I get it: math's not cool. There's no social capital to be gained from knowing linear algebra or Zeno's paradoxes or how to add. But come on: at a certain point some examples of Sports Math are simple enough that they should enter the realm of Sports Common Sense. And fucking that math up is just sloppy, lazy or both. One example: playoff odds.
Jeff Passan has written good stuff. I heartily enjoyed learning
that Ichiro gives a profanity-laden motivational speech deriding the National League before every All-Star Game. But seriously, dude, if you're doing a playoff odds piece
, just make sure your numbers are somewhat close to adding up to 100%. Otherwise, you end up with shit like this (cut up and pasted):Chicago White Sox
Now, we know that at minimum, one team from the AL Central will definitely make the playoffs. That's how the rules work. But according to Passan, the White Sox have a 1 in 9 shot, the Twins the same, and the Tigers a 1 in 16 shot. Add those probabilities together and you get 11.11% + 11.11% + 6.25% = 28.47% ... meaning there is at least a 71.53% chance that someone else -- that is, the Royals or the Indians -- will win the Central. Congrats, Royals fans!
This isn't hard. I know it's all funny and hilarious and cool to say "Ha ha, I suck at math" or "There's a reason I didn't become a mathematician" or "I have a math-related learning disability" -- Lord knows I often introduce myself at cocktail parties with the last phrase and always get huge laughs -- but if you're writing a playoff odds piece, then it's inherently, at least in part, a math piece too. Sorry. You chose to build this house made out of shit, now you gotta get your hands dirty forming these shit bricks. Or something.
For comparison, Baseball Prospectus has the following playoff odds
:Chicago White Sox
In other words, the Sox are something like 2/5 shots, the Twins are a little worse than 2/1, and the Tigers are -- hey -- 15/1, or close to it.
BP's numbers leave the Royals at 0.22737% to make the playoffs. Sorry, Royals fans.
Postscript: Kudos, Jeff, on listing run differentials in your column.
Post-postscript: If any reader wants to run all the numbers team by team, division by division to show who Passan is really picking for the playoffs, I will welcome your email and question your life priorities.
Labels: jeff passan, math