Sheldon Hirsch - October 27, 2015

The New York Mets put an epic whipping on the Chicago Cubs in the 2015 NLCS, sweeping the four-game series without ever trailing.

The Mets' core four star pitchers (Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz) dominated the Cubs stars (Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber and Kris Bryant), who hit a combined .190. Overall, Mets pitchers held the Cubs to a paltry eight runs in the four games, recalling the greatest performances in postseason history1.

Yet looking ahead to next year, I’d pick the thrashed Cubs over the dominant Mets, and the Cubs' core over the Mets' core.

How can one prefer the vanquished to the victors?

Because comparing the teams’ prospects for next year takes on a different light when we dismiss the false notion that the sweep owed to the Mets' intrinsic superiority. That notion came only from post hoc analysis and hindsight bias. One team must win in every series, and the winner almost always appears the better team in retrospect. That’s particularly true for the many people who see order in the universe and cause-and-effect all around them.

However, even a sweep does not mean that the winners were certain to win, ought to have won, or will win again in the future. In reality, best-of-seven postseason series are mostly coin flips. By the time baseball whittles down the field to the few best teams, one is rarely far superior to another. Randomness typically predominates in a short series between two reasonably competitive teams. Over the first 100 World Series in which the... read more »

Sheldon Hirsch - October 13, 2015

By traditional criteria, Zack Greinke (19-3 won-loss record, 1.66 ERA) of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Jake Arrieta (22-6, 1.77) of the Chicago Cubs are the co-favorites for this year’s National League Cy Young award. Most baseball fans, however, now know the drawbacks of these old-school statistics and often give more credence to newer metrics such as walks plus hits per inning pitched (WHIP)1, wins above replacement (WAR)2, and defense independent pitching statistics (DIPS).

Based on DIPS, the best pitcher in the National League this year and the rightful Cy Young winner is … the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw (16-7, 2.13).

Michael Lewis introduced statistician Voros McCracken’s DIPS formulation to the general public in Moneyball. DIPS is based on McCracken’s surprising observation that, as Lewis wrote, “pitchers have no ability to prevent hits, once the ball was put into play.” This means that variations among pitchers in the results of the batted balls against them that remain in the field of play (base hits vs. outs, excluding home runs) as measured by BABIP (Batting Average of Balls In Play) owe entirely to defense and luck (bloop hits, line drives hit right at fielders, etc.). Per McCracken, pitchers should not be credited or debited for deviations of their BABIP from the league average since these deviations do not reflect a pitcher's skill.

In contrast, pitchers do control walks, hit-by-pitches, strikeouts and home runs allowed3 to a much greater extent. DIPS uses these... read more »

Tim Joyce - September 16, 2015

NEW YORK - Since Novak Djokovic’s thrilling, if not perfectly played, victory over Roger Federer on Sunday in the US Open final, many in the tennis media have pointed out how the revved-up, loud, likely alcohol-fueled and blatantly disrespectful fans in Arthur Ashe Stadium weren’t really being anti-Djokovic; rather, it was their shared love and worship of Roger Federer that caused them to behave in a not-so-orderly fashion throughout the tense encounter. But is it really that simple?

Most decidedly, no.

Make no mistake – it was exceedingly loud inside the now half-roofed Ashe. Perhaps the loudest I’ve ever heard it. This point was driven home after I watched a replay of the final Monday. Watching on TV one does not get nearly a sense of just how thunderous the fans’ reaction was. It was a key ingredient in making the final so memorable and exciting.

But consider: what if it were Rafael Nadal across the net from Federer on Sunday? Granted, the crowd would have still have likely been in Federer’s favor, but the divide much less stark than it was with Djokovic. And Nadal has the respect (even if it took a while) of both Federer and his fans (and, to be honest, they’ve had to accept it since Nadal has utterly owned Federer his entire career); they can tolerate it when Federer loses to Nadal but cannot accept, literally cannot bear losing to the hated Djokovic.

Losses to Djokovic send Federer fans into expletive-fueled rants against “that Serb.” I’ve heard it many times, from both... read more »

Sheldon Hirsch - August 25, 2015

Tim Tebow’s recent return to NFL competition with the Philadelphia Eagles rekindled the polarized debate about his qualifications, with his passionate fans at odds with NFL analysts and executives.

Tebow’s Denver Broncos won seven out of the 11 games that he started in the 2011 season, and followed that with a playoff victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In the ensuing offseason, Denver traded Tebow to the New York Jets, where he served as a little-used backup quarterback for one season. The Jets released him, he failed to make the New England Patriots, and he dropped out of football - unwanted - for two years. Perhaps no quarterback in NFL history has been as quickly discarded after a successful season as Tebow. His many supporters find that unfathomable.

However, NFL talent evaluators interpret Tebow’s 2011 season differently from his fans. Even though Denver won games, talent evaluators saw only red flags in Tebow’s performance.

For one thing, he played terribly in Denver’s five losses (including a postseason rout by New England). As a result, Denver averaged only 14 points per game in those games and had little chance to win.

In addition, several Broncos victories required touchdowns from an interception return, a punt return, or a long touchdown run from scrimmage; also, an improbably long field goal following an inexplicable blunder by the opposition1. Tebow gets no credit for those important plays.

Tebow did perform superbly in several fourth quarters - five of the seven wins were... read more »