Saturday, May 12, 2012

In The Offing? Run Differential, The Rangers, and The Cardinals.

I have to confess that I haven't fully immersed myself in the 2012 MLB season quite yet.  This is per the usual, as too much of my life goes into the NBA playoffs to give baseball the care and attention it deserves until someone has been handed the Larry O'brien Trophy.  This isn't to say that I have no idea what's transpired since Opening Day, just that I'm not as acutely aware of the minutiae as I will be once basketball is over.  It's a tall order getting fully acquainted with all the wonderful tics and blips that comprise 162 games, and I'm just not up to it until then.  So, outside of keeping close tabs on the Braves, I don't know much beyond the cliff's notes:

  • Boston is imploding somewhat sooner than last year.
  • Yu Darvish is no joke.  Neither is Bryce Harper.
  • Josh Hamilton and Matt Kemp are hitting the almighty crap out of the ball.
  • Albert Pujols is not.  
  • Related note: the Angels aren't nearly the team we I thought they'd be.
  • Until further notice, Baltimore is apparently pretty good at baseball again. 

That's about all I've got so far, which is a pretty fair but extremely crude thumbnail sketch.  Safe to say, I've been largely ignorant of non-Braves-related data and goings-on.  Until last night, when the Braves pregame radio guys dropped a statistic before our game against the Cardinals that caused the closest thing I've ever felt to a literal boggling of the mind: did you know that St. Louis is +73 in run differential?  Plus.  Seventy.  Three.  That's not a statistical outlier, that's a freaking data point on a different graph altogether.  Granted, the Cards' schedule thus far has not been what anyone would call arduous, (the Marlins, Pirates, Brewers, Cubs, Reds, Astros, and Diamondbacks have comprised every game except for last night's loss to Atlanta), but still.  The next closest under St. Louis are the Dodgers with a + 27.  That's 37% of what the Cards have accomplished, which is just ridiculous.

Of course, there's one team that has actually exceeded that insane mark so far this season: the Texas Rangers at + 75.  Unsurprisingly, both clubs are leading their divisions, and are first (Texas, .667) and fourth (St. Louis, .625) in winning percentage.  (Since 2nd and 3rd are the Dodgers and Orioles, I say we wait until at least the All-Star Break before saying the Cards aren't a de facto second.)  Run differential is far from a perfect statistic, obviously.  Its failure to account for the fact that a blowout can have huge ramifications on this particular stat while only affecting a single game in the W/L column is an issue.  But since last year's World Series participants are so egregiously far off the curve from everyone else, I decided to poke around a little and see if we might be heading for a rematch.

What I found is that in more-or-less every offensive category, the Rangers and Cardinals are #'s 1 and 2 in some order.  This runs the gamut from basic stuff like runs (192 and 181, respectively) and batting average (.294, .287) to more advanced stats like wOBA (.360, .363) and team WAR (10.1, 12.5)  We can probably expect an incremental bit of backslide in some or all of these categories, since both teams also have the highest BABIP's in the league (.324, .330), but basically their offensive production owns MLB.

Next I took a look at pitching, to see if that offensive output would be sufficiently buttressed.  The Rangers are 3rd in WHIP and 4th in ERA.  The Cards are 2nd in both categories.  Texas has an xFIP of 3.60 and St. Louis' is 3.40.  So, you know, they're looking pretty solid on the mound too.

It's rare for a team to make it back to the World Series, much less both of the preceding year's teams.  (For Texas, this year would be a third consecutive appearance.)  The probability is that, over the course of the season, injuries and flukes and the capriciousness of the game will spin a different outcome than a rematch.  But the numbers say it's more likely this year than most.  Whoever scores the most runs wins the game, and when you're outscoring your opponents at the patently absurd clip the Rangers and Cardinals are, it's easy to think history might repeat itself.

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