Baltimore Orioles reverse their luck in one-run games (now it’s bad)

David Brown
Big League Stew

"The Baltimore Orioles went 29-9 in one-run games in 2012. That ain't happening again."

— Blake Murphy of Beyond the Box Score, March 15, 2013

Not that he likely wrote the post seeking praise someday, but Blake Murphy could not have been more correct. This season, as Joe Lemire of Sports Illustrated noted, the Orioles are 16-26 in one-run games, a .381 winning percentage for the worst record in baseball. A season ago, by going 29-9, they set a record for one-run success.

If anything, Baltimore's failures at one-run baseball this season are helping to keep them out of the playoffs. The O's are only 1 1/2 games out of the second wild card spot, but they have three teams to jump in the standings, plus the Royals to worry about a half-game behind. A season ago at this point, they had a 59.2 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to Coolstandings.com. At the moment, it's 11.6 percent.

What happened? Are the Orioles suddenly bad at tight baseball? Did manager Buck Showalter lose his ability to will them to close victory? Is there no Orioles Magic left in their snug-fitting caps?

None of the above. Going back to Murphy's post from March, it's all about the law of probability. After sifting the data and running it through a mass spectrometer, Murphy concluded:

*Elite one-run game performance appears to be random.
*It is somewhat more predictable when actual talent level is figured in.
*That is, very good teams will do slightly better in close games because they are, well, better, and...
*Very bad teams will also do slightly worse in close games because they are, well, worse.

Murphy concludes that the Orioles were playing "well over their heads" in 2012 and he expected the O's to be around .500 at the end of this season. Well, at 77-69, it's possible that, with a poor finish, they could get close. Then again, with just over two weeks left in the season, the Orioles actually are due to have some better luck in one-run games. If they find a little Orioles Magic dust somewhere, it would help them return to the playoffs — despite an overall record in one-run games that almost surely will be poor.

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