Re-Standing the League Using Pythagorean Wins

By: Matthew Haines

Standings early in the season can be somewhat deceiving. With teams just starting to find their footing, there can be a lot of sporadicity. With some teams get off to hot starts and look like they are ready to run away with it, others stumble out the gate,  slowly but surely regaining their strides to eventually come out on top. For this reason, it is helpful to look at win loss records from a different perspective. In this article, I will be re-ranking each team in their standings based on Pythagorean wins (PythW-L).

What is Pythagorean wins, though? Pythagorean wins was created by Bill James, to find a better way of hypothesizing a team’s winning percentage based on runs scored and runs allowed. Think of it much like you would any other predictive metric such as FIP or wOBA. Essentially, PythW-L is just another way of quantifying a team’s performance in hopes to get a better sense at their projections as well as past performance.

Here we can see the formula in its most basic form. As seen, a team’s winning percentage is calculated using their runs scored and runs allowed.

So what does this do for us? Well, PythW-L is essentially used to assess how a team is performing through using a better predictor than a simple win-loss total. Essentially, if a team is underperforming their PythW-L, don’t be surprised if you see the team gain speed throughout the duration of the season. Likewise, if a team is out-performing their PythW-L, it is likely that their end of season win-loss will not be as high as their current total.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at how the standings stack up according to PythW-L.

First up, the AL.

In these tables, there is a breakdown of every teams’ current place in the standing, current PythW-L,  runs scored, runs allowed, real-time win-loss, as well as their current performance in comparison to their PythW-L.  Teams out performing their current Pythagorean projection have a “diff” highlight in red, for their outlook is negative, as a team that outperforms their PythW-L is expected to go down in over all Win%, while teams underperforming their current PythW-L are highlighted in green, for their expected W% is projected to rise in the future.

As seen here, the AL stays pretty consistent through how their rankings stack up in real time, versus their Pythagorean projections. So far, there is only one “blip” seen in the AL East, however, only a third of teams are currently meeting their projection. If you’re an Astros, Mariners, Orioles, White Sox, or Athletics fan, you can be confident that your team is meeting their PythW-L with grace. This may be a bright sign for the Astros and Mariners, but can also be quite the dark realization for teams such as the Orioles and White Sox. The highest performer in the AL are Tigers, who are currently out-winning their PythW-L by 2 wins. This means that as of now, the Tigers current have 2 more wins than projected through the PythW-L formula. On the other hand, we see that the Royals are currently the highest underperformer in comparison to their PythW-L projection. According to this, the Royals are expected to have won 3 more games than they have.

Out of the totality of the entire NL, the Rays currently have the highest PythW-Lat 17-7, while the Red Sox currently sit at the bottom of the AL with a PythW-L of 8-16. For Rays fans, congrats, you have performed the best out of every team in the league, for Red Sox fans, it’s not looking good.

Here’s a look at the NL

Unlike the AL, the NL PythW-L standings look quite a bit different from their W-L counterparts. Here we see that only 3 teams are currently sitting even with their PythW-L projections, subsequently, these are also the top 3 teams in the NL. The NL also gives us the two teams that are most over and under performing their current PythW-L projections.

The Padres lead the league in outperforming their PythW-L by a relative landslide, with an overperformance of 3.5 games. Again, this could be a negative sign for fans, as according the PythW-L, the Padres Win% will be expected to drop in the upcoming months.

On the other side of the rope, we have the Reds, who are currently underperforming their PythW-L projections by 3 games. Reds fans, remain optimistic, according to this, you will not be in 5th for too much longer.

The NL is also home to the League’s worst PythW-L, yep, you guessed it, the Marlins. At a current PythW-L of 6-17 they rank just below the Red Sox and Orioles. As shown, the Marlins are also outperforming their projection, meaning that the outlook on them is negative, for their Win% is expected to drop throughout the year.

Overall, this is simply a fun way to look at current standings throughout the league. Nothing is set in stone this early in the season, of course. Many teams finish the season well outside of their PythW-L due to the inherent random chanceness of baseball. Likewise, it is difficult to assess which is right number of games a team has played in order to have an accurate PythW-L projection. While we do tend to see PythW-L as a better predictor of Win% earlier in the year, the season must go on and only time will tell who finishes on top.

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