So much has been written and continues to be penned about the Orioles’ fantastic one-run win statistics from 2012. Generally when it comes from sources friendly to the Birds it speaks to the strengths of the team that made it possible: a stellar bullpen and wise managerial decisions. When it come from sources outside the orbit of Orioles coverage, the narrative seems to most often include some rendition of how this is non-replicable – hence, look for flying orange and black feathers from the crash that is sure to ensue in 2013.
There is no doubt that the statistic is extraordinary. The final record of 29-9 in one-run wins – with a .763 win percentage – is in fact the highest in major league history for teams with at least 30 one-run games. When the minimum number of one-run games in a season is dropped to 10 or more, the Birds drop to the third best percentage ever – being topped only by the 1883 Cleveland Blues and the 1890 Brooklyn Bridegrooms (You remember them, right? Imagine the bravado of saying, “Hey, don’t mess with me dude, I’m a Bridegroom!”).
So, since the Orioles are unlikely to repeat this statistic, does this necessarily doom them to mediocrity as a one-season wonder? Were they just lucky? … as is the inference of ESPN’s Keith Law who said, “There’s literally nothing that the Orioles can do to convince me that they are a good team.” (Keith: Just shut up!)
Here’s the deal: this statistic tells you something about a team, but it does not tell you everything. It is one of a number of markers. As we know, the Yankees won 95 games – two more than the Orioles’ total of 93 wins. The Yanks’ record in one-run games was 22-25. Tampa Bay’s record was 21-27. On the other hand, Cleveland had the 2nd best one-run game record at 24-12, but finished 68-94 – only two games ahead of the Twins for the worst record in the American League.
Along with being 74-0 when leading after seven innings, and being 16-2 in extra innings games, the one-run record indeed speaks to the strength of the Orioles bullpen. Though the Birds will most certainly not break their record this year, there is no reason to think that the bullpen will not continue to be a great strength, yielding strong results in one-run contests. It could be argued that the composition of this squad of relievers looks to be even stronger! Buck Showalter is a master at bullpen management, and he is not going to forget how to do that efficiently.
Regarding the Yankees’ more dismal one-run record, it merely demonstrates that the Yanks were a power-hitting team that more often won games by large margins due to their big-gun offense. Likewise for the Rays it speaks to the broader picture of their starting rotation containing opponents so effectively, that their wins came to them more often for that cause than by hard-fought squeakers.
So, believing that the Orioles will continue to have a strong bullpen, and expecting (reasonably) that the starting rotation will be much improved along with the offense, the Birds should not have to depend upon incredible one-run win scenarios to post another 93-win (or better) season.
I’ll close with an illustration of the main point. One-run game statistics are interesting and not irrelevant. However, it would be like saying that the golfer who has the fewest putts per 18 holes is surely going to be among the best players in the PGA. Maybe, maybe not. If the player with the fewest putts is one who habitually misses the green on his approach shots and then more often than others chips the ball closer to the hole for fewer putts, well, you get the idea that not every statistic is valid all by itself.
The goal is to win games. The Orioles won a lot of them in 2012. An unusual number were won by a single run. That is good. It is not lucky. The number 162 prohibits luck from being much of a factor. That is why baseball is also the best game!