Tuesday, October 21, 2014

An Exciting World Series

I hate this World Series. I hate the Giants who are trying to win their third championship in five years even though almost the exact same team was unable to make the playoffs in those other two years. I hate any sentence that involves the phrase “even number year.” I hate that the Giants’ best hitter is their catcher. Not that Buster Posey isn’t amazing, but any team that can’t get at least a better AVG or SLG from any other position should be ashamed of itself. I hate how even with Matt Cain injured and Tim Lincecum far past the point of being a viable starter that the Giants were able to still find enough quality starts to make it to the postseason.

As much as I hate the Giants though, it’s nothing compared to how much I despise the Royals. Sure, this all started because I didn’t want the Blue Jays to have the longest postseason drought in the league, but with every unlikely walkoff win I find myself hating this team a little more. Simply put, this team has no business being here, and they’re stealing an opportunity from a much more deserving team.

David Schoenfield has explained how this is basically the worst World Series matchup of all time. The Royals were 9th in runs scored, 4th in runs against, and had only the 7th best win-expectancy in the American League. I wish I could attribute their overachievement to effective managing, but 8 playoff games have been more than enough to disprove that. For as pathetic they’ve been as a team though, individually they’ve been even worse.

No player on the Royals hit 20 home runs. Only 3 players even managed to hit 10 balls out of the park. No American League pennant winner has done even one of those since the 1959 White Sox (excluding shortened seasons). In fact only the 1982 Cardinals have won the pennant without players hitting for such power since the mound was lowered in 1969.

Highest individual RBI total on the Royals: Alex Gordon’s 74. Last AL pennant winner to not have a player reach 75 RBIs in a non-shortened season: The 1916 Boston Red Sox. That includes a lot of teams playing 154-game seasons.

The Royals don’t even walk. Alex Gordon led the team with 65 walks. Only two teams (2010 Rangers, 1990 Reds) were able to win a pennant without hitting that threshold since the mound was lowered. Alex Gordon also led the team with a .432 slugging percentage. Another feat unaccomplished by an AL pennant winner since the mound was lowered, and occurred only once in the NL (1973 Mets).

If there are no batting stars, maybe at least there are some pitchers to attract people to watch! Wins may be an outdated stat but the Royals are only the second AL pennant winner (2008 Rays) to not have a 15-game winner since the mound was lowered. They do have that amazing bullpen though, and if the game reaches the 7th inning before I fall asleep I’ll be excited to watch them.

I really wanted to turn this into a referendum on the current playoff format, unfortunately that’s tough to do. The Giants wouldn’t have made the playoffs under the previous system, but the Royals would have been the traditional Wild Card team. Expanding the first round to seven games wouldn’t have even done much as the Royals would have been up 3-0 going into the fourth game of the ALDS at home against the Angels.

Instead I’ll write about what it means to have an exciting playoffs. The games this year have been close, competitive, with frequent extra-inning affairs and walkoff hits. Many of them from unlikely sources such as Kolten Wong or Travis Ishikawa. The underdog mentality, focused on both the players and the teams, seems to bring fans to their feet and cheer. But is this really what we should be celebrating during the playoffs?

MLB plays a 162-game season, precisely because the game-to-game variability in baseball requires such a large sample size before the good and bad teams can be differentiated. Unfortunately the playoffs present the exact opposite scenario. A one game series, followed by a best-of-five series, followed by two best-of-seven series, with a ton of offdays squeezed in don’t truly capture the seasonal flow of baseball. That can make them exciting because it creates a situation where anyone can win. The problem is that when anyone can win, anyone can win. This year is a prime example.

Baseball is exciting already. There’s no need to manufacture situations to create more excitement. When that happens we end up with undeserving winners. The underdog story is fun, but it leaves a sour taste in your mouth. In the future when we look back at the narrative and storylines of the 2014 season, at no point until the final pages will we ever think read either the Royals or Giants are the best team. That isn’t a fun twist ending, it’s a bait-and-switch.

I don’t think that we need to go back to having only 1 or 2 teams make the playoffs in each league. Different schedules and injuries aren’t necessarily well reflected in the standings. The playoff structure could use revisions though to ensure that the best teams are given their earned advantages. I’m not against the excitement of an underdog, but I do find it more exciting watching the best teams face off against each other.

Then again, if the Royals are going to win 8 straight games none of this matters anyway. 

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