In the common Philadelphia Phillies—Atlanta Braves debate, the fact that the Braves lead the season series 5-4 is often brought up. The Phillies' three series against the Atlanta Braves this year have come out with the results 2-1, 1-2, 1-2, with the Phillies listed first. Does this series deficit reflect the season result? Does this show the Braves are better equipped to take the division than the Phillies?
First of all, are we comparing the right statistics? Season series is important, but it shows only a few games. I think that the whole season's games really show the victor. The Phillies are 4.5 games ahead of the Braves. I think that affects the outcome of the season more than the fact that they haven't won as many games as the Braves when the two face off.
In my opinion, run differential is a very important statistic. It shows how many runs you have scored compared to how many runs you have given up. It doesn't just show how many runs they have scored, for this could differ from team to team in terms of their strengths and weaknesses.
Run differential really specifies their success as a team almost as much as their record itself. Player statistics are important, but often only the best players stats are stated. Furthermore, some statistics are more important than others, and there can be debate about which really shows a good player.
To me, run differential is a compromise between the two sides. How many more runs has the team scored than they have given up? Simple as that.
The Phillies run differential is plus-63. Atlanta's is plus-41. Plus-22 is a big difference in terms of showing the skill of the team. Atlanta may have great pitching and win most games by only a few runs, but this still shows that Philadelphia is better. Both teams have very pitching-oriented clubs, so 22 more runs could be a difference of over five games.
Also, for the past four years, the Phillies have won the NL East division title. In 2009, Atlanta led the season series 10-8, but the Phillies finished ahead of them in the division by seven games. In 2008, the Phillies led the series against the Braves, but were behind in the series against the Mets by six games. New York was second place in the division by three games.
I know this is only two years, but it shows something important. You don't always have a series lead on the season over every team that you are ahead of. The Phillies finished ahead of the Braves in 2009 and the Mets in 2008, but were below .500 in the season series against their competitor.
The second place team is not going to be the only team you play; it is the whole season outcome that matters. Maybe you had a few bad games against your top competitor, but you won more overall in the year.
That is what really matters. Probability is shown better the more experiments you have. The better team is shown throughout the more games you play.
Thus, I conclude the better team of the two is still the Philadelphia Phillies.