Palmer: Runs and Wins

From SABR member John Thorn at Our Game on July 21, 2014:

Two years before Pete Palmer and I published “The Hidden Game of Baseball,” I created a new journal for the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) called “The National Pastime” and invited Pete to write for its first issue. His article, “Runs and Wins,” proved a cornerstone for “The Hidden Game” and for sabermetrics as a whole. Just last week, Paul Hagen wrote an article at [] in which he stated that run differential “is a stat that has been around for years. And it is so simple and logical that at first glance, it hardly seems worth mentioning. And yet, run differential–the gap between how many runs a team scores and how many it gives up–has become more prominent than ever in recent years.” Below is an example of Palmer’s genius when sabermetrics was new. In “The National Pastime” he was surrounded by such baseball luminaries as Larry Ritter, Dr. Harold Seymour, G.H. Fleming, Bob Broeg, John B. Holway, Mark Rucker, and David Voigt, among others. The publication was a big hit, selling out quickly. It has been unavailable for decades, except in the antiquarian book trade–until this fall, when SABR will reissue it as an e-book, free to SABR members as all its electronic publications are. Thirty-two years after its debut, and 25 years after I passed the baton as its editor, “The National Pastime” is still published annually. “The Hidden Game” will be reissued in Spring 2015 from the University of Chicago Press, with a new introduction by its authors and a foreword by Keith Law.


Runs and Wins
By Pete Palmer

Most statistical analyses of baseball have been concerned with evaluating offensive performance, with pitching and fielding coming in for less attention. An important area that has been little studied is the relationship of runs scored and allowed to wins and losses: how many games a team ought to have won, how many it did win, and which teams’ actual won-lost records varied far from their probable won-lost records.

The initial published attempt on this subject was Earnshaw Cook’s Percentage Baseball, in 1964. Examining major-league results from 1950 through 1960 he found winning percentage equal to .484 times runs scored divided by runs allowed. (Example: in 1965 the American League champion Minnesota Twins scored 774 runs and allowed 600; 774 times .484 divided by 600 yields an expected winning percentage of .630. The Twins in fact finished at 102-60, a winning percentage of .624. Had they lost one of the games they won, their percentage would have been .623.)

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Originally published: July 21, 2014. Last Updated: July 21, 2014.