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How much does run differential – the measure of the difference between how many total runs a team scores and runs they give up – really matter? It doesn’t. What does a game mean for the Padres in terms of gaining 9 in the differential column? Nothing, the game counts as a win regardless of how many runs a team wins by. A loss by any amount is still a loss.

Run differential in Major League Baseball might be the most meaningless statistic in sports. Over 162 games, the differential is going to be whatever it is – and will mean nothing in terms of who wins their divisions. The best thing one can do is draw the result that teams winning their division consistently outscore their opponents. But then, we already knew that, didn’t we?

In recreational Travel Baseball, run differential is used to break ties in standings, mostly out of necessity. But in professional sports, soccer is one sport where goal differential is important in the standings. Soccer isn’t baseball – and in fact, many sports fans feel that soccer is anti-baseball.

National League West W L Pct GB RS RA Diff
Arizona Diamondbacks 26 21 .553 -- 190 165 +25 Colorado Rockies 26 21 .553 -- 231 199 +32 San Francisco Giants 26 21 .553 -- 215 211 +4 San Diego Padres 21 25 .457 4.5 185 205 -20 Los Angeles Dodgers 19 26 .422 6.0 156 188 -32

In the National League West, three teams are tied for the lead, but you wouldn’t know that to judge anything based on the scoring differential. The San Francisco Giants are 26-21 but have scored only 4 runs more than their opponents. It’s the same record as the Diamondbacks and the Rockies, which have a prolific run differential in the positive direction. All are tied for the division lead with the same exact record.

So, it all goes back to what happens when a team like the Padres score many more runs in a particular game than they need in order to win. Or conversely, lose by far more than a run or two. In short, regardless of some nebulous statistic such as run differential, the team has little control over it anyway.

“Runs come in bunches,” Chase Headley said when asked about run differential. “You wish you could save them for when you need them, but it’s not that easy. A lot of times it’s a snowball effect. When things are going really well you score runs in bunches and when things aren’t going really well, that’s tough too.”

This is particularly relevant when a team puts runners on base, and it puts pressure on the opposing pitcher and that pressure can create more opportunities. “Obviously when you put guys on base and [the pitcher] has to worry about if the guy is going to run, pitching out of the stretch and having to worry about holding the runner on, sometimes that takes focus off of the hitter just a little bit and it allows you to get a better pitch to hit,” Chase said.

Kyle Blanks concurred with Chase. “I mean, if you had an amount of runs you could sprinkle over every game throughout the year, you couldn’t put them where you wanted,” Kyle said.

Games that are won by wide margins are blessings for other, more intangible reasons. “Those are the kinds of games you kind of just embrace,” said Kyle. “They are games where everyone is doing what they need to do and when everyone is hitting well you just never really want to stop.”

Kyle continued, “As the game goes deeper and we score more runs, they’re trying to obviously put a stop to it. Sometimes those little things that we can do, whether it’s in the batter’s box or on the bases, can have an impact on how much more we can score throughout the game.”

Some statistics are more relevant than others. Run differential might be an interesting statistic to observe, but in the end, is usually only a general reflection of the most important statistic in baseball. You go to the playoffs based on either winning your division or garnering one of the two wildcard spots available in each league.

How many runs you score or don’t score to get there doesn’t mean anything come October.


Notes:

Friday, the Padres are in Arizona to face the Diamondbacks. Eric Stults (4-3, 4.05) will start for the Padres and go up against Brandon McCarthy (1-3, 4.74). Game time is at 6:40 PM PDST, on radio 1090 AM and Fox Sports San Diego will televise the game except for Time Warner Cable folks who may stimulate the economies of your local sports pub to watch the action.

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