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Once again, we check in with the ancient sage!

What can Pythagoras teach us?

Well, a team's won-loss record can be deceiving. A run of good or ill fortune in close games, something that is more the product of Dumb Luck and Random Chance, can throw a team's won-loss record seriously of whack (say hello to your 2005 Toronto Blue Jays, ladies and gentlemen!). There is an argument to be made that in some respects a team's Pythagorean record provides a more accurate measure of a team's relative strength. Which doesn't do any good for the moment, there being no Pythagorean Fall Classic played in the shadow of Mount Olympus - but it's certainly worth knowing about as we head towards the winter and plan and plot for the next season.

Last year at this time, you will recall, Pythagoras cast a cold eye on the 2006 results and said: hey, wait a minute! So what if they won just 78 games! The Cleveland Indians are a good team, a 90 win quality team. There is no way they'll be that unlucky two years running.

He also advised us that Atlanta, Colorado, and Texas in particular were all better than they looked in 2006.

Cleveland, check. Atlanta, check. Colorado, check.

Texas... maybe not. (Texas, of course, is the team that I myself picked to Win It All in 2007. This was not, I hasten to add, because of Pythagoras. I was counting on the Showalter Effect. I think I also assumed that Teixeira and Blalock would actually play a lot of games for Texas in 2007. I think that would have helped...)

Pythagoras also looked sceptically at the Mets and Oakland, and thought, in his ancient Hellenic way, that those teams weren't quite as good as their 2006 records made them seem. And by gum! Down they went!

So what does the old fool think about what we've just seen?

AL East        Pythagoras Expects!                  The Real World!
G W L PCT RS RA | W L PCT | Difference
BOS 162 103 59 .635 867 657 | 96 66 .593 | -7
NYY 162 99 63 .608 968 777 | 94 68 .580 | -5
TOR 162 87 75 .537 753 699 | 83 79 .512 | -4
BAL 162 70 92 .431 756 868 | 69 93 .426 | -1
TB 162 66 96 .407 782 944 | 66 96 .407 | 0

AL Cent G W L PCT RS RA | W L PCT | Difference
CLE 162 92 70 .570 811 704 | 96 66 .593 | 4
DET 162 90 72 .553 887 797 | 88 74 .543 | -2
MIN 162 80 82 .495 718 725 | 79 83 .488 | -1
KC 162 73 89 .451 706 778 | 69 93 .426 | -4
CHI 162 66 96 .406 693 839 | 72 90 .444 | 6

AL West G W L PCT RS RA | W L PCT | Difference
LAA 162 90 72 .558 822 731 | 94 68 .580 | 4
OAK 162 79 83 .489 741 758 | 76 86 .469 | -3
SEA 162 79 83 .488 794 813 | 88 74 .543 | 9
TEX 162 78 84 .483 816 844 | 75 87 .463 | -3

The American League standings, as you can see, unfolded almost exactly as one could reasonably expect. The one and only exception is the striking over-achievement of the Seattle Mariners, who went 88-74 despite allowing 19 more runs than they scored. That's remarkable - and it's extremely unlikely that they'll be as fortunate next season. This is a .500 ball club, who probably think they're better than they really are.

The other team who caught a break with their W-L record were the White Sox. Paul Konerko and I gave PECOTA a bit of grief back in the spring for forecasting a 71 win season for Ozzie's crew. This is basically what PECOTA had been saying about the White Sox for each of the two years prior, in both of which they won 90 plus games (not to mention a friggin' World Series.) But the utility infielder who laughs last... laughs after the other guys. The White Sox, bad as they were, were probably even worse than their ugly record suggests. Kenny Williams has some work to do.

The Blue Jays were one of the three most unfortunate teams in the AL this past season. You will notice that they scored 41 runs more than the Arizona Diamondbacks, while allowing 34 fewer. The Diamondbacks won 90 games and had the best record in the whole damn National League. The Blue Jays will spend another winter being dissed by Elliott and Griffin for finishing third.

But the Diamondbacks, as we shall see, are the very definition of a Special Case - and while the good news for the Blue Jays is that the 2007 team, injuries and all, was probably a fair bit better than the W-L record indicates, there's bad news as well. What the Old Sage giveth, he also taketh away. The Yankees and Red Sox also got shafted - both teams were very likely even better than their depressingly impressive records already indicate.

It's hard to play with the Big Boys. There are those who say the AL East is no longer the power that it once was, the division's overall record against the rest of the baseball world isn't all that impressive. The problem with this line of thought is fairly obvious - the AL East includes the Baltimore Orioles, who are just plain bad, and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who are historically bad, bad in a way never before seen. And their badness tells us very little about the unrelenting monsters at the top of the food chain. We just know that it's hard to play with the Big Boys.

The National League is much more interesting, in a Pythagorean kind of way. Last year it told us that the 97 win Mets weren't nearly as good as they looked and the 78 win Braves were a better team than you may have suspected. This time around, the Mets played to their expected level - and you see where it got them. Meanwhile, the Braves, once again, were significant under-achievers. The third place Braves had the best Run Differential in the division, but because they finished third - again - you can expect John Schuerholz to be aggressive - again - in trying to improve his team.

In the Central, the St. Louis Cardinals look to be hanging on with smoke and mirrors - and now they've tossed Walt Jocketty to the curb, a year after a World Series win. Now I think Haren and Barton for Mulder is one of those trades that is going to haunt Jocketty's reputation as long as the game is played - but they just won a World Series! Man, that's a tough crowd. Of course, this may only indicate that Cardinals ownership is mellowing as the decades and centuries roll by. In 1964, they actually fired the GM two months before the team won the World Series.

And in the West - age cannot wither nor custom stale the infinite variety and eternal mystery of the Arizona Diamondbacks. The best record in the whole damn National League. Now the Snakes have done this sort of thing before - just two years ago, they fashioned what I have very good reason to believe was the 7th luckiest season of all time, out of the more than 2100 seasons that have been played over the last century. Even so, earlier this season, they actually seemed to be making a run for the luckiest season of all time. They were on a pace to actually surpass the level achieved by the immortal 1905 Detroit Tigers, until a run of very good baseball over the last six weeks brought their runs scored and allowed almost close to break even. But even so, the 2007 Diamondbacks win-loss record seems remarkably independent of how many runs they actually score and allow.

Do not expect them to do that again - they'll either fall back towards .500, because Regression to the Mean is a cruel mistress - or, more likely, they'll outscore the opposition by 75 runs and win 88 games.

NL East      Pythagoras Expects!                      The Real World
G W L PCT RS RA | W L PCT | Difference
ATL 162 89 73 .550 810 733 | 84 78 .519 | -5
PHI 162 88 74 .541 892 821 | 89 73 .549 | 1
NYM 162 87 75 .535 804 750 | 88 74 .543 | 1
FLA 162 71 91 .440 790 891 | 71 91 .438 | 0
WSN 162 69 93 .425 673 783 | 73 89 .451 | 4

NL Cent G W L PCT RS RA | W L PCT | Difference
CHC 162 88 74 .543 752 690 | 85 77 .525 | -3
MIL 162 84 78 .516 801 776 | 83 79 .512 | -1
CIN 162 74 88 .457 783 853 | 72 90 .444 | -2
HOU 162 72 90 .442 723 813 | 73 89 .451 | 1
STL 162 70 92 .433 725 829 | 78 84 .481 | 8
PIT 162 68 94 .423 724 846 | 68 94 .420 | 0

NL West G W L PCT RS RA | W L PCT | Difference
COL 163 92 71 .563 860 758 | 90 73 .552 | -2
SD 163 90 73 .553 741 666 | 89 74 .546 | -1
LAD 162 82 80 .505 735 727 | 82 80 .506 | 0
ARI 162 79 83 .486 712 732 | 90 72 .556 | 11
SF 162 77 85 .474 683 720 | 71 91 .438 | -6

So speaks the ancient one.
Pythagoras Speaks! | 19 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Guy.Beauregard - Saturday, October 06 2007 @ 09:40 AM EDT (#175056) #
A terrific read.  Thank you Magpie!
AWeb - Saturday, October 06 2007 @ 12:23 PM EDT (#175059) #
Maybe it's a strange glitch on my screen, but the KC Royals don't appear to have made this article. And the one year where they deserved to finish out of last. Someone is still holding that 1985 grudge I guess...

the Seattle Mariners...who probably think they're better than they really are.

The fans at USS Mariner have been screaming this for months now, but it takes a great front office to come forward and say "we got lucky this year, we need to really improve just to do as well again". Seattle is not likely that front office.

The AL is extremely boring right now, where aside from Detroit in the Central, no team is within 10 pythagoreon games (the outer limits of luck, generally, as Seattle found out) of a playoff spot. Predictions for next year, barring major moves by one of the non-contenders, look to be pretty simple (Boston/NY, Cleveland/Detroit, LAA). Here's hoping for a few major moves (A-Rod booed out of town perhaps?), and a lucky year in Toronto. I wonder if JP would be as eager to credit lucky breaks for a good year as he is to blame unlucky ones for a not good enough year.

Meanwhile in the NL, no team won more than 90 actual games, or 92 projected games (the Rockies? interesting...)? That's one way to keep everyone hoping for next year, and sucking everyone into thinking they are just one good hot streak from making it (wait, that sounds like a Jays season summary). Of course, it turns out to be true, as the Rockies showed everyone. If the Pirates had finished 14-1, there's chance they win the division (80 wins, take 3 from the Cubs...well, they'd be close).
Magpie - Saturday, October 06 2007 @ 12:34 PM EDT (#175060) #

Maybe it's a strange glitch on my screen, but the KC Royals don't appear to have made this article.

The Royals? They're still in the league?

My bad. I'll fix it when I get home. They under-achieved by a couple of games, nothing too outrageous.

China fan - Saturday, October 06 2007 @ 09:56 PM EDT (#175066) #
    Since there is a rare fragment of encouraging news for the Jays in this article, Magpie might want to fix the typo (at least I assume it is a typo) in this sentence:   "....the good news for the Blue Jays is that the 2006 team, injuries and all, was probably a fair bit better than the W-L record indicates...."     He means the 2007 team, I hope.

unclejim - Monday, October 08 2007 @ 10:39 AM EDT (#175081) #
Hmm, just wondering why my post was 'unfeatured'. It cannot be because it is off-topic given the post above is also off topic but has been left alone. I at least acknowledged it was off topic but said there was no other thread to contribute the link to.

Just wondering what the rules are ? Given that recently there have not been too many threads, its hard to know where to put something that you think is worth sharing.  If you're not happy that I reprinted the article feel free to edit it out of my post and just leave the link.  (and also feel free to delete this post if you see fit). I've no problem but it's never nice to be censored without at least some form of explained reasoning behind it.  Especially as part of the article suggests the censoring of the same topic on the MLB website...

Gerry - Monday, October 08 2007 @ 10:45 AM EDT (#175082) #

There is a story in the latest ESPN magazine about John Kitna, the QB for the Detroit Lions, and his christianity and the dynamic it creates within the team.  One of the points made in the story is that football is a team oriented sport, as is baseball, and in that environment dissension is not welcome.  So most players head in the opposite direction when it is prayer time.  The story estimates that about 30% of the team joins the prayer circle after games.

The subject of religion having no place in a work environment is also discussed in the story but again who is going to take the lead in objecting to this?  Players generally keep their head down and focus on the games.

One other point, there is a big population of born-again christians in the US and for whatever reason Colorado Springs seems to be the headquarters of many of the largest churches.  For the Rockies to emphasise their christianity might be good for business.

ANationalAcrobat - Monday, October 08 2007 @ 10:45 AM EDT (#175083) #
Interesting article, unclejim. It does make it just a little bit harder to cheer for the Rockies.
Mick Doherty - Monday, October 08 2007 @ 11:08 AM EDT (#175084) #

unclejim, I unfeatured your comment (admittedly without checking with the larger roster) not because it was off-topic, but because it is, in fact, illegal to republish entire articles from other sites. We can excerpt them, link to them, etc. Actually, I probably should have deleted the comment entirely (and if I had done so, would have contacted you directly to let you know why) but thought it was a generally salient point, so any registered reader can get to it and read it if they wish.

To your other point about lack of threads, I posted a general feature earlier this morning and Magpie posted a specific one earier than that today, so I think we are okay in that regard. End of season blahs affect even the Web writers of the world, I guess.

Not to get all prayerful and ironic, but please God, don't let this turn into another extended thread on censorship

Chuck - Monday, October 08 2007 @ 02:20 PM EDT (#175087) #

Heres an article from a few days back from a British newspaper

UncleJim, I shot the link over to the land of primates where it's getting play in two threads: here and here.

unclejim - Monday, October 08 2007 @ 06:53 PM EDT (#175096) #
Thanks Mick,

I just wanted to know really. I had a feeling there might've been a reason not to quote articles in full, but there was no mention of it on the actual page (under important stuff) where you enter comments so I kinda thought it would probably be ok. I guess not :)

In my opinion though this topic would be worthy of a thread on its own... given the white Jays furore of recent years, a team supposedly basing their recruitment strategy on religion, and seemingly with MLB's tacit approval would appear to me to be a major talking point. Given the recent 'miraculous' (and that word now would have to be used with care when describing the Rockies season) end of season surge theres also a good counter argument. Maybe the Jays should pick a Jewish only team and let the religions bash it out on the field :). I'm guesing with the predominance of catholicism in the latin american countries they'd be able to field a pretty strong starting 9. 

Heh, theres one for another thread too, the hall of names -  the All-Jewish team, All-Catholic etc...

Feel free to edit my post though, if its possible, to remove the article. I just wanted to make sure people were able to read it as I had trouble with the link.

vw_fan17 - Monday, October 08 2007 @ 09:10 PM EDT (#175103) #
As I recall, in certain circles (which, yes, I was a part of), there was a LOT of talk in the mid-late 80s/early 90s about all the Christian players on the Blue Jays.  Some names I recall (warning: I am not claiming 100% that this list is accurate, but I'm pretty sure at least 80% of it is correct): Dave Stieb, Jimmy Key, Tony Fernandez, Kelly Gruber, Joe Carter, Lloyd Moseby, Jesse Barfield, Willie Upshaw, Manny Lee, Roy Lee Jackson, Paul Molitor, Candy Maldonado, Cito Gaston, Tom Henke. Possibly George Bell & Dave Winfield too..

If you look at the list, and depending on the year, you have a pretty solid team there..

I don't know if they were actively recruiting christians or if it just turned out that way. IIRC, some (Dave Stieb) changed their beliefs as their careers continued on with the Jays.. Doing 2 minutes of googling turned up not much, except that under Jimy Williams, the Jays suspended their practice of bible studies & chapel services..

I don't quite understand why this would make someone "less likely" to cheer for the Rockies.. It's not like they're actively against non-christians (as I read it), just that, they prefer christian players. If they FORCED players to participate in activities, I would be against that.

How many articles have been written about so-called clubhouse cancers? How many steroid stories are swirling? And baseball isn't as bad off as some sports (NFL/NBA). What if someone decided to build a team of "nice guys"? Heck, they're a private team, they owner should be able to hire whomever he wants (within MLB regulations, of course). For example: no nude pictures in the locker room: this is not acceptable at most people's place of employment.. Again, if you're forced to participate in something that you don't believe in, that's wrong. But - what if you don't like it, and ask for a trade and they give you one? Is that still wrong? If they don't sign you as a FA (or trade for you) because they feel you wouldn't fit into the clubhouse?

I mean, if someone else decided to build the "Somewherestown Outlaws" and hire only players who'd had trouble with the law, would that be considered as bad? What about only players with a 340 OBP or better? Or only left-handed players? Everyone has an idea of what makes a winning team. Some say a good clubhouse is key - others say it doesn't matter..

Chuck - Monday, October 08 2007 @ 09:21 PM EDT (#175105) #
I don't quite understand why this would make someone "less likely" to cheer for the Rockies

I would imagine that the it's not that the Rockies are Christians, but that they believe -- if the quotes are to be believed -- that God is on their side. From a non-believer's perspective, I find it laughable and arrogant. I would think that believers might find it offensive.
ANationalAcrobat - Monday, October 08 2007 @ 09:43 PM EDT (#175107) #
I'd also kind of like to see this article get its own thread - It's an unsual discussion point that would provide some variety to any baseball fan that is tired of constant roster and game discussion.
ANationalAcrobat - Monday, October 08 2007 @ 09:46 PM EDT (#175108) #
Also, would it be possible to get playoff game/series discussion threads? It might be good to get some added MLB discussion.
vw_fan17 - Tuesday, October 09 2007 @ 04:02 PM EDT (#175134) #
Chuck, I agree that believing that God is always on your side is not consistent with what I believe. I.e. I play and have played in a church softball league for almost 20 years. I guess if God was always on everyone's side, every game would end in a 0-0 tie (due to time limits)? :-) And, in wars/conflicts, many times both sides believe God is on their side.

On the other hand, there is nothing to say (as far as I'm aware) that God couldn't have been involved in this particular stretch run. I'm not saying he was or wasn't - I'm just saying it's possible (IMHO).

I also think that a "united" clubhouse, where the team feels like a family, CAN have an impact. IIRC, the '93 Phillies were a bunch of over-achievers. I think John Kruk said "we all felt like family" or something.. In that kind of environment, good things often happen. And it's a no-brainer to not bring in players like (for instance) Milton Bradley with a history of anger/outbursts/etc. Or someone like Barry Bonds who is perceived as being selfish, etc..

And no, I do NOT want to start arguing about the existence of God or such, so I'll leave it here unless there are some posts I just HAVE to reply too..

Mike Green - Tuesday, October 09 2007 @ 04:34 PM EDT (#175137) #
Hmm.  Gnats, power outages, and now this story.  It does settle matters.  I am rooting for the D'Backs.
CeeBee - Tuesday, October 09 2007 @ 07:54 PM EDT (#175147) #

"I also think that a "united" clubhouse, where the team feels like a family, CAN have an impact. IIRC, the '93 Phillies were a bunch of over-achievers. I think John Kruk said "we all felt like family" or something.. In that kind of environment, good things often happen."

Or the Pirates of the "We are Family" and Pops Stargell. I think sometimes the rah rah college mentality actually may work in pro sports, especially in a short series or on a one or 2 game basis.

Pythagoras Speaks! | 19 comments | Create New Account
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