How many games can the Rays win next season? Sabermetrics gives us the tools to answer this question. Bill James, one of the founders of the Society for American Baseball Research, demonstrated that there is a mathematical relationship between the amount of runs a team scores and allows and their number of wins. Essentially, he discovered that the number of runs scored by a team squared, divided by the number of runs scored squared plus the number of runs allowed squared, will equal a team’s winning percentage. From that you can fairly accurately estimate the number of team wins and losses.
For example, in 2013, the Rays scored 700 runs and allowed 646 for the season. Plugging these runs into the Pythagorean formula gives us a numerator of 490,000, and a denominator of 907,316 yielding a winning percentage of approximately .540, which translates to 87 wins for the Rays in 2013. That’s well within the margin of error; in fact the Rays won 92 games in 2013. The difference between the expected and actual wins could be due to luck, or clutch play, or great managing by Joe Maddon, or a combination of the three. Many people consider Maddon the best manager in the American League. It’s reasonable to believe that Joe Maddon’s ability to create the best matchups for the Rays and make the best decisions in clutch moments gave the Rays some extra wins.
What can the Pythagorean formula predict for 2014? It depends upon the assumptions you plug into the system. We should expect that a full year from Wil Myers and David DeJesus should add runs. Matt Joyce at DH instead of Luke Scott and Ryan Hanigan replacing Jose Molina as the primary catcher should also help. Of course, the additional runs these players produce are not all net additions to the Rays’ runs total, since some runs generated would simply substitute for runs other players created. But I think it’s not unreasonable, If all goes well, that the Rays could score 40 more runs in 2014 than 2013. That should result in a few more wins.
Better hitting is not the whole story. How many runs can the Rays save if David Price, Alex Cobb, and Matt Moore pitch a full season and stay healthy, and Hanigan and DeJesus improve an already stellar defense? Perhaps the Rays could reduce their runs allowed to 610, which is less than one run saved per week If so, the Pythagorean theorem predicts 96 wins for the Rays in 2014. If Joe Maddon’s managing helps the team steal just four more wins, that gives them 100 for the season–enough to win the AL East outright.
The number of win totals the formula predicts depends upon the assumptions you make about the amount of runs scored and runs allowed. The assumptions above are optimistic, but not outrageous, given the Rays current roster. There is a real relationship between runs and wins. Rays management also must know how close they are to winning the AL East in 2014; that’s why they’ve been slow to deal David Price. The numbers show that the Rays should will contend in 2014, and that the AL East is within their grasp. After five years without getting to even the American League Championship Series, look for the Rays to do whatever it takes to get back to the World Series in 2014.