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Cream Rises to the Top

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Recently I was in a conversation with Marc Normandin of Beyond the Boxscore about the 162-game baseball schedule and I openly wondered how often the less talented team wins out during the regular season. I asked this question for two reasons...first, a lot of stat-based Web sites believed that the Cleveland Indians were better than the White Sox last year and I thought that perhaps the Indians would've shown it had the season been longer.

And second because one of the biggest baseball cliches is that the cream always rises to the top in a 162-game schedule. Since the season was just starting I wondered if the A's did really have the best team on paper as many people thought, what were the chances of them not winning the division?

I want to thank stats genius Sal918 who did a thorough analysis of the current 162-game schedule and its impact. The truth is that it's basically a simple answer in that the longer a season is, the better chance there is that the better team will win out.

But Sal does an excellent job explaining the chances that a team like the Rangers could rise up and steal the division:

To begin to answer Blez's question, the reason why people say that the cream rises to the top is because, in a sense, it does over the long haul. In the year 2020, when Bud Selig's sentient toupee has extended the regular season to 1,000 mega-games per hyper-season, we will find that there is only a .0000086% chance that "true" .500 team plays the equivalent of 92-win ball (568 uber-wins in the future). The longer the season, the more narrow the distributions get, and, as I said earlier, the standard distribution of winning percentage is always 1/[2 x sqrt(N)]. That's why baseball has a long regular season - to reduce the chance that a truly mediocre team can come out looking like a playoff contender.

The impact of a manager's decisions and luck are up for debate, but the truth is that it can be significant especially when it comes to bullpen usage in the American League. So if you scream about anything this season with Macha, his bullpen decisions should get the most scrutiny, not necessarily the lineup.

I recommend you read Sal's piece. It's an excellent look at the relevance (however arbitrary) of a 162-game season for the few of you who complain that the season is too long.