Baseball writers are smart guys, just ask one of them. However, I have noticed that not one, but two, articles discussing the topic of the Tigers lengthy wait until the World Series seem to be missing something very important.
Both articles make a similar point. The teams with longer rests between series actually fair about the same or better than their non-rusty counterparts. Knobler notes that:
Since baseball added the League Championship Series in 1969, the more-rested team has actually won the World Series more often than the less-rested team (17-14, with a few years mixed in where the teams had equal rest).
Why is this? The authors have a couple of suggestions. First, the team is well rested (duh). They can have a couple of light days to let themselves get off their feet and heal. The second is that the resting team has a chance to set up their rotation just the way they would like.
Now, while these two suggestions are not necessarily bad ones, they are missing the big reason staring them in the face. Let me ask a question. What characteristic of a team has the highest correlation with winning? Their amount of rest? The positioning of their starters in the rotation? I would say the more important factor is HOW GOOD THE TEAM IS!
Let’s think about what might create a large disparity in rest for two teams. There is the scheduling factor, but that only accounts for one day. There is the weather, but that is pretty random. The most typical scenario is where one team sweeps their opponent or defeats them in 5 games and the second team is challenged by their opponent and goes to six or seven games. One might be able to guess that the first team who dominated their opponent is simply better at baseball than the second team.
This is akin to analysts talking about home field advantage in the football playoffs. They talk about how the crowd will fire up their team and how the loud fans might influence the officials all while ignoring the fact that in the NFL the HOME TEAM GETS HOME FIELD BECAUSE THEY WON MORE GAMES.
The more precise question is how much does rest, apart from superior the skill of the rested team, contribute to or hinder the winning of that team. Perhaps, in fact, a long layoff does indeed contribute to rustiness. This is still an unanswered question.
The problem is this is a much, much more complicated question. And like most things in life we rely on heuristics. We simply take a question that is too difficult and replace it with one that is much more simple.
All these authors are able to say is that more days off between series is positively correlated with winning. One cannot say, however, that rest, in and of itself, contributes to winning.