Are we supposed to ignore the Orioles’ run differential?

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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.

Kyle Schwarber: Before and After

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It’s always a bit deceiving to see offseason workout photos of players who are said to be getting into great shape because guys in those pics are wearing compression shirts and crap and we’re used to seeing them in baseball uniforms. I remember pics of Miguel Cabrera and David Ortiz in the offseason looking svelte, only to see them in uniform come spring as their familiar beefy selves. Uniforms are often loose and billowy and the players wear  a couple of layers when they’re suited up, so at least visually speaking it’s better to compare apples to apples.

Which brings us to Kyle Schwarber. All offseason long we’ve been getting reports about Schwarber working out, losing weight and, of course, getting into The Best Shape of His Life. And some of those pics have definitely shown a young man who has cut fat and gotten lean. Good for him!

Let’s see how that translates to Schwarber in uniform. Here is is at spring training last year:

MESA, AZ – FEBRUARY 21: Kyle Schwarber #12 of the Chicago Cubs poses during Chicago Cubs Photo Day on February 21, 2017 in Mesa, Arizona. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

 

Here he is toward the end of last season:

CHICAGO, IL – SEPTEMBER 09: at Wrigley Field on September 9, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

And here he is now:

MESA, AZ – FEBRUARY 20: Kyle Schwarber #12 of the Chicago Cubs poses during Chicago Cubs Photo Day on February 20, 2018 in Mesa, Arizona. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

 

Nice goin’, kid.