Expected Wins And The Bell Curve

by A.J. Coltrane

Disclaimer:  Unusually shoddy use of sabermetrics and statistics ahead! This post is a thought experiment, a combination of ideas I’ve been kicking around. The concept can now “Fly, be free”, and go roost somewhere else.

Prior to the 2011 season, the sabermetric community and the gambling community agreed in their assessments of how many games the M’s would win. That number was about 69.5 – 70.

The Concept:

1.  Given that the numbers and the public opinion are the same, let’s say that we “know” that Mariners will win 70 games in 2011 — that the M’s true talent level will produce exactly 70 wins.

2.  Let’s say that we also “know” the standard deviation of season wins around that result. The difference would result from things like the team under or overperforming their expected wins relative to their run differential, or an unexpected player addition or loss, or something as simple as “luck.” This research has been done before, and the standard deviation of wins according to The Book is 6.4.

What does that mean?

It means that we could forecast the M’s ceiling and floor for season wins, as well as make a pretty good guess as to their actual odds for contention. Like so:

Wins Percent
89-95 0.1%
83-88 2.1%
76-83 13.6%
70-76 34.1%
63-69 34.1%
56-62 13.6%
48-55 2.1%
41-47 0.1%

I rounded off the win totals of course, it isn’t possible for the M’s to win 4/10th of a game, anymore than it’s possible to have 6/10th of a kid, or be “kind of pregnant.”

In reality it’s hard to win fewer than about 48 games — a team composed entirely of fringe major leaguers would win around that many games. The 2001 Diamondbacks won 51 games. The 2004 Tigers won 43 games. Beyond that you have to go back to 1962 and the Mets, who went 40-120. I think it’s interesting that there was a 42-year gap between the terrible Tigers and Mets — I’d have to think that teams are almost never “pegged” for fewer than 60 wins in the new millenium.. there’s too much information available to even the most incompetent of baseball front offices, and the stakes are too high.

Blaidd wrote a post that focused in part on the M’s poor attendance so far this year. I’m wondering if maybe to some degree it isn’t “I already know how the movie ends, why bother going?” (That, and it’s been a cold spring.)

There was a time, and it wasn’t that long ago, that fans really didn’t know the talent level of their favorite team coming into a season. Information consisted of weekly Sports Illustrated fluff pieces, a skimpy sports section headed by people with homer-centric viewpoints, and, if you were lucky, a half-page in the Sporting News weekly baseball edition. You wouldn’t really know if your team had a shot or not until at least a couple of months into the season. Now, if somebody on the team gets a hangnail the fans know about it within a few minutes. The M’s opened the season 2-7, continued on to 4-11, and were declared DOA on the spot. Looking at the chart above, the M’s had less than a 2% chance of the playoffs this year before any games were played. The poor start basically finished their hopes for the playoffs.

And I think the fans “got it.”

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