As they begin their three-game set in Los Angeles later tonight, the Cubs have scored 211 runs this season and allowed 184. That gives them the best Pythagorean record in the NL Central (25-20, just ahead of the Brewers' 26-21).
The fact that the Cubs' Pythagorean mark has exceeded their actual record all season long has been the basis for some optimism from some people, myself among them, who have figured that eventually, things will even out and the Cubs will start winning some of the close games they've been dropping with regularity.
That's the way it is with Pythagorean records: over time, teams that underform against their expected record tend to rise up; teams that overperform eventually slip back to the level their runs scored/runs differential suggests they "deserve."
The problem is, this reckoning doesn't always happen within a single season. Thus you have teams whose good fortune holds out all year long, at which point they make the post-season where, as recent history has shown, anything can happen.
I've wondered for some time if there were traits common to these lucky teams and if it was possible to construct a roster that would be more likely to exceed its projected record than some other team.
Click here for an answer, courtesy of The Hardball Times and author David Gassko.
If you're too riveted by this page to click the link, here's a brief summary:
Based on Gassko's formulas and analysis, 95% of all teams finish with actual records +/- 2.74 wins of their Pythagorean record, and teams that exceed that range on the positive side tend to have especially good bullpens and good managers.
Lou Piniella's track record would suggest he is a good manager, his handling of Ryan Dempster's role on the pitching staff notwithstanding. As for the quality of the Cub bullpen, one can only hope that the recent shakeup that landed Neil Cotts in Des Moines and Angel Guzman and Carlos Marmol in the pen will improve things beyond what we've seen to date. And then the Cubs can go about catching up to Pythagorus.
Not to mention the Brewers.
(Image from top10greeks.com)