Explaining How the Orioles Keep on Winning with a Negative Run Differential

Alexander Van Rees@Alex_VanReesContributor IIISeptember 18, 2012

Explaining How the Orioles Keep on Winning with a Negative Run Differential

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    The Baltimore Orioles (83-64) sit just 0.5 games behind the New York Yankees (84-64) for first place in the American League Eastern Division, and they have just 15 more contests left on the regular season schedule.

    Who would have thought that on Sept. 18, the Orioles, who have endured 14 consecutive losing seasons, would be almost 20 games over the .500 mark and in the playoff hunt?

    An even more impressive number is their negative run differential and their ability to overcome the odds as they continue to win (18-9 in August and 10-6 this month).

    The Birds have scored 646 runs this season, while their pitching staff has surrendered 660 runs, which is a -14 run differential. Most teams struggle if they score less runs than they’ve surrendered, which only makes sense, but the Orioles continue to win regardless of the differential.

    Earlier in the season, their starting pitching staff was less consistent and they surrendered too many runs, leading to too many lopsided contests. However, since the beginning of August, the Birds have scored 210 runs, and they have only allowed 173 runs.

    So, they have improved on the negative run differential. However, it’s still negative and they might even finish with a lopsided run differential.

    Check out the four reasons why the Black and Orange are able to continue to find the win column regardless of this statistic.

1. Strong Bullpen

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    The Orioles sport one of the best bullpens in the league, and for more than half of the season, they were at the top of the list in the American League.

    Recently, however, they've dropped off a bit, which is understandable as fatigue sets in. Still, they still have many key weapons out of the pen, and they have proven they can pitch in late-inning pressure and be successful.

    The Birds’ pen is currently ranked sixth in the majors with a 28-10 record and an impressive 3.13 ERA, behind just the Rays, Athletics and Royals in the AL.

    Luis Ayala is one of the main reasons the bullpen has been so tough this year. He owns a 4-4 record with a 2.70 ERA in 70.0 innings over his 60 appearances. Before last night, he had tossed 11.1 scoreless innings over his previous 10 outings. Monday night, however, he allowed two earned runs over just one inning against the Mariners.

    Ayala has still been one of the best arms out of the Birds’ pen up until this point.

    Another key arm out of the pen has been the setup man, Pedro Strop. He’s posted a 5-2 record with a very strong 2.31 ERA. However, over his last four appearances, he has allowed four earned runs, which doesn’t seem like much. But, he has only allowed 16 earned runs in 16.1 innings all season long.

    He closed out the first half of the season (at the All-Star break) with a 4-2 record and a very impressive, miniscule 1.67 ERA.

    However, the key has been their closer Jim Johnson. Currently, he is tied with Tampa’s Rodney for the most saves in the AL with 43. On the season, the RHP sports a 2-1 record with a 2.81 ERA and has blown just three save opportunities (46 overall).

    Of course there have been other key components to the bullpens’ success. However, these three relievers have been the most consistent bullpen members all season long.

    When the Orioles’ starters hand over the ball in the late innings, there is little doubt that they will blow the game. Manager Buck Showalter has great confidence in his pen. On the year, they’ve allowed just 190 runs (compared to 470 by the starters).

    The pen is definitely one of the main reasons why the team continues to win, regardless of its negative run differential.

2. Best One-Run Record in the Majors

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    Currently, the Orioles sport a 27-8 record in one-run games this season, which is the best in the majors. If they continue to play tough in those close games, they will finish with the best one-run record ever.

    Not to mention, the Birds are 13-2 in extra inning games this season, including 13 consecutive extra-inning wins. The Orioles are very tough in the late innings, and their strong bullpen—along with their timely offense—has a great deal to do with those stats.

    Although the Birds have been blown out of a couple of games this season, which sometimes skews the run differential numbers, they’ve been unstoppable in close games.

    Earlier in the season, they lost 14-3 and 10-3 in back-to-back games with the Rangers. They dropped a 19-7 affair with the Twins in July, a 13-1 rout against the Angels and a 12-3 contest vs. the Yankees, and the list goes on.

    On the flip side, the Orioles have not posted as many lopsided games on their side as their opponents. They did post a 13-0 win over the Jays, and they’ve won a couple of 10-1 games. There have been more routs on the opponents’ side than the Birds.

    If you take away some of those games, the Birds would have a positive run differential and these stats would not be so alarming.

3. Undefeated When Leading After 8 Innings

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    Their pen sports a 2.98 ERA in the eighth inning or later, which is the sixth best in the majors and third in the AL. They are 65-0 when leading after eight frames, which is one of the best records in the MLB.

    Again, this reverts back to their strong, reliable bullpen, and their ability to win one-run games and extra-inning affairs.

    In 308.0 innings on the season in the eighth inning or later, their pen (starters have made it to the eighth inning, but mostly their bullpen) has surrendered 115 runs (102 earned) on 268 base hits, including 98 home runs allowed and 251 strikeouts.

    Even if the Birds’ pen slips one game, their offense has the ability to come back and win the game. Another impressive statistic in late-inning games for the Birds has been their ability to win games in their last at-bat.

    On the year, the Birds have ended a game in their last at-bat on 21 different occasions compared to just seven times by their opponents.

    The Orioles have been clutch all season in the late-innings, which is another major reason why the Birds have put together a winning record with a negative run differential.

4. Potent Offense

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    The last major reason why the Birds have put together such a strong season regardless of a negative run differential has been their explosive offense this year.

    August was a tough month for the Orioles offensively, even though they went 18-9. In 27 games, they crossed the plate 118 times, which is 4.37 runs per game. However, this month, they have already scored 92 runs in just 16 contests, which averages out to 5.75 runs per game.

    As a team, the Birds are batting .248 on the year with 191 home runs, which is good for third place in the AL behind the New York Yankees (218) and the AL Central-leading White Sox (192).

    In the late innings, or when the games are often close, the Birds have 544 at-bats on the year, sporting a .248 batting average. They’ve also delivered 25 home runs, which is the second-highest among any major league team—two behind the Cincinnati Reds for first.

    They’ve scored 78 runs on 135 base hits, which is the fourth-most of any MLB team in the late innings.

    In late-inning pressure situations, Adam Jones has really made a name for himself. Although he is only batting .256 in those situations, he's launched seven home runs and has driven in 12 RBI, as he is 21-for-82 in 57 contests.

    Chris Davis is batting at a .298 clip as he is 18-for-61 with one home run and six RBI in late-inning pressure situations.

    Although the Birds are batting only .241 as a team in extra-inning games, they have smashed a major league-leading seven home runs and 26 RBI when they’ve had to extend the game.

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