The Toronto Blue Jays are heavy favorites against the Texas Rangers in the ALDS, but anything can happen in the postseason
There’s really no way around this, so I’m just going to say it: Blue Jays vs. Rangers is a huge mismatch, one of the biggest we’ve seen in October in a long time.
On paper, of course. Everything’s on paper.
But casual fans (and let’s’ be honest, a lot of Rangers fans) will look at the wins and the losses – 93-69 for the Blue Jays, 88-74 for the Rangers — and figure, "Well, hell. There ain’t a deer tail’s difference between the two of ‘em."
But this is one of those times when the wins and the losses just don’t come close to telling us the whole story. Of course, we can never know the whole story; we’ll never be smart enough for that. But we are smart enough to know a lot more than just wins and losses.
We could instead look at runs scored and allowed, which is a significantly better predictor than wins and losses. Or we could go even further and look at what Baseball Prospectus calls "third-order" wins and losses: "based on underlying statistics and adjusted for quality of opponents."
Which is to say, all things being equal — if everybody played the same schedule with the same luck.
Run those numbers, and the Blue Jays — who somehow went just 15-28 in one-run games this season – look like a 101-win team, more in line with their tremendous, lapped-the-field run differential (+221).
Run those numbers, and the Rangers look like an 81-win team.
This is supposed to be a 2 seed vs. a 3 seed, but it’s really more like 1 vs. 6.
Somebody sent me a nifty Excel file that allows you to enter the winning percentages of opponents in a series and figure what the odds are in the series.
When you do that for this series, you get the Blue Jays with a 75 percent chance of winning the series. Which seems … well, almost impossible, and makes me wonder whether I’m doing something wrong.
But let’s assume for the moment that I’m not. If I’m not wrong and the Blue Jays deserve to be massively favored, the huge underdog still has a 1 in 4 chance of winning this series.
Everything’s on paper. If David Price makes two or three more bad pitches than usual and Yovani Gallardo makes two or three fewer bad pitches than usual, you throw out the paper and now it’s anybody’s game. Anybody can win anybody’s game, and if the Rangers win the entire complexion of the series changes, at least for 24 hours. And while this would be surprising, it would be just mildly surprising. Which is why I really hate making postseason predictions. The only thing we know about postseason baseball – and please trust me, this has been studied to DEATH – is that nothing matters except having the best players. And we’re pretty good at figuring out who has the best players.
With that said, third-order winning percentage doesn’t measure what’s going to happen; it measures what did happen. The Blue Jays probably aren’t quite as good as their third-order winning percentage, and the Rangers probably are a little better than theirs. The Blue Jays, because nobody’s fundamentally that good. And the Rangers, because they did add some real talent in the second half of the season.
So I actually don’t think it’s 1 in 4. I think it’s more like 1 in 3. Which is still daunting, if you’re the 1. But it’s also scary if you’re the 3.
Like it or not, postseason baseball is a great equalizer. And if you’re surprised, I mean really surprised, when the Rangers make the Blue Jays look like a bunch of Little Leaguers, then you haven’t been paying much attention in all the other Octobers.