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03 April 2011

No Must-win Games in April, But Are There Must-not-lose Games?

Successful sportswriters are often successful because they know how to ratchet up hyperbole to inflame the emotions of their readers, only to follow up incendiary statements with cold, hard reason that dowses the masses.  Already this season, I have seen professional journalists on commercial websites drop the galling phrase "a must win game for ________ (fill in your team)" before Easter.  These are not serious endeavors, but they do grab attention.

It is an old adage in baseball - every game counts.  Many a team has lost the pennant by one game, and that one game may have been a blown opportunity on Opening Day.  The St. Louis Cardinals did that on Thursday.  There are 162 games in the MLB regular season - ample time to steal a win back somewhere and get that W back.

There are no must-win games in April.  But maybe there are must-not-lose games in April.

Baseball Arithmetic

Sabermetrics has put mathematics in the forefront of baseball analysis.  I am not one who feels a compelling need to quantify in numbers a flesh-and-blood sport.  But I never hesitate to use advanced statistics to reinforce what my eyes and experiences tell me, and often discover new lines of analysis from surprising statistics.  I am aware that given the large sample size of any given 162 game schedule lends itself to quantifiable trends that have shown themselves throughout the long history of the game.

Consider me not a baseball mathematician, but rather a bloke that can do simple baseball arithmetic.  And baseball arithmetic leads me to the conclusion that there are must-not-lose games in April.

It is a springtime tradition to calculate how many W's a ballclub must accumulate to win their division.  Winning a particular game in the Major Leagues can be out of a teams control.  A texas-leaguer or a seeing-eye single can suddenly turn a dominate pitching performance into an unexpected loss.  In any given baseball game, you have a decent chance to see something happen you have never seen before.  This makes a long-term prognostication of a teams number of wins a failing endeavor.

The Cardinals Loss-Meter is Running

I have seen predictions that it will take 94 wins for the Cardinals to take the NL Central division crown this season.  That's a pretty safe statement considering it has only take 91 wins the last 3 seasons.  But the division has ramped up the talent, so it might take 94 this year.  That means 68 losses in a season. 

Two games into the season, and the magic-loss number is already down to 66.  This makes Thursday's Opening Day disappointment more tangible.  With so few losses to tick off to the playoffs, the early games that really HURT are the ones that happen late in the game with such a high probability of winning.  Making the loss countdown meter click when you are one out away from keeping it static is gonna matter in the stretch run.

In April - as in any month - don't lose games you don't have to.


SalukiAndCardsFan said...

Loss meter? Awfully negative. Don't you think

Michael Turner said...

Baseball is a negative sport marked by failure. It is in the negation of that failure that players and teams succeed. Basically, it's just another way of keeping track of how successfully the season is going.

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