The other night, I was in my girlfriend's parents' kitchen, flipping between golf and the Yankee game. This family is long-time New York sports fans, but her dad in particular has just the weirdest fandom ever. He's only confident in the ability of exactly one of his teams, and that's the ice hockey Rangers. The football Giants are bums, and the Yankees are terrible and have been terrible for a while now.
So he likes to argue with me when I'm around about how the Orioles are way, way better than the Yankees, highlighting all of New York's problems while ignoring my continued insistence that the Yankees in fact have a better record than Baltimore. His favorite "Yankee problem" is one I've heard around the internet, too, and that's that the Yankees "hit too many home runs", to which I laughed and then said "OH NO! ...and by the way, the Orioles are also incredibly reliant on the home run".
Which is true. Baltimore has the second most homers (behind New York) in the American League, with 204 after their barrage against Toronto. Despite this, the O's are still a below average run-scoring team on the season (New York, for the record, scores the second-most runs in the AL, heaven forbid for all those Yankee fans). The reason for that discrepancy is that while the Orioles have a ton of power, they don't get on base well; their .313 OBP on the season is fourth worst in the AL, ahead of only the Oakland Athletics among playoff contenders.
The Orioles have scored 321 runs on balls that leave the playing field, which covers about 47% of all of their run scoring on the year. The Yankees, since I'm still working with this comparison, have scored 367 runs off home runs (49%). In fact, here's all of the likely AL playoff teams and how reliant they are on the long ball (as of Thursday morning, according to Baseball Reference):
|Team||Runs Scored||Runs Via HR||HR Runs%|
Is this really a problem? I want very much to say of course everyone should labor to be more like the Rangers, but that's an obvious point: Texas has the most runs scored in baseball. They hit more than most teams, and they hit for more extra base hits than most teams. They have that extra facet to their game in addition to home runs, and of course that's a good thing.
But what about the Tigers? They lead the AL in on-base percentage and are below average at hitting home runs (despite having two of the most powerful hitters in their lineup...just goes to show that one man, or even two men, do not a team make), and they have only scored 14 more runs than the Orioles. It seems to me that both of these styles of offense have pretty much been equally effective over the course of the season. Runs are runs, after all. Why, exactly, is an offense that is homer-centric a bad thing?
My girlfriend's father's answer to this, which I guess is the pretty much the standard line for HR-fearing Yankee fans, is that the good pitchers don't give up home runs, and if you run into one of those then you're pretty much screwed. And you're pretty likely to do just that in the playoffs. Certainly, as the Orioles approach a date with the Athletics in the Coin Flip Game, I am anticipating the A's sending out Jarrod Parker, who leads the American League in lowest home run rate allowed.
To which I have two replies. First, look at Fangraphs' leaderboard of pitchers with the lowest rate of home runs allowed this season: Gio Gonzalez, Jarrod Parker, Felix Hernandez, Tim Hudson, Johnny Cueto...hey, these guys are ALL really good pitchers period. Any type of offense can be shut down by them. Good pitching beats good hitting, remember?
Secondly, and more importantly, there's one thing you need to know about the playoffs: anything can happen*. It's called The Coin Flip Game for a reason; any two teams going head to head in a single game can go either way. The Astros took two of three from the Reds earlier this month...in Cincinnati. That's baseball, man. There are no heavy favorites in a short series. The Orioles already faced Jarrod Parker once; they hit a home run off him. That stuff happens. All you can do...is buckle up (sorry, I'm so sorry).
*I'd be completely remiss if I didn't mention the best Billy Beaneism of all time: "My [stuff] doesn't work in the playoffs." But of course, if you ask anybody who's seen Moneyball 20 times and never once understood it, they'd probably have no idea what Mr. Beane meant when he said that.