Predicting the results of the Major League Baseball Playoffs shouldn’t be a hard job. Take this year for example. The Yankees had a better regular season record than the Twins, who they met and defeated in the AL Wild Card Game, and the Diamondbacks had a better record than the Rockies and beat them in the NL Wild Card Game. Easy to figure out who’s going to win, isn’t it?
On the face of it, it would seem that, after a 162 game season, the thirty teams that make up Major League Baseball would have pretty much fallen in line as far as their relative strength is concerned. In addition, the individual teams from each division play each other 19 times during the season so you would think that their position in the final standings in their division would determine their success in the Post Season.
There are almost as many theories about how to predict, in advance, the winner of the Playoffs and the World’s Championship as there are ‘experts’ out there.
Many feel that the team to beat is the team that is peaking at the end of the season because their momentum will carry over into the Playoffs. The reverse of this are those that feel that a team that makes the Playoffs despite a so so record toward the end of the season will be due to get hot and has the advantage.
There are those that say that the team that clinches their Division or Playoff spot first has an advantage as they will avoid the pressure of a stretch run and will be rested and can get their best pitching rotation ready for the Playoffs. On the other hand, some feel that going down to the last day before clinching readies a team for the Playoff pressure.
A comparison of the Playoff opponents records against each other during the regular season is thought to be another indicator to be used in predicting success in the Playoffs. This year of the four Division Series winners, only the Houston Astros, who beat the Boston Red Sox in the ALDS, had a winning record against their opponent in the regular season, winning four of seven games between the two.
In the other three Division Series’, the Yankees, who beat the Indians in five games, lost five of seven games to them during the regular season, the Dodgers swept the Diamondbacks, after losing 11 of 19 games to them during the season and the Cubs, who beat Washington in five games, had lost four of seven meetings during the season.
If you think the Playoffs are a Prognosticator’s Nightmare, try predicting the World Series winner. In the 17 years since 1999, the team with the best regular season record in baseball has won the World Series just three times. The 2016 Cubs, who won 104 games, the 2013 Red Sox, who won 97 games and beat the Cardinals, who also won 97, and the 2009 Yankees, who won 103 games, were the only three teams with the best regular season records to win the World Series.
In two other years, 2004 when the Cardinals won a season high 105 games and 2003, when the Yankees won a season high 101, the team with the best record was the loser in the World Series. So the team with the best regular season record got as far as the World Series just five times in 17 years.
On the other hand, a team that made the Playoffs as a Wild Card, which means they finished second or third in their own Division, has won the World Series five times in that same 17 years and another five Wild Card teams have made it to the World Series and lost. In 2002, the Anaheim Angels won the World Series after getting into the Playoffs as a Wild Card, and, in 2003, the Marlins, in 2004, the Red Sox, in 2011, the Cardinals and in 2014, the Giants did the same.
In 2000, the Mets, in 2005, the Astros, in 2006, the Tigers, in 2007, the Rockies and in 2014, the Royals made it as Wild Card teams but lost the Series. In 2014, the two Wild Card winners both made it to the Big Show before the Giants beat the Royals.
In other words, a Wild Card team has been in the World Series 43% more often and has won the World Series 67% more often than the team with the best record.
It would seem that, if you were trying to predict the winner of the World Series after the Division Championship Series has decided which two will go to the Series, the team of the two that made it to the series with the best regular season record would be the most logical choice to win the Series.
For example, in 2016, the Chicago Cubs had the best record in all of baseball and a much better record than their opponent, the Indians, during the regular season. We all know that the Cubs beat the Indians that year for their first World Series Championship in 86 years.
However, in the 17 years since 1999, of the two that made it to the World Series, the team with the best regular season record, has won eight times and the one with the lower record has won eight times. In the other year, 2013, the Winning Red Sox and the losing Cardinals each won 97 games. So, if you predicted that the team with the best winning record would go all the way, you would have been right exactly 50% of the time, but, if you had predicted that the team with the worst record would win the Series, you would have also been right 50% of the time.
Of the four major sports, basketball, football, hockey and baseball, predicting the outcome of any Postseason matchup in baseball is the most difficult. The longer season in baseball and the parity achieved through revenue sharing, rules governing the draft and other methods all contribute to the heightened excitement and uncertainty that exists in baseball at Playoff time.
Almost any team that makes it to the Wild Card round has a chance to go all the way to the World Championship in baseball. That makes predicting the outcome so difficult and why people like myself, who predicted in this spot that the Cubs and Red Sox would face each other in the World Series this year, should keep their predictions to themselves.
My advice to all those who feel that they have the ability to predict the outcome of the baseball Playoffs and/or World Series, in the future, is very simple. Write your predictions on a piece of paper, put it away someplace safe and, when it’s over and you weren’t even close, don’t tell a soul.