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NL & AL DS Previews - Baltimore/New York and St. Louis/Washington


American League Divisional Series:

Baltimore vs. New York


Quick Thoughts on Baltimore’s Wild Card Win: Make no mistake about it, Baltimore’s win shocked me as much as single game results in baseball can shock someone.  On Grantland, Rany Jazayerli beautifully illustrated that in baseball the worst team in the majors beats the best team each year about 27% of the time.  That’s about the same odds as Alex Rodriguez getting a hit in any single at-bat in the 2012 season.  Is there ever really an at-bat where you’d be “stunned” if A-Rod got a hit?  Even though Jazayerli’s example doesn’t include home field advantage (in that case, I’d bet the number falls to under 25%) the Orioles, of course, aren’t the worst team in the league so “shocked” is definitely a strong word.

All that said, Joe Saunders vs. Yu Darvish against a team who hits left-handed pitchers hard, in a ballpark in which that effect is magnified, conspired to shock me.  Two batters into the game, it looked like the Rangers would be making a lot of left turns on the basepaths and Buck Showalter already had activity in the Orioles’ bullpen.  Then Josh Hamilton, completing an awful two-game stretch when it mattered most, grounded into a double play.  On the double play, a run scored to tie the game at one, but from there on Saunders more or less settled down and that was it for Texas.  I certainly expected the Rangers to be playing the Yankees today, but I don’t think it would have changed who advances.


New York Yankees


Why Yankees Fans Should Heed my Data-Based Analysis: Thanks a line up full of veterans with pretty consistent performance year-to-year, the Yankees are a very ‘modelable’ team.  In the preseason they profiled to win 90-something games, lead the league in scoring and put up more than 811 runs in the process.  They won 95 games, scored 807 runs and missed leading the league in scoring by just four runs. 

Why Yankees Fans Should Ignore my Data-Based Analysis: The Braves and Rangers lost their Wild Card games and the Giants and A’s are in 1-game holes already.  Three words:  I’m an idiot!


When the playoffs start each year, I look at the World Series odds for each team, as well as the individual series odds and single game odds and it always seems to me the Yankees are overrated.  That’s not a surprise; to a large degree, stated odds are largely a function of supply and demand and the Yankees carry premium pricing in the same manner as an Hermes scarf.  This year, however, it looked to me like the mark-up was non-existent.  The Tigers and Yankees both had very similar odds to win the World Series and once you factored in the Reds and Nationals, oddsmakers were essentially telling you all four teams carried the same price tag.  The Yankees had gone from a premium retailer display item to the all-items-cost-the-same bin at a 99 Cent store.

I think that’s a mistake as the Yankees (unlike the Nationals) bring the same team to the postseason that got them there and (unlike the Reds) have a very more balanced team and (unlike the Tigers) don’t have an area of glaring weakness they have to hope doesn’t reappear in the post-season.  Further, the Yankees may actually have been better than their American League-leading +136 run differential suggests.

The Yankees led the American League in slugging, and isolated slugging (by a huge margin), were second in on-base percentage and fourth in batting average.  Despite this they didn’t lead the league in runs scored (the Rangers outscored them by 4 runs) and based on a regression of the factors above, had an expected runs scored of more than 830 runs, probably resulting in a few more wins as well.  The reason for the actual shortfall is the same as always in my writings: cluster luck.  Normally the benefits or penalties of cluster luck are hidden from most fans’ view but in the case of the Yankees this year, that’s not case as fans who followed the team closely know, all year they had an awful time hitting with men on base, especially with the bases loaded.

The Yankees finished the year with a lower batting average and slugging percentage with men on base than with the bases empty – reverse splits compared to the rest of the league.  With the bases loaded, it was even worse; a Yankees batter with the bases loaded had a lower chance of getting on base (.290 vs. 293) than a Houston Astros batter did coming to the plate with the bases empty.  Talk radio hosts, irate fans, and armchair psychologists all have reasons for Yankees failings this year in these situations.  I simply dismiss it as random sequencing that fell on the unhappy side of luck.  If the Orioles feel differently, they’re free to load the bases all series against a stacked line up and see where that gets them.

The Yankees are my pick not only to represent the AL in the World Series but to win it all.



Major League Baseball decided on the letting the Wild Card winner host the first two games of the Divisional Series round to minimize travel.  That logic only applied if the home team won in the Wild Card round which didn’t happen in either league.  So we’re left with this silly set up and it gives the Orioles their best chance of getting a lead in a best-of-five series which is always crucial.  No question they’d rather face Yankees’ ace CC Sabathia in front of their frenzied fans.  I’m not going to insult Orioles fans now and pick them to win the series but Game 1 at home, with Jason Hammel on the mound, is exactly how I’d want the series to set up if I were looking to grab early momentum.  Yankees in 4 is the call for the series, but I think the Orioles best chance of getting a lead in the series, and putting immense pressure on the Yankees is this afternoon.


National League Divisional Series:

St. Louis vs. Washington


Quick Thoughts on St Louis’ Wild Card Win: Here’s why I thought the Braves had a legitimate argument in having its protest upheld – even though the chances of it happening were 0%.  If this argument has been made elsewhere, forgive me, but I haven’t heard the discussion on the dispute infield fly rule framed in the following manner.  While everyone on TV Friday, and in print yesterday, focused on the wording of the rule and, absurdly on TBS, wandered into a discussion about the infield fly rule theoretically being called on the outfield warning track, I thought there was a complete lack of explaining the purpose of the rule.  The infield fly rule exists to remove the quandary at least two  runners simultaneously face when a fly ball could result in his force out at the next base if dropped, or a double play at his current base if caught.

That’s why the infield fly rule exists – to remove a baserunning quandary faced by at least two baserunners at the same time.  It follows, therefore, that it should only be called  when those baserunners are actually in a quandary which could result in a double play if the ball were dropped.  (The discussion on TV, I thought, started to veer towards arguments on the golf course about what constitutes a ‘gimme’ putt.  This isn’t a rule to speed up the game and the focus should not be on the ‘automatic out’ element.  It should be on the baserunners for which the rule was instituted.)  No such quandary remotely existed in the bottom of the 8th inning as beautifully illustrated by TBS’ left field foul line camera.  Both baserunners were one-quarter to one-half of the way to their next base.  In a quandary, they must remain within a step of their current base.  Importantly, the infield umpires knew it.  The call was made by the left field foul line umpire, and, in my view, he misapplied the rule, which was the entire basis of the protest. 

Of course, it had no chance of being upheld, but I thought it similar to the only upheld protest I can remember in my lifetime, the George Brett pine tar incident.  The bat Brett used in his overturned home run call, did have too much pine tar on it, in violation of the rules, but MLB ruled it did not violate the spirit of the rule and therefore the overturned the umpires misapplication of the rule.  The spirit of the infield fly rule is to apply it when multiple baserunners face a quandary and I thought it was clearly misapplied Friday.

In any event, the Braves lost because of poor fielding not a bizarre sequence of events in the bottom of the 8th inning.  Had the infield fly rule not been called, the Braves would have had the bases loaded, down 3, with one out instead of runners on first and second with two outs.  According to the Hardball Times Win Probability Inquirer, the difference in the Braves win expectancy is 16%, a very significant figure.  However, the Braves would was between an 8% chance of winning (after the call) and a 24% chance of winning, leaving them as heavy underdogs even if the infield fly were never called.


Washington Nationals


Why Nationals Fans Should Ignore my Data-Based Analysis: In the pre-season write-up of the Nationals, I pegged them as a .500 team. 

Why Nationals Fans Should Heed my Data-Based Analysis: It took only 40 games in the season to recognize the addition of Bryce Harper and the strength of the Nationals bullpen and starting pitching made them the best team in the NL East. 


Summary: In an effort to get this piece out before games begin on Sunday, I’m giving scant attention to the Nationals.  That’s not quite fair because Washington had the best, most balanced team in the National League all year.  Without Stephen Strasburg though, I don’t think they are quite that team, especially in a short series.  The pitching match-ups line up well for St. Louis, making the Nationals’ ace, Gonzalez, an underdog vs. Adam Wainwright today.  Cardinals in 4.


Mop Up Duty:

Joe Peta is the author of Trading Bases, the Newsletter, a companion piece to Trading Bases, A Story about Wall Street, Gambling, and Baseball*  (*) Not necessarily in that order, a Dutton Books/Penguin (U.S.A.) March 7, 2013 release.  The book is available for pre-order here:

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