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Hello, My Name is Unnecessary and I'll Be Your Baseball Analyst & WS Open Thread

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Ah....playoffs.

A time for a showcase of the best of the best teams in baseball, a time for players to prove their clutchiness or their chokiness, and a time for baseball analysts to be wrong in just about everything they say.

Per usual, I was taking in my daily dose of Fire Joe Morgan and I came across a post about an article that they summarize in one sentence: But then...once in a while...19 baseball experts from the nation's leading sports network try to predict which team will win the World Series, and not one of them even picks a team that makes it to the World Series, let alone wins it.

FJM goes on to remark on this strange occurrence:

...the analysts could have thrown all of their baseball knowledge out the third floor window of the Bristol megaplex, picked a random team to win the World Series...and there would have been less than a 1 in 200 chance that zero of their picks would get to the World Series. (Which, just to remind everyone, is exactly what happened.)

The post continues with the traditional 'monkey at a typewriter' analogy, but really. Please tell me that a computer that was programmed to run scenarios based on season numbers, individual player numbers, and heart and grit, if you like, could not come up with better guesses than the experts. I guess what I'm asking is this: Assuming you had the ability to find all relevant numbers about a team before a series, what good is an analyst at all? And more importantly, if the current analysts are picking teams poorly, is there a better way?

Pick Tip #1 - The Best Overall Team Will Win a Playoff Series

Some people get angry when the playoffs are referred to as a crap shoot. "That's not true!" they will cry, "Playoff are won and lost with clutch players and clever managerial decisions, and a whole lot of special October intangibles, and the best team comes out on top!" If there's one absolute to take away from the October stage, it most certainly is the fact that the best baseball team does not always actually win. In fact, if you look at the last two months of this season, Detroit and St. Louis would be the LAST teams to pick for the World Series, a train of thought that was not lost on our analysts. And breaking that down even further, I'm not going to argue the valid pick of Minnesota in Game One. I'm willing to say that a good majority of well-versed baseball fans thought Johan Santana and the Twins offense at home had a pretty good chance of beating Barry Zito and the A's offense in the dome. Best matchups on paper? No guarantees.

Result: False

Pick Tip #2 - The Hottest Team Going Into the Playoffs Will Win A Playoff Series

Exhibit A: The smokin' hot Minnesota Twins. No one was hotter finishing the season. Number of 2006 playoff games won: zero.

Exhibit B: Called the 'best lineup ever assembled in the history of baseball', the 2006 Yankees won one game in the post-season, and then never hit again, as they were bounced out of the first round in short order.

Exhibit C & D: The Tigers and the Cardinals limped into the post-season on fumes, lineups torn asunder, bullpens and starting pitchers tattered and worn, looking for all the world like 3-and-out exits. They're both in the World Series.

Result: False

Pick Tip #3 - Any Time a New York team is in the Post-Season, They Will Go All the Way

Exhibit A: The Yankees.
Exhibit B: The Mets.

So let me see...if the best team doesn't always win the series, and the hottest team doesn't always win the series, and even the New York teams don't always make it to the Series, what are we left with, and how can anyone ever hope to pick a winner?

In my general experience with ESPN analysts, I would say that they share similar biases as fans of a certain team. While, as a rule, we pride ourselves on being objective, sometimes things are colored green-and-gold, and that's just the way it is. We know our players better than anyone; we (generally) want to believe the best about our situation, and unless we're as passionate about our rivals' teams as our own, we sometimes lack the knowledge that can only come from watching a team day in and day out over a long season. ESPN has their pet teams; it's no secret that they were disappointed with the post-season. I wouldn't find it hard at all to believe that their picks came from what they wanted to happen, or the popular pick, not necessarily what careful scouting, an in-depth look at the numbers, and watching the teams all year might have told them.

Let's be honest; if Joe Morgan hadn't sold the world on the 'best offense in the history of baseball', no one would have been that surprised to see a 95 win team with an infinitely better pitching staff beat a 97 win team with shaky-at-best pitching in a playoff series. Yet, that's exactly what happened, and it retrospect, it seems like it could have, indeed, been predicted.

On the flip side, for all the talk about the unstoppable Mets, it came down to one batter, one pitch, and one swing at the bitter end of game seven to decide who would make the NL appearance; the equivalent of a virtual coin toss. Any way to predict that outcome? A resounding 'no'.

So...how do you pick a winner? Is it even possible to pick a winner? Could baseball analysts be closer in their predictions? Where do they succeed, where do they fail, and how much of the baseball playoffs are completely unpredictable?

Ah....playoffs.

Update [2006-10-22 20:30:44 by baseballgirl]: This is now also a World's Series Thread - Game 2