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Is it more important to win the blowouts or the nail-biters?

Time to crunch a few numbers again

Chicago White Sox v Minnesota Twins Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

In early April of this season, I pondered the topic of close/walk-off losses and whether they are more helpful or harmful to team psyche. Oh, to live in such halcyon days again—back when this team’s biggest problem was a 5-2 record but “the two losses were so bad”.

Since that point, the defeats have kept coming (and coming, and coming, and...) in seemingly all shapes and forms. Blowouts, slim margins, garden-variety L’s—the 2021 group has experienced pretty much every way to lose a ballgame over the season’s first two months.

The sharp downturn got me thinking (always a dangerous proposition) about the potential importance of winning the “laughers”—or blowouts—versus winning one-run games. Do those types of outcomes have an outsized significance in terms of overall winning percentage at season’s end?

First, I figured I’d better established how—or if—those categories fluctuate season by season. Going back to 2010, the average percentage of one-run + blowout (5+ runs) games was 56%. A few seasons stand out as outliers (64% in 2011 & 43% in 2020), but otherwise no wild swings. In other words, roughly half of each season’s contests are comfortable-margin laughers or decided by a single hand/foot on home plate, while the other half are 2-4 run affairs.

But which are more important? Well, in some seasons it doesn’t seem to matter much at all. In 2014, the Twins had a winning percentage of .432 overall, .447 in blowouts, and .467 in one-run games. Pretty even across the board.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Minnesota Twins
The 2014 Minnesota Twins: thoroughly below-average in every way
Photo by Andy King/Getty Images

For the most part, though, winning the close ones tends to equate to winning seasons. A few examples:

-2010: .580 overall/.667 blowouts/.574 one-run

-2015: .512/.478/.512

-2019: .623/.729/.657

-2020: .600/.583/.643

But, that certainly isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. Look at 2017, for instance: .525/.518/.455. That team was poor at the tight contests, just okay at the laughers, but still managed to achieve (perhaps over-achieve) a winning season. They must have been money in the ‘tweeners.

Or, along the same lines, look at these back-to-back seasons:

-2012: .407/.356/.481

-2013: .407/.286/.490

No one could say that ‘12 or ‘13 were great years in Twins Territory. Yet, those Gardy squads played at a near-.500 clip in the one-run margins. They just were on the wrong end of blowouts far more often than not.

Minnesota Twins v Chicago White Sox
Pitchers looking disgusted: a common sight in 2012 & 2013
Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images

Thus far in 2021, here are the winning percentage splits: .367/.438/.357. Not the “Bomba Squad of Blowouts”, to be sure, while also abysmal in single-digit finals.

Overall—though not in the face of overwhelming evidence—it seems as if winning one-run games is slightly more important than pounding opponents into submission more often than they do to you. As usual, I’d like to get your thoughts on the matter...

Poll

Would you rather have a team that:

This poll is closed

  • 84%
    Wins every one-run game
    (28 votes)
  • 15%
    Wins every game decided by 5+ runs
    (5 votes)
33 votes total Vote Now