Odds and ends...
A couple of thoughts as the regular season winds down...
- Yankee newsgroup trolls have mocked the Red Sox every time they've celebrated reaching the post-season via Wild Card. I expect to hear less of that, given the champagne celebration the Yankees had last night on clinching the play-offs.
- The first round is almost certain to be Anaheim at Boston and New York at Cleveland. The Red Sox and Indians are 3 games ahead of the Yankees and Angels. If the season were to end this way, Boston would be the 1st seed because of head-to-head record vs. Cleveland, but the Red Sox and Yankees cannot, by rule, meet in the first round.
- I actually feel sorry (well, more sorry than usual) for Tampa Bay fans this morning (if there are any.) This is their 10th Major League season, and they've yet to win more than 70 games in any of them. They're in the most disheartening division in baseball, because they've got two of the uber-teams, teams that have both tremendous baseball acumen and massive financial resources blocking their path to the play-offs. Both of those teams play in front of essentially home crowds in the Rays' own ballpark. And now, in the span of five days, they've had to watch both of them clinch and celebrate on their own field.
That stinks (more than usual) for the Devil Rays fans (if there are any.)
- There is a perception in certain quarters that the Red Sox were great early, but have struggled since. Ask anyone who has played better since the All Star break, and they'll probably list all of the other AL play-off teams, and maybe someone else.
It is true that New York and Cleveland have better records since the All Star break than Boston. But they're the only AL teams for whom that's true. And if you look at run differential and pythagorean records, something interesting pops out.
The Red Sox were not only the best team in the AL before the All Star break, they've been the best team in the AL since the All Star break. They've just underperformed (or, to coin a phrase, "Gagned") their projection by 5+ games while the Yankees and Indians have exceeded theirs by 3 each. From a run differential point of view, only the Yankees, who have outscored their opposition by 100 runs, have come close to the Red Sox 110 run margin. LAA's 55 is third, Cleveland's 42 is tied for fourth. Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe wrote a piece last week about the Red Sox being the fourth best of the AL play-off contenders. That's just silly.
- Anyone who believes he knows what is going to happen in the play-offs is lying to himself. Anyone who tells you that he knows what's going to happen is lying to you. These teams will have won within 3-5 of the same number of games over a 162 games schedule. The idea that anyone knows what's going to happen in a 5-game series based on that is just silly. That's the way baseball works. There is too much luck involved in any given game for a short series to mean anything. Come Sunday evening, there will be 8 teams left. The best one, Boston, has essentially the same 12.5% chance of winning the World Series as the worst one, whoever that is (Cubs? Brewers? Padres? Rockies? I don't know.) No one should be shocked or even surprised to see any given team win or lose any given series.
And don't listen to anyone who later tells you, "I knew that was going to happen."
One of the most systematic errors in human perception is what psychologists call hindsight bias -- the feeling, after an event happens, that we knew all along it was going to happen. Across a wide spectrum of issues, from politics to the vagaries of the stock market, experiments show that once people know something, they readily believe they knew it all along.
Shankar Vedantam's article is about Iraq war opposition, but the hindsight bias comment is obviously relevant to baseball play-offs...
So, you want my prediction for who will win the World Series? OK, here it is. The World Series winner will be...one of the eight teams that make the playoffs.