A few weeks ago, I looked at trying to determine if there was more or less a magic number that meant that if you scored that number of runs you were almost certainly going to win. Here in 2018, that number has been five. If you get to four, you’re fairly certain to win, but if you get to five you are almost definitely going to win. It helps then that the Cubs average scoring just shy of five runs per game while allowing four runs per game. That’s a pretty good recipe for success to be sure.
I left that article and subsequent conversations about it wondering about a few things. First: What is the relative probability based on a given number of runs score? Second: How static have those numbers been through the years? I hypothesized that that number probably raised a bit in the so-called Steroid Era but otherwise has been relative static. But I don’t like to just form a hypothesis so with some input from my brilliant readers and the invaluable Baseball-Reference.com website, I’m going to journey back down this rabbit hole and go a little deeper.
I had to pick a time frame and one of the options was expansion era, which is defined as 1961 to present, and so I went with that number. We’ll look at the relative winning percentage based on a number of runs scored. I’ll also look at National League vs. American League to see how the difference has evolved over time. I’ll point out the best team at a given number of runs scored by winning percentage.
One Run Scored
- Best Winning Percentage: 1968 NL Teams .181
- Worst Winning Percentage: 1996 AL Teams .038
Six of the top eight were NL seasons, but seven of the top 13 are AL. Eight of the bottom 11 are AL seasons. AL teams have a better record this year when scoring one run, but in the 10 previous seasons, it was always the NL.
- Best Team: 1969 Mets (9-8 .529)
- Worst Team: 383 teams failed to win a single game
- 1984 Cubs were actually 0-17 when scoring exactly one run
- Worst Team: I had to give it to someone, so the 1988 Orioles (0-30)
If we change the selection to scoring one run or more:
In 2018, teams have a .536 winning percentage when they score one or more runs. That’s ranged as high as .558 and as low as .521. I found this fascinating. If you score at all, you are more likely to win than not by a fair margin. Those winning percentages often make the playoffs.
Two Runs Scored
- Best Winning Percentage: 1972 AL .383
- Worst Winning Percentage: 1994 AL .117
Oddly, we see seven of the top 10 as AL teams and eight of the bottom 11 as AL teams. No massive divide.
- Best Team*: 1964 Orioles (14-4 .778)
- Worst Team: 25 teams were winless when scoring exactly two runs
- Worst Team: 1991 Reds (0-25)
- Cubs: 2015 (12-12)
* = I disregarded the 2018 Astros at this point at 3-0
In 2018, teams have a .598 winning percentage if they score at least two runs. The range of all seasons is a high of .641 down to .565.
Three Runs Scored
- Best Winning Percentage: 1968 NL .581
- Worst Winning Percentage: 1994 AL .224
Here we have 13 of the bottom 14 winning percentages as AL years and almost all of them happened between 1987 and 2009. 14 of the top 16 are NL seasons, largely falling between 1963 and 1980.
- Best Team: 1967 Cardinals (16-5 .762)
- Worst Team: Four teams with no wins, but three are from 2018 and so that leaves us with
- Worst Team: 1994 Twins (0-11)
- Cubs: 1984 (11-6 .647)
In 2018, teams have a .664 winning percentage if they score at least three runs. The range of all seasons is from a high of .725 (1968) to a low of .616 (2000)
Four Runs Scored
- Best Winning Percentage: 1968 AL .723
- Worst Winning Percentage: 2007 NL .419
Here again, we see 12 of the bottom 17 winning percentages belonging to AL teams and almost all of them being 1995 to present (1995 fell into the bottom 10 on both the AL and NL sides). While three of the top four winning percentages are also AL teams, seven of the top 10 are NL.
In 2018, teams have a .729 wining percentage if they score at least three runs. The highest percentage was in .797 (1968) and the lowest was .681 (2000). Anyone seeing a pattern?
Five Runs Scored
- Best Winning Percentage: 1968 AL .797 (followed by 1968 NL, .776)
- Worst Winning Percentage: 1996 .496 (a real outlier as the next worst is .545)
Circling back to my first piece, this is the real tipping point. If your team scores five runs, you are in great shape to win. We have eight AL seasons at the bottom, all from 1987 to present. Seven of the top 10 are NL seasons, largely from the 60’s and 70’s.
- Best Team: six team prior to 2018 with perfect records, lead by 1992 Brewers (16-0)
- Worst Team: 1981 Angels (1-5 .167)
- Cubs: 1977 (12-1 .923)
In 2018, teams have an .802 winning percentage if they score at least five runs. Once again, the highest percentage is 1968 at .851 and the lowest was .738 in 2000. Those appear to be two historical tipping points. I know 1968 was looked at as a dead ball year. 2000 was the tail end of the offensive explosion caused by expansion and performance enhancing drugs.
Six Runs Scored
- Best Winning Percentage: 1967 NL .893
- Worst Winning Percentage: 1994 AL .599
The trend continues, eight of the top 12 seasons are in the NL and 10 of the bottom 13 are AL seasons. Pretty consistently it has taken a little bit more offense to win in the AL.
- Best Teams: Including a number of 2018 teams, 53 teams are undefeated when they score exactly six. The 1963 Orioles lead the way along with the 2012 Braves, both at 18-0.
- Worst Team: (disregarding 2018) 1973 Royals and 1994 Reds (1-5 .167)
- Cubs: 1993 (14-0)
In 2018, teams have an .859 winning percentage when scoring at least six runs. The best winning percentage was 1967 at .887 and the worst was 2000 at .784.
Seven Runs Scored
- Best Winning Percentage: 1968 AL .948
- Worst Winning Percentage: 1999 AL .682
- Best Teams: (235 teams undefeated including 2018) 2001 Mariners 18-0
- Worst Team: 1970 Padres (3-8 .273)
- Cubs: 2016 (13-0)
In 2018, teams have an .895 winning percentage when scoring at least seven runs. The best winning percentage was 1968 at .925 (nudging out 2014 .923). The worst was 1996 at .837 (nudging out 2000 .839 and 1999 .840)
Eight Runs Scored
- Best Winning Percentage: 1963 NL .962
- Worst Winning Percentage: 1996 NL .772 (with 1996 AL second at .775)
- Best Teams: (550 teams including 2018 undefeated) ‘97 Marlins, ‘82 Orioles and ‘06 Twins all 16-0
- Worst Team: Three winless teams lead by 2011 Royals at 0-3
- Cubs: Both the 2006 and the 2016 Cubs were a perfect 11-0
In 2018, teams have a .920 winning percentage when scoring at least eight runs. The best winning percentage was 2014 at .951 while the worst was 1996 at .862.
Nine, Ten and More Runs Scored
As we get to the extremes, it becomes less meaningful to split out results. In 2018, teams have a .935 winning percentage when scoring at least nine runs. The best collective year by winning percentage was 1989 when teams had a winning percentage of .969. At the other end of the spectrum, the worst was in 1996 when it was .896.
At ten runs, one thing I note is that there have already been more games this year with 10 runs scored by a team in them than the entire seasons of 1966, 1967, 1968 and 1981 (strike). Teams are winning at a .950 percentage when scoring at least 10. In 1989 .983 was the high mark and in 1999 .919 was the low. We talk a lot about the late 90’s for the offensive explosion. But there are some interesting things happening. in 2000 there were 571 games where a team scored at least 10 runs. That is far and away the largest number. But in 2017, there were 422, which is the sixth highest number recorded. 2016 checked in with 353 for 17th place. 2010 - 2015 were all relative average with between 249-298 times.
At 11 runs or more, we are in really rare air. Again, 2018 has already passed 1965-68 and 1981 in total number of occurrences. 2017 checks in with the seventh most occurrences. In 2018, you can expect a .978 winning percentage if you score at least 11 (ouch to the two teams who lost such games. In both 1964 and 1968 (80 and 52 times respectively) every team that scored 11 or more runs won. But the crazy number is 2011. 187 times a team scored at least 11 runs in 2011. None of them lost. In 2005, the record of those teams was 241-3. But all of the way back in 1961, teams were 9-119 (.930) when scoring 11 or more.
I hope you found some of this information interesting. Certainly in poring through this data, I can see that in more offensive eras it took a bit more scoring to feel safe. That’s intuitive, but occasionally stats can deceive you. It was interesting to note that even as scoring is down from the offensive boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s, but outlier numbers are still pretty high in this recent offensive renaissance being driven in part by the home run.
I thought it was crazy to see that merely scoring one run in a game basically made the game of baseball into a coin flip. If both teams score a single run, they both have an expected winning percentage above 50%. If your team could be guaranteed to score at least two runs in every single game, statistically, your team should win close to 100 games. That number is mind boggling to me. I’d have expected that number to be much higher. If your team could lock in three runs or more per game, they’d challenge historical records and have a strong chance of home field advantage.
At that, I think I’ve extracted about everything I’m going to extract from these numbers. Thanks for following along. Hope you enjoyed the journey down this rabbit hole.