My RSS is lighting up with comments from Vegas Watch and Joe Sheehan on the playoffs. Both come to the conclusion that the MLB playoffs are a near-total crapshoot.
Seven years ago, when the Yankees were winning the World Series every year, this may have been a foreign concept to fans. Now, with an 83-win defending champ, only the most naive viewers still think that the best team is always going to prevail.
However, I think both writers are taking this concept way too far. I mean, Sheehan says no team has better than a 6-1 shot to win? Are you kidding me?
6-1 translates to less than a 14.3% chance to win the World Series, a 52.3% chance to win an average playoff series, and a 51.2% chance to win an average playoff game.
Joe Sheehan, who (correctly) regards the NL as the minor leagues compared to the AL, does not believe there is a single team out there that is a 51-49 favorite against in a typical playoff game. This in a field where the team run differentials range from +210 and +191 in the strong league, to -20 in the weak league.
Sheehan is a great writer, and I make it a point to read his column every day. I understand there's a place for hyperbole in writing, but if he thinks he's even close to correct about his 6-1 and 9-1 comments, he needs to quit his job right now and become the most profitable gambler in history.
As for Vegas Watch, their analysis is certainly better than Sheehan's, since it's only half based on dogmatic notions of playoff variance, with the other half coming from actual Vegas odds. It's still a very dangerous article if you believe everything you read and are willing to back that with your bankroll.
Look, the playoffs are not a coin-flipping contest. The NL is currently more than a 2-1 dog in the World Series at every sportsbook that's posted a line. This isn't because a few idiots think tails never fails. The Yankees and Red Sox will combine for far better than a 30% chance to win this tournament, and it's silly to think otherwise.
I'm torn on Vegas Watch as a blog. It's an absolutely great concept; sportsbook lines can tell us a lot about how good teams really are. For example, they explain why ESPN should stop talking up Wisconsin as a candidate to be "upset" this weekend at Illinois. I'll take the oddsmakers over a human college football poll every day of the week and twice Saturday.
Additionally, VW's author is well-read in baseball and has a tremendous grasp of the fundamentals of performance analysis, especially for someone so young (he writes that he just turned 20.)
At the same time, VW often features subpar analysis of odds and probabilities. During the season, it regularly featured a Futures Watch column with severely distorted percentages for teams to advance in the playoffs. Most of the probabilities for various events are generated arbitrarily or by copying the work of others, and the result is a system that probably couldn't beat John Kruk in a handicapping contest.
Vegas Watch is a blog that should really be authored by a smart and erudite professional handicapper. The problem, of course, is that this hypothetical author would never give away his million-dollar secrets for so little in return, unless he has a huge ego in need of soothing. So we're unlikely to ever see this happen, at least until one of those guys retires and needs to find something to do with his time.
For full disclosure, my opinion is probably colored somewhat by jealousy, because this is the exact kind of writing I would have loved to do at age 19. Once money no longer matters to me, I may well try it and see if there's still a market for it.