JFtC brings you snapshots from the MLB landscape as viewed through Blue Jays coloured lenses. This week we examine what the playoff races would look like if standing were determined by Pythagorean Win/Loss Records. Plus we wonder why MLB & the MLBPA felt the need to extend the maximum pitcher roster limit yet again.
Featured Images Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase
* Fans of Major League Baseball cannot listen to a broadcast or read an article without being exposed to some form of analytics-based information. Since the dawning of the “Statcast-era” in 2015, front offices and fanbases have built their critiques of player and team performances upon and around formulae and projections. Yet one very revealing statistical estimation is largely ignored when determining how a team is performing- Pythagorean Winning Percentage.
What is Pythagorean Winning Percentage? According to Baseball Reference, which publishes Pythagorean Won/Lost records on its team pages, Pythagorean Winning Percentage was developed by Bill James to determine how a team’s record may have been influenced by luck (both good and bad). In essence, it uses actual runs scored and runs allowed to make this estimation:
W%=[(Runs Scored)^1.81]/[(Runs Scored)^1.81 + (Runs Allowed)^1.81]
Since scoring more runs than you give up is the primary goal of every team in every game, this calculation strikes at the heart of team performance. By adding Runs Allowed to Runs Scored and dividing the total into Runs Scored, a “winning percentage” is determined. By using the exponent of ^1.83, this Pythagorean Winning Percentage is less random than straight run differential; it gives a direct relation between scoring runs and preventing runs.
As of May 27th, the MLB Playoff picture looks like this:
American League: First Round Byes-Yankees and Astros. Blue Jays vs. Twins/ Rays vs. Angels
National League: First Round Byes- Dodgers and Mets. Giants vs. Brewers/Cardinals vs. Padres
In the National League, seedings would change slightly though the 6 teams listed above would all qualify for the post-season. St. Louis would have homefield playoff series against the Giants while San Diego would visit Milwaukee. Three teams (Padres +3, Mets & Brewers +2) are outperforming their estimated Pythagorean Win/Loss records. Despite having the best record in the NL, the Dodgers have actually won 3 fewer games than their run differential would indicate. The Brewers should have 2 more wins and San Francisco is directly on their Pythagorean pace.
The American League would present a different playoff scenario if Pythagorean Winning Percentage ruled the day. While the top 5 seeds would remain the same, the Boston Red Sox would sport a 24-21 record and knock the Blue Jays (21-24) out of the sixth and final playoff spot. In fact, the Pythagorean Texas Rangers (22-22) would finish ahead of Toronto as well. The 3 division leaders (Yankees, Twins & Astros) are all one win better than their Pythagorean win/loss records. Tampa Bay is 2 games better and Toronto has theoretically won 3 more games than they should have.
In the case of Pythagorean Winning Percentage, Blue Jays fans may just wish to borrow the famous Charlie Brown comic strip punchline and tell these statistics to shut up.
* Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association announced on Thursday the two sides had agreed to to extend the current 14-pitcher roster limit through June 19th. Barring any further extensions, teams will be limited to 13 pitchers on their active roster from June 20th through the end of the World Series.
The question of roster limits-especially for active pitchers- has been a rare area of agreement between the two entities. The COVID-19 shortened 2020 season and the protocol impacted 2021 season created scenarios where front offices and players felt the need to expand traditional roster norms. The extended lockout over the winter again called into question the need for addition pitching places on active rosters. A joint decision kept the 14-man pitching staff limits in place through May 1st. Before the month of April ended, however, owners and players agreed to an extension through May 30th. Injuries and delayed rehabs stretched organizational pitching depths beyond the comfort level of both players and executives. Several teams (Detroit and the Mets most prominent) publicly welcomed the latest extension for another 3 weeks.
Memorial Day in the U.S. has long been a marker for analysis team performance as well as the establishment of likely playoff teams. Since the addition of wild card teams in 1995, teams leading their division on Memorial Day won their division 55% of the time. As a kicker, 65% of teams that held playoff seeds in late May also qualified for the playoffs. Many GMs and team executives will tell you that they have a solid understanding of how their team will perform for the rest of the season after 40 games (or approximately one quarter of the scheduled games).
With this new extension of maximum pitcher allowances, it will be difficult for fans and front offices to express such confidence. By the quarter point of a season, pitching staffs will generally take shape and, in the case of bullpens, roles will have been assumed. With the availability of an extra arm, too often managers are utilizing pitchers in order to win a single game as opposed to how reports and situations will dictate during a pennant race. Instead of pitcher roles being defined before a quarter of the season is completed, many contending teams may very well be still sorting out options leading up to the All Star Game instead.
MLB and the MLBPA will point to injury rates and player safety concerns as the impetus for extending roster limit deadlines. But what is being de-emphasized is the critical need for playoff contending clubs to have pitching pieces in place to sustain the runs at a playoff spot. Even teams without realistic hopes for playoff contention are going to be negatively impacted by this decision. Valuable trade chips cannot realistically be moved until roster limits are normalized and the need to add bullpen and/or rotation arms are clarified.
Instead of extending maximum pitcher roster limits in late June, perhaps the union and the owners should have postponed the 5 option limit for players until the 2023 season. Yes, the fringe pitchers most directly affected by the shuttling of players from minor league to major league rosters are often inconvenienced. But for optioned players on contending teams, the lure of potential playoff and World Series shares should outweigh those inconveniences.
* Canadian baseball icon Russel Martin announced his retirement Friday, following a celebrated 14 year career that included a four-year stint with his home country Toronto Blue Jays. A Gold Glove catcher whose athleticism allowed him to play multiple positions during career, Martin retires with 4th highest career bWAR amongst Canadian-born major leaguers.
Jays From the Couch joins baseball fans on both sides of the border in congratulating Russel Martin on a notable career.
The odd aspect of the Martin announcement is that it occurred nearly 3 seasons after his final game in a Dodger uniform in 2019. He is among a dozen or so former MLB players that have announced their retirement in 2022 that have not played in a major league game for more than a year. While the official filing of retirement papers is a formality, it is unfortunate that players like Russel Martin formally announce their retirement well after their final appearances in an MLB game. Diehard fans and fans of the four teams Martin played for no doubt have fond memories of his exploits. But viewed through a wider lens, perhaps players who do not sign a contract to play professional baseball before the All Star Game should be granted provisional retirement status. These players, regardless of how long they played in MLB, could be honored during All Star festivities and their fans can celebrate their careers while it is still fresh in their minds.
*Featured Images Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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Jersey born, Pittsburgh resident, baseball lifer. Staff Writer jaysfromthecouch.com. Host THE ON FEK CIRCLE on JFtC YouTube Channel. Regular guest on Jays From the couch Radio Podcast. Established WPPJ Rock-a-thon benefit, which has been broadcast annually since 1981 and has raised for than $500,000 for the Early Learning Institute of Pittsburgh. IBWAA member.