Monday, July 09, 2007

trend spotting update

as this year progresses, the picture in the national league central is getting clearer and clearer -- though the cardinals and pirates have been playing some decent ball of late, barring a near-miracle it's a two-horse race between pretty evenly matched clubs in chicago and milwaukee.

the cubs have continued to play fairly trendless baseball, hovering just around a pythagorean projection of .500 over the last 26 games. that they've gone 17-9 in that span in spite of scoring 109 and allowing 107 is a bit of well-timed turnabout for the poor luck they suffered early in the season, and it's brought them within 4.5 of the pack-leading brewers.

as the early season showed, though, such luck (good or bad) can't last. as if to confirm as much and herald a return to .500 baseball in reality as well as theory, the cubs have dropped three of the last five against washington and pittsburgh.

in the comments here, it's been noted that the cubs are 15-8 on days when koyie hill plays. a few people (though just a vocal minority) seem to have implied causation -- dismissing hill's 148/217/230 batting line and presuming that his superior defense and handling of the pitching staff is now a (or maybe the) reason the cubs are playing better.

this goes well beyond the floor in reasoning and probably through the foundation to bedrock -- i had a good laugh over the weekend with friends when i described it to them as the "koyie hill rain dance". in prehistory, some desperate and enterprising people in the midst of a drought apparently staged a dance of some kind, perhaps one completely unrelated to weather. let's say it was for a birthday party. the birthday dance was followed at some distance -- maybe later that same day, maybe a few days -- by a rainstorm. someone rather unfortunately implied causation, and when the next drought rolled around they tried the birthday dance. maybe it was even a jazzed-up version intended to cut the waiting time. maybe they tried it a few times on consecutive days. and -- lo and behold -- at some time shortly thereafter it rained.

few considered that it had to rain eventually. fewer still considered that, if they danced often enough and long enough, sometimes it would rain shortly thereafter. it's human nature both to remember occurences (and forget non-occurences) and to imply causation under even the most suspicious circumstances. it's sometimes known as the narrative fallacy -- we like to tell simple stories that make plausible sense rather than accept that we don't know what the hell is happening or why, much less that we have no control over it. and so the rain dance was born.

much the same thing seems to have happened in some minds with respect to koyie hill. he has played; they have won when he played; ergo, when he plays they win and will win, and some story is subsequently invented to explain why. an examination of pitching babip when hill is catching (currently .261) easily reveals that the cubs have had some exceptional luck in hit avoidance on those days, but why spoil a good story? i'm sure it will continue on until the cubs and hill himself disprove it, regardless of what i say.

regardless of koyie hill, the 44-43 cubs are shaping up to maintain their breakeven record for the remainder of the year. since leaving behind april's babip-based distortion, the club has scored 284 and allowed 277. the cubs dumped barrett following game 69; the offense has since generated 4.67 runs/game on a .319 team babip with just 11 home runs in 18 games. it may well miss barrett more when that babip normalizes over more games. the pitching side has allowed 4.33 per game on a .303 babip in barrett's absence after allowing 4.20 on a .276 babip with him on the club.

there's a lot of excitement about knocking four games from the worst deficit -- the cubs haven't been this close to the leader since april 22. and the club's chances surely are better for it. but -- while enjoying it -- bear in mind that it's still four and a half games to make up over a pretty long time (74 games, to be exact) on a club that has, year-to-date, been a little better than them. it's still hard to make up five games, even if it's easier than making up eight or nine. as strange as it may sound, i'll actually be somewhat more hopeful than i am now if they're still within five with 30 or 20 games to go -- luck will be an even-bigger factor then as compared to skill, and some luck is what it takes to beat a better adversary.

from the outset of the year to the cyclical high on game 31, the club went 16-15; from the high to the game 53 low, the club went 6-16; from the low to the high in game 65, they went 8-4; since the high, they have gone 14-9 (again, in spite of scoring 96 and allowing 95).

in terms of crossover points, the cubs went 16-18 to the negative convergence at game 34; from that convergence to the positive crossover in game 55, they went 8-13; from there to the negative convergence in game 70, 6-7; from that convergence to the positive crossover in game 80, they went 8-2; since then, 4-3.

in the last update, i tried to point out that the brewers were playing unsustainably good ball and were fit for a change. the club compiled a .320 babip on offense in the month of june, scoring 6.00 runs/game throughout.

they complied by going 3-6 since, in spite of scoring 44 and allowing 43. this too is a bit of reversal for some good luck earlier in the year. their macd line crossed over to the negative in game 86, and that has sometimes implied ten or twenty games of difficulty following.

from the outset to the cyclical high at game 36, the brewers went 25-11; from the high to the low in game 48, 3-9; and from the low to the game 78 high, 18-12; since the high, 3-7.

with reference to crossover points, the brewers went 25-14 to the negative convergence at game 39; from that convergence to the positive crossover in game 60, they went 8-13; from that convergence to the negative crossover in game 86, they went 16-10; since then, 0-2.

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