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Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Skin in the (Ball) Game: Do Teams Underperform When They’re Out of the Race?

The end takeaway of all this? I think you can say with some certainty that teams that are out of the playoffs play worse than their projected talent level down the stretch. Maybe that’s because they’re coasting, maybe that’s because their managers use lower-leverage relievers and generally protect their best arms, maybe it’s because they’re more likely to go out the night before and eat some fried food. I couldn’t hope to figure out why from this study. But the effect does feel real to me, even if it’s not a complete no-doubt lock.

There are a few other interesting effects – for example, this down-and-out penalty seems to apply more in road games than in home games, though the sample size is necessarily smaller there. Additionally, when down-and-out teams play each other in September, the home team massively outperforms expectations. Perhaps the crowd can keep teams in games that they’d otherwise give up on? Perhaps it’s less fun to stay out the night before when you have a chance to sleep in your own bed? Sounds like a fun thing to investigate sometime.

Overall, I’ll say this: I think that the skin-in-the-game effect exists in baseball. Teams that are out of the playoff hunt mostly play worse than you’d expect, even after you account for their diminished rosters. The exact composition of the effect is uncertain – and hey, I have a pile of data to play with, so if you have any other ideas for how to split this up, please let me know – but it seems very real.

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: June 14, 2022 at 01:26 PM | 6 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: out fo the race

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   1. Walt Davis Posted: June 14, 2022 at 04:48 PM (#6081739)
Possible statistical significance, little/no substantive significance. The finding is that teams out of the playoff race vs. teams that are a "lock" in Sept have a WP that is 0.03 lower than expected (after adjusting for rosters/lineups/etc). That is 2.1 standard deviations below expectation so normally something we'd consider significant.

But we're looking only at games in Sept, games between those out of the race vs those locked into it. So what is that, on average, 9-10 games per bad team. A three percent point drop in winning percentage is about 1 fewer win per 33 games than expected. So we're saying that a team that is out of it for 3 straight Septs will win one fewer game against good teams than expected.

The mean estimate is pretty similar so we might say that it's a 3 percentage point drop when an out of it team plays any team that's not also out of it ... which is maybe 15-20 games per Sept ... so every 2 years it's one less win than we'd expect?

So, at worst, once very 2-3 years, the Pirates have an extra "again? our SS has thrown the ball away 3 times in one game again? I give up" moment.
   2. Pat Rapper's Delight (as quoted on MLB Network) Posted: June 14, 2022 at 06:00 PM (#6081752)
After RTFA, it seems as though having the whole exercise hinge upon the reliability of FG's playoff odds estimates and "us[ing] the lineups each team submits, the scheduled starters, and a composite picture of each bullpen to create a team’s expected runs scored and runs allowed" equates to a whole lot of handwaving between "Start" and "Voila! Proof!" on the flow chart.
   3. Walt Davis Posted: June 15, 2022 at 12:50 AM (#6081858)
I dunno, that's probably a good thing. How else can you even hope to control for AAA guys getting playing time (remember, still 40-man rosters for part of this time period), that the good players were traded at the deadline, etc. in assessing the expected wins of bad teams in Sept. We all know bad teams are usually worse in available talent terms and usually even worse due to playing time distribution terms at the end of the year.** If they won 44% of their games pre-Sept, we wouldn't expect them to win 44% of their games in Sept.

Now it sounds pretty complicated and whether he did it well I have no idea. But going to the trouble of at least checking to see who was in the starting lineup, on the mound and available out of the pen should be a substantial improvement on pre-Sept win %age. The author then asks if anybody has a better idea of how to adjust, let him know. Agreed, he goes into no detail on how those models work but the article's too long as it is.

** I don't think I hear it as much anymore but back in the day, bad teams were "supposed" to play their "real" lineups when playing teams still in the race but expected to play the kids in games that didn't matter. With a couple of good players gone, those lineups weren't all that "real" anymore but it's clear that the ethic was not to mess around. I suspect that went out the window at least a decade ago.
   4. SoSH U at work Posted: June 15, 2022 at 01:19 AM (#6081868)
I suspect that went out the window at least a decade ago.

About the time the Astros stopped trying in April?
   5. cHiEf iMpaCt oFfiCEr JE Posted: June 15, 2022 at 07:50 AM (#6081872)
If clubs that are out of the race tend to underperform, then shouldn't we give extra credit to a player who overperforms during such a period, particularly one who is considered a candidate for league MVP?
   6. BDC Posted: June 15, 2022 at 10:32 AM (#6081878)
back in the day, bad teams were "supposed" to play their "real" lineups when playing teams still in the race but expected to play the kids in games that didn't matter

Even further back in the day, of course – in single-division leagues of eight or ten teams – teams that finished in the "first division," plus the leader of the "second division" (fifth place), got World Series shares: much less than the teams that actually played, but not nothing. Figuring from various accounts of how this worked, I reckon that second-place teams in, say, 1959, got player shares of about $1,800, third place about $1,300, fourth about $500, and even players on the fifth-place teams got about $200 apiece. (The Dodgers got shares of $11,000 and the White Sox about $7,000.)

The shares for regular-season finishes were not a fortune, but when a lot of guys weren't making even $10,000 a year, that was a nice bonus. So there was nearly always something for at least one of the teams in a given game to play for, and pressure on their managers to try to win games (quite apart from individual players wanting to do well, thinking ahead in "salary drive" terms).

Apparently a vestige of this system still exists, with the top teams that miss the postseason getting shares that are now about $10,000 or $12,000, but as a percentage of even the minimum anymore, that's almost negligible. I have never heard anybody talk about this as a factor in any on-field decisions. But long ago, you would hear of teams regrouping to make a run for "first division" status after the All-Star Break.

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