When it comes to winning the World Series, you’re better off lucky than good.
Or, at least that’s what a researcher has chosen to believe.
In an early study performed by Phil Birnbaum on “Why Teams Don’t Repeat,” the idea of ‘luck’ was established as the main factor in deciding a team’s success. Birnbaum found that teams usually won with luck, which does not always hold up from year to year.
Since 1985, only four teams in both the American League and National League have repeated as pennant winners. Only twice since 1980 have teams repeated as World Series champions.
That’s unprecedented in sports.
In the NBA, only nine different NBA franchises have captured the championship over the same time span. In football, mini dynasties form all the time, both before the institution of ‘Plan A’ free agency (Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers) and after (Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, New England Patriots).
In the early years of baseball, certain teams would consistently win their respective pennants and it wasn’t uncommon to see repeat World Series winners.
Anymore, that isn’t the case, especially as players move from team to team and change leagues and get traded back to their old team and so on. The amount of player movement makes the overall league far more competitive, and that’s been especially true over the last decade, as increasingly more and more teams find themselves in the playoff mix.
But it’s the element of randomness that makes baseball far more unpredictable than the other major sports, and it’s why most sports bettors can’t survive the 162-game grind. Any given team can win on any given day, even the Baltimore Orioles, who spent much of the season winning games in improbable ways.
However, we accept that a team that survives a 162-game schedule and earns a division title or Wild Card is among the game’s elite. “The sample size is too great,” we say. “Over a six-month season, the best teams will prevail.”
Here’s the problem: Come playoff time, we throw all that out the window and make bold declarations about who will win the World Series. We make predictions with such certainty—”The Giants’ rotation is too deep,” or “The Yankees’ lineup is too strong,” etc.—and we completely ignore the fact that over a three or four-game sample, Matt Cain or Madison Bumgarner can have a bad outing and the Yanks’ bats can go silent.
You can’t have it both ways.
You can’t say that the beauty of baseball is the length of the season because it reveals the best teams and then embrace a postseason format that requires of its champion only that they win 11 combined games in a one-month period.
The team we think will win the World Series is rarely the team that actually does. And many times, the team that wins doesn’t win the way we think they’ll win. Again, it’s a combination of luck and skill.
So, with all that out of the way, our World Series pick is … the Reds +625.