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One-Run Wonders (Or is it Oneders?)
2006-06-02 22:22
by Mike Carminati
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?

To be continued…

2006-06-02 22:28:07
1.   das411
Ask all the Dodger Thoughts readers, they will definitely tell you it's O-Ned-ers :)
2006-06-03 00:52:02
2.   Ken Arneson
I'm looking forward to your continuation, Mike.

I don't think I have ever understood this obsession with one-run records. Seems to me that if you play well, you turn an ordinary team's three-run loss into a one-run loss, an ordinary team's one-run loss into a one-run victory, and an ordinary team's one-run victory a three-run victory.

You're just shifting the bits into and out of the view of a window. I don't understand how knowing how many bits are within view of the window will tell you anything. What you want to know is, which direction they're shifting when they pass by the window.

The A's lost last night, 2-1. It was a good one-run loss, because if they can play games like that consistently, they'll win way more than they lose. Johan Santana was darn near unhittable, and losing by one run against him on a night like that is a heck of an accomplishment.

By playing well, the A's shifted a losing score into the one-run window. It was a one-run loss, but the direction was right. On most nights with most teams, it would have been a 4-1 or 5-1 or 6-1 loss.

Does that make sense?

2006-06-03 20:15:38
3.   deadteddy8
-Isn't the issue already addressed, to a certain extent, by how well a team outperforms or underperforms its Pythagorean record?
-I'd like to know what the average margin of victory is in a given year, in different parks, if it's transient or persistent, and if it can be a useful stat.

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