Friday, July 18, 2008

Third Order Wins, The Second Half, and Playing With Luck

As we await the start of the second half of the season tonight at 10:05, I thought I'd share some observations about the current AL East standings, using a statistic I learned about yesterday: third-order wins.

About Third-Order Wins
For those of you unacquainted with any wins of any order beyond what you see in the newspaper box score, third-order wins are one of those statistical measurements that attempts - like the majority of non-mainstream baseball statistics - to give a more complete picture about the abilities of a baseball player (or, in this case, a baseball team). Specifically, third-order wins compute a team's win/loss record using two other stats: AEqR and AEqRA.

AEqR (Adjusted Equivalent Runs) measures the number of runs a team generates per out, adjusted for the quality of opponents they faced; AEqRA (Adjusted Equivalent Runs Allowed) measures the number of runs a team allows per out, adjusted for the quality of opponents faced. The adjustments relate to how well the opponent team pitches or hits; runs scored against a team like the Rangers, for example, will count less in AEqR than runs scored against a team like the A's, because the A's have a much better pitching staff than the Rangers. The inverse is true of AEqRA; runs scored by a team like the Red Sox will count less towards an opponent's AEqRA than runs scored by a team like the Blue Jays, because the Sox have a much better offense than the Jays.

Third-order wins combines AEqR and AEqRA into another stat that uses the measurements of runs scored and runs allowed to come up with adjusted win and loss totals that reflect how a team should be doing. Why do these numbers matter? Well, the difference between a third-order win and loss total and a real win and loss total tells you how lucky or unlucky a team's been; team with a real win total lower than their third-order win total have been unlucky, because they've acculumated fewer wins than the number of runs they've scored says they should. The cool thing about all of these numbers is that they can quantify a gut feeling about a team's performance into a measurement.

The 2008 Red Sox and Third-Order Wins
So, when it comes to luck, how are the Red Sox doing so far? Not too well, unfortunately, which shouldn't come to a surprise with anyone familiar with the tender ministrations of the Red Scare. The Sox are currently 57 and 40, but their third-order wins total put them at 62 and 35. Five games difference is bad enough, but rating the rest of the AL East by the same scale, the Sox would be five games up on the Rays instead of a paltry half game. These things are supposed to even out in the long run, which means one of two things: either we're all screwed and the adjustment in luck means less runs scored or more runs allowed in the second half of the season, or we're playing with house money
and Boston's record is about to jump ahead of the competition. Personally, I'd prefer the later