Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Little Baseball Talk

I suppose I should have said this a couple of weeks ago if I wanted to look prophetic, but I thought the Phillies were clearly the favorites in the National League. And once the Cardinals and their incredible one-two punch of Carpenter and Wainwright were eliminated, it seemed even clearer. The Dodgers were really ordinary in the second half of the season after their blazing start. The Phillies beat the Dodgers in last year's NLCS (also in five games), and this year they added Cliff Lee. They're the defending World Series champs, and they have what is commonly referred to as "an American League lineup," full of big boppers.

Now. I really don't want to get ahead of myself (unlike Joe and Evan on WFAN, who are jinxing this thing to high heaven at the moment, by comparing the Phillies and Yankees position by position), but if -- if -- the Yankees get past the Angels, I think this will be the first World Series in a while that matches the legitimately best teams from each league. And it will be very evenly matched (though I think the Yankees get the pitching edge). OK. Officially ahead of myself.

Here's a picture of the crowd outside Huntington Avenue Grounds in Boston before a game of the 1903 World Series, between the Boston Americans and the Pittsburgh Pirates:

Boston won that series 5 games to 3. A best-of-nine series is a good segue into Willy Stern's proposal for a new playoff structure. It's pretty unorthodox -- involving, among other things, a team with the better record having to win one less game in the opening round -- but I'm willing to consider anything to mitigate the effect of the additional divisions and the wild card. Citing the work of Craig Robinson, Stern shares these facts about the playoffs since the wild card was implemented in 1995:
* The team with the best record in baseball has only won the World Series once (1998 Yankees). The 2007 Red Sox tied with the Cleveland Indians for the best record and also won the series.
* The playoff team with the worst record has won two World Series (2000 Yanks and 2006 Cardinals).
* Only in 1995 did the teams with the best record even meet in the World Series (Indians and Braves).
* In only three seasons did the best eight teams go on to the playoffs (1996, 2002, and 2004).


Anonymous Amy said...

I was rooting for the Dodgers, but Congratulations to the Phillies and I hope they win the world series.

1:30 PM  
Blogger Spender said...

Well researched and thought out, sir.
I agree with you as regards changing the playoff structure but baseball is so reluctant to change that I can't see it happening.
I have the Phillies over the Yankees in six.

5:25 PM  
Blogger Dezmond said...

So what? If they were the "best" teams then they should have won their series's, shouldn't they have? It sounds like instead of having playoffs, you just want to have the two teams with the best records at the end of a season play each other in a World Series. Why not just do that if you want the teams with the best records to always make it?

8:33 PM  
Blogger Kraig Smith said...

While I'm not willing to go so far as to say the team who wins the World Series is ALWAYS the best team in the league, I definitely am willing to say that the team with the best regular season record is NOT by default the "best" team in baseball. It's a great yardstick, sure, but there are countless variables which impact a team's final W-L record over the regular season. Injuries, strength of schedule, luck, timing, etc. If a team finishes strong but has the 8th best record amongst the playoff teams, are they the 8th best team? Of course not. Where I wouldn't mind some tinkering is in the Divisional Series. I do think that a best of 5 series is significantly more random than a best of 7...especially if you have a loaded front of the rotation. A best of 7 series calls up on much more of the entire TEAM. Anyway, the main point is I don't believe the inability of the regular season's "best" team to win the World Series is indicative of any deep problems with the least not to the extent you seem to be suggesting.

12:27 AM  
Blogger JMW said...

You guys need to read more closely. I said: "I think this will be the first World Series in a while that matches the legitimately best teams from each league." Yet, the Phillies had a worse record than the Dodgers. So, no: a) I don't think it's necessary for the teams with the two best records to meet in the World Series, and b) I don't think having the best record automatically makes you the "best" team . . . though I don't like to go too far down that slippery slope. If you'd like to be considered the best team, try to win the most games, please.

And Dez, for decades that is how baseball did it -- two best records, and that was that. And honestly, I would prefer that to the 16-team playoffs in the NBA and NHL (only because that would really defeat the purpose of the baseball season). I'm just asking for a little compromise. Kraig, I know you're of a purist, maybe you can serve as a bridge between me and Dez. It's just silly for divisional winners with really bad records to make the playoffs and it's also silly when there's no disadvantage -- in fact, there's an advantage, as Kraig points out about the five-game series -- to sneaking into the playoffs as one of the lesser seeds. That's all.

1:09 AM  
Blogger Kraig Smith said...


My three compromise suggestions are:

1) Expand divisional series to best of seven. I think this would solve it, quite frankly. If you can't win a best of 7, then I don't care what record you had during the regular season.

2) Revert back to four divisions...with two wild card teams based entirely on record. This would almost certainly ensure the four "best" teams make the playoffs, but it would take away some of the fan excitment of divisional races. Excitement = good for baseball.

3) If the wild card team has a better record than one of the division winners, then home field advantage should be determined by a coin toss. It's random, sure, but at least there's "some" possibly penalty for being the winner of a weak division.

12:16 PM  

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