Statistical analysts like my colleagues at Baseball Prospectus tend to downplay the nature of streakiness in baseball. A 95-win team on Tuesday is a 95-win team on Wednesday, and a .300 hitter today is a .300 hitter tomorrow. Sure, any result is possible in a short series. But this result is a matter of short-term luck, nothing more and nothing less. Or so the argument goes.
I've just watched the Detroit Tigers play 44 innings of terrible baseball. They couldn't hit, they couldn't field, they couldn't run the bases, and all the pine tar in the world isn't going to buy you a championship when you can't do any of those things.
I don't think it was bad luck. I think this team wasn't in the right frame of mind to play winning baseball.
You want numbers? I'll give you numbers.
During the regular season, Tigers pitchers had a respectable .939 fielding percentage. During the World Series, Tigers pitchers made five errors in 17 chances. The odds of that happening based on chance alone are 355-to-1 against.
During the regular season, Detroit's leadoff hitters got on base 33 percent of the time. During the World Series, their leadoff men reached base five times in 44 plate appearances. The odds of that happening based on chance alone are 843-to-1 against.
In other words, it wasn't that the Tigers lost. It was the way in which they lost. If you want to take a conspiratorial bent, you can identify myriad of factors that prevented the Tigers from playing relaxed, professional baseball. There was the long layoff prior to Game 1. There was Smudgegate during Game 2. There was Chris Carpenter pitching his best game of the season in Game 3. There was the rainout before Game 4. And the Tigers headed into Game 5 coming off a heartbreaking loss, facing another road game in a compromised position that they'd never planned for. The Tigers never had the chance to catch their breath. It might have been bad luck that they faced this sequence of events. But it wasn't bad luck that they lost this series.
The Detroit Tigers. They just weren't right.
Redbirds of a feather
Having just given the Cardinals no credit at all, you might expect that this is the point in time at which I trot out some statistical formula claiming that the Cardinals are the worst team ever to win a World Series.
Well, you'd be right.
Baseball Prospectus maintains a formula called the Elo Ratings, which is based on the system used to rate chess players for international competition. This formula, as adopted to baseball, can account for strength of schedule, scoring margin, disparities in league strength, and postseason performance. According to the Elo Ratings, the 2006 Cardinals are the worst World Champion ever, just "beating" the 1987 Twins.
We keep another formula called third order wins. This formula accounts for pretty much everything the Elo Ratings do, plus the additional wrinkle of examining each team's underlying batting and pitching statistics. Third order wins confirm the conclusion of the Elo Ratings: the 2006 Cardinals are the worst World Champion ever.
Not that it takes some wonky statistical formula to tell you this. The Cardinals compiled an 83-78 record, which is the worst winning percentage ever for a World Series winner. And they did this in an inferior division in a vastly inferior league.