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.

Report: Orioles interested in Alex Cobb

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MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reports that the Orioles have interest in free agent right-hander Alex Cobb, who rejected his one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer from the Rays earlier this week. Cobb was most recently linked to the Cubs, who reportedly reached out to his agent during the GM Meetings and garnered mutual interest from the righty, but nothing appears to be set in stone yet.

Cobb, 30, completed his sixth season with the Rays in 2017. He went 12-10 in 29 starts and turned in a respectable 3.66 ERA, 6.4 SO/9 and career-best 2.2 BB/9 in 179 1/3 innings. Despite losing a couple of weeks to turf toe, he remained healthy for most of the year and showed no signs of the elbow issues that robbed him of the majority of his 2015-2016 campaigns.

It’s still fairly early for any deals to come to fruition, but Morosi notes that the Orioles seem to be focused on bulking up their rotation during the first few months of the offseason. It’ll take more than a healthy Alex Cobb to right that ship, however: Orioles’ starters earned a collective 5.70 ERA and 5.5 fWAR in 2017, good for worst and fourth-worst marks in the league, respectively. Behind Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy (and perhaps Gabriel Ynoa/Miguel Castro), they still need three viable starters to compete in 2018. Whether or not they can afford to spring for a single starter with Cobb’s price tag (four years, $48 million, per MLB Trade Rumors) remains to be seen.