As it turns out, it was Bill James, not the Greek season ticket holder Pythagoras, who originated baseball’s Pythagorean Theorem.
James, the Zeus of modern baseball math, was trying to find a simple way to predict a team’s deserved winning percentage.
The problem, of course, is that not all of baseball can be reduced to a Baseball Prospectus subscription. Sometimes, James’ formula for a team’s Pythagorean win-loss record works, and sometimes it doesn’t.
Sometimes, the standings can only be explained by the Washingtonian Algorithm. You remember — it’s the one that says, “That’s the way baseball go.”
The Texas Rangers, Professor Washington’s old team, lost again Saturday. That’s four losses in a row and 11 of the last 14, but who’s counting, except the Astros?
Rangers fans are in a state of shock. How can a team that dominated its way to a 10-game division lead suddenly appear so inept?
What happened to the starting pitching? What happened to the timely hitting? Who are those guys who keep coming out of the bullpen?
It was all so perfectly predictable, the sabermetrics guys are saying. The Rangers were paper tigers, they say. Jeff Banister’s team built its early lead in spite of itself.
Poor Pythagorean numbers, the Bill James formula says. The Rangers, despite early solid hitting and starting pitching, were scarred by a limp run differential.
Never mind that the early bullpen frequently set the stadium ablaze, because it couldn’t help itself. Never mind that the Rangers seemed to face a gauntlet of shut-down opposing starters. And never mind that one-run victories count just as much as 15-9 ones.
Never mind, because in baseball’s Pythagorean formula, the square of the Rangers’ hypotenuse was overachieving the sum of the squares of their other two sides — or something like that.
The subject of the Rangers’ slide was discussed on the MLB Network on Friday night after the 6-0 loss to the Chicago Cubs, and any semblance of alarm was dismissed with a shrug and, “Well, you know, they did win a lot of one-run games early in the season.”
In actual fact, the Rangers’ slow ooze back to the AL West pack began only 14 games ago, when they blew a big lead at Yankee Stadium and lost the next day 2-1.
Yu Darvish was out again, and Colby Lewis, Derek Holland and A.J. Griffin had all been whisked from the rotation. And when general manager Jon Daniels picked up the bat phone to request pitching help, nobody was home.
As big a disappointment as Prince Fielder is this season, the more telling revelation is how thin the Rangers’ farm system is in major league-ready pitching.
Minor league pitching from Chi Chi Gonzalez, Nick Martinez and Kyle Lohse produced minor league results. Five times during this 3-11 slump the opponents scored in double digits.
The good news for the franchise is that Darvish returned to the mound Saturday and threw 90 pitches without 911 being called. The bad news is that this only got the Rangers through one-third of the fifth inning, and the meager two runs that Darvish had allowed still were enough for defeat No. 4 in a row.
For a guy who couldn’t seem to command his fastball, Darvish was outstanding.
But as Daniels knows, it’s going to take a trade for another starting pitcher to plug the recently leaky rotation.
Curveballer Rich Hill? Yikes. He’s had, what, two good months as a starter in the last 10 years?
If I were Daniels, I’d concentrate on relievers — baseball’s new currency. Gather enough good ones, and let Banister figure it out from there.
Easier said than done, of course. Nobody wants to part with the next Eric Gagne.
Nobody wants to do the math.