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      Baseball Is Basically a Random Number Generator

      October 6, 2012

      By Lou Doggs

      Baseball is over if you want it be. Just kidding. It’s not at all over; it’s totally just begun. Twenty-two teams are technically DOA—Texas and Atlanta are the freshest on the pile, separately eliminated Friday—but the remaining eight are trudging ahead in increasingly important games, trying to get playoff shares and glory, I guess. Baseball super-nerds may protest, but with all due respect to the good people who watch Royals-Indians in the nude in April, the impossibly tense, overly important playoff games are flawless entertainment, the lot's best, despite, or perhaps because, there are fewer each night.

      Baseball’s regular season lends itself to contemplation and near-Talmudic study, since there’s so much of it and so much data to parse, but with the playoffs, of course, it’s different. It’s straight-up, unpredictable chaos, and if anyone tells you different, they’re either from Staten Island or over 75. Staking your reputation on playoff baseball prognostication is idiotic. Baseball, especially playoff baseball, is much more random than other sports. So there won’t be any of that here. But some questions come up, and I feel like answering them, so I am.

      Who’s winning?

      Well, you see, I was saying I wasn’t going to do that. The thing about baseball is that you can’t really predict-

      Hi, I don’t repeat myself. Who’s winning? Who wins the World Series? And the other games before the World Series, who’s winning those?  

      Well, look. I could explain to you stuff about usage rate and walk rates and pitch selections and arm angles and hot zones and goatee-to-Affliction-shirt matrices and necklace ratios, but it’s absolutely impossible to predict with certainty who’s going to come out ahead in a postseason series, let alone any random game any time of the year. Even if you played baseball as a kid and through college and in the Majors, and then scouted and coached and managed and evaluated and signed and traded professional players, and on top of that, read websites that had peppy statistical baseball analysis and hung out with people who wear bowties who also watch baseball, you’re still not going to do much better than a coin flip. It's a poorly kept secret that no one talking about baseball knows anything. We're all D students. Or at least, not even the smartest minds can account for all the weird fucking surprises that come up during any of the infinite situations for straight chaos in a baseball game. 

      Here are a couple from Friday. The team with the most talent in the AL lost to what’s probably the worst team in the playoffs, who was starting its worst pitcher. The starting pitcher for Texas, the good team, has like, the best off-speed stuff in the game. That barely mattered since the American League's best collection of right-handed hitters couldn't break through against a pitcher who not only stinks in general but stinks against Texas and stinks against right-handed hitters. To top it off, Texas was the best team in baseball for like half the year and only played Friday since they swooned out of nowhere to let Oakland, a team that’s basically 99% rookie pitchers, overtake them on the final day of the season. What I’m saying is that I’d have picked Texas to win everything before the season started, but shit and surprises happen so often in baseball that it's less an issue of adjusting to deflation than it is being mildly surprised things stayed as expected as long as they had.

      My grandmother says baseball is the best because all the teams who make the playoffs are good, and that because of the extra Wild Card, it’s different.

      Not sure who you are or who your grandmother is (or if bodyless question spheres even have grandmothers), but she’s right, man. Actually, wait. No. She’s wrong. Plenty of terrible teams have won the World Series. The Cardinals in 2006 were stinkers, and they were kind of gross last year. There's an argument to be made that the 2001 Diamondbacks were the worst-managed team of all-time, though they did have some studs. The Orioles, who stat geeks think are this year’s worst team, beat the good team I was talking about just now, up there. Baltimore has lasted so far mainly since it wins close games and has a really good bullpen. Counting Friday, the Orioles are 75-0 when they’re ahead in the eighth.

      Premise 1, still pissed off: Wait, what the fuck? They suck because they win close games? How’s that possible?

      Well, baseball teams sometimes just win on luck. You know when Willie McCovey hit the ball super hard in the 1962 World Series right to a guy? Well, if you don't, it was a thing. He really whacked it, like, whacked it. And if it had gone a bit to the left or to the right, his team would have won. You can compare that to the time when Luis Gonzalez hit the worst squibber ever off the best reliever ever and his team, the poorly managed Diamondbacks, won the 2001 World Series. So you can't win for trying. Baseball, God bless it, is a random number generator. Even if your team is made up of a bunch of Satanic baseball-playing robots that chew batteries and glass before the first pitch, it will still lose nearly half its games, since machines get short circuits when they get sweaty doing PFPs in spring training. And, to boot, there’s no way to predict which reliever will be good and which will totally stink. Usually they do both. So, getting back to it, Baltimore's bullpen has a good chance of shitting the bed this week against the Yankees, but hey, it might not. No one knows. Manager Buck Showalter and GM Dan Duquette, the two guys taking champagne showers pictured above, would probably tell you they could've picked a better group of guys before the season started. But it's worked out--or at least worked--and it's not real big shakes if the Orioles bullpen sucks next year, and the rest of the team follows suit. We know it's luck.

      That said, saying shit is just luck is also an incredibly vague, non-committal, and weak way of looking at things, and you can't really do it until you have enough money to retire or a head of white hair. Obviously, shit happens both ways, and on paper the O’s aren’t very good. But if the team is 75-0 when leading after seven innings, which it is now, then there’s at least something working with their bullpen. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily going to keep happening, but it might be something no one in baseball has figured out except for the two guys dancing underneath a champagne shower. (See above.)

      That doesn’t help me at all.

      No problem, glad I could help. 

      @SamReiss

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      Topics: sports, baseball, based-ball, mathematics, 5%er-stuff, satanic-robots, 1962-the-year-in-failures, explaining-stuff-like-stufffff

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