Behind the Historical Eight-Ball?
The Phillies are trying to return to the World Series for the third consecutive year, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished by a National League team since the 1942-44 St. Louis Cardinals. Back then, the National League had eight teams, exactly half of the current field in the Senior Circuit. So you can imagine the type of history the Phillies could write.
Unfortunately, though, roadblock after roadblock has crept up, getting in the team’s way this season. Whether it’s injuries, offensive malaise, or rumor-mongering, the Phillies simply haven’t been able to get on a roll this season. Their largest winning streak is five games, spanning from April 9-14. They played exactly .500 baseball in June and are likely to do so in July, currently at 11-11.
There is another roadblock, however, and it is entirely out of the team’s control: recent history. Teams that have lost in the World Series have not done well the following year. The Tampa Bay Rays, after being dispatched in the 2008 World Series by the good guys, won only 84 games the next season, down from 97. They also missed the post-season. In fact, the last four World Series runner-ups have completely missed the playoffs. They averaged a .572 winning percentage in their World Series appearance years and .509 the next, a difference of more than ten wins.
|Year||WS Loser||Wins||Win%||Next Wins||Next Win%||Playoffs?||Result|
None of the teams listed above (the Wild Card era) returned to the World Series the following year. Overall their aggregate winning percentage dipped from .590 to .558, a difference of more than five wins. Given the small sample, the difference is not statistically significant but the recent trend is interesting to note. Could the reason behind the last four World Series runners-up be parity? As Maury Brown explained in October of 2008, uh, sort of. MLB sort of has parity and it sort of doesn’t. Brown writes, “parity is here, but it isn’t, which in some perverse way is just the way baseball likes it.”
When we look at World Series winners, we see similar results.
|Year||WS Winner||Wins||Win%||Next Wins||Next Win%||Playoffs?||Result|
|2007||Red Sox||96||0.593||95||0.586||Y||L ALCS|
|2004||Red Sox||98||0.605||95||0.586||Y||L ALDS|
There was a collective .044 drop in winning percentage after winning it all, accounting for more than seven wins. Of the 13 teams, eight returned to the post-season. However, unlike the losers above, two winners returned to the World Series, winning one and losing one (the Yankees both times). Oddly enough, the average winning percentage of World Series winners was lower than that of the losers, and the winning percentage the next year is also lower.
Winning or losing the World Series one year doesn’t have a lot to do with success or failure in the next year both in terms of winning regular season games and advancing to and through the post-season. If the Phillies miss the playoffs in 2010, they will do so on their own merits. Their winning percentage last year with 93 wins was .574; it is a meager .531 so far in 2010, putting them on pace to win 86 of 162 games. They have played exactly .531 baseball according to third-order wins at Baseball Prospectus.