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The Tigers' run differential says they're better than you think

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The numbers fluctuate wildly, but the bottom line says they’re not that bad.

Pittsburgh Pirates v Detroit Tigers Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

It seems like the Detroit Tigers play a lot of games where they either score a bunch of runs or give up a bunch, with little in between. Wednesday’s 10-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates is no exception. It’s easy to assume Detroit has had a large quantity of said games based on the eye test because we remember those games the most. But how do the actual numbers stack up?

Of the 113 games the Tigers have played this year*, 29 of them have had a run differential of more than five runs. Detroit has won 13 of those games and lost 16. That’s a win-loss record differential of -3, which is one of the better losing differentials in the league. 15 teams have a negative differential, and only two of those are better than the Tigers’.

Here’s a chart showing how Detroit compares to the rest of the league:

MLB individual game run differential

Team No. of games W-L record Record differential
Team No. of games W-L record Record differential
SDP 29 5-24 -19
TOR 21 4-17 -13
ATL 27 8-19 -11
OAK 14 3-11 -8
CIN 28 11-17 -6
NYM 30 12-18 -6
BAL 25 10-15 -5
KCR 25 10-15 -5
MIN 25 10-15 -5
SFG 21 8-13 -5
PHI 22 9-13 -4
PIT 26 11-15 -4
DET 29 13-16 -3
CHW 24 11-13 -2
TBR 17 8-9 -1
MIA 18 9-9 0
LAA 17 9-8 1
MIL 17 9-8 1
SEA 26 14-12 2
TEX 27 15-12 3
COL 32 18-14 4
WAS 22 13-9 4
CHC 17 11-6 5
BOS 18 12-6 6
HOU 24 16-8 8
STL 23 16-7 9
CLE 26 19-7 12
LAD 21 17-4 13
ARI 28 21-7 14
NYY 23 19-4 15
Baseball Prospectus

*All stats are coming into play August 10, 2017.

Some things that stick out:

  • The Colorado Rockies have played the most games like this, 32, and 10 teams have played at least 26 games.
  • Only six teams have played less than 20 games like this.
  • The team with the largest positive differential — 15 — is the New York Yankees.
  • The biggest negative differential is the San Diego Padres’ differential of -19.
  • The Cleveland Indians are the only American League Central team with a positive differential, and only three teams have a better differential — the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the aforementioned Yankees.
  • Seven National League teams and seven American League teams have a positive differential.
  • Only one team, the Miami Marlins, has a neutral differential.

Looking over these, it’s quite obvious that Detroit isn’t far out of the ordinary when compared to the rest of the MLB. How about the individual game numbers?

Detroit Tigers scoring margins up to Game 113
Baseball Reference

The green bars are wins and the red bars are losses. Each bar represents the differential itself — not how many runs were scored or given up. For example, the green bar on the far right is the Tigers’ 10-0 victory from Wednesday, and the next tall green bar (to the left of that) is the July 30 game when Detroit beat the Houston Astros 13-1.

Clearly, the Tigers have been worse recently than they were at the start of the season. Detroit has lost 11 games by four or more runs and 16 by three or more since June 16 (the tall green bar right before eight-game losing streak). That means 34 percent of Tigers games in that time frame were losses of at least three runs. Ouch.

The main takeaway is yes, the Tigers have played a large number of games with a wide run-scoring margin, but that’s not unusual. Considering the team with the least games with a margin of five or more runs is the Oakland Athletics with 14, it’s easy to see that Detroit isn’t out of the ordinary.