Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday Forum: Our Postseason Picks

I (this is Bill, hi!) used to really hate postseason predictions. They're pretty pointless, really. Even the "worst" playoff team has a pretty decent chance of beating the best, especially in a five-game series, and that people spend so much time analyzing these things and declaring what the key factors are and all that just seems silly to me. They're always wrong; the Yankees could be playing the Tigers and everyone could agree that the key factor for New York is Robinson Cano, and you can pretty much count on Cano going 2-for-15 and the Yankees winning in three. My little statement in this regard, for the past couple years, has been to flip a coin to determine the playoff results, and then sort of reverse-engineer a phony justification for the picks.

Well, a few things happened: (1) we have this whole staff now; (2) it occurred to me that pointless and fun/interesting aren't necessarily mutually exclusive; and (3) the coin flip results worked out terribly twice in a row (2009, 2010). So, I polled the staff and got everybody's predictions, and you can see them below. I also flipped a coin, because I just can't stop. So here they are, with explanations below the table:

Coin Flip
(TEX vs. TB)
Rays in 5
Rangers in 4
Rangers (59%) in 4
Rays in 5
Rangers in 4
(NYY vs. DET)
Tigers in 5
Tigers in 5
Yankees (54%) in 4
Yankees in 4
Yankees in 3
(MIL vs. AZ)
Brewers in 3
Brewers in 4
Diamondbacks (52%) in 5
Brewers in 4
Diamondbacks in 5
(PHI vs. STL)
Phillies in 4
Phillies in 3
Phillies (77%) in 3
Phillies in 3
Phillies in 5

Rays in 7 (over DET)
Rangers in 6 (over DET)
Rangers in 6
(over NYY)
Rays in 6 (over NYY)
Yankees in 5 (over Tex)
Phillies in 6 (over MIL)
Brewers in 7 (over PHI)
Phillies in 5 (over AZ)
Brewers in 6 (over PHI)
Diamondbacks in 7 (over PHI)
World Series
Rays in 7 (over PHI)
Brewers in 5 (over TEX)
Phillies in 7 (over TEX)
Brewers in 6 (over TB)
Diamondbacks in 7 (over NYY)

True to form, I did not apply a system or even put all that much thought into my picks. I think the Rangers, over the course of the season, have been a better team than the Rays. But I don't think it's by much, and with a healthy Longoria and Matt Moore doing the David Price/K-Rod thing out of the bullpen [note: now they've switched it up on us and made him game 1 starter, but either way], I think there's a good chance the Rays pull it out. I'm sure the Yankees are a better team than the Tigers, but I think Verlander dominates twice and the Tigers find a way to win one of the intervening three. I've been crapping on the Diamondbacks all year, so I don't see why I should stop now. I just can't see any way the Phillies lose to the Cards, or any way I put up with more than four or five games of TLR overmanagement.

Nobody's watching the Tigers and the Rays, so who cares who wins? I could see it going either way. The Phillies overpower the Brewers, but then their starters start to run out of gas a bit, and this time, in a rematch of 2008, the Rays find a way to make it happen..

Verlander and Scherzer (who has good success against the Yankees in a handful of starts) should be enough to push the Tigers past the Yankees, especially with the righty-heavy Detroit lineup getting a added boost against Sabathia.  In the other division series, the Rangers have strong left-handed pitching and are well rested in comparison to the Rays, who may suffer from a hangover effect following their big win on Wednesday.  The Common Man expects Michael Young go off like gangbusters just to spite him.  In the ALCS, the Rangers will topple the Tigers, since Verlander will probably only be able to go twice.  Mike Napoli uses this national stage to symbolically raise his middle finger in the direction of Mike Scioscia and Tony Reagins.

The Phillies are poised to dominate the tired and injured Cardinals.  Their pitching has been dynamite all season, obviously, but their lineup will benefit from only having to face one lefty (Jaimie Garcia) in this series.  In the other matchup, the Brewers will reap the rewards of their huge homefield advantage and jump out to a two-game lead over the Diamondbacks, with Prince Fielder making a statement. The NLCS will be a brawl, going the full seven and with the two clubs trading blows.  The Brewers, with the superior offense, will get in some good shots, but their pitching (which has been lights out in the second half) is good enough to go toe to toe with the Phillies' aces.  TCM has a good feeling about the Brewers being able to slip by the Phils. 

In the World Series, then, the Brewers are going to jump all over the Rangers, pounding them into submission and fulfilling The Common Man's prediction from this Spring that they'd be the World Champs.

You may have noticed that I’m a bit of a nerd. My answer to “who’s going to win each playoff series" was developed last night by building a spreadsheet with my guesses about each playoff team’s lineup versus lefties and righties and playoff rotation and smushing a bunch of numbers together (wOBA for hitters with an ad hoc adjustment for platoon advantage; ERA- for pitchers) to arrive at a guess of runs scored and allowed for each game of the series. Plug those runs into Pythagenpat and you get win probabilities. Multiply out the combinations of those individual-game probabilities and you get series probabilities (e.g. Rays in four = 13%). There aren’t enough pixels in the world to list all the limitations of the method: I mostly used unregressed current-season statistics; didn’t adjust for park or home-field advantage; platoon advantage is made up and uniform; lineups and rotations are probably wrong; used PA/game figures from the early 2000s; bullpens (!) and defense are not accounted for; and I’m generally a rank amateur. Anyway, anyone who wants to see the thing in all its glory can go here.

One sentence about each series: the Rangers have a bevy of righty hitters, which isn't great for David Price and Matt Moore; Justin Verlander single-handedly gives the Tigers a chance; picking a team with Willie Bloomquist apparently batting leadoff makes me very nervous; and good gracious is the Philadelphia pitching dominant.

I only used the spreadsheet for the Division Series. Guessing who's going to be pitching out as far as the LCS, much less the World Series, was too much. The Yankees' best starter being a lefty wouldn't seem to match up well with Texas, and the Diamondbacks just aren't good enough for Philadelphia. The World Series, then, would be an offense vs. defense battle more fun than a barrel of polecats.

AL: I like the Rays’ pitching better than the Rangers’ in a short series, and I think the Rays have enough offensive firepower to take down the Rangers. In the Tigers-Yankees series, the Yankees have an obviously better team, and I would love to see CC take down Verlander just for the sheer horror on the writers’ faces that all assumed Verlander was the Cy Young winner. As for the ALCS, sometimes you just have upsets, and while the Rays have done a nice job, beating the Yankees will be an upset of sorts. But it’s another lesson in the playoffs as a weighted crapshoot.

NL: I think the Diamondbacks are probably the worst team in the playoffs, which isn’t the insult you might think it is, and I think the Brewers could be a real powerhouse. I’ll give the Diamondbacks a game, but it’s a somewhat reluctant gift. As for the other NLDS, I just want the Cardinals to die. Is that too much to ask (/sobs uncontrollably). Moving (/recomposes himself) to the NLCS, I’m going way out on a limb again, which I didn’t mean to do twice but oh well. The Brewers 1-3 of Gallardo, Marcum, and Greinke is really good, and I think, while they aren’t as good as what the Phillies have, they are the team best equipped all the way around to actually beat the Phillies.

World Series: I really like the Rays, but I’m riding the Brewers as my darkhorse. I’ve just got a feeling. I realize that’s probably not okay for a guy who advocates advanced stats to admit, but I’m taking the argument that advanced stats tell us it’s a weighted crapshoot so I get to just make crap up. I realize that’s a terrible argument, but if all those darn BBWAA writers can do it, I can, too.

The Coin
The penny that was flipped was minted in 1982. It was 19 years old in 2001, and really came of age that year. College, 9/11, first serious relationship, etc. Accordingly, the penny really wanted to see a rematch of the Yankees and Diamondbacks, and sees it coming out exactly the same way now as it did then.

I did it a bit differently this year, flipping a coin for each game rather than each series, heads representing a win for the team that would have home-field advantage in the series and tails a win for the other. Heads seemed to come up a lot, so the coin mostly picked everything not involving the D-Backs.

So we'll revisit this in a few weeks. Unless it's somehow just embarrassing to everyone involved (if, say, the Tigers or Cardinals win it all), in which case we'll probably just pretend it didn't happen.


William Tasker - Caribou, ME said...

I marked down my scorecard for you guys. Although I thought that TCM was a little low on the TIP scale there.

Bill said...

Well, there go my picks.

Jason Wojciechowski said...

The coin and I both think Arizona could win the next three.