St. Louis Sports Online

Eric Niederhoffer 

St. Louis SportsOnline

columnist & principal photographer

The Academic: A .500 Team? July 1997


I've been enjoying this season's televised Cardinals games with Bob Carpenter and newly retired (at least as an active player) Ozzie Smith.

There's been more satisfaction with Ozzie Smith because of the smooth and calm character of his "rookie" broadcast voice along with his focused game perspective.

But my satisfaction with the "new team" is not the subject of this column.

Rather I have concern with the ongoing comment that "the Cardinals are just 2 games out of first place," which has followed recent wins or losses.

Well let's get down to business--the "bottom line" as some might say. The Cardinals haven't been playing very well this season. They've been hovering near the middle of the Central Division not more than a few games from first place.

But then again, no one else in the Central Division has been playing well. My last look at the standings indicated that no team in the Central Division had more wins than losses.

What does that mean in the big picture? If a team compiles, on average, more wins than losses, they have necessarily greater than 0.500 winning percentage.

The probability that a team with such a winning record could be predicted to make up a couple games would be favorable.

On the other hand, if a team was not playing 0.500 ball, I would be more concerned, not solely because their chance of earning the top position is less certain, but because their chances of competing with teams with better records is more uncertain.

Now, I'm sure there are some certified statisticians out there who will offer an in depth mathematical treatment of winning and lossing and it's just as important how well your team has played against specific teams.

But in the end, unless you've drawn an extremely favorable playoff schedule against just those teams you've managed to beat during the season, it's the number of wins and losses that matters and you better have more wins in the end if you hope to make it through the World Series.

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