Playoff-qualification formats, 2018 complaint

I’ve had some version of this complaint since at least 2005 (click the category links at the bottom to see past posts). Even though the playoff format has changed in a big way in the interim, I still don’t like it, and 2018 American League again shows why.

First, however, the National League of 2018 shows some clear advantages of the current format. The Cubs and Brewers have a weekend showdown (albeit not playing each other) over which one will win the Central. Whichever one does will also have the league’s best record. The other will be the first wild card. The stakes are high! The Dodgers and Rockies also have a showdown (again, not playing each other directly) over which one will win the West. The loser of that contest might be the second wild card, but the Cardinals are still alive, and so the loser of the West race could get left out entirely while the Cards get the (second wild) card. And to add spice to it, the Cards and Cubs (long time rivals!) play each other over the final weekend with both teams having playoff berths (or at least seeding) on the line.

Meanwhile, in the American League, we see the fundamental problem with the current format on full display. The Indians clinched their division a full week ago. At the time, their record was 86-68. The Tampa Bay Rays had the exact same record on that date, yet were on the brink of elimination. The Seattle Mariners were, on the same date, 85-69. Three teams within a game of one another in the standings. Yet one of them got a week to get rested and set up its rotation, while the other two will sit out the postseason.

The AL situation this season reminds us of the arbitrariness of the divisional alignments. While they are geographically accurate (unlike the NL before 1998), they can reward a mediocre “division winner” while shutting out teams with approximately identical records who just happen to be in tougher divisions. A related effect is that the AL Wild Card one-game playoff is going to pit the third and fourth (possibly second and fourth) best teams in the league (by W-L) against each other, while the fifth (or possibly sixth) best team gets to go straight to a Division Series as the League’s No. 3 seed.

While I was praising the NL situation earlier, I would be remiss if I did not note that, despite the good races to the finish in that league, there actually will be a similar unfairness in the outcome. The NL West winner is likely to finish with a worse record than the first wild card, and possibly in a tie with the second wild card. It just won’t be as stark a difference as the one in the AL.

Could this be remedied with better institutional design? Of course! I still prefer my Two Divisions, Two Wild Cards idea, first proposed in 2010, years before the current format (which is three divisors and two wild cards) was adopted. Of course, it is very unlikely that MLB will reduce the postseason back to four teams from the current five. As much as I do not like the one-game postseason “series” of the current wild card playoff, I could live with it–in modified form.

How about Two Divisions, Three Wild Cards? Bear with me a moment. I want a system that maximizes the chances that the best teams face off in the LCS and one of the very best makes it to the World Series. I don’t want to spot a mediocre team a top playoff seed just because it happened to win a weak division (i.e., this year’s Indians, but also several recent division winners). And I don’t want a first wild card that is well ahead of the second to have just one chance to get beat by an inferior opponent. The basic problem is small divisions magnify the odds that a weak team gets a division title. So two divisions are better than three!

It is not ideal to have divisions of different size in a league. With 15 teams per league, this proposal would require it (unless some more cross-league shifts were made, making the leagues different sizes instead of the divisions within each league).

With three wild cards, the first of them could get an automatic advance to the Division Series, while the second and third play a one-game playoff. (I’d prefer a best-of-3, but there really is no time for that.)

If this were in place now (and we’ll assume the records would be the same as they actually are), the AL teams would be: Red Sox (AL East, as actually), Houston (AL West, as actually), Yankees and A’s (first two Wild Cards, as actually), and a still live race between the Indians and Rays and, more marginally, the Mariners for the third Wild Card.

The proposal would work better still if the Division Series themselves were asymmetric, an idea I included in my earlier Two Divisions, Two Wild Cards proposal. I quote myself (because I can):

One could still introduce a first-round playoff structure that rewards division winners over wild card winners, if one wanted to do so. For instance, the first round could be a best of seven with the division winner having the first three games at home, instead of only the first two–while still having the last two if it went that far. Or under a best of five, one could similarly ensure the division winner four home games if the series went the distance. Another thought is an asymmetric series: the division winner advances after winning two games, but the wild card has to win three. I will not consider any of these integral to 2D2W [or the new proposal]; they are additional considerations.

Every institutional structure one can devise has problems as well as advantages. That is true of baseball championships as much as of electoral systems. And it is certainly true of this one. But I believe it would be an improvement on the current format.

In any case, enjoy the last weekend of the regular season, and the playoffs that follow!

5779 is upon us!

Last Thursday when I looked straight up as I ascended the gravelly knoll for shacharit it really hit me. That little bit of moon meant Rosh Hashanah must be really upon us. The yellow leaves on the fig tree offer further hints that we are well into the season of turning.

This year’s “first fruits” for Rosh HaShannah. Muscat of Alexandria and Zinfandel? (could be Syrah) grapes, Arkansas Black and Hudson’s Golden Gem apples, Warren pear, and the season’s icon, our first pomegranate (I used to think it was Desertnyi variety, but now I am thinking maybe Parfianka).

It was a fruitful end to 5778. Maybe 5779 be sweet and bountiful! See you on the other side.

 

Temperature means, winter months, 2013-18

By popular demand*, here’s a full accounting of our winter temperatures since moving to the current location.

The stats really drive home just what an unusual winter this was, with the colder temperatures very much concentrated towards the latter part. I discussed the consequences of this for the deciduous fruit tree blooms in an earlier “planting“.

February’s mean low was more than four degrees below the five-year mean, and the March high and low were both 3-4 degrees below the five-year means.

December was also colder than normal, in terms of overnight lows although the daytime highs were the warmest experienced in a December thus far. The December cold was not as far below norm as we experienced our first winter here, 2013-14, when an extreme freeze was very costly to some of my citrus and other subtropical trees. Even the Eucs had damage that winter.

* Not really, I must admit.

Oats, 2018

It is interesting to compare the neighbor’s oat farm today, on the eve of Pesach (Passover) to what it looked like five years ago in a photo I posted as part of my “Oats and Passover” discussion. (The linked blog entry was posted in 2015, but the photo was from 2013.)

Unfortunately, the fence has fallen over since I took the 2013 photo, making it hard to judge the height of the oats at the edge of the field. Even so, it is pretty obvious that the crop has grown far less this year than in 2013 at the same point.

This season, we have had only about nine inches of rainfall at this location, and more than 40 percent of that has fallen in March (hence too late to have contributed much to the oat growth, at least thus far). By contrast, 2012-13 was a wetter year. At nearby Davis, according to Golden Gate Weather, 13.47 had fallen by the end of March. Perhaps more importantly, nearly eleven inches of that had fallen in November-December. (We had just moved in days before the photo was taken in 2013, so I don’t have records for this location.)

Oats, at least here, are not irrigated. The crop depends on rainfall. In the time we have been here, it has been rather up and down. And each year around this time, a glance at the oat farm would provide a good clue to the rainfall patterns.

The oats are typically harvested in April. In some years very early in the month, but this year the harvest probably will be much later.

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I guess, given the topic of oats and the link to the earlier post on the topic, this counts as my pre-Pesach post. So chag sameach to all celebrating!

 

European Parliament votes to review Daylight Savings Time

As an ardent foe of the so-called Daylight Savings Time, already practically dreading that in less than a month, suddenly the sunrise will again be almost as late as 7:30 a.m., my day was brightened by some news.

The European Parliament voted 384-153 “to review whether Daylight Saving Time is actually worth it.” Some excerpts:

The claim that setting clocks an hour ahead in spring doesn’t save energy or make societies safer is often used by Daylight Saving opponents. In the past, when lighting a home was the primary driver of electricity consumption, adjusting clocks to take advantage of late-evening sunlight might have made a dent in that consumption. But in today’s world, air conditioning and electronics are also significant portions of electricity demand, and optimizing business hours to coincide with daylight hours doesn’t significantly impact that draw of electricity.

In fact, the US added three more weeks to Daylight Saving Time in 2005, in part in the hopes of capitalizing on potential energy savings. But by 2007 that dream hadn’t panned out: people just consumed more electricity in the dark morning hours instead of in the dark evening hours.

The vote is small and preliminary step, and even the finding of “not worth it” would not directly help me in California, but it’s a start.

Daylight Savings–an idea way past its time.

Spring 2018. Or is it winter?

Sometimes in a climate like this one, the seasons kind of mash together. It was an unusually warm January, and some trees are in bloom now. Yet this morning the temperature was 30F and there were ice crystals on the grass.

First blossom one one of our almond trees–8 Feb.

The Flavor Delight aprium is in bloom, 11 Feb.

The blooming is not early, despite the January warmth. The almond depicted above usually has its first bloom around the same date in February: the 12th in 2017, 6th in 2016, 3rd in 2015. The Flavor Delight likewise tends to have its first several blossoms open around now: 14th in 2017,  7th in 2016, 15th in 2015.

What is somewhat more unusual is below-freezing temperatures at this time of year. (I am sure they were common at this point in February decades ago, but not recently.) The latest date of a below-freezing temperature in 2017 was 25 Dec. (29F, though it was 32 on 24 Feb.), in 2016 2 Jan., in 2015 3 Jan, and in 2014 5 Feb. And the current forecast calls for a few days of low temperatures in the 20s and 30s. This could be bad for pollination of the trees in bloom and for tender young leaf growth on the citrus and some other trees.

That is the nature of a Mediterranean climate–“spring” begins in early February, but winter can keep hanging on.

FruitsandVotes.com

I am happy to report that I finally got around to having the old domain map to this one. From now, it should work to use http://fruitsandvotes.com and get here. For the past however long, using the old URL would take you to an error page.

The old post-specific links still won’t work, because of the difference in how URLs form the old hosted site (numbers) and the current Word Press site (title words). But at least it no longer will look as if the blog is dead, as must have been the case to many folks stumbling upon an old URL and trying it out.