January 12, 2006
Battle of Champions
Series RecapNote: The Battle of Champions is a theoretical series between the 2005 World Series Champion Chicago White Sox and the 2005 Nippon Series Champion Chiba Lotte Marines. We used Diamond Mind Baseball to simulate the best-of-seven series, and Chicago won in five games. For more information on the Battle of Champions, read the series preview or use the series index at the bottom of this page.
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Virtual Travel Day
Northwest Airlines' Tokyo-to-Minneapolis leg lasts eleven hours. For big leaguers unaccustomed to flights longer than four, the transportation is more akin to a Pioneer League bus ride from Great Falls to Orem. To pass the time, players have to get creative. Between the jet lag and hangovers from the clubhouse celebration, it can be tempting to sleep, but to drift off is dangerous. Carl Everett knows--he woke up with Sharpie dinosaur doodlings all over his face. Ozzie Guillen (sushi enthusiast) and A.J. Pierzynski (occasional pro wrestler) played WWE SmackDown in the aisle for dibs on the sushi-studded Battle of Champions Victory Belt:
But on to the real stuff.
Most Valuable Player
Three men clearly emerged as candidates for the Battle of Champions MVP award, and none was a pitcher. Chiba Lotte would have taken a 2-0 series lead if not for Tadahito Iguchi's walk-off grand slam, which proved to be the turning point in the series. Iguchi homered again in Game 4 and finished with eight RBI. Everett surged in Game 4, pacing the White Sox in their 12-4 romp by going 5-for-5 with a home run and two doubles. In Game 5 he quickly extended his streak to eight consecutive hits, batting an impressive .476/.500/.762 on the series. Scott Podsednik also menaced Marines pitchers in Game 4 with two RBI, two doubles and four times on base. In the final game, Podsednik was 4-for-5, scored three of Chicago's five runs, and stole three bases.
Iguchi's overall numbers didn't stack up compared to Everett or Podsednik (see chart below), but we at Baseball Prospectus couldn't ignore the implications of his grand slam. An internal vote officially pegged Iguchi as the Battle of Champions MVP. No other player single-handedly reversed the outcome of a game like Iguchi did, and the stakes were highest for Chicago in Game 2.
AVG OBP SLG AB H 2B 3B HR R BI BB K SB CS Iguchi 240 240 480 25 6 0 0 2 3 8 0 4 0 0 Podsednik 435 480 522 23 10 2 0 0 5 3 2 2 4 1 Everett 476 500 762 21 10 3 0 1 5 4 1 3 0 0(Click here for all team hitting and pitching stats)
Context is Everything
Reader feedback for the Battle of Champions was overwhelmingly positive, but there was one recurring suggestion. Many readers wanted to know what would happen in a larger-scale simulation. We agreed, because the results of an isolated seven-game series mean very little.
The more simulations we run, the more confident we can be in the results. Ideally, we would have run 1,000 or 1,000,000 simulations, but a figure that high was unfeasible for this exercise. We settled for 100. The home-field advantage was split in half to make things fair; otherwise, we used identical settings to our just-finished Battle of Champions. In the end, Chicago won 53, Chiba Lotte 47. Here's the distribution of outcomes:
Winner Outcome Occurrences Chicago 4-0 11 Chicago 4-1 12 Chicago 4-2 18 Chicago 4-3 12 Chiba Lotte 4-3 14 Chiba Lotte 4-2 14 Chiba Lotte 4-1 13 Chiba Lotte 4-0 6In other words, the Battle of Champions was not the mail-it-in victory for Chicago that many assumed. Thankfully, Ben Murphy is able to bestow upon us his statistical wisdom. He says that most importantly, this sampling leaves a 27 percent chance that the Marines are in fact the better team in this playoff structure despite the outcome of our 100 simulations. A series victory for Chiba Lotte would not have been a tremendous upset, in other words.
Naoyuki Shimizu, the Marines' fourth starter in the playoffs, is one possible explanation for Chiba Lotte's comparative lack of series sweeps. Based on the ratings, Shimizu is easily the worst starting pitcher on either team. Perhaps his Game 4 matchup with Freddy Garcia provided an easy win for Chicago.
Obviously, it's tough to draw conclusions from what remains a small bank of data, but 100 series are far more telling than one.
As we weigh the results of the Battle of Champions, remember that any number of factors would easily swing the 53 percent figure. For example, we rated most Marines defenders as average, but their team actually won several Japanese gold gloves. Granted, they probably won the voters' favor with their postseason dominance (if the selection process in Japan is anything similar to the Majors), but their defense might deserve more credit.
Overall, in-game strategies were a fair estimation of each manager's tactics, but there were some flaws. Real-life Bobby Valentine definitely used backup outfielder Akira Ohtsuka more. Virtual Guillen twice used Dustin Hermanson, whose back was balky in the real playoffs, but such details are nearly impossible to capture in a simulation.
White Sox pitching was another sensitive issue among many readers, who found it unrealistic that Jose Contreras and Jon Garland were hit so hard in Games 1 and 3. They contested that if the Battle of Champions was to be held immediately after the World Series, every Chicago pitcher should have still been on top of his game. Ratings for both sides were based on the regular season, so playoff performance could not be a factor.
But Vince Galloro made an astute comment about the alignment of Chicago's rotation. While the real-life ranking did accurately reflect each pitcher's performance at the time, Galloro believes Guillen might have scheduled the pitchers differently if he controlled the Diamond Mind team. Why? The virtual Sox are products of their regular season numbers. Mark Buehrle, not Contreras, is the ace of the virtual Sox. Realigning the rotation to Buehrle, Garland, Garcia/Contreras would have guaranteed more starts for the virtual Sox' best pitchers, and might have affected the results of the mass simulation. We couldn't have made this adjustment, since we were strictly following postseason usage patterns, but keep it in mind when pondering that 53 percent mark.
Back on the topic of hot streaks, Lotte swept the favored Hanshin Tigers and outscored them 33-4 in the Nippon Series. They might have been even hotter than the White Sox, and any such "unfairness" is cancelled out. Logically, league champions of any kind would experience a surge towards the end.
Thank You, Goodnight
Thanks again to everyone who made the first-ever Battle of Champions possible. At Diamond Mind, muchas gracias to Luke Kraemer and Tom Tippett. At BP, Nate Silver, Paul Swydan, Clay Davenport, Will Carroll and Jay Jaffe. Externally, Michael Westbay, Sergei Borisov, and Vince Galloro.
Congratulations to the Chicago White Sox and Tadahito Iguchi for winning the Sushi Belt and MVP, respectively. A tip o' the cap also to Bobby Valentine and the Chiba Lotte Marines, for a battle well fought.
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As their Web site www.diamond-mind.com says, Diamond Mind Baseball is devoted to "realistic strategy-oriented baseball games for use on home computers and the Internet." Special thanks to Tom Tippett and everyone at DMB for their cooperation.