If you're like me, you get tired of baseball cliches recited solemnly by TV announcers who ignore the action on the field to focus on a dumb-ass interview with a guy in the dugout. Prior to the fifth game of the World Series, the announcer quotes a statistic. "The team that wins game five goes on to win the World Series fifty nine per cent of the time," he intones. Yes, and you can never have enough pitching. Clayton Kershaw (pictured left) is the "best pitcher on the planet," but he has struggled in October unlike Giants' ace Madison Bumgarner. The team with a four run lead going into the ninth inning has won forty six out of forty eight times. The smart hitter doesn't "try to do too much." The smart pitcher "expands" the strike zone. And everybody knows that the worst way to slide into a base is head first, which is why nearly all baserunners do it.
As one who has successfully calculated the odds of a stock's rising 10% or more if its trailing p/e ratio is below the industry average and if the balance sheet shows strong cash flow and an unbroken record of paying dividends, I have given much thought to the possibility of predicting the outcome of a series based on any one of the games. There are, after all, precedents to consider. In 1965, the team that lost the first two games of the World Series went on to recover and win it all. In 1966, the same squad in the same predicament got swept.
There are instances of teams coming back from the three games to one deficit that the Cubs faced going into Sunday night's action. Again it happened in back-to-back years. In 1957 the Milwaukee Braves of Aaron, Mathews, Adcock, Spahn, and Burdette rallied to beat the Yankees of Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford, who promptly turned the tables in 1958. As for losing the first two games, the Dodgers were in that hole in 1955, yet Johnny Podres shut out the Bronx Bombers in game seven, Gil Hodges drove in a pair of runs, and Brooklyn had its first and only World Championship flag. A year later the scenario was neatly flipped when, in game seven, the Yanks' Yogi Berra hit two home runs and Don Newcombe's greatest season ended in a career-threatening crisis of the nerves.
There is a structural uncertainty principle at work in post-season play, and if there is anything a gambler dislikes it's uncertainty. Professional gamblers resemble Wall Street veterans in precisely this way. In search of an algorithm that eliminates some of the known unknowns and minimizes the unknown unknowns without resorting to guesswork, I have accumulated data weighing game six and game seven results in eight contests played since 1980: those of 1981, 1982, 1985, 1986, 1991, 1996, 2001, and 2002.
Tomorrow night the Chicago Cubs play the Cleveland Indians in the latter's ballpark. The odds of either team winning the game are fifty-fifty. If the Cubs win it, their chance of winning game seven also approaches fifty-fifty, this giving the team, as of this writing, a one in four shot at winning it all. On the other hand, if the Indians win game six, it is a slam dunk that they will be World Champions.
There was one more discovery I made in the line of duty. Taking into account such memorable struggles as those of 1947, 1949, 1952, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1960, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1967, 1968, 1972, and 1973 in addition to contests of more recent vintage, I arrived at a rule worthy of pythagorean proof. Whoever wins game seven, if there is a game seven, will win it all. There has never been a team that lost game seven and went on to win the World Series. Make your bets accordingly. -- DL