Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Second Thoughts

Yesterday at BaseballProspecus.com, Joe Sheehan talked about the Indians-Yankees series. Here's the link, but unless you have a subscription, I don't think you can access it. Sorry.

Joe's a fantastic writer, but what struck me was a common thought expressed early in the story. It's practically a gospel among the baseball scholarly. He suggests that the postseason is a crapshoot and carries that thought to its logical conclusion:


"Perhaps I’m excessively dogmatic on this matter, but to me, the relative emphases placed on the postseason and the regular season are completely out of whack. The latter is a much stiffer test, and a much better gauge, of a baseball team than the former is. Use whatever term you like—"small sample size," "luck," "randomness," "variance," — but the statheads have this one right. Best-of-fives and best-of-sevens don’t do enough to separate comparable baseball teams, and while the winner of one is more often than not the one that played better during the series, playing better over four games is a vanishingly small test."

I myself have spit out similar thoughts often, especially give the Twins postseason futility. But this time I was suddenly struck by something. Namely, that nobody other than baseball fans ever says this.

For instance, the Spurs record last year was much worse than the Mavericks, but the Spurs won the NBA championship, the Mavs went home early, and nobody doubts who was the better team. (Though, I'll admit, Phoenix was a different story.) In the NFL, if a 12-4 team beats a 14-2 team in the Super Bowl – a single game - nobody tries to claim the 12-4 team was better. And when Anaheim marched through the Stanley Cup playoffs last year, they were acclaimed by all sides as a clearly superior team to emulate, despite having the third most points in the regular season.

In other sports, it's assumed that during the grind of a regular season, guys take nights off and injuries skew records. Or that special players wait until the playoffs to turn their games up a notch. Or that some players save themselves for the playoffs, or even play a slightly different game during the regular season so as not to tip their hands to some of the better teams.

And I have trouble seeing where baseball is any different. Is 162 games that much more effective in leveling the field than 81? Is baseball's grind different than the NHL's or NBA's? Is the goal of being one of the top eight teams so much different than being one of the top sixteen? Or twelve? MLB, NHL and NBA playoffs are similar in that they have best of five or seven games series. And the NFL, whose showdowns are just single games, never talks about sample size. So why are we so anxious to write off the playoffs? Why are we tempted to ignore the results when the best play against the best?

There are three obvious answers. Either:
1) There is something inherently different about baseball OR
2) Baseball is right and all the other sports are wrong OR
3) The other sports are right and baseball is wrong.

And for the first time tonight, I started to wonder if the answer is “C”. Maybe studying the stats has warped our view a bit. We look at the records and run differentials and regular season awards and feel like we know which team is best. Those facts mean something to us – we discovered them, we study them, we prove them and we take comfort in them. And from those stats, we crown a best team using 162 games of data. That is something that no other sport can really do with stats, or at least not the way baseball can.

But then that team doesn’t win. And so we have a choice: we can claim small sample size, or we can go back to the drawing board and try again to measure that which seems increasingly (and suddenly) immeasurable.

It’s not difficult to see why we choose the former. But tonight, it’s equally not clear that it’s the right choice.

24 comments:

ubelmann said...

Say players/teams take roughly the amount of ~40 games off during the 162 game season. Heck, say they take ~81 games off during the 160 game season. I'm 100% confident I can make a better judgment about a team over 81 games with some noise thrown in than I can judge them based on 3-19 games that "count."

The quality of the information might be somewhat higher, but it doesn't even come close to overcoming the advantage in the amount of information we get from the regular season.

Kyle Eliason said...

http://mngameday.blogspot.com/2007/10/bigger-better.html

hansers said...

Baseball is different because there are only eight teams that make it into the playoffs; it's not like the other leagues where you can play mediocre and still be a wild card.

In Hockey and Basketball it feels like the entire league is in the playoffs and Football constantly has 8-8 teams as the wild card.

There are nights baseball players are given off. There are an additional 15 players that are called up in September to spell the workhorses that have gone all summer. It's a game where some of the best players to ever play only touch the ball every fifth game.

It's what makes it the greatest game. You start off in April playing 162 games and the only thing separating you from a team that didn't make it into the playoffs is a game (thank you Mets). Baseball is not a short story.

Anonymous said...

The best team when? I think its pretty obvious that teams change over the course of the season. Playoff teams are rarely the same as the teams that started the year. That is true of all sports, but especially true of baseball where teams almost always adjusting to fill gaps they discover during the season.

The fact is that the information obtained from averaging out the performances over 162 games often highly misleading about the current ability of a team or player in October. Baseball is a game of adjustments for both teams and individual players.

John said...

Ubelmann,

But what about the other sports? I’m not sure if you’re choosing #1 or #2. Are you saying that the longer playoffs for the NBA and shorter regular season each have an effect that tips the importance towards the postseason? Or are you saying that the other sports should pay more attention to the regular season?

Either way, I’m not so confident. For #2, you can’t convince me that the Mavericks (who had the better record) were better than the Spurs last year. And I’m not convinced that we learn that much more from 162 games than we learn from 81. I’ve copied and pasted this a couple of places already, but I’ll do it again…

Let's unpack this a bit in a theoretical vs. empirical way. My supposition is that you don't learn significantly more about differntiating two teams that play 162 games than if they play 81 games, especially when there are really only two outcomes that have any meaning - a win versus a loss. A theoretical model for trying to determine which of two very good teams is better would be to try and determine which of two coins is "weighted" to win more.

So suppose we have two identical (to sight) coins, both of which are weighted so they show heads (i.e. they "win") more than they lose. One coin is designed to come up heads 65% of the time and the other one comes up heads 60%. Your job is to figure out which is which.

You can do this by flipping each coin 81 times. At that point you compare the results and guess which coin is which. Then you flip them another 81 times (so you now have 162 results) and guess again. The question is how many times more you would get the right answer after the additional 81 tries.

I suppose someone can do a Monte Carlo model of this and give us the answer, but off the top of my head, the answer is "not much more". After 81 tries, I have a pretty good guess and it's unlikely that the next 81 are going to change that. So why do baseball researchers take so much more comfort in our longer season? Again, why do we trust the regular season more than the postseason, which seemingly every other sports league does?

Of course, a logical counterargument is that the playoffs are like flipping those coins just seven times, and you can't tell a darn thing about them that way. But the other sports would reject the basic premise - these aren't coins and they aren't random. They're players who are playing a game. And you know how you determine who is the best team? You have them play each other, and whoever wins is the better team. And that's why they recognize postseason success more than the regular season records.

Sky said...

Here are the number of games from each major sport that are equivalent to a 162 game baseball season:
NHL: 82
NBA: 35
NFL: 28

The NBA plays a ton of games, while the NFL is more of a crapshoot than MLB.

Of course, you need to consider the length of a playoff series.

Baseball, hockey, and basketball mostly have best-of-sevens, for which baseball should have the most upsets and basketball the fewest, far. (Although, I would bet that basketball and hockey are more susceptible to style-of-play trumping team quality.)

Playing best-of-seven in basketball would be like best-of-five in football. Yikes.

http://www.insidethebook.com/ee/index.php/site/comments/true_talent_levels_for_sports_leagues/

adam quam said...

I think a large portion of this issue is pitching. Baseball is the only sport where the games vary wildly based on the pitchers that are pitching. Overall, there is a huge variable to the game that is controlled by a very few players. The more this is the case, I suppose that the more likely the playoffs (or even one game) will have an upset. In other sports, the teams stay the same from game-to-game. Pitching changes dynamics and provides mismatches that even themselves out over 81/162 games but do not even themselves out over a 7 game series. Pitching is probably the most important variable in the game and it is dependent on the one guy out there at the time. This would be similar in basketball to saying only one guy can shoot per quarter (hopefully wolves would not choose Mark Madsen). Other sports do have other similarities to this, but I would argue not to the degree. QB is important, but defense can shut down other teams, can score, and there is a running game and special teams. Hockey has the goalie, which has made for some underdogs going far in the playoffs. Again, thats one person responsible for a large variable. Basketball probably has the least of this. The teams stay exactly the same and are very fluid, everyone shares responsibility for all jobs at all times. Another way I would look at this is winning pct of "great" teams in the leagues. Let's assume that a "great" team is equally as great in each league. Great teams in NBA and NFL routinely reach 75% winning pct. Hockey, with the goaltender, reach 60-65%. Baseball reaches only 58-60%. This would tell me that baseball is the game where more upsets tend to occur and therefore possibly lead people to believe the playoffs are very hit and miss. I think overall, when the "great" teams in the league lose 40% of their games, it is not a big stretch to add in other variables and figure that winning in the postseason is a gamble. What about a football or hockey game where you had to use a different QB or goalie each game? It would certainly add to the complexity of playoff results.

Jack Ungerleider said...

John, its simple the answer is 1. Baseball is different. It has less to do with the length of the season and more to do with how the season is played. None of the other sports play multi-game series as part of the regular season. Hockey and Basketball have the occasional home-and-home pairing but that's a scheduling anomaly more than a plan. Playing on consecutive days happens in the NHL and the NBA but how many times do you hear griping about back-to-back games in the NBA?

So with Baseball the playoffs really are an extension of the regular season. So the results of the regular season have merit in evaluating which teams are better.

Also teams that meet in the first round of the playoffs will have faced each other at least as many games as they will play in that series. This is not true of hockey or basketball, though I may be wrong.

ubelmann said...

But what about the other sports? I’m not sure if you’re choosing #1 or #2.

I didn't choose either. I suppose, if pressed, I would say that there's something inherently different about baseball in that each sport has its own peculiarities. Like pre-schoolers, they're all special. Or something like that. :)

I'm fairly hesitant to make firm conclusions about sports outside of baseball, since I have much less experience following/playing them, but here are some thoughts:

I watched my first NBA game in person this spring (Sonics-Pistons in Key Arena.) One thing absolutely stood out to me that I had never, ever noticed on television. The players absolutely, positively were playing a completely different game in the 4th quarter than in the first three quarters. It was almost like those sprint bicycle races where the two participants jockey for position, jockey for position, and then boom they're off to the races.

Anyway, I've seen a lot of baseball games, and I've never seen anything like that in baseball. Players, I'm sure, lose concentration from time to time, but Joe Nathan doesn't throw his fastball at 88mph when he's pitching during a blowout situation. There's not a whole lot of evidence that baseball players perform significantly differently in garbage time, so I think it's reasonable to consider those performances as relevant data.

There's also the matter that other sports don't have anything quite like the situation with baseball and pitchers. In hockey, you have goalies, but they can play nearly every game, and each team basically relies on two goalies. In modern baseball, a starting pitcher can pitch at most once every four days. The starting pitcher has an extremely important role in the outcome of the game, though, so in a way, each team is five different teams.

I don't think it's arrogant to assert that baseball is innately different than other sports. There's a lot about it that is pretty strange. (And if someone told me that hockey was innately different than basketball, I wouldn't necessarily disagree.)

My supposition is that you don't learn significantly more about differntiating two teams that play 162 games than if they play 81 games, especially when there are really only two outcomes that have any meaning - a win versus a loss.

I take issue with this as a basic premise for your argument. Pythagorean records exist for a reason--you can make better predictions about future wins and losses simply by considering runs scored and runs allowed than by considering wins and losses alone. In some real sense, you could say that after thirty of forty games in a baseball season, runs scored and runs allowed are more important to determining team quality (as measured by their ability to win a game the next day) than their previous wins and losses. Up until about 140 games into the season, not only are wins and losses not the only outcomes that matter, they aren't even the most important information that we have in hand. (Clay Davenport did a nice analysis of this.)

This is how the coin flip analogy fails. With coins, all we can know is the outcome of the flip. With baseball teams, each game provides us with more information than just the outcome, and a lot of that information is important.

And you know how you determine who is the best team? You have them play each other, and whoever wins is the better team. And that's why they recognize postseason success more than the regular season records.

I fundamentally disagree with this as well. When two teams play each other, the best team doesn't always win. The team that succeeds in scoring more (runs, goals, points, etc.) than the other team in that game wins. Anyone who has watched any amount of sports knows that luck plays a role. What people disagree on his how large of a role luck plays, but you're fooling yourself if you assert that it isn't there.

In some real way, discerning the best team in a sport is completely impossible. We can't even agree on what "best" means, and usually even if criteria are decided upon, there are still disputes. Tournaments are very alluring to us, because while we can't know who the best team is, we can know who the winner of the tournament is. (And tournaments mean more sporting events, which are fun to watch/play/analyze/etc.)

So going back to my original comment, if you made me choose between regular season and postseason in baseball, I feel that I have more relevant information in my hands from the regular season, and more relevant information will lead to a more informed decision on my part as to which team is the best, so the regular season is in that sense preferable for determining who the best team is.

Of course, I would rather not be forced to choose one or the other. If I want to make a decision on who the best team is I want the regular season and the post-season. With more information in hand, I'll be able to make an even better decision.

brianS said...

Playoffs are crapshoots in every sport.

It's just simple, bernoulli trial logic. If team A is 10 percent "better" than team B (would be expected to win 55 pct of the time in the long run), the chance of team A being swept in a 5-game series are 0.45^3 = 0.0911, a little over 9 percent, and the chances of team A sweeping the series are about 16.6 pct.

a ten percent "quality" difference between any two playoff teams seems to me like a pretty big spread. Probably a lot bigger than the "true" differences in baseball, football or, after the first round of the playoffs anyway, basketball and hockey.

Anonymous said...

Pitching changes dynamics and provides mismatches that even themselves out over 81/162 games

No, they don't even come close to evening out. Evan a cursory look at the data makes that clear. For instance, some teams face far more left handed pitchers than other teams even in their own division.

There's not a whole lot of evidence that baseball players perform significantly differently in garbage time

We are talking about teams, not players. And its pretty obvious that the relief pitchers in there at "garbage time" are different. And that is only one of the differences. Its pretty clear that players (pitchers and hitters) approach at bats differently when they are 4 runs behind than when they are only 1 run behind. At least they say they do.

p until about 140 games into the season, not only are wins and losses not the only outcomes that matter, they aren't even the most important information that we have in hand. (

And what magically changes at 162 games? The whole argument of Pythagorean records is that even full season won-loss records do not accurately reflect who is the better team. I suppose you can add up runs scored and runs against and rank teams based on that.

Is there anyone here who thinks the games would be played the same way if that happened? Yet the claim is made that we should give more weight to that outcome than to the actual things teams are trying to achieve - winning games, not scoring runs and not preventing runs.

e can't even agree on what "best" means

This is an odd argument. Do we argue over who the best sprinter is after the race? The rules of baseball are that the team that scores the most runs in a game wins. What other measure of "best" can there be?

It is only because some people are not willing to accept the rules of the game that this dicussion even happens. The "best" team is the one who wins the game - that is the measure in the rules. And the winner of the World Series is the "best" team in baseball that year.

As I said above, you can change the rules to whoever scores the most runs in the season "wins" but you are really talking about a different game, not baseball. Of course there are those games out there and a lot of people play them. But they are not substitutes for the real thing.

It's just simple, bernoulli trial logic.

To take your earlier example a sweep by the team with 55% chance of winning, that will only happen 17% of the time. Yet 3 times in 4 series this last round a team swept. Which is over 5 years worth of sweeps in the first round at that 17% level. That would indicate you are severely underestimating the difference between teams.

If the difference in teams is more like 60-40, you are down to only 5% of the time for losers and 20% for winners. If you think of that in terms of a 10 game series it is a 6-4 record. Which is not really very great a difference in baseball.

But all of that is moot. Because, in fact, the chances of a particular team winning change from day to day with the pitcher, the weather, injuries and who is in the lineup. The notion that there is some measure of best beyond the competition is where they real fallacy lies.

by jiminy said...

I think baseball really is different, in that the result of any single game or series is determined less by the overall quality of the teams in baseball than in any other sport. To expand Adam's point on pitching, imagine if your best quarterback could play only every fifth game. But the same also goes for hitting: imagine if Michael Jordan only got to take five shots a game (including when he was fouled, which are like intentional walks).

I think the performance of any given hitter or pitcher is more variable than in other sports too. Michael Jordan might have a bad daynot and then, or Tom Brady might throw three picks, but it's not a constant like in baseball, where the best hitter gets out 65% of the time, and the best pitcher goes 15-13.

The stat that the best baseball teams lose 40% of their games, compared to 25% in baseball and football, is revealing evidence that the results of any single baseball game are a less reliable indicator of which team is better in other sports, but if anything, it might even understate the difference, because baseball has no salary cap, so you often see contests in which not one single player on one team could make the other team's starting lineup, yet the worst team in the league can still win one of three against the best.

Who would you rather have money on: the underdog in a single game between baseball's worst against baseball's best, or football's worst against football's best? I'd bet on the D-Rays against the Indians on any given Sunday before the Rams against the Patriots, even if you made the baseball series into a best of five. Football needs a point spread to even make betting interesting, because betting on the winner is too obvious.

Anonymous said...

e results of any single baseball game are a less reliable indicator of which team is better in other sports

Or it is an indicator that the difference in quality between the best and worst teams in baseball is a lot less than in other sports.

you often see contests in which not one single player on one team could make the other team's starting lineup

I have a hard time naming even two teams where this would be true.

by jiminy said...

Here's Bill James's take on the issue:

http://www.boston.com/news/globe/magazine/articles/2007/10/07/where_numbers_go_next/

excerpt:

In the NBA, the element of predetermination is simply too high. Simply stated, the best team wins too often. If the best team always wins, then the sequence of events leading to victory is meaningless. Who fights for the rebound, who sacrifices his body to keep the ball from rolling out of bounds doesn't matter. The greater team is going to come out on top anyway.

A fan can look at the standings in December, pick the teams that will make the playoffs, and might get them all. This has a horrific effect on the game. Everybody knows who's going to win. Why do the players seem to stand around on offense? Why is showboating tolerated? Because it doesn't matter. Why don't teams play as teams? Because they can win without doing so (although teams like these may crumble when they run up against the Pistons or Spurs).

So how should the NBA correct this? Lengthen the shot clock. Shorten the games. Move in the 3-point line. Shorten the playoffs....

BeefMaster said...

The "best" team is the one who wins the game - that is the measure in the rules. And the winner of the World Series is the "best" team in baseball that year.

No, the winner of the World Series is the "champion" - I think that's an important distinction. There are lots of World Series winners who didn't win the most games or the highest percentage of games, even when the postseason is taken into account. Also, some teams simply stack up better against different opponents, skewing things even farther.

Of course, the goal is not to be the "best" - it's to be the "champion" - but I would say that, even if you want to throw out Pythagorean records and all that other stuff that goes beyond wins and losses, it's not always the case that the "best" and "champion" are the same team.

Anonymous said...

it's not always the case that the "best" and "champion" are the same team.

Which brings you back around in a circle of trying to make a distinction based on different criteria than the competition. How can the team that is most successful not be the best? You are claiming best is measured by some other abstract criteria that has nothing to do with the game of baseball.

The team that wins the World Series is the best team this year. There are two steps to that process. They managed to get to the playoffs which is the first step. And then they beat the other teams who were in the playoffs. Which is the second step. And that is what they, and every other team, set out to do. You want to declare some other team the "best" even though they failed in the task they set out to do because they looked better while failing.

Its like saying someone is taller and stronger so he is a "better" power hitter. The fact that he hit fewer home runs and fewer extra base hits is just bad luck. He *should* be the better power hitter.

ubelmann said...

One really simple way to define which team you think is the best: which team would you wager on to win a game against another team?

The Cardinals won the World Series last year, which I'm sure was quite exciting for all of their fans, but if there was a re-match the next week, I would have wagered on the Tigers in a heartbeat. The Tigers were simply a better team than the Cardinals last year, despite the result of the World Series.

Either way, the comments here have clearly shown that we can't even get everyone in the room to agree on what it means to be the best team, but we can all agree on the champion, which is one of the reasons we love tournaments as sports fans.

Anonymous said...

One really simple way to define which team you think is the best: which team would you wager on to win a game against another team?

And the answer is any team Johan Santana is pitching for ... with Nathan closing.

But that really begs the question. Because if you knew the Cardinals were going to win the World Series, you would have bet on them. The idea that the Tigers would have won can never be tested, it is just an artifact of faith in your earlier analysis which was proved wrong by the actual results.

brianS said...

over the 10-year period 1997-2006, 19 of 70 series ended in sweeps (24.3 pct)

14 of 40 division series (35 percent were 3-game sweeps)
5 of 30 LCSs and WSs (16.67 pct, but for 4-game sweeps)

the bernoulli trial approach says that 55-45 "quality" splits should lead to about a 25-26 pct chance of a 5-game series ending in a sweep. Observed over a ten-year sample: 35 pct. I leave it as an exercise (for ubelmann if he wants it!) to show how unlikely that outcome would be under the hypothesized quality difference.

the bernoulli trial approach says that 55-45 "quality" splits should lead to about 13 pct of 7-game series ending in sweeps (observed: 16.67 pct).

seems to me that there is not a lot of evidence here against the idea that baseball playoffs are a crapshoot. One would have to do more work. As in, how often did the "favored" team win and by what margins?

David Wintheiser said...

Beefmaster pretty much hits my opinion on the matter -- people confuse 'best' with 'champion' to the point where 'best' really doesn't have any independent meaning.

In fact, it's even possible to argue that there really is no such thing as a 'best' team in baseball. We can quantify which team has the most power, most speed, most range on defense, most strikeouts as a pitching staff. We can even quantify, to some degree, the effects of chance -- which team has a higher batting average on balls in play on offense (a sign that their hitters got more hits to 'drop in' and thus were more fortunate) and on defense (a sign that the pitchers were victimized by either poor defense or poor luck, depending on other factors).

But there are many other factors we just don't have the tools to deal with yet. Park effects, for example -- we currently deal with park effects on a league-wide basis. (We compare games within a park to games outside that park and come up with a delta.) But this doesn't even begin to cover certain cases: for example, during most of Kirby Puckett's career, the Metrodome had an offensive park rating of between
103 and 107, meaning offense was about 3 to 7 percent higher in the Dome than elsewhere. Yet Puckett himself, in most seasons, had far more than 3-7% better numbers as a hitter at home than he was on the road. (Though, ironically, Puckett's numbers in 1987 were actually slightly better on the road than at home.) How does this factor into determining how 'good' the Twins were as a team in 1987, 1988, or 1991?

There really isn't any objective way to measure which team is 'best' in any given season in baseball, other than to simply ask, 'who won the title?' I'd even argue the same is true in other sports -- it's just that the other sports have a history of looking at 'intangibles' to decide these things already (the Pats are good because of Tom Brady's 'unflappability', not because their offensive yardage/turnover rating is consistently high).

Ultimately, if a team can be better or worse than it 'really is' over four games, or seven, then it can do exactly the same over 20, or 80, or 162 games, even if the statistical likeihood of that happening is progressively smaller for each larger sample. And ultimately what that means is that all sports are, in the end, a crapshoot.

John said...

So here's the thing - I have to step away from the blog for about 36 hours due to a crazy work schedule, a hours auction and a blown radiating water pump. I come back and BAM! I see this. It's like stopping by the kitchen for a snack, opening the cupboard and having a five course meal jump at you.

And, or course, anyone who knows me knows I'm going to eat every scrap and mop up the gravy with a biscuit. But where to start. (I apologize if I miss your point.)

Lots of people bring up the pitching thing. But to me, that's almost a bettr argument for the postseason. The postseason puts more weight on the front end of the rotation and bullpen, the regular season on the other guys. Given the choice, my "best" team pays more attention to the guys up front.

The "Baseball is more random" argument. First, I get the feeling that Bill James doesn't play a lot of hoops, and probably isn't a big fan of Hoosiers. It depresses me a little to hear that my sport is the most random, but I don't doubt it is true, and it makes sense that baseball needs more games to seperate the good from the great.

But if anything that means the regular season should be MORE of a champion for the NBA than they are in baseball, right? I mean, if skill wins out more, and they play 80 game, which is more than enough, doesn't that make last year's Mavs that much better?

I can buy into the 8 vs 16 playoff teams argument. That might very well be a key difference.

Geez, what else....

The Bernouli thing - I would love to crunch those numbers. I don't know that it proves much, but I'd be interested to see how that came out.

OH - the Pythagorean thing. Ubelman, I think I read that story differently than you do. He says that W-L records are a better indicator after 140 games. To be honest, I might write all next week about that theorem. It's really starting to annoy me. There are more misconceptions about it that drive me crazy than just about anything in SABRland these days. It's NOT more accurate for a lot of situations where people claim it's more accurate, or at least not in any meaningful way. Also, I don't really see where the coin flip analogy falls down because of it.

But the best, appropriately enough, was the debate about the best. Anonymous did a great job of challenging our definition, but Ubelmann, I really like your definition - it cuts through a lot of haze. Though, I'll say this...

If the Tigers and Cards could have each had a couple of days to rest last October, trotted out their best teams and played a single game, which one would I have wagered on? (That was the definition, right?) So which would have been the logical one to wager on? Both teams were very good early in the season, had brutal finishes to the season, but fired up for two weeks in the playoffs. But one team had just beaten the other team four out of five times.

So in that single game, with future earnings on the line and a 1:1 payout, which would you have wagered on? And if not the Tigers, but we still argue they were the best, then what is REALLY our definition?

brianS said...

it's just that the other sports have a history of looking at 'intangibles' to decide these things already

Derek Jeter, anyone? :-)

Anonymous said...

In fact, it's even possible to argue that there really is no such thing as a 'best' team in baseball.

That may have ultimately been my point. Once you remove all objective criteria for testing it, what meaning does it have?

"The best team is the team you would have bet on regardless of who actually wins" essentially means the best team is whoever you believe it is.

Carried to its logical conclusion you can say the Twins are better than Cleveland because you would have bet on them to bear Cleveland at the start of the season. They had the batting champ in Mauer, the MVP in Morneau and the Cy Young winner in Santana and one of the leagues best closers in Nathan. At what point does your bet get trumped by reality?

ubelmann said...

Ubelman, I think I read that story differently than you do. He says that W-L records are a better indicator after 140 games.

That's what I said, too, though I see my wording was a bit convoluted. If W/L is worse than pythag for fewer than 140 games, then in your coin-flip example you are using a sub-optimal way of evaluating teams after 81 games by basing your opinion of the better team by using just wins and losses (heads and tails.)

(Of course, like I was saying, I'd rather use both W/L record and the peripheral information rolled up into one. You could probably do better than you can with one or the other.)