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Regarding the Limits of Run Differential

By on September 8

“There are three kinds of lies,” Mark Twain famously wrote, “lies, damned lies, and statistics”.

And yet I think that even Mr. Clemens himself would agree that the importance of statistics in baseball cannot be overstated.  Maybe it’s because of the idiosyncratic nature of the game, or its rhythm and pace, which leaves ample time to ponder events probabilistically.  But whatever the reason, it’s clear that numbers are stitched tightly into the rawhide fabric of the game.

Most of the time, this is a good thing.  Where would we be without ERA, WHIP, OBP, or OPS?

Statistics help us to make sense of baseball by distilling tons of events into concentrated doses of truth that we can use to appreciate the difference between Prince Fielder and Justin Smoak.

Sometimes, however, statistics can be misleading.  Sometimes we can rely on them too heavily, and in so doing, make the ironic mistake of distorting an analytical tool until it resembles the very kind of ignorance it was intended to diminish.

After 14 long years of futility, the 2012 Baltimore Orioles seem poised to contend for a playoff berth and possibly a division title.  How are they doing it?  With an incredible bullpen, an opportunistic (but not spectacular) offense, improved defense (particularly in the second half), and a great manager.  That would be my analysis.  When baseball sabermetristas analyze the 2012 Orioles, however, they often propose a very different mechanism for their success.

Luck.

I would like to argue that this analysis, which typically stems from blithe regurgitation of “run differential” argument is unfair. It’s also flawed.

Here’s why.

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Horioleble

By on July 15

I’m going to be honest.  After last year, I didn’t think things could get much worse.  But you know what?  Right now, they seem worse.

Not only have the Orioles lost 8 in a row, they’ve also lost any semblance of a major league pitching staff, the ability to hit with runners in scoring position, and seemingly, their own self-respect.

In the month of July, during which the Orioles have lost 11 of their last 12 and 8 games in a row, the team ERA has been a frightening 7.80.  Pretty bad, right?  But when you factor in that during that same time span, the team has hit .236, it really kicks it up a notch.  If you weren’t a savvy Orioles fan, now long accustomed to excruciating displays of futility, you might think that kind of thing would be hard to do.

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3 Things the Orioles Must Do

By on July 1

With the All-Star game rapidly approaching, and the season nearly halfway over, I think it’s safe to conclude that thus far, 2011 has been a disappointment.  If you’re a fellow Orioles diehard, then you know all too well that the Os seem to excel at concocting nuanced definitions of the word.

Five years ago, they couldn’t win because they didn’t have the right players in their system and made ill-advised free agent signings.  Remember Jamie Walker?  Three years ago, they did have some talented young players, but they weren’t quite ready for the spotlight.  Now that they finally do seem to have a quorum of talented young players, they seem not be able to avoid injuries, or total talent regression.

The inconsistency of the starting pitching, injuries, and a lack of timely hitting have all contributed to a subpar performance for the 2011 team.  Still, there are some signs of hope.  JJ Hardy has demonstrated himself to be an excellent shortstop, maybe the best in the American League so far this year.  Adam Jones is having a big season, and seems to have greatly improved his approach and strike zone discipline.

Although it’s tempting to only look at the negatives, the question that most interests me is this: how can we get better?  How can the Orioles take what they’ve learned so far this year, process it, and come up with a roadmap that means the future will be better?  To my mind, failure is only worthless if you don’t learn anything from it.  Based on what we’ve seen so far this season, here are 3 things that I think the Orioles MUST do, to avoid sacrificing the glacial progress they’ve been able to realize over the past couple of years.

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Is this the end for B-Rob?

By on June 21

Due to nagging back injuries, Brian Roberts only played in 59 games last season. This season, due mostly to lingering concussion symptoms, Roberts has been limited to 39 games. And judging by the latest news, Roberts will not be returning to the lineup anytime soon, certainly not before the All-Star break. Unfortunately, not only have Roberts’ extended stays on the DL deprived the team of its only true leadoff hitter and a great defensive 2B, they have also raised the possibility of a very dark prospect for the O’s future: the impending end of Roberts’ career.

Such an early and sudden end to Roberts’ career would be highly unpalatable for a couple reasons. First is the most obvious: his tremendous value to the team. As previously stated, his combination of speed and OBP (above .350 for the last 4 years) make him a very ideal leadoff hitter and very valuable to the offense as a whole. He’s not just a punching Judy, singles hitting leadoff hitter either. When healthy, he is a veritable doubles machine, ranking 1st or 2nd in the AL in doubles 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2009. What’s more, in addition to leading the AL in doubles in 2009 with 56, he also set the record for doubles by a switch hitter while doing so. So his contributions on offense alone are certainly tangible. And without delving into the complex world of defensive metrics, I think we can also safely say Roberts is an average to slightly above average defender at 2B. The whole package translates into a player most teams would love to have and one whose absence you certainly notice in the team’s performance. Buck Showalter himself has often cited the return of Brian Roberts as one the primary reasons the O’s went 34-23 under him last season after going 32-73 prior to his arrival.

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