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First half and a penny: Good runs of bad luck

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(Put together prior to the games of July 2.)

A lot is made in the stats circles of baseball talkin' about luck. Pythagorean W-L records are pretty simple; it's just the expected W-L record based on runs scored and runs given up by a team. Often times, teams turn out to have been incredibly lucky. Last year's Diamondbacks and Mariners, for example. The D-Backs made it to the NL playoffs by winning the West division with a record of 90-72. Their Pythagorean W-L, however, was just 79-83; a +11 for Arizona's real record.

The Mariners hung around in playoff contention and finished 88-74 for the season. They, too, had a Pythagorean record of 79-83, so a +9 for them. Their luck had their front office foolishly believing that a trade for Erik Bedard would make them serious contenders this season, even though almost everyone on the planet was calling for the Mariners to have a rather serious dropoff. Live and learn, Bill Bavasi. Or get fired.

Through the first half plus one game of 2008, there have, as always, been lucky teams and unlucky teams. Below is a table with teams ordered from unluckiest (Atlanta and Cleveland) to luckiest (the Angels). Think of it as a golf scoreboard, except pretty much not.

  Team Actual Record Pythagorean Record +/-
Atlanta 40-44 46-38 -6
Cleveland 37-47 43-41 -6
Philadelphia 45-39 50-34 -5
Toronto 41-44 46-39 -5
Chicago (A) 48-35 51-32 -3
Los Angeles (N) 39-44 42-41 -3
Oakland 45-38 48-35 -3
Seattle 32-51 35-48 -3
Arizona 42-42 43-41 -1
Colorado 33-51 34-50 -1
Boston 50-36 50-36 E
Detroit 42-41 42-41 E
New York (A) 44-40 44-40 E
New York (N) 41-42 41-42 E
San Diego 33-52 33-52 E
San Francisco 37-47 37-47 E
Baltimore 42-40 41-41 +1
Chicago (N) 51-33 50-34 +1
Houston 40-44 39-45 +1
Kansas City 38-46 37-47 +1
Cincinnati 39-46 37-48 +2
Pittsburgh 39-44 37-46 +2
St. Louis 48-37 46-39 +2
Texas 44-41 42-43 +2
Florida 43-40 40-43 +3
Minnesota 46-38 43-41 +3
Tampa Bay 51-32 48-35 +3
Washington 34-51 31-54 +3
Milwaukee 45-38 41-42 +4
Los Angeles (A) 50-34 43-41 +7

The O's are part of the middle of the pack (-1, E, +1) that have played and gotten the record they pretty much deserve. We're one game lucky. If the team were to avoid injuries, didn't trade some of the good players, and played as they are now, chances are they finish around .500, a minor miracle season for a group that I expected would lose about 100 games.

AL East Standings, as they would be:

  1. Boston
  2. Tampa Bay
  3. Toronto
  4. New York
  5. Baltimore
For once, it really IS a tough division, because the would-be fifth place Orioles are playing .500 ball either way. Toronto has been the unluckiest by far; Tampa Bay the luckiest, but a good team no matter how you slice it. The O's and Yankees are playing as expected, which is strange for both of them in different ways.

AL Central Standings, as they would be:
  1. Chicago
  2. Cleveland
  3. Minnesota
  4. Detroit
  5. Kansas City
Cleveland and Minnesota are both at 43-41 Pythagorean, with Detroit at 42-41. The White Sox (who have actually been a bit unlucky so far) are clearly the best team in the division right now, though. Kansas City, again, is by far the division's worst team. Poor Cleveland is sitting in reality's cellar, when they really aren't a bad team. They're certainly not as good as pre-season expectations, though.

AL West Standings, as they would be:
  1. Oakland
  2. Los Angeles
  3. Texas
  4. Seattle
No doubt about it: the Mariners, even though a smidge unlucky, stink. The Angels are so far the luckiest team in baseball at +7; they're barely playing above .500 ball in the numbers (43-41), but own one of the best records in baseball in the real world (50-34). I'm sure they'll take it. Oakland (-3) are the rightful division leaders, but they're 4.5 games out.

NL East Standings, as they would be:
  1. Philadelphia
  2. Atlanta
  3. New York
  4. Florida
  5. Washington
No doubt about it: the Nationals, even though lucky, stink. You can look at the real standings and guess that the worst teams in baseball are Washington, Seattle, San Diego and Colorado, and you're right. The Nationals are probably the absolute worst team in the league. What a way to kick off with a new stadium. Philadelphia (-5) and Atlanta (-6) are good bets to be in contention all year, even though the Braves are under .500 right now. At four games under, they should be eight games over. The Mets have played as expected with an even score (though, of course, they expected more), and the Marlins are a little lucky, and are likely to fade.

NL Central Standings, as they would be:
  1. Chicago
  2. St. Louis
  3. Milwaukee
  4. Houston
  5. Pittsburgh
  6. Cincinnati
The familiar bottom two remain the bottom two. Chicago and St. Louis are both legit; the Cubbies are +1 and the Cards a still-surprising +2. Milwaukee is the second-luckiest team in baseball (+4) with their 45-38 record. The Pyth world has the Cardinals and Braves in a dogfight for the wild card, which I think could happen, especially given the weakness out west.

NL West Standings, as they would be:
  1. Arizona
  2. Los Angeles
  3. San Francisco
  4. Colorado
  5. San Diego
Last year, the Diamondbacks luckily eked out the division, while the Padres and Rockies had a play-in. The Rockies made it all the way to the World Series. Not so much this season. The Diamondbacks are a half-game up on the Dodgers in the Pyth world; Los Angeles stands at -3. It's a terrible division in reality and in the Pyth numbers. The Giants are smack in the middle in both universes.

Not much in the way of massive change, no, but this is only the first half of the season. These things pile up over time, or get corrected. I would definitely expect to see the Angels lose some steam unless they get some help, and I think the Braves are obviously a good bet to make a turnaround run at the NL wild card.