Lions, Kittens and Mice of MLB Run Differential

JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

THE MOST BASIC OF FUNDAMENTALS...MLB RUN DIFFERENTIAL

Time to check in once again with a basic stat that's always had a great correlation with success. RUN DIFFERENTIAL

This is where the titans of sport usually show up. Whether it's run differential in baseball, or point differential in football and basketball...champions tend to post very impressive numbers in the basic scoring units.

The media likes to talk about guts, character, and the ability to win close games. That's all well and good. You have a hard time proving that certain teams have a surplus of guts and character. And, teams that DO have those things often win by very impressive scores anyway. It's hard to "fake" your way to a big advantage in scoring differential whatever the sport is. The closest thing we've seen is with spread offenses in college football. They run up the score on patsies and struggle vs. quality. As long as you know that going in, you can de-pollute the data in that sport.

Let's see what's happening right now in baseball. We've categorized the teams from on a cat-scale just to mix things up. The best teams are the kings of the jungle. The worst are kittens hiding in the corner because they lost their ball of yarn. All numbers are through the games of June 28th.

LIONS
NY Yankees +100
Tampa Bay +92
Texas +81
Boston +69
Atlanta +62
San Diego +61

No surprise that the Yankees rule. They've got the best collection of talent in baseball now that management has finally hired people who know how to spend money! Don't forget that the Yankees have also had an unfavorable home road split so far (as discussed yesterday here in the NOTEBOOK). The differential is likely to move higher at the end of their current homestand.

Tampa Bay is fantastic for the season, but that stat is very strongly frontloaded by what happened during their 32-12 start. The 12-19 fade afterward did have some blowout wins. These guys do have a knack for losing close and winning big. That's often a good sign for long terms success. Looks like they need to fix some squabbles in the clubhouse before really getting things together.

Texas is a surprise team in this stat. They're really obliterating people at home, as the pitching staff has finally figured out how to succeed in that park under the guidance of Nolan Ryan. The hitters can still put runs on the board because they know how to exploit the favorable conditions. This stat suggests Texas is very much for real, at least in their home games.

The three teams in the hunk in the 60's all look to be playoff caliber. They will have to maintain their current pace though because they'll be battling in tough company. Only two of the three AL East powers can even make the playoffs. Atlanta and San Diego have several teams looking to kick them off the top of the ladder in their respective divisions.

Right now, these are the "big six" in Major League baseball, at least according to this trusted stat that historically has had a lot of predictive value.

Here are the animals nipping at their heels...

CROUCHING TIGERS?
St. Louis +51
NY Mets +49
San Francisco +43
Philadelphia +42
Minnesota +41
Colorado +39
Cincinnati +29
Florida +26

There's a lot of depth in Major League baseball this year in terms of contenders. Sure, there are some truly awful teams down at the bottom of the barrel. This group of eight, minus maybe Florida (or maybe not!) can certainly battle the first six for what's available on the playoff plate. Remember that only eight spots are available. We have 13-14 teams thinking they deserve one of those spots.

Amongst the surprises to us:

  • We thought Philadelphia and Minnesota would have graded out higher than this. The Phillies sure have the roster to. This stat helps show why they've fallen off the pace to a degree.
  • Cincinnati is well behind St. Louis in this stat even though those teams are neck and neck in the standings. We showed you that St. Louis had a meaningful edge yesterday in Wins Minus Home Games Played. Here's more evidence that the Cards are better suited than the Reds to be on top of the NL Central once the season is in the books.
  • Florida has a great differential despite a losing record! Maybe Bobby Valentine will be able to help them make a run to the playoffs if he ever gets out of his local sushi restaurant and takes over the helm.

Moving now to teams within striking range of equality...

CATS
Toronto +10
LA Dodgers +9
Detroit +7
LA Angels -2
Chicago White Sox -6
Oakland -11

The Dodgers are probably better than this. Their run differential took a hit from a brutal Interleague schedule. They're much better than this if you only count National League games, and that's all that's left for them for the next three months.

Detroit, Chicago, and the LA Angels are pennant contenders who aren't currently showing an impressive run differential pedigree. We have to say we expected the Angels to grade out better than this. Their race with Texas in the AL West could prove quite interesting. Is Texas a baseball version of Texas Tech? Using a spread offense to blowout patsies? While the Angels are a smart team that's pacing themselves for the long haul? Or, does this stat show that Texas is the MUCH classier side? Only time will tell. We are Angels fans, we'll tell you that. We have great respect for what Ryan is doing with the Rangers though.

KITTENS
Milwaukee -25
Chicago Cubs -29
Kansas City -31
Washington -44
Seattle -66
Cleveland -76
Arizona -78

Not much to be impressed with here. These are losing teams who are consistently being outclassed when they face quality opposition. Be very careful taking any flyers on these teams except when their ace pitchers are going. Even then it's dicey, as several of the aces on these teams can tell you!

We're a bit surprised Milwaukee grades out so low with their offense. That tells you how bad the pitching staff is.

Note that this group will be tempted to trade veteran talent for youth in the coming months. That means things could even get WORSE on the field and in this stat.

MICE
Houston -125
Baltimore -138
Pittsburgh -180

Even kittens can eat mice...and these three stragglers are so far off the pace that they deserve their own category. Amazingly, Houston is about 50 runs worse than Arizona, the 27th ranked team in the league. Pittsburgh is a little more than 50 runs worse than Houston, the 28th ranked team in the league. At least Baltimore has the excuse of playing in a very tough division.

Frankly, Houston and Pittsburgh are basically double A teams right now. This is what it would look like if two Double A teams were promoted to the majors en masse, and allowed to play together in the weakest division in baseball. Note that the teams combined to go 5-25 when playing the American League in IL play. That's why they're worse than Baltimore in the big picture. Baltimore's a bit better than that within the league.

The next days we'll be focusing on key stats from weekday afternoon action as we work our way up to the coming All-Star Break in a few weeks. In the near future we'll begin our college football conference previews for both BCS conferences and the mid majors. August will bring our divisional previews for the NFL in eight different segments. Football's going to be here before you know it!

If you'd like to sign up for baseball or early bird football packages, call 1-800-323-4453 right now. Game day selections and longer term packages can also be purchased here at the website with your credit card. BIG JUICY WINNERS ARE JUST A FEW CLICKS AWAY!

Best of luck if you're trying to win on your own tonight. If you'd like some help finding the best plays on the board. Link up with proven winner JIM HURLEY!

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