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Baseball requires a fair bit of luck.
Okay, all sports require a fair bit of luck. But baseball in particular requires a healthy dose of it. There are too many pieces that are simultaneously connected and disconnected, making variance a true doozy.
A single and a double aren’t related in the causality sense, but, when paired together, they usually create something magical and run-related. Get a little good fortune with your good baseballing, and you’ll get a good result.
The flipside is the inherent lack of luck that also exists. If some teams are getting lucky, others are naturally getting unlucky.
So, who is getting lucky and unlucky? That’s a nearly impossible question, merely because there are so many variables that you can factor in, most of them arbitrary at some level or another.
But Pythagorean win expectation is at least a decent barometer, and it’s remarkably simple. The goal of pythag is to look at the total number of runs a team has scored, and the total number of runs that team has allowed, and determine what record they should have.
So, who have been the luckiest and unluckiest teams in baseball this year?
On the whole, most teams this year have a record right in line with their performance. But there are some exceptions.
Teams that have won six more games than they should have: Pirates
Teams that have won five more games than they should have: Tigers
Teams that have won four more games than they should have: None
Teams that have won three games more than they should have: None
Teams that have won two games more than they should have: Brewers, Giants, Padres, White Sox
Teams that have won one game more than they should have: Atlanta, Cleveland, Dodgers, Mariners, Marlins, Orioles, Phillies, Yankees
Teams doing exactly as they should: Mets, Twins
Teams that have won one game less than they should have: Angels, Astros, Blue Jays, Cardinals, Cubs, Diamondbacks, Nationals, Rays, Red Sox
Teams that have won two games less than they should have: Rangers, Rockies
Teams that have won three games less than they should have: Athletics
Teams that have won four games less than they should have: Royals
Teams that have won five games less than they should have: Reds
Now, this is a wildly imperfect science for many reasons, particularly these four:
1. The literal example that I used in my lede, to explain why luck matters in baseball, isn’t actually a factor in these charts.
2. One really bad game can dramatically impact a team’s run differential this early in the season.
3. When you do things like pitch Derek Holland out of the bullpen in games where the outcome has already been decided, you’re kind of waving middle fingers at the run differential gods and goddesses
4. Some of the things we attribute to luck and variance may be controllable and we just don’t have the means to quantify it
Still, it’s interesting. The Pittsburgh Pirates have been laughably lucky, accumulating 24 wins to just 20 losses, despite being outscored by 39 runs in that span. They’ve been outscored by 0.89 runs per game, yet are four games above .500! As a result, the Pirates currently hold one of the five postseason slots in the National League.
Also of note is the lowly Tigers, who have been lucky to the tune of five extra wins . . . and still have the fifth-worst record in all of baseball. That’s truly remarkable!
But then again, baseball’s worst squad - the 13-41 Miami Marlins - are also outperforming their win expectation.
And if there’s any conclusion here, it’s look out for the Reds, who should be battling for the NL’s iron throne, rather than swimming in the mud with the Giants.