Who Will Win the 2016 World Series? Can the Cubs' Curse Be Broken?

By wangchin
Oct. 25, 2016

Who will win the 2016 World Series?  Will the heavily favored Chicago Cubs bring Cubs fans their first World Series in over 100 years?  (1908 was their last championship!)  Or will the pesky Cleveland Indians continue their surprising run through the playoffs?  Our "Who Will Win" series of sports prediction articles has been highlighted in the New York Times and is based on historical data that goes back over several decades across most major sports.  

We quantify concepts of sports psychology including leadership, confidence & experience, and consistency.  In our work with sports organizations, we use more advanced analytics -- but even our simplified methods have correctly predicted the winner of major sports championships at about a 64% clip -- while picking underdogs regularly.  

The Cubs won a powerhouse-like 103 games during the regular season.  They started the season winning almost 80% of their games, and won their division by 17.5 games.  In blowout games, the Cubs went 42-13, winning these games at a .786 clip.  In a nutshell, the Cubs were the talk of 2016.  

On the other hand, Cleveland started the season hovering around .500 until they heated up in June.  The Indians finished with 94 wins, but it is noteworthy that Cleveland finished the season ranked No. 2 in the American League in both runs scored and team ERA.  How do the teams stack up in our sports psychology quant facts?   

Leadership

Especially during short baseball playoff series, leadership in the form of pitching at the top of the pitching rotation is a key championship factor.  The Cubs, led by Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta, who combined for 37 wins during the regular season take this category over the Cleveland Indians.  Edge: Chicago.  

Consistency

During pressure-filled moments, the ability to find "consistency" and stay on "your game" has proven to be connected with winning the big game.  Indeed, Dr. Jay Granat, a psychotherapist who has worked with athletes of all levels -- often encourages athletes to find a "ritual" to improve consistency.  In baseball, our measure of consistency is each team's league rank in batting average.  The team with the better batting average has won almost two-thirds of the World Series over the past three decades.  This edge goes to the Cleveland Indians, who ranked third in the AL, compared to the Cubs who had the sixth best batting average in the NL.  Edge: Cleveland.

Minimizing Errors

The ability to minimize errors while performing at a high level is key to winning championships.  In baseball, errors occur relatively infrequently - especially when compared to hits and walks.  However, their importance cannot be underestimated from both an on-field and psychological perspective.  The team with the better league rank in fielding percentage has won almost 65% of the World Series over the past 30 years.  This year, both World Series participants were sixth in their respective leagues.  Edge: None.   

Big Game Experience

Across all major sports we studied, experience in previous championships -- and the related confidence -- had a mathematical connection with improved chances of winning the big game.  Our official indicator is appearances in the World Series over the past three years.  Neither team has been to the World Series in recent years, but the Cubs advanced to the National League Championship Series last year.  Three years ago, the Indians lost in the American League Wild Card game.  Edge: Slightly to the Cubs. 

Quant Fact

One particularly interesting factor that we have researched is the "consistency" factor.  In football, for instance, consistency factors such as running statistics are more closely related to winning the Super Bowl than glitzy passing stats.  In baseball, batting average is more closely correlated to winning the World Series than the home run.  In fact, teams that rely more on the home run are regularly "shut down" by the higher level of pitching during the playoffs and World Series.  This oddball factor favors the Indians slightly.  Edge: Slightly to the Indians. 

Summary

We will call the quant facts a draw at 1.5 to 1.5.  We prefer to make a prediction for major championships, but we believe that the quant facts do, in fact, tell a story.  The Cubs are heavily favored to win the World Series, with the Cleveland Indians being 2-1 underdogs.  Sports fans may find value on the Indians, because the quant facts predict this year's World Series might be closer than many think.  Enjoy the games!  

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Carlton Chin, CFA, is a fund manager, MIT-trained quantitative analyst, and co-author of “Who Will Win the Big Game?" He has worked with the Sacramento Kings on the Draft 3.0 Analytics Advisory Council.  Dr. Jay Granat, the owner of StayInTheZone.com, was named one of America's Top 10 Mental Gurus by Golf Digest, and has worked with high school and Olympic athletes. Carlton and Jay have been interviewed and/or quoted by ESPN, the New York Times, and Wall Street Journal.