It’s still the infancy of the 2017 MLB season; if my math is right, 16 or so games is only about a tenth of a 162-game schedule. Drawing conclusions on teams from a sample size that small isn’t overly clever. But some of the early numbers do have import and predictive value. Run differential is one of them.
Run differential has long been one of the best predictors of which teams will rise and fall from one season to the next. Teams that finish below .500 despite a positive differential often improve the next season (and vice versa). Their win-loss record was not a true indication of the team’s strength and efficiency. A team’s record in one-run games has similar predictive value. If you had a great/terrible one-run record last season, chances are you will revert closer to the middle this year, and your win-loss record will adjust in turn.
Obviously, the bigger the sample size, the more value stats like run differential and one-run records have, prediction-wise. But one-tenth of the way into this MLB season, there are some teams whose numbers are screaming for caution — or optimism — when it comes to betting.
The 10-6 Rockies are on top of the NL West as the Dodgers and Giants get off to slow starts. Will they be there at year end? Don’t bank on it. They have a -8 run differential (fifth-worst in the NL) and are an unsustainable 6-0 in one-run games. Three of their five starters have ERAs over 4.50. Tyler Anderson in particular is getting bombed (7.32 ERA in four starts).
The Rangers won a preposterous 95 games last year despite having only a +8 run differential. That led many to predict a regression in 2017 and, so far, that’s played out. The Rangers are 6-10, last in the AL West and second-last in the AL as a whole. Yet, they’ve scored just as many runs as they’ve given up and they’re 1-4 in one-run games. They will get back to being at least a .500 team in due course. You don’t have to worry about the “clutch” gene, after all; this team was an MLB-best 36-11 in one-run games last year.
The Tigers were pegged to be Cleveland’s only real challenge in the AL Central. They are only a game over .500, which is nothing to get excited about, even though it’s tied for the division lead. Can they keep pace with the Tribe over the long run? You can’t like their chances. They have an AL-worst -21 run differential (tied with the 3-12 Blue Jays) and have given up the most run in the majors (84). Sure, scream “small sample size” if you want, but they gave up 721 runs last year, as well (sixth-worst in the AL). There’s not much reason to think the pitching will get markedly better.
Photo credit: Keith Allison (Flickr) [http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]
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