clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Value of Things: Trailing Pythagoras Part IV

Can teams consistently outperform?

Pythagoras (c560 - 480 BC), Greek philosopher and scientist. Photo by Print Collector/Getty Images

We conclude the Pythagoras series by taking a look at the Houston Texans and their history. In baseball, we see that teams can’t repeat a positive Pythagorean record. For instance, the Mariners sit at 60-52 so far this season, but their Pythagorean record is 58-54. That’s only plus two. They were fourteen wins above their expected record last season. Simply put, there was no way they were going to repeat that.

Relying on out-of-context Pythagorean records leads to what I would call “magical thinking.” This becomes important when looking at your team’s future. Essentially, it involves dwelling on the bad luck and discounting the good luck. So, your team can only get better under that mindset. As we know, sometimes schedules break your way or players have out of context seasons.

To test the regression model we will look at the Texans in each season of their existence and what their expected records were that season. One of two things will happen. Either they will hover around zero and regress from season to season or there will pockets where they constantly overachieve or underachieve. We will start with their actual record and then add their Pythagorean record on top of that.

Houston Texans History

Actual: 4-12,
Pythagorean: 3.8-12.2
Difference: (+0.2)

Actual: 5-11
Pythagorean: 4.5-11.5
Difference: (-0.5)

Actual: 7-9
Pythagorean: 7.1-8.9
Difference: (-0.1)

Actual: 2-14
Pythagorean: 3.7-12.3
Difference: (-1.7)

Actual: 6-10
Pythagorean: 5.1-11.9
Difference: (+0.9)

Actual: 8-8
Pythagorean: 7.9-8.1
Difference: (+0.1)

Actual: 8-8
Pythagorean: 7.3-8.7
Difference: (+0.7)

Actual: 9-7
Pythagorean: 9.4-6.6
Difference: (-0.4)

Actual: 6-10
Pythagorean: 7.1-8.9
Difference: (-1.1)

Actual: 10-6
Pythagorean: 10.9-5.1
Difference: (-0.9)

Actual: 12-4
Pythagorean: 10.1-5.9
Difference: (+1.9)

Actual: 2-14
Pythagorean: 4.2-11.8
Difference: (-2.2)

Actual: 9-7
Pythagorean: 9.8-6.2
Difference: (-0.8)

Actual: 9-7
Pythagorean: 8.8-7.2
Difference: (+0.2)

Actual: 9-7
Pythagorean: 6.5-9.5
Difference: (+2.5)

Actual: 4-12
Pythagorean: 5.7-10.3
Difference: (-1.7)

Actual: 11-5
Pythagorean: 10.2-5.8
Difference: (+0.8)

Actual: 10-6
Pythagorean: 7.8-8.2
Difference: (+2.2)

Actual: 4-12
Pythagorean: 6.2-9.9
Difference: (-2.2)

Actual: 4-13
Pythagorean: 4.1-12.9
Difference: (-0.1)

On a long enough timeline, the survival rate drops to zero. Over the twenty first seasons the team was a combined -2,3 in Pythagorean record. So, I suppose one could say we have been an unlucky franchise. After all, those are two wins we could have had and if you put those in certain seasons it could have made the difference between making the playoffs and not.

Other Observations

The seasons in bold represent seasons where the team was more than one game above or below their expected record. 2012, 2016, and 2019 are particularly interesting seasons. They essentially preceded seasons where they had huge drop offs the next seasons. It probably wasn’t so much that they fell apart, but that they became a victim of circumstances. You get the first place schedule the next season. You have some fortunate breaks that don’t go your way. You look up and you just aren’t nearly as good.

We notice that the coaches had various levels of success. We can divide the team effectively between the Capers years, Kubiak years, and O’Brien seasons. Capers was a collective -2.1 over his four seasons. Kubiak was a collective -1.0. That means that O’Brien was a collective +1.0. Was he a better coach? That obviously depends on your perspective. However, there is no denying that huge fluctuations never repeat themselves. The team either returns to zero the next season or they fluctuate the other direction.

The key is to always guard against magical thinking. In any given season, some things will go better than expected. The team remains fairly healthy. Young or unsung players suddenly perform. You might get more bounces go your way. Serendipity is not a long-term plan for success. Fortunately, the 2021 Texans finished around where they should have. So, there shouldn’t be a ton of magical thinking.