Pittsburgh hosts its second straight National League play-in game tonight. The Pirates will host the Giants, with both teams finishing the regular season at at 88-74—which doesn't mean they were necessarily equal this year. While the one-game format renders a lot of season-long trends obsolete, the Pirates spent this year having a peculiar kind of crap luck. They didn't score as many runs as they could have.
Our friend Ed Feng at The Power Rank has a batch of Cluster Luck figures for the season. Cluster Luck is essentially how "lucky" a team was, on offense and defense, with the sequencing of offensive events. Imagine that every player in the lineup gets exactly one hit in a game. At the two extremes, these hits could all come in a single inning, or one per inning; obviously, you'd prefer the hits bunched closer together. The metric itself is based on Base Runs, which synthesizes baserunners, their advancement, outs, and guaranteed runs for events like home runs to tell you how many runs the various events should, in theory, have been worth.
The Pirates had godawful luck on offense. Where zero is average, the Pirates were -42.8, worst in the major. By contrast, the A's and Angels came in at positive 44.23 and 44.4, respectively. Pittsburgh fared a little better defensively, where their analytics-fueled shifting has paid off some, squeaking in just over average at 2.26, but the -40.53 total number is still fourth-worst in baseball. (The Mets, amusingly, were the luckiest team, at 57.29, and the Cubs were the unluckiest at -67.81.) By Feng's count on Expected Run Differential, the Pirates were actually the fifth-best team in the majors.
Four other playoff teams finished with negative Cluster Luck, though none within pissing distance of the Pirates. The Dodgers finished at -14.87, the Tigers were -7.78, and St. Louis was -0.59. The Giants, meanwhile, clustered their Cluster Luck, and after reaching June more than 30 runs ahead of pace, finished the season at -1.06, in 18th place.
The luck stats are interesting enough to warrant a once-over, so check them out at The Power Rank. And if you're hoping for a Pirates win tonight, you're really hoping for them to buck this trend and play more as they have in theory than they have in practice.
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