October 3, 2012
What We Didn't See Coming
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:
In our preseason preview of that division, one of the questions about the A's was:
And one of the answers to that question was:
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.