Monday, September 10, 2007

The Fox Effect, Part Two: 5 or 7?

I'm fairly new to this whole blogging thing, and never know how people are going to react to what I write. Sometimes people draw completely different conclusions from my posts than what I was trying to get at, which is always interesting.

But other times, like with last week's post about FOX effecting postseason playoff rotations, people take things one step further that I did, making points that never even occurred to me.

There were two ways in which people furthered my analysis. The first was Rob Neyer's post (Insider only), titled "Playoffs clearly just a money grab".

"First we have these ridiculous roster expansions in September, and then we'll have crazy postseason schedules that change the equation and (potentially) push the World Series into November. I know I've asked this before, and the answer is always the same, but how much money is enough? I mean, really?"

I didn't get into this in my original post, but FOX wanting to start the World Series on a week night was of course about money, as is made clear in this ESPN article:

"A Wednesday allows baseball to avoid playing on Friday, which is TV's second-least watched night after Saturday."

What I found funny was MLB president Bob DuPuy's quote later in the article:

"'The additional off-days throughout the postseason will give us greater flexibility to facilitate travel and protect against poor weather,' DuPuy said."

Ah, of course. That was the reason for this.

Anyway, both Foul Balls (when this was first announced) and Obscure Sports Quarterly (last week) echoed this sentiment:

"But the real reason they're moving back the World Series? Baseball is going to make the first round Divisional Series a best-of-7 instead of the current best-of-5 format. Owners have been asking for this for the last few years for a few reasons. One being that the better team tends to win more in a seven game series than a five, but the most important reason is extra games mean more income."

Well, it certainly would increase MLB's revenue. But what effect would it have on how often the superior team wins? Let's find out.

I assumed the current leaders make the playoffs, and for the NL Central I just made the Brewers and Cubs into a single entity. We also need to determine the strength of each team. I did this by combining third order win percentage (found here, explained here), and actual win percentage. The percentages I used are on the right.

So then I made this program where I can just plug in each team's W%, and it tells me how often they would win either a five game or seven game series. The table on the left is how often each team would advance to each round with the current format; on the right are the percentages if the first round was switched to seven games.

I thought it was interesting that I used almost the same W% for the Mets and Yankees, yet the Mets are significantly higher- that's the NL for you.

Going to seven games really doesn't change things all that much. The Red Sox have been by far the best team this season. If the first round were increased to 7 games, they'd increase their chances of beating the Indians by 1.6%. They would gain 0.6% on their WS%.

I would like MLB to change the first round to seven games- that would mean more baseball, and less off days that eliminate the need for fourth starters. But if MLB did so the result (as well as the intention, obviously) would be to deepen their pockets, rather ensure that the best team wins.

These fantastic pictures were taken from Deadspin and Zero to Six Figures.


  1. Great post and congrats for the wide exposure, but to really calculate the difference between likelihood in 5 game vs 7 game, shouldn't you take into account the differences in relative qualty of each team's 3rd and 4th starters (assuming the #1 didn't pitch 3 times in a 7 game series)? I had always thought that the idea that an underdog could win a "short series" was based on the idea of an underdog with a really strong front 2 and weak #3 and #4.

    Or alternatively that it's easier (and more likely) for a team to win 3 in a row than 4 in a row (but maybe the playoff odds tool takes that into account)?

  2. All good points, Jay. The idea of this post was really to see what effect the change to a seven game series would have in a general sense, rather than with these specific matchups- I just used this situation to illustrate the point that there wouldn't be that much of a difference.

    The playoffs odds tool does take into account that it's more likely for an inferior team to win three in a row. For example, it gives the Indians a 7.7% chance of sweeping the Red Sox in a five game series, but just a 3.7% chance of sweeping them in a seven game series.