Blue Jays: The Impact of Luck and Injuries
By Bob Ritchie
The Toronto Blue Jays have had an up-and-down season so far. How much has luck and injuries factored into their results to date?
The Blue Jays enjoyed their best start to a season in recent years by generating a 16-12 record by April 30. The month of May was very poor: 9 wins in 28 games. June has been a better month for the team; they have an 8-7 record as of June 17, 2018. Generally speaking, the Blue Jays record is a product of many factors, which include talent level, roster decisions, on-field tactics, preparation, schedule, luck, and injuries. This article is part of a two-part series; Part One will focus on cluster luck, and Part Two will deal with injuries.
For comparison purposes, the Jays will be measured against the teams vying for the American League wildcard spots as at June 17. Onto Part One!
A baseball game’s result and the outcomes of a series of games is not solely attributable to talent and effort. One of the factors that affect a game is randomness; stated differently, luck. For example, a ground ball hit hard to the third baseman’s left is just snagged in the glove and the batter is thrown out at first. Alternatively, under identical conditions, a similar ground ball is hit just out of the reach of the same third baseman and the batter is credited with a single.
No doubt skill is required to hit a Major League pitch but I believe the batter does not have the repeatable skill to turn on a major league baseball and always place the ball just out of the reach of the infielder. I think the difference between these two outcomes is randomness; in other words, luck. This is but one example of fortune/randomness in baseball.
What is cluster luck?
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One of the polarizing issues in baseball is whether or not there are clutch hitters. There is no doubt that players get clutch hits. However, can a batter repeatedly produce clutch hits (a skill) or is getting clutch hits random? I am in the School of Clutch Hitters Do Not Exist. There are articles that demonstrate that hitting in the clutch is not a replicable skill.
Related to clutch hitting is the view that batters cannot control when they get their hits. For example, if a team collects nine hits that are spread evenly over nine innings, the team is more likely to score fewer runs than if they clustered their nine hits in two innings. If you subscribe to the idea that batters do not control when they get their hits, then bunching hits together is largely random. This is cluster luck.
How to measure cluster luck?
Ed Feng tracks hitting and pitching MLB cluster luck on a daily basis. His website is the source for the data used in this article. You can also find links on the website to obtain Feng’s computational methodology.
Cluster Luck Runs as at June 17, 2018
- The Blue Jays offense has benefited more than the other wildcard contenders in terms of cluster luck runs (positive numbers are better);
- Since May 9, when their offensive cluster luck was 15.7 runs, the Blue Jays have been less fortunate;
- From a pitching perspective, the Blue Jays pitchers rank fifth among the AL wildcard contenders but their cluster luck runs figure remains positive;
- During the period subsequent to May 9, the Blue Jays pitching cluster luck has fallen from 12.3 runs to 4.5;
- In terms of total runs, the home side is third on the chart among the wildcard contenders; and
- A cluster luck figure of 9.8 translates into approximately 1 win using FanGraphs runs-per-win 2017 constant.
Next: Blue Jays: Bounty Hunting for J.A. Happ
The last word
The Blue Jays hitters have been the best among AL wildcard contenders in terms of clustering their hits. Together with their pitcher’s record of scattering hits, cluster luck has added approximately one win to the Blue Jays win column. There are many elements of fortune in baseball and the 2018 Blue Jays have benefited from one particular type: cluster luck.