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October 6, 2004

Prospectus Matchups

Imagine the Possibilities

by Jim Baker

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How hard is it to predict things? Pretty damn hard, that's how. Consider the playoffs. Let's say you made preseason picks and, of the eight teams you chose to make the playoffs, half in fact do so. That's pretty typical this year. Some years it's a little easier. The failure of the Cubs, Giants, Phillies and A's to make the postseason derailed a lot of picks. Now that the postseason is beginning, your slate gets wiped clean and you get to start all over again. Think you can pick the exact outcome of all seven playoff series? Come on! It's only seven series--that's not a lot to have to get right.

Consider this, though: there are 128 different possible outcomes. How so? There are 16 different scenarios for the first round. Each one of those 16 generates eight possible LCS and World Series variations. That's how you get 128. That means right now--even with the knowledge of what happened in the first game, you've got one chance in 128 of getting all the outcomes correct--without even considering game counts! What's the most obvious variable? The first one that comes to mind is one where the team with the most number of wins takes each series. That would look like this:

  • Boston over Anaheim
  • New York over Minnesota
  • St. Louis over Los Angeles
  • Atlanta over Houston
  • St. Louis over Atlanta
  • New York over Boston
  • St. Louis over New York

    One down, 127 to go. Reverse these outcomes and have the team with the lesser record win every series. 126 to go. Now, there are some variables that just won't happen, right? Like the Angels going all the way in 2002 or the Marlins taking it all last year. They never could have happened and didn't. Wait, no, they did. That's why so many of the 128 combos have to be considered. Even if you are convinced beyond the shadow of a shadow of a doubt that one team will most definitely not win it all that only eliminates 16 of the possibilities, leaving 112 other scenarios to consider.

    Contemplating this angers the blood. Avoid such deep thoughts and you'll live longer. Avoid them stringently and perhaps you'll end up as one of the new breed of super-centenarians--those who live past the age of 110. According to a recent report on NPR, of the 44 known such people, only four were men. If my gender has any hope of bettering that ratio, we've got to avoid such things as ruminating on how many different playoff outcomes there are.

    * * * *

    How much class does the playoff Class of '04 have? By that I mean, how many wins did they combine for? Here's how this year's teams stack up against the playoff posses in the past.

    1. 2002: 98.8
    Toppers: Yankees and A's with 103 each
    Weak sister: Twins with 94. Tied for the best worst record ever among playoff teams with the 1999 Red Sox.
    And the winner is: The Angels, who, coincidentally, had just about the average number of wins for a 2002 playoff team with 99.

    2. 1999: 97.6
    Topper: Braves, 103
    Weak sister: Red Sox, 94
    And the winner is: Yankees, third-best overall. This field tied with 2002 for the smallest gap between most and fewest number of wins with just nine.

    3. 1998: 97.4
    Topper: Yankees, 114
    Weak sister: Rangers, 88. You would think that a season in which the best teams from each league combined for 220 wins might produce the best class, but the gap between the four best qualifiers and the four lesser was pronounced. The Yankees, Braves, Astros and Padres averaged 105 wins while the Red Sox, Cubs, Indians and Rangers averaged just under 90.
    And the winner is: Yankees

    4. 2001: 96.3
    Topper: Mariners with 116
    Weak sister: Braves, 88
    And the winner is: Diamonbacks, sixth-best with 92. The 28-game gap between the Mariners and Braves represents the largest ever between two teams qualifying for the playoffs. It's also getting near the upper limit of what can be expected. Since 116 games is the most a team has ever won, let's assume that's the upper end with something like 84 on the other end of the spectrum. Can we assume that 32 games is the biggest gap we can ever expect between two playoff teams?

    5. 2004: 96.1
    Topper: Cardinals with 105
    Weak sisters: Angels, Twins and Astros with 92

    6. 2003: 95.3
    Toppers: Braves and Yankees with 101
    Weak sister: Cubs, 88
    And the winner is: Marlins, sixth-most among eight with 91.

    7. 1995: 94.5 (prorated)
    Topper: Indians, 113
    Weak sister: Rockies, 87
    And the winner is: Braves, second-best with 101. One could make the argument that had the season not been truncated by 18 games, the Indians would not have been able to maintain that 113-win pace. We'll never know, will we? Or perhaps we will if our government will ever throw the necessary funds at exploring alternate universes.

    8. 2000: 93.1
    Topper: Giants with 97
    Weak sister: Yankees with 87
    And the winner is: Not only did the Yankees win with the worst record among playoff teams, there was even a non-playoff team with a better record than they had (Indians). This was the year of the Great Parity Scare and it's reflected very obviously in the average number of wins for playoff teams.

    9. 1997: 92.1
    Topper: Braves, 101
    Weak sister: Astros, 84 (the worst record for a playoff qualifier in this era).
    And the winner is: Marlins, 92. Forgotten in the old school hubbub after the first wild card team won it all was the fact that the Marlins had the fourth-best record in the majors that year. It was a season nearly as compressed as 2000 with only two teams finishing over .600 and the worst team, Oakland, managing to stay above .400.

    10. 1996: 91.8
    Topper: Indians, 99
    Weak sisters: Cardinals and Orioles at 88 wins apiece.
    And the winner is: Yankees, third-best in the game with 92. Another year of relative parity in that only the Indians finished over .600 and only the Tigers finished under .400, although in their case, it was way under .400. How bad was it in '96? That third-best record by the champion Yankees matches the worst record by the qualifiers this year.

    * * * *

    Now that Major League Baseball has jobbed Montreal out of its major league team of 35 years, what is the future of professional ball in that city? Will the International League ever return there? It's been 44 years since the Royals played their ball in Montreal. Does the Double-A Eastern League make more sense for Montreal at this point, or is all of this moot? Are the people of Quebec so embittered by their treatment at the hands of the Selig machine that they are not currently in the mood to even consider such matters?

    * * * *

    During Tuesday night's Yankees-Twins telecast, Tim McCarver brought up the Baseball Encyclopedia that Twins manager used to carry around during his playing days. Gardenhire had the really cool idea of having everybody he met in his baseball travels sign their entry in the book. McCarver related how Gardenhire didn't know the current whereabouts of the book, which is kind of shocking, considering how much effort he put into it.

    I should talk. I have a Gardenhire-related item that I couldn't lay my hands on right now if you paid me. Back when he was with for the Tidewater Tides at the end of his playing career, a couple of my friends went up to Syracuse to see a Chiefs-Tides game. They bought a Chiefs bobble-head doll for me and asked Gardenhire to sign the box. Gardenhire complied, but said rhetorically, "Why do I get the feeling I'm the butt of some kind of joke here?"

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