Ultimate AL Wild-Card Preview: Houston Astros @ New York Yankees

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Ultimate AL Wild Card Preview

Aug 25, 2015; Bronx, NY, USA; Houston Astros center fielder Carlos Gomez (30) is restrained by home plate umpire Eric Cooper as Gomez and New York Yankees catcher John Ryan Murphy (66) go face to face after Gomez flew out in the sixth inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

I admit it. Perhaps you feel the same. To me, the Wild Card Game is not the playoffs. Something about watching the Astros keep their team store open all night to move as many overpriced Postseason-branded hoodies as possible felt unseemly. Baseball has always been a sport that appreciates the role of randomness in its outcome, and adjusts accordingly. It takes 162 games to figure out which rosters are strongest, and the playoffs take fewer teams than any other major sports to acknowledge that the regular season is most important.

As a compromise, baseball decided to reward division winners more in its latest playoff expansion and penalize the pre-existing Wild Card by making them play a coin flip with the second-best non-division winner. There is good and bad to this structure. But one thing we can all agree on: not winning your division is now crappier. By coughing up the AL West to the Rangers, the Astros have to win a coin toss now to get into the “real” playoffs of series-based play. No matter how many t-shirts the Astros successfully push onto the masses in a 48-hour flash sale.

That said, the Wild Card Game is still fun and exciting and dramatic, and winning it gives us a new lease on life. It also schedules a date with the Royals, a team clearly inferior to the #2-seeded Blue Jays. So there’s hope of true post-season play. Let’s break down the play-in game.

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I will use Weighed On-Base Average (wOBA) as my stat of choice in looking at offensive left/right splits for both lineups. It is essentially a weighted form of OPS to more accurately balance between the value of on-base percentage (OBP) and slugging percentage (SLG). Traditional OPS tends to overvalue slugging and undervalue getting on base. For more detailed information on wOBA, FanGraphs has you covered.

For pitchers, I am utilizing xFIP or Fielding-Independent Pitching. The xFIP formula attempts to account for the quality of defense and park factors to adequately assess how well a pitcher performed (wait for it) independent of his fielding. Many studies have shown a pitcher has relatively little — but not zero — control over the percentage of balls in play that are turned into outs. Thus, xFIP attempts to isolate a pitcher’s walks, strikeouts and home runs allowed to get at his true individual value. For more detailed information on xFIP, FanGraphs again has you covered.

Next: The Astros' Wild-Card Roster