Friday night, the Philadelphia Phillies, seemingly built for October baseball, were eliminated from the cruel postseason in the first round. The New York Yankees’ season ended in similar fashion as, despite being heavily favored and owning home-field advantage (like the Phillies), they failed to defeat the nationally surprising Detroit Tigers. Who would have thought? Unsurprisingly, not many.
Before the 2011 baseball season, ESPN polled 45 of their analysts and writers; predictions for the year by each individual were gathered, and all were released in a neat summary, with names next to each season forecast, on opening day. Each one made educated guesses at who they thought would make the playoffs (listing division winners and wild cards for both leagues) and included a World Series prediction in the format ‘Team A’ over ‘Team B’.
Essentially, 45 members of the Worldwide Leader picked 90 teams to reach the World Series. 42 of 45 picked the Boston Red Sox to reach the Fall Classic (33 to win), 27 thought the Phillies would be playing in the final series of 2011 (only seven picked them to win it), 12 had the Atlanta Braves in the Series (only two had them winning), and four picked the San Fransisco Giants to win the NL Pennant (only one thought they would be world champs). That all adds up to four teams picked a total of 85 times to reach the World Series. Only one of those teams, the Phillies, made the playoffs, and they have since been vanquished by the St. Louis Cardinals.
In addition to the four aforementioned clubs, one analyst each picked the Yankees, Colorado Rockies, Chicago White Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, and Milwaukee Brewers to reach the World Series; Jim Caple and David Kull even picked the White Sox and Rockies respectively to win it.
The four teams left standing today, however, are the Brewers, Cardinals, Tigers, and Texas Rangers. The Brewers were the only team included in any of the 45 World Series predictions made by the ESPN experts, and the one man who picked them to come out of the National League, Jonah Keri, thought they would eventually lose to the Red Sox.
Out of the four remaining teams, only one, according to the majority of ESPN’s staff, was supposed to even make the playoffs. 31 surveyed picked Texas to make the playoffs (one, Mark Saxon, picked them as the AL Wild Card and had Oakland winning the division). Props to the 31 of 45 who got that right. On the other hand, only ten had Milwaukee in the postseason (two as a wild card), seven had St. Louis (one, Mark Mulder, who finished his playing career with the Cardinals, correctly picked them as the NL wild card), and six had Detroit (two as a wild card).
I’d like to note, this article isn’t meant to bash ESPN. Their information was simply the most accessible. The point is this; it doesn’t matter how many different sabermetrics you’re familiar with, or which ones you value more highly than others. Even if you prefer simple, timeworn counting statistics like pitcher wins and RBI, one thing is certain and applies to all: you can’t predict baseball. Especially not the playoffs.
The Tigers, for example, were led past the Yankees, who boasted the best regular season record in the AL, by unheralded players such as Don Kelly and Max Scherzer in the ALDS; their series-clinching victory was won by Doug Fister, a mid-season acquisition. Jim Leyland doesn’t do math. He doesn’t have a crystal ball. He manages a baseball team, and his baseball team this year, like a few others, has shattered expectations.