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hobby horses II: luck and the perfect world

all season long i kept returning to the issue of luck. at times i thought the cardinals were flat-out lucky; at other times i wondered whether they possessed a rare ability to manufacture luck on demand. no matter how many starters went down, they kept scoring runs; and when they finally stopped scoring runs, they found other ways to win.

call it luck, opportunism, maturity, "knowing how to win," black magic -- by whatever name, it was a hallmark of the 2005 cardinals, and its effects (whatever "it" was) showed up all over the place:

  • pythagorean won-lost. for the second straight year the cards beat the record predicted by their pythagorean ratio. last year they outdid pythagorus by 5 games; this year by 2.
  • runs created. the cardinals scored 30 more runs than predicted by bill james' runs created tech-1 formula, a 4 percent premium. those 30 "extra" runs are worth approx 3 to 4 wins in the standings. (tech 1 predicted the cards' runs allowed total of 634 almost on the nose.)
  • equivalent runs. equivalent runs is baseball prospectus's version of runs created -- an attempt to create a unified, unbiased measurement of offensive production. it's an intricate formula which i don't in the least understand, but those guys at BP are smart so i'll just trust `em. they put the cardinals' run-scoring bonus at 49 runs -- or 5 to 6 games in the win column. per this table the cardinal offense was the "luckiest" (or most opportunistic, if you prefer) in the majors by a wide margin; the next "luckiest" lineup, toronto's, cashed in just 32 extra runs.
  • the perfect world. this blog was just four days old when i launched the perfect-world "study". it grew out of my perverse fascination with a blown game, a 2-1 loss to john smoltz and the braves in which the cardinals put twice as many runners on base as the bad guys (13-6), committed no errors, and yielded only one extra-base hit (a double). in a perfect world, i mused, that's a win for stl -- but the world is not perfect (and how dull if it were), and the ball just didn't find a hole when the cards needed it to. tough luck -- which was the whole point of the ensuing project: to keep track of the cardinals' luck and see if it really did balance out over the course of a season, as wise men assure us it does. i dutifully maintained the "perfect-world box" on the lh sidebar until early august, when laziness inevitably took over (that'd be the imperfect world again). i've finally plowed through the rump end of the season to finish up that project, and the final conclusion is: lucky. the cardinals won 13 games that they would have lost in a perfect world; the reverse happened only 9 times. so the cards netted 4 wins they didn't "deserve." the final state of the perfect-world box:
    stl in the real world 100-62
    stl in a perfect world 96-66
    pythagorean record 98-64
interestingly enough, the cards turned two perfect-world losses into wins during the playoffs: games 1 and 2 of the nlds against san diego. you all remember game 2: khalil greene booted a dp grounder, xavier nady twice failed to make a simple throw to the plate, pedro astacio walked in a run, eckstein squeezed home another, and the cardinals won handily despite being outscored 10-6. per tech-1, they only "created" 2.5 runs -- but they had 6 on the scoreboard.

it was, in a sense, the 2005 cardinals' quintessential win -- some combination of luck, opportunism, and situational smarts, with just enough old-fashioned hitting ability to make it all fly.