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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

College World Series

The Reds haven't been on TV since mid-April, and probably won't be until the Diamondbacks visit Cincinnati next month. But in the meantime, over the past four days, I've been watching the College World Series and my adopted Arizona State Sun Devils.

Tonight's game was amazing. What began as a pitcher's duel morphed into a back and forth game by mid-innings, and then, when ASU's offense finally seemed to get going in the 7th and 8th, it looked like it would be a sizable defeat in ASU's favor. But the UC Irvine Anteaters somehow put together a 4-run 8th inning, and eventually would win it in the 10th. I would love to look at a fangraphs-style win probability graph for tonight's game. The leverage index was probably in the red (over 5.0) about once every half-inning from the 8th onward. Amazing baseball, even if the defeat is tough to take. Fortunately, a good number of the key players on this team (Wallace, Jarvis, etc) will be back next year, so the future is bright in the Valley of the Sun.

One of the fun things about these games is that ESPN is making substantial use of win probability throughout these games, as well as other work following Tom Tango's lead, including probability estimates of how many runs will be scored in different situations. As far as I can tell, all of their win probability figures are recalculated for college baseball games, which, if true, deserves commendation. They are making an innovation that I don't think has commonly been done at other sites that commonly do win probability, in that they take position in the batting order into account, as well as the traditional base/out/inning states. I hope ESPN continues to roll out these stats in MLB games...though I have to say, when the win probabilities get extreme (e.g. 95%-5%), they really should avoid displaying them, as sort of hurts the suspense. Where it gets really interesting though is when the trailing team gets a 50+ win probability thanks to their base runners. I love the perspective that gives. :)

I also want to say that I just love the double-elimination format that the NCAA uses in the College World Series tourney. It is so much better than the awful round-robin with tiebreakers format of, say, the World Baseball Classic. Tiebreakers are completely irrelevant in the CWS, and a team is never truly out of it until that last out is made. Tonight, by the time the 9th inning rolled around, both teams had already pulled their ineffective closers in favor of the pitcher they had wanted to start in Wednesday's game. No matter who won, the victor was going to have to face an undefeated and rested Oregon State team tomorrow after having used their top three starters in tonight's game. As the game went into extra innings, the problem of who would be available to actually throw a baseball come tomorrow's 7pm first pitch loomed ever larger. But it didn't matter--all that mattered was winning tonight and staying alive. Awesome, awesome baseball.

Coverage of professional baseball will resume with the next post. :)

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