I’m going to be Captain Understatement and say that this 2010 season has been a disappointing season for Cardinal fans. The team is now 8 games out of 1st and has less than a 1% chance of making the postseason. Most projections and pundits had the Cardinals running the table in an easy division. As it has turned out, the Cincinnati Reds are pretty darn good at baseball. They were the only team I feared could win, and as in the case of Job, that what I have greatly feared has come upon me.
But have the Cardinals really been outclassed by Dusty Baker’s Reds? Are they really 8 games better than the Cardinals? There’s a few ways we can look at this and make some guesses from there. One is by looking at each team’s BaseRuns to date. I won’t get into the math behind BaseRuns, but suffice to say it is a kick-booty run estimator. It’s designed to give a more exact model of the process of scoring runs and its accuracy holds up extremely well, even in the craziest of contexts. You can read up on it more here and here.
Anyway, according to BaseRuns, the Cardinals’ actual record should be 76-67. The Reds’ record should be 78-67. So they really only should have a .7% better winning percentage than the Cardinals, but thanks to randomness the Cardinals should be happy to win 85, while the Reds are on pace to win more than 90 games. Due to bad luck, bad breaks, bad timing or whatever you want to call it, the Cardinals look a lot worse than the Reds than they probably are.
We could also look at WAR to give us an idea of how big or small the gap is between the two teams. The Reds’ hitters have 24.5 WAR. Their pitchers have 7.5 WAR. The Cardinals have 19.6 WAR for their hitters, and11.2 WAR for their pitchers. Yep, the difference between the Reds and Cardinals is 1.2 WAR. This is according to Rally’s WAR found on Baseball Reference, to be specific. I’m not saying this is the perfect way to solve this problem, but you get the basic idea.
To put it plainly, I think the difference between the two teams talent-wise isn’t worlds apart. If time stood still and the players somehow could magically play the 2010 season ten thousand times in a row, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cardinals and Reds finished with near identical records. But a lot of weird things can happen over 162 games. Sometimes standard deviation can be a cruel mistress.