Monday, October 4, 2010

Don't Worry, Be Happy

By The Common Man

So you’re worried about your playoff team? The one that finished 2-8 over the last 10 games, and looked utterly and completely lost in the process? Well, The Common Man doesn’t blame you. It’s a discouraging way to back into the playoffs.

So, given its struggles, what chance does this team, The Common Man’s beloved Twins, actually stand in the postseason against the Yankees? What does history teach us about their chances?

Since the start of the Wild Card Era, there have only been two other clubs that lost 8 of their last 10 and still made the playoffs (no clubs have lost 9). That’s primarily because our sample consists solely of a lot of good teams that rarely, if ever, lost 8 of 10. Their chances, then, of doing that over the last 10 games of the year, are especially low. In all, 24 of the 120 clubs finished their last 10 below .500. It’s not a large sample size, but let’s see if we can learn anything anyway.

Twins fans will undoubtedly be primarily concerned about the Division Series, and whether there’s even a chance their club can recover. The good news is that, historically, it has made absolutely no difference. Of the 24 clubs that finished poorly, exactly half of them (12) were bounced in the division series, which is exactly what we’d expect if their bad stretches didn’t prejudice us. Of the 12 clubs left, 7 of them advanced to the World Series from the Championship Series, which is again roughly what we’d expect. Finally, four of those final seven clubs (including one of the teams who finished 2-8, the 2000 Yankees) , won the World Series. The other 2-8 squad, the 2009 Cardinals, were swept out of the Division Series.

And don’t think that going in hot is actually all that helpful. Indeed, of the 19 teams that finished 8-2 or better, 9 of them were ousted in the Division Series, and only two of them (the ’98 Yanks, and ’05 White Sox) won it all.

Again, it’s an incredibly small sample, but it demonstrates that, regardless of what you think, making the postseason is somewhat like pressing the reset button, as teams start fresh and get a decent shot at knocking each other out.

Update: TCM also went back and looked at the 104 clubs that made it to the postseason from 1969-1993 to see whether their performance in the final 10 games showed evidence of carrying over into the postseason.  As a refresher, with the exception of 1981, there were no division series at this time.  Instead, teams advanced directly to the Championship Series, and half of those squads went on to the World Series.  Of the 104 teams in our sample, 22 finished below .500 in their last 10 games, and of those clubs, just 7 (when we'd expect something close to 11) went home in the Championship Series.  Of the 15 teams that went on to the World Series, 6 of them (the '87 and '91 Twins, '73 A's, '81 Dodgers, '82 Cardinals, and '83 Orioles) all won the whole thing.

Of the 16 clubs that finished 8-2 or better, exactly 8 were eliminated in the Championship Series.  And, as we'd expect, four of them (the '69 and '86 Mets, the '75 Reds, and the '70 Orioles) won it all.

Again, it's fairly clear that, no matter how a team finishes, there has been no historical evidence of any kind of carryover into the postseason.  So take heart, Twins fans.

No comments: