Long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead.
John Maynard Keynes
In his controversial, recent SABR article "Underestimating the Fog", Bill James lists among the "supposed 'skills' of baseball players [that] were actually just random manifestations of luck" a good team's ability to win one-run games, something that has been viewed as a necessity for the upper echelon clubs:
"Winning or losing close games is luck. Teams which win more one-run games than they should one year have little tendency to do so the next year."
I think there's more to the validity of such a purported baseball skill then just whether a team retains the skill from year to year. There should also be a tendency for good clubs to win these close games. Isn't that the assumed value of such a breakdown? The old saw goes that the better teams are the ones that execute the plays needed to win close ballgames, right?
I bring this up because the Phils lost a close ballgame to the Nats the other day (3-2) to fall to 7-11 in one-run games. Compare that to division-leading New York's 16-6. Remove the one-run ballgames from the standings, and the Phils (20-15 without 1-run games) would be 2-1/2 games ahead of the Mets (16-14), rather than 5-1/2 behind them. Of course, the would both be behind the Braves (10-14 in 1-run games, 18-12 without them).
The putative pundits would say that the Mets are simply a better team and, therefore, win those close ballgames. So to them should go the laurels, etc.
However, what if they have it backwards? What if being a good team does not necessarily mean that you win one-run games, but rather winning one-run games helps your winning percentage and thereby makes you a better team? Or to put it more precisely in Jamesian terms, what if winning one-run ballgames is more a matter of luck rather than skill?