It’s Not the Quality of the World Series That’s Keeping Me Away
And just like that, the World Series is almost over and SpreeGoogs hasn’t written a word about it. As the post count would suggest, I haven’t been entirely interested in this year’s Classic. Not that it’s been unimportant — the Rangers’ first title is definitely a milestone that nearly everyone in Texas would remember for a long time — but this year’s series just hasn’t grabbed me. Which doesn’t make sense, because the games have been phenomenal. The 7th through 11thinnings of tonight’s game were a perfect snapshot of a great series that I just don’t care about.
And I don’t think it’s just me. I think the world has just gotten to a point where the World Series isn’t as relevant as it used to be. You can probably say that baseball isn’t as important as it used to be, but that’s an entirely different argument and I don’t think that’s the case.
My problem with the World Series is that it just doesn’t feel like an appropriate way to finish the MLB season and pick a deserving winner. Strap on your calculating shoes because I’m about to lay down some capital-m Math.
I typically hate to make cross-sport comparisons, but in this case, there’s just no way around it. To start, let’s take a look at some numbers about the regular seasons in the three major American sports, using data from the most recently completed full season.
Each team plays 162 games
Best regular season winning percentage: .630 (Phillies)
Worst regular season winning percentage: .346 (Astros)
Difference between best and worst: .284
Each team plays 82 games
Best regular season winning percentage: .756 (Bulls)
Worst regular season winning percentage: .207 (Timberwolves)
Difference between best and worst: .549
Each team plays 16 games
Best regular season winning percentage: .875 (Patriots)
Worst regular season winning percentage: .125 (Panthers)
Difference between best and worst: .750
Here’s what all this means: Sure the baseball season is really long. But it has to be. Across the major sports, the shorter seasons also show drastic differences between the teams that are winners and those that are losers. It’s not a sampling error. The good teams really are that much better than the bad teams.
The difference between the best and worst teams in the MLB is half that of the NBA and close to a third of the difference in the NFL. Baseball is just a numbers game that takes a large sample size to see any sort of legitimate determinations. Baseball’s playoff season is the hardest to qualify for because the regular season provides a huge number of games to determine which teams are truly the best, because the league is just that close.
Now let’s look at the playoff structures of the three leagues:
30 teams in the league
8 make the playoffs
3 round playoff following a 5-7-7 format (11 wins needed to win championship)
30 teams in the league
16 make the playoffs
4 rounds following a 7-7-7-7 format (16 wins needed to win championship)
32 teams in the league
12 make the playoffs
Wild card round plus 3 rounds (8 teams need 4 wins, 4 teams need 3 wins = average of 3.66 wins needed to win championship)
As the regular season shows, in baseball, it’s understood that a larger sample size is needed to determine which teams truly are the best. So why is the postseason so short?
The 11 wins needed to win the World Series represent only 6.8% of the regular season. The NBA’s 16 wins represent 19.5% of the regular season and the NFL’s 3.66 wins represent 22.8% of the regular season. Relatively speaking, a seven-game World Series is relatively miniscule.
The problem is that everyone knows that baseball needs more data to separate the good from the bad, so why is the postseason so drastically short? Unfortunately I’m not the person who decides the length of the MLB postseason (3 rounds of 11-game series?), but I will say that maybe the reason I can’t get into the MLB postseason is that I just don’t feel like the method is actually determining the best team.
Maybe I’m spoiled by more definitive playoffs. Maybe baseball has been around for 100+ years and doesn’t need to change at all. Maybe I’m not the only sports fan who watched the Ravens-Jaguars imposter of a game on Monday (11 yards of offense for Baltimore in the first half) instead of a pivotal Game 4 of the World Series.