If you have missed all 5 pieces in “The Playoffs are a Crapshoot” well…tough! You should’ve been reading Braves Journal more, ya twit!

Nah, just joshing. Here are the links to the first 5 parts:

A Few Final Observations

  • You used Bradley-Terry rankings to figure out who was the best team.  Maybe there’s a better measure of who the best team is which would then improve the probability of the best team winning.

Sure.  Maybe.  But people have been looking for some measure that predict champions for a long time and they haven’t found any yet.  You can see one such effort here

  • You made the probability of winning a game in the playoffs constant.  But it isn’t really.  Pitching matchups are really important, they vary from game to game, and the essence of managing in the playoffs is to get the best matchups for your team.  In the regular season, this isn’t nearly as important, so it isn’t reflected in skill.

It’s essentially impossible to separate varying probabilities of winning from a constant probability of winning plus luck.  And while this new dimension of skill differentials is not really tested in the regular season, no one that I know has actually done the analysis necessary to show that it really makes much of a difference at the margin, especially since the machinations to improve matchups often makes a team worse by varying the expected rest of a starter.

  • Lots of other things are different in the playoffs: pressure, clutchness, etc., etc.

Prove it.  One of the things that makes sports great is projection.  We imagine the stress the players have because we know if we were at the plate in these circumstances we’d be peeing on ourselves.  I’ve stood trembling over a six foot putt with $25 on the line and stabbed the thing almost in the wrong direction.  But PGA pros manage to calmly sink those putts with $1 million on the line.  But we fail to recognize that that’s what makes them pros.  The baseball players whose nerves get to them on a 3-2 count in the 9th with the bases loaded aren’t MLB players.  Those guys got weeded out in A ball, if not before.  While the playoffs may represent a higher level of stress than the regular season, these guys are exactly the guys who are impervious to stress.  I recognize that this is a relative statement, but those who want to defend clutchness have been trying, unsuccessfully, for years.  That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t rather have Soroka on the mound in a tight spot rather than Folty, but the difference in performance is still mostly luck, or at least indistinguishable from it.

  • This focus on the “best team” is misplaced.  The playoffs aren’t about assuring that the best team wins.  It’s enough that the worst teams lose.  You didn’t test that.

I didn’t, but Pete Palmer did. 

In real life, we do not know which team was really the best, but if we assume that it was the team with the best record during the season, then that team has won the World Series five times since 1995 when the wild card was introduced, although in one case there was a tie for the best. That works out to about 20 percent, consistent with the above table. The average rank of the World Series winner was fourth out of eight. If the playoffs were completely random, the average rank would be 4.5. The worst team has won 4 times.

  • You can prove anything with math, particularly when I don’t understand what you did.

No, you can’t.  At least I can’t.

So the playoffs are a crapshoot.  It should be pointed out that a Crapshootiness Index of 0 is almost as bad as a Crapshootiness Index of 1.  In that case, all we’d be waiting for is the inevitable coronation of the best team.  Why bother to hold the playoffs?  To paraphrase Montgomery Burns: “They barely won… I don’t even know why they even bothered to show up.”

And even a Crapshootiness Index of 1 has something to recommend it.  After all, fans come to the games with rooting interests, so even if the results are completely random, we can be amused or horrified by the way that randomness asserts itself.  Just because the result is indistinguishable from a coin flip doesn’t mean you’re indifferent between watching the game played and watching a coin flip.  And as long as there is scope, even at the margins, for skill differences to manifest themselves, there is every incentive to be as good as you can be.

Does the crapshootiness of the playoffs make me feel any better about 1991-2005?  Only a little.  Even under pure crapshootiness, we would expect the Braves to have won two World Series, and, if you think they were the best team in baseball most of those years, their expectation would be closer to 3.  Instead we got 1.  But it could be worse: we could be Cleveland.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this series on “Playoffs are a Crapshoot”, here is a category from the vault that you might enjoy!

Long Live Braves Journal!