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Cardinals Teams that Broke Projections

A look back at the teams that deviated the most from their Pythagorean projections.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Pythagorean Winning Percentage, initially established by Bill James, has been a useful tool for measuring how many games a given team “should” have won in a given amount of time, usually over the course of the better part of a full season of baseball. Given the general depth of knowledge in the VEB community, many of you probably already know how this metric is calculated. For those unfamiliar, though, the original formula was established as follows:

Runs^2 / [(Runs^2) + (Runs Allowed^2)]

I won’t get into the guts in this article as to how this formula has been refined since its first iteration, but I recently learned how to apply the current formula in R Programming which means you all get an article about it. Using the Lahman baseball database to look at data as far back as 1882, I thought it would be a fun exercise to see which teams in the history of the Cardinals franchise over-/underperformed their Pythagorean Win estimates by the widest margins. One disclaimer I have is that I’m not sure whether this formula is meant to be used across so many baseball eras, but I’m going on the assumption that it’ll work well enough for a fun exploration of the Cardinals’ history.

After running the calculations for the Pythagorean Winning Percentages for each team, I took the difference between their Actual Winning Percentage and their Pythagorean Winning Percentage and marked the three teams that overperformed the most (biggest positive differences between Actual and Pythag. Win Percentages) and the three teams that underperformed the most (biggest negative differences between the two factors). Below are brief overviews of the top position players and pitchers, as well as short summaries for each team. A reminder that a team underperforming doesn’t necessarily make them a worse team than one that overperformed. The following rankings are simply how each performed compared to their own individual expectations for that season.

The Bottom Three

1962 Cardinals

W-L: 84-78-1 | Pythagorean Wins: 93-69

Runs: 774 | Runs Allowed: 664 | Run Differential: +10

Actual Win %: .519 | Pythagorean Win %: .576 | Actual % - Pyt %: -0.058

Starting Lineup

Position Player AVG OBP SLG HR RBI
Position Player AVG OBP SLG HR RBI
C Gene Oliver 0.258 0.352 0.441 14 45
1B Bill White 0.324 0.386 0.482 20 102
2B Julian Javier 0.263 0.316 0.356 7 39
SS Julio Gotay 0.255 0.316 0.309 2 27
3B Ken Boyer 0.291 0.369 0.470 24 98
LF Stan Musial 0.330 0.416 0.508 19 82
CF Curt Flood 0.296 0.346 0.416 12 70
RF Charlie James 0.276 0.301 0.392 8 59
https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/STL/1962.shtml

Top Pitchers

Pitcher G IP W L R ER ERA FIP
Pitcher G IP W L R ER ERA FIP
Larry Jackson 36 252.1 16 11 121 105 3.75 3.85
Bob Gibson 32 233.2 15 13 84 74 2.85 3.02
Ernie Broglio 34 222.1 12 9 80 74 3.00 4.00
Ray Washburn 34 175.2 12 9 90 80 4.10 4.27
Curt Simmons 31 154 10 10 78 60 3.51 3.86
https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/STL/1962.shtml

The 1962 Cardinals featured a 41-year old Stan Musial in his second-to-last season with the Birds on the Bat. Despite his age, Musial didn’t disappoint, slashing .330/.416/.508 which was good for a 137 OPS+. 1962 was also the year that Bob Gibson became a mainstay in the Cardinals rotation, throwing 233.1 innings and leading the Cardinals’ staff with 208 strikeouts. Despite these performances, the Cardinals fell seven wins short of where Pythagorean projections would have put them, leaving them 17.5 GB of the Giants in the National League who would go on to lose to the Yankees in the World Series.

1980 Cardinals

W-L: 74-88 | Pythagorean Wins: 84-78

Runs: 738 | Runs Allowed: 710 | Run Differential: +28

Actual Win %: .457 | Pythagorean Win %: .519 | Actual % - Pyt %: -0.063

Starting Lineup

Position Player AVG OBP SLG HR RBI
Position Player AVG OBP SLG HR RBI
C Ted Simmons 0.303 0.375 0.505 21 98
1B Keith Hernandez 0.321 0.408 0.494 16 99
2B Ken Oberkfell 0.303 0.377 0.417 3 46
SS Garry Templeton 0.319 0.342 0.417 4 43
3B Ken Reitz 0.270 0.300 0.379 8 58
LF Bobby Bonds 0.203 0.305 0.316 5 24
CF Tony Scott 0.251 0.308 0.311 0 28
RF George Hendrick 0.302 0.342 0.498 25 109
https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/STL/1980.shtml

Top Pitchers

Pitcher G IP W L R ER ERA FIP
Pitcher G IP W L R ER ERA FIP
Pete Vuckovich 32 222.1 12 9 96 84 3.40 3.56
Bob Forsch 31 214.2 11 10 102 90 3.77 3.19
Bob Sykes 27 126 6 10 67 65 4.64 4.48
Silvio Martinez 25 119.2 5 10 75 64 4.81 4.22
John Fulgham 15 85.1 4 6 33 32 3.38 3.85
https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/STL/1980.shtml

Looking at the slash lines for the 1980 Cardinals lineup, one might be surprised to learn that they finished the season 17 GB of the Philidelphia Phillies in the then six-team National League East, missing its Pythag. projection by ten games. The pitching staff, however, seemed to have trouble, as their staff posted a 3.93 ERA that ranked last in the National League that year.

1924 Cardinals

W-L: 65-89 | Pythagorean Wins: 76-78

Runs: 740 | Runs Allowed: 750 | Run Differential: -10

Actual Win %: .422 | Pythagorean Win %: .493 | Actual % - Pyt %: -0.071

Starting Lineup

Position Player AVG OBP SLG HR RBI
Position Player AVG OBP SLG HR RBI
C Mike Gonzalez 0.296 0.337 0.391 3 53
1B Jim Bottomley 0.316 0.362 0.500 14 111
2B Rogers Hornsby 0.424 0.507 0.696 25 94
SS Jimmy Cooney 0.295 0.330 0.397 1 57
3B Howard Freigau 0.269 0.306 0.362 2 39
OF Jack Smith 0.283 0.333 0.362 2 33
OF Ray Blades 0.311 0.373 0.487 11 68
OF Wattie Holm 0.294 0.317 0.355 0 23
https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/STL/1924.shtml

Top Pitchers

Pitcher G IP W L R ER ERA FIP
Pitcher G IP W L R ER ERA FIP
Jesse Haines 35 222.2 8 19 129 109 4.41 3.90
Allan Sothoron 29 196.2 10 16 102 78 3.57 4.14
Johnny Stuart 28 159 9 11 100 84 4.75 4.27
Eddie Dyer 29 136.2 8 11 82 70 4.61 4.18
Leo Dickerman 18 119.2 7 4 43 32 2.41 4.20
https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/STL/1924.shtml

The 1924 Cardinals, managed by Branch Rickey, were highlighted by a herculean season from Rogers Hornsby, who posted a ridiculous 1.203 OPS and 222 OPS+. The 1924 team was an elite offensive unit, but pitching again was the issue that seemed to hold the team back, as the staff ranked sixth or worse in the eight-team National League in most pitching statistics tracked at the time. That’s probably why the team missed its Pythag. projection by eleven games, though the difference would have had few consequences in the NL title race. The 1924 Redbirds finished sixth in the NL, 28.5 GB of John McGraw’s New York Giants that went on to lose the World Series to the Washington Senators in seven games.

The Top Three

1936 Cardinals

W-L: 87-67-1 | Pythagorean Wins: 76-78

Runs: 795 | Runs Allowed: 794 | Run Differential: +1

Actual Win %: .565 | Pythagorean Win %: .501 | Actual % - Pyt %: 0.064

Starting Lineup

Position Player AVG OBP SLG HR RBI
Position Player AVG OBP SLG HR RBI
C Spud Davis 0.273 0.342 0.388 4 59
1B Johnny Mize 0.329 0.402 0.577 19 93
2B Stu Martin 0.298 0.356 0.440 6 41
SS Leo Durocher 0.286 0.327 0.347 1 58
3B Charlie Gelbert 0.229 0.292 0.329 3 27
OF Joe Medwick 0.351 0.387 0.577 18 138
OF Pepper Martin 0.309 0.373 0.469 11 76
OF Terry Moore 0.264 0.309 0.369 5 47
https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/STL/1936.shtml

Top Pitchers

Pitcher G IP W L R ER ERA FIP
Pitcher G IP W L R ER ERA FIP
Dizzy Dean 51 315 24 13 128 111 3.17 3.48
Roy Parmelee 37 221 11 11 125 112 4.56 4.95
Jim Winford 39 192 11 10 90 81 3.80 4.38
Paul Dean 17 92 5 5 57 47 4.60 3.81
Bill Walker 21 79.2 5 6 62 52 5.87 4.67
https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/STL/1936.shtml

Coming just off of the prime years of the Gashouse Gang, the 1936 Cards featured another solid offensive season from Joe “Ducky” Medwick, who posted a 158 OPS+, and a breakout season from rookie Johnny Mize, who outpaced Medwick with a 162 OPS+. Though not listed in the top positions on Baseball Reference, first baseman Ripper Collins also tallied a 144 OPS+ in 327 PAs. No summary of a 1930’s Cardinals team would be complete without a mention of Dizzy Dean, who, in his sixth season with the team, led the Major Leagues in complete games (28), saves (11), and innings pitched (315). The team outperformed their projection by eleven wins but fell five games short of the New York Giants, who eventually lost to the Yankees in the World Series.

1882 Brown Stockings

W-L: 37-43 | Pythagorean Wins: 31-49

Runs: 399 | Runs Allowed: 496 | Run Differential: -97

Actual Win %: .463 | Pythagorean Win %: .393 | Actual % - Pyt %: 0.070

Starting Lineup

Position Player AVG OBP SLG HR RBI
Position Player AVG OBP SLG HR RBI
C Sleeper Sullivan 0.181 0.194 0.229 0 NA
1B Charlie Comiskey 0.243 0.252 0.310 1 45
2B Bill Smiley 0.213 0.232 0.246 0 NA
3B Jack Gleason 0.288 0.300 0.363 1 NA
SS Bill Gleason 0.254 0.310 0.308 2 NA
OF Oscar Walker 0.215 0.276 0.236 0 NA
OF Ned Cuthbert 0.223 0.276 0.335 0 NA
OF George Seward 0.239 0.262 0.396 7 NA
https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/STL/1882.shtml

Top Pitchers

Pitcher G IP W L R ER ERA FIP
Pitcher G IP W L R ER ERA FIP
Jumbo McGinnis 45 388.1 25 18 241 112 2.60 2.55
John Schappert 15 128 8 7 99 50 3.52 3.12
Bert Dorr 8 66 2 6 39 19 2.59 1.78
Morrie Critchley 4 34 0 4 31 16 4.24 4.41
John Doyle 3 24 0 3 33 7 2.63 2.72
https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/STL/1882.shtml

I’ll admit that this one isn’t quite fair to the more modern teams in the Cardinals franchise, given that the shorter season causes more fluctuation in win percentages than the 162-game seasons we see now. But, 19th-century baseball doesn’t typically get too much love these days and there is one interesting tidbit related to this team. Charles Comiskey, the eventual founder of the Chicago White Sox, played first base for the team and is incidentally the only player with a recorded RBI value for the season, and I have no idea why. Anyways, the 1882 Brown Stockings managed to outperform their projected wins by six games despite a gross -97 run differential, which is significant in a season that’s only 80 games long. They ended the season in fifth place in the American Association, 18 GB of the Cincinnati Red Stockings.

1917 Cardinals

W-L: 82-70 | Pythagorean Wins: 71-81

Runs: 531 | Runs Allowed: 567 | Run Differential: -36

Actual Win %: .539 | Pythagorean Win %: .467 | Actual % - Pyt %: 0.072

Starting Lineup

Position Player AVG OBP SLG HR RBI
Position Player AVG OBP SLG HR RBI
C Frank Snyder 0.236 0.301 0.288 1 33
1B Gene Paulette 0.265 0.303 0.370 0 34
2B Dots Miller 0.248 0.295 0.320 2 45
3B Rogers Hornsby 0.327 0.385 0.484 8 66
SS Doug Baird 0.253 0.301 0.371 0 24
OF Jack Smith 0.297 0.351 0.398 3 34
OF Tom Long 0.232 0.285 0.325 3 41
OF Walton Cruise 0.295 0.343 0.399 5 59
https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/STL/1917.shtml

Top Pitchers

Pitcher G IP W L R ER ERA FIP
Pitcher G IP W L R ER ERA FIP
Bill Doak 44 281.1 16 20 123 97 3.10 2.75
Lee Meadows 43 265.2 15 9 99 91 3.08 2.82
Marv Goodwin 14 85.1 6 4 33 21 2.21 2.19
Red Ames 43 209 15 10 75 63 2.71 2.65
Milt Watson 41 161.1 10 13 74 63 3.51 3.06
https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/STL/1917.shtml

The 1917 Cardinals are the second team on this list to feature Rogers Hornsby, who put up another solid season that was complemented by good years from outfielders Walton Cruise and Jack Smith. The offense as a unit was middling, though, and the pitching staff again was one of the worst in the National League according to their Baseball Reference rankings. Despite their struggles, the Cardinals outperformed their projection by nine games but still fell short of the New York Giants who eventually lost to Comiskey’s White Sox in the World Series that year.


There’s no such thing as a perfect statistic, and Pythagorean Winning Percentage certainly has its flaws. It doesn’t account for teams that perform extraordinarily well or poorly in one-run games, which usually leads to the defiance of these expectations. However, it is still a useful tool in the toolshed for general analysis and can provide a fun lens through which to view different eras in baseball history.