Happy Valentine’s Day

If April 1 was New Years Day, then May 31 is Valentine’s Day: that early-year holiday that you don’t get off from work, but still make the time to celebrate because it’s the day when you show how much you love your spouseOur Team.

As of the end of yesterday’s game, Our Team has played 54 games, one-third of the season, and has won an astounding 43% of them. 23-31 is, of course, just about the exact opposite of what the faithful were hoping for. It is also just about exactly what the experts were predicting at the beginning of the season.

A mere week and a half ago, they were one game under .500, in second place in their division, and showing some signs of respectibility. Since then, they’ve gone 3-8, had a couple of players go down with injuries, sent a couple of the members of the “core team of the future” to the minors, seen their manager start a feud with the press, and generally look like a team that will be hard-pressed to maintain that 43% winning percentage the rest of the way.

And yet, it doesn’t matter. It’s still baseball, they’re still Our Team, and no team anywhere in the league has been eliminated from playoff contention yet.

Baseball is a weird sport in some ways. The 162 game schedule has a tendency to drive won/loss records towards the middle. In most years, a team that wins 60% of its games will run away with its division (as I write this, there are four teams with records better than 60%: St. Louis has the best record in baseball at 35-17 (67.3%), with Texas, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh tied at 33-20 (62.3%). Note that three of the four are in the National League Central Division, leading me to suspect that scheduling may play a factor there; I expect those percentages to fall as they play more games head-to-head. Texas, meanwhile, has gotten 58% of their wins within their division, which features three teams under .500. But I digress.) The point is that a 100 win season is fabulous, a 90 win season puts you in the upper third of the standings (only 9 of 30 teams had 90 or more wins last year), and even a .500 season can have a team in contention until the final weeks.

Winning streaks are just as possible as losing streaks. While the Mariners have been losing 7 of their last 10, the As have been winning 9 of 10 and three teams have won 8 of 10. A winning streak to counter the losing streak, and they’re back within range of .500. And it wouldn’t take that much. A small improvement in the bullpen (four of those eight losses came in the opponents’ final at-bat) and a small improvement in run scoring (they’re 7-9 in one-run games) would have their record looking very different. (And it’s the run scoring that would help the most, now that I look closer. Statistically speaking, their record is exactly what the standard formula predicts for wins and losses based on runs scored versus runs allowed. Score more runs without changing the defense at all, and the wins should follow.)

This is starting to get number-heavy. The bottom line is that it’s too early for any team, not even the unhappy Marlins with their 13-40 record, to give up. Even if contention seems beyond your wildest dreams, there’s still a chance for respectability.

No matter how rough things are right now, the relationship – and the season – can be saved. My advice is to go celebrate the holiday. Duck out of work early (Cubs and Diamondback fans, call in sick since you have an afternoon game), have a nice dinner together (hot dogs and peanuts are traditional, but modern classics such as the Braves’ “Hammer” [fried chicken, bacon, pepper jack cheese, and pecan maple mayo sandwhiches with waffles as the “bread”], the Dodgers’ two pound “Victory Knot” pretzel, or the Brewers’ “Pulled Pork Parfait” [pulled pork and mashed potatoes in a parfait-style cup] are all acceptable alternatives*), and talk out your problems scream yourself hoarse cheering.

* All foods listed here are courtesy of Buzzfeed. If you suspect that stadium concessions are designed to kill the fans, you just might be right.

Exception: Yankees fans are hereby advised that your (spit) team’s current 30-22 record is entirely unacceptable. My advice for you is to swing by the stadium, buy two “Sliders Family Meal Deals” (five sliders and a pound of french fries served in a plastic bucket), and arrange to have one delivered to your favorite player in the dugout. Take the second one home, turn off the lights, and eat it by yourself, alone in the dark. (Red Sox: you’re safe as long as you stay at least one game ahead of the Yankees, but remember the stricture that all teams must do at least one game worse than the Mariners this year…)

2 thoughts on “Happy Valentine’s Day

  1. Oddly, we seem to differ on our definition of the term, “Our Team”. This amounts to lamentable imprecision in a writer with a tech background. See to it.
    Oh, and, by definition, no piece written in any medium on Baseball can be “numbers heavy”. It is, as the cliche has it, a game of numbers, from three strikes to the holy 162. Personally, I find the recounting (interesting word, now I look at it) of numbers soothing, almost meditative- until the All Star Game, after which the numbers become either cheering or depressing, depending. -B.

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    • You’re partly right about “Our Team”. I did define the term as “Seattle Mariners” in the original “Happy New Year” post, but I neglected to repeat that information in this post for the benefit of those who have either not read the original or forgotten it. I’ll do better next time.

      I think the core concept applies regardless of any individual’s definition, though. More concisely, this is the time of hear when you take stock of where the team is, start giving up on the “small sample size” excuse, and start looking for new narratives for the next chunk of the season. Scheduling the “natural rivals” games this week was genius on the part of the leagues (For the uninitiated, the “natural rivals” are those teams that are (a) in opposite leagues and (b) physically close together. Examples include the two New York teams, the two Chicago teams, and Oakland/San Francisco. “Physically close” is a slippery notion, though. It also includes Toronto/Atlanta (950 miles), Arizona (Phoenix)/Texas (Arlington) (1050 miles), and Seattle/San Diego (1250 miles). End of digression.) as it gave the sportswriters a whole set of stories that wrote themselves.

      Agreed on the question of numbers, but given that more than half of the readers of the blog are heretics (aka non-fans), it seemed advisable to keep them to a minimum. Note that I did *not* include the actual formula for expected wins based on runs scored/allowed.

      Won/loss percentage is the only number I find depressing or cheering until about mid-August, at which point I start digging into the other numbers, looking for ones to be cheerful about. But that’s probably just me.

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