roster. The bullpen looks to be a strength, second only St. Louis, but do these numbers reflect the loss of Guillermo Mota?

So who makes all the plays in the field?

Fielding %
Los Angeles (1st) .988
St. Louis (6th) .985
Houston (9th) .983
Atlanta (12th) .981

Observation #1: The Houston-Atlanta series might be a bit more sloppy than the St. Louis-Los Angeles series.

Observation #2: The Dodgers stand tall above the rest in defensive performance.

CONCLUSION: Putting it all together, St. Louis certainly appears to be the most complete of the teams. The Cardinalsí weakest area is in the starting pitching, which has been solid all year yet without an ace. With a high-powered offense and a lights-out bullpen, all the starters should have to do is be adequate for six innings.