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:
|St. Louis||414||296||0.662||-0.060||50||33||0.602||NL Central|
|Tampa Bay||399||364||0.546||-0.017||45||40||0.529||AL Wild1|