Columns, Sports

2009 MLB Playoffs: Do I feel lucky?

By
Sports Columnist
Tuesday, October 6, 2009

It’s that time of year again! Baseball Playoffs!

I know what you’re thinking — okay, fine, I only got four of the eight playoff teams in my preseason predictions — this kid sucks at predictions. Blame the World Baseball Classic.
But this year, we’re in luck. Break out your baseball gear, you bandwagoners! For those unfamiliar with the spectacle, not only will we see the sudden emergence of all things Red Sox, but with four other major-market teams (and their major payrolls), we also get to see the New York, Philadelphia and Los Angeles pockets magically find their colors.

Apparently, you can buy playoff appearances. So buckle up — we’re in for some obnoxious big-city fun this October. But before we begin, repeat after me: The playoffs are a crapshoot. Anything can happen in one series. The regular season is about being the best team. The playoffs are about being the luckiest team. So you could throw me season split stats, career postseason numbers, or some other obscure stat, but this sabermagician knows better.

The random variation in a five- or seven-game series is far too great to try to back up your playoff predictions. So sorry, A-Rod haters or Manny fanatics, I don’t want to hear the word “clutch.” They’re great players, but the results of those crucial postseason at-bats come down to luck. It’s like any regular season series, where someone is on a hot streak (the playoff hero) or a cold streak (the playoff goat). Luck. And timing. Did I mention luck?

There’s been a lot of work done on the probability of favorites and underdogs advancing in the playoffs. While there are issues such as home-field advantage and starting starters on short rest, the goal is to show how likely it is for an upset to occur. In general, take two teams, A and B, and put them in a five-game series, first to three. Team A always has a 60 percent chance of winning a game — thus, B always has a 40 percent chance of winning the game. If you do the math, it turns out that team B has a 31.7 percent chance of taking the series. Those are pretty good odds for the underdog to pull off an upset.

Of course, in real life, teams don’t usually follow the 60/40 split — that was for dramatic effect. It’s usually a lot closer to 50 percent, which means the chances for upsets are higher.

Having said that, let’s make predictions anyway. Half the fun is guessing, the other half is watching.

Red Sox vs. Angels: Angels in 5. That .300, switch-hitting, walk-taking, versatile offense will be too much. More simply: I’ll take .350 OBP 1-9 over El Capitan — Jason Varitek — and Alex Gonzalez any day. Just pray Brian Fuentes learns how to pitch.

Twins vs. Yankees: Yankees in 3. So the pitching’s shaky. But that offense is insane, and that sandbox park helps too.

Cardinals vs. Dodgers: Cardinals in 4. For the NL, Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday are the names of the Four Horsemen.

Rockies vs. Phillies: Phillies in 4. This is less the Phanatics than the Rockies — they’re just worse everywhere, and starting on the road doesn’t help either.

ALCS — Angels vs. Yankees: Yankees in 5. I really don’t want to see the Angels’ flyball pitchers in the Bronx. That shiny stadium will go well with that shiny pennant.

NLCS — Cardinals vs. Phillies: Cardinals in 6. Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez are just begging to be Tony LaRussa’d. Your pick: Joel Piniero vs. Joe Blanton. And no, I’m not bitter over last year, I swear.

World Series — Cardinals vs. Yankees: Yankees in 6. You know that miracle nobody-team that struggled through adversity and overcame ridiculous odds to win? This isn’t them. How good are the Yanks? Scary Good. Scary “what happens when they buy more players next year?” good. 

Jonathan Hahn ’10 is hoping they ask about Pujols in job interviews.