Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Sudden Rise of Tampa Bay Foretold by Theorem ; Team's Record Is Close to That Predicted by a Mathematic Calculation

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Sudden Rise of Tampa Bay Foretold by Theorem ; Team's Record Is Close to That Predicted by a Mathematic Calculation

Article excerpt

A formula for expected baseball winning percentage, based on the theorem for the length of a hypotenuse, has been accurate this season, especially with Tampa Bay.

Pythagoras, it would seem, is having a moment.

The pride of Samos, he was in the news last week when Jason Garrett, head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, said he had been quizzing his standout wide receiver Miles Austin on the mathematician's famous theorem for determining the length of the hypotenuse of a right triangle.

"It's A-squared plus B-squared equals C-squared is the theory," Austin said. "It's the longest angle of the triangle."

Garrett, a Princeton graduate, was using the work of Pythagoras to help Austin run his routes more efficiently.

In baseball, the Pythagorean theorem, in the form of a Bill James riff to determine a team's expected win-loss record, has been giving Las Vegas oddsmakers a run for their money.

Like the method of squaring the two sides of a right triangle that form a 90-degree angle to determine the squared length of the longest side, Pythagorean Winning Percentage is determined by squaring a team's runs scored, then dividing that by the sum of the team's runs scored squared plus its runs allowed squared.

The James formula is often maligned as being thrown off by high- scoring games, and as not accounting for a team's ability to win close games, but it exactly predicted the records of four teams through Friday: Boston, Kansas City, Minnesota and Arizona. Only five teams had a record more than three games different from the expected record, with Detroit (five games worse) and Philadelphia (five games better) being the greatest outliers.

The most interesting case for the run-differential argument, however, has been the Tampa Bay Rays.

After a victory on June 30, the Rays were 43-39, six games behind division-leading Boston. With a victory over the Yankees on Friday night, in the first of a three-game series in New York, they took over first place, completing a remarkable turnaround.

What makes the Rays interesting is that on June 30, they were fundamentally a 43-39 team. Their 378 runs scored and 360 runs allowed produced an expected record matching their actual record. …

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