Run Differential Says Things Aren’t So Bad

Screenshot 2016-05-25 at 10.20.45 AM

Following last night’s game, the Dodgers are coming off of a three-game winning streak. Despite this success (let’s celebrate the small stuff,) you will not be shocked when I say that this team is underperforming. The offense is impotent and the bullpen is a mishmash of wet noodles for arms and Kenley Jansen. The rotation –  not complete garbage as others may make it seem – is having struggles of its own. Without Clayton Kershaw, the rotation is the not-so-proud-owners of a 4.34 ERA. Throw Kershaw back into the rotation and the pitching staff’s ERA drops to 3.55. When all of this is combined, we end up watching a Dodgers team playing to the tune of a 24-23 record, 4.5 games out of first place.

A section of the Dodgers Twitterverse will have you believe that if the Dodgers are not in first place, all is doom and gloom. Of course, this same group of Twitter will also have you believe the worst is just around the corner even when the Dodgers are in first place. The point of this post is not to convince you the team is free of its flaws; that is far from true. Instead, I am going to talk about run differential and how the NL West should  look according to runs scored and runs allowed. Hopefully, that will alleviate some stress felt when looking at the standings.

A Primer on Run Differential

Simply put, run differential is the difference between runs scored and runs allowed. Theoretically, a run neutral team – one that scores exactly as many runs as it allows – is a team with a .500 record. If we take a 162-game season, a team that scores the same number of runs it allows should finish the season with 81 wins and 81 losses. If a team scores more runs than it allows, it should also have more wins than losses. In fact, every ten more runs scored in relation to runs allowed translates to one extra win. This is not an exact science. Rather, run differential is an indication of whether a team is underperforming or overperforming. Naturally we want to see the Dodgers outperform its run differential. In fact, we have seen this happen the last three years.

Season Runs Scored Runs Allowed Run Diff Actual W/L Pythagorean W/L
2013 649 582 +67 92-70 88-74
2014 718 617 +101 94-68 91-71
2015 667 595 +72 92-70 88-74

Looking at the table, you can see that the Dodgers outperformed their expected win-loss record the last three seasons. Were the Dodgers of years past bad teams? Definitely not. Think of it this way, if you expected to get a B in statistics but instead got an A, you were never a terrible student to begin with. Instead, you simply did better probably for a variety of reasons.

What Run Differential Says About 2016

Now let us look at the standings so far. The Dodgers are 4.5 games out of first place. Is that the expected outcome? Looking only at run differential, the expected outcome has the Dodgers in first place.

Team (Current Standings) Run Differential Acutal W/L Pythagorean W/L (Expected Standings)
Giants +13 29-19 25-23 (2nd)
Dodgers +22 24-23 26-21 (1st)
Rockies -11 21-26 23-24 (3rd)
Diamondbacks -15 21-26 22-25 (4th)
Padres -38 19-28 20-27 (5th)

Granted, what is expected does not change what has already happened but it should provide some hope for a season that has been frustrating, to say the least. Yes, the Giants are a team that should be feared, after all, they won the World Series after gaining the second Wild Card spot with only 88 wins. If the Giants continue to outperform their Pythagorean expectations, it will likely be because they dabble in devil magic and Hunter Pence is Lucifer incarnate. And I guess because they do have a solid team. Should the winning streak end and the Dodgers hit another skid, it will be difficult to regain ground lost against San Francisco. But the Dodgers will get back on course. Though it has been tough to watch them, they are not playing as bad as the rest of the NL West. Those teams are playing below expectations with a negative run differential. That’s like losing a footrace because you’re slow and you have no legs. At least for the Dodgers, they have legs, they’ve just tripped over several hurdles.

Even if you look at this and say, “Dude, this is shit,” you cannot change the fact that there is a ton of baseball to play – over 100 games still! Being 4.5 games back in May is different than being 4.5 games back at the end of September. The Dodgers have the ability and the time to make up the difference in the standings. Whether they do so remains to be answered.

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