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Pirates Luckiest Team; Cardinals Best

Pirates Luckiest Team; Cardinals Best

The Pittsburgh Pirates are the luckiest team in baseball and unlikely to stay in first place in the NL Central ahead of the best – and unluckiest team in baseball – the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals should be 55-28 right now and the Pirates should be 47-36, so the Pirates’ two-game lead atop the NL Central is one of the luckiest leads in baseball history.

The Pythagorean Theorem of Baseball has been one of the best predictors in baseball since Bill James invented it decades ago, and it says that when you square the Cardinals 414 runs scored and their 296 runs allowed, you see a team that should play 0.662 baseball; ((414^2 – 414^2) + 296^2) = 0.662. The same math for the Pirates’ 327 runs scored and 283 allowed predicts only a 0.572 percentage. The formula is even more accurate if you use ^.181 for baseball and it works well for college basketball at about ^8.

While fans who reject statistical analysis might insist that teams that are more “clutch” are the ones that win more than their runs would predict, it appears to be almost pure luck as teams almost always fall or rise back toward their Pythagorean prediction over a season or two. The problem for the Pirates is that not only have they been statistically the “luckiest” team in baseball by playing a league best 0.55 above where they should be, but the Cardinals have been the unluckiest of all 30 teams, playing 0.060 behind where they should be to be two games behind the Pirates at the break.

The good news for the Pirates is that even if they fell all the way back to the 0.572 winning percentage that their runs predict, they would be passed by the Cardinals and the Reds in the NL Central but still get the second wildcard spot and have a chance to win the wildcard game at Cincinnati for a chance to play St. Louis is a match-up of what so far has been the best team and the luckiest team in baseball. It is more likely that the Pirates would fall to about the .572 pace for the rest of the season, which would still let them finish right at .600 and be almost assured of a playoff spot. Here is where all 30 teams rank based on how many games they would be expected to win based on runs scored and allowed so far: 

Team RS RA should be Luck W L PCT Playoff?
St. Louis 414 296 0.662 -0.060 50 33 0.602 NL Central
Atlanta 360 287 0.611 -0.028 49 35 0.583 NL East
Boston 437 353 0.605 0.000 52 34 0.605 AL East
Detroit 412 341 0.593 -0.051 45 38 0.542 AL Central
Cincinnati 369 314 0.580 -0.004 49 36 0.576 NL Wild1
Oakland 397 343 0.573 0.003 49 36 0.576 AL West
Pittsburgh 327 283 0.572 0.055 52 31 0.627 NL Wild2
Tampa Bay 399 364 0.546 -0.017 45 40 0.529 AL Wild1
Cleveland 407 379 0.536 0.000 45 39 0.536 AL Wild2
Texas 359 335 0.535 0.036 48 36 0.571 No
Baltimore 416 389 0.534 0.031 48 37 0.565 No
Colorado 398 382 0.521 -0.039 41 44 0.482 NL West
Kansas City 324 315 0.514 -0.033 39 42 0.481 No
Arizona 352 352 0.500 0.012 43 41 0.512 No
Toronto 389 389 0.500 -0.012 41 43 0.488 No
LA Angels 389 389 0.500 -0.024 40 44 0.476 No
NY Yankees 330 335 0.492 0.044 45 39 0.536 No
Chicago Cubs 340 349 0.487 -0.048 36 46 0.439 No
Washington 306 327 0.467 0.033 42 42 0.500 No
San Francisco 336 368 0.455 0.009 39 45 0.464 No
San Diego 340 374 0.452 0.019 40 45 0.471 No
LA Dodgers 312 348 0.446 0.036 40 43 0.482 No
Minnesota 338 377 0.446 -0.002 36 45 0.444 No
NY Mets 323 365 0.439 -0.007 35 46 0.432 No
Philadelphia 328 373 0.436 0.035 40 45 0.471 No
Milwaukee 330 384 0.425 -0.015 34 49 0.410 No
Chicago Sox 305 356 0.423 -0.016 33 48 0.407 No
Seattle 310 367 0.416 0.024 37 47 0.440 No
Miami 272 356 0.369 0.004 31 52 0.373 No
Houston 314 443 0.334 0.031 31 54 0.365 No

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