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Lessons in Symbiosis: The Atlanta Braves and Waffle House

Remember lichens? Those organisms you learned about in biology that form as a partnership between fungi and algae in which both benefit? I would argue that a new such mutualistic symbiotic relationship has formed: the one between the Atlanta Braves and Waffle House. Long a revered Southern institution, Waffle House was installed at Turner Field last Friday (though it’s rumored after last week’s ankle injury that Tim Hudson prefers IHOP). Since then, the Braves have been on a tear, winning six straight, including a sweep of the (at the time) red-hot St. Louis Cardinals. Coincidence? I think not!  As always, let’s take a look at the numbers.

The following charts will be broken up into two distinct periods: the first 102 games (“pre-WaHo”) and the past six games (“post-WaHo”). We’ll start with the bottom line.

If the numbers are to be believed (and Numbers Never Lie, right ESPN?) then the Braves, a strong team already pre-Waho, are now unbeatable post-WaHo. It remains to be seen if this is merely a home game effect, however. It’s also possible that the Braves are playing similar baseball post-WaHo compared to pre-WaHo and are fortunately getting better results. To investigate, let’s dig deeper into the components that drive wins: run scoring and run prevention.

Clearly the Braves have played better baseball since Waffle House arrived at the Ted. Run scoring (RS/G) is up over two runs per game, while runs allowed (RA/G) are down over a run per game. Based on pythagorean expectation (read here), a team scoring and preventing runs at the rate the Braves have these past six games would be expected to go 144-18 over a full season. So extrapolating recent results to expectations of an undefeated rest-of-season might be a little extreme, but a 90% win rate seems entirely reasonable.
In general, someone with some background in statistics might warn against inferring causation from correlation, as well as reading into a six-game sample. That said, I believe the Braves/Waffle House relationship warrants an exception. It’s simple math, really. WaHo at Turner = happy, enthusiastic fans. In turn, enthusiastic fans lead to motivated players and motivated players drive on-field success. Now there’s just one question left to be asked: why didn’t Waffle House come sooner?
Ed. Note: This post was not sponsored by Waffle House. If anybody knows how to make that happen, please contact me. Thanks.