Cards' run differential belies record

By Stephen Nations

If you want to break the game of baseball down to it's bare bones, it's universally agreed upon that the object is to score runs on offense, and prevent them on defense. Considering this, it would stand to reason that the teams that do both of these the best would be the most successful ones and vice-versa.

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The visionary statistician Bill James originally developed the Pythagorean Expectancy, an equation that, for the most part, can predict win-loss record for any team in any given season. Over the years, the equation has been refined slightly, but still works the same in principal. It looks like this:

Win = runs scored to the 1.83 power/(runs scored to the 1.83 power + runs allowed to the 1.83 power)

Using this equation, one would expect the Cardinals, at this point, to carry a record of 20-15. The first place/22-13 Milwaukee Brewers conversely, would be expected to have a 19-16 record.

Not that this stuff is ironclad, but it's pretty impressive how often it actually works. Last season, out of the top ten teams in baseball, eight of them were in the top ten in run differential. Not surprisingly, last season the two best records in baseball also belonged to the teams with the two best run differentials, the Red Sox and Cardinals. Its been since the 2002 Angels (who ended up winning the World Series anyway) that a team with the best run differential did not finish with one of the top three overall records in baseball (the Angels had the fourth-best record that season)

This season however, we're seeing a paradigm shift in the way these numbers correlate. The Rockies, leading the big leagues with a ridiculous differential of +50, are carrying just the fourth-best record in the league and chasing Milwaukee who's differential is just 13. The Baltimore Orioles, in first place with a record of 18-14 actually have a negative differential, scoring one less run than they have allowed.

The same anomalies are appearing at the bottom of the standings as well. The Cincinnati Reds have produced very similar results to the Cardinals, scoring one less run and allowing one more run than their division rivals. However, Cincinnati's record stands at just 15-18 and they're closer to last place than first. The Texas Rangers have the fourth-worst differential in the league, outdone by only the Astros, D-backs, and Padres. Yet, somehow, Texas has an 18-17 record and sit just two games out of first.

This is all very telling of where we are in the season right now. Enough games have been played that we can start to identify trends and assign some kind of meaning to early-season performances, but there's still an awful lot of ball to be played and won-loss record still isn't a perfect indication of a quality team, as it is after, say 90 games. A lot of teams are outkicking their coverage so to speak, by squeezing out wins with less than ideal performances (Baltimore, Texas, Milwaukee, Atlanta), while other clubs are playing good ball and just not getting the results you would expect (St. Louis, Cincinnati, Toronto). The law of averages will come in to play as the season wears on and most of these clubs will settle back in to being the teams that they really are.

Stephen Nations is an aspiring sports and Cardinals columnist. He will be contributing his commentary to during the 2014 season. You can follow him on twitter at @Nayshface.


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