The most improbable aspect of the Orioles winning 93 games last season was their ridiculous record in one-run games. The O's went 29-9 in those games, giving them the highest winning percentage in MLB history.
Is that kind of excellence in tight games sustainable? Well, you’re not going to like where this post is heading.
History and common sense suggest that the Orioles are likely to fall back towards .500 in one-run games this season, but Blake Murphy of Beyond the Box Score spent some time crunching the numbers to confirm.
Murphy pulled up the 2,332 individual team seasons since 1901 to pick through the numbers. Some of what he did is hard to explain -- especially since I slept through too many statistics classes in college -- so here is a link to his full methodology and results.
But what Murphy found was that outside of a couple of notable outliers, most teams that had a radical record in one-run games moved back toward .500 in that category the following season.
The Pittsburgh Pirates went 33-12 in one-run games in 1908 and were 33-13 in such games the following season. Meanwhile, the Brooklyn Dodgers were on the other end of the spectrum, going 16-38 in one-run games in 1912 and then going 14-36 in 1913.
So technically, duplicating great one-run success has been done.
Still, it’s high unlikely the Orioles will do it again, Murphy concluded, especially when you take a closer look at the teams that also had strong records in one-run games. He found that really good teams usually regressed in one-run games, but still finished above .500 the following year because, well, they often remained really good. He used Pythagorean winning percentage as a potential predictor.
Baltimore’s Pythagorean win percentage -- that statistic was explained here -- was just .505 in 2012, meaning that, as Murphy put it, the O's were “playing well over their heads in close games.”
Murphy added that a great bullpen or in-game tactician in the dugout could predict one-run success, but he stopped short of calling the Orioles bullpen or manager Buck Showalter “great.”
Still, there is a reason why they play the games, so we will see if the Orioles can replicate last season’s magic in one-run games. It might be highly improbable, but it certainly is notimpossible.