Luck, or lack thereof

I think it was Terry Pluto, a few years back in the Beacon Journal, who wrote that good luck is always in short supply for Cleveland teams. Cleveland rarely is fortunate. I’ll avoid all the clichés about Cleveland sports and limit my comments to the 2008 Indians.

A rational person will say it is irrational to complain about bad luck, and they’d be right. It’s a misinterpretation of chance, a superstition. A team in the throes of a losing streak only appears to be cursed. But what is the probability the Indians will go through an entire goddamn season without hitting a broken-bat chalk double with runners in scoring position? What do Bernoulli or Bayes say about that?

"It has been suggested that statisticians don’t believe in luck," writes Bill James. "Statisticians see luck as an Eskimo sees snow. To a statistician, luck is so much a part of our environment that we have difficulty being certain there is anything else."

Consider the past three games. The Tribe gets a favorable draw in interleague play, and runs into a sad-sack Reds team when they’re on a four-game roll. Now it’s a seven-game roll.

This season the Indians have amazing starting pitching. The bullpen, so far, has regressed some from last year’s excellence, but that isn’t unexpected. As we all know, there has been no correction whatsoever—none—from the offense. The Indians had (or we thought they had) down years last season from Hafner, Sizemore, Dellucci and Blake. We could possibly expect improvement from Garko, Gutierrez, Cabrera and Marte. If just a few of these players returned to form—or even got lucky and exceeded historic form—it was not improbable to anticipate an offense that could rank maybe fifth or sixth in the big leagues in runs scored. Instead, as Hans points out, we’re third from the bottom in team EqA. We're the worst team in the American League in team equivalency average!

The gambler’s fallacy says we’re going to start ripping up the park, that we’ll even out our bad luck with a proportionate run of offensive fortune. Garko will go 25 for 25 (with a lot of seeing-eye grounders) and Hafner will hit one or two home runs everyday, mostly off the foul pole. Except that’s not how it works.

Luck is the residue of design? Luck follows merit? We rely on BABIP for consolation, or SSS, regressions to mean, etc. But this has been going on for far too long. Broadcasters say luck has a way of evening out over the course of a long season. Except it doesn't.

Why do Wedge teams underperform to their Pythagorean expectations? Is this a function of Wedge’s management? I don’t think so. I think it’s a function of scoring runs (and allowing runs) at the wrong time. In other words, bad luck.

Is it too much to ask for the Indians to have good pitching and good hitting in the same season? Consider the White Sox in 2005. A magical year, where everything went their way: hitting, pitching, bullpen. White Sox players exceeded expectations, had career years, and most bounces and breaks favored Ozzie Guillen. Remember the dropped third strike against the Angels? Both Josh Paul and umpire Doug Eddings had to screw up that play for Pierzynski to get to first base. That was lucky, plain and simple. The White Sox had to wait a long time, since 1919, to get one of those years, but they got one. Now where’s the Indians’? Will they ever get a year where everything goes right?

Can a Cleveland hitter exceed expectations? Just one?

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