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June 21, 2009

Prospectus Idol Entry

The 1991 World Series: An Adventure in Championship Expectancy

by Matt Swartz

Sabermetricians are often accused of not enjoying the game of baseball and instead just caring about the numbers. But it's entirely possible to love both. And in the best case scenario, the numbers can help us even further appreciate our enjoyment of the game.

A great way to experience that best case scenario is to look at a memorable baseball moment and see what the numbers show us that might give us more insight into the game. For me, the most exciting World Series I ever watched was also the first World Series I was old enough to stay up and watch: the 1991 matchup between the first two teams to ever win the pennant after finishing in last place the year before, the Atlanta Braves and the Minnesota Twins. Even then-commissioner Fay Vincent remarked, "It was I think probably the greatest World Series ever!"

Using Win Expectancy (WE), a metric that tells us the likelihood a team will win a game at any moment during that game, I decided to re-evaluate that World Series to see if the plays and moments I found most memorable were actually the most important ones in the Series. I created a new metric, Championship Expectancy (CE). CE takes the current in-game WE and combines that, using weighted averaging, with the likelihood of winning enough of the remaining games to win the series, assuming that every game later in the series has a 50% chance of going either way. The resulting percentage is the likelihood, at a particular point during the Series, that a team will win the championship.

Below, I walk through each of the games of this exciting Series and look at the major shifts in Win Expectancy and Championship Expectancy. You will find after major plays that I write in parenthesis the change in WE and CE, such as (WE: 50% to 60%, CE: 50% to 53%). I have also included graphs of the Twins' CE after each game, with the major plays labeled. By looking at these numbers, we can better appreciate all the excitement - the obvious and the non-obvious - that occurred during a thrilling World Series.

GAME ONE

The Twins sent Jack Morris to the hill against the Braves' Charlie Liebrandt. I remember watching that night and thinking that Greg Gagne's 3-run home run in the fifth, that changed a 1-0 Twins lead into a 4-0 lead, put the entire Series in the Twins' control. But instead, that three run blast (WE: 82% to 93% CE: 60% to 63.4%) only added 3.4% to the Twins' chances of winning it all. The Twins did go on to win the game, and now had a 65.6% CE.

graph

GAME TWO

Tom Glavine pitched against Kevin Tapani the following night. The game was tied going into the bottom of the eighth when Scott Leius, with a career .353 SLG, homered to give the Twins the lead (WE: 61% to 87%, CE: 69.1% to 77.2%). This was the largest jump at that point in the Series. The Twins went on to win and now had a commanding 81.2% CE.

graph

GAME THREE

Down two games to none, The Braves sent out NLCS MVP Steve Avery against Scott Erickson, who had a 134 ERA+ for the Twins in 1991. The Braves took a 4-2 lead into the top of the eighth, when Chili Davis hit a two-run homerun to retie the game (WE: 20% to 50%, CE: 73.7% to 81.2%) and eventually send it into extra innings, for the first of three times in the Series.

In the top of the twelfth, with Dan Gladden on first and no one out, the Twins' Chuck Knoblauch reached on an error by Braves' Second Baseman Mark Lemke, sending Gladden to third. The Twins now had a 65% WE and an 86% CE. Oddly enough, even though the Twins wound up not scoring because they had run out of hitters and their pitcher, Rich Aguilera, was forced to hit, this moment had the highest CE odds that they would have until they actually won it all.

The Braves turned the Series around in the bottom of that inning. Aguilera allowed two runners on with two outs when Mark Lemke batted. Lemke had a career .617 OPS, but in the 1991 WS, he turned into Albert Pujols, mounting a 1.170 OPS. His game-winning single lowered the Twins' CE from 78.5% to 68.75%, which was by far the biggest change in CE in the entire series up until that point.

graph

GAME FOUR

John Smoltz pitched Game Four for the Braves, and Jack Morris pitched his second game of the Series on just three days rest for the Twins.

This game featured a pitcher's duel and two seventh inning solo home runs, one by Twins' third baseman Mike Pagliarulo (WE: 46% to 68%, CE: 67.3% to 75.5%), and the other by Lonnie Smith (WE: 73% to 48%, CE: 72.8% to 65%). The game was tied at two in the bottom of the ninth when Mark Lemke, the Game Three hero, batted with one out in the bottom of the ninth and tripled to left-centerfield (WE: 42% to 18%, CE: 60.1% to 55.6%). One IBB later, pinch-hitter Jerry Willard batted for Atlanta against Steve Bedrosian and hit a flyball to right field. Jack Buck announced the play, "The runners tags at third, here's the throw from [Shane] Mack, here's Lemke…he is out…safe, safe, safe! They called him safe! Atlanta wins and they're going to say Harper did not tag him!" The series was tied at two. And what seemed like a huge play was indeed a huge play, lowering the Twins' CE from 56.8% down to 50%.

graph

GAME FIVE

The Braves won Game Five handily, by a score of 14-5. This was the only game of the entire series that was decided by more than three runs, and the only game other than Game One that was decided by more than one run. The Braves needed to take only one of two games in the Metrodome.

graph

GAME SIX

Steve Avery and Scott Erickson both pitched on three days rest in game six. The game went into extra innings thanks to Kirby Puckett and Terry Pendleton theatrics. In the top of the eleventh, Rick Aguilera allowed a single to Braves' first baseman Sid Bream. After that single, the Twins had a 42% WE and 21% CE, the highest the Braves' odds would get at any point during the series. Kevin Mitchell pinch ran for Bream, was caught stealing (WE: 42% to 56%, CE: 21% to 28%) and Aguilera escaped the 11th (WE: 64%, CE: 32%).

Kirby Puckett led off the bottom of the eleventh against Game One starter Charlie Liebrandt who now made his only appearance other than Game One. On a 2-1 count, Jack Buck made his famous homerun call, "Into deep left center, for Mitchell…and we'll see you…tomorrow night!" Here's where numbers and pure fandom converge. Everyone knew that was a huge hit, and the numbers agree. That hit was the biggest of the World Series at that point, raising the Twins' CE from 32% to 50%.

graph

GAME SEVEN

The biggest change in Championship Expectancy going into this game had been Puckett's Game Six walk-off, but Game Seven featured four plays that had an even larger effect on the teams' odds of winning it all. Smoltz pitched again for the Braves, and Morris pitched his third game of the Series for the Twins.

Through the first seven innings, neither team scored. By the time the last few innings of Game Seven rolled around, plays repeatedly changed the CE by more than almost any event in the first five games. Lonnie Smith led off the top of the eighth with a single. Terry Pendleton followed with the largest play of the Series so far, a double to send Smith to third (CE: 43% to 24%).

graph

The Braves' chances didn't get any better that inning; instead, the Twins pulled off the biggest play of the Series, a play that is probably not remembered as one of the top five moments from the Series, if it's remembered at all. Morris got Ron Gant to ground out weakly to first, and intentionally walked David Justice. Then Sid Bream batted with bases loaded and one out. He hit a groundball to first baseman Kent Hrbek who threw home to Brian Harper who threw back to Hrbek for the 3-2-3 double play. This play had a larger effect on CE than all four of the Series' walk-off hits, from 32% to 61%. For reference, that 29% gain in CE was larger than Kirk Gibson's 1988 WS HR (+27% CE), Bill Buckner's 1986 WS error (-20% CE), and Carlton Fisk's 1975 WS HR (+18% CE). In fact, this was the biggest change in CE on a run-less play in major league baseball history.

The Twins threatened in the bottom of the eighth. Chuck Knoblauch's one out single sent Al Newman to third with one out (CE: 61% to 75%). After Mike Stanton intentionally walked Puckett, Kent Hrbek lined into a double play to end the threat (CE: 77% to 50%). Like the Twins' double play in the top of the inning, this double play was the biggest play for the Braves' CE in the Series.

Morris sent the Braves down in order in the ninth. In the bottom of the inning, Brian Harper's bunt single put two runners on with no one out (CE: 71% to 82%), but Shane Mack grounded into a double play (CE: 82% to 63%), another play that hurt the Twins more than Puckett's Game Six walk off helped them. After an IBB, Braves reliever Alejandro Pena struck out Paul Sorrento (CE: 64% to 50%).

The Twins sent Jack Morris out for the tenth inning, and he put down the Braves in order. Alejandro Pena allowed a leadoff double to Dan Gladden in the bottom of the tenth (CE: 64% to 81%). After a sacrifice bunt and two intentional walks, Gene Larkin pinch hit with the bases loaded and one out against Alejandro Pena. The Twins' CE was 83% at this point; Larkin swung at the first pitch. Vin Scully called the play on the radio, "Pena, right foot on the rubber. You can taste the pressure here in the 'Dome as Alejandro straightens up. And the pitch to Larkin. Swung on, a high flyball to left center, the run will score, the ball will bounce for a single, and the Minnesota Twins are champions of the world!" The odds went from 83%...up to 100%.

TAKEAWAYS

What I found amazing about this exercise was how many of the biggest plays were not necessarily the most memorable ones. I remember Mark Lemke scoring on a sacrifice fly in Game Four, Puckett's walk-off in Game Six, and Morris shutting down the Braves in the top of the tenth of Game Seven, but apparently the bigger plays were double plays that ended threats in Game Seven.

What's interesting is that my five most memorable plays were not the ones that had the biggest change in CE. In the table below, I list my top five most memorable plays in the left column with the CE next to it, and the top five largest plays overall in the third column with the CE next to it.

graph

As analysts have started looking more at Win Expectancy and value added in terms of Wins in general, it is important to keep in mind that the ultimate goal of baseball is to do what the Twins did in 1991-win the World Series. Considering the effect of brief moments on the Championship Expectancy is a more direct method to learn what we are curious about, and it is also is quite an exciting way to let the numbers behind the ballgames enhance your enjoyment of it.

Matt Swartz is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Matt's other articles. You can contact Matt by clicking here

76 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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TucsonTumbleweed

Not my favorite piece by Matt but I think that is mostly due to the fact that I dont remember the '91 series. Im not sure it works as a subject almost 18 years later. Plus assuming each game can be won equally be either team isnt useful in my opinion. Using the lineup, starting pitcher and their corresponding stats should give you a much better starting part I would think. Plus doesnt the home team have a slight advantage as well? Overall I didnt like the article but will vote for Matt as I have come to believe that he is the best in the field.

Jun 21, 2009 11:08 AM
rating: 0
 
Jamey
(208)

I agree, there are some definite weaknesses in terms of CE. It could have been weighted using various measures, but this is an interesting first pass. Kudos to Matt for trying something different.

I think this piece weakest because it is a historical perspective. Implementing a better version of CE and using it to report on the playoffs would be a great feature.

Thumbs up from me, despite the weaknesses. :)

Jun 21, 2009 12:24 PM
rating: 0
 
Matt Swartz

I agree with both of you that the true percent chance of winning the championship needs to take into account other factors, but I elected to do it as 50% for each game to follow the spirit of Win Expectancy. Watching this past year's World Series, I tried to compute the odds as it went by, and I tried to adjust for these factors, but I figured it should be as pure as Win Expectancy-- and just avoid the judgment calls. As Win Expectancy pretends there is no home field advantage, so does Championship Expectancy. The most evident part of that were the Twins initial odds that peaked in Game Three, which ignored the fact that they ran out of pinch hitters and had to use their relief pitcher with bases loaded and two outs in the World Series! I had to delete an awesome quote for word count that Tom Kelly (Twins manager) said at that point where he said that managing without the DH was "right up their with rocket science."

Jun 21, 2009 15:57 PM
rating: 1
 
jimnabby

For me, the fact that you used the Twins of this era really underscores the problem with the 50% baseline for each game. Those Twins won two World Series in 5 years without ever winning a road game or losing a home game. They were the poster children for HFA. No, I don't know what their home-road splits were during the regular season, but I do know that by the time game 6 rolled around in 1991, I fully expected them to win the last two games and the series. I just don't see how you can do even a simple preliminary study like this without at least incorporating the league average HFA.

Jun 23, 2009 08:51 AM
rating: 0
 
Matt Swartz

As I mentioned in other comments, Win Expectancy assumes that the odds are 50% at the beginning of each game. Championship Expectancy is derived from Win Expectancy, which is a pretty standard metric, and so there would be no way to do this otherwise.

Jun 23, 2009 18:22 PM
rating: 1
 
andrewfoerster

One other issue with CE is that it is, by it's very nature, going to weigh later plays differently than earlier plays, an issue that Win Expectancy has. In blowouts, a solo shot in the second is going to appear more meaningful than an (A-Rod) solo shot in the eighth (at that point the HR will boost WE, but the game is still out of reach). In a hotly contested game (or, with CE, series), it will behave in the opposite way. A three-run shot in a tie-game in the first will swing WE, but a three-run shot in a tie-game in the eighth will have a MUCH greater impact because you've only one (or two) inning(s) to make that up instead of eight or nine. It's telling that the five "biggest" plays either happened late in G7 or was the G6 walkoff, which probably shouldn't be the case as the first four games were all also hotly contested and had some walkoff action.

Jun 23, 2009 12:43 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom
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Overall, I like the concept of CE$ but I am not quite sure the presentation was clear. At times, I had to scroll back a paragraph or two to figure out what the game context was, if one team or the other had scored, etc. I would've liked the game situation and score outlined a bit more clearly. I don't know if "The game went into extra innings thanks to Kirby Puckett and Terry Pendleton theatrics." means they both drove in runs or both made game saving plays. Mentioning just a player's name to refer to which team did the scoring made me stop reading every so often to backtrack to prior paragraphs to figure out who played for who... The information is definitely there, but figuring out the game situation was like putting together a puzzle.

There were some problems with the CE metric itself... I like the idea of CE% but I kind of got confused which team's perspective the CE% was from. I kept thinking that the Braves CE and the Twins CE should add up to 100% but as I was actually reading, I wasn't sure if that was a correct premise or not... It also seems that CE should be equal to WE in Game Seven, but since it isn't explicitly stated, some readers might miss the implication.

There were also lines like this in the Game Six Recap: "After that single, the Twins had a 42% WE and 21% CE, the highest the Braves' odds would get at any point during the series" which led me baffled... if the Twins and Braves after Game 4 were tied 2-2, and after Game 6, tied 3-3, wouldn't the Braves's CE be 50% at each instance, and thus, the highest odds for the series?

As usual, when I read Matt's articles, there are a lot of neat ideas that come to my mind for future research. How much does a bunting decision, a stolen base or a caught stealing factor into CE? If double plays affect CE so drastically, is that an indication that a team's defensive ability matters more in the playoffs? How much does being the "home team" affect CE?

To reiterate, I like the overall idea and the concept is thought-provoking even though WE (which forms the basis of CE) has been used before. Still, the presentation was a bit confusing.

Thumbs up.

Jun 21, 2009 12:13 PM
rating: -4
 
Matt Swartz

Yeah, the Puckett and Pendleton theatrics were homeruns. I had to cut the descriptions for word count. The 1991 World Series was so fantastic that 2000 words couldn't describe it somehow. There were all kinds of cool plays I left out.

The CE was the Twins the whole time at least in an effort to avoid confusion. And you're correct that WE=CE for Game 7.

I did take the Championship Expectancy concept to other World Series, but I figured that I would leave that for another article. The Sid Bream DP was the highest Championship Percentage Added moment of any defensive play in history. It was tied for 11th overall. At some point, I'll do a Top Ten Moments in Championship Expectancy article, but I loved the story of the Series, especially Game Seven, and just went with that.

Jun 21, 2009 16:02 PM
rating: 2
 
Richard Bergstrom

Ok, I understand it a bit better now since I didn't realize the CE was from the Twins' perspective the entire time. I also understand the Braves "highest of the series comment" now.

One thing I'm wondering though... isn't Game 7 (which naturally involves a tied series with only one game left to play) always going to involve the highest CE shifts since both teams start at a 50% CE and one team has to end with a 100% CE (the winning team) and one team has to be the losing team with 0% CE? I guess then I also wonder if CEs for Game 7 of the 1991 series should only be compared against other Game 7s... same thing for series that end in six games, five games, and four games.

Jun 21, 2009 17:14 PM
rating: 0
 
Ben Solow

Yeah, I think you hit the nail on the head Richard -- CE is kind of a flawed metric because, for sure, every game 7 will have the highest swings. Not because it's bounded, necessarily, but because it's much easier to have a big swing in win expectancy than in championship expectancy early in the series (because you have 7-n games remaining with 50% probability of winning, but no equivalent condition within a game). However, when you get to game 7, win expectancy and championship expectancy are the same thing, and therefore championship expectancy can swing as freely as win expectancy. Any terminal game can reach 100% win expectancy, but if the series ends before game 7, the team who wins the series has to have above a 50% championship expectancy coming into the game, and at worst can have a 50% championship expectancy afterward.

I do think the metric is interesting in and of itself, but comparing plays across games is probably an exercise that doesn't contain a whole lot of information. Instead, discussing plays in a given game (or a given context, i.e. game 5s where teams are 2-2 coming in) is more useful.

Jun 21, 2009 18:03 PM
rating: 1
 
Matt Swartz

Correct, condition on Game 7 occurring, it will have very high fluctuations in CE. The 4th win however, will not necessarily, especially in 4 and 5 game Series. The biggest swing in 2008 was in Game 3, for example. It's the same concept how the leverage is always ridiculously high in the 9th inning IF it's tied when you get there. But sometimes the 9th inning has the lowest leverage if it's already 7-1.

Game 7 might not matter at all (so much so that it doesn't happen in 4-0 4-1 and 4-2 Series) most of the time, but when it does, it's huge.

Jun 21, 2009 18:32 PM
rating: 3
 
marausch

For the confusion about the CE in the Game Six recap:
If the Twins' CE after that single was only 21%, then the Braves' CE would be 79%. This would be higher than the 50% mark after the 2-2 and 3-3 ties, and their highest of the series.

Jun 21, 2009 16:03 PM
rating: 0
 
Mike Smith

I really liked this article, and there are so many ways CE could continue to grow and thrive. Matt has laid a solid foundation here.

2000 words was too little for such a broad topic as a seven games series. The game-by-game "non-stats" descriptions were lacking in emotion throughout. Matt didn't quite succeed in capturing the feel of that fantastic '91 series.

Also, the limit forced Matt to shorthand the conclusions section, which I feel was the most interesting part. We are still continuing to learn how important outs are, and his conclusion that double plays, not homeruns, were some of the biggest turning points was a great reminder of the criticality of conserving a teams' greatest asset - outs.

Good job, Matt.

Jun 21, 2009 12:38 PM
rating: 6
 
Matt Swartz

Thanks. I agree I could have exposed the Series' excitement a little better with more words. In the end, I figured Game Seven was exciting enough on its own, and went with an expansion of that. Games three, four, and six were pretty amazing as well, too, though.

Interestingly, the homeruns and extra base hits were usually the biggest plays in World Series history. This Series was the exception, which made it all the more interesting. I think I've always loved good defense and pitching duels as a baseball fan, which is maybe why this Series has always stood out in my mind so much. That, and I find home field advantage fascinating, and the Twins going 4-0 at home and 0-3 on the road in both the 1991 World Series and the 1987 World Series makes it that much cooler.

Jun 21, 2009 16:06 PM
rating: 1
 
Jeff Evans

I was surprised not to see a mention of Puckett's leaping catch against the wall in game six. I don't know what it did for WE or CE, but it rated quite high in FE (fan excitement). And it was a great lead to his winning homer that capped off a day that all Twins fans remember with a pretty large smile.

Jun 21, 2009 16:56 PM
rating: 3
 
Dr. Dave

For a stathead, the big takeaway here is that the two most important (high leverage, pivotal, whatever) plays of the series were double plays -- It's All About the Outs. That's worth hammering on, and generalizing.

(Of course, the other thing it shows is that nothing that happens in Game 1 is going to affect CE much. That's mostly because CE is partly a measure of how complete our information is -- Game 1 counts as much as any game, but we don't have enough info yet to know how important it will turn out to be.)

Overall, yeah, a bit dry, but good concept and reasonable execution. I've been stingy this round, but I think this gets one of my 2 thumbs up.

Jun 21, 2009 17:21 PM
rating: 3
 
Mike M

Like Dr. Dave, I found it fascinating that double plays would have the biggest impact. That alone will make me watch games a little differently (although I'm already upset with Mike Lowell's league-leading tendency to 643 the ball). The other point that Matt just sort of sneaks in there is the historical perspective: "biggest change in CE on a run-less play in major league baseball history" -- clearly there's a ton of research far beyond 1991 that's been used to enrich this article.

Jun 23, 2009 13:08 PM
rating: 1
 
jkaplow21

It's pretty lame to take marks off becasue of the time frame.

"Still, one of the problems I had with Matt's piece right off the bat was the subject matter of the '91 World Series. I'm not sure why I need to be reading about that in June, 2009. "

Um, maybe because that is when this competition is being held. Seriously, if you want people to do good work and show in-depth analysis, how could you even make any sort of criticism like that.

I would have loved to see Matt just break down game 7 and really pull the drama strings, but that obviously was not the scope of his article. At the very least this could have been like a 3 parter (3 games, 3 games and 1 game) but Matt appeared to do what he could within the word contraints.

Jun 21, 2009 17:37 PM
rating: 10
 
Mossback

This is a brilliant piece and anyone who doesn't think so is mentally defective, jealous, or crooked. The CE is an attempt - maybe not a perfect one, but a reasonable one - to capture the drama in the most dramatic part of the baseball season. The fluctuations in CE measure events behind the emotional ebbs and flows of the series, which is exactly the point of statistical analysis of a silly little pastime to which people are strangely attached. The narrative was also concise and engaging, not nearly as dry as typical BP fare.

But the main thing is Matt appreciates that the task of all the number-crunching is to help make the game more enjoyable. Excellent work.

Jun 21, 2009 20:18 PM
rating: -2
 
John Carter

If this weren't BP Idol, I doubt I would have read this. It seems pretty joyless to deconstruct the most exciting World Series into an account of Win Expectancies. Yet, I found fairly interesting nonetheless.

Content B+ - "In fact, this was the biggest change in CE on a run-less play in major league baseball history." That is a bold declaration. It demands back-up. Did you check every World Series or did that info come from another source?

That the double plays were mathematically bigger deals than the walk off hits is interesting.

Writing B- - Otherwise this is a pretty basic sub-Goldman recount of the 1991 Series. Not at all dull, but could have been more exciting in the hands of someone who was more familiar with the nuances that could have brought the drama back to life.

I, too, was wondering what the Puckett and Pendleton theatrics were. I assumed incorrectly that you were referring to amazing fielding plays.

Jun 21, 2009 20:47 PM
rating: -3
 
Richard Bergstrom

I remember good at-bats and good defensive plays from Pendleton and Puckett that I think took place during the World Series... it wasn't the first Series I had watched, so it's hard to be sure. It's a bit ironic that their home runs were theatrics but there are a number of fielding plays that had, according to CE, a more dramatic effect... which might be some of the cause of the confusion I had.

I remember an analysis of clutch done a few years ago by BP where they compared WE before and after certain batters with runners in scoring position over a season. By adding the differences in WE, they used that to determine who was and wasn't clutch. I would imagine something similar could be done with CE and might be interesting to look at, even with the sample size problems.

Jun 21, 2009 22:02 PM
rating: 0
 
Matt Swartz

Actually, believe it or not, I went back and checked every single World Series!

Baseball-Reference does list the biggest WPA (Win Percentage Added) for every World Series game so I went through all of them a little more quickly than I could have otherwise.

I plan to write a follow up article in October (at BP if I win or maybe at StatSpeak if I lose), given that people got as much of a kick out of the concept as I did, in which I will go through the best moments in CPA (Championship Percentage Added) in history. Some famous and some not so famous ones in the mix. Mostly hitting ones, but the 1991 big CPA plays were defense, which is another reason this Series was cool.

Jun 22, 2009 03:39 AM
rating: 4
 
Paul Andrew Burnett

I'll read it wherever it is.

Jun 22, 2009 11:03 AM
rating: 3
 
deep64blue

I'll certainly look forward to reading it wherever it may be.

Jun 25, 2009 01:48 AM
rating: 1
 
gimbal

More than anything else, I felt this article was hurt by word count. Admitting that the 1991 WS was one of the special events of my life, it just seems too big to cover in 2000 words (or whatever). Game 7 alone is worthy of 2000 words.

One of the things I would like to see if you ever expanded this article is a discussion of some dramatic plays that don't show up in win expectancy calculations. For example, Puckett's catch at the wall in game 6 looks like another out in win expectancy, but the fact that it wasn't a double is surely a huge shift. Similarly, I find myself wondering how much change in win expectancy results from Lonnie Smith getting decoyed and not scoring on Pendleton's double in game 7.

Jun 22, 2009 05:58 AM
rating: 1
 
Matt Swartz

This website: http://winexp.walkoffbalk.com/expectancy/search
calculates Win Expectancy from historical data-- actual games event that occurred between 1977 and 2006. Using that, the difference is this:

23.5% odds of the Twins winning at that point with runners on 2nd and 3rd and 0 outs in the Top of the 8th with a tie game.

15.2% odds of the Twins winning at that point with a runner on 2nd and 0 outs in the Top of the 8th with the road team up 1-0.

Wow. I would not have expected that. The 23.5% has a small sample size issue (only 85 total games like that during 1977-2006), but still a best approximation. This is not the same way as doing Win Expectancy using the Markov Model that I believe is used on Baseball-Reference.com's listed WE's.

Jun 22, 2009 15:58 PM
rating: 0
 
anderson721

Yep. My first thought was how to measure Smith not scoring when he "should" have.

Jun 23, 2009 14:51 PM
rating: 0
 
Mountainhawk

Other than the earthquake, this is the first WS that I remember anything about, and it's because it was such an awesome World Series. Fanastic selection of a topic, and a pretty good execution.

My only quibble about CE would be the home team should be given ~53% WE for the future games.

Jun 22, 2009 05:58 AM
rating: 0
 
Matt Swartz

I see your point, but if I had done that, the in-game Win Expectancies would not have been right. The formula Baseball-Reference.com uses assumes 50%, which I assume is basically using a Markov model assuming that each event is equally likely to occur at any time. It does not include home field advantage, pitcher matchups, who's at bat (a big problem if the pitcher is up), etc. It's an approximation. In game, you can refine it accordingly. When TradeSports still existed, you could see the bettors doing just that.

Jun 22, 2009 16:01 PM
rating: 0
 
dsc250

Goldman wrote: "Still, one of the problems I had with Matt's piece right off the bat was the subject matter of the '91 World Series. I'm not sure why I need to be reading about that in June, 2009."

I don't mean to be snarky, but the "why" is that this was the topic given for this week. Matt picked an exciting moment from baseball's history and gave us a fresh analysis of it that will be useful as we watch future championships. Isn't that what good history, which was the assignment for this week, is supposed to do?

The criticism above is like saying last week "I'm not sure why Matt chose one player to focus on and write nothing else about."

Jun 22, 2009 06:12 AM
rating: 7
 
dcarroll

I think Goldman has a point. Doing history is not just finding old stats. It is telling a story that connects in some way to current interests, as in the recent column on Clint Hartung. The 1991 Series was exciting, but not obviously historically significant.

My apologies to Matt, whose work has been terrific, for my putting this comment here. This is really an issue with all of the contributions this week.

Jun 22, 2009 08:08 AM
rating: -1
 
Mountainhawk

It was one of the greatest World Series ever played. I can't imagine how it's "not historically significant".

Jun 22, 2009 08:23 AM
rating: 4
 
Bakestar

What else would had to have happened in the 1991 World Series to make it "historically significant"? The only ones in recent memory that are close are 2001 and 2004/2005 (which were dogs, but saw the end of two extremely long championship droughts).

Jun 22, 2009 08:32 AM
rating: 3
 
R.A.Wagman

I think dcarroll's point was not that the WS on its own was not historically significant - even crappy world series' are historically significant. His point, Goldman's point, and a point I now understand, is that historically significant is not enough. Historical significance is great when it can be tied to current relevance. In other peices, it led to points about lower current SB attempts per SB opportunity, or continuing changes to expectations both offensive or defensive for SSs or how we would judge the Babe on the mound in today's game. The opportunity for such a tie-in might have been there (takeaway about the potential weight of a DP over an HR for example) but was not pounced on.
Mr. Swartz's articles have thus far been very consistent and very good, but this may have been his weakest yet. Not to say it won't get my vote, but even the greatest writers have their lesser achievements.

Jun 22, 2009 08:38 AM
rating: -1
 
dcarroll

I was trying to suggest that an event needs a compelling narrative to be regarded as historically significant. Was it the end or the beginning of an era? Did it change baseball in some significant way? Were there any compelling personal stories?

So yes, the 2004 Series qualifies (although you are right that it was a dud), because it ended a long run of futility. But it might also be seen as the culmination of some changes in the way the Red Sox make decisions and allocate resources, and thus the beginning of a period of continued success.

Jun 22, 2009 10:15 AM
rating: -1
 
Mountainhawk

I found the 2004 ALCS way more significant than the 2004 WS. The 2004 WS was a boring snorefest, that no one that isn't a Red Sox fan will ever go back to watch with there kids to say 'that was a great series'.

The 1991 WS was the type of series that you can do that with. Game 7 was just an incredible event, one that you could watch in full over and over again on MLB Network.

Jun 22, 2009 10:26 AM
rating: 0
 
dsc250

See, all of this makes sense in the normal world of figuring out what to write about if you're trying to attract people to your site or you're trying to sell your work. But, it's a bit different when you are told you have a particular task and then you do it. The task was to write history. Matt wrote history. Then complaining that Matt wrote history is just absurd, especially from the people giving the task.

Jun 22, 2009 11:01 AM
rating: 3
 
R.A.Wagman

There is more to writing about history than the simple retelling of history. Writing well about history will enable some use of hindsight to extrapolate and learn from history. This isn't so much a complaint in this instance, as an urging to try to combine more analysis within the retelling

Jun 22, 2009 11:18 AM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Or, to paraphrase Bruce Catton, history should be a ripping good yarn.

Jun 22, 2009 11:48 AM
 
BurrRutledge

I share Goldman's perspective. History does not exist in a vacuum. If history can't be readily applied to life today, then it's probably an obituary and not much more. People can make a living writing obituaries, but I don't suscribe to BP to read them.

Setting that criticism aside, this is still not my favorite article from Matt. This is the first article on my randomization this week, so I don't know how it compares to the others yet.

My biggest problem on readability is that I got confused by the basic construct of the WE and CE always being from the Twins' perspective. When writing about good plays by the Braves, I expected an increase in the WE and CE that immediately followed in parentheses. That disconnect made me stop reading the article and start scanning around trying to understand what was going on. Eventually, I jumped to the end and found the explanation in the comments.

The competition is getting tighter, and that was Not a Good Sign (NGS), and not a thumbs up on the first reading. This is the first week that Matt stumbles, so maybe a thumbs up will be forthcoming based on previous performance... we'll see when I'm done reading the rest of the articles.

Jun 23, 2009 10:56 AM
rating: -3
 
BurrRutledge

My post above collected a "-2" rating in just a couple hours. Looks like the "connect history to the present" idea has really struck a nerve. Or, Matt has a loyal following who will negatively rate posts that are critical of him.

Jun 23, 2009 12:50 PM
rating: -1
 
Richard Bergstrom

-2 isn't much of a reaction to be honest... it seems people tend to give a - more than a +. You might've gotten it just because there are some big Matt fans out there who flag any comment they think hurts their chances.. or you got it because some people thought 1994 was "enough in the past" to count as history while Goldman didn't think so.

The indicator for me is whether enough people flag it to mark it as spam/inappropriate and the comment (and every other comment in that thread) gets minimized.

Jun 23, 2009 17:51 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Steven Goldman
BP staff

All writers need to give the reader a reason to click the link (or buy the book or the magazine, etc). You are ALWAYS trying to sell your work, and even those of us that make a living at this are on permanent audition. Writing history without topicality means that you're expecting the reader to click just out of sightseeing interest. It's usually not enough. Yes, we gave the writers the simple mandate to write about history, but I would argue that interpreting that mandate in a way that is compelling to as many readers as possible, not just those of us with the inclination to be tourists, was implicit in the challenge.

Jun 22, 2009 11:55 AM
 
dsc250

I agree - history should be interesting. But what I'm reacting to is the criticism you initially made about it not being linked to the present, and that's just a strange blanket criticism of historical writing. It's certainly one way to make history interesting, no doubt. But, as a requirement it's just not true, nor was it required of the participants in the assignment you gave them.

(Nor, should I mention, does it seem a requirement for you in judging, as the Babe Ruth piece was not connected to a current issue, but you raved about it. Now, it certainly could be, in your opinion, a better piece because of other things. That's fine. But, it has the same fault you jumped on Matt for, which you just ignore in the Babe Ruth piece.)

Jun 22, 2009 12:06 PM
rating: 2
 
BurrRutledge

I disagree. The Ruth piece relates to modern ball by evaluating his pitching in comparison to other eras, including modern times, by analyzing the Davenport Translations in a new and creative way.

Jun 23, 2009 12:57 PM
rating: 0
 
Mountainhawk

I understand that, but the 1991 World Series is a topic that just about sells itself, in my opinion. Now, when you pick a topic that sells itself, you have to make sure you get people's attention early, or they are going to stop if it's just like one of the many other things they've read on the topic.

Matt accomplished that, this was an article I enjoyed reading right through to the end.

Jun 22, 2009 12:13 PM
rating: 1
 
Matt Swartz

I agree that the 1991 World Series does stand on its own as a historical significant event, but in an effort to put in in context, the Hrbek-Harper-Hrbek 3-2-3 double play was the biggest defensive play in the entire history of Major League Baseball, if you buy Championship Expectancy as a metric.

There were only 10 plays in major league history that changed the odds of one team winning a World Series by a larger amount and all of them were run-scoring plays, hitting accomplishments. Even LCS games could not be more significant unless they ended in a bases loaded triple play by the road team in the bottom of the 9th or extra innings. I couldn't find an instance of that ever happening, which means that the 1991 World Series' historical significance is the biggest defensive play in the history of Major League Baseball.

Jun 22, 2009 16:06 PM
rating: 2
 
BurrRutledge

Yes, I am intrigued by that 3-2-3 double play - a very interesting fact that you uncovered, and it probably would have served you better to play it up more significantly in the opening paragraphs.

Rather than open by a discussion of sabermetrics and numbers vs. enjoying the game, perhaps start us off with the oft repeated cliche that pitching and defense wins championships. You can even toss in the recent evaluations of the re-emergence of the value of defense in building winning ballclubs, like the White Sox a few years ago, or last year's Rays. And then you drop the bomb shell on us - because you're going to tell us the story of *the most important defensive play in the history of the world series*.

I'm not suggesting that the topic isn't appropriate, just that I feel you could have found a better way to engage me in it. As Goldman said, history is a story. Pretend you're Mark Twain for a few minutes and you can really make this defensive play into amazing a story.

Jun 23, 2009 13:21 PM
rating: 2
 
rraymo1

I wish the charts were a bit more readable, but I guess that's something an editor probably would've fixed.

You could've removed the markers on each line and only added them to the points you were highlighting. Also, it would have been nice to see each game's WE plotted on the graph.

I understand that these guys are doing all the work on their own and they might not be an excel charting whiz, but I think BP needs to provide SOME help prettying up the articles. We're right in the middle of the competition, isn't it at that point when American Idol starts giving their contestants new wardrobes?

Jun 22, 2009 06:34 AM
rating: 0
 
jtrichey

I loved reliving this awesome Series. Win expectancies in-game can be pretty interesting to follow as well. BUT, in a 7 game series like this it has to be a given that the big moments are going to be in game 7. So it seemed kind of like a movie where I guessed the ending long before the ending even came around. Still well executed overall. Thumbs up.

Jun 22, 2009 06:42 AM
rating: 1
 
Mountainhawk

Matt,

If you've checked every single World Series, maybe you have this answer available.

What have been the biggest chokes/comebacks in terms of Championship expectancy? Has any team ever been over 98% and gone on to lose?

I'm just wondering how the percentage line up to the BP article a couple of years back on the biggest regular season collapses in terms of playoff probabilities.

Jun 22, 2009 07:04 AM
rating: 0
 
Bakestar

The Giants had to have been waaaaaay up there in Game Six of 2002. Five run lead in the 7th inning, PLUS the 50/50 on Game Seven.

As for Championship-thwarting defensive plays/miscues, I wonder where Mariano Rivera's wide throw on the bunt in the 9th inning of 2001 Game Seven would rank.

Great work Matt, thumbs up.

Jun 22, 2009 07:15 AM
rating: 2
 
Matt Swartz

No team has ever come from 3-0 so the worst after any game would have to be 3-1. Even if a team had a 0% WE in any game, it wouldn't leave them any worse than behind 3-1...unless they were losing Game 5. I just went through those and found the following....

The highest ever was the 1968 World Series-- the very last before Divisional Play began. The St. Louis Cardinals had a commanding 3-1 lead over the Detroit Tigers and an 87% WE with a 3-0 lead in the Top of the 4th with men on 1st and 2nd and 1 out. They failed to score and went on to lose the game 5-3 and the Series 4-3 after Detroit beat them 13-1 and 4-1 in Games 6 & 7. The Cardinals' CE% at its highest was 96.75%.

Jun 22, 2009 16:23 PM
rating: 1
 
Richard Bergstrom

What about the post-Bartman ball? The Cubs were up 3-2 in that series and 3-0 in the 8th inning at the time of the Bartman Ball at the time. How did the CE change with each of the subsequent events in the inning?

Jun 22, 2009 17:48 PM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

Some quibbles that stuck out to me (have not read other comments in case they were mentioned): CE references were inconsistent (CE always referred to the Twins and this can be clumsy/disconcerting in sentences referring to the Braves chances). Also, there was a missed takeaway in that it is often the chances missed (in terms of run probability) that define win expectancy matrices, and derivatives like CE.

Jun 22, 2009 08:15 AM
rating: 1
 
Mountainhawk

I think the CE always refering to the home team is the same as the traditional way of presenting WE, isn't it?

Jun 22, 2009 08:24 AM
rating: 0
 
timoseppa

Masterful. The quibbles are quibbles.

Jun 22, 2009 08:29 AM
rating: 2
 
Schere

Good work, overall. I have a couple of comments.

1. No conclusions drawn. Sure, we numbers people are fans, too, but I would like some analysis, not just a numbers-assisted trip down memory lane. Some suggestions made by other posters above (it's all about the outs, or the missed opportunities). Or at least discussion of what CE adds to our understanding of the game.

2. I'm sure many will disagree, but - Too linear. Maybe I'm too accustomed to reading Christina, but there were a thousand interesting side trips to take here. Obviously you can't take 'em all, but I'd have a better idea of how you write and think if you took one or two of them: it's not a term paper. You mention that you're going to use a 50% WE for each following game, and your comments here show you're aware of the benefits and drawbacks of doing that...isn't that worth a few words? And, again, maybe I'm addicted to snark, but are you really going to leave Fay Vincent's quote unsmirked upon? It's core to BP (in my view) that such meaningless marketing drivel isn't taken at face value. Or was the smirk implicit?

3. I agree with an above commenter - you could have used twice the words to address this fully. Which suggests you might have bitten off more than you should have for this assignment.

Summary - I enjoyed it a ton, but so many questions are raised that I want more. So, pretty good.

Jun 22, 2009 08:51 AM
rating: 0
 
Schere

I like it more on rereading. Nice work.

Jun 22, 2009 14:25 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Matt's articles often have great tangents and side trips.

Jun 22, 2009 17:44 PM
rating: 0
 
gjhardy

I was in England during the 1991 Series and the only report I saw in anything resembling real time was "Twins win World Series, 1-0." Tough to take. I think Matt takes a very interesting approach and highlights the key points, further pointing out how the "big moments" he remembered were not actually the biggest ones. Big thumbs up.

Jun 22, 2009 12:01 PM
rating: 0
 
Andrew
(38)

I liked the piece, but once again, I'd rather have an actual table of data, than a picture of a table of data. It can't be read by screen readers, nor can the text be re-sized for those with impaired vision.

Jun 22, 2009 13:05 PM
rating: 0
 
Evan
(47)

"I want to see a live chart of this in this year's playoffs"

Uhh, Will - doesn't Fangraphs do this for every game every single day?

http://www.fangraphs.com/livescoreboard.aspx

Jun 22, 2009 14:39 PM
rating: 0
 
Tim Kniker

I think the issue is that while it's down for the winner of a given game, can FanGraphs also do a Championship percentage and not just a Win percentage for the given game.

Jun 22, 2009 14:43 PM
rating: 1
 
Evan
(47)

I think the math required to convert one to the other would be trivial.

Jun 22, 2009 16:43 PM
rating: 0
 
Mountainhawk

Given the 50% assumption, yes.

Jun 22, 2009 17:47 PM
rating: 0
 
Scherer

I'm surprised by the number of negative comments to this article. So far, this is the only article I've read this week that rates more than "just barely readable". I think Matt found an interesting way to tell a story.

To prove I was reading critically, I will offer a few criticisms. First, you demonstrate but don't address the fact that CE is highly leveraged. A huge play in the 5th inning of game 1 just ain't like a huge play while tied in the eighth inning of game 7. Two, the graphs don't really add much to presentation. Three, your obvious Twins fanhood doesn't enhance the story for (most) anybody who isn't also a Twins fan.

Mr. Goldman's criticisms I find just plain silly. A history piece needs to tie directly to today? Does that mean I have to discard my David Halberstam books? As for this being an "October article" and not a "June article", I haven't seen a seasonal theme among the other entries (so far), and I also have not seen the same criticism leveled.

Yes, there are some flaws, both in conception and execution, but this is still, overall, a very good piece.

Jun 23, 2009 15:43 PM
rating: 2
 
Matt Swartz

Thanks for the compliments. I'm glad you like the piece and the concept of CE. While you are right that CE swings are obviously larger in game 7 (IF the Series gets that far), this was a pretty extreme game 7. I did debate including the graphs. Thanks for the feedback on that. As to your third criticism, I'm actually not a Twins fan at all. I'm a hardcore Phillies phan. I just really liked and still like the 1991 Series.

Jun 23, 2009 16:36 PM
rating: 1
 
Mountainhawk

I knew there was something about you that I just liked.

Go Phillies! :)

Jun 23, 2009 18:27 PM
rating: 1
 
Evan
(47)

It was an interesting story, and one worth telling, but all he really did was hand us win expectancy charts.

I love WE charts, and I routinely used them to follow games, but they're no longer sufficiently novel to carry an article.

Jun 24, 2009 10:06 AM
rating: 0
 
Brian Van Dorn

I loved the piece, but you're going to confuse fans who are wondering why the Braves used a fat Kevin Mitchell to pinch run (and attempt a steal) in the 11th inning of game 6.

It was actually Keith Mitchell.

Jun 23, 2009 18:30 PM
rating: 2
 
Matt Swartz

D'oh! I remember writing that and being like "I don't remember two Kevin Mitchells but it must be a different one." I'm glad you loved the piece otherwise.

Jun 23, 2009 18:36 PM
rating: 0
 
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