Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Why I Hate the Division Series

This post might sound like sour grapes and to a degree it probably is. But the problem with a short series, as we saw during the World Series last year, is that anything can happen and the best team doesn't always win.

One thing I was worried about before the playoffs this season was that they wouldn't be as meaningful to me as they were in the past. Since becoming interested in Sabermetrics I've learned that clutch hitting isn't a skill but is luck, Derek Jeter is not a good defensive shortstop, and that anything can happen in a short series. The last point is obviously true. Just last season we saw an 83 win team from the worst division in baseball, handily beat a 95 win team that led the majors in ERA and played in a division with two other 90 win teams. Anything can happen.

So now I realize that a short series and especially the Division Series is often determined by fluke and lucky events. Just look at the Yankees-Indians series. In Game 2 Joba was dealing but then got attacked by a swarm of insects and gave up a run. Maybe he should have pitched through it, but does anyone seriously think he would have thrown two wild pitches in a normal environment?

I only got to watch part of Game 4 this series (thanks to TBS' unwillingness to allow the home markets to play the games on broadcast TV), so maybe my experiences were skewed but the Indians got a lot of cheap hits with runners in scoring position and two outs. Their average with RISP and two outs was close to .500. That's insanely high, and frankly it's very lucky. The Yankees, however, managed ten baserunners in five innings, hit three home runs, and only managed four runs. Were the Indians better "in the clutch?" I doubt it. The Indians were luckier and played better over a four game stretch.

A series like this is why the playoffs are such a crap shoot and are not a better indicator of the quality of a team than the regular season. Besides luck, a major element of postseason play are matchups. The Yankees were at least as good as the Tribe, as evidenced by the 85 more runs they produced, which is not an insignificant amount and is why BP put the Yankees 6 games ahead of the Tribe. And that's not even taking into account the better competition the Yankees had to face.

But the Indians have two frontline dominant starters, one of which is lefty. They also have an excellent bullpen and an above average offense. The Yankees scored a ton of runs but their biggest weakness was hitting power lefties. This was a bad matchup for NY. But if the Yankees played the Indians 100 times, I think the former would come out ahead, owing to its superior offense.

Oh well. Either way I'm going for the Tribe the rest of the way.

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