If luck isn't on your side, you probably won't succeed in baseball. You can be the most gifted team, the best on paper, the hands down favourites, but if luck isn't going your way, you will struggle. The baseball Gods can be cruel. They can take all your talent and make it worthless.
Cluster luck is a prime example of this. Teams can score more, or less, runs than they are actually capable of due to timing. It's a well documented fact that clutch hitters don't really exist, and, therefore, the timing of hits essentially comes down to luck. However, the timing of hits has a huge ramification on the number of runs your team scores/allows.
Take, for example, two series of events; strikeout, strikeout, single, single, homerun, strikeout and; homerun, strikeout, single, single, strikeout, strikeout. Both are equal in terms of performance and ability and quality. One series is worth three runs, the other one. A two run difference because of luck. The baseball Gods can be cruel.
Naturally, after a 162 game season, these small examples of losing one, or two runs, can add up. This season, the luckiest team has a net gain of over 60 runs because of timing on offense/defense, and the unluckiest team has lost just over 60 runs because of timing on offense/defense. The Power Rank record cluster luck on their website, and these are the results from this season.
So, to the point of this article; the Houston Astros have been unlucky this season. Cluster luck, alone, has cost them twelve runs, which is easily over a win. A win which would be very helpful right now. However, if you delve deeper into their run differential, the plot thickens yet more.
In order to adjust for cluster luck (which, granted, is only one element of luck), I've removed all runs gained/lost, to devise new totals for runs scored/allowed for every team. I then used the new run totals in a pythagorean win formula to have an educated guess at how wins each team would have if cluster luck didn't exist.
This is how the American League West would look:
Houston Astros, 93-69
Oakland Athletics, 81-81
Seattle Mariners, 80-82
Texas Rangers, 78-84
Los Angeles Angels, 77-85
Unsurprisingly, Fangraphs' Base Runs agrees. Base runs, which essentially remove cluster luck from the equation, have the Astros as a 93 win team on the season and the only team above five hundred in the division, with the A's in second place with just 78 wins.
Irrespective of what happens in the final week in the season, we, in Houston, can find solace in the knowledge we are actually easily the most superior team in the West (in fact, without cluster luck, I have the Astros with the third best record in baseball).
Anyway, let's get back to what really matters; real life. Baseball, unfortunately, isn't played on paper. So, let's go out there and secure our postseason berth. Let's make sure those Rangers don't win the division, because, after all, the Astros are clearly better, because sabermetrics.
All statistics are accurate as of the 27th of September, and win totals reflect those of a total season.