No Recap Today
On the theory that someone actually likes my occasional missives (coop is just being polite, Alex R. has to uphold Eli pride, and tfloyd is lost with me in a nostalgic psychological sinkhole) Ryan has asked me to say something in lieu of a recap, since the schedulemaker (for years it was Katy Feeney, daughter of Chub) gave the Braves two days off in a row. Every year baseball would produce an article describing how fiendishly difficult it was to make a schedule; all the constraints had to fit together in some fiendishly perverse way that meant that for some reason there was just no alternative to the Braves playing in Wrigley in April rather than Turner Field. All these articles contained some brief quote from Katy Feeney, who I grew to think of as fiendishly protective of her dark arts, which she would describe in ways that seemed to make it closer to necromancy than optimization. I always pictured one of those Cop Show Whiteboards with strings connecting names and timelines written in different color Sharpies. Well, now she’s retired and then gone to that Great Scheduling Matrix in the Sky, figuring out how to give Ty Cobb an off-day in August, and I guess I owe her an apology: she never scheduled two straight off days outside the All Star Game. I guess computers are overrated.
I feel like I got all of the mileage possible out of the theme of mediocrity this season. So the Braves wised up and stopped being mediocre. They finally got their 8-out-of-10, something every other team in history did in a full season, and even got the non-ubiquitous 9-out-of-10 and even rarer, 9 in a row, just rudely terminated by the Evil Empire. The worst record they could possibly have in August is 16-10, and that seems really doubtful. Dreams of the mediocre-est team ever have died.
But all my discussions of mediocrity were written in service of the underlying truth that, as the SEC (the US governmental one, not the Southern idée fixe) would make the Braves say if they were giving investment advice: “Past returns are no guarantee of future results.” I’ve been attempting all season to give some content to that formulaic statement, and August is exactly what I said could happen. While one might point to the additions of Soler, Pederson, Duvall and Rodriguez, and the returns of Ynoa and d’Arnaud as the causes of the change, but you can’t do that without also taking account of the loss of Acuña. If you had been told before seeing the results that the Braves would add what they added and subtract RAJ, I think it would be hard to confidently say: “Oh, yeah, definitely a net improvement.” There has been a net improvement, and a dramatic one, but an inevitable one? I don’t think so. It’s definitely still possible that we’re a mediocre team that hit a hot streak. But teams like that can win the World Series. So there’s that.
Some of this is probably reversion to the mean as well. Our pitiful Pythagorean difference has shrunk somewhat. We’re still 4 games shy of our expected record, though. To the extent that that is luck, we ought to be expected to improve the record somewhat.
On October 19, 1987 the stock market dropped 20 percent with no discernible reason, not that people have stopped trying to figure out what happened even to this day. But Ace Greenberg, Chairman of the not-yet-defunct Bear Stearns, gave the best explanation of what happened: “Stocks fluctuate. Next question.”
Teams fluctuate. Next question?
Updated Bradley-Terry Rankings
One factor, of course, in the Braves rise is the quality of the recent opposition. Washington, Miami and Baltimore are just not fearsome opponents, and St. Louis is (dare I say it?) mediocre. When last I wrote two weeks ago, the Hammers had a Balanced Schedule Winning Percentage of 0.495. While their actual winning percentage has gone from 0.518 to 0.540, their Balanced Schedule Percentage has risen more modestly, to 0.509. Still, the BSP has risen, so they are definitely playing better. Just as I was the Pollyanna of Braves Journal scribes for 4 1/2 months, my curmudgeonly nature requires me to slide Cassandra-ward. We are not yet obvious world-beaters. We’re a modestly above-average team who got hot. Teams fluctuate.
I am very pleased to report that Chip has said nothing stupid on a Braves telecast for two straight days.