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How lucky are the Dodgers?
2003-01-13 11:57
by Jon Weisman
Note: The Dodger Thoughts blog has moved to the Los Angeles Times.

How lucky are the Dodgers?

The Dodgers missed making the playoffs in 2002 by 3Z games and in 2001 by four games. They were the fifth-best team in the National League in 2002 and 2000, and of course there are four playoff spots to be had. That, by one definition, is not very lucky.

But IÕm not sure they werenÕt lucky to even be that close.

A teamÕs record in one-run games is one indicator of luck, on the theory that those are the games where a bad break or a good break will make the most difference. In 2002, the Dodgers led the National League with a 33-15 record in one-run games. The Dodgers were 30-28 in 2001 and 25-21 in 2000 Š not bad. I would attribute much of the improvement in 2002 to Eric Gagne. Again, record in one-run games at best is only correlative to luck, but I think itÕs been safe to say that the Dodgers have not been exceedingly unlucky.

Another indicator of luck is something called the Pythagorean Standings. Baseball analyst extraordinaire Bill James devised a formula in which he found he could predict what a teamÕs won-lost record was simply by using two numbers Š runs scored and runs allowed that season Š and plugging them into a formula. Presumably, a team that won more than the formula predicted was lucky and/or overachieved, and vice versa. In 2002, no team in baseball was off by more than eight wins or losses from this formula.

The Dodgers won three more games than expected in 2002 and four games more than 2001. In 2000, they lost two games more than expected. By the way, the Angels won four fewer games than expected in the 2002 regular season, which makes their postseason triumph as a wild-card team a sliver less of a surprise. Had they won the expected number of regular season games, they would have won their division.

I will now concede that I have a personal bias that I bring to this discussion. It is my feeling that the Dodgers have done better the past two seasons than they had a right to expect, that they were even farther away from being a true champion than one might perceive. IÕm sure there might be other numbers out there that counter this feeling, but I donÕt really see them.

Does that mean things will go downhill this year? Of course not. The elements that might be most responsible for the DodgersÕ relative overachievement, Eric Gagne and Jim Tracy, are still there. Also, I donÕt think that general manager Dan Evans is under any illusion that the Dodgers are where they need to be. My perception is that Evans is constantly evaluating personnel and no one is sacred: not Eric Karros, not Adrian Beltre Š no one. I think EvansÕ weakness so far is that in midseason, he has found players from other teams to be more attractive than they really are, and ill-advisedly traded prospects for them. But I have not been greatly discouraged by his offseason moves in 2001-2002 or 2002-2003.

However, though you can look at someone like Beltre and say he hasnÕt maximized his potential, I donÕt think you can look at the Dodgers of the past two years and say they havenÕt maximized their potential. I think fans of the Dodgers would do well to brace themselves that the team is overdue to underachieve. Positive developments like the recovery of Darren Dreifort or a fine season from Fred McGriff might only be enough to keep the Dodgers over .500.

I think the Dodgers have taken positive steps in the past couple of years, but they serve to help illustrate how far the team had to go.

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