Another argument against relying on the HR is that slugging teams tend to put up huge numbers when they are hot, and then slump terribly when the sluggers go cold. The cliche is that “speed doesn’t slump”, i.e., if you have a fast team and play small ball, you can always score runs even when your hitters are slumping. It is often argued that the Blue Jays tend to blow out a team one game, and then score no runs for the rest of the series, rather than having the day-to-day consistent run production that contact hitters and a more aggressive offence would provide.
I could buy that. In the same way that you would prefer to have a pitcher who puts together quality starts every game and gives you a chance to win every time than one who alternates between masterpiece and disaster (*cough* Burnett *cough*), if a power team was hot and cold, they might win fewer games than their runs scored/game would imply. And it could be the case that “big innings” come less frequently and sometimes in bunches.
Fortunately, there is a pretty easy way to figure out if this is the case. It’s called standard deviation.
It’s really not that complicated. For every game you just add up the difference between what you scored and the average number of runs you score, and then find the average per game (along the way you put in a square and then cancel it out with a square root to make the number more accurate). The result is a reflection of how close the values stayed to the average number. Assuming a team scored 5 runs on average, every time they score 10 or 0, it goes up, and every time they score 5, it goes down.
I ran the results for last year, when the Blue Jays were 22/30 with 65 steals, against three small ball teams- the Angels, Dodgers and the Twins. The results?
2006 Standard Deviation for Runs Scored
Blue Jays: 2.988655327
Honestly, I figured the numbers would just be close enough we could call them statistically irrelevant, but the small ball teams all showed more variance, and it’s a relevant amount for the Dodgers and the Twins. They were more likely to score either significantly more or fewer runs than their average per game (which was 4.99 for the Dodgers and 4.94 for the Twins as compared to our 5.04) than the Blue Jays.
The only other argument that could be made is although the runs scored are distributed just as evenly, all the big numbers for a power club occur in groups (say by month) because they somehow feed off each other. This could be number crunched as well, but I’m not going to bother because rearranging the same offensive outputs wouldn’t make any difference to the number of games won, just to the streakiness of a team (and I expect that team streakiness is as questionable a concept as it is for individuals). Honestly, I hope that’s the case for the Blue Jays if they are going to have any chance in the second half, but the reality is the Jays have been an amazingly un-streaky team under Ricciardi.
This is not to say that speed might win more close games, or that it doesn’t help to have another trick in the bag- but the idea that station-to-station teams score runs in bunches, tack on useless runs in blowouts and then go dry does not hold up. You still need to get on to steal a base, and speed runs just as hot and cold as power.