This week’s question comes from Chuck Hildebrandt, who writes:
Being a lifelong Detroit Tiger fan, I was studying the 1984 season in
Total Baseball when I was startled by something I saw in the National
League. I noticed that the New York Mets, managed by Davey Johnson, were
outscored by their competition, 652676, yet finished the season with a
9072 record.This is a stunning display of overachievement, a team being outscored yet
finishing with a .556 winning percentage. Being too lazy to pursue the issue
myself, I ask the question of you: what are the greatest differentials, both
positive and negative, between expected and actual winning percentage for
any single team?Bonus philosophical question: What do such differentials really say about a
manager's influence on a team, versus dumb luck?
Thanks for the question, Chuck.
First, let’s limit ourselves to teams that played at least 100 games in a
season, as some teams in the early days of professional baseball played
incomplete schedules. In order to find a team’s expected number of wins,
we’ll use the
Pythagenport formula–Clay
Davenport’s refinement of Bill
James’s original Pythagorean formula. The formula is:
Win% ~= R^E/(R^E + RA^E) , where E = 1.5*Log((R+RA)/G) + 0.45
Given an estimated expected winning percentage, we can compute the
difference between a team’s actual and expected records either based on
winning percentage or difference in wins.
(To answer this question, I’m using the free downloadable statistics
database at
www.baseball1.com. The database
is currently unavailable due to server problems, but is expected to be
back online soon.)
Chuck, you have a keen eye. The 1984 Mets turned out to be the
secondbiggest overachievers ever, at 11.7 wins above expectation, beaten
only by the 1905 Tigers, who went 7974 while scoring 512 runs and allowing
602. They "should" have gone about 6688, but instead managed to
be five games over .500, and 12.8 wins over expectation.
On the underachieving side, there are two teams that lost 13 or more games
beyond expectation. The worst underachievers were the 1993 Mets, whose 672
R/744 RA differential should have been good for a 7389 record. They instead
posted a gruesome 59103 record, or 14.3 wins below expectation. The other
unlucky team was the 1986 Pirates, who scored 663 runs and allowed 700,
which should have earned them a 7785 record, but instead they went 6498, a
13game differential. The worst underachievers who actually outscored their
opponents were the 1907 Reds, who scored 526 runs and allowed 519. They
projected to a 7977 record, but actually went 6687.
Here’s a list of all teams with differentials of 10 or more games:
G500 = Games over .500 Pyth = Pythagenport expected winning percentage P_W = Pythagenport expected wins P_L = Pythagenport expected losses DIF% = Difference between actual and expected winning percentage DIFW = Difference between actual and expected wins
































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































Of course, teams play 162 games today, versus 154 or fewer in years past, so
it’s a little easier to run up a larger differential over more games. If we
look just at differences in winning percentage, there are nine teams that
were 75 points or more off expectation. The ’93 Mets still top the list, at
89 points below expectation, but a new team, the 1981 Reds, turns out to be
the biggest overachiever, exceeding its expected winning percentage by 87
points (going 6642, .611 versus a projection of 56.651.4, .524). Other
teams with 75+ point differentials but not a 10game overall difference
include the 1884 Chicago White Stockings (later known as the Cubs) as
78point underachievers, and the 1894 New York Giants as 76point
underachievers.
Let’s consider Chuck’s second question: "What do such differentials
really say about a manager’s influence on a team, versus dumb luck?"
Strategic blunders by the manager can certainly influence a team’s record,
but the magnitude of this effect over the course of a season is hard to
estimate. A manager probably has a more important influence on his team in
playing the right lineup, managing the pitching staff, keeping his bench
fresh, and so on, than in specific game tactics.
A team that underachieves its projection as badly as the teams we’re talking
about probably lost more than its share of onerun games, which can be
caused in part by a lousy bullpen. The 1999 Royals, who are in the table
above, had a terrible bullpen, possibly one of the worst ever. When no one
is getting the other guys out, it’s hard to blame all of that on the
manager.
Of course, the arguments above aren’t very sabermetric. Let’s ask a slightly
different question: are teams who underachieve or overachieve likely to
continue doing so the next season? This doesn’t necessarily answer the
question about the manager’s impact, because a manager’s job is somewhat
more at risk following a season that didn’t meet expectations, but it’s a
place to start.
I took the list of all teams with 100+ games and compared their DIFW in one
season to the next (assuming the franchise still existed). I computed the
correlation of the two differentials. If the correlation was close to 1.0,
then teams were more likely to have the same kind of differential (above or
below average) the following season. If the correlation was close to 1.0,
the reverse is true, which would mean that teams that overachieve one year
are more likely to underachieve the next. A value close to zero means that
there’s no relationship between the two, that nothing from the team’s
"luck" carries over to the next season. The actual correlation was
+0.05, which is pretty close to zero, and suggests that there’s no
relationship.
We can refine the question a little bit more; since teams who overachieve
are more likely to retain their manager, we can focus only on teams that
were significant overachievers. I selected five or more games as a
threshold. Plotting their win differentials in the following season, we get
the following chart, which shows no real trend or pattern, furthering the
theory that the manager has little consistent impact on whether a team over
or underachieves it’s expected Pythagenport projection.
A few readers wrote in with comments about
last week’s question about
Expected vs. Actual Wins:
Regarding whether
Wes Ferrell‘s
Hall of Fame case is enhanced by his
offensive production, Kevin Morse writes: "He’s certainly more
deserving than his Vet Committeeelected brother Rick."
Brian Simpson asks: "What about
Orel Hershiser?
I seem to
remember him being a fairly good hitter before he got hurt." Indeed,
Hershiser was pretty good with the stick for a pitcher. His best season was
1993, when he posted a 784 OPS (.356/.373/.411), but that was his only
season with an OPS over 600 in 50 or more plate appearances.
Mike Ritzema writes: "I read your article and I was wondering where
Darren Dreifort
would place. I saw his two bombs against Chicago last
year and it gives me hope that he’ll hit for his money, too."
Dreifort’s two bombs helped him to just a 520 OPS last year
(.210/.246/.274), his best year to date.
David (no last name given) inquires: "Interesting article about
historical pitchers hitting performances. Can those numbers be converted to
some familiar sabermetric figures–runs above average, games won v. average,
etc. Basically, how does a good hitting pitcher affect a team’s ability to
win?"
Great question. The upper limit seems to be about 20 runs, for the very best
hitting pitching seasons, as shown in the following chart (PMLV is the
number of runs contributed on offense above what a league average pitcher
would have hit, adjusted for park and league):





























































































































In today’s game, pitchers don’t throw as many innings or complete games, and
rarely would get a chance to bat often enough to clear 20 runs of value.
Hershiser’s 1993 was worth about 13.5 runs, and that’s about the top end
for the past couple of decades.