Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Pythagorean Challenged Tigers

A friend from Motown Sports asked me today what it means when Baseball Prospectus or Rob Neyer (ESPN) or Hardball Times says that the Tigers should have won 79 games last year. That sounded like a good topic for Tiger Tales so here I am. It has to do with the famous Pythagorean Theorem but it’s a little more complex than the usual application of the formula.

The Tigers scored 723 runs and allowed 787 runs in 2005. According to the Pythagorean theorem, a typical team with those figures should have won 75 games. But the sabers said 79 wins so there is more to it than that.

The Tigers had 732 base runs last year. Basically, that means given the number of base runners and types of hits (and other things like stolen bases and double plays) they had, a typical team would have scored 732 runs. That is only 9 more than their actual runs scored which is not a big deal. However, if you apply the base runs formula to the team pitching stats, we find that they should have allowed only 746 runs. That’s 41 fewer than they actually gave up which IS a big deal.

Now, if we take their base runs and base runs allowed and apply the Pythagorean theorem again, we find that they should have 79 games. They actually won 8 games fewer than that which was the biggest differential in the majors. Another way of saying it is that they were the least efficient team in baseball.

Looking back at the two stage Pythagorean process described above, we can see two things:

1) They underperformed by 4 wins according to their actual runs scored and runs allowed.

2) They underformed by an additional 4 wins according to base runs for and against.

Item (1) can perhaps be attributed to their 38-45 record in games decided by two runs or fewer. I can think of three possible explanations for this inefficiency:

1) Bad luck

2) Poor managing

3) A team that chokes in close games

Item (2) can be explained by inefficient pitching and/or fielding. Three possible explanations are:

1) Bad luck

2) Poor situational use of the pitching staff

3) Pitchers who choke in the clutch

Assuming that they are not a team full of perennial chokers (which I doubt is the case) and that most of the inefficiency was due to some combination of bad luck and ineffective managing, then we can view the 8 game differential in a good. Since they have a new manager and since bad luck by definition should not repeat itself, we should expect them to win a few more games even without improvement from individual players. That’s a positive thought as we head towards 2006.

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