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Pythag Says We're Not Last!

HOUSTON - JULY 01:  Clint Barmes  receives congratulations after he scored in the sixth inning against the Boston Red Sox Friday. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON - JULY 01: Clint Barmes receives congratulations after he scored in the sixth inning against the Boston Red Sox Friday. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
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"The so-called Pythagoreans, who were the first to take up mathematics, not only advanced this subject, but saturated with it, they fancied that the principles of mathematics were the principles of all things."---Aristotle

In a disheartening season for Astros' fans, we'll grasp at straws for any positive signs. The Astros are the only major league team yet to reach the 30 win mark. But the Pythagorean Record says the Astros don't have (or shouldn't have) the worst Win/Loss record in the majors. The Astros Pythag is better than the Twins and tied with the Orioles. For those who don't know, the Pythagorean Record, a term coined by Bill James, is a formula based on runs allowed and runs scored.

Admittedly, the Pythagorean results at mid-season may have limited forecasting ability. But if you believe that teams' actual records will tend to revert toward their Pythagorean records, this could foretell an improvement in the Astros' winning record going forward. And, it may mean that the Astros won't end up with the worst record in the majors. (For those of you hoping for the top draft choice next year, perhaps that's no so optimistic a view.)

In the battle of bottom-dwellers, here are the Pythag Records (along with actual records) of the lower level teams:

(Team, Pythag Wins, Actual Wins)

A's, 40, 37

Pirates, 39, 41

Dodgers, 39, 37

Padres, 38, 37

Marlins, 35, 36

Royals, 35, 33

Cubs, 34, 34

Astros, 33, 29

Orioles, 33, 35

Twins, 31, 35

In recent years, the Astros have been serial defeaters of the Pythagorean Record. In the previous six years, the Astros' actual wins were better than the Pythagorean wins in all but one year. And last year, the Astros' actual wins beat the Pythag by a whopping 8 wins. So, falling behind the Pythagorean wins mark is something new for the Astros.

In the past, I have discussed the possibility that a team's success in beating the Pythag could be explained in part by late inning bullpen performance and clutch offense. Because differentials between Pythag and actual results may also reflect random luck, the Astros may be seeing something akin to regression to mean so far this season.

We all know that the Astros have been terrible this season in blowing saves. So, the Astros' current record below the Pythag may be due to late inning bullpen performance which is much worse than previous seasons. Based on Fangraphs' clutch stat, the Astros' offense was the major league's best in clutch hitting from 2006 - 2010. That may have influenced the overperformance of the Pythag during that period. So far this season, the Astros' offense has drifted into negative territory on the clutch stat. Again, that might help explain the Astros performance vs. Pythag so far.

The Astros started the season with stellar clutch hitting stats, but the clutch offense fell off the table in June. Below are the monthly clutch results and ML ranking for the Astros.

(Month, Fangraphs Clutch, Ranking)

March/April, +0.96, 6th

May, +0.86, 9th

June, -2.55, 30th

To Date, -0.93, 18th

That's some ugly clutch hitting in June. A higher ranking on the Fangraphs clutch offense statistic gives a team a better chance at winning close game than their normal offensive performance would indicate.