Jonah Keri had a nice wrap to the season over at Grantland with a list of five lessons learned from the 2013 season. Click the link for his more in-depth take, but here is the short version:
1. Winning the Hot Stove championship guarantees nothing.
2. Bargain hunting can and does often pay off.
3. Having no weaknesses can be just as effective as being loaded with multiple stars.
4. Keep an eye on the minors.
5. Don't overreact to a bad season.
Here are five more lessons I'd like to add:
1. There are many ways to build a team.
You get the feeling a lot of teams will use the Cardinals as an excuse to not spend money this winter. "See, look at St. Louis? They had all those rookies and homegrown players. That's we have to do."
Of course, the Cardinals are an extreme outlier. Most farm systems aren't going to produce the amount and level of talent they have in recent seasons. While producing your own talent is certainly the most cost effective way to produce a winner, it's not the only way. The Red Sox made a huge dip into the free-agent market with Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Stephen Drew, Koji Uehara and Ryan Dempster. No, those weren't the big-ticket free agents last year, but it was still an expensive dip into free agency. The Dodgers showed with Zack Greinke that a high-priced free agent can pay immediate dividends. The A's were mostly built with trades and guys found on the scrap heap. And as Jonah pointed out, the Pirates found bargains in Francisco Liriano and Russell Martin.
2. Don't panic if your Proven Closer goes down or is ineffective.
Of the 10 playoff teams, only four (Braves, Pirates, Rays and A's) finished the season with the same closer they started with. And one of those closers, Jason Grilli of the Pirates, was a first-year closer at the age of 36. It's time to bury the Proven Closer myth. Just find as many good arms as you can in the bullpen; somebody will emerage.
Although if you do have the best closer in the game, don't be afraid to use him in the eighth inning with a one-run lead in Game 4 of the Division Series.
3. Contact rate may mean something ... well, unless you're the Red Sox.
Since 2009, teams with the better contact rate in the regular season are now 26-9 in postseason series. That statistic went 4-3 in 2013 -- the "3" being the Red Sox beating the Rays, Tigers and Cardinals. Boston was the highest-scoring team in the majors in 2013, with their keys being patience and lineup depth. If you can run out a lineup that goes eight or nine deep, sure, maybe contact rate isn't as big an issue; but if you can't, with the quality and depth of pitching staffs today, a lineup that struggles to put the ball in play will be exposed against the better rotations and bullpens you see in the playoffs.
4. Don't overanalyze the meaning of postseason results.
Wait, I just wrote ... I know, I know. After every postseason, no matter which teams wins, there is always a narrative behind that victory. In 2010, the Giants won with starting pitching. In 2011, the Cardinals never gave up. In 2012, the Giants did all the little things and just knew how to win. In 2013, the Red Sox won with great clubhouse guys and team chemistry (Gomes even said so in his memorable on-field interview after Game 6). But that's exactly what those are: Narratives. One hit, one play, can turn a postseason game, which in turn can turn an entire series. Ask the Tigers about the one pitch to David Ortiz. Or the Braves about not using Craig Kimbrel against the Dodgers. Or the Dodgers, if Joe Kelly doesn't fracture Hanley Ramirez's rib. Or the Cardinals, if Seth Maness doesn't give up that home run to Gomes.
5. Pitchers are going to continue to dominate.
The league-wide runs per game total of 4.17 was the lowest since 4.12 runs per game were scored in 1992. The .253 batting average was the lowest since a .244 mark in the pre-DH season of 1972. The ratio of strikeouts to walks for pitchers was the highest ever at 2.51 -- up from 2.02 just five years ago. In terms of raw totals, there were nearly 6,000 more strikeouts than in 2003. In the postseason, teams hit a collective .231. Twenty-six starters had an ERA of 3.25 or lower, the most since 26 did it in 1991 and 1992. Young studs like Jose Fernandez and Shelby Miller and Julio Teheran are popping up all over the place. It's a pitcher's era.