Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Throwing out nonsense

I've mentioned my sympathy for people who have to fill column space every day. But there's a lot of nonsense produced in the process, like this throw-away line from the Boston Globe's Peter Abraham:
The Yankees and Rays also lost. Is the AL East really this mediocre?
  1. The fact that all three teams lost on one day says nothing, less than nothing, about the quality of the teams or the quality of the division. Let's do a little quick and easy math to see that.

    To start with, the baseball season is about 180 days long, a period over which each team plays 162 games. We're talking about three teams, some of the off-days are going to coincide, so assume that there are 30 days during that 180 in which one or more of the teams doesn't play, leaving 150 on which they all do.

    They're all in the same division, and they play each other 18 times head-to-head, so there are 54 more nights on which they cannot all lose. That brings us down to 96 days during the course of the season on which all three play games independent of one another.

    If we assume that each is a 95 win team (that would make it a non-mediocre division, right?) then the probability of each team winning on any given night is about 58%, and the probability of each losing is about 41.4%. The probability of all three losing is therefore 41.4 ^ 3 (cubed), or about 7%.

    7% of 96 is about 7 games. So, of the approximately 16 days per month that the three teams play independent games, we'd expect them all to lose at least once. Therefore, the fact that they all lost last night is not statistically improbable, and says nothing about the quality of the division.
  2. The Red Sox, Rays and Yankees are all on a pace to win 86-plus games. How many divisions have three teams on an 86-win pace? Two, the AL East and the NL East.
  3. The Red Sox and Rays each started horribly. If you look at the standings starting April 8, leaving off the first week of the season (in which Boston and Tampa were a combined 0-12), the Red Sox, Rays and Yankees are a combined 72-51, which is a 95 win pace.

In short, there's no evidence whatsoever to support the theory that the AL East is "mediocre." It was a throw-away line that contributed nothing to the piece...

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