The Odds: Can the Tigers Come Back?

After a rough outing by Justin Verlander in Game 1 and a poor offensive showing in Game 2, the Tigers are down 2-0 in the best of seven World Series. This much we know. We also know that Doug Fister is invincible.

But what we want to know at this point is if the Tigers can come back and win the series despite the deficit. Let’s take three different approaches.

First, let’s use math. The Tigers need to win four of the remaining five games in any order. If we assume for a moment that each game is essentially a coin flip and have no impact on one another, the Tigers have an 18.75% chance of winning the series. This covers all of the possible ways the Tigers could win 4 games in the next 5 (plus the abstract possibility they would win 5 of the next 5) divided by the total number of ways the next five games could play out.

Let’s make ourselves feel a little better though! Each game isn’t a coin flip in the sense that the odds are truly 50/50. Most people believe the Tigers are a slightly better team and they get to play three of the next five at home, which most people believe gives you some advantage. Add in any other reasons you could imagine that point in the Tigers favor and ignore the ones that support the Giants.

If we do this, and say the Tigers are 55/45 favorites in all of the remaining games, we can create a 25.62% probability that the Tigers will win the series using them same methodology. If we go the other way and make them a 45/55 underdog, we find a 13.13% chance of a series win.

Is this a depressing finding or a happy one? The Tigers have somewhere between a 13% and 25% chance of winning this series. We’re factoring out certain complexities like how the probability of winning each game varies slightly, but those should always be within 45-55%, so I’m comfortable being a little bit oversimplified on this.

What this tells us is that if these five games were played over and over again, the Tigers would win somewhere between 1 out of every 4 to 1 out of every 7.

That makes me feel pretty good. Those are not terrible odds at all. But what if we win Game 3? Everything changes.

If the Tigers win Game 3 on Saturday, the odds now shift to 24.15% to 39.10%. That’s substantially different. Now it’s 1 in 4 to 2 in 5 odds. If they win Games 3 and 4 it’s back to even.

Now I feel a lot better. Don’t think about winning four games out of five, think about winning one game. Or two games. And then think about 2 out of 3. The Tigers are in a hole, but it’s not that deep.

Approach two is precedent. So this one is tough, because I couldn’t get the data by the time of publication, so I’m trusting a rough source. The weak source tells me a team has come back 14 times from 2-0. I want that to mean “in the World Series,” but it could include other rounds. I also don’t have good numbers on how often a team has gone up 2-0. I’m going to assume it’s half the time. (I’ll update this section if I can get my hands on it)

This is a very rough estimate given the limitations, but I’ll be wildly conservative with my guesses also. My estimate is 11% of the time when a team is down 0-2, they come back to win the series. That’s probably fair if judge that against our 13-25% guess because some of those series could have been 5 or 9 games depending on what rounds and when they happened in history. Series can also be more mismatched than this one. There’s also some psychological affect if the series gets to 0-3. I buy this as an approximate value.

Approach three is the narrative. Basically, this is a guess based on observational data that is selected in a biased manner in order to construct an argument we agree with. Allow me…

“The Tigers have had their backs against the wall all year and have come back. They’re going back to Comerica where the crowd will be rocking. They hit better at home and Verlander is the only guy who really pitched poorly in SF. He’ll be fine in Game 5. We could totally win at least 2 in Detroit, maybe 3! Yeah, then we only need one in SF, but we could probably get two if we had to! They want it more!”

So that’s less scientific, but it’s an approach. Every series is a unique event that doesn’t follow any specific rules. The first two approaches draw on previous data, but this is series has no connection to that data. It’s one single event, so anything can happen.

Here’s a test case. 2004 ALCS. Boston down 3-0 to New York. Approach 1: 4.1% to 9.15%. Approach 2: 0% chance. Approach 3: Red Sox win the series and win the World Series. A very unlikely thing happened. Unlikely things happen all the time.

So while you might be discouraged that the Tigers are down 0-2, all is not yet lost. A win in Game 3 changes everything. A win in Game 4 is even better. It’s not an ideal situation, but there’s a chance.

I predicted Tigers in 6. Tigers in 6 or 7 isn’t bad either.

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