the playoffs are luck-based, too?
I read your post and see a point there, somewhere -- if I had to paraphrase it, I'd say "the best teams don't always win the World Series" -- and yet I still have to wonder, what's the point? I'd venture a guess that most, if not all, baseball people would agree with that assertion -- just look at some of the World Series champions in recent memory, from that early '90s Cincinnati squad that swept the As to the spate of recent Wild Card-to-World Series Champs. Clearly many of them were not the "best" team in the league. The White Sox probably weren't the "best" team last year.
And clearly, this discussion leads us down the path of no return, the path of defining "best," and indeed of defining the purpose of the playoffs, and maybe even the purpose of sport. I certainly have no desire to pursue any of those.
As is often the case, I agree with you to a point, but I think you overstate your case. The playoffs, particularly best-of-five series, allow for a lot of variance. And the anecdotal evidence from these playoffs (it's far too small of a sample size to be significant, much less to prove anything, as you assert, but you're the stat guy, so you know that) supports your argument.
But I don't know if I'd say the playoffs are a total crapshoot. Last year's White Sox had the second-best (by 1/2 a game) regular-season record in baseball; the 2004 Red Sox had the third-best. And even when the winners are wild-card pretenders, I don't think it's really such a hugely improbable feat, especially in the shorter divisional series.
For instance, the Padres were probably better than the Cards, but not by much. Definitely not by such a wide margin that the Cards' series win is some kind of statistical injustice. Sure, you can choose your stats carefully -- road OPS and the like -- and you can point out the fact that the Cardinals swooned late. But you could also point out the fact that halfway through the month of August, the Padres were a sub-.500 ballclub from a mediocre division. Does a red-hot September somehow carry more weight than an ice-cold finish? And if so, why, unless you've invoking the same logic you argue against -- that timeliness dictates the value of a performance?
(On a side note, I think the Cardinals beat the Padres because the Padres don't have a Pujols or a Carpenter. The Cards had the best player and the best pitcher. They also had the best defense, thanks in large part to the Pads' infield injuries and Mike Piazza's lifelong delusion of being a catcher. Maybe that's reductive; maybe it's oversimplified. But you watched the games -- it sure seemed like that's what made the difference.)
Really, though, the Cards/Pads series is neither here nor there. My larger question is the same question I always pose to sabermetricians: so what? So there are other stats that may better quantify the value of a player to a team. So the playoffs can't be predicted on an abacus. So what? Of what use is that to a fan?
And what would you have us do about it? Give the WS trophy to the best regular-season team? Make VORP, OBP, and OPS the new Triple Crown? Give the Cy Young to whoever has the best WHIP and ERA+?
I doubt you're saying any of that. So what's the point of complaining about the playoffs being difficult or impossible to predict? Who said sports should be easy to predict? Sabermetrics isn't even predicated on predicting the outcome of a game or a season, so far as I'm aware; it serves to quantify a player's value, no? So who cares if Billy Beane says the playoffs are a crapshoot? Who cares if he's partly right?
Call me stupid, call me stone-age, call me anti-stat (though I'm not). I just don't see the point in this kind of argument, and what's more, it always sounds like sour grapes, whether it's coming from Billy Beane -- a guy whose team keeps losing postseason series -- or you -- a guy whose team just lost a postseason series.