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In Play: Run(s) - the magic number is five

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You see those words on MLB Gameday when a team scores. Some analysis on the number of runs that almost guarantee a win.

Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

For those of you who follow me super closely, you’ll know that I’ve been tracking the Cubs record when they score four or more runs (18-5) and when they don’t (7-16). I picked up on four as a key number of runs early in this Cubs season. So I’ve been tracking it. The simple observation: The Cubs were almost certainly going to win if they got to four runs.

My sounding board for things I’m thinking is often my two teenage daughters. So I was mentioning this number to my 17-year-old and her general response was Duh! She pretty quickly said that this was a pretty dumb thought. After being a little frustrated at her (entirely logical) response, I began wondering. Is it a dumb thought? Is there any magic to four runs? Does that point differ between good teams and bad ones?

So I started looking around at different teams. Indeed, some teams are very good at different levels. But then some numbers started to become apparent to me. The Diamondbacks are 13-0 when they score five runs. The Pirates are 22-3 when they get to five. The Tampa Bay Rays, who aren’t even particularly good, are 18-1 if they score five runs. The Phillies are 18-1 at five runs. Even the Reds are 12-8 at five.

So here are the things I found:

  • National League team, 5 or more runs scored: 230-55 (80.7 winning percentage)
  • National League team, 4 or fewer: 121-281 (30.1)
  • American League team, 5 or more: 250-62 (80.1)
  • American League team, 4 or fewer: 104-290 (26.4)

Those are some pretty stark numbers. For the record, most of these statistics are through Wednesday’s games.

The Cubs are 17-3 when they score five runs. Every team in baseball has a winning record when they score at least five runs. You can decide between the D-Backs and the Pirates as the best record in baseball once they’ve scored five runs. The White Sox are the worst at 8-7.

Maybe this was a small part of the thought process when Theo and the Cubs front office relentlessly pursued hitters when putting this team together. At 5.29 runs per game, the Cube are one of four teams in baseball that average more than the magic number of five runs. Not surprisingly, all four teams are at least four games over .500. On the flip side are six teams that allow more than five runs per game. Those six teams all have a winning percentage at 38 percent or lower.

So when you are watching a game and a team gets to five runs, know that team is almost certainly going to win. Maybe you already sensed this, but I did the statistical analysis for you on this one. Even a lousy team (other than the White Sox) has a borderline playoff record when they score at least five.

I’ve certainly not uncovered any magical analysis here. Out of morbid curiosity, I’ll probably revisit this in greater detail at some point later in the season. I’m now curious to see records at one or more run scored, two or more runs scored, etc. I want to see how much the record tips at each. I’m also curious to see what the numbers look like on the flip side (runs allowed?) But again, know this, as your team gets to five runs, they are almost certainly going to win. Just don’t tell that to the Yankees, who lost a game Wednesday night in which they scored 10 runs. (And for the record, MLB teams are 108-7 this year when scoring 10 or more runs.)