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GROCHOWSKI: Best MLB teams do it with hitting and pitching

Slugger Miguel CabrerTigers were better than AL average OPS-plus ERA-plus this season. | Charles Rex Arbogast~AP

Slugger Miguel Cabrera and the Tigers were better than the AL average in OPS-plus and ERA-plus this season. | Charles Rex Arbogast~AP

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Updated: November 24, 2012 6:17AM

Baseball teams do not live by bats alone, nor are arms enough to do the trick without a little run support. The object, after all, is not just to score or prevent runs but to score more than the other guys.

At, columnist Dave Fleming pointed out the teams that relied more heavily on their offenses advanced from each of the four division series this season. He used two stats that adjust for park effects and normalize to league average — OPS-plus and ERA-plus — and compared defensive efficiency ratings.

The league average is 100 on both OPS-plus and ERA-plus, so the Cardinals’ 107 OPS-plus is stronger than their 104 ERA-plus. Their division series opponent, the Nationals, leaned heavily toward pitching, with a 102 OPS-plus and 119 ERA-plus. The better-pitching team lost.

A Strasburg effect, with young pitching star Stephen Strasburg sidelined by design? Maybe, but the Giants (107 OPS-plus, 95 ERA-plus) topped the better-pitching Reds (90 OPS-plus, 127 ERA-plus), the Tigers (104 OPS-plus, 112 ERA-plus) beat the Athletics (97 OPS-plus, 114 ERA-plus) and the Yankees (112 OPS-plus, 109 ERA-plus) ousted the Orioles (97 OPS-plus, 109 ERA-plus).

Throughout baseball history, postseason winners have come from both offensive-dominant and defense-dominant teams. Let’s borrow an idea from Fleming
and look at the five teams that have won back-to-back World Series since divisional play started in 1969.

Two teams won three times in a row. The A’s of 1972-74 had Reggie Jackson leading a solid offense, but the real strength was a rotation topped by Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue and Ken Holtzman. By the numbers, it was 104, 108 and 105 for OPS-plus and 111, 109 and 113 for ERA-plus. Count those A’s as pitching first.

The Yankees of 1998-2000, with a young Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams at his peak and Andy Pettitte as the pitching constant, were a split decision. Both pluses were 116 in 1998, followed by
113-110 in favor of the pitchers in 1999 and 103-102 in favor of the hitters in 2000.

The Yankees won back-to-back World Series in 1977-78 and were an offensive power in 1977, with a 115 OPS-plus that overshadowed the pitching staff’s 109 ERA-plus. The offense slumped the next season, with a 104 OPS-plus that resulted from a drop from 831 runs to 735. But the Ron Guidry-led pitching staff posted a 115 ERA-plus, and the Yankees had their second consecutive 100-victory season.

That leaves two teams that won back-to-back World Series with offense-dominant teams. The Blue Jays of 1992-93, remembered largely for Joe Carter’s heroics and featuring a young Roberto Alomar, had OPS-pluses of 106 and 110 while being a little above average on the mound at 104 and 103.

And then there’s one of the
most celebrated teams of the playoff era, the Reds of 1975-76. The ‘‘Big Red Machine’’ of Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Pete Rose was an offensive juggernaut, with OPS-pluses of 108 and 120 and ERA-pluses of 107 and a league-average 100.

All of those teams had better-than-average hitting, and all had at least league-average pitching. The best of the best get it done both with the bats and with the arms.

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