Every year there is a baseball statistic that is suddenly the most important stat in the sport. Whether it is on-base percentage or walks, it is always something. The trendy stat in 2014? — run differential.
I’m not exactly sure when run differential started showing up in the standings, but it is very prominent now. It even has a color code — green is good, red is very bad. It is hard to miss, so that means it must be important.
Sandy Alderson has cited run differential on multiple occasions to try to convince us that the Mets are a good team. They have hovered around even all season long (going into Tuesday’s game they were at -7).
“If you look at the run differential, we should be a .500 team,” Alderson told CBS Sports in July. “We’re thinking we have the potential to be better than our record.”
No, the Mets are not better than their record. Their record is their record. It reminded me of the “Seinfeld” episode in which George was recommending an average student for a scholarship. When he reminds the head of the foundation of the “flaws and biases of standardized tests,” the man responds, “These aren’t standardized tests — these are his grades.”
So the Mets record is what it is. They are not a better team because their run differential is small.
The Yankees are just the opposite (which reminds me of another “Seinfeld” episode, but enough with that). Their run differential is -37, yet they are four games above .500. Many people say the Yankees are worse than their record. But again, their record is their record.
The simple fact is that good teams find a way to win, especially close games. At -7, the Cardinals have the same run differential as the Mets. The Cards are 10 games over .500 because they are good and know how to win, while the Mets are eight games below .500 because they are just a bad team and winning is a foreign concept to them. The Mets are not equal to the Cardinals just because their run differential is.
Of course, in general bad teams have poor run differential while good teams have excellent ones. The Rangers have the worst record in baseball and not surprisingly, they also have the lowest run differential. The A’s, who had the best record for most of the season until a recent slump, have the highest run differential.
You do not need to be Einstein to know that it is better to score more runs than your opponents. But to use the stat to say that you are better than your record is just silly.