After 67 games, the 2012 Pirates are 35-32. Over a 162 game season that is an 85 win pace. However, based on their current run differential, their expected Pythagorean won-loss record for 162 games is 74 wins. What do I make of this? A couple of things:
1. The past only matters as a guide to what is likely to happen in the future. The Pirates actual record is four games above what the run differential would expect. That’s a good place to be in. But they need to take a long look at improving what put them in the position of a negative run differential – a terrible offense.
2. The Pythagorean won-loss calculation is pretty solid. Going back to 2006, about 90% (161 of 180) of the teams were within 6 wins of their expected won-loss record as calculated based on their run differential. That’s 90% of the teams who are within 3.7% (6/162) of their expected record. Nearly 3/4 (131 out of 180 – 72.8%) are within four wins (2.5%) of their expected record. I’d call that calculation an exceptional predictor of outcomes.
So, let’s say the 2012 Pirates are one of the more extreme teams and actually finishes six games better than expected. And lets say, for the sake of argument, that the run differential doesn’t get substantially better (I know, I know, I know – given that we are not even half way through the season, a couple of blow out wins or losses can alter the run differential and make the Pythagorean numbers jump around. Humor me!). What that means is the Pirates expected record based on the run differential after 67 games is the same expected record that they would have based on run differential after 162 games. That would put the Pirates at 80 wins on the year – 74 expected wins plus the six for being a positive outlier (outperforming expectations based on run differential).
We have the new fifth playoff team in 2012. Going back ten seasons, the average number of wins for that as-of-yet-to-be-created fifth playoff spot is 89. For the sake of a round number (and because ‘Stealing Ten Wins’ sounds better than ‘Stealing Nine Wins’), that means the Pirates need to somehow collect ten more wins than they are expected to (74) plus the six for outperforming the run differential in order to make the playoffs. How can this team steal ten wins?
I think this is a terribly tall order. In this excercise, this team needs to make up ten games with less than 100 to go. As it stands now, the Pirates are actually 1.5 games out of the fifth playoff spot. Based on expected record, they are five games off the pace.
Of course, if the first portion of the season leads one to conclude that the team can keep up this actual pace – 85 wins – that would leave the club five games short of 90 wins.
The main question for the front office right now is whether or not they think this team can make the playoffs in 2012. If the answer is ‘yes’, then they will need to devise some ways to swipe those ten wins (or five wins depending on your point of view). Here are some suggestions:
1. Bench or release Clint Barmes. Let Jordy Mercer play the next four weeks. If he doesn’t look good, acquire a young shortstop who is blocked – Paul Janish? – for a reliever and let Mercer and ‘new shortstop X’ battle it out.
2. Demote Kevin Correia from the rotation in favor of Rudy Owens or Jeff Locke
3. Demote Brad Lincoln from the rotation as soon as Jeff Karstens is ready
4. Trade for an impact bat. Preferably a young one. If a team is desperate for arms, package either Locke or Owens and a reliever for a bat. I could be talked into including Robbie Grossman or Starling Marte. Include Correia if the trade partner is willing to take him. Josh Willingham? Seth Smith? Chase Headley? I’m not going to pretend to have a handle on what it takes to get a trade done. Anyone/everyone can speculate about what it would take to land a certain player. The point is simple: the offense is awful and needs to be improved if this club expects to win 90 games in 2012. Changing shortstops is a start, but that won’t be enough.
Footnote: even with what appears to be a good month, Clint Barmes is still having a bad month. His batting average is up in June, but he still ranks 13th among NL shortstops in OPS in June. In his best month he is still very mediocre. His time as a starter needs to end now.