Fortune's fool

Sometimes teams are only as good as the luck of their players

Originally Published: October 1, 2013
By Peter Keating | ESPN The Magazine

Jim JohnsonRob Carr/Getty ImagesBaltimore closer Jim Johnson is a case study in how luck affects MLB teams.

NOW THAT BASEBALL'S regular season has drawn to a close, so too should our summer romances. In real life and in keeper fantasy leagues, teams must soberly evaluate their pleasant surprises. Can you really build around Carlos Gomez or Everth Cabrera? At the same time, GMs must figure out how much collapsed stars like Josh Hamilton and Roy Halladay can still offer. It's the season to ask: Can we trust what we've just seen? Because sometimes 162 games isn't enough for a player's performance to match his underlying talent.

Indeed, sometimes 324 games isn't enough. For the past two years, the Orioles, particularly their closer, Jim Johnson, have been a case study in how luck affects the expression of skill -- and in how we need to choose our advanced metrics carefully to see where a player (or a team) is headed.

Peter Keating is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, where he covers investigative and statistical subjects. He started writing "The Biz," a column looking at sports business from the fan's point of view, in 1999. He also coordinates the Magazine's annual "Ultimate Standings" project, which ranks all pro franchises according to how much they give back to fans. His work on concussions in football has earned awards from the Deadline Club, the New York Press Club and the Center for the Study of Sport in Society.