August 22, 2012
If One-Run Games Were All That Mattered
On Monday, reader "Kreylix" left this comment:
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:
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 luck? 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.
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.