Friday, October 22, 2010

Giants Delusions

In a third inning filled with physical and mental miscues, the Giants kicked away their chance to win the National League pennant in front of their home crowd. The 4-2 loss to the Phillies last night was far from fatal, since the Giants have two more chances this weekend to win the deciding game. But they must do it in front of a hostile Philadelphia crowd against a team that has won a trip to the past two World Series and who some enthusiasts claim is one of the best teams of all time.

No one has ever made such an assertion about these Giants, whom few picked to even make the playoffs. But their pitching has kept them in most games, usually one-run nail-biters. The Giants blow leads, sometimes recover, then hold on for dear life in the ninth inning. After the euphoria of Wednesday’s 6-5 victory, the game 5 letdown has left some boosters despondent.

Here’s a chance for rationality to help Giants fans regain their balance. Let’s say that the Phillies are 3-2 (winning 60% of the time) favorites to win each game they play against the Giants. Combining the probabilities, the Giants are 40% + (40% x 60%) = 64% likely to win one of the next two games and go to the World Series.

Even if one thinks that the Phillies are 2-1 favorites in these home games—in other words twice as good as the Giants—the same calculation [33% + (33% x 67%)= 55%] still shows the Giants more likely to prevail than not.

Let’s stop now and not get too wonky about whether the probabilities are correct and whether the games are independent events. To paraphrase Mark Twain, let us have our delusions, Giants delusions, and statistics. © 2010 Stephen Yuen

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