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The Giants have baseball’s best record in one-run games

Why can’t they all be one-run games?

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Los Angeles Dodgers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

In the waning innings of the San Francisco Giants 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday night, ESPN’s broadcast crew began remarking about how good the Giants are in one-run games.

I don’t particularly believe in the broadcaster’s jinx, but I do believe in the Dodgers being a lot better than the Giants, so I was pretty sure they’d cough up this one.

They didn’t.

With the win, the Giants improved to 17-6 in games decided by one run (or fewer!). That mark is tops in the league, and it may shock you to learn that being 11 games above .500 is 11 games more than the average team.

So what makes for this great success in one-run games, in a year where the team is just 14-33 in all other contests?

Let’s examine a few options.

The Bruce Bochy factor

On the broadcast, Brucy Bochy’s strong bullpen management skills were brought up as a factor for the Giants late in the game. Since Bochy is not an October home run, the broadcasters agreed on this point.

Love him or hate him, Bochy does have a knack for bullpen management, even if A) that has wavered wildly in recent years, and B) it still takes him way too long to actually get to the bullpen.

Now, this is far from the determining factor in the Giants one-run efficacy. Since having a great all-around year in 2012, the Giants have only had a winning record in one-run games once, and that year they finished with one more win than loss in such games. So it’s not as if Bochy has a historic record of leading his team to wins in the tightest of games.

Still, he’s shown this year that he knows when to deploy the “let’s win this game” bullpen, and when to deploy the “ehh, we’re [redacted]” bullpen. In a transitional year, that’s highly important.

The bullpen

The Giants have been futile in many regards, but not in the bullpen. Their trusty group - led by Will Smith, but also starring Tony Watson, Sam Dyson, Trevor Gott, and Reyes Moronta - is fourth in the league in FIP.

I was about to list the benefits of a good bullpen, and why it helps in situations like this, but then I realized that none of the three teams ahead of the Giants in reliever FIP - Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Tampa Bay - have winning records in one-run games.

Still, it does help, especially when paired with the aforementioned manager.

The meek and mild offense

The Giants don’t score a lot. To be specific, they score an average of 3.8 runs per game - good for 28th in the league, and a whole run below the league average.

When you don’t score a lot, you find yourself in a lot of one-run games. One run is a much higher percentage of the scoring total when you don’t score much. If you score three runs, as the Giants did last night, there are only three potential scores for you to win by. One of those scores results in a one-run game.

That means that if you’re doing basic, non-contextual math in an area where contextual math is important, it’s a 33% chance that your victory will be a one-run game. Then imagine the odds if you only score one run!

Of the Giants 17 one-run victories, 12 have been by a score of 4-3, 3-2, 2-1, or 1-0.

You won’t often hear me extol the virtues of not scoring runs, but here we are.


Ahh, yes. We’ve arrived at the big one.

Try as I may to explain the reasoning for the Giants one-run success, luck is the biggest factor.

The bad news is that means the Giants will likely regress. If you assume that a team should win 50% of their one-run games (a generous number for the Giants, since they’re a below-average team), then the Giants really should be 25.5-44.5. That record is much worse than the 31-39 record they’re currently sporting.

The good news is that the law of averages is used carelessly and inaccurately on sports broadcasts across the world. The Giants being the best team in baseball in one-run games doesn’t mean we should prepare for a string of the Giants being the worst team in baseball in one-run games. San Francisco could keep this up. They could end the year 40-15 in one-run games for all we know.

I think they should try for that plan.