These are all terms that are becoming exhausting to Rangers fans, but are proving to be completely meaningless to the players.
They don’t care. Not one iota.
But should we, as fans, care? Is there a significant advantage or disadvantage to all of these one run wins or is run differential truly the ultimate measurement of a team’s success?
Run differential is possibly the simplest statistic math used by fans of sabermetrics; the total runs you have scored minus the total runs you have allowed. Simple, easy, and a clear picture of the total body of work throughout the season.
Currently, the Chicago Cubs lead the majors in run differential, with an astounding +227 on the season. They are followed by the Red Sox at +170, the Nationals at +151, and then the numbers fall off a cliff with the Indians at +95, Blue Jays at +81, and Dodgers at +77,
Where do the Rangers fall in this?
At a lowly +23 on the season, good for third place in the AL West behind Seattle at +54 and Houston at +36.
Good thing run differential doesn’t count in the standings, huh?
Honestly though, who would look at the AL West and think that Houston or Seattle is a better team than Texas right now? As we all know, many people do, and in doing so, they point out how run differential is a flawed stat.
It’s flawed in the fact that it does not take into account any of the humans who are responsible for the runs or the circumstances in which those runs are scored. For example; if the Rangers were to have a week where they won four games and lost two that looked like the following, how true of a measurement is it of the current roster and their abilities:
Sunday: Win 5-2 WP: Hamels
Monday: Win 4-3 WP: Perez
Tuesday: Lose 15-5 LP: Chi Chi Gonzalez
Wed: Lose 12-4 LP: Lohse
Thursday: Travel Day
Friday: Win 6-3 WP: Lewis
Saturday: Win 3-1 WP: Hamels
To me, this is a good week of baseball. The Rangers win ⅔ of their games, the pitchers who are expected to perform do so, and the Band-Aids that were holding spots for injured Griffin, Holland, and Darvish got shelled while attempting to eat innings. As a baseball team, you most certainly take that, and a 66.7 winning percentage is unsustainable over the course of a season. However, in terms of run differential, this is an awful week, where you have been outscored 36-25, posting a -11.
152 runs going towards the Rangers’ run differential were charged to Cesar Ramos, Kyle Lohse, Lucas Harrell, Tom Wilhelmson, Shawn Tolleson, and Chi Chi Gonzalez. What on earth would their stats have to do with the roster that the Texas Rangers are going to send to the playoffs?
Run differential does not take into account getaway day lineups, players who are no longer on your roster, or the players who are added to your roster later in the season. While it may be a measurement of how your team has done throughout the year, it has little to nothing to do with accurately predicting how a team will perform in the postseason.
Since the playoffs expanding to include wild card spots in 1995, the team with the best Pythagorean record (using run differential) has won the World Series 19% of the time. In turn, the team with the best regular season record has won the World Series only 16% of the time.
What does this show us?
That in all reality, once the postseason begins, these numbers don’t mean a damn thing.
Just win, baby.
In the words of Elvis Andrus, “You are probably better off if you just shut up and play."
This Rangers team has been much maligned due to their record in one run games, which most baseball experts attribute to luck. At this point, Texas is 33-10 in such games, which is responsible for their huge lead in the AL West.
Talking heads are quick to point out the disadvantages in this for Texas heading into the postseason, but as we look deeper, are there any distinct advantages that come from high level performance in these close games?
If you believe in the human element and the mental aspects of the game; absolutely. If you think that baseball is nothing but a conglomerate of statistical patterns, then probably not.
Those who are involved in the game, whether it be as a player, coach, or even a fan can readily attest to the higher stress levels provided by close games when compared to a blowout. If a team is clinging on to a one run lead, in a tie game, or attempting to come from behind to win, the stress level is greatly increased, with an utmost importance suddenly placed on every pitch, every swing, and every step. The minutiae of the game suddenly becomes enormous, and players either learn to play with a greater focus or the game speeds up on them, quickly leaving them behind.
As a high school coach, I can say without a doubt that I would much rather have my team battle through numerous close games in order to get them mentally prepared from the postseason, whereas those close games do so much more to strengthen the team mentally and form a bond in the clubhouse than any blowout win over a weaker opponent ever will. As someone who played the game (not on a high level by any means), I can say that the emotional high and confidence built from a close win lasts longer than that from a blowout when the starting players mentally check out early in the game.
When it comes to postseason play, this Texas Rangers team will have battled nerves and found success in those “clutch” situations more than any other team in the league. That’s got to be a good thing, right?
According to sports psychologist Dr. Alan Goldberg, this can be explained in the simplest physiological terms; during baseball situations deemed as “clutch”, the human body automatically experiences some form of fight or flight. Those who are not accustomed to this situation revert to the human default which is to “freeze”, which in sports context, according to Dr. Goldberg, causes the player to focus on the actions of the other team, which in turn becomes the cliche of playing “not to lose” rather than to win. When the body experiences this, “these powerful mental and physiological changes ruin proper mechanics, disrupt timing and sabotage endurance, making peak performance impossible”, Dr Goldberg told Competitive Edge online.
The question is: How does an athlete prevent this?
That answer is also quite simple. Some athletes are never bothered by the big moment, some never get over those nerves, but most benefit from experience in close and late situations. .
According to Graham Jones in his piece for the Journal of Applied Sports Psychology, experience in “clutch” situations is the biggest factor in the minimization of anxiety due to a decreased release of adrenaline, allowing the player to maintain their fundamentals and having a minimal effect on muscle memory.
Having played 43 one run games this season, it seems as if the Texas Rangers have gained the experience necessary to minimize this anxiety (at least for themselves, probably not for the fan base).
With that said, it is time for us to all move on from this constant barrage of one run game analysis and worry about things that actually matter in the postseason.
On that note; anyone want to talk about the bullpen?