Tuesday, November 11, 2008

So Why Is the MLB and NHL Champ More Random?

I started out writing this as a comment, but I think it's a subject worthy of study and decided to make it a post.

True, true. MLB and NHL have more random champs than anyone. I wonder, though, how much of the data is skewed between the four sports depending on these factors:

1. Number of teams allowed in the playoffs.

The MLB allows 8, the NHL 16, the NBA 16, and the NFL 12.

My theory, and I would be wrong based purely on this data, is that the more teams allowed in the playoffs, the more random it gets. It wouldn't explain the NBA's higher winning percentage, and wouldn't explain the MLB's lower winning percentage.

It makes me wonder: is the NBA the sport where talent matters the most, and isn't as susceptible to randomness like the other sports?

And then I take a look at the difference between the NCAA tourney and the NBA: randomness occurs far more often, probably because it's one-and-done.

2. Number of games played in the season, skewing winning percentages.

NBA 82, NHL 82, MLB 162, NFL 16.

I think most teams can get into the playoffs with a 10-6 record in the NFL, with some exceptions being lower. 10-6 works out to .625, and even 9-7 is .562. Remember this is your usual wild-card team, so there are teams with better records. It's not uncommon to have a couple of 13-3 (.812) or 14-2 (.875) teams in the mix.

The reason I bring this up is that you don't find teams in any other sport that win more than 80% of their games. In the MLB, 80% is 129-33 (never has happened), the NBA and NHL it's 65-17, which isn't exactly common. I think we can take the NFL out of the "better winning percentage" category based on how skewed the records are due to the amount of games played. Your worst NFL playoff team has winning percentage right around the best of baseball teams.

It still doesn't explain the NBA, though. With the exact amount of games played and number of teams allowed in the playoffs as the NHL, why are those two sports so different?

Could it be that goaltending is an integral part of the NHL, and is a foul in the NBA?

I wonder how the NHL would be without a goaltender (and to the point that an NHL ref could award a goal to a team if the puck is about to go in the goal and is blocked). Your skill guys would take over, and it would be less random. Just a theory. The NBA, meanwhile, mostly allows guys to shoot towards the basket with a reasonable expectation that it won't get blocked. This allows your best shooters to do what they do best. And while shooting is not the only part of the game, and is susceptible to some randomness, I think your skill guys have a better chance to thrive in the NBA.

Meanwhile, in the MLB, there is an obvious randomness that leads a sport with only 8 teams in the playoffs to crown unworthy champs. I've always disliked the idea that in a short series, a team with two good pitchers will find a way to use those guys as often as possible (and we're in the age of the 5-man rotation), and teams get more days off in a week than they do in a week in the regular season. The playoffs are played differently, and therefore, it's mostly a different game.

NHL, same thing. Overtime games are not the same, you no longer have the shootout, and it seems like (and I don't know how to verify this quickly) more penalties are called. I still think the NHL's real reason for having more random champs is just the randomness of the sport itself. Skill guys, while having a better chance at helping their team win, are still subject to the whims of the game.

And in the NFL, this sport is famous for not calling as many penalties in the playoffs, especially the Super Bowl, and therefore the game is changed. Plus, the neutral site (which I don't favor, at all, and the MLB is mulling it over...ugh) for the Super Bowl takes away the home crowd.

So perhaps the NBA has two things going for it: the games aren't played much differently other than harder and more physical, and your skill guys have a better chance to thrive. Therefore, your better teams are going to win more often than not.

Anyone care to comment, refute, or support?

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