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How well did the public predict the MLB postseason?

There is a varying degree of success.

Boston Red Sox Victory Parade Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images

It feels like an eternity has passed since the Red Sox won the World Series, but it really was just last Sunday. With their 5-1 defeat of the Dodgers in Game Five, Boston won their fourth title in the past 14 years on the backs of David Price and Steve Pearce — not Chris Sale and Mookie Betts, as one might expect.

As our focus here at Beyond The Box Score turns to the offseason, it’s time to do one more musing on the postseason.

Before the 2018 postseason began, I ran a postseason predictions contest through my Twitter account. I published the results of my findings during the first week of play. But, now that the postseason is over, it is possible to reflect upon the success of my 311 respondents.

Perfect Brackets: 1

While 311 different people did enter my bracket challenge, just one correctly predicted every single round, from the Wild Card Games to the World Series. @bobrewer on Twitter is the baseball genius of the year.

What’s interesting to me is, for the most part, there weren’t many upsets this year. The Dodgers weren’t the No. 1 seed in the National League, sure, but many people thought that they would be the ones representing the Senior Circuit in the World Series. As for the Red Sox, it was not too far out of the realm of possibility that a 108-win team could win the World Series, though there is an argument to be made that even they were underdogs at one point or another this postseason.

The Cubs being knocked off in the Wild Card Game was the most improbable result from this postseason. Anything can happen in a one game playoff, but the Cubs were (and probably still are) a superior team to the Rockies. Most thought that they would win.

With all of this said, I would have thought more people could have predicted the Rockies to win the Wild Card Game while still predicting the rest of the postseason correctly.

Round-By-Round Predictions vs. Reality

In the chart below, listed are the winners of each round of the postseason, alongside the percentage of respondents who selected said team to win the round.

Expectations vs. Reality

Round Winner %
Round Winner %
World Series Red Sox 23.8%
ALCS Red Sox 30.2%
NLCS Dodgers 35.7%
ALDS 1 Red Sox 71.1%
ALDS 2 Astros 76.8%
NLDS 1 Brewers 73.3%
NLDS 2 Dodgers 75.6%
ALWC Yankees 54.7%
NLWC Rockies 41.8%

It’s important to remember that while 23.8 percent of respondents picking the Red Sox to win the World Series may seem low, this poll tracked the percentage of those who picked them to win out of every team in the postseason.

We would have collected very different results had we just asked respondents whether they thought the Red Sox or Dodgers would win. In fact, I did. In a Twitter poll prior to the World Series that generated 213 responses, 62 percent selected the Red Sox to defeat the Dodgers:

Nonetheless, the Red Sox World Series pick was still the second-most popular selection behind the Astros, who polled at 27.3 percent. A similar trend can be found in both of the LCS series. The Dodgers polled behind the Brewers (42.8 percent), while the Red Sox polled only behind the Astros (40.5 percent).

Of those who predicted a Dodgers-Red Sox World Series...

A much more telling metric of the sentiments of voters are the results of those who initially predicted a Dodgers-Red Sox World Series.

Dodgers-Red Sox was the fourth-most popular World Series matchup, with 26 people — 8.4 percent — predicting it. Of those who predicted this scenario to occur, a whopping 80.8 percent (!) saw the Red Sox all the way through to the title. Just four saw the Dodgers being able to knock them off. Clearly, the people clearly saw a better team when comparing Boston to Los Angeles — and they were right.

Of the 74 people who predicted the Red Sox to win the World Series, the voters were pretty split as to which team they saw them beating. The Brewers (36 votes) were the most popular selection, with the Dodgers (21) being a fair number of votes behind them. Red Sox over Cubs (10) and Red Sox over Braves (7) scenarios also generated some noise.

And of the 30 who saw the Dodgers winning, the majority (16 votes) saw them defeating the Astros en route to the title. A Dodgers over Red Sox scenario was actually the third-most popular situation in which voters picked the Dodgers to win the World Series, behind the aforementioned Houston as well as the Indians (7). The Yankees (2) and Athletics (1) were also predicted by at least one voter to lose to the Dodgers in the World Series.

Of Red Sox fans...

The last fascinating piece of data to consider is the impact of team favoritism.

I asked voters to report their favorite team when filling out the poll. A solid 39 Red Sox fans responded to my poll, yet just 22 of them predicted the Red Sox to win the World Series. At 56.4 percent, the percentage of fans who picked the Red Sox to win the World Series was right in the middle of the pack. For these fans, I have just one question: How could you betray your team like this?

To be fair, I did ask respondents to predict what they thought would happen this postseason, rather than what they wanted to happen. Boston did seemingly have some potential holes in their postseason, and the Astros posed a formidable opponent to them, if they ever eventually met in the ALCS. (As we know, they did, and the Red Sox steamrolled Houston.)

Dodgers fans, on the other hand, were much more confident in their team winning the World Series. Seventeen fans of the Dodgers responded to my poll, and 12 picked Los Angeles to win. This 70.6 percent rate was the third-highest of all 10 teams in the postseason. The Red Sox ranked fifth.

The lessons

All in all, baseball (and sports in general) are hard to predict. Even the best models fail, the underdogs win, and sometimes the unexpected becomes the expected. I do think that the public did fairly well with their predictions; I did not go into this exercise expecting 15 perfect brackets, but I am not surprised that we had one. In the same breath, Dodgers-Red Sox was the fourth-most popular (out of 25) World Series matchup, and the Red Sox overall were projected to win the World Series with the second-most frequency.

So, while sports can be nearly impossible to predict (I mean, Nick Mullens just beat the Raiders by 31 points on Thursday), the public had a fair amount of success in predicting the 2018 postseason, something that we should all be proud of.


Devan Fink is a Featured Writer at Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.