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October 18, 2006

Prospectus Matchups

Nobody Knows Anything

by Jim Baker

"Nobody Knows Anything"

You think you know what's going to happen in the World Series, don't you? You think you know because everyone has told you as much: the Tigers are going to win it. Easily. Regardless of whether the Cardinals or Mets go forward, it is a fait accompli that well-rested Detroit, who closed out Oakland seemingly weeks ago, will crush the survivor under the sheer weight of their superior starting pitching.

Here's the problem: the same people that are telling you that did not predict the Tigers to get past the Yankees in the first round. Go back and look at the predictions these people made and you'll see that not a one of them had Detroit going to the LCS, let alone the World Series. Do these same people really get to make proclamations of this kind after missing so badly earlier on? True, it does seem obvious that the Tigers have the upper hand, but it also seemed obvious that the Yankees had the upper hand in the first round. The Padres too--but here are the Cardinals, one John Maine blow-up away from the World Series.

Predicting short series outcomes is a hard business, and I don't pretend to be any better at it than anybody else. In fact, I avoid it wherever possible. I only had to make one pick in print this postseason, and I was lucky enough to get it right. Sort of: I wrote that the Mets would beat the Dodgers in five games, and it only took three. Does that count as truly correct? Considering I made the prediction before Orlando Hernandez got injured, I'm not so sure. In March I picked an A's-Mets World Series, with the Mets winning it. Would I have made the same pick in October knowing what I do now about New York's starting rotation? Yes, but mostly because I'm a strong believer that you shouldn't be allowed to change your picks in mid-stream.

If pressed to make a World Series pick, I guess I would fall in line and agree with the crowd that the Tigers seem to have the one thing everyone else is lacking--more than one starting pitcher who can be relied upon to go past the fifth inning without clogging the bases with opponents. I would do this, except that the obvious only becomes truly obvious when a series is over. It was obvious the Padres were going to take out the slumping Cardinals. It was obvious that, at the very least, Johan Santana was going to win two games against the A's in the ALDS. It was quite obvious the Tigers were going to be swept aside by the Yankees' relentless, all-All Star lineup.

Hence, the William Goldman quote seen above. He wrote "nobody knows anything" in reference to those in the movie business--another form of entertainment where the obvious has a way of not happening--who figure out why pictures did and didn't appeal to audiences only in hindsight.

Is it heresy to toss up one's hands and say "your guess is as good as mine" on a website? Sure, to some extent. While many strides have been made in predicting the outcome of individual performance over the course of a season (see Nate Silver's PECOTA), the same cannot be said for team outcomes in short series. As a species, we're just not there yet and, frankly, I don't know that we'll ever be.

Which is probably a good thing.

The alternate Cy Young Award

In last Thursday's column, I offered readers the chance to vote on an alternate Cy Young Award candidate for the National League. Since the Cy situation there can best be described as murky, I offered up the notion that the award should be given to a position player to help compensate for all those MVP awards copped by pitchers. I nominated five players who had done the most to help pitchers in their pursuit of pitching excellence. Much, much more often than not Brad Ausmus, Clint Barmes, Ronny Cedeno, Adam Everett, and Pedro Feliz made pitchers lives easier by making outs when it came their turns to bat.

The votes have all been tallied and I am happy to announce the winner:

Barmes, 35% Ausmus, 25% Everett, 20% Cedeno, 15% Feliz, 5%

The fact that the polls were closed for a time (when our server went down over the weekend) is not being considered in the final outcome.

What I liked about this exercise is that it turned out to be just like the real MVP voting, in that readers interpreted the rules in their own way--just like voters do in the actual elections. Many of you wrote in to say that a player like Everett helps pitchers when he's in the field too, so he deserved the vote. Because it didn't say not to do that in the voting rules, you were free to get creative.

There was a late rush for Barmes of Colorado, pushing him past Ausmus down the stretch. One can't help but think that having two players from the same team split the Astros vote and gave Barmes the opportunity to triumph. One also must feel for the Astros fans that they have two such candidates in their lineup. Actually, though, they don't seem to mind--now that Jeff Bagwell has retired, Ausmus seems to get the biggest hand from them when his name is announced at Minute Maid Park.

The last Astros game I attended had this moment of modern irony. In the bottom of the sixth, Houston loaded the bases with one out against Orlando Hernandez. While he was being replaced by Roberto Hernandez, the sound system boomed with the oft-too-often-heard "We Will Rock You," as penned by Brian May of Queen. The problem was the next two batters were Everett and Ausmus. You really shouldn't be allowed to play a bombastic threat-piece like "We Will Rock You" with those two coming to the plate.

Unless…

It was a grand conspiracy on the part of the Astros: with that music, they were strongly suggesting that the Mets would get "rocked," if I may be allowed a literal interpretation of the lyric. So, while the Mets girded themselves for a right good "rocking," Everett laid down a perfect squeeze bunt, putting the Astros ahead 1-0. The Mets then walked Ausmus intentionally to get to Roy Oswalt. That reminded me of something Bob Gibson once said: if you can't get the eighth place hitter out, you probably shouldn't be pitching in the major leagues. Was the playing of that song irony, false bravado or subterfuge? We'll probably never know.

Lists changed while-u-wait

Saturday's column discussed the best (and worst) postseason starts in Cardinals and Mets history. That very night, three performances occurred that would have made those lists. Jeff Suppan's excellent outing (8 3 0 0 1 4) lands him in the top three for sure, while Steve Trachsel (1 5 5 5 5 1) arguably had the worst playoff start ever for a Met. Darren Oliver's long relief outing (6 3 0 0 1 3) ranks right up there with the Nolan Ryan performance in the '69 NLCS and Roger McDowell's five-inning stint in Game Six of the '86 NLCS. Admittedly, Oliver's innings weren't as high-leverage as Ryan's and McDowell's were. Still, though, to have three such extreme performances in one game out of about 165 chances is pretty noteworthy, albeit somewhat random.

Reader Jason Scott thought that Rick Ankiel's infamous meltdowns in the 2000 playoffs should have been mentioned, and he's probably right. While they didn't last long enough to do the kind of damage necessary for inclusion with the three I did cite, they, sadly had longer-range implications for the participant. Reader M.Z. suggested I should have at least mentioned Al Leiter's shutout of the Reds in the wildcard tiebreaker game in 1999, even though it is counted as a regular season performance. Leiter (9 2 0 0 4 7) might not have made the top three, but would if you add extra points for leverage. I'm a little too black-and-white in my list making to include the game with playoff outings, but you can't argue with the clutchness of it. (Just kidding. We don't trot out the c-word around here. I just thought you've probably heard or read it so much during these playoffs that going an entire column without reading it at least once would be too jarring.)

Skroo-Uppz (Skroo-Uppz is a copyrighted feature of this reporter)

In that same column, I stated that the '99 Mets were the first ever to win two games after being down 3-0 in a best-of-seven series. That was incorrect. Only one year before that, the Braves won Games Four and Five before the Padres put them away in Game Six in the Battle to Get Steamrolled by the 114-Win Yankees.

Related Content:  The Who,  Clint Barmes

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