Sunday, 11 May 2008

Quick Hit

Let me take time to throw off a short (for me) point of order on something that I hear very often this time of year about the Jays' prospects. It goes something like this:

"We are going to need at least 95 wins to make the playoffs and that means we have to go xx-xx in order to get to that record and that's too tough for this team."

Now, there are a few things wrong with this. first, the assumption that we need 95 wins to be the wild card in a season in which the Yankees, Indians, and Tigers are all still at .500 or below seems like a stretch. Second, the consensus of Jays fandom all winter (and most every winter) is that they would be happy if we were playing meaningful contention games in September. Actually making the playoffs is, of course, any team's goal, but I challenge you to find a Jays fan who wouldn't be grinning if the Jays took it down to the last week of the season before being eliminated. In that context, a 90 win season would probably fill the bill.

But the point I want to address is the math of the remaining games record. There are 124 games left. If one assumes we need to win 90 games to have a satisfying season, then we need to win 73 more which is a winning precentage of .589 - that's a pace which would produce 95 wins over a full season if you can picture it better that way.

The obvious claim here is that this team has given us no reason to think they are capable of sustaining a 95 win pace over the rest of the season. But THAT is exactly where the mistake is made. It assumes falsely a steady rate of production over the rest of the season, which no team has.

Do you know what one defining trait playoff teams share in common, perhaps more than any other? Each of them, at some point at least once during the season, reels off a 10-20 day run of winning that is aberrational compared to the rest of the season. For instance, the 2007 Red Sox had a run in May of 13-3, The Indians that year ran off a stretch of 13-2 in late August into September, the Yankees had no less than FOUR such streaks. You look it up and over and over again you see playoff teams run off a nine or ten game streak, or a 14-2 of 17-3 . . . and in each case, if you take that streak away from the overall win total you dramatically impact the winning precentage they posted for all OTHER games.

For instance, posted a .593 winning precentage overall, but without that streak, they went .568, a pace for 92 wins. Often a playoff team will have more than one such streak, or one that's longer than 10-15 games, but there is always at least one.

Applying that to the Jays' remaining games then, what happens if the Jays were to run off a 12 game winning streak? I use this for an example just to keep from postulating a more complicated set of numbers. If that happens then they only need play .545 ball in all other remaining games - that's an 88 win pace, far different from a 95 win pace. Or maybe 12 in a row is too much, what about we win seven, lose one, win five, lose one and win four more. That's 16-2 over what would be most of three weeks.

Do that and you only need play .538 ball in all other games. If you assume, as any sane person does, that the current freakishly monstrous slump of hitting with runners in scoring position (to say nothing of overall slumps) HAS to end or cause a rip in the space-time continuum and that our starters, even if they don't stay this good, are perfectly capable of reeling off a long string of quality starts at any given time, is there any reason to doubt that at some point during the season it is POSSIBLE that this team could run off 2-3 weeks when everything goes right?

Are we to believe that we are so cursed that we can run off two weeks when EVERY thing that can go wrong does go wrong and NOT see it's opposite number at some point?

Perhaps. it is not my mission with this post to convince you the Jays WILL or even MIGHT have such a streak. My point is only to note that whenever you look ahead and say "OMG! We have to win at an insane pace to contend!" you need to remember that one good hot stretch fixes that.


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