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October 3, 2012

BP Unfiltered

What We Didn't See Coming

by Sam Miller

The great thing about probabilities, the best thing, is that nobody short of God can ever prove you wrong. You say there's a 99 percent chance of rain? If it rains, you're right. If it doesn't rain, you're right. Just give a number greater than zero and less than one and you're good to go. 

On June 30, the Oakland A's were 13 games back of the Rangers, and our playoff odds measured their chances of winning the AL West at ... zero. Zero percent. No chance. One of only two ways to have a provably wrong probability. Oh, but that's not all. June 30, the A's low-water mark in the standings, was one of 46 days that our playoff odds gave them a 0 percent chance in the West. The first was in April. The last was in July. 

Now, to be clear: Zero doesn't really mean zero. We round these things. Zero might mean zero, but it might just mean less than 1 in 2,001. (The Orioles chances of winning the division, if you're curious, have been at zero three days this year.) 

Those playoff odds may have been wrong, but they certainly weren't out of line with our words. For instance, there was episode 87 of Up and In, in which I suggested before the season that the A's wouldn't compete for perhaps five or six years, and oh wait it gets much much worse: 

Sam: A lot of A's fans, like one in 15 A's fans is actually going to be dead, gone from this Earth within five or six years. 
Kevin: That's bad math!
Sam: One in 15 adults is probably too much, yeah. But a large number of people are not going to be around to enjoy the next good A's team.
Kevin: "Many of their fans will be dead by the time they're good."
Sam: Many will be alive, though.

There was also this piece, written in June by resident A's expert Jason Wojciechowski, under the headline "Oakland Is Just Terrible (No Offense)." A's expert Jason Wojciechowski: 

Not that it really matters whether they hit better or not. Even if everyone regresses to what PECOTA thinks they're capable of, which involves a whole lot more regression upward than downward, their playoff odds as of this writing stand at 0.4 percent, up from 0.0 percent before Monday's game. The A's, 12-1 wins over the Rangers and near no-hitters thrown by phenom starters aside, are well and truly done.

In our preseason preview of that division, one of the questions about the A's was:

5) Can the A’s front-office survive a potential 100-loss season without losing its Hollywood shine? 

And one of the answers to that question was: 

The current version of the team isn't trying. If they lose 100 games, well, they traded all their good pitchers. Of course they lost 100 games! 

And it feels like a letdown at this point to remind everybody that our staff picks tabbed the A's as the likely last-place team in the AL West, with none of our 27 ballots picking them as a wild card team. I bring this up not to embarrass anybody; after all, I'm sure every one of us would have given the A's at least a one-in-a-million shot at the division, so every one of us totally called it. But in a few hours a pretty unexpectedly special game is going to happen, and so here's your unnecessary reminder of just how unexpectedly special it is. 

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

Related Content:  Oakland Athletics,  Al West

9 comments have been left for this article.

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