Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Demise of the Yankees

Since I started following Major League Baseball closely in 1993, I've, at different times, been a fan of the Orioles, Red Sox, and Mariners.

Which is another way of saying that I truly relished the collapse of this year's Yankees in a heap of recriminations.

I don't want to say this too loudly, because it might keep them from blowing up the team, but the Yankees are fine.

The structure of the playoffs ensures that it's more or less a crapshoot. To a first approximation, a team has a 50% chance of winning each series. From a team construction and management perspective, the best you can do is make the playoffs every year. Cashman and Torre have done that.

Two little math exercises are useful. The Yankees have reached the postseason in each of the 12 full seasons since divisional play began. So we would expect them to have been bumped in the first round 6 times, the LCS 3 times, and go to the series 3 times. Of those 3, a reasonable Yankees fan could expect to win once or twice. Their actual record?
  • 5 first-round losses (1995, 1997, 2002, 2005, 2006)
  • 1 LCS loss (2004)
  • 2 World Series losses (2001, 2003)
  • 4 Titles (1996, 1998, 1999, 2000)
Essentially, the Yankees have an extraordinary 6-1 record in the LCS; aside from that, their performance is very close to the expected value.

Ah, you say, but the team's different now. Those wins aren't evenly distributed! But a playoff team has a 12.5% chance of winning the World Series. What are the odds of making the playoffs and not winning six years in a row? 44.8%. That's hardly a low-probability event.

But feel free to chase off the best player of his generation and the manager best suited to New York in the past 50 years.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Playoff Time!

Back from Montreal, just in time for the MLB playoffs!

This is my favorite time of the sports year. There's nothing quite like the tension of playoff baseball. Many bloggers would give you prognostications at this point, but I'm not going to, because there's no reason to look foolish.

The playoffs are a crapshoot. Baseball Between the Numbers showed pretty convincingly that the outcome of any series is 85% luck. With those odds, why bother with predictions. Still, I thought I'd tell you who I'm rooting for, and why.

In all of the big-time team sports, when I don't have a particular interest in any of the teams, I root for the team that hasn't won it all in the longest time. There are other factors, but I won't bore you with them here. So without further ado, here's my order of preference for the World Series champion, which is an opinion that of course you should embrace too.
  1. Padres (1968) - They've never won it all, and entered the league in 1969. So count their last win as 1968, blowing everyone else away. I also have liked this team for quite some time for no good reason.
  2. Cardinals (1982) - This team is not only long-starved, but has great fans and is nearing the end of their success cycle. If they don't win now, it may be a loooong time, given the age and glaring weaknesses in the organization.
  3. Tigers (1984) - The feel-good story of the year; it would be great if they could cap it off with a win.
  4. Athletics (1989) - I'm a big fan of Billie Beane, and am tired of people using playoff failure, which is essentially bad luck, to attack an intelligent approach to the game.
  5. Twins (1991) - Another small market team, another slap in the face to the Yankees.
  6. Dodgers (1988) - I like Nomar, but the As and Twins are only slightly less starved, and have better small-market credentials.
  7. Mets (1986) - The idea of a subway series makes me nauseous, but much better the Mets than the...
  8. Yankees (2000) - Not only are the most recent winners, but they also have a shot every year, so there's no hurry. Add to that the fact that they have every unearned advantage imaginable, and my history of rooting for the Orioles, Red Sox, and Mariners at different times, and this would by far be the most undesirable outcome.
I love the West Coast. Games start at 10AM!