Monday, April 13, 2009

Monday Pythagorean, 4/13/2009

One of the things that I like to do during the baseball season is compile a weekly report of the AL standings, looking at runs scored and allowed, to see who's better than their records and who's worse.

For those unfamiliar, the Pythagorean report is based on a Bill James discovery regarding the relationship between runs scored, runs allowed and winning percentage. It intuitively makes sense that a teams record will be related to how many runs they score and how many they allow. What James discovered was that, for almost all teams, the winning percentage is very close to a ratio of the square of the runs scored to the sum of the squares of the runs scored and runs allowed. Which was dubbed the "Pythagorean" theorum of baseball.

The report consists of, for each team, their runs/game, runs allowed/game and Pythagorean project winning percentage, along with their rank among the teams in the league for each of those categories. The Pythagorean winning percentage is calculated as (r ^ 1.83) / ( (r ^ 1.83) + (ra ^ 1.83) ). (1.83 has been determined to be a slightly more accurate exponent with the current offensive levels than 2.) Using the Pythagorean winning percentage, the expected wins total is calculated and compared to the actual win total. Finally, any difference is expressed as "luck", with negative numbers representing underperforming teams.

Finally, there's a linear projection of final records, based on current winning percentage, and based on Pythagorean winning percentage.

I'm honestly not certain whether the stupidest conversation I heard this week came on Friday morning and dealt with whether or not the Texas Rangers "are for real because of that awesome offense,"1 or Saturday morning and dealt with the need to re-tool the Red Sox offense. I understand that the oxygen of talk radio is the short-term situation of the world, but this is just insane.

That said, obviously the Red Sox had a poor week. The starting pitching, which should be a strength, was aggressively mediocre, with a good start from Beckett on opening day and a lot of "eh," or worse, afterwards. Nobody got totally bombed, but nobody put up a stellar game, either. Lester and Matsuzaka were each disappointing in their opening efforts, Wakefield was Wakefield, and Penny was decent.

The big problem, though, was the bats. The high point of the week was five runs, and they did it just twice (not coincidentally, in their two wins.) While the starters were mediocre, they'd have to be outstanding to put together a record much better than their 2-4, given what the offense was doing. More than two thirds of the offense was putrid, as Lowrie, Drew, Lowell, Pedroia, Ellsbury, Varitek and Ortiz combined to hit 0.175/.252/.329/.581. Youkilis was outstanding and Bay pretty good, but there was pretty much no one on base for either of them2.

But it's one week. Anyone can hit anything for a month, so what can happen during a week? Anything. The fact that it's the first week seriously skews perception, because anything before last month has receded from people's memories into the mists of time. We know - not think, know - that this Boston team is filled with good hitters. We know - not think, know - that Dustin Pedroia is not going to hit .167/.259/.375/.634 for the year. We know - not think, know - that, absent absurd injury issues, this Boston team is not going to be limited to 3.67 runs per game. Given all of that, the idea that one rotten week requires panic and retooling is idiotic, or worse.

I know that it's a limited group reacting this way. And some might even call this a straw man argument, but it's not - it's a real response to real comments and discussion that I heard. I know this - I predicted this team to win 97 games in 2009, and nothing that happened last week changes that opinion.

Star of the Week: - Kevin Youkilis. Youkilis was the one member of the offense that started the year on fire, hitting .522/.577/.739/1.316, and almost single-handedly responsible for creating 8 of the team's 22 runs.

Goat of the Week: - So many possible choices, but we have to go with Jed Lowrie, who not only had seven more strikeouts than hits on the week (8 vs. 1), he struck out with the bases loaded in the 8th inning of close losses on consecutive days, killing potential game-tying or game-winning rallies.

AL Pythagorean Projection Report - 4/13/2009




New York5.83(4)4.5(7)0.617(3)4233-1



Tampa Bay4.83(7)4(4)0.586(6)4233-1

Los Angeles4.33(9)4(4)0.537(7)33330





Kansas City2.33(14)3.17(2)0.364(12)24331



Top 5 projections (using current winning %)




New York8181

Top 5 projections (starting with today's record, using Pythagorean winning %)


New York9963



1 - The Rangers proceeded to score 9 runs in getting swept in three games in Detroit. I suspect that there's less of the "are the Rangers for real" discussion taking place today.

2 - Youkilis and Bay combined to hit .425/.540/.775/1.315 and (using Bill James Runs Created model) create 15 runs. The rest of the team combined to hit .196/.269/.335/.604 and create 12 runs. You're not going to win many games that way.

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