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Why the Padres one-hit win was unusual, but not really

One-hit victories are rare, but we should be paying attention to the number of batters who reached base

Denis Poroy

Baseball is a sport of statistical oddities, and if you have come this far, not just to find our blog, but to click and read through this post, you obviously enjoy reading about such things as what happened in the Pirates-Padres game Wednesday night. The Padres won the game 3-2, despite only having one hit, a bunt hit, as it was.

Interestingly, this was the second time this season that a team has won a game with only one hit, the first coming when Oakland beat Tampa Bay by the same 3-2 margin.

How unusual is it for a team to win on only one hit?

Over the past 100 years of baseball, a team has won a game with only one hit a grand total of 63 times. Three have come in the previous 365 days, but since the turn of the century, it has happened only twelve times. The 1965 Los Angeles Dodgers the only team to do it twice in an individual season. It is an event as rare as you would expect it to be.

How do you even win on one hit anyway?

A casual observer can guess that a team who wins on one hit probably received a lot of help from the opposing pitchers, in terms of walks. The Padres capitalized on nine free passes on Wednesday. Oakland used seven bases on balls to help lead them to their one-hit victory. Of the 63 one-hit wins in baseball history, only two came without the help of walks; in 2006, the White Sox won 1-0 on a Jim Thome home run that would be their only hit, and in 1971, the Orioles one hit was a Frank Robinson home run to spark a 1-0 win in a game shortened by rain.

We know that walks aren't quite as good as hits. A hit can be a single, double, triple, or even a home run. A hit can advance runners who are on base more than one base, as well as drive a runner home without the other bases being filled. A walk is a walk. It is a take-your-base event, one base for the batter and, if a base runner is directly in front of them on the basepath, one base for the runner as well, and that is all.

But that shouldn't diminish the importance of walks. Most hits - 67.1% of them this season - are singles. So, if we want to fit things together nicely, we can argue that a walk, in terms of the ability for the batter to get on base, is as good as a hit roughly 67% of the time. A walk helps generate offense in the form that a hit does by putting a runner on base.

Teams who put runners on base more often, will win more often. A team who is only able to generate one hit in a game, seems unlikely to win that game, as the numbers prove out. But if we count the number of runners a team puts on base, whether it be via a hit or a walk, as well as hit batters, and leave errors aside to exclude defensive impact, we get a better idea of how teams win particular games than just looking at their hit total.

Why the Padres one-hit win wasn't so unusual

Of the one-hit winning teams in baseball history, none achieved the feat with more runners on base than the Padres did on Wednesday. Adding together hits, walks, and hit batters, San Diego had eleven players reach base. Only six of the 63 one-hit winners (I wanted to say wonders), had more than eight total base runners.

If we count the number of times a team won a game with only one hit, we find only 63 occurrences. But if we count the number of times a team won a game when they reached base eleven times, we find 13,667 games. In other words, while it is rare to win a game with only one hit, it is not unusual to do it when reaching base eleven times.

What does this all mean?

It's not about how many hits you get, but when they occur. A hit is as good as a walk. We know all of the cliches. Perhaps, as the Padres victory on Wednesday reminds us, the best saying is the one we don't say often enough. It's not about how many hits, it's about how many times you can get on base, whatever way you do it.

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All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.

Jeffrey Bellone is a writer and editor at Beyond The Box Score and can also be found writing about the Mets at Amazin' Avenue and Mets Merized Online. He writes about New York sports at Over the Whitestone. You can follow and interact with him on Twitter @OverWhitestone.