The Cardinals Have Had Horrible Luck, But They’re Closing the Gap
Over at Baseball is Fun, the Cardinals’ recent impressive (and, of course, annoying) come-from-behind victory over the Padres, was featured in this morning’s iteration of “Last Night’s Highlights.” Check out the video and my commentary here.
If you don’t feel like watching it, because you don’t have the heart to watch the Cardinals celebrate, I’ll give you the short version:
Down 5-1 in the bottom of the eighth inning, the Cardinals tied things up on a Jeremy Hazelbaker double, a Jedd Gyorko single, a Kolten Wong double, and a Stephen Piscotty three-run home run. Then, with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning and a full count, Aledmys Diaz (you know, that guy who was supposed to be an okay utility player, but turned into an All-Star shortstop, instead) delivered the game-winning hit, a line drive into left field.
The win solidified a four-game sweep over the Padres, and put an exclamation point on what has been a fairly hot stretch for the Cardinals. In July, as a matter of fact, St. Louis has gone 11-6, while cutting the Cubs’ first place lead from a whopping 10.0 games to just 6.5 at the start the day, today. The Cardinals are rising and there’s a chance that things may get even better for them from here.
It might surprise you to hear, given our frequent reference to the Cardinals’ voodoo magic over the past oh, say, decade or so, but St. Louis has actually been a bit unlucky this year. I know. But it’s not your usual, run-of-the-mill streak of flukiness. No, according to Jeff Sullivan at FanGraphs, the St. Louis Cardinals have had historically bad timing. Give it a read for the down and dirty, but I’ll give you the short version.
When Sullivan began putting this article together, he noticed something strange. The Cardinals ranked 13th in baseball in winning percentage, despite owning the third highest run differential in the game. As I’m sure you well know by now, a team’s run differential is one of the most obvious and clear indicators of expected success. Teams are constantly under and over-performing their expected wins, but given a large enough sample, things should even out. However, the Cardinals will have a lot of evening out to do, because their ratio between their run differential/game and actual win% stands out as a clear outlier in baseball since 1950.
Their actual winning percentage at the time of the article was .522, while their expected winning percentage was something closer to .610. That -0.088 difference is, in fact, the second lowest difference for anyone besides the 1993 Mets since the start of the Cold War. But Sullivan doesn’t end there.
Because run differential is also strongly correlated to OPS, he compared the two, to see what he could ascertain. As it turns out, the Cardinals’ rank second in OPS differential on a per game basis by almost 100 points. In that way, the Cardinals run differential from before should actually be even more lopsided than it already is (meaning that their expected winning percentage should be even larger, as well).
In short, and like the title suggests, the Cardinals have been historically unlucky this year.
But whether it’s karma paying them back or just the natural ebb and flow of baseball, you shouldn’t expect them to continue being unlucky. In fact, you can argue that the Cardinals should be due for some positive regression starting yesterday. According to their Pythagorean record, for example, the Cardinals should probably be about 58-37 right now, while their BaseRuns record has them at an even more stark 60-35. (The Pythagorean and BaseRuns records are a way to measure how many games a team should have won over a given stretch based on the number of runs score and allowed (Pythagorean) and other underlying metrics (BaseRuns)). Now, none of those are anything more than educated calculations of how many wins a team should have, but they tend to suggest future performance and results.
But then again, maybe it has already started. After all, the Cardinals did just win four games in a row, including a ridiculous five-run, come-from-behind victory last night, and their 6.5 game deficit is the closest they’ve gotten to the Cubs/first place in quite some time now. But I promise I won’t leave it like this.
Let’s be quite clear. Although I believe the Cardinals have been unlucky, that they are a better team than their record indicates, and that they may even do better in near-future, they did lose those games and there’s no getting them back. Overcoming the Cubs is far from impossible, but it will be an uphill battle.
And let’s get even real-er. The Cubs Pythagorean record (63-31) and BaseRuns record (62-32) both show that they have been unlucky, too. And just like the Cardinals, that suggests that the Cubs will likely continue finding success in the future.