Predicting World Series winner would be easy … if it weren’t so damned hard

Predicting what’s going to happen in a best-of-7 series between two evenly matched teams is, as every reasonably sentient creature knows by now, largely a fool’s errand.

Of course we could talk about matchups — and we will later, for just a moment! — but the sad truth is that in a best-of-7 series, the little things are swamped by 1) the big things, which essentially even out, and 2) the randomness that turns Sandy Amoros into an all-time hero and Daniel Murphy into Babe Ruth.

You wanna pick the Royals, though? They finished the season with a slightly better run differential than the Mets, in the slightly better league, and they’ve got the home field in Games 1 and 2, and potentially 6 and 7. For those reasons, and perhaps others, the Royals have been installed by oddsmakers as the very slightest of favorites.

You wanna pick the Mets, though? Murphy homers in every game, they’ve got three outstanding starting pitchers, and did I mention Daniel Murphy?

On the JABO Podcast earlier this week, C.J. Nitkowski asked me for a prediction, and just off the top of my head I said, “Mets in six.”


Three reasons, I think.

What I said on the podcast was that the Royals have two huge question marks in their rotation, in Edinson Volquez and especially Johnny Cueto.

Cueto has started three postseason games in 2015. He was OK in the first, quite good in the second, and an unmitigated disaster in the third. Before those, he posted a 6.49 ERA in his previous nine starts. This is the No. 2 starter on a favored World Series team?

Volquez has been shaky, too. This month he’s been throwing harder than usual, but (probably not coincidentally) his walk rate’s been higher than usual, too. He looks like he’s just completely given up on pacing himself, which has meant (and might mean) faster pitches but earlier exits.

So those two question marks, or question marks in my mind, anyway, are one reason to avoid betting on the Royals … but of course the bettors know this stuff, and even better than I. If there’s an unusual uncertainty about Cueto and Volquez, it should already be baked into the betting odds.

The second reason I picked the Mets is, I’m going to guess, purely emotional. In a couple of ways. As you know, I grew up a Royals fan. Nobody loved the Royals from 1976 through 2002 or ’03 more than I did. But at some point all the losses and all the poor (by my lights) decisions wore me down enough where I no longer took any pleasure in the occasional victories. I did believe the worm would turn eventually, and wondered how I would feel about that. As it turned out, not much. Now my feelings feel … neutral, I would say. Which wouldn’t necessarily lead me to picking against them, but certainly doesn’t have me favoring them.

There is also a scientific component in some of that, too … I think. We’re all prone to Confirmation Bias, the tendency to accept information that confirms our prior beliefs while ignoring evidence that’s counter to those beliefs.

Now, the nice thing about baseball is that we’ve got a hell of a lot of hard data. However much I might have thought Mike Moustakas was a mirage last October, it’s impossible to deny the hard fact that he posted a .353 wOBA this season, and has probably become a fundamentally different and better hitter. It’s very difficult to deny the notion that Kendrys Morales wasn’t healthy last year but is healthy this year, and is a fine hitter when healthy.

And so forth and so on. Consciously, I understand these things and acknowledge them. But my subconscious, I fear, keeps leading me back to Opening Day, when the Royals seemed to me a .500 team, give or take. And it’s probably my subconscious that keeps looking for ways to turn them back into a .500 team. And without many other obvious candidates, Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez will do just fine.

And finally, a third reason: Ned Yost. This is probably related to the second reason, by which I mean it’s more about my emotions than my calculations. But when you see a manager who refuses to use pinch-hitters in obvious situations, and seems utterly locked into particular, apparently nonsensical bullpen tactics — as Yost was in Game 6 against the Blue Jays with Ryan Madson and Wade Davis, which could easily have cost the Royals a trip to the World Series — you just wonder how he could lead his team to a championship.

Well, I wonder, anyway. Even though he almost did it just one year ago. Just another example of confirmation bias, probably.

Oh, I mentioned matchups. Thanks to Daren Willman, we know the Mets lead the world in pitches thrown at least 95 miles an hour … but the Royals have actually been quite good against pitches thrown at least 95 miles an hour.

So does that actually mean anything, in a best-of-7 series?

Hell, I don’t know. Ask your own subconscious. I’m getting sick of mine.