Great Expectations: 2013 MLB Playoff Favorites

World Series picks, per ESPN.com:

LAD: 5

STL: 3

PIT, CIN, ATL: 1

BOS: 10

DET: 8

OAK: 5

Notice anything interesting there? There’s the obvious–Boston is the favorite, followed closely by Detroit. But if you take another look, you’ll see that ESPN’s experts favor the American League by a wide margin. Of the 34 analysts surveyed, 23 picked an American League team to win the World Series.

It’s true that the Junior Circuit took the 2013 All-Star game to clinch home-field advantage for the World Series. Home-field advantage does a little bit to explain the discrepancy, but not much. The more salient point is that, since interleague play was introduced in 1997, the AL has outperformed the NL to a pretty astounding degree.

The fact of the matter is that a seven game series is something just shy of a toss-up in terms of determining the more skilled team. And since an NL team is guaranteed to end up in the World Series–even if the league is inferior–it stands to hold something just shy of a 50% chance of winning the World Series, even after accounting for the handicap that the NL may deserve, league-wide. And that handicap may go out the window in the World Series: over that same 15-year span since the introduction of interleague play in 1997, the National League has actually won the majority of World Series, with 8 victories, bookended by the Marlins in 1997 and the Giants in 2012.

So, even though the power of crowds to estimate–for example, the weight of a rhinoceros–is surprisingly precise, it’s unlikely that there’s actually a 23/34 (68%) chance that the American League provides the winner of this year’s Series.

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