Detroit Tigers: Fewest Runs Since 2003 is Misleading Stat


It’s very misleading to say that the 2015 Detroit Tigers are on pace to score their fewest number of runs since 2003.

There’s a popular doomsday stat that has been floating around the Detroit Tigers corner of the internet the last couple of days that goes something like this: The Detroit Tigers are on pace to score their fewest number of runs since the 2003 season. There was an MLive post up yesterday to this effect. 2003 was, as we all remember*, the worst Detroit Tigers season on record. It was a year in which the team finished with 49 wins and 113 losses.

*I realized on Memorial Day that there are teenage Tigers fans out there who don’t remember that season. I envy them. I pity them.

More from Detroit Tigers

The thing about this stat is that it’s both (1) technically true and (2) entirely misleading. The 2003 team scored 591 runs. The 2015 team, given their current 4.09 runs per game rate, are on pace to score 663 runs. No team in between failed to score 700 runs in a season.

So, yeah, the stat works. It’s not a lie, technicaly, but it’s very, very misleading in what it represents. On the face, one might take it to mean that the Tigers offense is nearly as bad as it was in 2003. That’s not the case at all.

When considering stats like this, we have to consider the relative run environments in which they were generated. In 2003 the Tigers scored 3.65 runs per game. That was only 77% of the league average which was 4.73 runs per game. This year the Tigers are scoring 4.09 runs per game (yes, the lowest raw total since 2003), but that’s 98% of the league average rate of 4.16 runs per game.

Context matters when comparing baseball stats. A team who scored 4.5 runs per game in 2003 (given league average run prevention) would have been expected to win 77 games. That’s a third or fourth place team. A team who scores 4.5 runs per game in 2015 (given league average run prevention) would be expected to win 87 games. That might be a playoff team.

If the Tigers had only scored three more total runs this season they would be an entirely league average offense. That’s a far cry from what happened in 2003. The 2003 team was a terrible offense in a relatively high run environment. The 2015 offense (so far) has been a mediocre offense in a relatively low run environment.

Live Feed

Detroit Tigers get pick no. 11 in MLB Draft Lottery
Detroit Tigers get pick no. 11 in MLB Draft Lottery /

Motor City Bengals

  • Former Detroit Tigers announcer shares pair of touching stories about Jim LeylandMotor City Bengals
  • Detroit Tigers News: AJ Hinch, Jim Leyland, more pitching, Winter Meetings updatesMotor City Bengals
  • Detroit Tigers should look to upgrade from Akil Baddoo this off-seasonMotor City Bengals
  • Detroit Tigers and A.J. Hinch reach agreement on a contract extensionMotor City Bengals
  • Guessing random Atlanta Braves players from the past: Here comes the brideHouse That Hank Built
  • Here’s a quick table showing the last 13 Detroit Tigers seasons and what their run production was as a percentage of the MLB average:


    So yeah, 2015 is not a banner year so far, and it’s on the low end of how the Tigers have stacked up across the league, but it’s not actually the worst since 2003. That came in 2005 when the team scored 97% of the runs a league average team would have. And in 2009 — the Game 163 year — they were only a tick better at 99% (actually 98.8% compared to 98.5% if you want to get technical).

    The Tigers offense should be better than this. They’re frustrating to watch at the moment, but the projection systems believe they should be one of the better run scoring teams in all of baseball going forward.

    But even if it doesn’t get much better than this, it’s not like they’re out there making fools of themselves like they were in 2003. That’s simply not an apt comparison.

    Next: Should Tigers Trade for Adam Lind?

    More from Detroit Jock City