Wednesday, September 10, 2003

crouching tiger, hidden dragon

One of the main points of suspense in major league baseball is whether the Detroit Tigers, who currently have 106 losses with 19 games to go, will match or exceed the 120 losses of the 1962 first-year New York Mets and set a mark for modern-era baseball futility. The NYT has a story on this today, and near the end they take a stance on what is to blame for the Tigers's fate:
What happened to this team, which hasn't had a winning season in a decade? Some blame the owner, Mike Ilitch, for not spending money on players. Some blame bad trades by general managers. But the fact is, as outfielder Dmitri Young, their lone All-Star Game representative, said: "When we're hitting, we're not getting pitching. And when we're pitching, we ain't getting hitting."
In other words, while some might look at a team that is challenging for being one of the historically worst in its sport and think about blaming those responsible for assembling the team (or even the economic situation in baseball that makes it difficult for Detroit to field a higher-payroll team), the blame instead is placed on bad luck--the failure for good hitting and good pitching to come together in the same game. By my reading of the stats, the Tigers have scored 20% fewer runs than any other team in the American League, and they have allowed more runs than all but one other team in the AL. Meaning that it's really not that often that Detroit has either good hitting or good pitching. So, is it really bad luck that on those occasions that Detroit does get good hitting or pitching, the other side of the baseball equation is not there, or would it be a bigger fluke if they did get both in the same game?

Actually, let's be more precise about this: Say the Tigers get "good hitting" once every three games and "good pitching" once every three games. If a team's pitching and hitting were independent, that would mean that, for over half their games (5/9), they would have either good hitting or good pitching, but only for 1/5 of those games (or 1/9 of all games) would they happen to get good pitching and good hitting in the same game. In other words, the players should have an experience where 80% of the time that one side of the game is working, the other side isn't. When a team can't seem to put pitching and hitting together in the same game, the first conclusion should not be that they are the victims of bad luck, but that their pitching and hitting is usually not very good.

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