Baseball Magazine

Why Do the Best MLB Teams Lose So Much?

By Meachrm @BaseballBTYard
Why do the best MLB teams lose so much?A couple weeks ago I was on an online radio show and had a chance to talk about Baseball By The Yard along with many other things in and around baseball.  The show ended with the host bringing up an interesting statistic.  He said that major league baseball is unique in that the best teams in the game still lose about 40% of the time.  That's not the case in most sports.  In fact, in the last NBA season, a .600 winning percentage would have put you in 5th or 6th place depending on which of the two conferences the team was in.  In comparison, the Phillies had an amazing 2011 regular season but still lost 60 games.  That's a .630 winning percentage.  No other team in baseball won more than 60% of the time.  
There is a popular saying in baseball that goes ... 
"No matter what they do, every team in baseball will win 50 games and lose 50 games.  It's the other 62 that really count." 
The question is why?  What is unique about baseball in that the best teams still lose roughly 40% of their games?  It's an interesting question.  I have to admit I never thought about it until the radio host mentioned it.  But after giving it some thought, I think I have two reasons why this is so.
1. The importance of pitching.  In baseball, pitching is king.  We've all probably heard the saying "good pitching beats good hitting."  A last place team may have a poor pitching staff when it comes to overall statistics but you have to remember that they are still major league pitchers.  They are there because they have major league stuff.  Because of this, on any given night, one of those pitchers can throw a gem and even the best hitting line-up will struggle to score runs.  This is one reason why even last place teams win roughly 40% of their games.  Hitting is very tough and the structure of the game will always benefit pitchers whether they are on a pennant winning team or on a last place team.
2. The best players may not impact the game.  I touched on this concept in the past.  In virtually every other team sport, the coaching staff can specifically design plays to get the ball in the hands of the best players in crucial situations.  Ten seconds left in your basketball game?  Just put the ball in Kobe's hands, spread the floor, and sit back and watch.  3rd down and 1?  Hand it off to your stud running back and let him do his thing.  Whether it's basketball, football, soccer, hockey, or lacrosse, put the ball in the hands of your best players at the end of a close game and you have a good chance to win.  Baseball is different.    Have runners on 2nd and 3rd with one out in a tie game in the 8th inning?  You're limited to who happens to be batting at the time.  It could very well be the three worst hitters in your line up.  And there is virtually nothing you can do as a manager - except maybe pinch hit if you're lucky to have a better guy on the bench.  The point is, a manager is largely at the mercy of how the game happens to unfold.  Sometimes it unfolds in your favor - 2nd and 3rd with you're 3, 4, and 5 hitters coming up - and sometimes it doesn't.  
It's just the way the game goes.

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