Mmmm...Secret Sauce

One of the many toys at Baseball Prospectus is something they call "Secret Sauce". BP has successfully cracked the code to playoff success and nailed the last 45 World Series winners. What? How have you never heard of this amazing prediction system? Because I made that last part up, but nevertheless a fun tool to look at as we await our playoff opponent.

I looked back through 2000 and BP did predict three World Series winners and six of the 16 participants in the World Series correct. You scoff, but what's your playoff prediction success rate?

The formula is simple enough and rather intuitive to what is commonly believed among baseball folks that power pitching, a good closer and good defense wins in the playoffs. In this case, BP uses FRAA (Fielding Runs Above Average), EqK9 (Equivalent Strikeout Rates per 9 innings) and WXRL (Win above Replacement Pitcher for the team's closer) and comes up with a score.

Their predictions and the 2008 rankings after the jump.

The following list is the top AL and NL team and the first team listed had the better "Secret Sauce" score, thus the team supposed to win the World Series according to this BP metric.

2007: Red Sox vs Diamondbacks (Cubs were 3rd among playoff teams)

2006: Twins vs. Mets (Cardinals were 8th among playoff teams)

2005: Angels vs. Houston (White Sox were 3rd among playoff teams. Amusingly the Cubs were 1st overall that year)

2004: Red Sox vs. Dodgers

2003: Athletics vs. Cubs (Marlins were 8th among playoff teams)

2002: Diamondbacks vs. Angels

2001: Diamondbacks vs. Yankees (the 116-win Mariners were 3rd among AL playoff teams and 5th among all playoff teams, thanks to low strikeout rates and an average-rated bullpen).

2000: White Sox vs. Cardinals (Yankees were 2nd among playoff teams)

They nailed 2001 and got both Red Sox years correct. The two teams they were the most off on were the 2006 Cardinals and 2003 Marlins, which could arguably be the two biggest surprise World Series winners of this decade.

As for 2008, the potential playoff teams are below with their overall rank in parenthesis (of course, non-playoff teams could score well in this metric but they don't get to play in the playoffs)

EqK9 Rank
Boston (1st)  38  4th  7.5 1st 2.97 11th 16
Angels (3rd) 28 6th  6.8 9th 5.31 3rd 18
Cubs (4th) 54 2nd 7.4 3rd 1.98 16th 21
White Sox(5th) -17 21st 7.2 4th 4.62 5th 30
Rays(6th) 58 1st 6.7 11th 1.62 20th 32
Phillies (12th) -3 17th 6.1 22nd 7.45 1st 40
Twins (16th) 11 11th 5.8 27th 4.58 6th 44
Brewers (17th)  15  10th 6.1 20th 2.79 14th 44
Dodgers (19th) -2 15th 6.6 12th 1.72 19th 46
Mets (20th) 16 9th 6.2 15th 1.46 23rd 47

There's a big drop-off there after the first three teams and I should note that they use Billy Wagner as the Mets closer, so it's even more bleak for the Metropolitans.The Cubs have a large advantage over any other NL team, as they do in just about every statistical  category.

The weak link, as expected, is the bullpen and particularly Kerry Wood, who hasn't been quite as lights out as we all would have liked. Some of that WXRL score though is attributed to him missing time as it is a cumulative stat. And for what it's worth, Carlos Marmol has been the 2nd best reliever in the NL this year by WXRL with a 4.95 behind the Phillies Brad Lidge. The Cubs of course aren't going to mess with the formula of Marmol setting up Wood, and there will likely be times in the playoffs where that will actually be beneficial for the Cubs as Marmol will end up facing the opposing teams better hitters. I also hold the belief that Lou should strongly consider using Marmol for two innings on the games before any scheduled off days.

It might not be a sports almanac from the future, but it'll have to do for this year.

P.S. - You can play "All the Way" to your heart's content on the lower right sidebar.


If you put $100 a year on whomever the BP "Secret Sauce"  predicted as the World Series winner before the playoffs, would you come out ahead over the last 8 years?

I guess that means knowing the odds of each winner going into the postseason that year.

fwiw, Cubs and Angels are currently at 3:1 odds, RSox and Rays at  7:2 on one page I looked at.

I put some down on the cubs before the season. They were 10:1 at that point. I just wish i had put more than 10 bucks at this point.

Cubs had a 97% chance of winning game six in 2003.
Cubs didn't lose 2 in a row with Wood and Prior on the mound in 2003.

When it comes to the playoffs, I go out of my way to ignore stats. The series are just too short to be able to accurately predict with any confidence based on stats. 1 great starting pitcher can be all a team needs in a short series, and a couple unlucky breaks in a 7 game series is all that's needed to turn it around on it's head.

For the record, I was a fantastic 0-7 in predicting playoff series outcomes in 2006. I think I'll refrain this year...and just wait for the games to be played.

97%? that had to be with 1 out in the 8th.

There is no way it was before the game started.

Point being, is that a gigantic fluke happened. They can happen but usually they don't.

yes, it was with 1 out in the 8th. (Although I think BP showed something like 93% cubs would win the series when they went up 3-1 in games)

My point is, over the course of a 162 game season, the fluke's will balance each other out and looking at stats and predicting a certain outcome has some merit.

In a playoff series, a fluke turns the series on it's head and wipes out any meaningful predictive stats. All it took was Prior and Wood losing back-to-back once to make that stat entirely meaningless.

And I agree with this. The playoffs are so much about luck and a team getting hot at the right time. The best team isn't going to win that often.

Are you saying that the Marlins weren't better than the Cubs and Yankees in '03?

the marlins had a better record than the Cubs in 03

But does that make them a better team? Answer to my rhetorical question: "No"

they had a better record and then beat us head to head.

i don't think the answer is cut and dry.

I didn't say it was cut and dry.

I'm saying that a better record for a team in the East, in one particular year, than a team in the Central doesn't prove them to be a better team. Nor does beating them head to head in the playoffs...though I'd say the Cubs 'beat themselves', if that's possible.

'Better' is entirely subjective, thus it'll always be uncut and wet.

"But does that make them a better team? Answer to my rhetorical question: "No""

This sounds pretty cut and dry

Well then you need to reinvest yourself in the study of the English language.

Does that 'make' them a better team? No.

I didn't say that they were or were not a better team. I said that the record doesn't prove (nor disprove) whether a team was better than another team.

i should never have dropped out of high school at age 14.

I'm just saying that the better team may have won that one.

I'm not disputing that. You may be right.

I do remember being sick of the outcome and believing without a doubt that the Cubs were better. Again, that's just an opinion.

I like the Cubs to win because their goodness outweighs the goodness of other teams.

Also, they've got more heart, guts, grit, fire and desire. Those are all the stats I need.

But now, with Jeff Smarja on our team, we have more Godness.

This man knows his theology!

So Ninja has become the new Fontegod?

I can sum it up with two word:

Touchdown Jesus

up until his last 2 outtings he's looked like crap lately.

his last 2 outtings have been stellar, though.

out of the WS participants predicted by this metric (16 total)...5 were ousted in the first round.

Also, they've got more heart, guts, grit, fire and desire. Those are all the stats I need.
don't forget to include SCRAPPINESS. That's the key ingredient.

one of the scrappy three as quoted as saying they refer to themselves as "the little fighters" we got that going for us as well.

Recent comments

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  • Correct. Castro 5th, AJax 6th; I'll edit my lineup post to fix this.

  • Lineup: Fowler, Soler, KB, Rizzo, Castro, AJax, Montero, Hendricks, Russell

  • if he put ajax 1st/2nd in the f'n playoffs he deserves to lose his nearly sure-thing MOY award to terry collins.

  • I believe Castro batting fifth, Ajax (LF) sixth

  • Maddon did not listen to me yesterday re Strop, or EricS on Schwarbs today.

    Wtf is up w/that?!

  • Crunch got his wish - Ajax not hitting 1-2 in the lineup ...

  • I know he's struggles against lefties but Schwarber seems zoned in - hope he starts tonight.

  • Awesome stuff, Phil.

  • listening on ESPN 1000, caller says Bill Welke will be the home plate ump today. Supposedly his reputation is for having an even bigger strike zone than last night's Phil Cuzzi. Some of the issues with bad umpiring come from an inconsistent strike zone. Hoping at least for consistency. Last night's called strike on David Ross was outright embarrassing for Cuzzi.

    That might work out in favor of Kyle Hendricks, who benefits much from a large strike zone.

  • it's kind of mesmerizing to watch
    should Theo add some Ted Abernathy videos for minor league pitching coordinator's use?

    sadly, Ted passed away in 2004 from complications of Alzheimers. I always loved the Cub bullpen trio of Phil Regan, Ted Abernathy and Hank Aguirre. As a kid, I even worked on both Phil Regan (very quirky delivery) and Ted Abernathy (extreme submarine) imitations when throwing a rubber ball against a wall. It wasn't a good imitation unless I could scrape my knuckles off the ground. I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for submariners.

  • HAGSAG: Chris Pieters was sent to instructs to develop his hitting, bunting, and outfield play (he is already a decent first-baseman).  

    Pieters is tall and rangy , a "long-strider" in the same mold as Trey Martin and Rashad Crawford. He is a very patient hitter (unusual for a hitter with his lack of experience) and has an outstanding (almost uncanny) eye at the plate, and he is a fast runner with unusually good baserunning instincts, and he is a good basestealer, too.

  • I doubt we will see Pedro in any more "high leverage" situations this series. With Hendricks and the pen today, we need Bryant-Rizzo-Castro to get going ASAP.

  • One funny thing to see before the game was the two submariner pitchers (David Berg and Corbin Hoffner) playing catch with each other. Both pitchers throw "submarine" even when they play catch, and it's kind of mesmerizing to watch, even for the other players. 

  • CUBSTER: One of the points of emphasis  at "basic" Instructs this year was teaching the position players the art of baserunning and base-stealing, like getting a good primary and seconday lead, reading the pitcher, cutting bases sharply, and different ways to slide to maximize the baserunner's chance to arrive safely. 

  • has some interesting stats/graphs on pitch and strike zones and you can dial up individual games/pitchers. I'd love to see some comments from readers who can interpret this better than I can. I thought the Ump was really inconsistent with a very wide zone. Does this info seem to match up with my eyeball perception? Also, looking at the graphs, Lackey was not throwing as many pitches below the K-zone (certainly more above) while Lester was clearly getting his pitches down and not many above.

  • As I was fearing in my post yesterday, Maddon keeps trotting Strop out against the Redbirds and he constantly fails. I understand the psychology behind this, but in a series where there is a finite lock on who moves on, why does he keep riding the wrong horse?