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The CWS Schedule

Publication Date: June 18, 2002

Cool, There's a Game On

They're doing something relatively unusual today -- they're playing baseball in Omaha on the Friday before the championship game. In both 2000 and 2001, all the teams in the championship game had run through their brackets undefeated. That could just be coincidence, but let's take a look and see if there might be something here to worry about.

First of all, we'll need a basis for comparison. Fortunately, we have a bunch of four-team double elimination tournaments played every year in the regionals, so let's see how those have tended to go. In the four years of the 64-team tournament, the winning team has had a loss, whether in the first game on the final day or earlier in the regional, in 28 of the 64 regionals, or 44% of the time.

In Omaha, in that same time span, only two of the eight brackets have gone an extra game. That's not very many, so let's look deeper. Since the new format was adapted in 1988, championship game teams have had a loss coming in eleven of thirty times, for 37%. Now, that's skating on the edge of statistical insignificance due to the sample size (a good rule of thumb is that if one game can change your result, you should look funny at it, and if Stanford had beaten Texas last night, we'd be at 40%).

However, even if we assume that the margin of error is big enough that the two results are equal, that's still a bit odd. That's because, both in theory and in practice, the four-team fields in Omaha should be much better-matched than the four-team regional fields. After all, in Omaha, you'll have something like the #1, #5, #7, and #12 teams in the country in a bracket, while in a regional you're looking at something like #1, #12, #30, and #125. Therefore, you'd intuitively expect that undefeated teams in Omaha would be much rarer.

As it turns out, there's a potential explanation for this -- the schedule. After going all season playing at least four games a week, teams go to Omaha with the potential to play four games in nine days. It's quite possible to win the CWS with two pitchers without doing anything that even a die-hard pitch-count watcher like myself would object to. I suspect that that skews the results a bit, giving an advantage to teams with great #1 pitchers at the expense of teams with balanced rotations.

I said last year that, in the interest of fairness, the CWS should look as much like the regular season as possible. I know that the NCAA isn't using that as a criteria, and the CWS is the one college baseball event with enough money involved that it can distort the process, but I'll go ahead and suggest it anyway -- the tournament needs to be shortened. There's an easy chance to do this next year as the championship round moves from a single game to a best-of-three format; the schedule will have to be changed anyway. The most likely schedule will be to just add another day (and potentially two) to the end, but I'd love to see them keep the current length (maybe moving back a day to Saturday-to-the-next-Sunday to maximize weekend exposure) or even drop a day.

Pitch Count Watch

Rather than keep returning to the subject of pitch counts and pitcher usage in general too often for my main theme, I'm just going to run a standard feature down here where I point out potential problems; feel free to stop reading above this if the subject doesn't interest you. This will just be a quick listing of questionable starts that have caught my eye or, on the other hand, starts where pitchers were pulled according to plan early despite pitching extremely well in close games.

Date Team Pitcher Opponent IP H R ER BB SO AB BF Pitches
June 7 Stanford Jeremy Guthrie Notre Dame 9.0 10 3 3 1 5 37 38 129 (*)

There are some things, like box scores or me, that work best on the Web. There are lots of things that work best live in person. And there are a few things that work best on TV. The look on Shane Komine's face as he tried to push his body back to the level of performance he used to know in his last inning this week is one that will stay with me for a while.

(*) Pitch count is estimated.

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Boyd's World-> Breadcrumbs Back to Omaha-> The CWS Schedule About the author, Boyd Nation