It’s a holiday week so I’m re-publishing popular blog posts from the past. This one from 2013 is about baseball, which I love and occasionally blog about. The post delves into the concept of “games behind in the loss column,” which is something you’ll hear pundits talking about this time of year.
Originally published August 15, 2013
This post isn’t about taxes but it is about numbers, and I’m a numbers geek at heart.
As the baseball season heads into its last six weeks, you’ll hear pundits talking about “such-and-such team is 3 games back in the loss column.”
What the heck are they talking about?
Overview of “Games Behind”
In all sports, the concept of “games behind” is based on the difference in wins and difference in losses between the first place team and the teams chasing that team.
Games behind is calculated as: 1/2 the difference in wins plus 1/2 the difference in losses.
This is easy if the two teams have played an equal number of games. For example: the first place team is 10-5. The second place team is 9-6. The second place team is 1 game behind.
Let’s say the first place team is 10-5 and the second-place team is 9-5. In this case, the second-place team is 1/2 game behind. They have one fewer win and an equal number of losses to the first place team.
“Games Behind in the Loss Column”
The concept of “games behind in the loss column” is really only relevant if two teams have played an unequal number of games. Why do pundits use this terminology so much? Because it reflects how much a team “controls its own destiny.”
Let’s say the first-place team is 10-5 and the second place team is 10-6. The second-place team is 1/2 game back, 1 game back in the loss column. The second-place team doesn’t control it’s own destiny. It has to rely on the first-place team losing, and unless the second-place team happens to be playing the first-place team, the second-place team has no control over that happening.
Now let’s say the first place team is 10-5 and the second-place team is 9-5. In this case, the second-place team is also 1/2 game back, but the difference is in the win column. The second-place team simply has to go out and win it’s next game in order to pull equal at 10 wins.
In practicality, teams generally end up playing an equal number of games by the time the season ends, so “games behind in the loss column” is usually just a talking point for analysis during the middle of a season.