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*To me it is the 22nd perfect game. And until I stop following baseball (i.e. when I die), I will always add 1 to whatever the official total is. Never forget, Armando Galarraga:

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The word on the street is that baseball will change its playoffs so that 10 teams get in instead of 8. I hate this change. Here’s why.

First, a recap. Currently there are two leagues, each with three divisions. The winner of each division makes the playoffs, and of the teams that remain, the one with the best record is the wild card, so they get in, too. So that’s four per league for eight total. Then, there are four series in which the first team to win three games (i.e. best of five) advances to the next round, where it becomes a best of 7 until the end.

The new policy is that of the teams that didn’t win their division, the top two – instead of the top one – will make the playoffs. But the two wild card teams per league will play a one-game sudden death playoff to determine who goes on to the next round. The idea is to give a more significant disadvantage to teams that don’t win their division**.

I hate this for a few reasons. First, it feels like a change designed to make sure that both the Yankees and Red Sox – two of the biggest market teams – always make the playoffs. In the last decade, here’s how that would have played out. Listed first is what happened, and listed in parentheses is how it would have played out with this new rule.

2011 – Yankees made it (Red Sox would, too)

2010 – Yankees made it (Red Sox would, too)

2009 – both made it

2008 – Red Sox made it (Yankees would, too)

2007 – both made it

2006 – Yankees made it (Red Sox would *not*)

2005 – both made it

2004 – both made it

2003 – both made it

2002 – Yankees made it (Red Sox would have tied for a play-in)

These are two good teams, as evidenced by their both making the playoffs 5 out of 10 years. But of the 5 times one of them did not, this rule would have propelled the other team into the playoffs 4 times. I’m pretty sure this is not a coincidence, especially as it affects them in 3 of the past 4 years. In other words, I think talk of this rule became more serious as soon as Tampa Bay became a permanent legitimate threat in their division.

But my semi-irrational dislike of Boston (and to a lesser extent New York) aside, I still don’t like this rule. Baseball is rather special in that only 8 teams make the playoffs out of 30. The NFL has 12, and hockey and basketball each have 16. But the limit in baseball makes sense. Baseball is a long, hard slog: 162 games over the course of many months. And that’s enough time to have filtered out most of the noise and randomness and settle on which teams are the very best. Decades ago, only two teams made the playoffs. Then it jumped to 4, and then to 8. These changes have been popular, but it needs to stop. Why bother with such a long, hard season if so many teams make the playoffs? Most fans will acknowledge this truth of baseball: that even with best-of-7 game series, randomness and luck will frequently allow inferior teams to win. The more teams that get in, the more this happens. And the more it happens, the more I think it stops being exciting and becomes unfair, gimmicky, and motivated solely by profits.

**My answer to this point is simple: make all rounds best of 7. That will increase the odds that the truly better team will win and advance. So it ought to disfavor the wild card teams in most years.

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Unlike, say, basketball, where decent statistical analysis can probably get you fairly good predictions in a 7-game series, baseball is quite a different animal. Even the best teams only win 70% of the time, and stretching that over just 7 games leaves a fair amount of variability.

Also, there are two ways to make predictions. One is simply to pick the most likely outcome (Phillies over Yankees in 6). The other is to pick something wacky but plausible.

Because Linus has basically put in what I believe to be the most likely outcomes (with minor variation), I shall take the second “wacky but plausible” route:

Division Series

  • Rays over Rangers in 5
  • Yanks over Tigers in 4
  • Dbacks over Brewers in 4
  • Phillies over Cards in 5

Championship Series

  • Rays over Yankees in 7 (an epic series that goes down in the annals of baseball as the best ALDS not involving the Red Sox)
  • Phillies over DBacks in 6

World Series

  • Rays over Phillies in 6

Wacky! But plausible!

I mean, it’s almost certainly WRONG. But if it’s right, it looks prescient. (This is how Nouriel Roubini works, I think)

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Playoff predictions

One baseball post tonight is simply not enough. This year I will keep up my yearly tradition of predicting the outcome of the MLB playoffs. As you can see here, I did quite poorly last year, since I picked both the NL and AL champions to lose in the first round. Predicting baseball is hard. Nevertheless, here we go:

LDS

Phillies over Cards in 4

Brewers over Diamondbacks in 4

Yankees over Tigers in 5

Rangers over Rays in 5

LCS

Phils over Brewers in 5

Yankees over Rangers in 7

World Series

Phils over Yankees in 6

Ok, my brain says that the winner of the World Series should be the Phillies. They were the best team in baseball this year. They have one of the best pitching lineups ever assembled in baseball history. And yet, they play the Cardinals in the first round. The bipolar Cards, who alternate between being unstoppable and awful. But right now they are unstoppable. They posted the best record in baseball in September, and they went 6-3 against the Phils this year. And so while I know the Phils should win, I very nearly didn’t pick them. In fact, I originally wrote this out to have the Brewers beat the Cards to represent the NL in the World Series, but it just felt wrong. But if tonight shows anything, it’s that baseball doesn’t always go according to plan. Boston was supposed to be unstoppable this year.

Also, I demand that Stendhal makes his picks.

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BASEBALL!

Today is the most astounding day in baseball I can recall. There were four games worth watching, each containing one of the four teams competing for the wild card spots in the playoffs. Only one of them was boring, but it was the one I wanted to be boring. The Cards erupted for 8 runs vs Houston, and Carpenter delivered a complete game shutout. Meanwhile, in the other three games:

– Atlanta led over Philly 3-2 with one out remaining. They cough up a run, go to extra innings, and lose 4-3 in the 13th. Their loss ensures the Cards entrance into the playoffs. Tonight reminded me of 2004 in a weird way. What happened to the Cards was amazing, just as the 7-game thrilling NLCS against Houston was that year. And yet despite that, from an objective perspective what happened in the AL was more amazing. In 2004, I refer to Boston’s coming back from 0-3 to win the ALCS vs the Yankees. As for tonight:

– The Rays were losing 0-7 in the 8th inning. They score 6 runs in the 8th. Then they tie it in the 9th when someone I’ve never even heard who is hitting under .200 hits a HR in the 9th with 2 outs and 2 strikes against him. They go to extra innings and Longoria hits a walkoff HR in the bottom of the 12th to deliver the 8-7 win.

– Meanwhile, three minutes before that happened, Boston loses to Baltimore. Baltimore is trailing 2-3 with 2 outs and no one on base when they hit a double, a double, and then a single to knock in 2 runs and walkoff with the 4-3 victory.

Obviously I am very happy about this, because the Cards are my favorite team, and the Red Sox are my least favorite, so today basically feels like Christmas came early. But nonetheless, even as a casual baseball fan, what happened tonight was probably the most incredible thing I’ve seen in sports. The Yankees hadn’t blown a 7-run lead in the 8th since 1953. Boston had apparently won every game this year, all 77 of them, in which they led after the 8th inning. Three teams led in the 9th with two outs, and proceeded to lose! I’ll never forget tonight; fucking baseball.

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I don’t know if he will. There’s a pretty strong anti-pitcher bias in MVP voting. People seem to think that pitchers have the Cy Young award, and so they shouldn’t compete for the MVP. An even more common argument is that a starting pitcher only plays once per five games, whereas a position player might play all 162 games in a season.

Let’s think about that for a moment. It’s true that a position player will take the field every day. But that really only matters with respect to defense. In a typical season, Albert Pujols will have well over 1,000 chances and put-outs (i.e. plays at first base). A pitcher will typically only have about 100 for the season. There’s no doubt that the defensive impact of an everyday player will be way higher than that of a pitcher.

But let’s not kid ourselves. MVP awards are not given to players based on their defense. What matters most is what the batters do with their at-bats, and what pitchers do when they face batters. And here is where things get interesting. Let’s take a look at Curtis Granderson, one person frequently touted as an MVP possibility. This year he has 553 at-bats in 659 plate appearances. Justin Verlander, on the other hand, has pitched 244 innings. That’s 732 batters he has retired! When you factor in the batters he didn’t retire (i.e. hits and walks allowed), Verlander has faced far more batters this season than Granderson has faced pitchers. So is it really fair to say that a position player obviously must contribute more? I don’t think so. A position player will have the opportunity to contribute to winning during a greater number of games, but in no game will he contribute as much as a starting pitcher does the day he takes the mound.

So when you consider the competition, you’ve got Granderson, who is playing for a division winner but is batting .268, and Jose Bautista, who is batting very well but plays for a team that is in 4th place in its division. Then there is Verlander, who pitches for a division winner and leads the league in wins, ERA, strikeouts, innings pitched, WHIP, and hits allowed per inning pitched.

Of course, baseball has long had a struggle between those who like to evaluate things using numbers, and the Luddites who think their own gut and biases count as insight. Here’s how one Boston sports writer put it today:

We are now hearing about how, well, Verlander pitches to X batters a game, which is the equivalent of a batter having X number of plate appearances over the course of the season.

Hey, nice try, but just please go away. Pitchers pitch to batters; that’s what they do. It doesn’t change the fact that their essential nature is not that of an everyday player, and there remains no valid way to evaluate properly their respective contributions, so why even try?

Wow! That’s convincing, isn’t it?

Actually, there are ways to evaluate contributions, such as by calculating WAR (wins over replacement) value. These types of analyses look at how many wins a player is responsible for compared with an average player at his position. Historically, pitchers have done pretty well compared with batters.

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