Mailbag: Historically Speaking, How Good Are the 2010 Padres at Run Prevention?

Here’s a fun one from Nathan K. in Chicago, who writes:

This Padres team is allowing very few runs. I believe as of the 119th game, only 401. It is my understanding that the record in a 162 game season is 472 by the 1968 Cardinals, which featured none other than Bob Gibson, and is referred to by baseball historians as “the year of the pitcher.” It is also my understanding that the following year MLB lowered the mound from 15″ (sometimes more) to the 10″ today. This of course contributed to an immediate surge in hitting prowess.

Now, the Padres are not on pace to break that record, and their upcoming schedule may prohibit any sort of improvement, but I would love to know what the MLB record is for allowed runs after 1969. Moreover, I would like to know where this Padres team fits in historically with runs allowed stats. I believe that the fact that they are even competing with the 1968 Cardinals staff speaks for itself, but more info would be great.

Thanks for the question, Nathan. Let’s see what we can find on this.

First, regarding the mound, you are correct. It was lowered after the ’69 season.

Second, regarding the MLB record for runs allowed since 1969, we’ll do it on a per game basis so as not to penalize teams that played in strike-shortened seasons. Here is the list, in ascending order, of teams since 1969 that allowed fewer runs per game than the 2010 Padres (through August 20):

Year Team RA/G MLBAv Diff
1972 Bal  2.79 3.69  0.90
1972 Oak  2.95 3.69  0.74
1981 Hou  3.01 4.00  0.99
1969 Bal  3.19 4.07  0.88
1981 NYA  3.21 4.00  0.79
1981 LA   3.24 4.00  0.76
1972 Det  3.29 3.69  0.40
1975 LA   3.30 4.21  0.91
1972 Pit  3.30 3.69  0.39
1976 NYN  3.32 3.99  0.67
1969 StL  3.33 4.07  0.74
1988 NYN  3.33 4.14  0.81
1972 Cle  3.33 3.69  0.36
1969 NYN  3.34 4.07  0.73
1989 LA   3.35 4.13  0.78
1971 Bal  3.35 3.89  0.54
1976 LA   3.35 3.99  0.64
1988 LA   3.36 4.14  0.78
2010 SD   3.37 4.42  1.05

To provide additional context, I’ve also included MLB average numbers as well as differential between those and team numbers. It might have been more precise to run individual league averages before the advent of interleague play, but that would have taken me longer and I doubt it makes a huge difference. Anyway, just so you know… I did consider it.

Back to Nathan’s question: The record for runs allowed per game since 1969 is held by the 1972 Baltimore Orioles, who allowed a whopping 2.79 that year. Thanks to a poor offense (89 OPS+), they went just 80-74, finishing third in the American League East. Remarkably, the Orioles used just 11 pitchers that entire season.

Another way to approach the question is to focus on differential between team runs allowed and league runs allowed. For example, the ’72 Indians allowed fewer runs per game than this year’s Padres have. However, the Cleveland squad did so in an environment that was far less conducive to offense, making its accomplishment somewhat less impressive. Here, then, is a list of teams since 1969 that allowed at least one run per game fewer than MLB average:

Year Team RA/G MLBAv Diff
2003 LA   3.43 4.73  1.30
1998 Atl  3.59 4.79  1.20
1997 Atl  3.59 4.77  1.18
1993 Atl  3.45 4.60  1.15
2002 Atl  3.51 4.62  1.11
1995 Atl  3.75 4.85  1.10
2010 SD   3.37 4.42  1.05
1996 Atl  4.00 5.04  1.04
1996 LA   4.02 5.04  1.02
1999 Atl  4.08 5.08  1.00

A few points are worth mentioning:

  • As Nathan notes, we don’t know that the Padres can sustain their current pace over the season’s final quarter. In fact, their differential has slipped to 0.97 since I started working on this piece.
  • The Padres do gain a huge advantage by playing half their games at Petco Park, which suppresses offense like few other baseball venues have. Still, they’ve had that advantage for a while and never done anything like what they’re doing now.
  • Teams didn’t get this kind of separation before 1993 (an expansion year). I don’t know how far back that holds true, but it’s at least to 1954, when the Cleveland Indians allowed 3.23 runs per game, against MLB average of 4.38 (those Indians went 111-43 behind the likes of Early Wynn, Mike Garcia, Bob Lemon, Bob Feller, Ray Narleski, Don Mossi, and Hal Newhouser — kinda sick, really).
  • This list is dominated by the Braves dynasty toward the end of the last millennium. That is nice company to keep.

In a nutshell, the ’72 Orioles were the best at preventing runs, the ’03 Dodgers were the best relative to league environment, and this year’s Padres are doing very well by both measures.

Thanks again for the question, Nathan. We will have to revisit this after the season…

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6 Responses »

  1. Much has been made of the Padres offense … I am curious to see how the Padres offense has done against the opposing teams’ #1 starters, #2 starters etc … Is there a trend that develops? I would imagine that the offensive numbers are pretty consistent due to the fact that we’ve only lost 3 in a row once and are something like 14-1 after two loses in a row. Thanks.

  2. Hey Geoff. You should consider using staff ERA+ because…well, yeah. That’s pretty much what you’re trying to calculate here, right?

    If you’re going for straight run prevention, then runs per game is probably best. But, like you said, it doesn’t account for the current scoring environment. Also, you should try to account for PETCO–which ERA+ will do. And there, you’ll find us…4th. In the National League. And 6th in the majors…

    And looking at the staff it seems about right, doesn’t it? Starters aren’t actually all that great–Latos is really the only one who’s been excellent. And the next best is probably Clayton Richard (Garland seems to be walking a tightrope to me)…and Clayton Richard has a 97 ERA+.

    Anyway, yeah. While interesting, I’m not sure your study does the Padres offense justice–they’ve actually been pretty damn decent. And they’ve played excellent defense–this pitching staff is good but they’re not the reason the Padres are in first–its the position players.

  3. Aggregates! You can /162 the strike year teams.

  4. Wow, that is revealing. Thanks, Nathan for the Q, and Geoff for the research and providing the context.

    Go Padres!

  5. Kinda wonder if the numbers change if you do the same comparison on an innings-pitched basis. Likely not, but I expect extra-innings games are more frequent in low-scoring environments, which would tend to ramp those up.

  6. @Geoff: That is a great question, if a bit tricky to answer in real time. First, we need to define terms (do we rank pitchers in descending order of ERA or ERA+, or by some other method?). Then we need to comb through the game logs… This is sounding like a lot of work! If anyone has some suggestions as to how we might approach the problem, I would love to hear them.

    @Mike: ERA+ measures something slightly different. What we’re looking for here is straight runs allowed; including unearned runs penalizes the Padres for their defensive reliability. I agree, though, that context is important. In that vein, here is the Padres RAA at home and away this year (through Aug. 24):

    Home: 3.07
    Away: 3.72

    The rest of your observations about the rotation are spot on. As for the offense, although we didn’t address it in this particular study, you are right that the Padres have done a good job. We actually touched on that a bit last month. Whatever Randy Ready is doing with his hitters, I hope he keeps doing it.

    @Dan: True. That would have worked as well.

    @Rob: Interesting point. Time permitting, I may have to look into that. I suspect that if there is an effect, it is a small one. Still, it’s worth considering.