Contenders' Weaknesses: Do they even matter?

In last week's podcast, Peter and I briefly discussed the biggest weaknesses among 2016 playoff teams (as of the All-Star break). Looking at offense (OPS), starting pitching (ERA), relief pitching (SIERA), defense (Defensive Runs Saved), and base running (Fangraphs stat), I determined that the Red Sox, Orioles, Rangers, Dodgers, Mets, and Nationals all have a significant weak spot. 

  • Red Sox: 11th in AL in starting pitcher ERA (4.82)
  • Orioles: 11th in AL bullpen SIERA (3.96) and 14th in starting pitcher ERA
  • Rangers: 15th in AL in bullpen SIERA (4.28)
  • Dodgers: 13th in NL in OPS (.698)
  • Mets: Rank 14th in NL in defense (-23) and base running (-5.5)
  • Nationals: 12th in NL in defense (-11)

But do these holes really matter? Can a team win a World Series with a glaring weakness? 

As I wrote last week, it does seem like having a quality bullpen is helpful in making it to the World Series (or at least it has been in the last 5 years). Of the eight teams that have made the World Series in the last four seasons, all but one had a better than league average bullpen. 

This week, I'd like to expand that research a bit and look at the last decade plus of World Series teams and see if it's possible (or likely) for a team to reach baseball's pinnacle without being a "complete" team.

In the last 14 seasons (as far back as the defensive data will allow), 10 teams have won a World Series while ranking in the lower 3rd of their respective league. Below you'll see the team and it's weakness (x-axis), along with their ranking (y-axis).

It turns out that you actually don't have to have a perfectly well-rounded team to have the title of best baseball team in the world. The 2010 Giants were the absolute WORST base running team in the National League on their way to 92 regular season wins and a World Series title. Aided by a horrendous campaign from Jason Marquis (6.02 ERA in 33 starts), the 2006 Cardinals had the fifth worst starting staff in the NL. And the historic, once in lifetime 2004 Red Sox featured a bad defense AND an awful bullpen.

However, notice one key takeaway: no team has won a World Series in the last decade and a half with a bad offense. So, you can overcome bad base running, a bad defense, even a bad starting staff, but you can't overcome a poor offense.