Monday, November 5, 2012

The Tigers never had a chance (World Series 2012)

There are very few things that get my wife interested in sports. The only truly reliable trick is to have a Detroit team do well. Imagine my luck, then, that the Detroit Tigers entered the World Series as heavy favorites among the various experts. Before parades down Woodward became a realistic option, the San Francisco Giants showed up with all the momentum that comes from winning a decisive game 7 and swept Detroit.

Momentum, no wait, rest!

Once it became apparent that the Giants would be taking the series – somewhere late in game 3 – the notion that San Francisco had momentum and Detroit was rusty started to seep into coverage. Nevermind that the narrative before the series was that Detroit’s opportunity to get rested and get Justin Verlander lined up to pitch games 1 and 5 (Ha! Game 5!) would give the Tigers two guaranteed wins with favorable matchups for the rest of the series.

So which is it? Do teams benefit from a long layoff before the World Series to get their rotation set and heal nagging injuries from the long season and postseason? Alternatively, do they build momentum and roll from a dramatic seven game series win to a sweep of the World Series (I mean generally, obviously that is what happened this time)?


Since the League Championship Series went to a best of seven format in 1985, 6 teams have entered the World Series having swept the LCS. 5 of those 6 have gone on to lose the series with 4 of those losses coming against teams that went 7 games in their LCS. Sweeping the LCS, it seems, does not confer a benefit on the team that does the sweeping.

15 teams have entered the World Series after going seven games in their LCS. We already noted the four teams that defeated opponents coming off a sweep in their LCS. The rest of the so-called “momentum” teams did not do so well, going 3-8 for a combined 7-8 record.

Maybe Some Rest

The ideal LCS record for a team entering the World Series since 1985 has been 4-1. Of the 14 teams to enter with that LCS record, 9 of them won the series. Excluding the 3 times that a 4-1 team faced a 4-1 team, they have a WS record of 6-2. The winning percentages for different LCS records, similarly excepting head-to-head series between two teams with the same LCS record, are 1-5 for teams that swept, 5-4 for teams winning in six and 5-6 for teams that went seven games prior to reaching the World Series.

World Series outcomes 1985-2012 grouped by League Championship Series record

This analysis is best understood as anecdotal evidence since the sample size, especially for the different permutations, is very small. In spite of that, it is interesting that only one team has won the World Series after sweeping the LCS. Without advocating a team throwing a game to drag out their LCS, perhaps teams can go further than what Detroit did to simulate games while the other series continues and keep their team sharp.

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