How the Cardinals may surprise skeptics like me

Most predictions are nothing more than perceptions. Mine may prove to be wrong.

Milwaukee Brewers v St. Louis Cardinals
Milwaukee Brewers v St. Louis Cardinals / Jeff Curry/GettyImages
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I always look forward to the beginning of the baseball season. I can’t wait to see all the signings, the trades, and the excitement that the fans have for their teams. Reading about the player who is in the best shape of his career. The one that just had a baby and will have the best season ever. I enjoy hearing about a player that has improved because they changed the popcorn they eat. I especially like seeing which teams the experts think will do well this year. 

I am also a bit of a skeptic. After all, many people thought the Cardinals had a chance last year to win the division. They are doing it again this year. I do not know how anyone can look at this team and envision a case for them to go from last to first. They ended 21 games out of first place last year. 

Many of the predictions detail the moves the Cardinals made this off-season and the weak division. Most predictions are nothing more than perceptions. I wanted to use statistics to show how silly this was. I wanted to prove them wrong. Being a numbers geek, I needed more. 

Baseball at its heart is pretty simple. It’s all about scoring more runs than the other team. I wanted to see if there was a way to forecast the standings using numbers and not feelings. Needing a place to start, I went to FanGraphs. Since they have a bigger computer than I do, and some bigger brains, I will use a couple of their predictions. Runs scored per game and Runs against per game. 

I will make a couple of assumptions myself. If Team A scores 5 runs a game and Team B scores 4, Team A will win, right? Not always. What if Team A also gives up 5 runs a game and Team B with its better pitching and defense, only gives up 3 runs? Team A has an offensive advantage of one run, but a disadvantage of two runs making Team B the winner. 

Since math wasn’t my best subject, I needed to simplify. 

The Cardinals play the Athletics three times. The Cardinals’ runs scored is 4.76, A’s are 4.19. Here the Cardinals score .57 more runs per game. The Cardinals give up 4.69 runs and the A’s 4.76. And net of .64 runs. For my exercise, if anything is greater than 0.3, I give all the games played to the Cardinals in this case. Playing someone like the Braves is just the opposite with a score of minus .93 and the Braves win all of those games. If it’s close, I split the games. This is what it looks like. 

TEAM-GAMES

CARDS R/S

OPP R/S

CARDS R/A

OPP R/A

DIFF

WINS

CUBS-13

4.76

4.66

4.69

4.63

.04

6.5

A'S - 3

4.76

4.19

4.69

4.76

.64

3

BRAVES-6

4.76

5.35

4.69

4.35

-.93

0

As one would expect, the biggest disparities for the Cardinals were the Rockies and the Braves. 

I exported the schedules for each NL Central team and broke them down head-to-head for each series for the entire year. After crunching the numbers, I was surprised.

This was my perception. I thought this season would come down to the Reds and Cubs fighting it out for first place. I thought that the Cardinals and Brewers would fight over third and fourth and it would be close, with the Pirates being slightly behind.  

After all my calculations, this is what the numbers say. The Cardinals win 86 Games, the Cubs 85, the Reds 71, the Brewers 69, and the Pirates 51. Maybe the experts have this right and the Cardinals will surprise the skeptics like me. 

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