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MLB Expert John Bollman's 2022 Season Statistical Overview

John (@JohnBollman11 on Twitter) combines his Biostatistics degree with his baseball experience.  He is a former Toronto Blue Jays employee in the Player Development and Sports Science departments and currently works as a Sports & Data Analyst for CBS Sports, so he understands the inner workings of organizations and how to evaluate players and teams.  He is coming off a +42.55u 2021 MLB season that included picking the World Series winner (Braves at +1000).

Overperforming and Evaluating Teams

Obviously, MLB is in a tough spot right now with the current lockout but that doesn’t mean we can’t look ahead. We have 8 weeks before the regular season is expected to start so I wanted to do an in-depth dive into each of the divisions, season win totals, awards, and World Series futures, along with sharing some sort of insight into how to analyze teams.

We have to acknowledge a couple things for the upcoming season first. Free agency still isn’t over, and there are many free agents, like Carlos Correa, who have not signed that could make a big impact. For that reason, I am going to start with the divisions that are least likely to have a big impact signing before the season starts, with the hopes that free agency starts back up by the time the last few articles are written.

However, this isn’t a perfect world so just assume that all the odds I am working with are current and that things are fluid if a major signing occurs.

New Rules

That being said, let’s get into some of the new rules. We know there is more than likely going to be a universal DH, so keep that in mind when we are talking about these NL teams. We also know the playoffs could be expanded this season, so for that reason I am just avoiding “To make the playoffs” props all together. Last, the runner on second in extra innings is NOT expected to continue.

Now if only we could get robot strike zones…

How I'll Be Evaluating Teams

Since we are just going to be evaluating teams for the next couple of weeks I wanted to give a little insight into how to evaluate a team before we get into each division. Since my first division article will be on the NL Central, I will use them for the example. And in order to evaluate a team, we need to learn what makes a team overperform and underperform. We hear this term all the time, but what actually defines “overperforming”? Well, there are a couple different ways to define it. The best way is by using Bill James’ Pythagorean Theorem of Winning.

It sounds difficult, but it’s not. Essentially this theorem uses runs scored and runs allowed to predict a team’s win percentage. And if you go back in history and use this formula with a random team’s runs scored and allowed numbers, you will more likely than not get the win total dead on the number. It is scarily accurate. And that is why it is so widely used to the point where MLB put it on the main screen of their division standings.

Here is the formula:

(runs scored ^ 2) / [(runs scored ^ 2) + (runs allowed ^ 2)] = win %

The Theory in Practice

Using this theorem, we can see that the 2021 Brewers were expected to win 93 games instead of the 95 they actually won. Meaning, they overperformed by two wins. Cardinals actually won 90 games last season, yet they were expected to only win 85 games. Cubs won 71 games, but they were expected to win 68. Pirates won 61 games, but they were expected to win 58.

The Reds were the only team in the division that matched their actual run total with their expected run total at 83. Every other team in the division overperformed. So now we know the baseline of how to determine if a team overperforms but what causes a team to overperform? Why are 4 of the 5 teams in the NL Central outperforming their expected win totals?

Why Teams Overperform

Well, the long answer is there are tons of reasons. Maybe the Brewers were more comfortable using a position player in blowouts while leading the division for most of the season, resulting in an extra 20 runs more than expected. Maybe the Brewers just happened to win their games by a lower run average than their rivals. Maybe it’s a combination of both and more. However, the short answer is the marginals. Wins in 1-run games, extra-inning games, and batting with RISP are what cause a team to overperform.

So why were the Brewers able to outperform their win total by 2 games, and the Cardinals by 5 games? Well, they were both very good in the marginals.

Analysing Overperformers

Brewers were the 5th best team in the league in win % in 1-run games at 21-15 while the Cardinals were the 7th best in the league at 26-19. Next, we look at extra-inning games where we really see why the Cardinals overperformed. They went 7-2 in extra inning games, best in the league. Brewers were 10-9 in extra inning games so right about average.

We can also see why there were no underperforming teams in the NL Central last year. The Cubs were the worst team in the division in both extra-inning games at 6-7 and 1-run games at 24-27, yet that is still just barely below average (we assume all these marginals even out to .500).

Batting With RISP

We looked at 1-run games and extra-inning games, so the last thing to look at now is batting with RISP. We will use wOBA to measure batting.

This statistic isn’t as telling because it only considers your hitters, but when a team can score their runners, they will win. This is the best way I know how to explain this: if one team gets 2x as many runners in scoring position but bats .200 when they have RISP. And the other team gets half as many runners in scoring position, but they bat .500 with RISP. The second team will score more runs, its simple math.

Are you able to score runs when you get runners on base? This is how divisions are decided and even World Series. Most of the time, this statistic doesn’t tell you much. BUT then you look at every team that won the World Series in the past 5 years, and EVERY single one of them were in the Top 2 in wOBA with RISP.

Now, onto my first divisional betting preview; the NL Central.