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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Tournament randomness is cured only by its elimination.

That's one reason I don't make specific predictions.  Another is that nobody cares what I think.

In October, Exceptions Rule, Most of the Time
OCT. 4, 2014 by TYLER KEPNER, The New York Times

the only real truth about October: Nobody knows anything
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Baltimore swept Detroit in three games despite Detroit starting the three most recent American Conference Cy Young award winners in each game:
Max Scherzer 2013 lost game 1
Justin Verlander 2011
David Price 2012 (with Tampa) lost game 3.

Detroit also had Miguel Cabrera, 2012 and 2013 MVP.

LA Dodger Clayton Kershaw won the National Conference Cy Young award in 2011 and 2013.  He'll probably win again in 2014 and maybe also be voted the MVP.  But against St. Louis Kershaw continued his poor tournament pitching and blew a 6-1 lead and lost game one.  Now Dodger manager Don Mattingly is reportedly going to make a panic move and start Kershaw on short rest in game four.

Despite having the best player and probable 2014 American Conference MVP, Mike Trout, the American Conference top seeded Angels were swept by bottom seed Kansas City.  National Conference top seed Washington avoided being swept by bottom seed San Francisco by beating its top pitcher Madison Bumgarner who had to pitch in the wild card game to beat Pittsburgh and so could not start until game three.

Some attribute this randomness to the first round being only best of five and not seven like the next two rounds.  It's generally assumed that the more games that two teams play against each other, the more likely the better team will win.  But what's better than 162 games against many teams to determine the best of the bunch?  Isn't that how we are deciding which teams are tops and then attributing upsets accordingly?  The Angels and Washington Nationals had the most wins in their conferences, so they must be the best teams, right?

So why not just have those two teams play each other for the championship?  Why go through this charade of a tournament and complain when the best teams do not reach the finals?

The problem with changing round one from five to seven games is that with the two wild cards the one seed should have its pitchers in optimum order and the wild card survivor almost certainly will not.  In a five game series the wild card team can start its best pitcher only once.  In a seven game series, if wild card team can avoid being swept, it can start it's best pitcher twice.  To hope for three starts is unrealistic.

Leave the current tournament format alone.  Let it breath.  If you really want to crown a true champion, eliminate the tournament.  Otherwise, live with its randomness.

Bobby Richardson, New York Yankees 1963
via Wikimedia Commons
The 1960 World Series defines randomness.  If the scores of the Yankees and Pirates are sorted in descending order and compared, the Yankees sweep all seven games.  Yet the Pirates won 4-3,  The actual alignment of runs scored from one baseball game to the next is random.  If the Pirates could beat the Yankees, despite the Yankees scoring 16, 12, 10 , 9, and shutting out the Pirates twice (10-0, 12-0) then anything can happen is any series whether seven or five games.

Yankee second baseman Bobby Richardson was voted 1960 WS MVP, the only one ever from a losing team.

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