Let’s face it, Major League Baseball is the most unpredictable playoff of the major sports in the U.S. Usually, team sports predictions are based on which team has the most all-stars. Let’s face it, all-stars tend to be the most consistent, reliable players, so it makes sense to try to forecast outcomes based on those players.
The NBA is the most predictable. It’s not hard to see why. There are only 5 players on the court at a time, so a superstar player is 20% of the team. They play the majority of the minutes and they contribute on both offense and defense. As long as the all-star basketball player doesn’t get hurt, the teams with the most stars tend to advance the farthest in the playoffs.
Hockey and soccer players are also on the field of play for offense and defense, but their sports are more unpredictable than basketball based on the way the games are played. First, you have someone constantly standing in front of the goal, which makes scoring more challenging. Also controlling the movement of the ball or puck without using your hands is much more difficult. There is an increased chance that a lucky bounce will affect the outcome of a game.
Looking at the National Football League, it’s probably the next most unpredictable of the sports. First, they use the most players. 11 players on offense, 11 for defense plus special teams for kicking and kick returns. A Hall of Fame talent like Dan Marino didn’t win a Super Bowl, not because he wasn’t good enough, but because he was one out of about 40 players and he only plays on offense, so he’s not even playing more than half the time. The rest of his team wasn’t good enough and a quarterback, as important as they are, cannot carry a team with this many players. Another factor working against predicting football is that they only play one game. It’s not the best out of 7 games. You have one bad day and you’re out of the playoffs.
Baseball’s unpredictability is based largely on the minimal influence of a single player. A superstar in baseball probably has less impact than in any other team sport. If you’re a starting pitcher you only work once every 5 games. If you’re a closer you might play in a third of the games, but you usually only get 3 outs out of 27, assuming you don’t play extra innings. The other players play both offense and defense, but as a hitter you only take one out of every 9 at bats. As a fielder, you’re not involved in every play. A quarterback may only play offense, but he participates in every play on offense. The way baseball is played also factors into it’s uncertainty. The pitcher could make a bad pitch and the hitter could hit a screaming line drive, but it might be right at a fielder and they make an out. On the other hand a pitcher could make a great pitch and the batter might hit a dribbler, but it could be in just the right spot where no one can field it, and the batter gets a base hit. No wonder so many baseball players are superstitious.
You might be the eighth hitter in a lineup, but you have the same opportunity to have an at-bat and impact a game, as the clean-up hitter. In this way, baseball might be the most democratic of team sports. No wonder that the Los Angeles teams with their high-priced players and the Tigers with their trio of former Cy Young pitchers are eliminated from the playoffs. There’s only so much a Bryce Harper can do. When Michael Wacha is the guy pitching and Travis Ishikawa is the guy hitting, that is their moment to influence the outcome of a game. Try to predict that.