Who Should You Root for in the Playoffs?

October is the best time to be a baseball fan. Over the next few weeks, we'll be treated to virtually nonstop (depending on how long the series go) nationally televised games between the best teams in baseball. Even if your favorite team has been out of the pennant race since May, it's easy to get sucked into the postseason drama (I'm an Indians fan, so this is a subject on which I can speak with authority).

But for myself and fans of the other 21 non-qualifying teams (welcome to the club, Red Sox and Braves fans), the beginning of the postseason presents a dilemma: who should we root for?

There are plenty of factors that go into this essential decision: a good story, likable players, a despised opponent. What's more, the odds of your temporary favorite team being eliminated before the end are 75 percent, so over the course of the postseason you'll likely end up cheering for at least two different teams about whom you couldn't have cared less about during the regular season.

Sound daunting? Well, fear no more: Introducing ROOT (Rootability Of Other Teams), a new tchotchke statistic that will make your choice much easier. ROOT ranks each playoff team's appeal to other franchises' fans based on the compellingness of their stories and how fun they are to watch, then adjusts the scores for each individual fanbase. The result: you, the viewer, know exactly where your loyalties should lie throughout the postseason.

We'll begin by calculating the basic ROOT scores—i.e., who a fan with no team affiliation should pick as his or her temporary favorite. I've identified four factors that can contribute to teams' scores here: being preseason underdogs, making a late-season comeback, being fun to watch, and not being a franchise that people generally don't like. Here's the calculation:

  • Add half a point for each game away from the playoffs the team finished last year
  • Add one point for each game out of the playoffs the team was on September 1
  • Add the team's NERD score (as calculated by the incomparable Carson Cistulli)
  • Subtract five points if the team is the Red Sox
  • Subtract 10 points if the team is the Yankees

And so, the team-neutral ROOT results for this year's playoff teams are:

  1. Arizona Diamondbacks: 22.5
  2. Tampa Bay Rays: 15.5
  3. Milwaukee Brewers: 15.0
  4. St. Louis Cardinals: 13.0
  5. Texas Rangers: 9.0
  6. Detroit Tigers: 8.5
  7. Philadelphia Phillies: 3.0
  8. New York Yankees: 0.0

There are a couple teams I might switch around if I were just doing this off the top of my head, but overall I'd say this looks about right. So if you don't have a strong team affiliation, you should be pulling for the Diamondbacks to best the Rays in the Fall Classic. One group of people who would hate to see that happen: TV executives.

Of course, for the majority of fans, this doesn't do any good. Most baseball followers aren't neutral bystanders—they're diehard supporters of their hometown teams (at least, when they're winning). Hence, we can adjust these ROOT numbers based for each fanbase based on rivalries and the presence of former players.

First, identify each player on a playoff roster who used to play for your favorite team—we'll use my Indians as our example—and categorize each as either a fan favorite (Victor Martinez fits here); a good, well-liked, or memorable player who wasn't quite a franchise icon (Cliff Lee); a role player, someone who wasn't particularly well liked, or a guy who some fans might not even remember (Ben Francisco, Jhonny Peralta, and Aaron Laffey, respectively); or an absolute bridge-burner (Mr. Revisionist History, CC Sabathia). Then, for each of the eight playoff teams:

  • Add 10 points for each former fan favorite, plus an additional five points for each one who has never won a World Series
  • Add five points for each well-liked non-face-of-the-franchise guy, plus an additional two points for each one who has never won a World Series
  • Add one point for each role, unpopular, or forgettable player
  • Subtract ten points for each bridge-burner, minus an additional five points for each World Series he has won since leaving your team
  • Subtract five points if the team finished between 5.5 and 10 games ahead of your favorite team for a playoff spot
  • Subtract 10 points if the team finished between 2.5 and five games ahead of yours for a playoff spot
  • Subtract 15 points if the team finished two or fewer games ahead of yours for a playoff spot
  • Subtract 10 points if the team and yours have a minor rivalry
  • Subtract 50 points if the team and yours have a major rivalry

Because the player categories are subjective there's no single right way to calculate the ROOT scores, and every fan's could be different. That being said, I think this is how most of my fellow Tribe fans would do it:

  1. Diamondbacks: 22.5
  2. Cardinals: 20.0
  3. Rays: 16.5
  4. Brewers: 15.0
  5. Tigers: 14.5
  6. Phillies: 9.0
  7. Rangers: 9.0
  8. Yankees: -7.0
I'd say this passes the feel test too. If you're wondering, Martinez, Lee, Bartolo Colon, and Jake Westbrook are the biggest postiive difference-makers here, though the goodwill from Colon is more than overshadowed by Sabathia.

I don't consider myself fully qualified to make definite judgments about how other fanbases view their former players, but in the interest of helping some fans who are now suddenly and unexpectedly teamless for the rest of the month, here's how the ROOT scores break down for Red Sox fans:
  1. Diamondbacks: 22.5
  2. Rangers: 18.0
  3. Brewers: 16.0
  4. Tigers: 15.5
  5. Cardinals: 13.0
  6. Phillies: 4.0
  7. Rays: -24.5
  8. Yankees: -55.0
and for Braves faithful:
  1. Diamondbacks: 25.5
  2. Rays: 19.5
  3. Brewers: 15.0
  4. Rangers: 10.0
  5. Tigers: 8.5
  6. Cardinals: 5.0
  7. Yankees: 2.0
  8. Phillies: -6.0
If you have a second-favorite team that made the playoffs or you have one player for whom you always cheer, then this is all completely useless. But if you're struggling to figure out what hat to wear now (probably a Diamondbacks cap, I guess), hopefully this will help.

Here's hoping for a great postseason!
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