Friday, July 06, 2007

Overcoming Adversity

UPDATED (BELOW), 07/08/07, 07/09/07, 07/12/07, 07/25/07, 08/28/07

Keith Burgess-Jackson proclaims that it's over for the New York Yankees. He buttresses his conviction (wish, really) by constructing four "suppositions," based on the state of play through July 4:

1. Boston plays .500 ball the rest of the way. The Yankees will have to go 53-28 (.654) to tie. Projected over a season, that’s 106 victories.

2. Boston plays .550 ball the rest of the way. The Yankees will have to go 56-25 (.691) to tie. Projected over a season, that’s 112 victories.

3. Boston plays .600 ball the rest of the way. The Yankees will have to go 60-21 (.740) to tie. Projected over a season, that’s 120 victories.

4. Boston plays .626 ball the rest of the way. The Yankees will have to go 62-19 (.765) to tie. Projected over a season, that’s 124 victories.

I have two comments:
  • The outcome of a pennant race cannot be foreshadowed by constructing hypothetical outcomes. Strange and wondrous (or devastating) events can (and do) intervene.
  • Keith's "suppositions" are therefore irrelevant. Keith's (negative) hopes for the Yankees aside, it is quite possible for the Bronx Bombers to improve their record vastly, and for the perennial fold-up team from Boston to fold once more.
Cases in point (found here):

1914 Boston Braves -- 15 games out on July 6 with a 26-40 won-lost record -- went 68-19 [.782] in the final 87 games of the season to win the N.L. pennant by 10 games over the New York Giants.

1930 St. Louis Cardinals -- 12 games behind on August 9 with a 53-52 record -- won 39 of their final 49 games [.796] to win the N.L. pennant by two games over the Cubs.

1935 Chicago Cubs -- 10 and a half games behind the Giants on July 5 with a 38-32 record -- won 62 of their final 84 games [.738] , including a 21-game winning streak from September 4 through September 27, to win the N.L. pennant by four games over St. Louis and eight and a half ahead of the Giants.

1936 New York Giants -- in fifth-place in the N.L. with a 42-41 won-lost record (10 and a half games behind the Cubs) -- went 50-21 [.704] to capture the NL. pennant by five games over the Cubs, who went 36-38 [.486] in their final 74 games.

1942 St. Louis Cardinals -- 10 games behind on August 5 with a 62-39 mark -- won 44 of their last 53 games [.830] to overtake the Dodgers and win the N.L. pennant by two games.

1951 New York Giants -- behind the Dodgers by 13 games on August 12 with a 59-51 record -- went 37-8 [.822] while Brooklyn went 27-24 [.529] over the rest of the season (including the three-game playoff won by the Giants on Bobby Thomson's historic home run).

1964 St. Louis Cardinals -- 11 games behind the Phillies on August 24 with a 65-58 record -- but the Phillies went 16-23 [.410] in the final 39 games while the Cardinals went 28-11 [.718] and took the N.L pennant.

1969 New York Mets -- 10 games behind the Chicago Cubs on August 14 with a 62-51 won-lost mark -- ended the season with a 38-11 run [.776] as the Cubs went 18-27 [.400]. The Mets won the N.L. East division by eight games.

1973 New York Mets -- 11 and a half games behind the Cardinals in the N.L. East division on August 5 with a 48-60 won-lost mark -- finished with a 34-19 record [.642] in the final 53 games while the Cardinals went 20-31 [.392] during the same span.

1973 Cincinnati Reds -- 11-games behind the Dodgers on July 1 with a 39-37 record -- finished 60-26 [.698] while Los Angeles went 44-39 [.537] over the same stretch and lost the N.L. West division to the Reds by three and a half games.

1978 New York Yankees -- trailing by 14 games in the A.L. East division on July 20 with a 48-42 record -- won 52 of their remaining 73 games [.712] (including a one-game playoff over the Red Sox) to win the AL. East.

1989 Toronto Blue Jays -- in sixth-place in a seven-team A.L. East division with a 38-45 won-lost record -- went 51-28 [.646] in the final 12 weeks of the season to win the division by two games over the Orioles.

1993 Atlanta Braves -- 10 games behind on July 23 with a 55-42 record -- finished 49-16 [.754] to win the N.L. West division over the Giants by one game.

1995 Seattle Mariners -- 13 games behind the California Angels on August 3 with a 44-46 record -- went 35-20 [.636] to win the A.L. West title, while the Angels finished 22-33 [.400].

"It ain't over 'til it's over." *

UPDATE (07/08/07): Since Keith posted his proclamation, the Red Sox have gone 1-3 (.250) while the Yankees have gone 3-1 (.750). Four games do not a season decide, but the assertion that the Red Sox cannot fold and the Yankees cannot surpass them borders on hubris.

UPDATE (07/09/07): Keith asks: "Where did I say that the New York Yankees 'cannot' overtake the Boston Red Sox?" Answer: Here, where he says: "I have two words for fans of the New York Yankees: It’s over." The implication of that statement is clear: The Yankees will not overtake the Red Sox because the Yankees cannot do so. (If the Yankees could, they would, unless they are taking a dive this year. I assume that even as rabid a Yankees-hater as Keith doesn't believe that.) I So is it "over" or is it just "improbable" that the Yankees will fail to win the A.L. East Division title this year (as Keith now says)? Keith wants to bet me $1,000 on the outcome. If I didn't have eight grandchildren to think of, I'd take his bet.

UPDATE (07/12/07): Keith continues to play with numbers, proving nothing other than his ability to do arithmetic. On August 31 of last year, for example, he held out hope that the Tigers would hold on to win the 2006 A.L. Central crown:
Chicago is 78-55 and Minnesota 77-55. If the Tigers split their remaining 28 games, they’ll finish 97-65. The White Sox will have to go 19-10 to tie them. The Twins will have to go 20-10 to tie.
In the comment thread, Keith added:
For the Twins or White Sox to catch the Tigers, the Tigers, who have had the best record in Major League Baseball all season, will have to continue playing terrible baseball. How likely is that? I predict that the Tigers will win the division by at least six games.
Well, as it turned out, the Tigers did continue to play something like "terrible" baseball (12-16, .428). As a result, the Twins didn't have to play 20-10 to tie the Tigers. Instead, the Twins were able finish one game ahead of the Tigers by going 19-11. So much for the Tigers' six-game margin of victory.

UPDATE (07/25/07): Since July 4 the Red Sox have gone 9-9 (.500) while the Yankees have gone 15-4 (.789). The Yankees have, in just three weeks, gained 5.5 games on the Sox. I find no portent in such results, just as I found no portent in the results through July 4. What a difference a few weeks can make -- as KBJ should have learned in 2006.

UPDATE (08/28/07): See this.
* Said byYogi Berra in 1973 when his New York Mets were still nine and a half games behind the division leader.