There is Losing, and then there is Losing

April 17, 2014

                The 1975 Cincinnati Reds were known as the Big Red Machine, because they wore Red uniforms and ground up opponents like a machine.  The 1975 Reds, however, started the season 9 and 10.  After sweeping the Dodgers in their first series they lost two straight to the Padres, 5 to 2 and 3 to 2.  Salvaging the last game of that series, the Machine headed north to LA, where the Dodgers got even plus one:  5-2, 3-1, 7-6, 5-4.  Returning to Cincinnati the Reds beat the Astros three times but lost the fourth, 7-6, and then lost one to the Giants, 5-4.  After a couple of wins they lost to the Braves, 5-4, and then to the Astros, 6-4.  They were 9 and 10.

                The 2010 Pirates opened the season not 9-10 but 10-12; scattered among some wins they lost to the Dodgers 10-2, to the Diamondbacks 9-1 and 15-6, to the Giants 9-3 and 6-0.   They beat the Reds three straight then (4-3, 5-3, 5-4), but then took it on the chin five straight times:  8 to 1, 8 to nothing and 20 to nothing to the Brewers, 4-3 and 5-2 to the Astros.  They then lost two more 10-3 and 17-3, but then won three in a row, reaching 10-12.

                It is early in the season, and one of the things we all do early in the season is to search relentlessly for signs that our team is better or worse than it appears to be.  I am sure you figured out the pattern there; the Big Red Machine started out 9-10, but they lost those first ten games by a total of 16 runs, 34 to 50.   The 2010 Pirates started out 9 and 12, but their first ten losses were by a combined score of 94 to 18, or 76 runs; their first twelve losses were by a total score of 121 to 24, or slightly more than eight runs a game.

                Of course we all know that the 1975 Reds (108-54) turned out to be quite a bit better than the 2010 Pirates (57-105), and it is easy to say now that the early-season data reflects the difference; the Reds were losing, but just losing, whereas the Pirates were losing with some style.  But is this really a predictive difference?    Let us suppose that your hometown nine has about ten losses now, but that they’re not really losing; they’re just a run or two short sometimes.   Should you feel better about that?   Or does it really matter?

                I looked at all teams since 1970, strike years included, and figured:

                a)  Their runs scored in their first ten wins,

                b)  Their runs allowed in the first ten wins,

                c)  Their runs scored in their first ten losses, and

                d)  Their runs allowed in their first ten losses.  

                In terms of the margin of defeat, the 2010 Pirates are on one end of the scale, minus 76 runs, and the 1975 Reds are on the other end, -16 runs, actually tied with the 1992 Red Sox, who started out 11-10 but (like the 1975 Reds) were just barely losing.  In the first ten wins, the scale runs from +66 runs (the 1975 Yankees and the 1980 Brewers) to +13 runs (the 1986 Padres).

                Looking first at the wins, we can sort these into levels:  +50 runs or more in the first ten wins, +40 to 49, +30 to 39, and +29 or less.  There are 78 teams in the data which won their first ten games (ten wins) by a margin of more than 50 runs, outscoring their opponents by an average of 80 to 26 in those games.   Those 78 teams finished the season with an average won-lost record of 83-76, a .523 winning percentage:

 

 

 

 

Average Runs Allowed

Average Final Wins

Average Final Losses

 

 

 

Average Runs

 

Margin

Teams

WPct.

+50 or more

78

80

26

83.2

75.9

.523

+40 to 49

201

71

27

80.8

77.4

.511

+30 to 39

515

63

29

79.5

79.4

.5004

+29 or less

410

53

29

78.1

813

.490

 

                Clearly, the margin of early-season victory does appear to be an indicator of the strength of the team.   The teams which won by larger margins in their first ten wins went on to have better seasons.   Let’s look at the losses:

 

 

 

Average Runs Allowed

Average Final Wins

Average Final Losses

 

 

 

Average Runs

 

Margin

Teams

WPct.

-50 or more

55

27

81

73.8

83.5

.469

-40 to 49

235

27

70

77.4

80.8

.489

-30 to 39

525

28

62

79.7

79.3

.501

-29 or less

389

29

53

81.2

78.4

.511

 

                For some reason all of the deviation in the spread is in the scores of the winning teams, rather than the losing teams, don’t know what to make of that, and for some reason it is more common for teams to be offensively explosive early in the year (78 teams) than for them to be getting blown out regularly (55 teams); don’t know whether that is a real effect or just random data.     Anyway, the general conclusion is the same:  it clearly does mean something if you’re losing badly, as opposed to just losing.   Let’s combine the two into one—margin of victory in your first ten wins, minus margin of defeat in your first ten losses:

 

 

 

 

Average Runs Allowed

Average Final Wins

Average Final Losses

 

 

 

 

Average Runs

 

Combined Margin

 

Teams

WPct.

+20 or more

 

65

106

81

84.3

75.5

.527

+10 to 19

 

165

97

83

81.7

76.7

.516

+2 to 9

 

318

93

88

80.6

78.4

.507

+1 to -1

 

120

89

89

79.1

79.3

.4995

-2 to 9

 

290

85

90

79.1

79.9

.498

-10 to 19

 

180

85

99

76.8

83.0

.481

-20 or more

 

66

80

105

72.9

84.2

.464

 

                Some of you are going to be saying, "Well, OK, this is obvious, because we knew anyway that bad teams tend to lose by larger margins than good teams, and that good teams tend to win by larger margins than bad teams, so anyone would assume that this had to be true of the first 10 wins to the same extent that it would be true of any other set of 10 wins or 10 losses."

                But I honestly didn’t know how this study would turn out, for two reasons.   First, a relationship which is statistically obvious going from A to B is, in many cases, not obvious at all if you look from B to A.    In other words, the fact that good teams win by larger margins does not necessarily mean that teams that win by larger margins will tend to be better teams, to an extent that is readily apparent in the data.     And second, we’re making an inference from very small data groups, which is always an unreliable process.   So. .. I really didn’t know how the study would turn out.   But it turns out. . .if you’re not losing by much, take comfort.

 
 

COMMENTS (14 Comments, most recent shown first)

trn6229
Hi Bill, Nice article. The 1975 Reds were actually 20-20 after the first 40 games. It was at this point that 3B John Vuckovich was dropped, Pete Rose moved to third and George Foster became the everyday leftfielder. From that point on, they played around .800 baseball. A new SABR book is coming out about this team, called the Great Eight.

Take Care,
Tom Nahigian
11:11 PM Apr 22nd
 
bjames
Responding to Belewfripp. . .no, it isn't the same. Responding to Tango. . .OK, I'll see if I can do that. It sort of looks to me like a step BACKWARD, but. . . .I'm sure there something I'm missing.
3:31 PM Apr 21st
 
belewfripp
Bill -

Isn't this just looking at the same concept as the Pythagorean method for win expectation? In the basic, original version that you came up with (which I understand has been modified since), that method is fundamentally concerned with the relative proportions of runs scored and runs allowed.

The larger the proportion of runs scored, to the runs scored and runs allowed, the better we expect the team to be. This is really just another way of saying the team has a positive run differential, right?.

So, unless I'm dumb and have simply missed something, I would be pretty concerned if this mini-study on run differential in the early part of the season didn't reach the outcome that it did.
2:59 PM Apr 21st
 
tangotiger
Bill: In 1975, the Reds were +34 in their first 10 wins, and -16 in their first 10 losses. So in those 20 games, they were +18.

In their other 142 games, they were +236, or a rate of +33 per 20 games.

So, that's my question, to repeat this for all the teams as you have them binned, and show their performance in the non-20 selected games.
12:54 PM Apr 21st
 
bjames
Tango-- I'm afraid I'm not following you. What is it you would want to know?
8:37 AM Apr 21st
 
KaiserD2
The last table, it seems to me, boils down to measuring the team's Pythagorean percentage, and I have found over the last thirty years that not only is that an accurate predictor of the team's success from a relatively early point in the season onward, but that teams whose actual percentage differs widely from their Pythagorean one will usually close the gap in the course of the season.

I think one of the hardest things for everyone involved in baseball to get through their heads is that close games are very largely a matter of luck.

DK
7:52 AM Apr 19th
 
tangotiger
Working it out theoretically, I'm going to guess that the +20 group will have had 92 runs scored and 86 runs allowed (per 20 games) in all their OTHER games that season.
10:49 AM Apr 18th
 
cfalstrom
2014 Cincinnati Reds: 9 losses thus far, -13 run differential in losses.
9:39 AM Apr 18th
 
tangotiger
Bill, in your last chart, can you also show "Average Runs per 20 games" and "Average Runs Allowed per 20 games", either for the whole season, or for all the games in the season that weren't part of the 10 W and 10 L? Basically, for the +20 group, in which your in-sample data shows 108 and 81 for R and RA, what do they show for all their other games?
7:56 AM Apr 18th
 
julesig
For fun this season I've been keeping standings based on blowout wins/losses (5+ margin). Also because the Mariners started with 3 straight blowout wins. Does give you an interesting perspective, even early on. For example, the Red Sox are 0-0. The A's are 3-0, Nats 4-2, Cards 3-1. The Marlins are most interesting, 4-3. The Angels are 3-3. The Diamondbacks are 0-4, Phillies 1-3.

There are also some apparent patterns. Last night when #1 starters were going, there were no blowouts. The first Friday when #5 starters went, there were 8.

It is also enjoyable to write these results down on paper and tally the standings by hand.

These games are not fun to watch, but their results are fun to keep tabs on.
2:30 PM Apr 17th
 
DavidTodd
Thanks Ventboys. Since I live in Victoria, BC I follow the Mariners closely, and go to a game or two every year or so.
I see Seattle has scored 55 and given up 42, for a 7-7 record, and James Paxton is from Richmond BC, just over the Fraser River from Vancouver.
11:50 AM Apr 17th
 
rtayatay
Is there a chart for getting (1) swept, (2) by the Mets, (3) outscored by the Mets 21-5 in a 3 game series?

Sincerely,
Dbacks Fan
11:09 AM Apr 17th
 
ventboys
Are you planning a study for end-of-season? Off the top of my head I can see how it would be tough to get some bias out that wouldn't exist for the beginning, but still...

DavidTodd.... I'll give you my two cents; small sample size data isn't very meaningful in and of itself - unless its extreme. 8-6, 60-51... that's a solid start, but I doubt that its indicative of much of anything. Us over here in Spokane are looking for some signs of hope with the Mariners, but all we seem to get lately are reports of set-backs from our injured pitchers. Good luck with your Jays.
10:19 AM Apr 17th
 
DavidTodd
The Blue Jays are 8-6, after being snowed out yesterday. A 60-51 difference in runs, could this be the season we win 90 games or more and make it to the playoffs?
9:38 AM Apr 17th
 
 
©2019 Be Jolly, Inc. All Rights Reserved.|Web site design and development by Americaneagle.com|Terms & Conditions|Privacy Policy