What to make of the Angels’ run-differential …
In 2007, he was the scouting director for a Diamondbacks team that made the playoffs despite having a negative run-differential. They ranked 17th in run-differential that year, at minus-23, but managed to win 90 games thanks in large part to a very deep bullpen.
Over the previous seven years, that D-backs team has been the only club to make the playoffs despite scoring less runs than they’ve allowed over the course of a full season. For the most part, the run-differential standings are a pretty good reflection of the winning-percentage standings.
So, what does Dipoto take away from a plus-40 run-differential through April from his current club, a mark that’s second only to the division-rival A’s?
“It beats the heck out of where we’ve been in recent years, that’s what I take out of it,” the Angels’ general manager said. “Run-differential is a real number. It’s the most basic way to look at in-season performance once you get past wins and losses. I think it’s fairly reflective of the talent of a team. … The overview of your team and of your season is simply how many runs do you score, and how well do you limit runs. Now what we’re working on is better sequence.”
The Angels finished April last year at minus-28 in run-differential, and finished the season at minus-4. They’re 14-13 now, but their Pythagorean record — used to estimate how many games a team should’ve won — is 17-10.
It sounds overly simplistic, but if they can keep up their current run-differential rate, there’s a very good chance they’ll be in the playoffs when it’s all said and done.
From 2007-13, 59 of the 60 teams that made the playoffs — all except that ’07 D-backs team — had a positive run-differential. In every single one of those years, the top three run-differential teams were playing meaningful games in October. In four of those years, at least each of the top five made the playoffs. In 2010, the top eight run-differential teams made up the eight playoff spots. In 2013?
Well, here’s a look at the top 10 run-differential teams …
1. Red Sox: World Series champs
2. Cardinals: National League champs
3. Tigers: Advanced to the American League Championship Series
4. Athletics: AL West champs
5. Braves: NL West champs
6. Reds: Won 90 games, reached the playoffs
7. Rangers: Won 91 games, missed the playoffs by one game
8. Indians: Won 92 games, reached the playoffs
9. Dodgers: Advanced to the NLCS
10: Pirates: Won 94 games, reached the playoffs
“You look at history, you look at the standings year in and year out, and the teams that matriculate to the top are usually the teams with the larger run-differentials,” Dipoto said. “I think it’s reflective of a more balanced team, and that’s what I take away from it. For a month, I think we’ve played pretty well, despite some injuries, and we’ve struggled through a very wobbly bullpen at times and came out of it with a positive run-differential, and I think that is reflective of the fact that we do have better balance. Despite the injuries, we’ve had some guys step up and do a nice job. It’s not been one player driving the train; it’s been a lot of contributors. And that’s a very encouraging sign.”
Obviously, the Angels’ run-differential is high because they’ve had a lot of blowout wins and suffered a lot of close losses. One of their most troubling stats of the first month is that they’re 2-7 in one-run games. That, essentially, points to their troubles holding leads at times. But Dipoto is among many who believes a team’s record in one-run games tends to even out over the course of a season, though there are some exceptions (like the 2012 Orioles, who had a ridiculous 29-9 record in one-run games).
The challenge now, of course, is keeping this run-differential thing going for the rest of the year. And that’s no small challenge. Small sample sizes can be tricky. And of the top 10 run-differential teams at the end of April last year, four — the second-ranked Rangers, fifth-ranked Orioles, sixth-ranked Rockies and 10th-ranked D-backs — did not make the playoffs.
Asked if he expects the Angels’ run-differential to spill out into the remaining five months, and eventually jibe a little better with their won-lost record, Dipoto said: “I don’t see why it wouldn’t. And honestly, I have every expectation that it will. I do believe that we have a better-balanced team than in recent years. And I do believe that run-differential is representative of a better-balanced team. I do believe that will translate into a more positive won-lost record. But to me, that’s baseball. Sometimes it works out in a 27-game stretch where it’s 14-13, sometimes it works out like it’s 17-10. And a lot of that is going to be reflective in those one-run decisions, and that’s where we have to get better. And it’s on us to figure out how. We can score runs, and we have. We can prevent runs, and we have. Now we just have to figure out how to bridge the gap in the middle of the game that will make those one-run games a little bit more of a positive thing for us.”