MONDAY, OCTOBER 28, 2019
Anthropology all the way down: "Math is hard," Talking Barbie famously said.
According to major anthropologists, so is working with statistics! Consider what happened when a substantial number of human beings recently tried to do that.
As of last Wednesday night, the Washington Nationals had won the first two games of the World Series, and they'd done so as the visiting team!
The Nats had won the two games in Houston! Every sports pundit from here to Sochi got busy repeating a script:
Very few teams who accomplished that feat have ever gone on to lose the World Series! It looked like the Nats were in!
How many teams have ever won the first two games as the visiting team, then proceeded to lose in the end? Every joker had the answer:
It hadn't happened since 1996, when the Braves accomplished the feat, losing to the Yankees. Before that, it had happened in 1985 and 1986. But those were the only three times it had occurred in all of World Series history!
And no, it hadn't happened a single time in the past 23 years!
This information was widely used to suggest that the Nationals had the Series wrapped up. Prodded by despondent future scholars, we decided to check a bit farther. This is what we found:
It's true that, in recent decades, very few teams have ever won the first two games on the road then gone on to lose the Series. But that's mainly because very few teams have ever won the first two games on the road.
The Braves won the first two games as the visiting team in 1996. But only two other teams have won the first two games as the visiting team since then—the Yankees in 1999 (they went on to win the series), and the Nationals this year.
From the year 2000 through 2018, no team ever won the first two games of the World Series as the visiting team! From 1987 through 2018, it only happened twice—the two times we've already mentioned (1996 and 1999).
In short, very few teams lose the World Series after winning the first two game on the road because very few teams ever win the first two games on the road! In fact, of the past four teams to win the first two games on the road (1985, 1986, 1996, 1999), three of those teams went on to lose the Series! Only the Yankees managed to overcome their early success!
In short, the Nats were dead when they won those first two games in Houston! According to disconsolate anthropologists, the embarrassing fact that "statistics is hard" kept us inveterate knuckle-draggers from grasping this obvious fact.
Warning from anthropologists: The language used to discuss this topic will tend to prove confusing to humans. Our species' highly imperfect brains weren't wired for assignments like this.
With that in mind, let's state it again in its simplest form:
The visiting team rarely wins the first two games of the World Series. In the years since 1986, it had only happened twice before the Nats did it this year!