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October 20, 2000

Prospectus Roundtable

The World Series

by Baseball Prospectus

Rany Jazayerli: Civilization is ending as we know it, a plague of locusts has hit the Midwest and the sun rose in the west this morning.

What bothers me most about watching everyone on TV pat themselves on their back for a job well done, is that everyone acts like the Mets and Yankees deserve this Subway Series because they really are the best teams in baseball, instead of (as David Schoenfield of ESPN.com mentioned) the team with the fourth-best record in the NL meeting the team with the fifth-best record in the AL.

Has anyone mentioned the fact that the Yankees are one of the worst teams to ever win a pennant? The worst World Series teams in history:

Year  Team     W    L    Pct

1973 NYM 82 79 .509 1987 MIN 85 77 .525 1997 CLE 86 75 .534 2000 NYY 87 74 .540 1974 OAK 90 72 .556 1983 PHI 90 72 .556

If you look at the ratio of runs to runs scored, the same things pops up:

Year  Team     W    L    Pct

1987 MIN 786 806 .975 1973 NYM 608 588 1.034 1959 LA 705 670 1.052 1997 CLE 868 815 1.065 2000 NYY 871 814 1.070

But just try to mention that this team has more in common with the 1987 Twins than the 1998 Yankees.

Michael Wolverton: This is the third-worst World Series matchup in history by ratio of runs to runs scored ('87 Twins-Cards was a little worse), and the fourth-worst matchup in history by cumulative winning percentage.

Woo-hoo! Long live the expanded playoffs!

Keith Law: Well, hold on. Before the season's final two weeks the Yankees were looking a lot less like the 1987 Twins and a lot more like a legitimate playoff team. This is hardly a team that was an 87-win squad all year long.

That's not a justification for acting like this is a just World Series, but the fact is that the White Sox's decision to not acquire a starter in July bit them on the ass, Oakland gave all it could but wasn't as lucky as the Yanks and Lou Piniella managed his team right out of the A-Rod era.

Jeff Hildebrand: All teams have ups and downs over the course of the season. The Yankees just happened to have a down at the end of the season. An 87-win season is pretty lousy for a pennant winner no matter how you slice it. Even giving them four wins out the last seven games (a .570 pace comparable to the rest of their season) only brings them up to 91 wins, hardly a performance worthy of a dynasty.

The thing that occurred to me last night is that the Yanks have been pretty lucky. I mean until he vetoed it, they were going to wind up with Juan Gonzalez. Instead, they ended up with David Justice. Somehow, I can't imagine they're doing anything other than counting their blessings that the Gonzalez trade got vetoed. Yes, they've got talent and some smart people running things, but there's an awful lot of things that happened to break right as well.

Keith Law: It's silly to suggest that the Yankees got "lucky" that they ended up with Justice instead of Gonzalez or Sammy Sosa. While Justice caught fire, it's certainly possible that Sosa would have done the same after a trade. In fact, I think we all would have said in June that Sosa was likely to outperform Justice after a trade. Even Gonzalez, if motivated to actually put the uniform on, is capable of having a hot three months. Justice alone is hardly the reason the Yankees are in the Series.

Dave Pease: This one seems easy to test:

                           avg  obp  slg  eqa
Justice, with Yanks:      .305/.391/.585/.312
Sosa, full season:        .320/.406/.634/.339

And of course Sosa hit .428/.711 after the All-Star Break.

I don't think there's an argument for Justice playing better than Sosa would have; the question becomes what the Yankees would have to have given up to get Sosa, and how heavily they relied on those components.

I can't really comment on Gonzo. Who knows what's going through that guy's head, besides possibly, "I'm gonna shoot my agent, dammit."

Keith Law: As for the Mets, I really see their ascendancy as a testament to the managerial skill of one of my least favorite baseball guys, Bobby Valentine. Faced with two media-knighted geniuses, Valentine ran circles around both of them. Having a great bullpen helps, but Valentine was making good moves while Tony LaRussa and Dusty Baker were making fans second-guess them.

Jeff Hildebrand: Well, he didn't have St. Rey to leave in games, so that may have helped him look a little smarter. I do agree that Valentine deserves some credit.

Chris Kahrl: What I don't get is all the public animosity towards Valentine. Is he self-assured or downright cocky? Who cares? I'm never going to have to buy the guy a beer, and he's never going to be buying one for me, either.

I don't care if he's casually condescending to beat writers, because frankly it's totally irrelevant to the series or its outcome. I don't care how Bobby Valentine makes the media feel. It isn't a worthwhile story in itself, and the fact that the media goes out of its way to relate how prickly their relationship with Valentine is only underscores their inability to tell stories relevant to the game or its outcome. Valentine's performance takes a back seat to "he almost made me cry, the big meany," which arguably keeps the focus off of his players so that they can just go about doing their jobs.

Keith Woolner: As a lifelong Red Sox fan, I'm still trying to deal with the fact that I'll be rooting for the Mets for the first time. The cognitive dissonance is killing me.

Keith Law: I'm really not thrilled at all by a single-city Series. I just don't see how this is good for the game. Do fans in the Midwest, South and West have any incentive to watch? Some will watch anyway, but I'd wager that ratings outside the Boston/Washington corridor will be dismal. And down the road, baseball pays for big-city hegemony in lost generations of fans outside Gotham.

Of course, some see that as an argument for revenue-sharing, whereas I see cause for imprisoning about a dozen small-market general managers.

Jeff Hildebrand: Well if the Yankees fans are admitting this, I guess it not really sour grapes to agree. I've been disgusted by all the hype about how wonderful this is for baseball. No, it's good for New York, but terrible for baseball as a whole.

To swipe a line from a friend of mine, you can watch and be guaranteed that New York will lose. That might appeal to a few people.

Chris Kahrl: I think Keith's argument about lost generations is a bit overstated. Nobody is going to stop being a fan because of an all-New York series. They just won't tune in this October.

What's more important is that the so-called "small market" teams will profit from this. Teams like the White Sox or the A's are already ascendant on the basis of top-to-bottom organizational strengths. If this year's Big Apple coincidence is enough to push more owners into accepting revenue-sharing, then the Yankees and Mets will have the handicap of paying the salaries they do while having to kick back cash to the rest of the league.

I'd suggest that New Yorkers enjoy this while it lasts and revel in this time, because revenue-sharing built on top of existing salary structures could send the Yankees back to the Horace Clarke Era in pretty short order. It isn't hard to envision the Yankees making the same mistake they made in the 1960s, when they mistook Ralph Houk for a genius and shoved aside their unpopular, yet spectacularly effective, GM, George Weiss. Just cut and paste Joe Torre and Brian Cashman into those slots, change the dates, and you don't need a map.

Keith Woolner: How were the ratings for the Bay Bridge series in 1989 (the last single-market World Series)?

Joe Sheehan: They were terrible, even for the two games before the earthquake. Given the downward trend in viewership in general, the collapse of LCS ratings and the 1989 data point, I think this series could put up some ugly numbers outside of New York.

Keith Law: There's actually an article on this subject in Thursday's Wall Street Journal, page B1. It mentions that the 1989 Series was one of the lowest-rated, although two mitigating factors may have explained it (earthquake, and neither team had a national following).

Keith Woolner: It's not like there was a conscious decision to make this a New York/New York series; they each won their playoffs in relatively convincing fashion. Criticizing overall policies and management decisions is one thing; lamenting the fact that two geographically close teams coincidentally ended up facing each other in your national showcase is just bad luck, as far as spanning multiple TV markets go.

I think that either New York team is more nationally marketable than the A's or the Cardinals, and the "Subway Series" does give it some novelty.

Derek Zumsteg: I don't think that's true. The A's started to pick up a lot of good press as they pushed the Yankees, and I have to think that if they'd managed one more win, they'd have killed the Mariners and gone on to the World Series as the team people love to talk/read/spout off about: they're young upstarts, playing against an old, overpaid team from the Big Bad Apple.

It's a lot like the plot of the Mighty Ducks movies, if you're familiar with that body of work. I think the story would have been easily marketable and wildly successful, especially if they could find a way to work in a renewed East Coast/West Coast rap feud, possibly involving the tragic shooting deaths of the Baja Men.

Chris Kahrl: What amuses me the most about this suddenly provincial World Series is how it represents media coverage at its worst. After the Yankees were down 1-0 to the Athletics, there was an awful lot of weeping and moaning about how it would be bad for baseball if the Yankees were knocked out.

Now that they haven't, a good 99% of the country is suddenly going to get interested in the political campaign or the Middle East instead of the World Series, and while normally I'd applaud this turn of events, it's a couple of years too late in both cases and it won't be for the right reasons.

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