Our MLB handicapper analyzes the top two teams in the National League, and is on the watch out for a playoff series price reeking with public hype.
With some teams in the National League wrapping up their divisions early, barring a miracle, it's time to look at some team trends to handicap possible series matchups that may come to fruition. Two teams that I want to take a hard look at are the Cubs and Nationals, as they feature some dominant 2016 season long statistics coming into the postseason.
Chicago Cubs: Advantages in Hitting and Defense
Growing up a Mariner fan, I have some perspective on what a dominant regular season looks like, and how that can turn into hype and eventual playoff disappointment. Of course, I am talking about the M's 2001 season where they tied the season record for 116 wins, just to get bounced from the playoffs by the Chicago White Sox. The Cubs are looking to avoid that, and have a well-rounded attack to try to do so. According to wins above replacement racked up on the year, the Cubs are #1 in batting, #1 in fielding, and #4 in pitching in the National League.
Their batting statistics have some trends that should carry over into the postseason without much variation, one of those being their walk rate. On the season, the Cubs have a National League best 10.4% walk rate, which has led to a league leading .345 on base percentage. You can't score if you are not on base and the Cubs have that covered.
On defense, the Cubs are statistically well ahead of everyone else in the league according to sabermetrics. This advantage presents itself in the overall batting average of balls in play for the team, which currently sits at .253 on the season. With 1221.2 innings pitched, this statistic has normalized and we can expect the Cubs to hold this advantage from this point forward with the team they are fielding, as we can also expect the MLB odds to reflect those stats. The second place team in the National League for batting average on balls in play is over 30 points higher, the Nationals, who sit at .284 on the year. If you are wondering how far can you bet with this team, here you can find the MLB Betting Futures.
Washington Nationals: Advantages in Pitching
While the Cubs are high in hitting and defense in the National League according to wins against replacement numbers, the Nationals have a slightly higher advantage in that statistic and are #2 in the National League. That is true even as they have a team ERA of 3.44, behind the Cubs team ERA of 3.08. The advantages are deep within the stats, as the Nationals hold a better K/9 rate at 9.07/9, second in the National League only to the Dodgers, and a lower BB/9 rate of 2.85/9, which is 4th in the National League. The Cubs pitching strikeout and walk rates are in the middle of the pack, but still very good.
Another reason that the Nationals have an advantage in pitching in the National League is that their starters pitch deep into games, which results in lower bullpen innings. The Nationals have pitched their bullpen the least in the National League, and their bullpen ERA is the best at 3.31. The fielding independent pitching ERA of their bullpen is also tops in the league at 3.50. That FIP number takes luck out of the equation, so it is more of a measurement of true talent that can be predictable going forward. The starting pitchers for the Nationals are also first in the league in swinging strikes, or whiff rate, at 10.9%. Pretty hard to get lucky with a seeing eye ground ball when you can't even put the bat on the ball.
Series Prices: Don't Fall for the Hype
When keeping the advanced stats in mind, one sees that the Nationals and Cubs are much more equal in results on the field than their win-loss record indicates which sounds like the perfect MLB pick. However, the Cubs figure to be huge public favorites in the postseason. This should present great value if these two teams match up, as the Nationals could open up as bigger series underdogs than they really should be. Watch for this situation to present itself and take advantage of the sabermetrics stats that are out there flying in the face of public perception. If anything, know that a series between these two teams should go to 6 or 7 games.
2016 YTD MLB: 52-38-4, +11.30 Units