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August 22, 2012

BP Unfiltered

If One-Run Games Were All That Mattered

by Ben Lindbergh

On Monday, reader "Kreylix" left this comment:

My understanding is that winning close games is mostly luck. Winning by 3+ is mostly skill.

It would be cool to see the MLB standings for just games decided by 3+ runs.

In that case, consider this post the coolest. Here are the 10 teams with the best records in games decided by three or more runs and the 10 teams with the best records in games decided by one run:

Team

3+ Run Record

3+ Run WP

Team

1-Run Record

1-Run WP

Nationals

43-17

.717

Orioles

23-6

.793

Cardinals

48-22

.686

Indians

15-8

.652

Yankees

45-27

.625

Braves

17-11

.607

White Sox

38-23

.623

Nationals

24-17

.585

Reds

37-23

.617

Giants

24-17

.585

Rays

38-24

.613

Athletics

19-15

.559

Rangers

44-28

.611

Royals

19-15

.559

Braves

41-32

.562

Pirates

25-20

.556

Diamondbacks

41-32

.562

Reds

21-17

.553

Tigers

32-26

.552

White Sox

18-15

.545

The most obvious difference is where the Orioles place on these two top-10 lists: at the top of one, and not at all on the other. The O's have a .387 winning percentage in games decided by three or more runs. That's the 25th-worst record in baseball, worse than those of the Phillies, the Mets, the Padres, the Royals, the Blue Jays, and a few other teams that aren't anywhere close to contention. Good teams like the Yankees, Cardinals, Rangers, and Rays, on the other hand, show up on the three-plus-run leaderboard but don't make the one-run top 10.

Clearly, Kreylix had the right idea. The correlation between overall record and record in games decided by three or more runs is .86. The correlation between overall record and record in games decided by one run is .40. The difference in correlation strength is partly due to how many more three-run games there are than one-run games, but luck plays a large role. Is it mostly ‚Äčluck? I'd prefer to put it like Matt Kory did in his response to Kreylix: "I think that scoring runs and preventing runs are skills. But the closer a specific score gets the more random variation can affect the outcome."

Here's what the playoff picture looks like now, along with how it would look if the standings were determined by record in games decided by three or more runs and games decided by one run. 

Division

Overall

3+Run

1-Run

AL East

Yankees

Yankees

Orioles

AL Central

White Sox

White Sox

Indians

AL West

Rangers

Rangers

Athletics

AL WC1

Rays

Rays

Royals

AL WC2

Orioles

Tigers

White Sox

NL East

Nationals

Nationals

Braves

NL Central

Reds

Cardinals

Pirates

NL West

Giants

Diamondbacks

Giants

NL WC1

Braves

Reds

Nationals

NL WC2

Pirates

Braves

Reds

If the standings were determined by record in one-run games, six of today's 10 playoff teams would still make the playoffs, but only the Giants would make it via the same route (winning the NL West). We'd also have three AL Central teams in the playoffs, and the Tigers wouldn't be one of them. I wouldn't want to live in a one-run world. The current standings are unpredictable enough, as the 2012 Orioles remind us.


‚ÄčThanks to Rob McQuown for research assistance.

Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

3 comments have been left for this article.

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