KC Royals: Sam Mellinger Succumbs To Gambler’s Fallacy
By John Viril
The KC Royals have pulled themselves back into contention with their eight-game winning streak. However, Kansas City Star columnist Sam Mellinger threw cold water on their playoff hopes in a piece published Monday. Mellinger’s logic fell prey to a classic mistake: the gambler’s fallacy.
So, just what did Sam Mellinger say that compelled me to write a refutation? Mellinger contended that the 2016 Kansas City Royals would fail to make the playoffs for two basic reasons: 1) that they would have to finish 37-13 and, 2) teams that make the playoffs don’t give away an entire month.
Ok, I can accept that the odds are still stacked against the KC Royals making the 2016 playoffs. They trail three teams in the wild card race. And, they’re one game behind Detroit and 8.0 games behind Cleveland in the AL Central. They have to play outstanding baseball over the final six weeks to crash the American League’s post-season party.
But, Sam Mellinger’s reasoning is silly because it defies basic logic.
To give a formal definition, Dictionary.com states the gambler’s fallacy as:
"(psychol) the fallacy that in a series of chance events the probability of one event occurring increases with the number of times another event has occurred in succession"
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To put it in more intuitive terms, the gambler’s fallacy is betting that a coin flip will come up heads because you’ve flipped tails 10 times in a row. Just because you’ve seen an improbable string of “tails” has no effect on the next coin flip. The odds of getting heads or tails will still be 50/50 no matter what happened before.
Thus, when Mellinger looks back to 12 games already played to say that the KC Royals are unlikely to finish 37-13, he’s falling for the gambler’s fallacy. Yes, it’s sound reasoning to talk about how unlikely it is for the Kansas City Royals to finish 26-12 with 38 games to play. But, including 12 games already played isn’t sound reasoning.
THOSE GAMES HAVE ALREADY BEEN PLAYED.
Now, could injuries sustained in the previous 12 games affect what happens later? Of course. But then they wouldn’t be independent events. Mellinger’s piece clearly presumes that the KC Royals are unlikely to finish out the season 26-12 because it’s hard to win 37 of 50 games.
That would be like saying Joe DiMaggio can’t get a hit in game 44 because he’s hit in 43 previous games.
Making the mistake once was bad enough. But, just to make sure that everyone knows that he doesn’t understand basic logical fallacies, Mellinger doubles down on his error by saying that the Kansas City Royals won’t make the playoffs because they went 7-19 in July.
Ummm. Sam. THOSE GAMES HAVE ALREADY BEEN PLAYED.
We can talk about how opponents have outscored the Kansas City Royals by a total of 23 runs through 124 games in the 2016 season. Sabermetric inventor Bill James built an entire formula called Baseball’s Pythagorean Theorem around run differential. James presumed that run differential is a better measure of a team’s true talent than Won/Loss record, and assumed that actual results differed mostly due to variance in hit sequencing. According to this metric, the KC Royals “should” be 59-65.
Those would have been sound arguments. In essence, it would be saying past games suggest that the Royals true talent level is less than their current record. But trying to say that the KC Royals 7-19 July means that can’t finish 26-12 is just specious.
Next: Ten Things That Have Gone Right For The KC Royals In 2016
Mellinger also points out that the upcoming schedule gets tougher. On Tuesday, the Kansas City Royals begin a stretch of 12 games against over-.500 teams. That’s a pertinent fact and could certainly have a bearing on their upcoming results. However, I would also like to point out that 17 out of 25 players on the current roster also faced a difficult stretch of 16 games against winning teams last season.
The KC Royals went 11-5 in those games against quality opponents. Sam Mellinger should remember the 2015 Playoffs. He covered them for the Kansas City Star.