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June 28, 2013

Manufactured Runs

The Mystery of the Missing .500 Teams

by Colin Wyers


Sometimes, baseball research happens because you go out looking for something and you find it. Other times, it happens because you go off looking for something else and you trip over something far more interesting. This is the latter. While looking through historic team records for another project I was working on, I came across an interesting puzzle—there were far fewer teams exactly at .500 than I would have expected. I thought maybe it was a wacky feature of the sample set I was using, but I expanded my search to nearly 50 years of Major League Baseball, and the same puzzle was still staring me in the face. So I was left with three questions: Was what I was seeing really there? Why was it happening? And what did it mean?

One of the best parts of working at Baseball Prospectus is the ability to pester the staff email list with really bizarre questions. Some people use this power to ask questions where they don’t know the answer. Those people are probably much more well-liked than I am by the other staffers. I, instead, ask questions to which I already know the answer and request that people make wild guesses without doing any research first. I do this because sometimes when I’m looking at data, it helps me to get an unbiased perspective of what someone might expect the data to look like. But to get that, you need to ask people who haven’t seen the data, because once you’ve been staring at the data for too long you expect the data to look like the data.

So here’s the question I posed to the staff list:

What's the most common win percentage, out to three significant digits, for teams who have played exactly 162 games in a season?

Exactly 162 games doesn’t really affect much of anything except that it limits the number of possible responses—you know that everything has to be in increments of roughly .006. Please, before you go any further, think about it yourself—go on gut, don’t look up anything. Okay? Got it? Good, let’s proceed.

Now, I suspect that if I could ask the question in such a way as to get an immediate response—that is, without giving you time to think that boy, isn’t it odd that he’s asking this question—the most common answer would be .500. It’s a pretty reasonable guess, since .500 is both the mean and the median for team win percentage. Of course, I can’t ask the question without asking the question, and the very fact that I’m asking the question lets on that I’m looking for a somewhat less obvious answer.

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article Raising Aces: A Look a... (06/28)
<< Previous Column
Manufactured Runs: Lis... (05/14)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Manufactured Runs: Rub... (07/05)
Next Article >>
Premium Article The Call-Up: Brad Mill... (06/28)

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