Bad SI article by Jay Jaffe about the overachieving Orioles, who won another crazy game tonight on a bases-loaded Adam Jones single in the bottom of the 14th. Jaffe is right, of course, that the Orioles are unlikely to stay competitive with Oakland, Detroit, LA, and Chicago for a wild-card spot. But the reasoning is bad, e.g.:

So how seriously should we take the Orioles? The Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds, which are driven by remaining schedule and run differentials, adjusted for the quality of opposition, gives Baltimore just a 5.7 percent chance at making the playoffs. Even the Red Sox, who at 54-55 are 3 1/2 games below them in the standings, have a 10.2 percent shot. Those odds aren’t simply theoretical, as history suggests the deck is strongly stacked against them. Few teams wind up exceeding their Pythagorean records by nine wins, and even fewer teams with negative run differentials reach the playoffs.

Few teams exceed their Pythagorean records by nine wins — but among teams which are *already* nine wins ahead of their Pythagorean record, it should be about half. (And the Orioles are actually 10 over after tonight’s 1-run win.) Similarly, few teams with negative run differentials make the playoffs; but few teams with negative run differentials win 85 games, which the Orioles easily could. (I’m standing by my original prediction of 83.)

The Orioles are unlikely to win the wildcard, but they’re likely to finish with a winning record, and they’re likely to finish with more runs allowed than scored. They’ve registered a lot of lucky wins, but so what? Lucky wins count.

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[...] Pythagorean records? Huh? Never heard of it. [...]

[...] Pythagorean records? Huh? Never heard of it. [...]

A bit of a sanity check: the Orioles are 59-51 and have been outscored 444-501. So they “should” be a .440 team (4442/(4442 + 5012)), predicted to go 23-29 the rest of the way, and are therefore expected to be an 82-win team.

In the one-wild-card era, in non-strike seasons (so 1996 through 2011), there were 36 teams that won between 81 and 83 games. (Note: I counted these by eye. I really should have the data in some easily machine-readable form because I find myself looking through old standings way too often.) Two of them (the ’06 Cardinals and ’05 Padres) made the playoffs.

So 5.7 percent sounds about right.

(The mysterious 2’s are supposed to be exponents.)

But, even on that analysis, there’s not a 100% chance the Orioles finish between 81 and 83 wins. Whatever probability slops above 83 affects the probability of making the playoffs a lot more than whatever probability slops below 81.

Moreover, because of the second wildcard, the “how many wins get you in the playoff” threshold should be lower this year than it is in historical data.

Finally, I think people generally believe that teams with strength in the bullpen (which definitely describes the 2012 Orioles) tend to overperform their Pythag, though not by anything like as much as the Orioles have been. I’ve been estimating their “true winning percentage” to be about .470, and based on that I was thinking (at least a few weeks ago) they’d win 83. They’re up 7-0 on Seattle right now, and if they win tonight, going .470 the rest of the way gets them to 84 wins. Of course, a more refined analysis would take into account strength of schedule, etc.

If you think it’ll take 90 games to win a wild card this year then the Orioles have almost no shot, but if you think it can be done with 85, then it’s far from out of the question.