The 2015 World Series is offering up a ton of symbolic comparisons. For some, the New York Mets (short for Metropolitans) represent Wall Street suits and big city life, while the Kansas City Royals (named after a rodeo) are standing in for the typical American cowboy. Maybe you see it as a grand contest of the Coastal Cities against Flyover Country. Or perhaps it’s simply a test of Moneyball vs. the Scouts.
These days, moneyball takes precedence, but the two teams took very different approaches to padding out their investment portfolios. Billy Beane, who started out with the Mets, is the father of moneyball, and his statistical analysis methods have been critical for New York this year. Meanwhile, the Royals were making plenty of fans nervous with their risky trades based on intuition and experience. Both strategies paid off in the best way possible. Here’s a look a some of the numbers behind the gutsy calls and long shots that would make any fantasy player proud.
Hot Hands and the Mets
It’s an odd coincidence, in a year full of odd coincidences, that the 2016 Opening Day game was already scheduled to be the Mets vs. the Royals. Those who don’t believe in luck are having a hard time explaining it.
It may have been a combination of dumb luck and smart moneyball that led the Mets to pick up Daniel Murphy from Jacksonville University in the lucky 13th round of the 2006 draft. For nearly a decade, Murphy served as a journeyman player, but he was always more of a character actor than a star. This year he turned into Mr. October. Murphy consistently blasted out homers for one out of every four of his last 25 times at the plate. In the bigger picture, he’s below the league average of 2.96 AB/HR (Murphy is at 2.81), but his on-going championship hot hand streak puts him at 4.5 percent to knock it out of the park the next time he picks up a bat.
That may sound like superstitious gambler talk, but it’s supported by hard research from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. After examining baseball stats for “short-term streakiness,” — the hot hand phenomenon — mathematicians concluded that “if a player hits home runs in an additional 10 percent of his last 25 at bats, the likelihood of hitting a home run in the next at bat increases by .75 percent. This compares with the average batter who hits a home run in 3.0% of his at bats, with a standard deviation of 1.7 percent across players.”
Regardless of what happens next, Murphy’s hitting streak has pegged one of the best post-seasons on record with stats such as .421/.436/1.026, including 7 HRs. That gives him a weighted runs created plus score of 305 over the nine pennant games.
Not a bad investment for a kid the Mets plucked up out of college. No one is talking about how much they’re paying him now, but an unnamed American League GM estimated that Murphy could be worth a $75 million, five-year contract in free agency next season. It looks as though the Mets will let someone take him off their hands after profit-taking with the World Series.
This year, the trades handed them Yoenis Cespedes, who turned out to be their linchpin in winning the post season, even if his injuries end up taking him out of the Series. Other precise calculations that paid off include designated hitter Kelly Johnson and the surprise return of Juan Uribe.
Trades That Made the Royals
A run as good as the past two seasons for the Royals doesn’t depend on single player, but it might depend on a single deal. The Royals’ road to glory really began in 2010 when they traded Zack Greinke and Yuniesky Betancourt in exchange for stars Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar and Jake Odorizzi.
Cain became the team MVP in 2014, and Escobar took MVP this year with a 1.1 OPS. Escobar became only the second hitter in history to post at least 10 hits and five RBIs from the lead position in a Championship Series.
Odorizzi matters for what he bought by leaving the team. The Royals took a big chance in giving up Ordorizzi in a trade that brought them ace pitcher Wade Davis. Davis has seen only 71 hits from 530 batters over the last two years.
Scouts also fought hard to pick up Kendrys Morales for $17 million, based on little more than intuition and an innate sense of player rhythm. That paid off in the clutch when Morales blasted out a three run homer to take the American League Championship.
Battle of the Underdogs
What makes this year’s title match particularly fascinating for mathematicians everywhere is that this is no David vs. Goliath contest. This is David vs. David. Both teams are coming in as traditional underdogs, struggling to define their media images as more underdoggish than the other. The fact is that it’s been three decades since either team took the Series. Everyone expects that the winning investment strategy in the end will certainly occupy the minds of team owners for many years to come.