Bob Dylan, Bill James, Pythagoras and the 2019 Mets

Went with my son Friday night to see Bob Dylan in concert. I saw Dylan live 30 years ago and swore I’d never pay money to see him again. In that late 80s show, he played mostly hits and it took me half way through each song to decipher what he was playing because he mumbled. But Trent wanted to see him. So somehow I ended up paying more to see Dylan again than I’ve ever paid for a concert before. The things they don’t tell you about parenthood…

Dylan didn’t mumble this time, for which I’m grateful. Was it worth the price of admission? Eh, probably not. But I decided to look at the show as payment to the musician for past services rendered. Dylan’s music brought me a lot of joy throughout the years. Plus, how often to you get to see a living legend? While I checked that off the list 30 years ago, my son got to do it. Plus he got to hear Dylan do the two songs that he covers in his shows. So, that was pretty cool.

So, why talk about Bob Dylan on a baseball blog? There’s another living legend out there who’s still doing his thing and that’s Bill James. We can argue which one had a higher peak but Dylan definitely had a longer prime. Regardless, while Dylan is still out there making albums and touring, James is a consultant for the World Champion Red Sox, a role he’s held since 2003. The following season they broke the curse and they’ve now won four World Series since he’s been around.

But no one would argue that James is a legend because of whatever role he might have performed with the Red Sox, any more so than they would suggest that Dylan is one because of his recent albums covering standards and his Victoria’s Secret commercial. And given James’ recent comments, it may be better to think that he retired after putting out the second Historical Baseball Abstract. We always like to see our heroes go out on top.

One of James’ many contributions was the idea that a team’s record could be accurately predicted based on the amount of runs it scored and allowed. Anyone who goes to Baseball-Reference today can find the Pythagorean Record for any team. James’ 2018 Red Sox had a Pythagorean Record of 103-59, meaning they overachieved by five wins.

Whenever a team over or under-achieves by more than a few games, we always look for a possible explanation. The Red Sox destroyed teams under .500, they performed very well against RHP and they had a strong record in one-run games – to name a few possible reasons. Here’s a chart of how all 30 MLB teams did last year.

Tm Lg W L pythWL Luck Inter Home Road ExInn 1Run vRHP vLHP >.499 <.500
BOS AL 108 54 103-59 5 16-4 57-24 51-30 8-5 25-14 87-38 21-16 41-33 67-21
HOU AL 103 59 109-53 -6 13-7 46-35 57-24 5-6 24-24 66-36 37-23 41-38 62-21
NYY AL 100 62 99-63 1 11-9 53-28 47-34 9-5 23-17 70-47 30-15 41-30 59-32
OAK AL 97 65 95-67 2 12-8 50-31 47-34 13-6 31-14 65-40 32-25 33-40 64-25
MIL NL 96 67 91-72 5 13-7 51-30 45-37 9-7 33-19 72-48 24-19 49-46 47-21
CHC NL 95 68 94-69 1 13-7 51-31 44-37 11-8 26-25 73-55 22-13 49-46 46-22
LAD NL 92 71 102-61 -10 12-8 45-37 47-34 8-7 22-22 52-46 40-25 51-38 41-33
CLE AL 91 71 98-64 -7 12-8 49-32 42-39 4-9 22-24 69-50 22-21 23-31 68-40
COL NL 91 72 85-78 6 13-7 47-34 44-38 5-6 26-15 58-45 33-27 48-44 43-28
ATL NL 90 72 92-70 -2 8-12 43-38 47-34 6-8 23-12 69-46 21-26 38-40 52-32
TBR AL 90 72 89-73 1 7-13 51-30 39-42 5-7 28-31 63-52 27-20 34-39 56-33
SEA AL 89 73 77-85 12 6-14 45-36 44-37 14-1 36-21 59-49 30-24 39-38 50-35
STL NL 88 74 88-74 0 11-9 43-38 45-36 8-8 22-22 61-52 27-22 50-43 38-31
PIT NL 82 79 80-81 2 15-5 44-36 38-43 7-5 29-22 61-52 21-27 39-53 43-26
WSN NL 82 80 90-72 -8 9-11 41-40 41-40 4-10 18-24 64-52 18-28 33-44 49-36
ARI NL 82 80 86-76 -4 10-10 40-41 42-39 5-9 20-31 54-50 28-30 42-48 40-32
PHI NL 80 82 76-86 4 12-8 49-32 31-50 8-6 23-18 59-66 21-16 44-50 36-32
LAA AL 80 82 81-81 -1 10-10 42-39 38-43 5-7 26-15 58-53 22-29 35-61 45-21
MIN AL 78 84 77-85 1 8-12 49-32 29-52 5-8 15-21 57-59 21-25 29-47 49-37
NYM NL 77 85 78-84 -1 8-12 37-44 40-41 9-9 16-26 59-61 18-24 40-57 37-28
TOR AL 73 89 69-93 4 13-7 40-41 33-48 10-6 23-17 58-51 15-38 31-60 42-29
SFG NL 73 89 70-92 3 8-12 42-39 31-50 11-10 26-30 44-54 29-35 47-63 26-26
CIN NL 67 95 69-93 -2 10-10 37-44 30-51 7-12 10-29 45-69 22-26 44-71 23-24
TEX AL 67 95 71-91 -4 9-11 34-47 33-48 7-7 12-19 45-60 22-35 33-61 34-34
SDP NL 66 96 65-97 1 7-13 31-50 35-46 5-11 22-21 47-59 19-37 42-66 24-30
DET AL 64 98 64-98 0 6-14 38-43 26-55 5-5 22-30 45-74 19-24 21-53 43-45
MIA NL 63 98 58-103 5 9-11 38-43 25-55 9-6 19-21 51-72 12-26 34-62 29-36
CHW AL 62 100 62-100 0 6-14 30-51 32-49 5-5 15-25 47-75 15-25 24-51 38-49
KCR AL 58 104 62-100 -4 6-14 32-49 26-55 5-8 19-30 39-74 19-30 18-56 40-48
BAL AL 47 115 55-107 -8 7-13 28-53 19-62 4-9 12-29 26-82 21-33 26-67 21-48
Avg   81 81 81-80   10-10 42-38 38-42 7-7 22-22 57-55 23-25 37-49 43-31

Before compiling the chart, my expectation was that the Mets would have noticeably underachieved their Pythagorean Record because I knew their one-run record was not good. But that didn’t turn out to be the case at all, as they only underperformed Pythagoras by a single game.

So much attention is given to a team’s one-run record. In the pre-James days, conventional wisdom was that good teams “knew how to win the close games.” But year in and year out we see good teams that don’t play particularly well in one-run games. In 2018, the Astros were 24-24, the Cubs were 26-25, the Dodgers were 22-22, the Indians were 22-24 and the Rays were 28-31. That’s five of the 11 teams that finished with at least 90 wins being nothing special in one-run games.

In looking at the chart, the thing that jumps out about the Mets is that they played 97 games against teams with a .500 or better record, the fourth-most of any team in the majors. Compare that to the Indians, who played just 54 games against those teams. The two main factors for that are the other teams in your division and what your Interleague schedule is. The Indians did not have another team in their division finish above .500 last year. Shouldn’t be a surprise that they didn’t make it out of the divisional round of the playoffs.

Anyway, the Mets will probably improve their record in one-run games in 2019. But they’ll have to do better against the teams with .500 or better records, too. Odds are they’ll play a high percentage of games against those teams again, as there should be two teams in their division that reach that plateau and their Interleague schedule will still feature a bunch of games against the Yankees.

The Braves and Nationals both underperformed their Pythagorean Record last year. Interestingly, the Phillies overachieved by four games, even with their horrible finish to the season. How will the Nationals fare if Bryce Harper is elsewhere? Maybe it’s not a given that there will be two other teams with winning records in the division.

Circling back to Dylan, he played some chestnuts, among them Highway 61, It Ain’t Me Babe and Like a Rolling Stone, but he also played newer stuff. Was hoping to hear Mississippi but it wasn’t to be. But I think about that song a lot, how it seemingly jumps around from the personal to the political. Maybe there’s a better song out there to fit in with this particular tale but after a night out at a high school reunion on Saturday, I can’t find it in my mind. Anyway, it goes like this:

Well my ship’s been split to splinters and it’s sinking fast
I’m drownin’ in the poison, got no future, got no past
But my heart is not weary, it’s light and it’s free
I’ve got nothin’ but affection for all those who’ve sailed with me
Everybody movin’ if they ain’t already there
Everybody got to move somewhere
Stick with me baby, stick with me anyhow
Things should start to get interesting right about now

My belief is that the 2019 Mets will be freed somewhat from the past with a new general manager and all. And that we should certainly live in interesting times with this team. Now, forgive me as I go dig around for my New Historical Baseball Abstract.

5 comments for “Bob Dylan, Bill James, Pythagoras and the 2019 Mets

  1. Mike Walczak
    November 11, 2018 at 12:28 pm

    Very interesting article. If you look at the Pythagorean model, except for a few surprises and outliers, it is pretty accurate. Glad you had a chance to the concert with your son. I am sure he will remember that as a special time with you.

    I would like to call attention to some dates for next season. The Syracuse Mets will be in Durham for a three game series on August 6-8. Hopoe some of you gents can go. Would be great to meet up with some of the Mets360 crew.

  2. November 11, 2018 at 5:36 pm

    I remember Bill James’ Work, and I mourned when he stopped his annual book. He introduced so many major ideas–mostly, he introduced the fact that we needed to find some new ideas to understand both baseball players and baseball teams, as well as the history of the game.

    From that point forward, we’ve bifurcated to two camps…. Poets and Statisticans, if you will. Bill’s earliest work and writing never lost sense of the Game’s beauty and eye appeal, even while shining a bright light on “new science” and facts.

    I’m ignoring whatever He said about Whomever He said it…He has a Lifetime Pass from Me. You talk enough, and you get to feeling joyfully glib….and your own volume eventually gets you saying something thoughtless….. and from a Man who has been anything but thoughtless.

    Try again, Bill…Try Again.

  3. TJ
    November 11, 2018 at 5:45 pm

    Brian,
    You most certainly don’t need a weather man to tell which way the wind blows. Still, I hope BVW is as well-schooled in Jamesian ball as he is in Keynesian economics.

  4. John Fox
    November 11, 2018 at 7:47 pm

    This Bob Dylan stuff kind of strangled up my mind. Guess I’ll drink a little railroad gin before I get stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues again.

  5. November 12, 2018 at 8:34 am

    Seeing Dylan…or McCartney—- Kind of like watching Shakespeare in Concert!

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