Monday, November 01, 2004

Looking Back: Luck 

Sitting out in our front yard last night, greeting trick-or-treaters after we returned from trick-or-treating with our daughter, I was moved to dwell on randomness. Would the bags of candy we bought leave us with too many chocolatey leftovers or cause us to scurry inside and turn off all exterior lights after 30 minutes, emptyhanded. (Or maybe, just maybe, did we get it right?) I've never noticed any discernable pattern, either in our current or old neighborhood, to the number of trick-or-treaters we get. Why is it that the numbers swing wildly from year to year?

So it is with that thought in mind that I begin my occasional "Looking Back" series on the 2004 Diamondbacks season. What I'm hoping to do in the series is to lay out how we got from 2003 (84-78) to 2004 (51-111). I don't know if I'll be able to do so, but I'm going to give it a shot.

I'm starting today with the concept of "luck." In a season that saw the end of a phony "curse," luck seems like an appropriate subject for discussion. I probably should put this at the end of the series, and just attribute any inexplicable change from 2003 to 2004 to "luck," but that would be a bit dishonest, no? So I'll define "luck" in this regard as "difference from the Pythagorean record."

The D-Backs' 2004 Pythagorean record was 54-108. This record was 3 games better than the D-Backs' actual 2004 record of 51-111. In other words, the D-Backs had slightly bad luck in 2004. This bad luck wasn't absolutely awful -- 8 teams ranked worse, led (if that's the proper word for it) by Detroit, whose Pythagorean record in 2004 was 7 games better than their actual record. Compare that to 2003, however, where the D-Backs' actual and Pythagorean records were exactly the same. Unsurprisingly, this put Arizona right in the middle of baseball in terms of "good" and "bad" luck.

How did teams change their luck from 2003 to 2004? Well, Arizona ranked tied for 3 other teams at 22nd in the change of luck, losing 3 games.

Here's the complete list of changes from 2003 to 2004 if you're interested. It's sorted by "luck," good to bad. (The stars are for teams who didn't play 162 games and whose records were adjusted accordingly.) By the way, if there are any Blogger experts out there, I'd love to hear how you get tables into Blogger. I guess I could dust off my HTML table skills, but would rather not if there's something easier.

Team Actual Pythag Luck
St Louis 20 12 8
Houston 5 -3 8
New York Yankees 0 -7 7
Tampa Bay ** 7.5 0.5 7
Anaheim 15 11 4
Philadelphia 0 -4 4
Cleveland 12 8 4
Cincinnati 7 4 3
Oakland -5 -8 3
Los Angeles 8 6 2
San Diego 23 21 2
Boston 3 2 1
Chicago White Sox -3 -4 1
Minnesota 2 2 0
Texas 18 18 0
Pittsburgh ** -3 -2 -1
Baltimore 7 8 -1
Colorado -6 -5 -1
Detroit 29 30 -1
New York Mets * 4.5 6.5 -2
Seattle -30 -28 -2
Milwaukee ** -1 2.5 -3
Arizona -33 -30 -3
Toronto ** -19 -16 -3
San Francisco * -10 -6 -4
Atlanta -5 -1 -4
Florida -8 -4 -4
Montreal -16 -12 -4
Chicago Cubs 1 9 -8
Kansas City -25 -14 -11

So clearly it's possible to pick up (or lose) 3 or 4 or even more wins in a season just because of luck (look at the Yankees, Phillies, or Cubs).

So, in the end, I choose to associate 3 of Arizona's 33 additional losses in 2004 to plain luck. Now, if you want to look at 2004 Pythagenport records (complete only through 161 games), which are an even more abstract version of Pythagorean records that also take into account strength of schedule, the D-Backs improve to about 62 wins and aren't even the worst team in baseball (that dubious honor belongs to the Royals). But I've chosen not to use that for two reasons: 1) it seems weird to say, "see, we're not so bad -- it's just that the other teams got better" (that doesn't sound so reassuring), and, more importantly, 2) 2003 data isn't available on the BP website.

In the following weeks I hope to outline where the other 30 losses came from.

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