BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 09: Manager Buck Showalter removes Zach Britton #53 of the Baltimore Orioles from the game against the Texas Rangers at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on April 9, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Orioles won the game 5-0. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
There's a statistical principle out there known as "leverage". I'm not going to explain it in detail, because I'm not the right person to explain it in detail. But in short, leverage is an attempt to quantify the level of suspense of a particular moment in a baseball game. For example, in the first at-bat of a game, there will not be much suspense. In the bottom of the ninth, when it's 3-2 and there are two outs and two runners in scoring position, there will be much suspense. The leverage of the former situation would be extremely low. The leverage of the latter situation would be incredibly high.
I'm not going to walk you through the mathematical gymnastics that cartwheel into the leverage equation, but an average leverage is set at 1.0. A situation with a leverage of 2.0 would be a high-leverage situation. A situation with a leverage of 0.25 would be a low-leverage situation. Got it? Great. You're quick. Here's a sticker.
Now, leverage can be neat to look at for individual moments in a game. That's useful enough. But the real fun starts when you look at average leverage over bigger samples. You can see which relievers are inheriting the most stressful situations. You can see which hitters are coming up with the most and the least on the line. And you can even look at the average leverage for entire teams - which, as it happens, is exactly what's presented below.
Using data from FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference, the following table shows the average leverage per plate appearance for every team in baseball so far this season, as well as the percentage of those plate appearances that B-R calls high leverage (situations with a leverage over 1.5). It stands to reason that the teams near the top have been playing the most stressful games to date, while the teams near the bottom have been playing the least.
So let's get to the table. Which have been the most and least stressful teams in baseball?
On their own at the top, we get the San Diego Padres. Padres' plate appearances - while at the plate and in the field - have posted an average leverage to date of 1.23, with the Royals a distant second. A league-leading 27% of their plate appearances have been high leverage situations as well. So, at least through their first 23 games, the Padres have been the most stressful team in the league.
Note that "stressful" is not to be confused with "exciting". Stress isn't the same as excitement, and I think a ranking of the most exciting teams in baseball would place the Padres near the other extreme. But take Monday night's game against the Braves. The Padres beat the Braves 5-3 in 13 innings. In my head, that is the only game the Padres ever play, and close, low-scoring games - especially close, low-scoring games in extra innings - are stressful. It's no wonder the Padres have trouble developing a fierce, loyal, gigantic fan base. The games are bad for their hearts!
And at the other end, we get the Baltimore Orioles, with an average leverage per plate appearance of 0.83. They've also had a league-low 14% of their plate appearances count as high leverage. Not coincidentally, only two of the Orioles' 20 games have been decided by one run, while 14 have been decided by three or more. So in the early going, the Orioles have been the least stressful team in baseball. Which is probably how it ought to be. The Orioles are the worst team in a stacked division, a team with zero hope of being competitive now or in the near future. Ultimately getting stressed out about that team is just going to feel pointless anyway, so the O's aren't even giving their fans an opportunity to fake it. You don't watch the Orioles to watch exciting baseball. You don't watch the Orioles to watch stressful baseball. You watch the Orioles to watch baseball. The Orioles definitely play baseball.