WHAT IT MEANS FOR THE MARINERS WHEN LUCK ISN’T ENOUGH

 Bob Dutton

Bob Dutton

   TACOMA, WA. — Here’s a sobering thought for Mariners’ fans as they watch their club battling to remain relevant in the postseason hunt over the season’s closing weeks: The future might be grimmer than you think.

   That’s my takeaway after reading a typically excellent analytical piece earlier this week by Jeff Sullivan on Fangraphs.com.

   Jeff crunches numbers to confirm what we all, more or less, already know, i.e., that the Mariners have lucky this season: When you’ve been outscored by 43 runs over 128 games, you shouldn’t be 72-56.

   You should be 59-69, according to the Pythagorean theorem of baseball, which is a Bill James concoction that computes what a club’s record should be based on the number of runs scored and surrendered.

   *****

   I looked this up and, by the way, there are, apparently, two accepted ways to calculate a club’s Pythagorean won-lost record. 

   The simpler (!!!) one is: W%=[(Runs Scored)^2]/[(Runs Scored)^2 + (Runs Allowed)^2].

   The more-accurate one is: W%=[(Runs Scored)^1.81]/[(Runs Scored)^1.81 + (Runs Allowed)^1.81].

   I know Bill, and he would no doubt tell me the difference is obvious: That the more-accurate computation uses 1.81 (or, sometimes, 1.83) as the exponent instead of the rounded off 2.0.

   Since I’m not Will Hunting, I have no idea what any of that means, but I do know Bill James is a genius who has fundamentally changed the way people view baseball. He should be in the Hall of Fame. That’s a topic for another day.

   *****

   Back to the Mariners.

   OK, fine, they’ve been lucky. (This franchise has been long overdo for some good fortune, hasn’t it?) So what? Every year, there are clubs that outperform the game’s historical norms.

   This is the simply law of averages evening out, finally, in the Mariners’ favor.

   Right?

   Well, yes or, at least, maybe, but here we get to the crux of Jeff’s analysis, which shows the Mariners haven’t just been lucky…they’ve been historically lucky. As in luckier than any club in baseball history.

   There is still time, of course, for a regression to the mean to occur. The Mariners have 34 games remaining as they enter this weekend’s three-game series at Arizona.

   It’s quite possible that, by season’s end, the Mariners won’t be the luckiest club in baseball history. (You could argue that regression has already started except, as Jeff notes, the number say that slide should be a lot worse than it’s been.)

   Here’s the point, though, in terms of assessing the franchise’s future: Right now, they’ve been luckier than any club ever, and they’re still 4 1/2 games behind (five in the loss column) in the race for the American League’s final wild-card berth.

   Looking ahead, and just sticking with the AL West Division, do you see Houston and Oakland, which are both loaded with young talent, taking a step backward in the near-to-intermediate future?

   Los Angeles entered the year viewed as a postseason contender but had the sort of injury-plagued summer that torpedoed the Mariners in 2017. Is it reasonable to think the Angels won’t be better next year?

   Texas is currently deep into a rebuilding process after reaching postseason five times between 2010 and 2016. The Rangers might not be a contender next season, but they figure to be better.

   You can see where all of this leaves the Mariners.

   Look, things could change. Master wheeler-dealer Jerry Dipoto could transform the roster, yet again, in the off-season. Plugging in an impact free agent or pulling off a major trade could transform the roster and reset the future.

   Also, this season isn’t over yet. The Athletics or the Astros (or even the Yankees) could stumble down the stretch. Things happen. Injuries, slumps. Sometimes simple serendipity intervenes with a bad hop or a bloop hit.

   And the Mariners are good enough to put together a strong closing kick.

   But it’s going to take more than luck. Now and in the future.