MLB postseason isn’t the same with analytics

More stories from Alex Wolfson

Ace Cardinal pitcher Adam Wainwright pitched 3 complete games this season, the best in the best in the MLB.  In the NL Wild Card game, he pitched only 5.1 innings.

Courtesy of Wikimedia commons

Ace Cardinal pitcher Adam Wainwright pitched 3 complete games this season, the best in the best in the MLB. In the NL Wild Card game, he pitched only 5.1 innings.

The MLB postseason has always seemed to have a flair for the dramatics, perhaps more so than the NFL or NBA playoffs, as unexpected teams can make it to the top and players can break through on the biggest stage. Think about the 2019 Washington Nationals unseating the 106 win Los Angeles Dodgers and the 107 win Houston Astros. Only in baseball can such magical runs happen and surprise postseason star Howie Kendrick helped the Nats get it done.

But this year’s MLB postseason has felt underwhelming, even though fans are back in full capacity. And the reason behind the let down of the postseason so far has been analytics, which has taken over baseball. One of the most dramatic parts of the postseason is starting pitchers going deep into games, but analytics doesn’t recommend that.

Every baseball fan can remember Madison Bumgarner of the San Francisco Giants in 2014. It was perhaps the greatest run in postseason history for a pitcher, as Bumgarner pitched a 1.03 ERA in over 30 innings over the course of the postseason. He was a workhorse that got in done for his team and there is nothing more exciting than watching the best pitchers in the game go deep into games. That was 8 years ago though. Analytics now says starting pitchers shouldn’t face the lineup for a third time, and that’s played out in this year’s postseason, taking away the drama of a pitcher like Bumgarner continuing to pitch into high pressure situations late in games.

This year’s postseason doesn’t have a shortage of aces. It just has a shortage of managers who are willing to let their aces pitch a lot of innings. Former Nationals pitcher, now Dodgers pitcher Max Scherzer is perhaps the ace of this year’s postseason, but Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has been reluctant to let Scherzer work. In the win or go home NL Wild Card Game, Scherzer was getting through the first four innings without too much stress, letting up just one run. But in the fifth inning, Roberts yanked Scherzer and made it a bullpen game.

In that same game, the St. Louis Cardinals countered with their own ace, 40 year-old Adam Wainwright, who had pitched several complete games (all nine innings) during the 2021 season. Wainwright had also been pitching well, aside from letting up one solo home run. He would get the hook one inning after Scherzer did, handing the game over to the Cardinal bullpen.

What could have been 37 year-old Scherzer and 40 year-old Wainwright battling late into the night turned into a game of relief pitcher after relief pitcher.

The Dodgers actually have a pitcher who’s arguably better than Scherzer, 26 year-old Walker Beuhler who has had a 2.47 ERA this season. In the pivotal game 4 against the Giants in the NLDS, Roberts took Beuhler out after just 4.1 innings, in which he had only surrendered one run. The Braves, who are playing the Dodgers in the NLCS, took out their ace Max Fried after six innings in which he had not allowed a single run in a NLDS game.

Meanwhile, the AL-best Tampa Bay Rays did not even have a legitimate starting pitcher this postseason. They bullpenned from the get-go, and it was arguably their downfall as the Boston Red Sox handled them in four games.

The baseball playoffs are not the same without starting pitcher titans. Curt Schilling in 2001, pitched three complete games in the postseason, leading the Diamondbacks to the World Series victory. Bumgarner pitched two complete games in the 2014 playoffs, as well as a five inning save to lift the Giants to the title in game seven. These are the games that we want. We want to see starting pitchers battle it out against the hitters over and over again. We want them to go deep into games and do something special. We want personality, not a collective machine that churns out relief pitcher after relief pitcher who can throw 100 miles per hour.

That’s what analytics has done–taken out the human element from the game and, as a result, the drama of the postseason. Baseball is a sport, not a math problem. There’s still time in the postseason, but ratings and the quality of the game will continue to decline until teams let their pitchers pitch deep into games.