What started off as an article about the general craziness of the contending going on in the AL East morphed into something else pretty quickly as I was looking over the numbers for the Red Sox, Blue Jays and Yankees. Individual teams’ records in one-run games are having a profound effect on the playoff races in the AL this season, and it’s worth taking a look at, because it’s pretty wild.
First of all, let’s get the introduction out of the way. While there are certainly some factors which can increase the likelihood of a team having a net plus or minus record in one-run games, specifically a very good or bad bullpen or a very smart or stupid manager, in the aggregate, a lot of that record is simply due to luck. There is a lot of literature available about the subject, so I’ll just point out that we’ve already seen how fickle a mistress the goddess of one-run games can be this season.
The Phillies were the most surprising team in baseball as they came storming out of the gates and suddenly looked like, by some miracle they might be contending way ahead of schedule. Of course, a big part of that miracle was their astounding 14-3 record in one-run games through May 20. By the All Star Break, though, things had started to tilt back towards a more normal but still impressive 20-9. Now that most of the season is in the rear view mirror, Philadelphia’s 26-20 record is much less impressive and any chance they had of making the postseason faded as their unbelievable luck in one-run games did as well.
Returning to the contenders, Boston is 16-21 in one-run games, Toronto is 17-23, Texas is 32-10 and New York is 24-9. If we look at how each team’s record in one-run games compares to it’s overall record, you can see how much it’s impacted the standings. Using Boston as the first case, the Red Sox have a .566 overall winning percentage and a .432 winning percentage in one-run games, which means that they have a winning percentage differential (WPD for the purposes of this article) of -.134. Toronto’s WPD is -.127, Texas’s is +.169 and New York’s is a ridiculous +.196. If those WPDs don’t look like a lot, we’re talking about 20 to 27 wins or losses over a full season of one-run games and we’re talking about a 33 to 42 game sample size here, depending on the team.
If we look at the teams’ Pythagorean records, which works to calculate how many games a team “should” have won, you can see how much all these one-run games are affecting things for the teams besides Toronto: Boston: -7, Toronto: -1, Rangers: +11 and Yankees: +6. Basically, Boston would be running away with the AL East and the Rangers and Astros would be neck and neck in the AL Central.
That’s a lot of numbers, but what this mostly points to the fact that the Red Sox should have won a lot more games and the Rangers a lot less. The fact that that Boston is sitting on the second best run differential in MLB (+173) while fighting for the privilege to not play in an elimination game is telling. The Rangers, on the other hand, basically have the division in hand despite only posting a +22 run differential. Don’t get me wrong, though, the Rangers are still a very good team. The Yankees, on the other hand, not as much. Despite selling at the deadline, the Yankees have managed to maintain some degree of relevancy, largely in part to the incredible antics of Gary Sanchez and their 6-0 record in one-run games since the non-waiver trade deadline. All that aside, though, the Yankees are still just 2 games behind in the Wild Card race even though they have a -13 run differential. It certainly won’t be easy for them to make the playoffs and they’ll need their luck to continue, with all the teams in the mix in the AL Wild Card standings.
As everyone knows, once you’re in the playoffs, anything can happen over a five-game or seven-game sample size, much less the one-game crapshoot that is the Wild Card Game. There’s certainly no clock to determine when your luck’s going to change, but it’s certainly worth noting that luck in one-run games is totally wreaking havoc in the AL playoff races. In closing, here’s to hoping that more havoc is wreaked and that the Yankees’ luck holds up a little longer and Christmas comes early and we end up with a five-way tie for the AL Wild Card a.k.a. glorious, glorious chaos.