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What the xwOBA Standings tell us about the NL East

Pythag runs are lying to you. It’s thisclose.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at San Diego Padres Ray Acevedo-USA TODAY Sports

If you outhit and outpitch the other team, you ought to win, right? In baseball’s modern world, you can measure that by expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA). Lineups today will try to knock the snot out of the ball at an optimal launch angle. If you try to hit for an expected outcome, results should follow. For the most part, that works out. But this season for a quarter of the time, (25.09% to be absolutely precise) the team that doesn’t have the higher combined batting xwOBA for the game wins the game. Giving up hits at the right time, poor batted ball luck, guys scoring runs without touching the plate, or Will Smith can undo any good will that your hitting and pitching can produce.

So what if you could declare a winner solely on which team produced the higher xwOBA in a game? Could this give us insight into the relative strength of teams and divisions? What if someone pulled together all of this data into the xwOBA standings? Wonder no longer.

A few words about the table. Actual Wins and Losses are just that. xwOBAwins and losses are wins and losses awarded by getting a higher xwOBA than the other team. OutxwOBAwins and losses are times that a team has won with a lesser xwOBA or lost with a greater xwOBA. Ties are where teams tied by xwOBA to 3 digits. These were computed at 11 PM on September 27th with some games in flight, and I’m OK with that. Here is the American League.

What can this tell us? Well, the Giants and Dodgers are really good. The Rangers, Orioles, Pirates, and Diamondbacks are bad. But you knew that. Look how strong the Yankees (100-56 in game-by-game xwOBA) are compared to the AL East leading Rays. The Cardinals are currently in possession on the second Wild Card spot in the NL, but look how empty their record is (71-85) when compared in the xwOBA standings. They won 30 games this year while having a lesser xwOBA in the game. No surprises that the card-counting Rays are cooking the books, and you know how lucky the Cardinals are.

When you look at the NL East race in light of Pythagorean record using runs, this race shouldn’t be close. If seasons were decided by total number of runs, then the Braves would have clinched about a week ago. There are a couple of games where the Braves faced some position player pitching, but 7 wins is a pretty large shortfall.

However, the true, non-expected standings are much closer. The Braves have the Phillies by 2.5 games in true wins and losses. Also in the xwOBA standings, they are tied at 84-70. Both the Phillies and Braves have had a more-than-average amount of games where the winning team had the lesser xwOBA. Both teams have won 20 games with the lesser xwOBA. But in the games where they had the greater xwOBA, the Phillies have lost 4 more games (25) than the Braves (21).

It’s not just the xwOBA standings that come to the conclusion that the Braves and Phillies have been very close this season. In terms of WAR, the Braves are slightly better at 36.1 to the Phillies’ 35.7. This works out to a record of the Braves at 82-73 with the Phillies at a half game behind. The Braves have one game left with the Rockies if needed. Please don’t wait for the extra game to grab this division, Braves.

Don’t let Pythag runs fool you. It’s close. Really close. Like some stranger sitting right next to you in a half-filled movie theatre close. And honestly considering the pitching injuries sustained this year and the outfield-ectomy that was necessary in July, it’s very surprising that the Braves have Fangraphs’ 87% chance of winning this thing. We can hope this week that the Braves can hit where they ain’t this week, presumably in the Chop House, and make this race a winning trot by Friday.

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