Orioles Defying the Odds

Over this past weekend, the Orioles split a 4 game series with the New York Yankees. Baltimore was able win 2 games and stay only 1 game behind the Yankess in the AL East standings, even though they were outscored 31 to 23. This trend of winning while being outscored is not uncommon for the Orioles this season.

The most remarkable part about the Orioles keeping pace with the elite teams in the AL is that they have done it with a negative run differential, (608 Runs scored vice 637 Runs Allowed). It may seem that it would not be too uncommon for a team to be a few wins over .500 and have a allowed a few more runs then they have scored, but it isn’t. Only the San Francisco Giants achieved the feat in 2011 (86-76, -17 runs) and no teams in 2010. Since 1962, when both leagues went to 162 games, 54 teams have been able to reach this feat, or just about 1 per season. The average run differential for the teams was -18.6 runs and the average number of games over .500 was 6.8 games.

Baltimore is doing more than defying the Lords of Math, they have a chance of having the best record ever for a team with a negative run differential. Of the 54 teams with a negative run differential, only 11 have been 10 games or more over .500.

Team Season W L Diff RS RA Diff
Arizona Diamondbacks 2007 90 72 18 712 732 -20
San Francisco Giants 1997 90 72 18 784 793 -9
New York Mets 1984 90 72 18 652 676 -24
Baltimore Orioles 2012 78 62 16 608 637 -29
Seattle Mariners 2007 88 74 14 794 813 -19
Baltimore Orioles 1981 59 46 13 429 437 -8
San Francisco Giants 1982 87 75 12 673 687 -14
Houston Astros 2008 86 75 11 712 743 -31
Boston Red Sox 2006 86 76 10 820 825 -5
San Francisco Giants 2011 86 76 10 570 578 -8
New York Mets 1972 83 73 10 528 578 -50
Houston Astros 1989 86 76 10 647 669 -22

The best a team has ever done in the W-L column was 18 games over .500 (3 times). The key for those teams wasn’t their great record in close games. All teams that are 18 games over .500 have to perform decently in 1-run games to have that good of a record. The difference for the 3 teams is how they do in blowouts. Here is a graph with the percentage of times the teams had a certain point difference.

Normally teams that are 18 games over .500 are blown out 5% of the time and blow teams out 7% of the time. The 3 teams instead get blown out 9% of the time and win in blowouts in 5% of their games.

The Orioles have two distinction from the distribution. First, they have rarely lose by 1 runs (5%). They have lost by 2, 3, 4 and 5 runs more than they have be one run. Also, Baltimore has won by 2 runs more than average.

Not one root cause exists for the discrepancy between the wins and runs the Orioles are seeing, but several different causes add up. The main way a team can have some control over their difference in runs scored and allowed is how their pitching staff performs in certain instances. Teams can just give up in blowouts and let them get those games get out of hand. On the other hand, they can then make sure they stay in every close game with a good bullpen.

The Orioles’ starters are 9th in the A.L. with an ERA of 4.58 ERA and 10th in QS. The starters have had a problem of keeping the game close and getting to the bullpen. Once the bullpen takes over, they have been lights out. In the AL, they are 1st in WPA and shutdowns and 4th with a team 3.07 ERA. For example, the Orioles have correctly leveraged Jim Johnson, their closer, in close games and he has performed great. He has the league’s highest WPA among relievers.

Another way the Orioles have been able to win close games is because of their performance in extra inning games. They are 12-2 and have scored 25 runs and only allowed 5.

The Orioles have been defying the odds by being 16 games over .500 with negative run differential. They kept up the trend this weekend with their series with the Yankees. While it has been a unique way to get a winning record, it has worked for them this season.



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Jeff writes for FanGraphs, The Hardball Times and Royals Review, as well as his own website, Baseball Heat Maps with his brother Darrell. In tandem with Bill Petti, he won the 2013 SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.


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