CHICAGO, July 19, 2013 — Baseball is back today! The last two days columns have looked at players who may be poised to have better or worse second halves but baseball is a team sport, so which teams can look to improve or fall off their current pace?
At it’s most basic level baseball is about scoring more runs than the other team. Bill James developed a formula for seeing what a team’s win/loss record should be call a Pythagorean expectation. While the formula is not a 100% number that every team hits on the nose, there are currently only eight teams that vary three or more games from their Pythagorean expectation.
Teams performing over their Pythagorean expectations
Philadelphia Phillies Five wins over expectations. This is one reason that many Phillies fans do not believe their team should be buyers at the trade deadline. They are the largest outlier currently from Pythagorean expectations and in recent years have emptied out their farm system trading for pricey veterans. It may be time to start trading pieces like Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon to restock the farm system.
New York Yankees Four wins over expectations. The first half has played out as well as any Yankee fan could have hoped as they outperformed expectations based on their run differential and now they are poised to have Curtis Granderson, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez rejoin the team in the second half which may allow them to improve their second half run differential with more wins than they likely expected already banked.
Texas Rangers Four wins over expectations. The Rangers have been hit with injury after injury to their starting pitching which has likely impacted their runs allowed. As their staff gets healthy these numbers should improve. In addition they are considered a front-runner to acquire Matt Garza from the Cubs. Acquiring new players can help the team going forward in preventing a full regression.
Pittsburgh Pirates Three wins over expectations. Many have doubted the Pirates over the course of the year, but they continue to stay near the top of the NL Central. Even if the Pirates were at their Pythagorean expectation they would have a 5 game lead for the second NL Wild Card spot and stand a great chance of finishing over .500 for the first time since 1992.
Baltimore Orioles Two wins over expectations. The Orioles are on this list solely to point out the possibility of outliers as in 2012 they rode a 29-9 record in one run games to exceed their Pythagorean expectation by 11 games.
Teams underperforming their Pythagorean expectations
Detroit Tigers Five wins below expectations. Many would attribute this to the Detroit bullpen, and some of that shows up in their 9-12 record in one run games. Fortunately for the Tigers, bullpen arms are one of the cheapest assets to acquire at the trade deadline and adding a piece or two to the bullpen and continued hitting from their dangerous lineup could allow the Tigers to run away with the AL Central.
Cardinals Four wins below expectations. This is scary as the Cardinals had the best record in baseball in the first half. They have had amazing success hitting with runners in scoring position, which has led to the team scoring the third most runs in baseball. Even if the team stops hitting so well in these situations, they may continue their torrid pace if this number increases towards the Pythagorean expectation.
Braves Three wins below expectations. Here is another division leader who may not be catching all of the breaks. The Braves have allowed the third fewest runs in the majors in the first half and if their vaunted outfield starts to hit as expected, they could run away with the division.
Cubs Three wins below expectations. Entering the year many expected the Cubs to be awful. A quick look at the standings only reinforces that, but a deeper look shows terrible results in one run games as they have an 11-20 record. It is possible that the Cubs sell off a lot of players as Matt Garza, Alfonso Soriano and Kevin Gregg could all be moved which would make it more difficult for the Cubs to catch up to their Pythagorean expectations.
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