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The Miami Marlins, one-run wins, and success

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Recently, the beat writers of the Miami Marlins made a connection between one-run wins and future success, thus linking winnings more games of one type with winning more games. Uh, yeah.

More walk-off wins, it turns out, means you win more games in a season.
More walk-off wins, it turns out, means you win more games in a season.
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

We recently discussed the concept of the Miami Marllins winning more one-run games than usual. We also discussed how that would not likely continue, and the fact that Miami has only reached a .500 record with all of those one-run games does not bode well for the team's true talent and thus its chances going forward. The Marlins' bullpen has been better, which does help in winning one-run contests, but one of the last things I would lay my playoff hopes on is Bryan Morris retaining a 0.50 ERA. No offense to Morris, who has been a pleasant surprise, but relief pitchers are a fickle species.

But the Marlins beat writers got a hold of interesting and very alluring stats yesterday that were shared around the horn. Here is an example from Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald.

The Marlins went into their off-day Thursday leading the majors in walk-off wins (11), one-run wins (32) and wins in their last at-bat (21).

So does being great at winning tight games pay off? History shows us the majority of the teams that have won at least 32 one-run games in a season since 1993 have gone on to do some good things.

A dozen made the playoffs, two won the World Series (2005 White Sox and 1997 Marlins) and seven reached the League Championship Series. Only one of those 22 teams finished with a losing record: the 2000 Marlins, who wound up third in the NL East at 79-82.


Read more here: http://miamiherald.typepad.com/fish_bytes/2014/08/does-winning-a-bunch-of-one-run-games-pay-off.html#storylink=cpy

He goes on to list the 23 teams since 1993 that have won more than 32 one-run games and lists their season records. That sounds like an appealing argument, almost as though one-run games were predictive of a team's strong performance. The addition of two World Series winners and seven LCS competitors also makes the whole group sound better. There has to be something to this, right?

Well, maybe, but we have to take away some simple confounding factors. The number of one-run wins in a season probably does correlate pretty well with total wins in a year, mostly because total wins includes one-run wins! It turns out that argument boils down to "if you win more games of a certain type, you end up winning more games at the end of the year!" That is extremely elementary.

Instead of using that simple calculation, let's look at some of the teams involved in that list and subtract out their win-loss record on one-run games. If they were truly good teams, they probably would have done well without those one-run games, right?

Team One-Run Win% Other Win% Pythag Win%
1993 Royals .543 .500 .488
1993 Braves .536 .720 .642
2005 White Sox .648 .592 .561
2009 Mariners .637 .467 .467
1997 Mets .574 .525 .541
2013 Diamondbacks .618 .439 .493
2002 Dodgers .688 .522 .547
2004 A's .635 .584 .530
1997 Braves .623 .624 .638
2012 Giants .600 .495 .494
1996 Dodgers .589 .538 .534
1996 Expos .589 .519 .547
2005 Angels .559 .602 .576
2002 A's .696 .612 .591
2004 Dodgers .667 .535 .549
2007 Diamondbacks .615 .527 .487
2000 Marlins .615 .431 .461
2006 A's .592 .565 .527
1997 Marlins .592 .556 .546
1996 Padres .582 .551 .556
2000 Angels .582 .467 .497
1993 Expos .561 .585 .532
Total .603 .544 .537

The average team that came out with a great one-run record was a better-than-average team. That in and of itself isn't too surprising either; if I had to bet on which team would win more one-run games, gun to my head, I'd call for the good teams. But obviously the greatest performances with one-run games were not nearly as great in the end; the average team won 60 percent of their one-run contests but were true-talent .537 win percentage teams by Pythagorean expectation. In other words, these teams on average were about the level of the San Francisco Giants' record this season.

More interesting to Marlins fans may be the fact that teams with huge one-run win totals still ended up with their multi-run win percentage better representing their true talent level. The difference in win percentage between non-one-run games and the Pythag records are minuscule, making their multi-run record still more predictive. Unfortunately, Miami's non-one-run record stands at just a 41 percent win percentage this year, which does not bode well for the future.

As for playoff success, it's difficult to see how these teams are all that impressive. Twelve of the 20 teams that made the list from the Wild Card era made the playoffs, six moved on to the LCS, and only two made the World series. We already discussed that the sample would be expected to have more playoff teams because it selects for teams that win more games. As for the success in the playoffs, you will note that exactly half of them moved on to the LCS and only a third moved beyond that. That is almost exactly the rate at which all playoff teams advance in the playoffs.

Teams that win an abnormal number of one-run games make the playoffs more often, but mostly because they have won more games than expected. Their multi-run game record still better reflects their true talent as measured by runs scored and allowed than their one-run record does. The teams, however, are on average better than the average team, which should not surprise you either. In the playoffs, these clubs perform about as well as expected, with no added success among playoffs teams. There does not seem to be a whole lot of predictive power in one-run games.