Thursday, October 17, 2013


The simplest answer to the question posed in our title is: they always were.

The next simplest answer: the playoffs became a "crapshoot" when more teams were included.

"Next time, no sausage in the stuffing, you sadist!!"
Now we are admirers of Occam's razor as much as anyone (except, of course, when we make up our mind to stray...), but these answers are too simple, even for us. (And we'll let you wonder how we have managed to remain so single-minded while so unfailingly referring to ourselves in the plural.)

A better, but still relatively simple answer (which can always be trussed up like a turkey in the manner than Sean Penn was purported to have done to Madonna one evening when her banshee-like rejoinders left him with a splitting headache--and with what the great Akron meta-punk band Devo quaintly referred to as an "uncontrollable urge"...) is that the crapshoot has been a half-assed asymptote for lo these many years without anyone taking notice of it.

(Half-assed asymptote...are we describing ourselves, or is there a metaphorical method in our madness? We won't regale you with the type of glib pseudo-characterizations that can be found in Jonah the K's gourd vine...figure out that literary reference, all ye whose eyes are watching God!!)

Naw, it's just our quaint way of rephrasing the numberologist's favorite (and not infrequently useful...) catchphrase "regression to the mean." In this case, we mean to say (and are probably not as mean as some think when we are actually saying it...just sayin'!) that a half-assed asymptote is simply a series of recorded events that inevitably trend, not to zero, but to a state of even-steven--or, as we who unnumb the numbers like to say: .500, 50-50--your garden variety coin-flip.

But maybe it's the fact that there are more teams in the playoffs, yes? It has that gut-like feel of shrieking strings, like Bernard Herrmann killing Marion Crane with his chamber orchestra even before that fake version of Tony Perkins can start slashing away with Occam's favorite kitchen knife. (Be thankful, dear reader, that when you go to Forman et fil, you will not find a player there named Norman Bates...though there are four guys named Arbogast and ten named Loomis...bush leaguers all.)

After all, look at how the playoff results have slithered from a high correlative (significantly less invasive, as you know, than a high colonic...) in the early years to a point where, in the almost present-day, the results are closing in on 50-50.

Convincing? Hey, of course. You can see how time and chance have conspired to chip away at the "advantage" that the teams with better WPCTs had over less successful competitors in the increasingly feverish post-season.

But let's look at the same chart for the World Series (at left). More than half of the data on this one stems from a time frame where two (and only two) teams made it into the "post-season."

Though the "front end" of these two charts show some deviation (or is that "deviance"??) from one another, what we have on our hands here (aside from the blood of kings and concubines, of course...) is a big, fat, slow (and possibly dumb, for that matter...) regression to 50-50.

So an increased number of teams in the post-season is not driving the results in any way that's different from what was happening when there were fewer teams in the playoffs.

Now we haven't accounted for a number of other items here, such as: how much better/worse (in terms of WPCT) were these opponents; or differences in league quality; or perturbations such as dynastic behavior (of course, "dynasties" are not guaranteed to have the best WPCT in any given year, though the WS chart above shows a couple of interesting upticks in the 20s and 30s as a result of the New York Yankees--a phenomenon that is not repeated, by the way, during their 50s-60s dynastic period).

We'll explore several other dimensions and directions of this data in a subsequent post (or two), but for right now, let's stop with the following: the post-season has, in both of its historical manifestations, become a crapshoot over time. The "how" is mostly due to the undeniable efficacy of the half-assed asympote--which, come to think of it, is probably inversely related to the divorce rate, and contains a completely sufficient explanation of why Sean and Madonna were doomed from the start. (Put down that brick, Mr. Penn, and listen, dammit!)