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Who enjoys run differential more than Billy Beane? I don’t know, but he enjoys it. He enjoys lots of numbers, and truthfully, run differential isn’t even among his favorites, but it’s still one he enjoys, which is why he got to bully Jonah Hill and Philip Seymour Hoffman and you didn’t.
So allow us to give you some run differential. The A’s – THESE A’s – are plus-95 on the morning of May 19, after 44 games. Now we could lead you astray and say, “They’re on a pace to be plus-350, which would be the second-highest in baseball history after the ’39 Yankees, who won a million billion games and swept the Reds in the World Series in the middle of Game Three.”
But that would be annoying, stupid and useless, ands that we typically leave to others.
But this differential on this day is as near as we can deduce the third highest since the first expansion back in 1961, when there were barely half as many teams. Those teams were the 1962 Giants, who were plus-100 en route to getting Bobby Richardson’d, and the 1984 Tigers, who were 31-5 and plus-105 en route to 104 wins and a five-game crushing of the San Diego Padres.
In other words, we are watching some relatively bad dudes here, with the following kickers:
1. They’re still not as fearsome as this year’s Tigers, and wouldn’t it be a regal screwing if they got Justin Verlander’d a third time in succession?
2. There are better metrics than run differential.
3. Injuries can still happen; the A’s have had two Tommy John surgeries so far, putting them on par with the major league average.
4. Baseball is notorious for regressing toward the mean.
5. It’s May bleedin’ 19th, for God’s sake.
Baseball is actually a series of snapshots, and conclusions drawn on any date are only valid until that date. In a month, which will be noteworthy for the absence of Astros, Twins or Indians on their schedule, the A’s may be in a different place entirely; indeed, all their work to date hasn’t gotten them pulled away from the Angels, just to name one of the three AL West rivals who aren’t the Astros.
In other words, this is probably a lot of wheel-spinning on a Monday in May with three-quarters of a baseball schedule still to navigate, but when you think that we’re talking more than a thousand team-seasons in those 54 years, plus-95 stands well even without the kind of numbers-crunching context that simple raw data demands.
The beauty of this, of course, is that the A’s have not lost their internal goofiness, or their ethereal charms, as the winning has become a regular function of their employment. Manager Bob Melvin has run a structured but loose ship, allowing the team to grow in its own ways while paying attention to the daily duties of the game without being overwhelmed by the burden that comes with winning.
Of course, in these new playoff-heavy days, winning is relative term. The Tigers have reminded the A’s twice now that in a single game, having one of the world’s best pitchers is a huge advantage. And now that Verlander has been joined and now surpassed by Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello, the Tigers only look that much better – which means that their run differential deficit (they are only plus-55) the true meaning of run differential. That, and 25 bucks will get you a missive nitrate-gravel-and-lard ballpark snack.
Still, for one day, the A’s are a major deal, and we’ve got the incomplete and misleading numbers to prove it.