Baseball's statistical revolution has enhanced and extended the casual fan's understanding and appreciation for the game in immeasurable ways. Some people may not appreciate or understand these new-found "esoteric" figures, others show outright hostility towards this analytical approach, viewing it as joyless and cold. The first game of the year usually serves as a desirable antidote to the pencil pushing and long division. Opening Day brings out the poetry, the cliche and the hyperbole. Every team is tied for first! The grass and fresh and hopes are high! Last year means nothing! This is our year!!
I'm a pretty level-headed guy, one that embraces the stats and analysis like nerds caress Joss Whedon's universes. Until today, when the good people at Baseball Analysts slapped me right in the face. They've taken single game measures like Win Probability Added (the amount any one player contributed to the outcome of each game) and Leverage Index (the degree to which each individual event contributes to the final game outcome) and extended and examined them over the course of an entire season. Championship WPA demonstrates how much each player added to a World Series win at any one time. Championship Leverage measures "the impact of a game on a team's World Series title chances."
The one game playoff between the Twins and White Sox was the single "biggest" game of the year as determined by Championship Leverage. Manny Ramirez's superlative contribution to the Dodgers stretch run and continued playoff excellence represented 11% (!!) of a World Series championship all on his own. Interesting stuff, but it takes an ominous turn.
Author Sky Andrecheck uses this Championship Index to determine the "most important" game of the year for each team. Some scary, scary stuff surfaces. The San Francisco Giants played their most "important" game, the game that was most impactful towards their championship hopes on March 31st. OPENING DAY! In fact, according to their numbers, the Giants, Padres, and Rockies were all playing games that were, for all intents and purposes, meaningless as of APRIL 11th. The Pirates played their highest leveraged game on April 2nd, the Nationals April 3rd. Not just bad teams spent the summer spinning their wheels. The AL West Champion Angels game versus Oakland on July 1st spelled the end of that division chase.
The most frightening aspect of this entire thing? Liakos was right. Right as rain. All the teams he mourned as dead by Memorial Day were indeed deep in the ground. His life support claims were even accurate, with the Blue Jays 86 win season hoping aboard the slow boat to nowhere on May 31th. The Tigers ended up hanging tight in the AL Central, tight enough to make games into July still worthwhile.
The piece is fascinating, please click through for the full extent of their findings. Just try to block it all this information out when you're trying to exit the parking lot after Monday's game.
Sweet sunset picture courtesy of flickr user icopythat