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Are we supposed to ignore the Orioles’ run differential?

Jul 23, 2012, 9:32 AM EDT

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The Orioles have allowed far more runs than they’ve scored this year. In fact, they’ve allowed 44 more runs than they’ve scored, which has led many — myself included — to believe that they’ve out-performed their talent level this season and are due for a downward correction. Their actual record: 51-44. The record a team with their run-differential would be expected to have: 43-52. Something’s gotta give eventually, right?

Ken Rosenthal’s latest column has a part dealing with all of that and he says that it’s not a big deal, and even goes so far as to call the run differential thing a “myth”:

Some sabermetricians view that statistic as evidence that the Orioles will falter, but club officials see it differently. In their view, the Orioles’ run differential is easily explained.

First, the team’s inconsistent starting pitching produces an unusual number of blowouts. A mere seven games — two 12-run losses, one 11-run loss and four seven-run losses — account for a whopping minus-63.

The Orioles’ terrific bullpen, on the other hand, enables the club to win an inordinate number of close games — the O’s are 10-2 in extra innings and 19-6 in one-run outcomes.

Well, sure, that explains it. But it doesn’t in any way establish that their out-performing their run differential is sustainable. And that’s the key point that “some sabermetricians” would make.

Yes, the Orioles have erratic starting pitching that is prone to blowouts. But that’s no point in favor of the Orioles being better than they look. Usually teams with that kind of starting pitching have crappy records. Yes, they have been extremely fortunate in one-run games, but even teams with the greatest bullpens don’t see that level of success in close games over the long haul.

Would it be impossible for the Orioles to continue to out-perform their run differential all season? Of course not.  But thousands of team-seasons have been recorded since statistics have been kept, and it is pretty rare for any team to out-perform their run differential on the order that the Orioles are doing it at the moment for an entire season.  The Orioles are eight games ahead of their expected record. About a dozen or so teams have out-performed their expected record by ten games or more. Run differential analysis being on-point is far less of a mythological thing than a team behaving for 162 games like the Orioles have behaved for 95 is.

A good bullpen and erratic starting pitching may be skewing things at the moment. But it cannot be denied that if the O’s were to keep things up the way they currently are, it would be a historical exception, not the rule.

  1. Ben - Jul 23, 2012 at 9:36 AM

    Judging the comments here, and the volume of thumbs down received by anyone who points out the run differential problem, yes, Orioles fans would like us to ignore that.

  2. sdelmonte - Jul 23, 2012 at 10:14 AM

    For much of the season, people were making the same exact point about the Mets. There was no way to sustain their good record at that poor run differential. And that was, alas, quite true. I tried to ignore such comments, since I was having fun, but in the end, things usually do have a way of evening out.

    That said, the Mets’ bullpen is a farce right now. So it might not be fair to compare their downward spiral and the fate of the O’s.

    • tomemos - Jul 23, 2012 at 11:04 AM

      That’s part of the point, of course–bullpens are generally pretty inconsistent beasts. If the O’s bullpen is all that stands between them and annihilation, that’s not a good situation to be in.

      • kkolchak - Jul 23, 2012 at 11:35 AM

        Yep–they actually remind me of the 2005 Nats, whose bullpen, led by All Star closer Chad Cordero, kept them afloat until late july when it all fell apart.

  3. 18thstreet - Jul 23, 2012 at 10:30 AM

    Long answer: I think blowout wins and losses can skew run differential’s value as a statistic. In a blowout loss, you’re likely to handle the bullpen differently (even using backup infielders to throw an inning) which is likely to cost a extra few runs.

    Short answer: No, you can’t just ignore run differential.

  4. tomemos - Jul 23, 2012 at 10:38 AM

    Last year the Giants were making people ask, “Does run differential really matter?” They made it to just past the trade deadline before getting exposed.

  5. bmorelikeme - Jul 23, 2012 at 10:50 AM

    I will say the season is much more enjoyable for us Baltimorons who do ignore it.

  6. oriolesvsravens - Jul 23, 2012 at 11:03 AM

    I don’t care. La la la la la! Lets go O’s!

  7. stew37 - Jul 23, 2012 at 11:20 AM

    As a Jays fan, I really hope you’re right, because we didn’t count on having to beat out 4 beasts in our division. Like the Yanks, Red Sox, and Tampa aren’t bad enough, now Baltimore has to figure it out?!

    • proudlycanadian - Jul 23, 2012 at 11:50 AM

      The Jays have scored 476 runs and have allowed 447 for a differential of 29. On the other hand, they just beat Boston by 28 to 11 over their last 3 games which skews the result.

  8. offseasonblues - Jul 23, 2012 at 11:21 AM

    The Red Sox are on the flip side – under performing their +43 differential, winning blowouts, losing too many close games. Both teams have erratic starting pitching. Both teams have a good bullpen. The Orioles have allowed 439 runs, the Red Sox 436. The difference is that the Sox have a more productive offense, but with an offense that’s as erratic as the starting pitching. It will be interesting to see which team comes closer to their expected W-L numbers at the end of the season.

    • proudlycanadian - Jul 23, 2012 at 11:54 AM

      Boston’s run differential was 60 prior to their last series. Not sure what that means regarding the future. Will the differential continue to slip or will Boston start another winning streak commensurate with the +43 run differential?

      • offseasonblues - Jul 23, 2012 at 3:18 PM

        “Boston’s run differential was 60 prior to their last series.”
        Yeah, thanks for that. [/sarcasm]

        I have no idea what to expect from my team anymore this season. Joyous walkoffs and epic meltdowns I guess.

    • 18thstreet - Jul 23, 2012 at 12:34 PM

      If you ignore the first inning,* their run differential is plus a zillion.**

      * you shouldn’t
      ** only feels this way

  9. rockthered1286 - Jul 23, 2012 at 1:15 PM

    But if we also take into consideration the fact that the O’s have NOT had a complete product on the field yet, we can explain away their lack of offensive production. Markakis missed a good part of 30 days, Roberts was out 2 months, back one and gone again, Andino’s down for the count, Teagarden (albeit a backup catcher, still he’s better than anything we had for every 4th or 5th game) just got back and we can even go as far as to say Jones’ wrist injury keeping him from some production, have all been contributing factors to this lack of runs on the board. Oh and Mark Reynolds. How could we forget him….

    But if you recall, this team in the first month and a half of the season was leading the league in yard bombs, so the potential for putting up runs remains, it’s just a matter of getting a complete team on the field.

    I guess for now we have to be patient and deal with a platoon of Avery, Pearce, Flaherty, Betemit and Reynolds. Unfortunately despite the deadline approachign quickly, I don’t see the O’s making any moves given the amount of holes we need to fill and the amount of prospects we won’t give up (and shouldn’t) so unless this bullpen holds up or our offense suddenly awakens? I can foresee a downfall. As long as we stay over .500 it’s a moral victory in this town!!

    • mrjavascript - Jul 23, 2012 at 1:41 PM

      Eh, take Steve Pearce off your list, he was DFA’d by the Orioles this weekend. Pearce is out of options too, and has to pass through waivers if the O’s want to keep him in the organization. Fingers crossed, he’s a useful player, but I could see an offensively-challenged team like Tampa Bay scooping him up.

  10. skids003 - Jul 23, 2012 at 4:39 PM

    As someone once said, There are lies, damn lies, and statistics. They don’t always tell the whole story.

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