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The Phillies accomplished something really unusual for them at Shea Stadium Tuesday night: they won an extra-inning game.

With the 11-inning 4-2 victory over the NL East-leading Mets, the club improved to 2-5 in contests including free baseball, breaking a tie with the Cubs (1-5) for the worst extra-inning mark in the big leagues. Unfortunately, this is not a new area of difficulty: the Phils went 5-11 in extras last season, which was the worst record in the majors. Breaking even in those 16 games would have given the 2006 Phillies 88 wins and, at the least, a play-in game to make the postseason.

You probably know that the 2007 Phillies haven't been any better in one-run contests, a fair proxy for extra-inning games in that, by definition, both are in doubt until very close to the end of the game. They're 4-10, better only than the Yankees (3-10) and Cubs (2-12). In each of the previous two years, they were closer to the break-even mark: 22-23 in one-run outcomes for 2006, and 21-23 in '05, the first year of Charlie Manuel's tenure. (The 2005 Phillies were 6-4 in extra-inning games.)


The consistent point is that aside from their winning record in extras two seasons ago, the team has underperformed its overall winning percentage in both extra-inning and one-run games.

Year

Overall record

Winning Pctg

One-run record

Winning Pctg

Extras record

Winning Pctg

2005

88-74

.543

21-23

.477

6-4

.600

2006

85-77

.525

22-23

.489

5-11

.313

2007

29-29

.500

4-10

.286

2-5

.286

I know the prevailing sabermetric wisdom for one-run games is that a team's outcomes in those contests cluster more closely around .500 than is true for all its games (see The Hardball Times here). But other factors might enter into it, as Bill James discusses here:
Teams which do well in one-run games have more or less all of the characteristics you would expect them to have, but only to a small extent.

My method here was to take all teams since 1950, and identify the top 50 and the bottom 50 teams by how they performed in one-run games, relative to expectations. I broke it off at 1950, because I didn't want to get back into the bad-data era. I then figured the average team stats for each group of 50 teams, and compared the two groups.

The 50 teams which did well in one-run games had more stolen bases (96-92 on average), more sacrifice bunts (71-67), more complete games (35-31), more saves (34-30), issued fewer walks (513-531), drew more walks (526-520) and had a better ERA (3.77 to 3.91).

The 50 teams which did poorly in one-run games hit more home runs (127-117), scored more runs (674-658), had a higher slugging percentage (.386-.380), a lower on-base percentage (.325-.323), used more relief pitchers (278-257), threw more wild pitches (47-44) and had more balks (8-7). They were more likely to play in hitter's parks (park factors 100.3 vs. 98.5).

I think that, generally, one would expect all of these things to be true -- one-run teams play one-run ball and have strong pitching. However, the degree to which these things are true is extremely minor. If you tried to project it backwards -- that is, take a team's characteristics and predict whether or not they would do well in one-run games -- you'd get nowhere, because the tendencies just aren't strong enough to work in that way.

The Phillies sound a lot more like category two, no?

Another focus of the James piece is whether one can make any conclusions about managerial performance from a team's one-run record. I've defended Charlie Manuel here before, and I stand by those arguments, but I'm not sure he doesn't hurt a little in this area. Manuel's handling of the bullpen is not a point in his favor--though, to be fair, he didn't pick these guys, and I'm not sure that Tony LaRussa hooked up to Deep Thought could do all that much better. (To a lesser extent, the same could be said of the benches Manuel's had to work with, maybe not so much this year as the putrid collections of reserve "talent" he had at his disposal in 2005 and 2006.)

Maybe it's best to turn to the man himself, quoted after Ryan Madson, Geoff Geary and Antonio Alfonseca combined to throw four scoreless innings in Tuesday's win: "When our bullpen pitches like that, we're in business." But the way the 2007 Phillies have been built, the bullpen doesn't "pitch like that" very often.