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.

53-year-old Rafael Palmeiro homers in independent league ball

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It was announced earlier this month that 53-year-old Rafael Palmeiro signed a contract with the Cleburne Railroaders of the independent American Association, joining his son, former minor leaguer Patrick Palmeiro. The four-time All-Star went 0-for-8 to begin his stint with the club before launching a solo homer in the fifth inning last night. Check it out below.

If we’re being technical here, that was his first home run since July 30, 2005. He hit the homer off 28-year-old Trey McNutt, former prospect with the Cubs and Padres. Palmeiro made his major league debut in 1986, three years before McNutt was born.

Palmeiro told Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic last December that he was thinking about a comeback, but he understandably didn’t garner any serious consideration from MLB teams. This comeback attempt might not lead anywhere, but hey, he gets to show that he can still mash while hitting in the same lineup with his son. Palmeiro did that once before with the independent Sugar Land Skeeters in 2015, though it was just a one-game thing. As for the Railroaders, the national media attention can only help them.

Palmeiro is one of just six players in MLB history to reach 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, but he’s been a disgraced figure in the game since a failed drug test for performance-enhancing drugs in 2005. He dropped off the Hall of Fame ballot in 2014.