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October 10, 2002

Prospectus Feature

Breaking Balls: A Stroll Through the Mailbag

by Derek Zumsteg

We missed all four division series predictions here at Baseball Prospectus. I predicted that the A's would beat the Twins in "Three. Four max." The email immediately started to flow in:

"How can you say the A's will win, (insult here)?"

Here's a more in-depth example:

"Ellis over Rivas, Chavez whips Koskie. It looks like you didn't even try to make an intelligent argument on defense you just went out of your way to prove your preconceived notion that the Twins aren't light years better than the A's defensively. I give defensive statistics a lot less credence than you do which is apparently your problem. I have to run, so I won't belabor the point, but I'll refer you to Dave Campbell at the head of a list of a number of people who feel otherwise. DC picks Koskie over Chavez for gold glove and Rivas second among 2B (and not even behind Ellis!!). "
-- MS

After the Twins finished the A's off, the gloating began in earnest: 

"Derek, Nice call on the Twins/A's series! What is the Sabermetric formula for desire and heart?"
-- BO

Earlier this year, Gary Huckabay wrote a 6-4-3 column in which he noted that "the nature of the game--and the universe--makes forecasting a task that is both somewhat unattainable, and even more irresistible because of that." Huckabay's a smart guy.

The Playoff Prospectus, for what it's worth, is the worst kind of forecasting baseball writers have to do. Trying to predict the outcome of a short series is folly. I'd rather try and predict next week's Seattle area weather.

Diamond Mind Baseball's Tom Tippett wrote a great article entitled "May the best team win... at least some of the time". His Twins-Oakland forecast came out favoring Oakland, saying they'd win the series about 62% of the time, based on win percentages. But that's still a lot of winning for the Twins. Where'd I go wrong?

Here's what went into my Playoff Prospectus: I looked at the formats we'd used before, sketched out what I thought the lineups would be like (before the 25-man postseason roster), and then started to look at things that might not show up in their overall win percentages: the Twins' weakness against left-handers, picking Mays to start over Lohse (and not even considering starting left-handed Santana against Oakland), things like that. Some things I discarded: Zito dominated the Twins in the regular season, but was more vulnerable in general against lefties, for instance. Finding this stuff wasn't rocket science: I'm not on the STATS Inc. payroll, I don't have all the time in the world, and I'm working with the tools at hand. I saw where those things took me, mixed it all up, and in the end, there's a prediction to be made.

And it was wrong.

I stand by the components of it. The lefty starters did well against the Twins. Koskie is not as good a defender as Chavez is, whatever Dave Campbell says. You can make fun of defensive statistics all you want, but they're about even on the decent ones, and Koskie plays on EZ-Field Turf half the time, while Chavez toils in the Al Davis Reconfigurable Hole. And Rivas? His turf-enhanced fielding stats are still awful.

I didn't think Howe would keep going to Ted Freaking Lilly in crucial situations, no, but in retrospect, I knew he was prone to making wacky decisions, so I should have harped on that more.

Four of us wrote a Division Series Playoff Prospectus, and all four of us were wrong on the final outcomes. I disagreed with some of them, but in the other three there were things I hadn't considered about those series, things I thought were weighed too strongly, or not strongly enough. All three of them made me think, and that's why I wrote mine.

I've never understood why people think that contrary opinions are somehow created to attack them, rather than something a reasonable person could have arrived at in an entirely rational and intelligent manner.

Anyway, to another topic--I got a ton of email on my Daily Prospectus about Oakland charging insane prices for tickets. Turns out another problem was that the game times weren't announced until the last minute, which meant it was almost impossible for people to get time off for the afternoon games. Some people thought that ticket prices were set by the league (which isn't the case), but almost all the A's fans were shocked and astounded. Some sent me cool proof of past playoff attendance to show that people would come out if they could.

Aaaaand then, of course, there were other e-mails: 

"Why don't the A's win in the playoffs if they're so goddamn brilliant?"
-- SF

So on a side note: Thanks to everyone who sends me email that has cool stuff in it. Thanks to everyone who disagrees rationally. Thanks to everyone who submits a quote to Week in Quotes, whether I use it or not, if I manage to send thanks or not. Reader feedback has been one of the most rewarding parts of writing for Prospectus, even if it's also one of the most overwhelming and frustrating, too.

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<< Previous Article
Playoff Prospectus: St... (10/09)
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Prospectus Feature: To... (08/23)
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