Understanding Baseball's First Half Numbers and What They Meant
The interpretation of how baseball was to be viewed differently came about with Bill James' book Baseball Abstract. He and his fellow scribes developed an illuminating way to no longer take batting and earned run averages at face value but instead to look inside the numbers to understand what they really mean. The term “sabermetric” became part of the language of baseball in the late 1980’s.
This has lead to other methods of interpreting statistics, opening the door for Baseball Prospectus, Baseball-Reference.com and Fan Graphics, to name a few. This in-depth type of analysis of numbers has benefited fans and those who love to wager on baseball.
For those seeking opportunities to place future wagers on baseball, being able to see halfway through the season eliminates some of the guess work that appeared cumbersome back in March.
One element of James’ work that is as fresh today as it was when he first brought up new topics is the runs scored vs. runs allowed aspect of the game, or as he referred to it—Pythagorean Winning Percentage. If you score more runs than your opponent, you cannot lose. If you score a great deal more runs then the opposition, then you might have a dominant team.
From the wagering standpoint, the value in this information lies in which teams are playing to their potential and which are playing above expected levels or playing below them. The last two elements are especially valuable, since if a team or teams continue on the same path, ultimately, they should reach their water mark and play accordingly.
Our goal in making long and short term wagers for baseball is to ensure equal representation of all teams. Since we have the time at the All-Star break, we’ll look at how every Major League squad has played through 81 games, or half the schedule. This presents a balanced look at all the teams.
How this exercise works is to multiply the number of runs scored and square it, followed by doing the same with the number of runs allowed. We’ll use Texas, who had the best record in baseball at 50-31, as the example.
Can Texas win 100 games in 2012?
Texas runs scored—429
Texas runs allowed—346
429 x 429 = 184041
346 x 346 = 119716
Add the two numbers together and divide the runs scored into the total to achieve a percentage.
184041 + 119716 = 303757
184041 divided by 303757 = .605
Take the number 81 (half the season) and multiply by .605, this gives you a total of 49. What this means is Texas should have a record of 49-32; based on runs scored and allowed and their actual record, this is basically on schedule.
Any difference greater than three games means something is occurring that needs to be understood. Typically, bullpen production or lack of it is the biggest culprit in terms of wins and losses. Below is the complete list showing each team’s actual record and record based on RS/RA methodology and projected season total if they were to play exactly the same way.
American League (actual—projected—possible season record)
N.Y. Yankees 49-32—47-34—94-68
Can Detroit still come back and win the AL Central?
Tampa Bay 43-38—41-40—82-80
Chicago WS 44-37—47-34—94-68
Kansas City 37-44—37-44—74-88
L.A. Angels 45-36—45-36—90-62
AL Observations—The Baltimore Orioles might be the best wager in the American League at +12.35 units, but the numbers do not point towards long term success. The Orioles were -26 in RS/RA and that number has only gotten worse in the succeeding games (-36).
What has saved Baltimore is their bullpen, which has the league’s best ERA at 2.75. The number could be on the rise, as the O’s starting pitchers continue to fail and the Birds are third in the AL in bullpen innings. Baltimore has been good in tight games with a 16-6 mark in one-run affairs, but too often are blown out, with a 10-19 record in contests determined by four runs or more.
Boston should have a much better record, but their 66 percent save percentage is 11th in the AL and is the main culprit, along with injuries. If the pen can be more consistent and players return from the DL, Boston is capable of streaking.
The Chicago White Sox bullpen has held them back with a 61 percent save percentage, leading the AL in blown saves with 12. Manager Robin Ventura has not been able to find the right guy day after day that can deliver. Often times the relievers pitch well, but they make that one critical mistake; and they are 12th in home runs allowed at 29.
The Cleveland Indians do not fit the typical Pythagorean pattern. In studying RS/RA, the Indians are closer to Seattle (-27 vs. -30) than the White Sox in this category. Cleveland at present also has the worst bullpen ERA (4.31) in the junior circuit; thus, how have they managed to outperform their numbers by five games?
When the Tribe grabs a lead, they hold on to it. Cleveland’s late inning relievers have a save percentage of 84 percent, which is tied for the best with Tampa Bay. They only have five blown saves, and when they are ahead by three runs in any game in 2012, they are 33-3.
Minnesota’s bullpen was a big issue early, but they have gotten back to be just below average in several categories, including permitting the second-most balls over the fence (31) in the AL, and they are dead last in strikeouts per nine innings.
Seattle’s underachieving numbers are found with too little offense (13th in the AL) and inability to hold the lead (10 blown saves) in tight games.
National League (actual—projected—possible season record)
N.Y. Mets 44-37—44-37—88-74
St. Louis 42-39—47-34—94-68
Chic. Cubs 31-50—32-49—64-98
Will Pittsburgh finally finish over .500?
L.A. Dodgers 44-37—42-39—84-78
San Francisco 45-36—42-39—84-78
San Diego 31-50—31-50—62-100
NL Observations—Miami signed Heath Bell to shore-up the bullpen and have a genuine closer. Bell might have 19 saves, but his 6.75 ERA and WHIP of 1.82 would mean a trip to the minors, except for his big contract. Only Cubs relievers’ strikeout fewer batters per nine innings than the Marlins.
Pittsburgh is in first place for the first time at the All-Star break since 1997, thanks to just enough offense and a superior group of non-starters. The Pirates 2.63 bullpen ERA is the best in baseball, as is their save percentage at 85 percent.
Pittsburgh’s PNC Park has turned into a visitors dungeon with the Pirates 29-14 (+15.1 units) record, the finest mark in the majors. Besides lacking pedigree, Pittsburgh’s biggest concern for the second half is that the pen has logged the third most innings in the National League.
The defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals should have the best record in the NL, especially since they have the best offense in the league, scoring five runs a game.
One of former manager Tony LaRussa’s great strengths was putting together a group of effective non-starting pitchers. New skipper Mike Matheny either has less to work with or has not yet mastered this technique, which is why the Cardinals have 14 blown saves and a faulty 59 percent save percentage. Cards pen-sters have been tagged for 33 yard shots.
San Francisco’s inability to match RS/RA numbers have to do directly with Tim Lincecum. The two-time Cy Young winner is 3-10 (The Giants are 4-14 when Lincecum starts) and the crater he’s placed his team in has seen them playing their worst in this situation.
The Giants have been outscored by 2.44 runs per game when the rail-thin right-hander throws this season, explaining why San Fran is not achieving like they should.
Colorado averages 4.9 runs per game on offense and it’s still not enough. The Rockies conceded 5.6 RPG, which means they have to score six runs a game to have a chance to win. Good luck with that, pitching staff.
Here is a look at how a well-known sportsbook has adjusted the win totals for the rest of the year as of July 5.
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