Where Have All the Good Teams Gone?

Even before the addition of the second Wild Card, baseball’s postseason was not structured to reward the league’s best team with a championship.  It is the nature of baseball that a 162-game season says far more about a team’s abilities than a best-of- five or best-of-seven (or one-game!) series.  Most of the teams who have recently won championships- most notably the 2006 and 2011 Cardinals- have little claim to the title of Best Team in Baseball other than the rings they wear.

One convenient narrative to describe the 2012 postseason to-date is that four up-and-coming teams, whose preseason expectations varied from last place to fringe contenders, were exiled by four usual suspects, each of whom has played in a League Championship Series in the past two seasons.  If this is true, why does it feel like all of the good teams have been knocked out of the playoffs, leaving two weeks to determine which mediocre team can take advantage of bracket chaos and back into a championship?

Who were the best teams in Major League Baseball in 2012?  We could answer this question a number of ways.  Find out after the jump.

By win-loss record, the best teams were:

Washington, 98-64

Cincinnati, 97-65

NY Yankees, 95-67

The first two of those teams, of course, were vanquished in the NLDS by opponents with inferior regular season records, and the third seems of the verge of collapse.  Furthermore, just one of the three 94-win teams (San Francisco, Atlanta, and Oakland) is still playing, and they’ve certainly found themselves in an underdog role in their LCS as well.

If we adjust win-loss records for quality of competition, the teams in the AL East (Yankees and Orioles) and AL West (A’s and Rangers) look like the best teams in baseball, and again, only the Yankees are left standing, on one 787-year-old leg (an even 800 if we swap out Nunez for Jeter).

If we look a little deeper, at each team’s pythagorean record, an expected record based on runs scored and prevented, the best teams were:

Washington, 98-64

Tampa Bay, 96-66

NY Yankees, 96-66

Now we’ve got a team that’s been eliminated, a team that didn’t even make the playoffs, and the geriatric unit that keeps coming in third.  To be fair, the Cardinals had the fourth best pythag, at 94-68, and their run differential probably says more about their true talent than their win-loss record does.

Peel back one more layer, and we can look at the components that make up runs scored and runs prevented, namely hitting, baserunning, fielding, and pitching.  According to fangraphs, the best squads this season in terms of team WAR were:

1. Cardinals, 52.3

2. Yankees, 51.1

3. Rangers, 50.4

4. Brewers, 50.3

5. Nationals, 50.1

6. Diamondbacks, 47.6

7. Braves, 47.5

8. Angels, 47.4

9. Reds, 46.9

10. Tigers, 45.9

12. Giants, 44.6

14. Athletics, 41.8

20. Orioles, 31.9

There’s not much separation among the top five (which somehow includes the Brewers), but now we’ve got two teams that are still alive at the top.  This makes sense, since these are the teams fangraphs tells us displayed the most talent on the field all year, but of course, it’s counterintuitive to suggest that disparities in talent show up more in a short series than they do over 162 games.

A few things strike me here, starting with my motivation for writing this piece.  All season, I was certain the Rangers were the best team in baseball.  They won the pennant in the tougher league each of the past two years.  They had a star at practically every position Michael Young didn’t play.  They had a deep rotation, a great bullpen, and, for most of the season, the best record in the American League, despite playing in perhaps its most competitive division.  Let’s look at the components of their team WAR (from the Value tab of fangraphs’ leaderboards):

52.5 batting runs above replacement (6th in MLB)

1.1 baserunning runs above replacement (16th)

7.1 fielding runs above replacement (12th)

18.0 starting pitcher WAR (3rd)

5.9 relief pitcher WAR (7th)

That’s the profile of a good team- maybe the type that wins 93 games and almost wins its division- but not necessarily the powerhouse I thought they were.  Nevertheless, their 93-win season in baseball’s toughest division was rewarded with one game against a far weaker team by just about any measure, and now they’re watching the playoffs from home.

Fangraphs tells us that the best hitting team in baseball, and the best baserunning team and the second-best fielding team, was the Trouts Angels, whose 37.4 position player WAR were 11% better than the runner-up Brewers.  Despite what looked like a dominant rotation on paper, the Angels’ pitching wasn’t good enough to lead them to the postseason, as they finished four games behind the two Wild Card teams.

After the Tigers and Rangers, the best pitching team was the Rays, with 23.2 WAR.  Conversely to the Angels, Tampa couldn’t hit enough to reach the postseason.  Certainly, the Rangers, Angels, and Rays would have been in any conversation about the best teams in baseball at any point during the season, but due to their own shortcomings and the mysterious magic of the Orioles and Athletics, they didn’t get a chance to test their luck in October.

What does that leave us with?  Well, for one, the Cardinals, who may be the best team in baseball despite their 88-74 record, worst among all playoff qualifiers (and worse than the Rays and Angels, to boot).  St. Louis can hit (NL-best 107 wRC+).  They can pitch (their 3.47 starter FIP was .01 behind the league-best Nationals, and that doesn’t include much from Chris Carpenter).  And as they did last year, they can hit you with eight playoff-caliber relievers (six of them had ERAs below 3 and FIPs below 3.5).  The defense and baserunning are suspect, but I’m not sure how much that matters when the umpires are giving them infield fly calls on 225-foot fly balls (I’m sorry, I had to).  Keep in mind also that the last two champion Cardinals teams also had the worst record of all playoff qualifiers, and this team seems even more poised to add another trophy.

It also leaves us with the Yankees, the best AL team according to two of the three measures above.  Much of the Yankees’ regular season value was tied up in their offense.  But the team that batted .265/.337/.453 this year (the latter two of those numbers led the AL) hasn’t shown up in October, when they’ve hit .205/.277/.326.  Their pitching has yielded an even more feeble .213/.255/.303 line, which has kept them alive, but much of that was against the impotent Orioles (.247/.311/417 all season).  It’s easy to think the Rangers would have stomped all over this Yankee team, but baseball isn’t that easy, and the numbers don’t vouch for Texas’s superiority.

The Tigers were just the 10th best team in total WAR, but that doesn’t count more than half of Anibal Sanchez’s and Omar Infante’s contributions, since they were acquired just before the July trade deadline.  It also includes a lot of subpar work from the Tigers’ bench, which was among the worst in the game (just nine Tigers position players finished the season above replacement level, while ten were below), and from Rick Porcello (4.59 ERA) and a handful of sub-replacement-level spot starters.  In the postseason, the Tigers will only start Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez, and Max Scherzer, each of whom has dominated in October, and can lean on Austin Jackson, Miguel Cabrera, and Prince Fielder without having to turn to their bench too often.

Finally, the Giants rank twelfth in team WAR and are basically an average team across the board.  They play in the most extreme pitcher’s park in the National League, which tends to paint the picture of a dominant pitching staff and a flaccid lineup, but adjusting for park effects, they had an average offense this year (99 wRC+), an average rotation (3.73 ERA, 3.82 FIP, 5th and 6th in the Nl, respectively), and a decent bullpen (3.56, 3.68).  The short series limits their exposure to Barry Zito, and seems to have helped Tim Lincecum, who’s given up one run in ten playoff innings out of the bullpen.  Still, this is not much better than an average team, with Madison Bumgarner possibly running out of gas and Ryan Vogelsong never inspiring much fear despite another impressive ERA (3.37) this year.

Clearly, the title of this post is a bit of an overreaction to the dismal Yankees-Orioles series and to the many errors and passed balls we’ve seen in every series.  The Cardinals may have been the best team in baseball this year (though I might still try to argue for the Rangers) and certainly look like the best team right now.  The Yankees may look like extras from “Cocoon” but they can still pitch, and the first 162 games of this season may tell us more about what their offense is capable of later this week than the last seven.  The Tigers are loaded with star power and their pitching is on fire at the moment.  And the Giants, well, baseball is unpredictable.  And they might have the best player still playing in Buster Posey.

If only the umps were playoff-caliber…

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82 Comments on "Where Have All the Good Teams Gone?"

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birtelcom
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One other variable that also has to be kept in mind is that teams are not static over a six-month-long season. Injuries, trades, rookies, new discoveries — just because a team is at the top of the standings (wins, WAR, pythag or whatever you choose) over the full 162-game slog does not necessarily mean it’s the most talented at the end of the season when championships are decided. Those 162-game stats are strong evidence of who the strongest clubs are as of October, but not definitive evidence.

Doug
Guest

“If only the umps were playoff caliber”

Another call tonight that would have been reversed on review. At least the umpires, both today and yesterday, were in the right position to make a correct call. But, that only make their failure to do so the more frustrating.

MikeD
Guest
I think all the teams that are left are good teams. That doesn’t mean that they are the actual best four teams, but that’s the bargain MLB has made with increasing rounds of playoffs. The true talent will show up across 162 games. In a short series, however, anything is possible, and we now have the shortest of all short series: A one-game playoff! I think the difference now is there is not a great difference between many of the teams that make the postseason. There is no super team. Any team that makes the postseason can win the World… Read more »
Mark in Sydney
Guest
Nice argument, Bryan, however, I think somewhat flawed by the use of “best”. Baseball is a zero-sum game (essentially). There is a winner and a loser (barring very rare exceptions). Repeat 162 times. The best team is the one who has won more than rest. So, this year, the best team is Washington. Easy. They have had what it takes (players, depth, management, and all the rest) to win more than everyone else. In the old days, they would play against the best AL team, the NY Geriatrics, to determine to “best of the best”, which was what the World… Read more »
Bill Johnson
Guest
At some point several years ago (I think in response to NFL football arguments) I concluded that all the chatter about the so called best team and whether the “best team” won, misses the point. Teams play to win championships not to be acclaimed as the “best team” (except for college football without a play-off). The regular season goal is to get yourself in position to play for a championship whether that takes 88 wins in your division or 100. If you are left standing at the end, then you have earned the right to be called the champion, and… Read more »
Mike L
Guest

When a sport has as many teams as MLB does, it’s inevitable that often the “best” regular season teams don’t win the World Series. We could throw in the 2001 Mariners or the 1954 Indians as examples. What I object to is the watering down of the playoffs, coupled with an unbalanced schedule, which can lead to unfair enrichment of teams who were mediocre in the regular season. It cheapens the 162 game effort.

e pluribus munu
Guest
My understanding of “best” was formed before divisional play, and was (and is), simple: the team that wins the most games. Like Mark @4. The simplicity of this was screwed up first by divisional play, which introduced unbalanced seasons where differential schedules contributed to a mix of same/different division opponents (though initially still symmetrical), which led to two contenders for the pennant whose win differentials were based on asymmetrical bases, with an (initially) five-game series having the power to undo 162 games of effort. The schedule introduced an element of true luck – one I think even Jim Bouldin would… Read more »
Jim Bouldin
Guest

Perfectly stated epm. Just to clarify though–I would say that the divisions and unbalanced schedules introduced an element of *randomness*, not luck, into the process of determining the league champ. May seem like a quibble but the semantics are in fact important.

Jim Bouldin
Guest
Sorry, but I’m not buying it, especially the idea that the Cardinals are somehow the “best” team in baseball. Far far too much is made of the relevancy of the pythagorean expectation (PE) and WAR in these kinds of discussions. The logic of the PE goes like this: the cumulative run differential (RD) is a better indication of a team’s true ability than is it’s won/loss (WL) record. As a flat statement, that’s logical nonsense, because for example, it’s obvious that a team can create a significant fraction of its RD by simply “piling on”, i.e. scoring useless runs above… Read more »
Bill Johnson
Guest

But Jim, if we can say team A had the best season, though they are not World Champions, does it matter?

Who was the better team: the undefeated Patriots (until the Super Bowl) or the Giants? We can argue that point and the argument will be based upon what collection of criteria that we use, and whether we can reach agreement on that. But the Giants are the Champions of that season and I have no bigger problem with that than I do the Cardinals’ recent baseball titles, though I was not pulling for any of those teams to win.

Jim Bouldin
Guest

Bill, why don’t they take the top 10 finishers, or all the single stage winners, of the Tour de France and have them race one more day, at the end, to see who the real “World Champion” is?

Answer: because they *already decided that* in the previous three weeks of racing.

Bill Johnson
Guest

Jim- because they all might OD if it came down to one day?

Just kidding, but they race to what the rules are. Would you favor a baseball play-off system where game 7 of the World series was akin to the ceremonial last day of the tour de France?

Jim Bouldin
Guest

Bill I favor a playoff system that is radical and will never ever be adopted.

As for the Tour, the ceremonial finish has been challenged at times when someone or other thought they had a chance of winning it on the last day, which can only happen if it’s really close after the penultimate stage. But Greg Lemond took advantage of the 1989 Tour ending with an individual time trial, to accomplish what is still one of the greatest American sporting accomplishments ever.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1989_Tour_de_France

tag
Guest
I was at that Tour finish and Greg LeMond also took advantage of being the first Tour contestant to ever use a true aero time trial bike to win it. Fignon, while not treating the time trial as ceremonial, was nonetheless waving at the crowd as he left the starting gate with his normal racing bike, as was customary. LeMond did not break his aero riding position on that aero bike the entire time. While it was indeed an awesome achievement coming back from a shotgun wound and major surgery, and while LeMond was absolutely flying through Paris, cheered on… Read more »
Jim Bouldin
Guest

so, let me guess… you conclude from this that Lemond was lucky to have chosen to use an aerodynamically superior bike and riding position, right?

tag
Guest
Jim, You seem to have a problem with the word “luck.” Nowhere do I mention it in reference to what LeMond did. The Tour obviously has some luck involved (you have to avoid crashes, etc.), but not nearly as much as baseball, which is one reason why individual riders can dominate it for several consecutive years despite the hundred-plus other competitors entered in each one. As far as LeMond’s victory goes, before the Tour he got approval to use his aero bike for time trials. He was the only rider to request such permission, and Tour officials debated at length… Read more »
Jim Bouldin
Guest

tag, the lengths to which you will go to defend your “luck” theory can only be described as breathtaking and all-encompassing.

I will remind you here that Lemond’s time trial run remains the second fastest ever, notwithstanding the improvements in conditioning and technology and extravagant use of PEDs by the cycling community over the intervening 23 years. Maybe his bike gained him a few extra seconds, I don’t know and neither do you. But I do know that Fignon should not have been waving to his adoring French crowd as he exited the ramp.

tag
Guest
Jim, What I was discussing in that post had nothing to do with luck (it was only mentioned tongue in cheek). What I was discussing, which is clear from any unbiased reading of it, was high tech and the advantage it gave LeMond. And there are many things we do know about the improvements that advanced aerodynamic design and related lightweight materials can provide. (If you’ve ever ridden one of these bikes, you probably wouldn’t bother contesting the point.) The UCI recognizes two hour records in bike racing. The UCI Hour Record restricts competitors to roughly the same equipment that… Read more »
Jim Bouldin
Guest

Not the place for this discussion, but Lemond’s abilities are the stuff of legend. Just as importantly, he has been instrumental in exposing the doping issue via his direct confrontations of Landis and Armstrong, with Armstrong now in complete free-fall with the USADA report and the events of the last week.

Accordingly, he is without question one of the most important figures in the sport and also one of the greatest American athletes. But I’ll stop there.

tag
Guest
The funny thing is that there’s no one to even give Lance’s vacated Tour wins to: Ulrich, Pantani, Zulle, Basso – they were all taking PEDs. I tend to give Lance and all the other bikers a lot more slack than I do Bonds and the other baseball players. Riding the way they do is inhuman. BTW, Ulrich is a great guy. He used to train in the Black Forest near me and you could ride with him – provided you could keep up, which I never managed to do for long. He used to party and get pretty fat… Read more »
birtelcom
Editor
Jim , I know that the pythag expectation is a pet peeve of yours. But the thing is, it works. That is, pythagorean expectation wins are more stable year-to-year than actual wins. If one looks at random Team X and the only things one know about them are their 2012 actual wins and thier 2012 pythag expectation wins, one will have in the long run more success betting that in 2013 their actual wins will look more like their 2012 pythag than their 2012 actual wins. This fact proves out across MLB history. It’s hard for me to come up… Read more »
Doug
Guest

The way (I think) that Bill James explained why Pythag works was that every team, however good or bad, will win and lose 30 games. The difference between teams, then, is what they do in the other 100 games that are “up for grabs”. This mitigates the potential Pythag distortion by meaningless runs in blowout games.

e pluribus munu
Guest
Doug, Let’s never forget the Cleveland Spiders of ’99 – even had they reached their Pythag Potential they would have had only 26 wins in a 154 game season. As it was, even a 162 expansion season couldn’t have brought them up to James’s theoretical minimum. birtlecom seems to me to be focusing on the right distinction: best talent vs. best record. Sometimes an underperforming team is a group of talented players who have bad seasons; sometimes it’s a group of players living up to their talent who somehow can’t win enough ballgames – just as there are teams of… Read more »
Doug
Editor

I think the ’99 Spiders are an outlier – not a team fielded with the intention of trying to win. James’ remarks about the 30-30-100 breakdown were meant to be commentary on modern teams which are trying to be as competitive as they can be. Sometimes (Browns selloffs to pay bills, 1950s KC shuttle, Finley’s attempted fire sale, some other fire sales – Marlins, etc.) that point is challenged, but don’t think the competitive line has been crossed as it was with the Spiders.

tag
Guest

epm,

Actually, pro baseball and football are fairly similar in how much elements other than pure skill play a role in deciding the outcome. Basically, any sport – any activity – with a tendency toward regression to the mean built into it will exhibit this quality.

e pluribus munu
Guest
Doug, I was just being facetious about the Spiders, a team that’s always fascinated me. Sorry to create a distraction (I guess I thought you’d simply roll your eyes and move on). James’ point is clearly well taken and you cited it appropriately. tag, I’m not sure you’re correct. I wasn’t just making this up, I was engaging in the critical work of repeating hearsay. Nevertheless, the basis that I remember hearing them say was cogent enough: apart from the intuitive factors I cited, the relative compression of season percentage records and the long-term results of W-L outcomes by opposing… Read more »
tag
Guest
epm, Basketball doesn’t exhibit nearly as much regression to the mean at a team level as baseball does. Jordan’s Bulls can and did play .850 ball over 82 games, and the worst team can and does play .200 ball. Neither regresses much at all. That worst team simply won’t beat a Jordan’s Bulls-type team in a seven-game series because skill plays a highly dominant role in the outcomes of basketball games. But the worst team in MLB can take a seven-game series from the best team. The odds may not be very good but they are not negligible. And in… Read more »
e pluribus munu
Guest

tag, Well we agree on basketball, where you stick to a season basis (which is what I was using). But you switch to playoffs for baseball and football, where there is no chance of a worst/best match-up. I don’t get the comparative logic. The fact that you have “near-perfect” season-record Packers/Patriots in the first place is the point I’m making. Even the 1906 Cubs lost almost a quarter of their games, and every other modern team has lost more.

Jim Bouldin
Guest

Good comment birtelcom, strong points. Do you have any references to James’ (or others’) work on this? I’ve read a little on it but the details were lacking and I’d like to see the specifics of his, or anyone’s, approach and algorithm.

tag
Guest
Jim, There are a lot of articles about this, and all kinds of refinements of James’s initial concept, including versions that adjust for blowout victories (i.e. once the winning percentage in a game reaches some high-90% figure the additional runs scored/allowed are no longer factored in). I even think PE’s been looked at by advanced mathematicians: “Initially the correlation between the formula and actual winning percentage was simply an experimental observation. In 2003, Hein Hundal provided an inexact derivation of the formula and showed that the Pythagorean exponent was approximately 2/(σ√π) where σ was the standard deviation of runs scored… Read more »
Jim Bouldin
Guest

source? It’s impossible to extract meaning from that snippet as posted.

tag
Guest
MikeD
Guest
Exactly. Heading into 2013, a team like the Baltimore Orioles should be expected to decline, unless they are able to improve their team in other areas. I would not count on two straight years of historic winning percentages in one-run games. In defense of the Orioles, they did substantially better in run differential as the season progressed. A full year of Machado, working in Bundy next year, and hopefully some key moves in the off season can keep them as a very competitive team, but the Orioles would be making a mistake if they ignored what their pythag shows.
GrandyMan
Guest
I’m also not buying the notion that the Orioles are “lucky” because they won such a large number and proportion of one-run games. Throughout most of baseball history, relief staffs have been, at varying stages, practically nonexistent, ill-defined, or well-defined but a) poorly staffed or b) improperly utilized. For these reasons, managers have not had much control over allowing runs in the late innings of close games; thus, luck would play a significant role in who wins these games. Nowadays, relief staffs are more well-defined than ever and most teams are adopting advanced statistics to some extent or another. I’m… Read more »
John Autin
Editor

There is some connection between bullpen performance and one-run record, even though Tampa had the best bullpen in MLB but a 21-27 mark in 1RG.

But since reliever performance is itself volatile, one-run records are not very predictive.

And it’s hard to believe that teams are making progress towards optimal use of their bullpen resources. You still see almost all the best relievers being used as closers, i.e., pitching in save situations without regard to leverage.

GrandyMan
Guest
I guess, then, one could say the O’s were lucky – but lucky more in terms of having a really good bullpen than winning so many one-run games. As advanced statistics, and people who talk about advanced statistics, become more accepted within the baseball community, I expect that managers will figure out to use relief pitchers more effectively. (What would be the best way to go about this? If it’s a 3-2 game, should you bring your closer in in the 7th and see if you can get more than three outs from him? Or, is it better to risk… Read more »
John Autin
Editor
“What would be the best way to go about [finding the most effective use of ace relievers]?” A good starting place would be the study of this issue that Bill James ran in his Historical Baseball Abstract. I actually think the knowledge has already seeped into management, at least most front offices. But two obstacles remain before that knowledge will be widely applied: The players themselves will tend to resist until the better measures of relief performance pay off at contract time. And there is a widespread (and I would say self-fulfilling) belief among players and coaches that “the last… Read more »
Andrew
Guest

Why about SRS? Simple Rating System = Run Differential + Strength of Schedule, expressed as the number of runs better (or worse) the team is than the average ML team. It’s on the front page of baseball-reference to see the full list.

AL
NYY (1.1)
TBR (0.9)
OAK (0.8)
TEX (08)
LAA (0.7)

NL
WSN (0.7)
ATL (0.5)
STL (0.4)
CIN (0.2)
SFG (0.2)

Doug
Guest

So, by SRS, all the right NL teams made the playoffs, but a different story in the AL.

But, not sure how to interpret the magnitude of those SRS numbers. The difference between those SRS numbers seems much larger than the subjective difference in quality between those teams.

Mike L
Guest

Off topic, but I need perspective and advice from my HHS friends. Reader’s poll. Tonight, Debate, Yankees-Tigers, or my daughter’s PTA, to be followed by Debate or Yankees-Tigers? Split screen is not realistic, although I suppose I could listen and then stare with the sound off. Baseball radio, with John Sterling, is not something that will help me hold up under the strain. But we are talking about three of my favorite things, child, baseball, politics. I think child comes first, but as to the rest, what say you all?

Doug
Guest

Record the debate, and catch the end of the game after the PTA.

I never record games – too hard to avoid finding out what happens. Even if you don’t know how it turned out, you still know you can find out without watching the recording, which makes watching the recording not really feel like watching live (at least for me).

tag
Guest
Baseball, like pro football, has a great deal of luck built into its very core. Which is why a tournament / playoff format is not the best idea for it. When skill plays a highly dominant role in a sport or other activity, it’s fine to determine champions based on tournaments and playoffs. Garry Kasparov will annihilate every challenger (except for machines) for 15 straight years. Usain Bolt will capture back-to-back 100 and 200 gold medals in the Olympics and dominate a dozen Diamond League meets in between. Roger Federer will win six straight matches in a major and nine… Read more »
Hub Kid
Guest
This is a great, thought-provoking post, Bryan. It pretty much demands a statistical and philosophical debate on how to define “the best teams”, which HHS commenters have risen to. Bryan’s careful and fascinating consideration of the many ways to measure “best teams” statistically appears to have re-ignited the great ongoing HHS debate on Pythagorean vs. Actual Records, which now looks like a triangular debate: Pythagorean Wins vs. Actual Wins vs. Postseason Wins. This is a great time to have this debate, before the World Series, which is harder to argue with using statistics than a regular season record. And on… Read more »
Bill Johnson
Guest

Doesn’t anyone else actually enjoy watching the games without knowing how they are going to turn out? I get the feeling sometimes that folks think it’s just a matter of getting the perfect format, and once we do that we can accurately pick the outcome in advance because the “best” team will win.

Why have play-offs at all?

mosc
Guest
I’m always torn on arguments like this. Sometimes it feels like people want to just have the hitters take batting practice and give them mathematical scores. have the pitchers throw at a target and mathematically chart their velocity, accuracy, and pitch movement. Then simply put in the numbers and see which team has the better players. You get where I’m going? It’s like the inputs to the game’s results become more important than the result. Don’t play a playoff, just have a computer run a few trillion permutations and tell us who would win. I guess I like looking into… Read more »
Jim Bouldin
Guest
The only place where I’m really willing to concede that randomness has a substantial role in baseball game outcomes on a regular or quasi-common basis, is that hitters are usually not skilled enough to place balls specifically where the fielders are not, resulting in a degree of unpredictability in whether a baTTED ball will result in a base hit or not. Pretty much every other type of example I’ve seen given as supporting the supposedly important role of luck in baseball is some sort of rare case scenario that is not important. So over a game, or a few games,… Read more »
birtelcom
Editor
In contrast, I generally think of the “three lucks” of baseball: (1) As you point out, the luck related to where balls fall in the field of play (2) the degree to which hits get bunched within innings to create runs, and (3) the degree to which runs get bunched within games to create wins. The second of those three is simply a result of the fact that when you put together a sequence of guys who each get on base 30% to 40% of the time, sometimes their times on base will get bunched together in an inning and… Read more »
e pluribus munu
Guest
birtlecom, This doesn’t seem right to me. Maybe I’m missing something, but I see your model as mechanistic and static, whereas games are balances of fluid dispositions, reactions, efforts, and choices. What you’re calling luck is what I see as an interplay of skills. We all know it’s very hard for a batter to place the ball where he wants it, yet when even I hit fungos, I can get the ball pretty much to the kid I want to give fielding practice to in the manner I want the ball to go. Why can’t I do that in a… Read more »
tag
Guest
Jim, I think that’s the whole point. Achieving hits and scoring runs can’t really be controlled to a great extent, at least not nearly to the same extent that scoring can be controlled in, say, basketball. And other than through strikeouts, pitchers have highly imperfect control over how they record outs. My understanding of things is that the speed at which a sport (or any other activity) regresses to the mean basically tells you how much luck is involved in it. In fact, skill can basically be thought of, in any sport where such is the case, as a brake… Read more »
Jim Bouldin
Guest

No, I don’t agree with the thrust of either of these comments, and indeed I feel like it would require several pages of writing to explain myself fully on the suite of topics involved, and having to get at least some work done today, which up to now I have decidedly not, it’s unfortunately going to have to wait for another time.

tag
Guest
Jim, I’m very interested in reading what you come up with. Before you devote any real time to it, however, let me lay out a few concepts I’ve seen over the years. Most come from guys I occasionally work for. They’re math Ph.Ds and stats geeks who have a small company that seeks to identify fund and portfolio managers around the world who can consistently beat benchmarks and index funds (they’re looking for Warren Buffett in 1963). They basically get paid for separating skill from luck in evaluating fund management performance. In giving presentations, they make many analogies to sports… Read more »
Jim Bouldin
Guest
Hi tag, just now seeing your essay, but definitely need to do some *actual work* for a change. Will read and respond as soon as I can, looks well considered on first glance. Also, I definitely think we should not discuss cycling at length on this blog, but I just encourage you to read all the USADA report including the affidavits from former team members regarding Armstrong. He is clearly 100% guilty, just like Bonds, Clemens and the rest of ’em. Hi tag, just now seeing your essay, but definitely need to do some *actual work* for a change. Will… Read more »
Jim Bouldin
Guest

hmmm.

ah well, you get the message.

tag
Guest

Won’t discuss the cycling but I’ve seen the reports and interviews with his team members. Lance is obviously guilty, no question.

Jim Bouldin
Guest
Hi tag, Just read this twice. It’s not entirely clear to me what your main point is here. A lot of words were expended to describe the basic idea that observational data have signal and noise mixed in various degrees. This is easily summarized simply by a linear, stochastic model y = a + bx + epsilon, where epsilon is a random variable with defined properties. Yes, things that are more stochastic are less predictable, for any given sample size, than things that are more deterministic. Luck is not a term that statisticians or scientists use, almost ever. It’s a… Read more »
Mark in Sydney
Guest
Bryan, Another factor that you might want to consider is the uneven playing field. You have alluded to it in your post, but there is an large inequity in payrolls amongst the MLB teams each year that has a huge impact on players, rosters, ability to get through the season. So, you could consider the “best” team the one providing best “Bang for Buck”. I’d like to define that measure as B4B = (Wins Above Avg * Bucks per Avg Win) / (Bucks per Win) where Bucks per Win = Team Payroll / Season Wins This year the average payroll… Read more »
bstar
Guest

Fascinating discussion. I personally don’t believe there’s a “best” team left in the playoffs right now. To believe so one would have to buy into the concept that one team is so ostensibly better than the others right now that it’s actually favored to win a seven-game series over its opponent by a significant margin, and I don’t believe this to be true.

PP
Guest

What are the Yanks going to do with Arod? 5 years at 114, too big to buy out and trade unless they eat most of it. Keeping him around with the possibility of a further decline could be detrimental to the team. Has this already been discussed and I missed it?

Ed
Guest
PP: It was discussed a little but not much. And here’s the thing. It’s not $114 million. It’s more than that. He gets $6 million bonuses for passing Mays, Ruth, Aaron and Bonds in home runs. He’s got a good shot at passing Mays next year. And he could eventually catch Ruth. So that’s an additional $6-12 million. I’ve seen some odd talk about the Dodgers being interested in him. Makes no sense at all partially because of their current obligations but also because he’s being used more and more at DH (for obvious reasons). So I don’t know. I… Read more »
Ed
Guest
Actually the whole Yankees offseason should be interesting to watch. They have lots of free agents to decide what to do with – Swisher, Martin, Kuroda, Chavez, Ibanez, Andrew Jones. Pettitte is also a free agent and there’s the obvious question of whether he’ll return. Soriano has an opt-out clause in his contract so he could also choose to test free agency. Granderson and Cano are both on team options for 2013 though presumably they’ll both be picked up. Then you have the players trying to return from injuries – Rivera, Pineda, and Jeter (plus Gardner to a certain extent).… Read more »
PP
Guest

And that offseason starts now! No way Arod comes back, or Swisher, as I see it…

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