As the Oakland Athletics enter the second half of their season after the All-Star Game yesterday, they hold the best record in the Majors at 59-36 and are in the Top 10 in the AL in virtually every hitting and pitching category. On top of that they have the MLB’s best run differential of +145 with the next closest being +89. Most A’s fans would agree that so far it has been a great season and as one of them I am very pleased, but if one takes a closer look at Oakland using Bill James’ “Pythagorean Winning Percentage”, they may find that the A’s are in fact, underachieving.
The Pythagorean Theorem (which is what its based off of) in mathematical circumstances states that the square root of the hypotenuse (long side) on a triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides. In baseball, the theorem is based on the idea that runs scored compared to runs allowed is a better indicator of a team’s future performance than a team’s actual winning percentage.
Here’s the “simple” equation used to calculate a specific team’s W-L:
W% = [(Runs Scored)^2]/[(Runs Scored)^2 + (Runs Allowed)^2]
As you can see, it’s very similar to the Pythagorean Theorems equation of (a^2+b^2=c^2) and so it involves the idea of mathematical formulas being thrown into a very “imperfect” game. Yet, at the same time baseball is a game of statistics and is why there are so many variables to be accounted for. As has been revealed in books and movies, the A’s management has used these methods to help them develop excellent teams for little cost in comparison to those they have to compete against.
So why not use it now?
Right now, with their current win percentage and the amount of games they have left to play (67), Oakland is on pace for 101 wins by seasons end. Anytime a team reaches the century mark it has to be a sign of success as there has only been one team (2011 Phillies) in this decade to break it. Yet, they have the potential to do better.
Now I’ll use the Pythagorean Winnings Percentage.
As of the All-Star Break, the A’s should have a 63-32 record (4 games better) and that may not seem like a big difference to some, but judging by the fact the LA Angels are just 1.5 games behind in the AL West standings, that is a VERY big deal. One can argue its because of Oakland’s inability to close out the games they should, having only saved a paltry 22 in 35 save opportunities. Nevertheless, they should have won more games in the first half.
If you look at the entire seasons Pythag’ W-L however, here are the calculations:
W% = [(466)^2]/[(466)^2 + (321)^2]
W% = .678
Amount of Wins (Over 162 games) = 109.84 or roughly 110
That’s a crazy record of 110-52 that the Oakland Athletics are supposed to be on track for based on their run differential. In Major League Baseball’s history, there has only been six teams (1906 Cubs, 2001 Mariners, 1998 Yankees, 1954 Indians, 1909 Pirates, and 1927 Yankees) to win at least 110 games.
This means that the kind of quality baseball the A’s are playing right now should mathematically end up resulting in historical greatness, and proves the point that they are, however hard to fathom, Underachieving.