I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the Rangers’ success in one-run games. They actually lost by one run yesterday, but if you’ve been paying attention, that was the first time that’s happened all season, probably, and one game doesn’t upset the whole pattern. The regular season is just about done, and the Rangers have put together an incredible stat. That’s — well, it’s incredible. I don’t need to provide any other words.
It’s tricky to write about these things, and I wasn’t looking to cover this in the familiar way. We’ve all read a number of articles about what the Rangers have done. We’ve all read articles before about similar teams doing similar things. It’s boring to say “luck,” and it’s tired to say “luck,” and with the playoffs around the corner pointing toward luck is additionally irrelevant. The Rangers have done what they’ve done, and their fans have been able to enjoy it. There’s no taking any of that enjoyment back for math-y purposes.
I’ve just been amazed by how the Rangers have stood out. They’ve won 77% of their one-run games. The Yankees are in second at 69%. Then you have the Tigers at 62%. Thinking about the Rangers got me wondering: Is this the most extraordinary team statistic of the year? I’ll tell you right now: It’s not! Follow along below.
I decided to use some pretty simple math, by which I mean z-scores. I looked at a whole bunch of different team statistics, and for each of them, I calculated z-scores, measuring the number of standard deviations a given stat is from the average. Obviously, it would be impossible to do this for every team statistic. I tried to stick with the normal ones, or at least the reasonably normal ones. Like, I don’t care that the Reds have posted a league-leading 1.065 OPS with two outs and the bases loaded. That’s too obscure. I used my judgment, but I’m sure there are some stats I overlooked, so I invite you to submit any additional entries in the comments.
I’m going to provide for you the top five z-scores that I found. And here are some honorable mentions! The Brewers have 167 stolen bases, which is 2.6 standard deviations higher than the average. Mets pitchers have thrown 66.4% strikes, which is 2.7 standard deviations higher than the average. And Cubs position players have a 35.7 WAR, which is also 2.7 standard deviations higher than the average. These are all very extraordinary team statistics. Here are five team statistics that are more extraordinary.
5) Red Sox, +114.9 Offensive runs
- z-score: 2.8
Talking about that Red Sox offense again. This includes everything, like pitchers, so that sort of hurts any National League competition, but we see the Red Sox well north of 100 runs above average here. The Cubs are in second at +52.1. The Red Sox are easily the best hitting team in baseball, and for good measure, they’ve been worth another 10 runs on the bases, which ranks them seventh. The pitching staff is pretty good, if slightly underrated, but the lineup looks like a true juggernaut, and they just don’t offer much of a break. When it comes time to putting together a playoff roster, it’s hard to say where the Red Sox will have a weakness.
4) Reds, 244 home runs allowed
- z-score: 2.9
Who said this was all going to be good? The Reds have allowed 33 more home runs than the next-closest team, and, oh, right, the Reds have also allowed more home runs already than any other team on record in the history of Major League Baseball. The Reds are at 244. The 1996 Tigers finished at 241. The Reds are on pace for 260, and while things have gotten better in the second half, there’s no going back now. You can’t undo old home runs. The record is theirs — it’s just a matter now of what they want to do with it. A special shout-out goes to J.J. Hoover, who’s allowed nine dingers in 18.2 innings. Tim Melville, somehow, allowed five in nine. I should warn you we’re not done with the Reds yet.
3) Reds, 5.27 FIP
- z-score: 2.9
Right, this shouldn’t be a surprise. The most important component of FIP is home runs allowed. The Reds lead the known universe in home runs allowed. The Angels are second-worst, at 4.68. To be clear, it’s not all about the dingers. Reds pitchers are last in baseball in K-BB%. They lead the league in hit batters. You name it, they’ve been bad at it. So Reds pitchers have a -1.2 WAR. No pitching staff has ever finished with a negative WAR. Time’s running out, Cincinnati. And they close with seven against the Cubs and the Cardinals.
2) Rangers, .766 winning percentage in one-run games
- z-score: 2.9
Here’s the stat that got me wondering in the first place. When games have been decided by one run, the Rangers are 36-11. When games have been decided by more than one run, the Rangers are 54-52. It’s way beyond the point where we should be wondering about the implications. Regression doesn’t happen in a week and a half, and once the playoffs begin, the whole game is different. It’s of no real significance that, historically, winning a ton of one-run games hasn’t held up. It’s that very fact that makes this so unbelievable to start with. Who really cares how a team wins, provided it wins? This might mean something with regard to how we perceive the 2017 Texas Rangers, but no one in the organization is thinking about that ballclub yet. They’re all too busy thinking about the World Series.
1) Cubs, .251 BABIP against
- z-score: 3.6
You presumably knew about this. At least somewhat. People have been trying to investigate it for months. The Cubs just haven’t really allowed hits. Part of the equation has to be the pitching staff collectively avoiding hard contact. Another part is that the Cubs have the league-leading team defense. You understand that the Cubs thrive in this area. But have you really appreciated how insane this is? The Cubs, as a team, have yielded a .251 BABIP. The next-best mark in all of baseball is .284, shared by the Blue Jays and Dodgers. That’s a difference of 33 points! The difference between first and second is bigger than the difference between second and 28th. This isn’t just the most extraordinary team statistic of 2016. It’s the most extraordinary team statistic, by an extraordinary margin. The Cubs own what would be the lowest BABIP allowed in the last 40 years, not counting strike-shortened seasons. And that’s not even adjusting for context. Like, say, how the league-average BABIP in 1978 was .275, instead of this year’s .297.
The Cubs allowed a .256 BABIP in April. It was .245 in May, and .257 in June. It was .267 in July, and .254 in August. It’s at .220 — literally .220 — in September. I mean, look, I don’t know. Whatever it is, it just is. The Cubs are amazing. This is where they’ve been most amazing. I’ve genuinely never seen anything like it, and I’m almost certain you haven’t, either.
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