Using Science To Explain Why The Phillies, Giants, Yankees And Rangers Will Win 2010 World Series (And Why They Won't)

According to recent research, our best predictions of sporting events may stem from a total lack of conscious consideration of all the variables. With the MLB playoffs narrowing down, it's time to put this to the test.

There was an interesting article over at Wired the other day. The article summarized and discussed a recently-published paper from Psychological Science. In the author's own words, the paper dealt with "the virtues of unconscious thought when it comes to predicting the outcome of soccer matches."

For a quick rundown:

Soccer experts and soccer novices were both asked to pick the winner in a bunch of soccer games. These experts and novices were split into three groups. The first group was asked to make a decision after two minutes of conscious thought about each game. The second group was asked to make a decision in a flash. The third group was distracted by something unrelated to occupy their conscious thought for two minutes, and then suddenly asked to make a decision.

For those unfamiliar with the field, the results were fascinating. I'm going to simplify here:

1)      The alleged "experts" weren't really any better than the novices at picking winners

2)      Having time to consciously consider all the different factors didn't help, and by far the best results were obtained from the third group, which wasn't consciously thinking about the games at all

It's just one journal article, but the implications are incredible to think about. Experts know a lot about their field - more than most anyone else - but when it comes to picking winners and losers, they may not have much of an advantage over the average fan. Not only that; it follows that, even if you give people a bunch of time to consider all the different variables that go into a matchup, it won't help. The problem will be too complicated, and people will give certain variables improper weights.

Reading that post, it made me think a lot about the current state of news cycles and sports analysis. And that, in turn, made me think about the MLB playoffs. We're through the Division Series round. Up next is the League Championship Series round, pitting the Giants against the Phillies and the Yankees against the Rangers.

We've got two compelling series - followed by a third one - and as is always the case when a compelling showdown is looming, everybody and his uncle is either coming up with a series analysis, or searching for somebody else's. Team blogs have series previews and series analyses. Radio hosts have series previews and series analyses. ESPN has series previews and series analyses. Series previews and series analyses always end up really popular, because people want to hear how experts think the future is going to play out.

But as the paper from Psychological Science suggests, these are pretty much a waste of our time. Nobody's really good at predicting how things are going to happen. Even if you look at the work churned out by some of the premier experts in the field, and even if they hit on some potentially critical points, there's no telling how significant or insignificant those points might end up being in a series as short as a best-of-seven. We're already pretty bad at predicting how a full season's going to play out. You want to talk a couple weeks? It's practically random. And randomness can't be predicted.

Series previews and analyses are interesting, and they're addictive. Maybe this point will end up mattering. Maybe this guy won't be much of a factor. But their value clearly isn't tied up in the validity of the included forecasts or predictions. Their value is tied up in giving the audience something with which to occupy its collective mind, because the audience doesn't want to wait for the games to begin to start thinking about how they're going to go. The predictions lose their worth because they're borne of too much thought.

So with that in mind, I present to you the following playoff analysis. Included below are reasons why each remaining team could win the World Series, and reasons why each remaining team could fall short. It's not the most comprehensive playoff analysis on the internet. You could argue that some relevant information is left out, and that some of the included information is disproportionately weighted. That's fine, because I didn't really think about the series at all. But I'd be willing to put this analysis up against anybody else's. I think I might be on to something here.

TEXAS RANGERS

Why They Could Win The World Series

Josh Lewin. Lewin has served as the play-by-play TV voice of the Rangers since 2002. He's been there for the lean A-Rod years. He's been there for the leaner post-A-Rod years. He's been there for the meteoric rise to the top. And just a few days ago, it was announced that he will not be returning to the Rangers' booth in 2011. To a man, the players were saddened by the news, and they're using Lewin's imminent departure as a source of motivation. The players are determined to go all the way and give Lewin a going-away present for all of the work he's done over the past nine years. Also he has ‘win' built right into his name, which is kind of cosmic.  

Why They Could Not Win The World Series

Hand gestures. If you watched five minutes of any game of the Rangers/Rays ALDS, you either directly witnessed or heard a reference to the Rangers' claw and antlers. Rangers players make a claw with their hands to serve as a long-distance high-five after an offensive achievement, and they show antlers to recognize something speed-related. The more often they make these gestures, the more they become embedded in each individual's muscle memory, to the point at which players will be showing claws or antlers at inappropriate times, such as when they're supposed to hit or throw a ball.

NEW YORK YANKEES

Why They Could Win The World Series

Derek Jeter. Derek Jeter is a career .314 hitter, and he's hit .312 in the playoffs. However, during the 2010 regular season, he batted just .270, which is his lowest mark since coming up as a rookie in 1995. Jeter pretty clearly made a conscious decision to save his hits for when they would matter the most. The ALDS saw him bat .286 against the Twins, an improvement over his regular season mark. The rest of his hits should now begin to arrive by the bucket in the ALCS and the World Series. Based on the difference between Jeter's .270 average in 2010 over his 663 regular season at bats and his .314 career average, we can see that Jeter saved up 29 extra hits, to be deployed whenever he feels like it.

Why They Could Not Win The World Series

Old ghosts. It's well known that one of the biggest contributing factors to the Yankees' remarkable success over the past decade and a half was their assortment of ghosts. From Babe Ruth to Mickey Mantle to Lou Gehrig, Yankee stars of eras past would haunt opposing teams and knock them off their game. However, those ghosts were left stranded in the old ballpark, and the only ghosts inhabiting the new Yankee Stadium are much more feeble. Babe Ruth's ghost was 53. Mickey Mantle's ghost was 63. Lou Gehrig's ghost was 37. George Steinbrenner's ghost is 80. Bob Sheppard's ghost is 99. Neither Steinbrenner nor Sheppard can do very much to Yankee opponents, unless the opponents walk close enough to one of their ghost chairs so they can jab them a little with their ghost canes.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

Why They Could Win The World Series

Superstition. Todd McKennan, of Daly City, ordered a pizza from Domino's at 4:34pm on April 5, to eat while watching the Giants' 2010 season opener. The Giants beat the Astros, and every gameday since, McKennan has ordered the same pizza from the same Domino's at the same time with the same debit card, and with how well the Giants have been playing, he's certain that as long as he keeps it up, the Giants will be able to win the World Series for the first time since they moved to San Francisco.

Why They Could Not Win The World Series

Eli Whiteside's hair. Thirty-year old backup catcher Eli Whiteside famously sports a full head of gray hair, and has done so since high school. Though players say that they're understanding and outwardly support Whiteside as they would any teammate, in private they all think it's the saddest and most hilarious thing they've ever seen, and because they spend so much time making jokes at Whiteside's expense behind his back, they're unable to stay focused for more than a few minutes at a time. Focus is absolutely critical in the playoffs, and without being able to sustain its concentration, a team doesn't stand a chance.  

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Why They Could Win The World Series

Starting pitching. With Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels in line to throw at least six games of a seven-game series, the Phillies are working from a clear advantageous position over any opponent. No other team boasts three starting pitchers so supremely talented, and so capable of working deep. I would be surprised if the Phillies allowed a run in any game.

Why They Could Not Win The World Series

Greg Dobbs. Bench lefty Greg Dobbs has an unbridled passion for the game of baseball, and he just wants to play as much as he can. Unfortunately he's a reserve on the Phillies, and he didn't get to make even a single appearance in the NLDS against Cincinnati. Any player who's ever spent time around him will attest to the fact that, when Dobbs is forced to ride the bench, he's a total bummer, and he brings everybody down with his negative attitude. "Nice hit, Chase. I couldn't see it from all the way back here though."

PREDICTIONS

Rangers in 5, Phillies in 6, and Phillies in 7. If these don't turn out spot on, then a certain Dr. Dijksterhuis will be on the receiving end of a strongly-worded letter.

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.