The Toronto Blue Jays could easily defy mathematical logic and end the season in good shape since a baseball season can be anything but logical.
One of the popular destinations for those freaking out about the Toronto Blue Jays poor record so far this season has been the Fangraphs playoff projections page. I enjoy Fangraphs, particularly in the offseason when my baseball fix is badly in need, but I think the kind of commentary I’ve heard/read regarding playoff odds is flawed. While I don’t know for sure how they calculate the odds, my guess is that they do some sort of Gaussian normal distribution of probability based upon various inputs for each team each day.
With all due respect to Carl Friedrich Gauss, I believe his work is often misapplied and drives the sort of logic I seem to read and hear endlessly; as “The Blue Jays need to play at a 95 game winning percentage the rest of the season to get to 89 wins….”
I believe that the problem with this logic and analysis is that the sequencing and journey of a team’s record through a season is no more normally distributed than a stock’s time series of returns. Perhaps my criticism can be best summarized by a question. Based upon the history of teams projected to win 85 games or more prior to a season, what is the percentage of those teams who experienced at least one 30 game+ stretch of games at some point in the season in which they enjoyed a winning percentage of 65% or higher? Why do I care about such a winning percentage over that amount of games?
As many Jays fans, analysts and journalists have commented, the first step to the Jays recovering from the deep hole they’ve dug is to return to at least a .500 record. Andrew Stoeten and Jonah Keri have written very interesting columns looking at the relatively weak schedule upcoming for the rest of May and much of June, which seems like fertile ground for a confluence of positive factors: performance mean reversion for poor performing players, elite players returning from injury, and possibly just some good old fashion luck.
As of May 10th, the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles have won at a 65%+ clip so far this season over 31 and 33 games so far this season. Does anyone reasonably expect either team to continue at that pace for the duration of the season? Are the Yankees and Orioles really going to finish with 110 and 108 wins?
Sure, anything can happen, but how many decent Yankee players are going to continue hitting like Mike Trout? Is Aaron Hicks really someone who will OPS over 1.000? How about Sterling Castro with an OPS of .936? I expect those things to mean revert, and the Yankees have a ton of players poised to do so in a negative fashion as the season progresses. Is it more or less reasonable to expect the Yankees to experience a bad month at some point than it is to expect the Blue Jays to enjoy a good one?
I chronicled the 1989 Blue Jays in my last column and their recovery from a 12-24 record to win the AL East that season. This 2017 Jays vintage is already ahead of that pace despite having so many key players injured for most of the season to date, as well as the horrific start even when everyone was healthy. After a 2-11 start to the season on April 18th, the Jays are 11-10 after winning this week’s series against Cleveland.
To further my attack on Mr. Gauss, how unusual would a two week period of the Jays going 11-2? How many teams with 85+ win projections prior to a season have enjoyed such stretches? Is a team like the 2017 Blue Jays more or less likely to experience such a winning stretch at some point during a season? I think the answer to that question is a resounding “yes.”
I believe there is a very good chance the Jays will be above .500 by the All Star break and looking to position the roster for the stretch run. Their record is surely poor, but not to the point where a single, and quite common/normal stretch of winning, won’t salvage their chance to compete for a Wild Card and/or the Division.
The upcoming stretch of games against weaker opponents would be a perfect time to catch fire, but it is also plausible that at some point they could catch a run of games against good teams during poor stretches. How many teams in March looked at the Jays as an April opponent and assumed they would be a relatively easy series?
*Featured Image Credit: C Stem- JFtC
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