Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Shadows of the recent past: Part II

Redemption at the End of the World

I am not a conspiracy theorist. There are no secret organizations controlling the world, Oswald killed Kennedy, 9/11 was NOT an inside job and the Freemasons are little more than a group of middle-aged guys drinking beer in a fancy basement. The world is random, and humans don't handle random well. We don't its a fact. In his book Freakonomics economist Stephen Levitt talks about the Kansas City Royals. the Royals were in the middle of a 19-game losing streak and he decided to explain how, mathematically, these things happen because of the random nature of sports.

His experiment - Try to imagine 100 coin flips, you might try to make it as random as possible, but you can't make it truly random because our brains are trained to look for patterns in the world. If you do it in real life you will most likely find long strings of heads, or tails, longer than you would think. Do that 100 times and you will see that every so often there are very long strings. Levitt used this to explain that long strings of losses like the ones the Royals went through in 2002 happens about once a decade through the sheer math of it.

The Orioles have had 14 straight losing seasons. Math would seem to dictate that they would eventually have broken that soon enough. Something would go right, the freaky nature of baseball would eventually break for them. It hasn't happened. In 2005 everyone thought that it had finally come. Even after the playoff hopes went away the team was at .500 in August at least we would have broken that streak. Of course, it didn't work out like that. Bad offense, pitching and a host of injuries and off-the-field issues sabotaged the Orioles in 2005. The collapse was so epic that the Orioles are still feeling the after-effects.

Now we are in the middle of a 2012 season that has exceeded all expectations and the collective brain of Orioles fans is trying to find reason behind it, and because brains look for patterns a lot of people are trying to find why the inevitable collapse will come - I'm here to tell you why it won't.Let's go through all the reasons for the on-coming apocalypse and refute them one by one.

Reason 1 - The Orioles are winning a bunch of one-run games and extra-inning games. The Orioles will revert to the mean.

Yes the Orioles are 11-5 in one-run games and 9-2 in extra-inning games. These are facts that many people point to as evidence of the on-coming apocalypse. They say that the Orioles will "revert to the mean" but I don't think they know what that means. Referring back to the coinflip experiment; an average team has roughly a 50/50 chance of winning these close games and so far the Orioles have beaten that perceived average - so even if the Orioles did "revert to the mean" that means the Orioles would go roughly .500 in these games for the rest of the year. Reverting to the mean does not mean that the Orioles will suddenly start losing a bunch of these games and return their overall record to .500.

The fact that the Orioles have won a bunch of these games already has no bearing on how well they will do in these situations in the future. Essentially they are playing with house money. Moreover, the Orioles are still over .500 in regular old nine-inning games and it is how they will do in those games that has a far greater bearing on the immediate future on this team.Bottom line is this shouldn't be a real worry going forward. The fact that the Orioles are playing in so many close games is a very good thing that shows how competitive this team has been with one of the harder schedules in baseball.

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