Nolan Ryan is one of the best pitchers in baseball history. Ryan piled up the strikeouts, but he also piled up the walks - he had a career BB/9 of 4.7, and twice issued more than 200 free passes in a single season. His career ERA+ of 112 doesn't even rank in the top 250 all time. Other pitchers with a career 112 ERA+: Bartolo Colon, Wilson Alvarez, Al Leiter, and Orel Hershiser. Ryan was incredibly durable and frequently dominant, but one of the best he was not.
The key to a successful team is pitching and defense. The value of a run scored is essentially the same as that of a run prevented. Just ask the Yankees. Or the Mets. Or the Phillies. Or pretty much any of those Cleveland teams from the 1990's. While having the best offense in the league isn't any guarantee to get you to the playoffs, neither is having the best pitching staff, and at the end of the day it's just as good to beat someone 7-6 as it is to beat them 2-1.
The playoffs are a crapshoot. The idea behind this cliche - that the October sample size is so small that pretty much anything can happen - is perfectly fine; even the best teams in baseball have the odds stacked overwhelmingly against them. But that doesn't mean it's all a matter of luck. I can't find the article(s) for my life, but it's been shown that teams with good defenses, strikeout pitchers, and/or aggressive contact lineups tend to succeed more often in the postseason than their peers. The '01 Diamondbacks had the two dominant aces. The '02 Angels had the aggressive lineup, awesome defense, and shutdown bullpen. The '03 Marlins had the lineup and reliable ace. And so on. There's no way to guarantee a championship, as anyone can win in any given year, but there are ways to better your odds. And remember, once you're in October, depth doesn't mean anything. If you're looking to win a championship, you damn sure better have stars at the top.
The trade deadline is exciting and full of movement. I fall for this one every year. The biggest names to be traded on July 31st over the past few seasons: Eric Gagne, Octavio Dotel, Greg Maddux, Julio Lugo, Matt Lawton, Kyle Farnsworth, Steve Finley, Esteban Loaiza, Jose Contreras, Aaron Boone, Sidney Ponson, Bobby Howry, John Thomson, Ugueth Urbina, Pedro Astacio, Rondell White, and Al Martin. The big Nomar trade back in 2004 is literally the only deal involving a superstar to go down on deadline day in a long long time, and even then Nomar was fighting injury (he only played 81 games). Significant trades do get made during the year, but by the time July 31st rolls around, odds are all the major names are staying put where they are.
Mark Buehrle is a wuss. Wrong.
The 2001 Mariners were built on pitching, defense, and fundamentals. The 2001 Mariners scored the most runs in the league and also had the highest BA and OBP despite playing half their games in Safeco. On top of that, their team defensive efficiency was a staggering 23 points ahead of second place. This team was built on an unstoppable offense and one of the best defenses in recent history. I don't know why its lineup never gets the respect it deserves. Its total .283 EqA is tied with the 2003 Red Sox for the best baseball's seen in seven years.
The 2002 Angels won the World Series with pitching, defense, and fundamentals. In 16 playoff games, the 2002 Angels scored 101 runs and allowed 81. They drilled 24 homers. Their starters had a cumulative ERA of 5.38. They scored 95 runs in their 11 wins. These guys won the Series because of hitting, John Lackey, Troy Percival, and Francisco Rodriguez.
Dave Roberts' steal in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS was the turning point in the series. WPA boost of Millar's leadoff walk: +12.4%. WPA boost of Roberts' steal: +11.5%. WPA boost of Mueller's tying single: +25.6%. It was an important stolen base, to be sure, but it wouldn't have happened were it not for Millar's walk, and it wouldn't have mattered were it not for Mueller's single.
Jim Rice should be in the Hall of Fame. Not only did Jim Rice fail to compile the big round numbers that the HoF generally requires for admittance, but he also took liberal advantage of his home ballpark - away from Fenway, Rice had a career .789 OPS. For good measure, he also didn't play great defense or contribute very much on the basepaths. Admit Jim Rice and you might as well admit Chili Davis and Ellis Burks. And do you think they're two of the best players in baseball history?
Individual batter vs. pitcher matchups contain valuable information. As shown in The Book, these matchup statistics basically contain zero predictive value. Just because Adrian Beltre is 6-10 against Shaun Marcum with two home runs doesn't mean he's likely to keep hitting him in the future.
Young players are unreliable and inconsistent, while veterans are steady and dependable. The average rookie with 50+ plate appearances has hit .271/.328/.420 so far this year, against a league-average batting line of .268/.336/.422. Meanwhile, the average rookie with 40+ IP has a 4.64 ERA (4.90 for starters, 3.99 for relievers), against a league-average ERA of 4.46 (4.61 for starters, 4.19 for relievers). It should be noted that when people talk about this alleged phenomenon, they're usually talking about position players, not pitchers. After taking ten randomly selected everyday rookies and writing down their monthly OPS splits, I came up with an average monthly percent standard deviation of 18.7%. Repeating the process for ten randomly selected everyday veterans, I came up with an average monthly percent standard deviation of 18.3%. It's hardly a perfect study, but the point is this - veterans have just as much in-season statistical fluctuation as rookies do. Gary Sheffield had a .675 OPS in April, a 1.042 OPS between May and June, and a .733 OPS ever since. Veteran consistency? These bits of conventional wisdom concerning young players have to stop.
Late-season momentum carries over into the playoffs. I'm speaking on a team basis here, not individual players. It really doesn't. Check out this article by Studes at THT. Between 1969-2004, World Series champions actually had a slightly lower September winning percentage than the average postseason team. Remember 2000? The Yankees went 13-18 after September 1st, then went on to win the Series. A year later, Arizona went 10-11 in September and did the same thing. On the flip side, the 1977 Royals went 25-5 after September 1st and didn't do anything in the playoffs. Momentum doesn't seem to make a difference. Once you get into the division series, everything starts from scratch.
Over the past several decades, the talent pool has been diluted by expansion. Since 1950, the population of the United States has doubled, the league has been integrated, and both Latin America and Asia have turned into Major League breeding grounds. With every passing day, there's more available talent in the world than ever before. Dilution is a crock.
Closers fall apart in non-save situations. This one's part myth, part fact. Closers don't fall apart, but they do perform worse. Between 2002-2005, the top closers in baseball put up a 2.51 ERA when slamming the door and a 3.26 ERA in non-save situations. Good, but worse. About a month ago, Kevin Hench took a similar look on a smaller scale and found that this year's top ten closers saw a 26-point ERA increase in non-save situations. While it's hardly the suicide to bring your closer into a non-save situation that so many fans think it is, there is some truth to the sentiment.
A walk's as good as a hit. This is a cheap cop-out way to close, but I didn't want to finish on the non-save-situation point. Unless there's a guy on first, a walk doesn't push anyone around the bases. The difference in run value is .15. The same basic idea goes for the old saying that a hit and a steal's as good as a double. It's not. But I don't have to explain this to you.