By In Stuff

It’s All About October

You will remember how Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane remarked (in a half-joking, have-bitter way) that his s— doesn’t work in the playoffs. Well, across the bridge, it is now clear that San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy’s s— and the s— of GM Brian Sabean works just fine, thank you very much.*

*By s—-, I of course mean, “samp,” which is coarsely ground corn.

Look: How do you explain it? How do you explain Pablo Sandoval, 12 home runs all year, smashing six in 16 playoff games, including three in one World Series game? How do you explain Barry Zito, in year 6 of his “worst contract in baseball tour,” throwing 7 2/3 shutout innings to save the Giants in the NLCS, then pitching 5 2/3 strong innings in Game 1 of the World Series to out-duel Justin Verlander?

How do you explain Ryan Vogelsong at all?

Then again, how did anyone explain Cody Ross two years ago? Or the timing of Edgar Renteria? Or Brian Wilson’s beard?

Truth is, explaining it only serves to diminish it. The people running baseball made a conscious decision in the early-to-mid 1990s to change the basic structure of a baseball season. they made it all about this second season. They made it all about October.

The history is worth a quick review, I think, even though you probably know it backward and forward. For about 65 years — 1903 or so, until 1968 — baseball’s emphasis was on the full season. The World Series mattered, of course, but getting there was the real story of the game. The season was 154 games — later 162 games — and everyone understood and appreciated that was long enough to determine the best teams in each league. The world was much smaller then, and so was the game — for most of those years there were only 16 teams baseball, eight teams in each league.

The American League added two teams in 1961 — the Washington Senators and California Angels. Well, it wasn’t quite that tidy. They moved the first version of the Washington Senators to Minnesota and then established a different version of the Washington Senators. I guess that’s just how they do things in Washington.

The National League added two teams in 1962 — the New York Mets and Houston Colt .45s, later the Astros. So that made 20 teams total in baseball. The system remained the same. Everyone still felt like 162 games was plenty of time to determine a pennant winner in each league.

Then, came 1969 and four more teams were added. The American League added the Kansas City Royals and Seattle Pilots (who would become the Milwaukee Brewers the next year). The National League added San Diego and Montreal. This was too much. With 24 teams, the baseball people they needed something more than just the World Series. Pro football was rapidly gaining popularity, and the NFL and AFL were chock full of playoff games. The NBA had all these playoff games. Baseball dipped its toe into a new kind of postseason, setting up for two teams in each league to play each other in a best-of-five championship series.

Well, it stayed like that for another quarter century or so. Four teams in the playoffs. That was it. That was the game many of us grew up with. Baseball kept adding teams — two more in 1977 (Toronto and Seattle) and two more in 1993 (Florida and Colorado). That made 28. But there were still just four teams in the playoffs (though they did adjust a bit: They expanded the Championship Series to seven games in an effort to add a bit more credibility to the ALCS and NLCS).

Then, you might recall, there was a nasty fight between the owners and players, and at right around the same time the owners decided to fundamentally change the game. The National and American leagues were divided into three divisions, the wild card was added, and from that day on eight teams made the playoffs. This year, for the first time, there was a second wild card added in each league, making it 10 teams in the playoffs. That’s one third of the league, if you’re scoring at home.

Look: We can argue about whether or not this is a good thing. The larger point, though, is that there was a clear break from the past. Baseball determined that October matters more than the other six months. Excellence would no longer be measured by the long season.

And it has played out accordingly:

Average victory total for World Series champions:

1905 to 1968: 99 wins.
1969 to 1993: 97 wins.
1995 to present: 94 wins

* * *

Here’s another way to look at it:

• From 1903 through 1968, the team with the best record in baseball won the World Series a little more than 50% of the time.
• When four teams made the playoffs, the team with the best record in baseball won the World Series 28% of the time (7 out of 25)
• Since 1995, the team with the best record has won the World Series 17% of the time (3 out of 18) and one of those winners, the 2007 Red Sox, actually tied for the best record.

* * *
Here is, I think, the most telling way to look at it: Since 1905, there have been 90 teams that have won 100 games. This has been a standard of excellence for a very long time. How did those teams fair?

From 1903 to 1968, 40 of the 45 played in the World Series. Obviously. There was no hurdle between them and the World Series. And 25 of the 45 actually won the World Series.

OK, add one layer of playoffs, and it changes somewhat. From 1969 to 1994, 24 teams won 100 games. 19 of the 24 made the World Series, but only eight of them won.

And since 1995? You ready for it? Twenty-one teams have won 100 games. Two have won the World Series. Two. The 1998 Yankees and the 2009 Yankees. Even more incredible … FOURTEEN of the 21 100-win teams did not even reach the World Series.

* * *

Well, this is the natural progression of things. The more inclusive the playoffs, the less important the regular season. In 2001, the Seattle Mariners won 116 games. They were preposterously good. They were TWENTY-ONE GAMES ahead of the New York Yankees. But they played a seven-game series against those same Yankees, and the Mariners couldn’t solve Andy Pettitte, and the Yankees won in five games, and, just like that, one of the most dominant seasons in baseball history ended with a whimper.

Like I say: This was baseball’s choice. They looked at the game, and they looked at the world of sports fans, and they decided that this was what the game needed to thrive in this new era. Is it working? Well, it depends on what you mean by “working.” As a television ratings gambit, I would say that it’s not working too well. I don’t think people watch baseball the same way they watch basketball or hockey (or, certainly, the NFL). That is to say: I don’t think the game of baseball plays as well in small bursts of tension the way those games do. The ratings suggest that this is true. Of course, television ratings are affected by many, many different factors … still, it’s a severe downward trend for baseball.

Average viewers for World Series (using Baseball Almanac numbers):

1973-1982: 37.6 million
1983-1992: 31.9 million
1993-2002: 24.0 million
2003-2012: 17.2 million

This is free fall. That number — 17.2 million — would be a BAD WEEK for Sunday Night Football (which averaged almost 22 million viewers last season). And, what’s worse, the number is going down. In 2004, when the Red Sox finally won, the average viewers were up in that 24 million range of the 1990s. This year, the numbers look to be about half that — in other words, a bad week for “NCIS” or “Modern Family.”

But in other ways, baseball is more popular than ever. While fewer people are watching the World Series, more people than ever are going to baseball games. You have to believe that baseball’s incredible gate — 75 million tickets sold this year, fifth-highest total ever, and all five have been in the last eight years — is directly connected to the expanded playoffs with more teams having a shot at the postseason. There’s more hope around baseball and more teams involved and so on. Baseball as television sport? Hard to see much good there. But baseball as a live spectator sport is in a golden era.

So, business strategies can be debated. But the one thing that is indisputable is that the game has changed … and as we get back to the game itself you have to wonder if teams have to change with it.

Now that one-third of the teams in baseball reach the playoffs, maybe the thought needs to be — like it is in the NBA and college basketball and the NHL (you know, when there was an NHL) — how do you build a team that will peak at the end? Should you throw your pitchers fewer innings — maybe a six-man rotation? Should you play your hitters 140 games rather than 150 or 155? Should you be sure to keep a live arm down in the minors and bring him up to electrify September and October the way Anaheim did with K-Rod, the way St. Louis did with Adam Wainwright, the way Tampa Bay did with David Price?

And — back in that intangible world — should you get a bunch of guys who like each other and feed off each other the way these Giants players seem to do? Should building that kind of “we love each other” team be the goal of every manager? You know: Maybe set up beer pong tournaments, encourage golf outings, have mixers, that sort of thing.

Ridiculous, of course. Except: The Giants have now won two of three World Series, and they have done so in a thoroughly modern way. In 2010, they had the fifth-best record in baseball, went into the last weekend needing to win just to squeeze into the playoffs, beat Atlanta with some serious starting pitching and some late-game heroics from Aubrey Huff and Cody Ross and some sloppy Braves defense, beat Philadelphia with some serious starting pitching and some late-game heroics from Juan Uribe and some serious Phillies slumping, beat Texas in the World Series with, yes, some serious starting pitching.

This time around? Same thing. The Giants were in a three-way tie for the fourth-best record in baseball, they fell behind the Reds 2-0 and won three straight in Cincinnati (Scott Rolen’s error helped a lot), fell behind St. Louis 3-1 and won three straight (the Cardinals seemed utterly hypnotized by the Giants’ pitching and scored one run in those last three) and then crushed the Tigers four straight.

And all the while they were crackling with fun and energy and team love and inspirational speeches and … no idea if any of that made any difference. But the Giants were dead last in all of baseball in home runs hit this season. Then in the postseason, they hit more home runs than any other team (they also played more games, but the point is the point). In the regular season, Tim Lincecum couldn’t get anybody out, Barry Zito was pretty much the same pitcher who had been left off the 2010 postseason roster*, and Pablo Sandoval hit a career-low 12 home runs.

*Barry Zito in 2010: 4.15 ERA, 20 homers allowed, 3.8 walks per nine, 6.8 Ks per nine, 1.344 WHIP
Barry Zito in 2012: 4.15 ERA, 20 homers allowed, 3.4 walks per nine, 5.6 Ks per nine, 1.389 WHIP

And then, blammo, Lincecum is unhittable out of the pen, Zito is pitching and winning Game 1 of the World Series, Sandoval is crushing three homers in a single game. Is that something that can be bottled? You wouldn’t think so. But as we enter the offseason, I would think that the smart GMs are trying to figure out a way to bottle it anyway. This is the new baseball. It used to be that you wanted to build the best team. Now, though, you want to build the best October team. I tend to agree with Billy Beane that the postseason is pretty much like life in a casino. But this is the game now, ladies and gentlemen. You will want to start counting cards.

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48 Responses to It’s All About October

  1. Joe: It is comforting that starting pitching and defense seems to still be the key.

  2. bsg says:

    This is also a Giants team that looked terrible for two home games in the NLDS, and was one-hit through 9 innings in game 3 of that series. Whatever is in this bottle, it’s likely made in a bathtub in the woods

  3. NatsLady says:

    Great article. I hope Davey and Mike Rizzo are listening. Nats were the “best team in baseball” but didn’t survive the tournament. It was a great season for us, a year ahead of schedule and all that. But we want the BIG PRIZE in 2013.

  4. bsg says:

    Here is something to think about, what is the effect of long layovers? Without access to baseball reference at work, I can think of more than a few occasions where a team swept their way into a next round and got stomped after getting several days rest. What are the records of teams that sweep a playoff series in the next round?

    • bsg says:

      My hunch was correct, out of the 47 Baseball Playoff series sweeps since 1969, the team that won via a sweep went on to lose their next series 29 times for a series winning percentage of .383

      That raw number includes the 7 occasions when two sweeping teams meet up in the next round. This (1 Time in the ALDS round, 3 times in the NLDS round, 3 times in the LCS round) Remove these instances and the winning record plummet to 11-22 (.333).

      Among those 11 series wins are the curse breaking 2004 Red Sox that overcame a 3-0 deficit to the Yankees and the 2007 Red Sox that overcame a 3-1 deficit to the Indians.

      I am going to dig deeper and find the winning percentages for opening playoff series games for each number of days off between games.

    • adam says:

      Good stuff. Think about football as well – we see teams with a bye look out of sync the game after. And in some cases it’s really two weeks off if they rested everyone the last game.

      Will be interest in your analysis that takes into account the number of days off, but we may be getting into SSS territory.

    • bsg says:

      Looking at day off differentials, the theory doesn’t hold up except for the two outliers at the top.

      Team has 6 extra off days (0-1 game 1)(0-1 series)
      (Rockies – 2007 World Series)

      Team has 5 extra off days (0-1 game 1)(0-1 series)
      (Tigers – 2006 World Series)

      Team has 4 extra off days (4-2 game 1)(3-3 series)

      Team has 3 extra off days (3-2 game 1)(3-2 series)

      Team has 2 extra off days (6-7 game 1)(6-7 series)

      Team has 1 extra off day (16-18 game 1)(18-16 series)

      Looking at straight number of days of rest isn’t very telling either

      8 days rest (0-1 game 1)(0-1 series)
      (Rockies – 2007 World Series)
      6 days rest (3-2 game 1)(3-2 series)
      5 days rest (5-5 game 1)(5-5 series)
      4 days rest (12-11 game 1)(10-13 series)
      3 days rest (20-21 game 1)(20-21 series)
      2 days rest (21-25 game 1)(25-21 series)
      1 day rest (18-13 game 1)(16-15 series)
      0 days rest (1-2 game 1)(1-2 series)
      (Dodgers 1981 World Series Lost Game 1, Won Series)
      (Angels 2005 ALCS Won Game 1, Lost Series)
      (Yankees 2012 ALCS Lost Game 1, Lost Series)

      I guess the last thing to look at would be how each winner fared in the next round based on winning percentage (4-0, 3-0, 4-1, 3-1, 4-2, 3-2, 4-3)

  5. It’s luck. Luck, luck, luck. Not magic. Not something you can bottle. Luck.

    All the statistics that you quote reaffirm this.

    Why, from 1903 to 1968, did the team with the best record in baseball win the World Series only a little more than half the time? Luck. It’s a coin-flip.

    Why, from 1969 to 1993, did the team with the best record in baseball win the World Series only a little more than a quarter of the time? Luck. It’s two coin flips.

    I love baseball, but I have no interest in baseball’s playoffs. It’s a fun but meaningless tournament—like the NIT.

    • Dinky says:

      I strongly disagree. The team with the best record in baseball did not achieve that record playing all 4 to 7 of its games against the team with the best record in the other league. The fact that in both cases it was more than half and more than a quarter over sample sizes starting to be statistically relevant show that skill matters.

  6. Devon Young says:

    I hate the way the baseball season & post-season mix these days. It’s not like it used to be but it’s not like it could be either. It’s like they don’t dare change things “all the way”.

    In my view, baseball’s become more quantity and focused less on quality. 162 game season and that’s still not enough games? What I’d LOVE to see them do something like one of these ideas:

    – Shorten the regular season back down to 154 or maybe even 150 games. Give the playoff teams a full 3 days break. Then do this month long playoff thing.

    – Shorten the season to 154 games. Make the All-Star break be at the 81 game mark for everyone’s schedule, and make the break last a week. Give the players a true 2nd half.

    – Don’t shorten the regular season, but make September be a sort-of playoff month. Instead of having a “hard coded” schedule, make it flexible. Like, nowadays, we get stuff like Yankees @ Orioles for three days. What if they scheduled the whole of September to be like AL East leader vs Al East #2 team, while elsewhere you might see AL West leader vs AL Central leader. This way it would force September to feel like a fight for the playoffs for nearly every team. After all, even a mediocre team at the start of September, could possibly climb up into the playoffs by facing & beating the teams ahead of them. Am I describing this right? I think it’d be far more exciting than a fixed schedule. I guess it’d be sorta like March Madness, translated into baseball as September Madness.

  7. frightwig says:

    Seems to me that Billy Beane has been trying to build with the Giants’ formula (deep pitching + one or two big bats + a lot of castoffs who perform a certain function well) longer than Sabean has been at it. Sabean just has more money to spend, and lately has been luckier in the casino.

    This year, as luck would have it, the Reds’ ace hurt his back and wasn’t available to face the Giants in the NLDS Game 5, and then the Giants had the further good fortune to meet a pair of 88-win teams (one in the playoffs only because of the added wild card, the other only because the system requires an AL Central representative) in the championship rounds. You’d have to admit, it wasn’t the most challenging road to a World Series title. But, that’s what the casino turned up this year. Kudos to the Giants for taking advantage of the hands they were dealt. Does it mean that Sabean has figured out the magic formula to beat the system? Please.

  8. Stephen says:

    Two pipedream* configurations:

    1) expand to 32 and make 4 old-style 8-team leagues which one team wins to advance to the post-season. Different years different leagues get each other in the first round.

    2) Playing off Devon’s last plan above — do shorten back to 154 and then take the top 4 teams from both leagues and make an 8-team playoff league. Starting ~Sept. 20, those 8 teams play 42 games against each other (3 home, 3 away). The winner of that 8-team, 42-game League is the champion. Ties broken by old NL-style playoff of 3 games.

    *I always thought a pipedream was a narrow chance, something that had to pass through or was only seen through a pipe. Turns out its etymology is that you’re smoking opium to dream that up.

  9. L says:

    “It’s a fun but meaningless tournament”– ask the Nats and Giants what’s more meaningful to them, most wins or the World Series. I’ve never understood why this attitude is so prevalent in baseball but not in other sports. In every sport, the regular season is to best position yourself for the playoffs, and the winner of the playoffs is the champion. Are they the “best” team? That depends how you define best.

    To play devil’s advocate, what if we had a 1000 game season, and the team with the most wins was the champion? That would eliminate much of the SSS flukiness, and get us much closer to “true” talent level. It would also be incredibly boring. Playoff baseball is awesome… embrace the flukiness, the luck, the momentum, the drama– whatever you want to call it. It’s a lot of fun… there’s flaws in any way you establish a champion, I think the current setup is pretty enjoyable one.

    • adam says:

      The regular season attitude in baseball is so prevalent because of:

      -The history that Joe describes in which that’s how it worked for a very long time – most important thing was to be king of the regular season.

      -The difference between the best and worst teams in baseball is so much smaller than other sports, in terms of winning percentage, you *need* a long regular season to differentiate teams. Because the worst team in baseball would still have a pretty decent shot at the best team in a one game playoff. The regular season is (or was) supposed to ensure that the worst team doesn’t get that shot.

    • PlugNPlay says:

      The English Premier Leagues recognize the regular-season winner with a particular title, while also playing several in-season tournaments. It seems to work out pretty well for them.

  10. Jack Everitt says:

    The playoffs just seemed like whichever team was more fortunate won each game. It’s not like any of the teams really seemed better than any of the others.

    With regards to World Series viewers (“This is free fall.”) – another thing to look at is purchases of youth sporting equipment. There’s one major sport that’s in the spiral of doom – yes, baseball. Kids are rapidly loosing interest (it’s slow and you stand around a lot). Unless baseball makes some fundamental changes (so unlikely), the sport will be a shadow of itself in 40 years. The writing is on the wall. In indelible ink.

  11. This is a great piece, with one glaring oversight (that’s all too common):

    The Giants team that finished in a three-way tie for the fourth-best record in baseball (which, you know, means ONLY three teams did better … not exactly a lousy performance) is NOT the same team that won the World Series.

    I’m not talking about Zito, Timmy, Vogelsong, Bumgarner and Panda playing well above their regular season mean in the postseason. I’m talking about Pence and Scutaro not being on the team at all.

    True, in 2012, the Giants also lost Melky Cabrera. But in 2010, Buster Posey came up midseason, and they added key pieces like Burrell (poor in the postseason, but huge in getting there) and Ross down the stretch.

    The point is: that’s the other thing that’s changed about baseball in recent years. There are more team-redefining midseason trades. Thus, the teams that make it to the World Series often have significantly different personnel than before the All-Star break. Different enough to make a losing team a World Series champion? No. But different enough that, if you applied that World Series-winning personnel to a full 162-game season, the team might indeed finish with the best overall record, and not the fourth-best. (Not arguing that’s always true; just that the probability is higher.)

    We do this too often in sports: award postseason “upsets” not according to the teams that take the field but according to their preseason expectations or early-season successes. Did the Giants “get hot” at the right time? No doubt. But when we recognize that the Giants team that won it didn’t look like the team of the regular season, we’re not just talking about above-average performances. It was a different team.

    • Dinky says:

      Completely agree, Jason. And I think that plays into the economics of baseball as well. A team that wins the World Series has less of a dropoff in ticket sales the next season over a team that merely makes the playoffs, assuming both teams don’t play well enough to compete the next year. And a team that makes the playoffs will sell more tickets the next season than a slightly better team the next season that did not make the playoffs the year before. That makes making the playoffs and winning the World Series more economically valuable, probably valuable enough to be worth losing some long term potential in prospects. Similarly, teams that sell a ton of tickets can raise prices after postseason excellence, but not after mere competitiveness.

  12. blovy8 says:

    I think interleague play and the destruction of league identity has done even more to make the World Series less important. The only difference in the leagues now is the DH. No more league offices or different umpires anymore, and interleague play throughout next season may mean NL teams will have to begin structure their rosters more like AL teams so they can be flexible enough to have an extra hitter available.

    • Ben Wildner says:

      Please explain to someone for whom this is completely normal and the idea of the two leagues doing anything different and not playing each other frequently is preposterous. Is it not enough to have the teams who have run the gauntlet to get there playing great baseball for the title?

    • adam says:

      I forgot about the interleague schedule being a constant next season. I wonder if that will lead to the NL abandoning the DH. Certainly the players won’t object.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Interesting thought, but the NL will not likely have a DH anytime soon. It’s too entrenched into the culture.

    • adam says:

      I bet that culture evaporates pretty quickly if they find they are at a competitive disadvantage.

      Or they find a way to get back to an even number of teams in each league.

    • adam says:

      This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. Derek says:

    Regarding the World Series ratings, I wonder what is behind the shift there. As you say, in a lot of ways baseball is as popular as ever – MLB attendance is on a historic high, revenue for the league has tripled in the wildcard era, and teams are signing large local tv deals. AFAIK a lot of these local ratings are actually up. Franchise values are higher than they’ve ever been. MLB is in a great place financially, flush with cash & very prosperous.

    What seems to have changed in the last 2-3 decades is that fan interest has become more regional. That is, people don’t watch the WS if their team isn’t involved.

    However, how do we square this with the new national deals MLB has recently signed with ESPN and Fox? It more than doubles the existing contract.

    • adam says:

      I had a long post on this that I somehow lost when submitting, but it was about exactly what you stated – local interest up, national interest down. The poster below mentioned promoting stars, which I think is part of it. I also have to think of the time it takes baseball games to be played and the delays between pitches etc, combined with our instant gratification culture of smartphones, twitter, etc makes baseball less appealing because there are so many distractions.

      I have no explanation for the national contracts going up while ratings dropping, except that maybe TV advertising is trending up all around? Maybe sports advertising is viewed at a premium because everything else is recorded these days?

  14. Ben Wildner says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  15. To me, one of the biggest issues affecting TV ratings isn’t the playoff format, it’s the fact that MLB has no clue how to market it’s superstars on a national level.

    Like Derek said, baseball is hugely popular at a local level (attendance and local TV ratings seem to support this). What the NBA does that MLB doesn’t is make the more casual fan care about King James and Kevin Durant so people watch even when the Finals don’t involve teams with huge national followings like the Lakers and Celtics.

    I’m not sure why MLB is so bad at this but I think if they were to improve at this then you would see at least respectable ratings when you have lesser known teams in the playoffs.

    *The NFL is just perfectly designed to be event TV…especially when you add in fantasy leagues and gambling…so they’re in a class by themselves and I don’t think any sport will ever catch up to their ratings.

    • So here is a marketing idea.

      How about getting rid of inter-league play per se and re-instituting something that drove the national popularity of the game? I’m talking about barnstorming in non-major league cities.

      Shorten the season back to 154, and eliminate inter-league play, but expand the All-Star break to include two weeks of inter-league barnstorming. That way the leagues re-develop some of their old distinct flavors of play, and the games wouldn’t unbalance the season from a competitive standpoint.

      If people don’t connect with national stars who don’t represent their communities perhaps that is because, like Joe wrote, baseball is essentially a live view sport, and not a television sport. But send the A’s and the Nationals to play a short series in Portland, or the Giants and the Yankees to play in Raleigh. Every team plays, and while the games wouldn’t effect the standings, they would change the way the public sees the game as a whole. The games would be the biggest thing to hit those communities all year, and afterwards the fans from those towns would have more of a reason to follow the playoffs to see how “their” stars perform. Think the NHL pond hockey game, but nationwide.

      It might show more people that baseball played for the sake of fun is fun to watch, meaning they would learn there is something to going to see a late season MLB game even when the teams involved aren’t in a playoff chase.

    • Dinky says:

      Baseball (and hockey) don’t translate as well to television. Often the ball or the puck isn’t even visible. Whereas football (and basketball) it’s much easier to see the ball, and chances are if you are fooled (say, on a play fake) so is the defense, making you empathize and enjoy the game even more. And especially football has time between each play to evaluate and analyze the last play, whereas baseball must stay on the game. Baseball is perfect for radio, and I prefer it as a spectator. But I don’t think it can match up with football on television.

  16. Regarding the TV ratings for the World Series – a couple of thoughts —
    *Fan interest in cities in which the World Series is not taking place does not really build until you get deeper into the series. In 2012, and similarly in 2010, the series was short and the Giants were basically in control throughout. The 2011 series, which did not feature a team from a very large media market (DFW is close) or a team from either coast, drew good ratings for games 6 and 7 as we headed to a one-game, winner take all affair.

    *The World Series should start and end on a weekend. TV viewership would be optimized if, instead of beginning and ending midweek, the World Series started on a Saturday night (with games 1,2,6 and 7 then played on two consecutive weekends and games 3,4 and 5 on T/W/Th). Midweek is not an optimal time for a major sports event – people have lives – work, school, homework, etc. So if one team goes up 2-0 in the midweek games, the series isn’t so interesting when it rolls around to the weekend and it’s harder to attract an audience in other markets. I think starting the series on a Saturday night would help generate fan interest.


  17. Rob Smith says:

    Joe, on your percentages, you’re basically saying that the best team has ALWAYS had just a slight advantage.
    When there were two teams in the playoffs, the best team(most wins) won slightly more than 50% of the time. 1/2 (50%).
    When there were four teams, the best team won 28% of the time. Slightly more than 1/4 (25%).
    When there were eight teams the best team won 17%. slightly more than 1/8 (12.5%)
    So, the odds only decreased because there were more teams in the playoffs. It has always been a crap shoot.

    • Frank says:

      @Rob – You are correct in one sense – the percentages say it’s a crap-shoot. However, a pre-1970 best-winning percentage team had a 50% chance. With 10 teams, it has a 16% (or less) chance.

      I would dare say if MLB staged a double elimination tournament that included all 30 teams, the regular-season best-winning percentage team would have a 1 in 30 chance of winning.

    • Richie says:

      It’s interesting. Through 1968, 100+ win teams made the WS 89% of the time, and won it 56% of the time.

      In 1969 they added another round, so you would think a 100+ win team would make the WS 79% of the time (89% x 89%). In reality they made it 79% of the time!

      You would think a 100+ win teaam would win the WS 31% of the time (56% x 56%). In reality, they won it 33% of the time. (very close to expected).

      But since 1994, the expected and actual values fall apart. You would expect them to make it 70% of the time, but they’ve only made it 33%. You would expect them to win 17%, but they only win 10%.

      So it’s possible (or just small sample) that the wild card round in 1994(95) really changed something (more than just adding a round should do) about the possibilities of the best teams advancing.

  18. Matt says:

    I hate hate HATE the “great group of guys” narrative. It’s so post hoc. The Nats were a great group of guys, buncha scrappers all of ’em, until the Cardinals beat them down 6-0 in Game 5. Suddenly the Cardinals were the never-say-die, destined-for-destiny, “crackling with fun and energy and team love and inspirational speeches” team who knew all along they would win it.

    Well, I bet someone was stomping around that dugout with the Cardinals down 9-0 in Game 7 of the NLCS, and what did that get them? Eliminated. But that tick tock doesn’t get told in tomorrow’s paper, does it?

    Machine-like teams of grumpypants are the exception when it comes to championships, not the rule. Winning has that effect. Maybe there is something to be bottled, but I don’t think it has anything to do with beer pong.

    • Rob Smith says:

      The problem with the “great group of guys” narrative is that most good teams have good team chemistry. That’s part of putting together a winning team….having a good clubhouse. Any number of good teams, and even some bad ones have good clubhouses. So, the Giants are not special in that regard. The key, as always, was good pitching and timely hitting. With 10 teams in the playoffs, the team that does those two things best wins. It just so happened that the Giants did it 2 out of 3 years, so everyone’s looking for the magic bullet that the Giants must have found. It’s more of a statistical anomoly. The Giants will not likely see the World Series for several years, like most teams. They beat the odds twice. It won’t happen again soon.

  19. yefrem says:

    I disagree with your conclusion. GM’s have less incentive than ever to make a World Series play. Their greater incentive, by far, is to stave off that elimination number till the last week of the season so as to sell more tickets and increase viewership during the more numberous July-Sept games.

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