- The Washington Times - Monday, May 28, 2007

The New York Yankees and the Chicago Cubs are the biggest underachievers of the season’s first two months but not because of their losing records and exorbitant payrolls.

It’s because of their Pythagorean record vs. their actual record.

Invented by Bill James, the Pythagorean theorem of baseball is:

Runs scored2 3 Runs scored2 + runs allowed2

The formula produces a winning percentage, which is then multiplied by the number of games played by a team to determine its expected wins.

Often, a team’s Pythagorean record can predict how it will do the next season. Teams that outperform their Pythagorean record tend to improve the following year.

Teams like the Yankees and Cubs tend to get worse.

In this case, the Pythagorean record also reveals the pitching problems of the Yankees and Cubs.

The Yankees are 21-27 (.438). Their Pythagorean record is 26-22 (.541), a five-game difference.

That’s because the Yankees’ All-Star lineup helps them win blowout games, but their inconsistent starting pitching keeps them from winning the close ones.

The Yankees are 11-3 in games decided by five or more runs and 2-9 in one-run games.

Yankees starters have totaled 19 quality starts, third worst in the American League behind the Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

They have used 11 starting pitchers, including seven rookies — Tyler Clippard, Matt DeSalvo, Phil Hughes, Kei Igawa, Jeff Karstens, Darrell Rasner and Chase Wright.

But if the Yankees get their pitchers healthy and settle in a rotation — Andy Pettitte (eight quality starts), Igawa, Chien-Ming Wang, Mike Mussina and minor leaguer Roger Clemens — during the next month, they won’t be below .500 for long.

In fact, they will challenge the Red Sox in the AL East.

The Cubs are 22-26 (.458). Their Pythagorean record is 27-21 (.563), a five-game difference just like the Yankees.

Like the Yankees, the Cubs win the blowouts but lose the close ones. They are 9-2 in games decided by five or more runs and 2-12 in one-run games.

But Chicago’s problem isn’t its starting pitching. It’s the bullpen.

Cubs relief pitchers are 11-for-20 in save opportunities (a .550 save percentage), worst in the National League.

Closer Ryan Dempster (11-for-12), who was moved from the bullpen to the starting rotation and back to the bullpen in a 20-minute span last week, has taken most of the criticism.

But Dempster’s 3.97 ERA is a product of two poor outings in 21 appearances.

The middle relievers — Neal Cotts, Will Ohman, Bob Howry and Scott Eyre — are the problem. All have an ERA over 4.80, and they have combined for six blown saves.

If Piniella can solve his bullpen problem, the Milwaukee Brewers aren’t that far away.

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