A Run is a Run is a Run
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.