A Run is a Run is a Run

Dave · January 18, 2013 at 11:33 am · Filed Under Mariners 

I know a lot of Mariners fans are tired of bad offensive teams. I know the Mariners are tired of bad offensive teams. In order to not have a bad offensive team next season, you’re more than willing to give up equal or greater amounts of pitching and defense, because you’re just tired of watching bad offensive teams.

Here’s the problem – if you want to win, you have to divorce yourself from that mindset. If you’re one of those who simply believes that the Mariners are doing the right thing by focusing solely on adding more power hitters in order to score more runs, please read this post. There’s some math, but it’s not scary math, and it’s not math you have to do. And the conclusion is perhaps the most important thing you can accept about baseball. I’m going to put the conclusion below this sentence, but you’ll want to read the whole post to see the evidence for yourself.

There is no evidence of additional benefit from improving a bad offense rather than improving a strong run prevention squad. There is simply no way to look at this data and suggest that there are strong levels of diminishing returns for run prevention, or that the models overrate the likelihood of a team with a bad offense’s chances of winning. If anything, the data points to the models slightly underrating those types of teams, and confirming the idea that, when it comes to winning more baseball games, a run is a run is a run.

Now, it’s almost certainly easier to improve on a weak offense than it is to improve on a strong run prevention group, or even vice versa. Filling a hole with a moderately useful player is simply not as challenging as upgrading on that a productive member of your team, and it’s certainly engrained within our personal psyche to focus on fixing what’s broken rather than improving areas that are working just fine. I’m not using this data to say that a team with a bad offense should just be content to keep having bad offensive clubs and focus entirely on preventing runs.

I am saying, however, that if a team makes a conscious decision to trade 20 runs allowed for 15 runs scored, they’re making a bad decision, no matter how bad their offense was the previous year. What matters is maximizing your ratio of runs scored to runs allowed, not reaching some kind of ideal balance between the two. Making a larger downgrade in pitching and defense in order to fix a bad offense is a trade-off that is likely to result in fewer wins. The same is likely true for swapping out hitters for pitchers, if you had a bad pitching staff last year.

Building a baseball team isn’t about simply improving on weaknesses. Building a baseball team is about putting as many good players on the field as possible, and caring too much what kinds of good players those are often leads to poor decision making. Don’t focus so much on scoring more runs or preventing more runs. Just focus on outscoring your opponent. That’s what wins games.

This isn’t “new stats versus old stats”, or “stats versus scouts”, or “insiders versus outsiders”, or any kind of argument that can be broken down along those lines. This is simply fact-based evidence. And that evidence simply refutes the idea that the Mariners are better off improving their offense, even if they have to sacrifice a greater number of runs prevented in order to make that improvement.

The “more power, more runs scored” approach to team building is simply incorrect. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t win games. Outscoring your opponent wins games. That’s the only thing the Mariners should care about.


77 Responses to “A Run is a Run is a Run”

  1. stevemotivateir on January 19th, 2013 2:12 pm

    Also, by trading Jaso now and not at the deadline if/when Zunino would’ve forced his way onto the roster, the organization got more for him.

    The Mariners sent him to a division rival with control for several years, and received an injury-prone player with no glove, in the final year of his contract, who they likely could have signed next offseason without having to give anyone up.

    Really hard to see how they sold high on him.

    This isn’t even a lateral move, regardless of whether or not Morse can stay healthy. Jaso’s a better hitter and offers some defense at a more important position. And that’s just looking at 2013. If Morse isn’t retained, it’s even more insulting.

    If Bay and Ibanez were never signed, and Jaso wasn’t the trade chip, yeah, there probably wouldn’t have been so much resistance. But even in that scenario, he wouldn’t make a ton of sense, unless you never traded for Morales as well.

  2. bubba_gump on January 19th, 2013 2:56 pm

    “Wow, you couldn’t have missed the entire point of this post any worse!

    You don’t need power to score runs. You don’t. Really. The reigning World Series Champions, the San Francisco Giants, were dead last in HR’s, but sixth in run scored. Their offense was exciting and the attendance certainly didn’t suffer from the lack of power, as they were ranked fourth overall, second in the NL.”

    And you missed the entire point of my comment. By adding power it gives ME HOPE that the M’s will score more runs than the small ball, defensive style teams that have worked so well these last 5 years. Obviously the M’s agree. Bringing the fences will held defensively, no Steve?

  3. BillyJive on January 19th, 2013 3:29 pm

    I am looking forward to Dave’s next post entitled ‘Sign Erik Bedard’

  4. djw on January 19th, 2013 3:59 pm

    I’m so old I can remember some of the mediocre Mariners teams of the 1990’s, with a murderer’s row of a lineup and dreadful run prevention. A lot of the chatter I heard from frustrated fans was the direct inverse of what I see in this thread, along the lines of “all the home runs are nice, but it’s just so frustrating to see them all go to waste when the bullpen comes in. It’s embarrassing to be a fan of a team with such incompetent pitching” and so on and so forth. I think it’s a pretty good idea not to take this kind of chatter and speculation too seriously. If the team finds a way to win 90 games and compete for the playoffs, we’ll be thrilled no matter how they do it. If we’re looking at another 70 win season, very few people will take much solace in a modest bump in home run totals.

    Also, since no one else has mentioned it, this:

    I wonder of all of the talk from Mariners fans about how bad this trade is could keep free agents away from signing here.
    I know I wouldn’t want to work in a place that spent three days talking about how much better the guy that just left was.

    Is one of the most straightforwardly insane suggestions I’ve ever seen in one of these comment threads. I have no idea why anyone would think a few negative comments on a blog somewhere about an entirely different player would have anything whatsoever to do with a future free agent’s deliberations. Also, it’s not like Mariners fans are somehow unique in expressing displeasure at what they perceive to be bad trades; this is pretty much universal.

  5. stevemotivateir on January 19th, 2013 5:25 pm

    Ok, bubba. Let’s look at the last line of that first comment you made.

    At least by adding power there is hope that they could score a few runs and hold on defensively.

    How are you not suggesting that they need power to score runs? It’s really as if you didn’t read the post at all.

    And with the fences coming in, the need for extra power should be less necessary, right?

    I get that you feel more cozy with power. But it sounds incredibly funny that you would share your feelings in the comments of this specific post.

  6. bubba_gump on January 19th, 2013 6:35 pm

    Steve, poor choice of words on my behalf in relation to power….however with these additions/modifications do you think the M’s score more runs than years last? I do; and I think it will be more interesting to watch because if a batter steps into the box that has the ability to jack one out, it can change the course of a game more than a John Jaso line drive.

  7. djw on January 19th, 2013 8:32 pm

    Of course the Mariners are likely to score more runs in 2013 than 2012. (Although that would also have been true with no personnel moves at all, although to a lesser degree.) I’m not at all convinced that they’ve set themselves up to have a better run differential than last year, though, due to subtractions in pitching a defense, so I’m not particularly impressed by this change, because run differential matters, not dingers.

  8. Hunter S. Thompson on January 19th, 2013 10:40 pm

    For all those saying, I’ll watch more games, (win or lose) if they score more runs, will you really?

    Statistics say otherwise, winning not offense equates to increases in attendence. I want to see a better team, Morales helps, Morse, for Jaso does not.

    We still need an outfielder and some SP, hopefully we spend some of our remaining cash on that.

  9. BLYKMYK44 on January 20th, 2013 12:11 am

    I’ll get through all of the comments one day…but can I tell you how hilarious it is to see people talk about scoring “ZERO” runs as if that is some sort of an expectation (or possible)…in the same sentence when they mention that they’d rather see an 11-9 loss (as if averaging nine runs a game is any more realistic)….

    If you don’t understand this simple concept…then you’re just not going to understand why defense is important…just accept it and move on I guess…

  10. stevemotivateir on January 20th, 2013 6:03 am


    You do realize Jaso is has power as well, right? Last year his SLG was .456. Morse was a little higher at .470, but had a significantly lower OBP.

    Personally, I’m more excited with Jaso. HR’s, triples, doubles, singles, and walks, are all exciting with runners on. I even find it exciting to see a batter work the count.

  11. stevemotivateir on January 20th, 2013 7:04 am

    *Feel free to laugh at my grammar. Seriously though, I fail to see how anyone could not be excited every time Jaso stepped to the plate.

  12. shadow_watch on January 20th, 2013 8:56 am

    This team has done nothing to improve itself this offseason. They’ve just moved the shells while they continue to cut payroll. One 2 WAR player for another. A little more power, a little less defense. Who cares.

    Didn’t we try the save runs game a couple of years ago? How did that work out?

    But whoa Nelly, let’s not give a 4-5 WAR player an extra year on a contract offer, especially with a new TV deal on the horizon.

    You don’t get better bringing in vets at the end of their career. We tried that with Bavasi. You don’t attract free agents by halving your payroll and allowing your revenue streams to dry up because you field a poor excuse for a team. Sad, really sad.

  13. shadow_watch on January 20th, 2013 9:03 am

    A team that fails to invest to improve because they are two years away from contending will always be two years away from contending.

  14. Westside guy on January 20th, 2013 12:26 pm

    “Didn’t we try the save runs game a couple of years ago? How did that work out?”

    Given that I don’t recall anyone ever claiming good defense can counter a historically inept offense, I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make there.

    But, excepting that one sentence – I pretty much agree with you.

  15. PackBob on January 21st, 2013 1:10 am

    However good an offense is, if the team gives up more runs than it scores, the team will generally lose. However good the defense and pitching is, if the team scores fewer runs than it gives up, the team will generally lose.

    It doesn’t matter how many runs a team scores, only how many compared to the teams it plays.

  16. ChrisFB on January 21st, 2013 6:30 am

    Actually, on consideration, I think the larger point can be made by saying that teams win by getting higher quality players.

    The philosophical bits about offense v. pitching/defense and where the margins are for value and all that are kind of a distraction from that. It’s not that flipping the switch to look for ‘more power’ or ‘more offense’ or ‘a #3 hitter’ was leading to overemphasizing offense and that that alone was a bad thing. For example, if the pursuit of offense had brought in Hamilton or Swisher, or resulted in a good deal for Upton or Stanton, I don’t think we would be handwringing over a front office that just doesn’t get it.

    The problem is not the pursuit of power in and of itself… it’s that the pursuit of power led to a lower tier of player.

    Morse for Jaso was a lateral move based on a blind pursuit of more power. It ignored and undervalued Jaso’s contributions and treated Morse’s strengths as an overall upgrade, when it isn’t.

    Jaso as part of an Upton package? Probably. Jaso as part of a Stanton package? Of course. Jaso for Morse, where the ceiling is a ~3.5-ish WAR season and highlight reels of 450 ft homeruns? Meh. More settling and setting sights low by the front office.

    The front office doesn’t need to pursue a strategy of ‘pitching and defense’ OR ‘offense’. It’s not either/or. The front office needs to be importing or developing the highest quality players possible at each position. Whether their value is on pitching, defense or offense.

    Really, they were getting 3ish WAR from their nominal backup catcher. How many teams in baseball get that from their backup catcher? Leave that alone and go upgrade the outfield. Or starting catcher. Or the rotation. Or, imagine that, all 3…

  17. heyoka on January 21st, 2013 10:44 am

    what isn’t a run, isn’t a run, isn’t a run

  18. lalo on January 21st, 2013 6:03 pm

    Ronny Paulino just signed with the M´s. Better than Olivo I guess.

  19. yoshkawano on January 21st, 2013 7:17 pm

    Remember when Pay-Rod reached free agency? Texas put offense so far ahead of defense and finished worse despite adding the “greatest shortstop ever.” The lesson was proven then.

  20. djw on January 21st, 2013 7:57 pm

    What? When Alex Rodriquez signed that contract he was a defensive asset. He provided the Rangers with well below market WAR for the three years he was on their team.

  21. MrZDevotee on January 21st, 2013 9:21 pm

    Lookout Landing quotes a Latin American news agency as announcing that the M’s have signed catcher Ronny Paulino to a $1 million deal.

    Not very interesting, until you look at his career splits versus right handers (what Jaso’s role was on the M’s)

    Jaso– .270/.368/.421
    Paulino– .325/.379/.465

    (oddity being Paulino is a right handed bat who hits righties significantly better than lefties– including twice as many at bats against righties as lefties)

  22. MrZDevotee on January 21st, 2013 10:57 pm

    <<< And I read that completely wrong… He hits LHP better, like one would expect. So yeah, nevermind.

  23. greentunic on January 22nd, 2013 4:35 pm

    But Montero hits LHP well. Does this mean he would DH against LHP and Paulino catch? Then Morales would either be benched or play 1B depending on Smoak’s situation.

    Looks like Montero at C against the RHP majority. For now.

  24. Mid80sRighty on January 22nd, 2013 4:49 pm

    ^^^I believe it’s all but a done deal right now that Montero is going to be the starting catcher with no platoon partner.

  25. yoshkawano on January 22nd, 2013 7:15 pm

    When the Rangers signed Pay-Rod they allocated too much of their monetary assets on his offensive prowess. They couldn’t afford to improve their pitching and won maybe 2 games more than the year before. They didn’t improve their bottom line until the Yankees took that contract off their hands.

  26. djw on January 22nd, 2013 7:30 pm

    That’s risible nonsense. He gave them 27 WAR in three years, at well under than 3 million per. Their overall performance those years had to do with poor allocation of resources (Chan Ho Park, Juan Gonzalez) and underperforming young players. But if you think getting a player who never takes a day off and gets you ~9 WAR a season at a premium position for 22 million is a *problem* you don’t understand baseball.

  27. Badbadger on January 25th, 2013 1:02 pm

    A lot of people have suggested that more defense can run into a problem of diminishing returns. I don’t guess I see that. It certainly get harder to add defense the better your team already is; if you have a Brendon Ryan type defender at every position then how are you going to find someone to make it better? But if you can find someone who makes you better defensively it’s still going to help.

    The place where there’s going to be diminishing returns is when you’re, for example, giving up 1 run a game and scoring 7. Preventing a few more runs isn’t going to make you win much more because you’re already winning 150 games a year or something. But the same thing would go for offense too.

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