The Houston Colt .45s of 1962 are a very interesting team, but first I need to explain the concept of the Strike Zone Winning Percentage. Each pitcher and each hitter has a Strike Zone Winning Percentage, and I have explained those concepts before. But each team has a Strike Zone Winning Percentage, as well, and this we have never talked about.
A team’s strike zone winning percentage is created by combining their batters’ and pitchers’ strikeouts and walks in a straightforward manner:
PSO * BW
 = Strike Zone Winning Percentage
(PSO * BW) + (BSO * PW)
When your pitcher gets a strikeout, that’s a winning event; when your batter draws a walk, that’s a winning event. When it goes the other way, those are losing events. The Washington Nationals of 2014, for example, had 1,288 strikeouts by their pitchers, and 517 walks by their batters. They had 1,304 strikeouts by their batters (so they actually lost the strikeout war), but their pitchers walked only 352 opposition hitters. This makes a strike zone winning percentage of .592:
1288 * 517
 = .592
(1288 * 517) + (1304 * 352)
The Nationals’ actual winning percentage was .593; their strike zone winning percentage was .592, and their bottomline winning percentage was .593. Sometimes that happens, and sometimes it doesn’t. In 2014, for example, the Dodgers had strike zone/actual winning percentages of .571 and .580, the Blue Jays of .516 and .512, the Brewers .505 and .506, the Braves .487 and .488, the Marlins .478 and .475, the Reds .458 and .469, the Phillies .450 and .451, the Astros .446 and .432, and the Cubs .438 and .451. On the other hand, the Rays had a strike zone winning percentage of .583 but an actually winning percentage of just .475, the Angels were at .509 and .605, while the Orioles finished 9666 despite a strike zone winning percentage of a miserable .437. The Orioles lost the "strikeout" battle to their opponents by more than a hundred, 1285 to 1174, and lost the walk battle as well, 472 to 401; their batters had a K/W ratio of 1285/401, while their pitchers were just 1174/472:
1174 * 401
 = .437
(1174 * 401) + (1285 * 472)
I wouldn’t want to mislead anyone into thinking that the actual wonlost record always mirrors the strikeout/walk components, but there are a great many more teams like the Nationals than there are teams like the Orioles. The Orioles’ 156point discrepancy between their overall and strike zone winning percentages was the largest in the major leagues since 1991. The book The Worst Team Money Could Buy was actually about the 1992 Mets, but the 1991 Mets went 7784 despite having the best Strike Zone Winning Percentage of any team of the 1990s, .647.
OK, that sort of thing happens once in a while, but the Strike Zone Winning Percentage is an important element of a team’s success, and the KZ WPct (Strike Zone Winning Percentage—KZ WPct) is an excellent predictor of a team’s wonlost record. In the history of baseball, there have been 161 teams which had a KZ WPct of .575 to .599. Those 161 teams had an average strike zone winning percentage of .585—and an average actual winning percentage of .574. This is generally true from .400 to .600—that team’s actual winning percentages are about the same as their Strike Zone Winning Percentages:
Range of


Average

Actual

KZ WPct

# Teams

KZ WPct

WPct

.575 to .599

161

.585

.574

.550 to .574

212

.561

.558

.525 to .549

335

.536

.537

.500 to .524

383

.512

.518





.475 to .499

339

.488

.490

.450 to .474

280

.462

.464

.425 to .449

256

.438

.443

.400 to .424

140

.414

.417

A team that has a Strike Zone Winning Percentage of .540 will have an overall winning percentage of about .540—on average, in general. This breaks down if the KZ Winning Percentage is over .600 or under .400; I’ll add those to the chart:
Range of


Average

Actual

KZ WPct

# Teams

KZ WPct

WPct

.600 and up

142

.628

.594

.575 to .599

161

.585

.574

.550 to .574

212

.561

.558

.525 to .549

335

.536

.537

.500 to .524

383

.512

.518





.475 to .499

339

.488

.490

.450 to .474

280

.462

.464

.425 to .449

256

.438

.443

.400 to .424

140

.414

.417

Under .400

144

.367

.377

I guess it doesn’t break down under .400; just over .600.
The next question that occurs is whether discrepancies between the Strike Zone and the Actual Winning Percentages are a transient or persistent phenomenon. Let’s make sure you understand the difference. A transient phenomenon is one which is observable in one season or one batch of data, but has no predictability or stability—like clutch performance. You can identify the best clutch performers of 2014 (or any other season), but those players will have no tendency to hit well in the clutch again in 2015; this is why we are skeptical of clutch performance. Discrepancies between a team’s wonlost record and their Pythagorean projected wonlost record are a transient phenomenon. The teams that had better wonlost records in 2014 than one would expect them to have, based on their runs scored and runs allowed, will be no more likely to do this again in 2015 than any other team, for which reason we assume that these discrepancies have more to do with luck than anything else. A persistent phenomenon is one which has some observable tendency to stay with a team (or a player) from season to season.
The discrepancy between wonlost records and Strike Zone Winning Percentages are persistent. In the data it is obvious that they are persistent; I didn’t even have to study it to know that they were persistent; it’s readily apparent when you look at the data. The Baltimore Orioles, who outperformed their Strike Zone Winning Percentage by 156 points in 2014, are extremely likely to outperform it again in 2015—not outperform it by 156 points probably, but not 5 points, either; probably 70 or 80 as a central expectation.
Of teams which have outperformed their Strike Zone Winning Percentage by 100 points or more, 78% have again outperformed their Strike Zone Winning Percentage again the next season (102 of 131), and have outperformed by 55 percentage points on average. Of teams which have outperformed their Strike Zone Winning Percentage by 50 points or more, 69% have outperformed their Strike Zone performance in the following season (345 of 502). Teams which outperform their Strike Zone Winning Percentage by 100 points on average will outperform it in the next season by 46 points—and in the season following that by 38 points. It’s a persistent phenomenon; thus, we assume that the discrepancies are real, rather than illusory.
OK, we have established that it is generally true that good teams have good Strike Zone Winning percentages and bad teams have bad Strike Zone Winning Percentages, and we have established also that discrepancies between the strike zone and overall winning percentages, where they occur, are real phenomena rather than statistical mirages. At this point we can talk about the 1962 Houston Colt .45s.
The 1962 Houston team—a firstyear expansion team—had a strike zone winning percentage .576, but an actual winning percentage of .400 (6496). In their early years that team consistently underperformed their KZ WPct. In the first five years—by the end of those five years they were called the Astros—in their first five years they underperformed their Strike Zone Winning Percentage by 176 points, 139 points, 106, 177, and 124 points. . ..huge underperformance every year.
Is this a characteristic of expansion teams?
It is. Since 1960 there have been 14 expansion teams created. 13 of the 14 underperformed their Strike Zone Winning Percentage in their first season, the one exception being the Colorado Rockies. Of the 14 teams, 9 underperformed in the second year, 11 in the third year, and 10 in the fourth year. In the fifth year they outgrow it. Actually, the Rockies outperformed their Strike Zone performance in all of their first five years—relating, again to the persistence of the trait—but that means that, setting aside the Rockies, 13 of 13 expansion teams have underperformed their Strike Zone Winning Percentages in their first seasons, 9 out of 13 in the second year, 11 of 13 in the third year, and 10 of 13 in the fourth year. Including the Rockies, 79% have underperformed in their first five seasons.
We’re at the intersection of a couple of interesting facts here. First, we know that this is unusual, since we know that most teams win the strike zone to the same extent that they win the rest of the battle. Second, we know that the Houston expansion team was an exception to this rule by a very large margin, and third, we know that this is outlier relationship is not any kind of fluke or statistical illusion. We know this because a) it is persistent, and b) it is a class characteristic.
The question then becomes, what causes this class characteristic?
The Colt .45s represent a) an irrefutable statement about the glamorization of violence, and b) an argument against the theory of the Three True Outcomes. The theory of the Three True Outcomes—no doubt overstating it for rhetorical contrastis that Strikeouts, Walks and Home Runs are the immutable truths of the statistical universe, and that everything else is transitory and or illusory; transitory, at best, but illusory most often. Clutch hitting, Ball in Play Averages, Baserunning, Base Stealing, Throwing, Errors, Place Htting. . .it’s all marginalia; what determines the strength of a team is the Three True Outcomes.
But were that true, the Houston team. . .OK, can we call them the Astros? I get that it’s technically not accurate. But were the Three True Outcomes argument valid, the Astros would have been a competitive team, not only in 1962, but also in ’63, ’64, ’65, ’66 and beyond; their Strike Zone Winning Percentage was over .500 every year from 1962 to 1972 and reached as high as .616 in 1969, but it wasn’t until 1972 that the team had a betterthan.500 wonlost record. Back to the 1962: The Astros pitchers struck out 1,047 batters, while their hitters struck out only 806 times—a whopping 241strikeout advantage. Astros pitchers were second in the league and second in the majors in strikeouts, while Astro hitters struck out less often than any other National League team. In walks, Astro hitters held a more modest lead, 493 to 471. The Astros were outhomered, but they were outhomered by the narrow margin of 113 to 105. Were their Won Lost record shaped by the Three "True" Outcomes, they would have won. ..what, 85 games?
They won 64. They won only 64 games because they lost most of the other battles, some of them badly. Despite having 200+ more Balls in Play than their opponents, they were outdoubled 189 to 170, and outtripled 61 to 47. They had 1,370 hits; their opponents had 1,446; despite the strikeouts, which should have been the largest shaping factor, they were outhit by their opposition .260 to .246. They threw 74 Wild Pitches to their opponents 48. They stole 42 bases, as a team; their opposition stole 119—offset some by a small increase in caught stealing, but mostly not offset. They grounded into 132 double plays; their opponents grounded into only 121.
I am not arguing exactly that the Astros disprove the theory of Three True Outcomes, but I am arguing that they point forcefully to the limitations of the theory. The other outcomes "don’t matter" because the other outcomes tend, over time, to even out. But when they don’t work out evenly, the other outcomes matter a great deal—and for that reason, one cannot accurately evaluate players just based on those three outcomes.
The firstyear Astros are an interesting team. They’re not a superyoung team; they’re made up mostly of players who had been around a while, but just hadn’t been able to step forward. Norm Larker, the first baseman, was an onbase guy in the tradition of Joe Cunningham and Lu Blue. In 1962 he had 70 walks, 47 strikeouts, and in 1960 he had come within a whisker of winning the batting title. 28yearold left fielder Al Spangler had almost the same strikeout/walk ratio—70 to 46—and hit .285. Right Fielder Ramon Mejias, a 31yearold Cuban, hit .286 with 24 homers. One thinks of an expansion team as a team of young players who don’t really know how to play the game, but that’s not what these players were. The Astros were more dominated by players who knew very well how to play the game, players who had been bench players for years and who had pretty much maximized their skills—but who simply did have quite enough ability to be .500+ players.
Like the Padres, who developed three Hall of Famers in their first decade of having a farm system (Winfield, Ozzie Smith and Gwynn), the Astros did extremely well, in their early years, producing stars. Joe Morgan, signed by the Astros in late 1962, is in the Hall of Fame. Rusty Staub and Jimmy Wynn didn’t miss the Hall of Fame standard by much. The Astros in their first ten years were a team of pitchers who threw strikes, like Dick Farrell, Ken Johnson and Bob Bruce, and batters who drew walks, like Wynn and Morgan. Ordinarily that’s a winning combination, but it wasn’t, for the Astros, because they didn’t do the other things well enough. And I’m planning to shoot the first person who writes to inform me that Jimmy Wynn wasn’t originally signed by the Astros.
If you look at the Mets, they’re a little bit the same; the 1962 Mets had a lot of veteran guys on their team, and they drew a lot of walks.
OK, that’s the only kind of argument I have to make here; the rest of this is really just lists and notes.
1) The Astros in 1962 had a 241strikeout advantage on their opponents, which is a huge margin, and nearly historic. The record at that time was +309, by the 1961 Dodgers. The record now is +366, by the 1990 New York Mets.
2) One reason the Strike Zone Winning Percentage works is that it is pretty much impervious to contextual illusions. Strikeouts and walks are not very sensitive to ballpark effects, and the issue of context balances. If a team has extra plate appearances in which to draw walks, they will also have extra plate appearances in which to strike out. The league norms are irrelevant. The absence of contextually driven problems from the stat is very unusual.
3) On the other end of the spectrum from the 1990 Mets is the 2010 Diamondbacks. Diamondback pitchers struck out 1,070 batters, while their batters struck out 1,529 times, making them 459 in the strikeout battle. Five Arizona hitters had 145+ strikeouts that year: Mark Reynolds, 211, Adam LaRoche, 172, Justin Upton, 152, Kelly Johnson, 148, and Chris Young, 145.
4) The 2003 Yankees had the largest ever "Walk Advantage" over their opposition, 684 to 375. The 1915 Philadelphia A’s had the largest disadvantage, 827 to 436.
5) The highest KZ WPcts of the 19101919 era: 1. New York Giants, 1911 (.686), 2. New York Giants, 1910 (.675), and 3. New York Giants, 1912 (.666).
6) The highest of the 1920s: 1. Philadelphia A’s, 1927 (.682), 2. 1924 Dodgers (.665), 1921 Indians (.646).
7) The highest of the 1930s: 1. New York Yankees, 1932 (.669), 2. 1935 Pirates (.648), 3. 1931 Yankees (.631).
8) The highest of the 1940s: 1. 1946 Detroit Tigers (.646), 2. 1945 Chicago Cubs (.628), 3. 1948 Boston Braves (.626).
9) Best of the 1950s: 1. 1952 Philadelphia Phillies (.623), 2. 1952 Cardinals (.614), 3. 1955 Indians (.614).
Do you see the pattern here? Most of the highestever teams have one great pitcher who often has a fantastic strikeout/walk ratio. 1952 Phillies, Robin Roberts won 28 games and probably should have been the MVP. 1946 Tigers had Newhouser.
10) Best of the 1960s: 1. 1969 Houston Astros (.616), 2. 1966 Dodgers (.612), 3. 1966 Twins (.611).
11) Best of the 1970s: 1. 1976 Mets (Seaver and Koosman), (.633), 2. 1976 Phillies (.612), 3. 1971 Orioles (.603). The Astros, best of the 1960s, were a .500 team, and the 1976 Mets were 8676.
12) Best of the 1980s: 1. 1981 Yankees (.655). Best of the 1980s, not counting the strikeshortened 1981 season: 1. 1988 Red Sox (Clemens), .653, 2. 1986 Red Sox, .647, 3. 1988 New York Mets, .638.
13) Best of the 1990s: 1. 1991 Mets (.647), 2. 1994 White Sox (.636), 3. 1990 Mets (.633), 4. 1996 Indians (.629).
14) Best of the 2000s: 1. 2003 Yankees (.662), 2. 2002 Diamondbacks (.662). 3. 2006 Twins (.648). The 2003 Yankees and 2002 Diamondbacks both figure out to .66202; you have to go to the 6^{th} decimal point to separate them.
15) Best of the current decade: 1. 2011 Phillies (.629), 2. 2014 A’s (.614), 3. 2010 Twins (.613).
16) Best ever is the 1911 Giants, but this is in part because winning percentages contract over time. Several 19^{th}century teams are actually ahead of the 1911 Giants, if you want to go back that far.
17) Worst ever: 1918 Philadelphia A’s, .247.
18) Worst since 1918: 1921 Philadelphia Phillies, .300.
19) Worst since 1921: 1930 Red Sox, .318.
20) Worst since 1930: 1969 Padres, .323. (The Padres had an actual winning percentage of .321, so, even though their Strike Zone Winning Percentage was the worst in the majors in the last 93 years, it was still better than their actual winning percentage.)
21) Worst since 1969: 2013 Astros, .328.
22) The list of teams that were tremendously better than their strike zone winning percentages begins with the 1960 New York Yankees, who finished 9757 (.630) despite a Strike Zone Winning Percentage of .434. Yankee pitchers had a strikeout/walk ratio of just 712/609; their hitters had a ratio of 818/537. The Yankees won 97 games, despite the bad strike zone performance, because they had the top two power hitters in the league, Mantle and Maris, plus good defense and several other power hitters (Skowron, Berra.)
In that era most teams had one or two power hitters. Going back to the 1920s, even teams that had a power hitter only had one power hitter. In the Hack Wilson era, teams had five or six hitters who just tried to get on base any way they could, and then they had one big home run hitter and a couple of guys who combined a little bit of power with a high batting average. You could "pitch around" the power guys; two spots after Jimmie Foxx in the batting order would be a guy who hit 4 homers on the season. Casey Stengel believed strongly in pitching around the power guys and setting up the double play, which was a workable strategy in that era. His pitchers often walked way too many batters, but he offset this in part by having huge advantages in the double play column. The 1952 Yankees grounded into only 93 double plays; their opponents, 160. In 1953 it was 150 to 105, in 1954 158 to 94, in 1955 146 to 99, in 1956 167 to 102. After 1957 this went down, but in 1960 it was still 135 to 112. These huge margins in the double play column enabled the Yankees to dominate even though their Strike Zone Winning Percentages were not great. The Yankees had strike zone winning percentages under .500 in 1952 (.498), 1955 (.496), 1956 (.478), 1958 (.484), 1959 (.437) and 1960 (.434). Even after Houk replaced Stengel in 1961 the Yankees had relatively low Strike Zone Winning Percentages, although the numbers moved up after Stengel was fired.
23) Other teams with much better winning percentages than Strike Zone Winning Percentages: 1. 1960 Yankees, 2. 1927 Yankees, +.188 (.714 to .526), 3. 1970 Cincinnati Reds, +.188 (.630 to .442), 4. 1957 Milwaukee Braves, +.182 (.617 to .435), 5. 1969 Cincinnati Reds, +.171 (.549 to .378), 6. 1981 Oakland A’s, +.168 (.587 to .419), 7. 1937 Tigers, +.165 (.578 to .413), 8. 1975 Cincinnati Reds, +.160 (.667 to .507), 9. 2014 Baltimore Orioles, +.156 (.593 to .437), 10. 1931 Philadelphia A’s, +.154 (.704 to .550), 11. 1956 Yankees, +.152 (.630 to .478), 12. 1954 Indians, +.150 (.721 to .521). No other team in history is +150.
24) Teams with much worse actual winning percentages than Strike Zone Winning Percentages: 1. 1962 Mets, .207 (.250 to .457), 2. 1952 Tigers, .197 (.325 to .521), 3. 1965 Houston Astros, .177 (.401 to .579), 4. 1962 Colt .45s, .176 (.400 to .576), 5. 1932 Cincinnati Reds, .176 (.390 to .565), 6. 1991 Mets, .169 (.478 to .647), 7. 1935 Braves, .167 (.248 to .416), 8. 1921 Reds, .162 (.458 to .620), 9. 1933 Reds, .162 (.382 to .543), 10. 1974 Mets, 156 (.438 to .594), 11. 1965 Red Sox, 152 (.383 to .535). No other team is negative .150.
People are perpetually trying to demonstrate that good managers tend to have better wonlost records than predicted by their runs scored and runs allowed. These studies always fail because it isn’t true, but we could ask whether good managers tend to outperform their Strike Zone Winning Percentages.
Well. . yes, that certainly appears to be true, without checking it out to the last calloo. The Baltimore Orioles had a better winning percentage than Strike Zone Winning Percentage every year from 1968 through 1985, without exception; those are the Earl Weaver years, generally speaking. From 1974 to 1980 they were +.071, +.067, +.094, +.133, +.073, +.094, and +.073—consistently large margins. Whitey Herzog was as different from Earl Weaver as sunshine is from moonshine, but the Kansas City Royals from 1976 to 1979 were +.029, +.065, +.053 and +.042, and the Cardinals from 1980 to 1987 were +.020, +.072, +.075, +.033, +.041, +.076, .005, and +.056. Stengel’s Yankees obviously were much better in the wonlost record than in the strike zone; we established that earlier. Tony La Russa’s White Sox (1979 to 1985) had better winning percentages than Strike Zone Winning Percentages every year except 1984. He was in Oakland from 1985 to 1995; they had better winning percentages than Strike Zone Winning Percentages in 1985, 1986, 1988 (+.115), 1989, 1990 (+.111), 1991 and 1992, then slipped to very slightly below from 1993 to 1995. He was in St. Louis from 1996 to 2011; beginning in 1996 the Cardinals were +.074, .039, +.013, +.026, +.092, +.074, +.080, .013, +.104 and +.064 up to 2005, then more or less neutral from 2006 to 2011.
Bobby Cox managed Atlanta from 1978 to 1981, Toronto from 1982 to 1985, then Atlanta again from 1990 to 2010. His teams had better Winning Percentages than Strike Zone Winning Percentages every year from 1980 to 2007 except 1990, his first year back in Atlanta. . . .23 out of 24 seasons in the heart of his career. I would want to check it out more thoroughly before I made an absolute declaration, but it certainly appears to me to be true that good managers generally have a better team winning percentage than Strike Zone Winning Percentage.