Saturday, May 21, 2011

SoSG Pessimism: Dripping With Snark, But Backed By Statistical Fact

Shout out to SoSG Alex Cora, whose annual retreat to write manifestos (manifestoes?) in an Alaskan igloo prevents him from posting on this himself. According to the Wall Street Journal yesterday, the 20-25 Dodgers aren't just dead, they're an ice cold corpse in the morgue (actually, we're listed under the "In Big Trouble" category, along with the Diamondbacks, Padres, and 11 other losing teams):

Since 1996, just 9% of teams with a losing record on June 1 wound up with 90 wins, the number teams usually shoot for to make the playoffs, according to data crunched by The Wall Street Journal and Ben Alamar, founder of the Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports. During that early season period, the average correlation between a team's win percentage on June 1 and its final winning percentage is 0.76. Statisticians consider that to be a very high correlation.

By those measures, fans in Houston, Minnesota, Seattle, Arizona, San Diego, Pittsburgh and both sides of Chicago can start waiting 'til next year (barring a dramatic turnaround in the next week and a half). Just below them, hovering a few games under .500 and with hope dwindling are teams in a half dozen other towns, from Washington to Milwaukee, Los Angeles and half of New York, whose fans might want to start thinking about football. [Sax's note: he means college football, in Los Angeles, of course.]

"By May, you know," said Harold Reynolds, former All-Star second baseman for the Seattle Mariners.

The statistics squarely contradict some of baseball's most cherished cliches. Baseball is supposed to be a marathon, not a sprint. Fans are encouraged not to give up hope, to keep coming out to the ballpark through the dog days of summer. Players dutifully say they're "taking it one day at a time." Even the worst team is supposedly just an extended hot streak away from contention.

The it's-never-too-late trope is even built into the game's personnel calendar, which encourages teams to wait to make major trades until the two-week period between the All-Star game in mid-July and the first trading deadline July 31.

Yet veterans know reality sets in far sooner.

Want to get even more depressed? The article's accompanying interactive graphic indicates that former Dodger Paul Konerko is actually getting better with age. Nah, we're fine with James Loney.

graphic by Kurt Wilberding/The Wall Street Journal