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
2008 Rays 97 0.599 86 0.531 N
2007 Rockies 90 0.552 74 0.457 N
2006 Tigers 95 0.586 88 0.543 N
2005 Astros 89 0.549 82 0.506 N
2004 Cardinals 105 0.648 100 0.617 Y L NLCS
2003 Yankees 101 0.623 101 0.623 Y L ALCS
2002 Giants 95 0.586 100 0.617 Y L NLDS
2001 Yankees 95 0.586 103 0.636 Y L ALDS
2000 Mets 94 0.580 82 0.506 N
1999 Braves 103 0.636 95 0.586 Y L NLDS
1998 Padres 98 0.605 74 0.457 N
1997 Indians 86 0.531 89 0.549 Y L ALCS
1996 Braves 96 0.593 101 0.623 Y L NLCS
1244 0.590 1175 0.558

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
2008 Phillies 92 0.568 93 0.574 Y L WS
2007 Red Sox 96 0.593 95 0.586 Y L ALCS
2006 Cardinals 83 0.512 78 0.481 N
2005 White Sox 99 0.611 90 0.556 N
2004 Red Sox 98 0.605 95 0.586 Y L ALDS
2003 Marlins 91 0.562 83 0.512 N
2002 Angels 99 0.611 77 0.475 N
2001 D-Backs 92 0.568 98 0.605 Y L NLDS
2000 Yankees 87 0.537 95 0.586 Y L WS
1999 Yankees 98 0.605 87 0.537 Y W WS
1998 Yankees 114 0.704 98 0.605 Y W WS
1997 Marlins 92 0.568 54 0.333 N
1996 Yankees 92 0.568 96 0.593 Y L ALDS
1233 0.585 1139 0.541

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.

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29 comments

  1. Max

    July 26, 2010 08:14 AM

    If you remove the ’97 Marlins and subsequent fire sale (in which SS Edgar Renteria was the only returning starter) the winning percentage of World Series rises slightly to .587, (1141/1944) while the winning percentage the year after goes to .558 (1085/1944). Much more on line with the WS losers the following year.

    FWIW, less than 40% of the ’97 Marlins team returned in ’98, after owner H. Wayne Huizenga claimed “financial losses,” despite winning the World Series. The cheapest team in sports, ladies and gentlemen!

  2. Childhood Phan

    July 26, 2010 11:05 AM

    Of course I hope they aren’t behind the eight-ball. Considering the season they’ve had it would be that much more fun to see them make it to the WS, whether or not they actually won.

    But what about returning players; traded players; coaching changes, etc. Was any of that factored in? Every piece of the puzzle doesn’t stay the same from yr to yr. It seems it’s a perpetual Jenga game. If this game were easy everyone would play it. So playing it well for an extended period of time is bad enough, but breaking up that time with 4 mos in between and beginning again, expecting it to be played at the same level is next to impossible.

  3. Lou

    July 27, 2010 12:22 PM

    Jim Salisbury said in his chat today, Howard is an MVP front runner, and would get a ton of votes if it ended today.

    How can you make a case for Howard being a top 10 MVP Candidate this year?
    thanks Bill.

  4. David

    July 27, 2010 01:45 PM

    @ Lou

    I’m paraphrasing from Matt Swartz from Baseball Prospectus here, but it does seem like *some* stat-friendly guys mistaken “overrated” for “not very good.”

    Howard’s line is .300/.361/.538/.900 136(OPS+) and 22 HRs. Is he the MVP of the NL? No, of course not, but is he Juan Castro? Of course not.

    Surely, the traditional thinkers and stat-friendly guys alike can find a happy medium with Ryan Howard.

    Howard is a very good player, who is having a pretty good year. His contract, or future worth/value, shouldn’t be lumped in with the numbers he has put up in 2010.

    Just my two cents anyway.

  5. Bill Baer

    July 27, 2010 02:53 PM

    I debated with Swartz about this on Twitter. I think he is simply misinterpreting what a lot of people are saying. I don’t think anyone has said that Howard is a bad player. However, it has been pointed out that he’s not getting better and his contract is very expensive for the years well beyond his prime. If Howard was getting paid $12 million annually then he would be loved by Sabermetricians.

    An MVP case could very well be made for Howard but I don’t think it would hold up given Joey Votto’s great season.

  6. Lou

    July 27, 2010 04:25 PM

    Could anyone make an honest MVP case for Howard over any of these guys? When factoring in defense, base running and not slobbering over homeruns and RBIs?:

    Votto
    Wright
    Pujols
    AGonz
    Huff
    Dunn
    Holliday
    Zimmerman
    Prado

    Johnson
    Wainwright

    Sorry, I have a hard time giving MVP consideration to a guy not in the top 35 in WAR.

  7. Bill Baer

    July 27, 2010 04:35 PM

    I agree completely. I was just saying that the typical MVP arguments (HR-RBI-RISP) can (and probably will) be made.

  8. E

    July 27, 2010 09:00 PM

    Howard just hit a HR, he bypassed votto.

    why are people so stupid?

  9. larry

    July 27, 2010 09:48 PM

    Bill,

    is it a stretch to say Votto is the best player in the game right now?

  10. larry

    July 27, 2010 09:56 PM

    better defender, better baserunner.. pujols is a better hitter, not so much this year, but he has the track record, but is there difference between the two as hitters overtake votto’s defensive/base running ability?

  11. Bill Baer

    July 27, 2010 10:12 PM

    Votto isn’t a better base runner according to EQBRR on Baseball Prospectus. BP has Votto at -1.5 and Pujols at +1.7 this year.

    Pujols was -0.4 last year; Votto was -0.3. Pujols was -0.2 in ’08; Votto was -6.6.

    Pujols has a career 8.0 UZR/150 at first base; Votto 5.8.

  12. larry

    July 27, 2010 10:16 PM

    Pujols’ defense has taken a considerable nosedive, though. I think the two players over the past year are close enough, and its a decent sample size.

    My question is, is it same to say Votto is starting to rival pujols as the preemmient first baseman in the game?? :) :)

  13. larry

    July 27, 2010 10:26 PM

    safe, not same!

  14. Bill Baer

    July 27, 2010 10:43 PM

    Yeah, Pujols has been declining especially this year, but defensive data takes a long time to stabilize. MGL said UZR data takes about 2.5 seasons to stabilize, so 2/3 of a season’s worth of defensive data isn’t much to hang your hat on. At the most generous, I’d say Votto and Pujols are defensive equals but as Pujols ages, I’d expect the scales to tip in Votto’s favor surely.

    Votto is definitely one of the top-five first basemen in the game. He’s top-three if you’re looking ahead beyond the next couple of seasons. I still put Pujols at the front unless he slips into a coma. Even then…

  15. BA

    July 27, 2010 11:19 PM

    whats more amazing is that you have the ’96 Braves losing in the AMERICAN LEAGUE championship series.

  16. hk

    July 28, 2010 06:17 AM

    I see two problems with using WAR to assess a player’s MVP candidacy. One is that WAR uses UZR, which you point about above needs time to stabilize. Further, others have admitted UZR is especially inaccurate for 1B’s. The second problem is that WAR uses position adjustments, which I understand make WAR useful when assessing “value” in the free agent market or contract negotiations, but should be ignored when assessing “value” as the V in MVP. Howard is the 1B in Philly and, as such, his performance and value to the team should not be discounted by how other 1B’s perform this season. When it comes to contracts, I think WAR (including position adjustments and the fact that other 1B’s will most likely be available in free agency or by trade after next season) is valuable in showing how RA, Jr. overpaid Howard in his new contract.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not at all saying that Ryan Howard deserves to be the MVP. In fact, he’s not even close to being the most deserving 1B. I’m just saying that, when assessing MVP candidacy, I disagree with comments like Lou’s above (and Bill’s agreement) where MVP consideration is based solely on WAR because WAR devalues 1B’s.

    By the way, based on WAR alone, Angel Pagan and Rafael Furcal are more valuable than Albert Pujols this year.

  17. Michael

    July 28, 2010 08:37 AM

    “Could anyone make an honest MVP case for Howard over any of these guys? When factoring in defense, base running and not slobbering over homeruns and RBIs?”

    Yeah, I hate when Howard hits a home run.

    :-)

  18. Josh

    July 28, 2010 09:19 AM

    Lets say Ryan finishes the season leading the league in Home Runs and RBI’s while maintaing a more than respectable batting average, say .290, how can he not be the MVP? Ryan Howard is a second half player who is more than capable of accomplishing this feat. I know I would rather have Howard than Votto for the rest of the season.

  19. Sundar

    July 28, 2010 11:03 AM

    This loser’s curse idea has been perpetuated in football as well, which Football Outsiders made fun of in their Arizona Cardinals column.

    I realize this post is geared towards returning to the WS, but there isn’t much of a scientific argument being made. If the Phils don’t make it back to the WS, it could be because they’ve been so healthy the last few years and now they’re regressing to the mean. The idea that they wouldn’t return because they lost the WS last year has no relative backing.

  20. Lou

    July 28, 2010 12:23 PM

    Sorry, but Howard isn’t half the baseball player Votto is.

    Bill, who is a good comparision to Votto? I was thinking Frank Thomas, if Joey keeps it up. How’s that sound?

  21. Childhood Phan

    July 28, 2010 12:26 PM

    Here’s the thing: all season I keep hearing ‘Ryan Howard’s worked so hard to bring up his defense . . . ‘ HE SHOULD HAVE. He’s a 1st baseman. It’s his job. The guy’s been paid $19 mil to play darn poor defense for yrs. AND he still made 2 defensive errors in a game the other night (arguably causing runs). But nobody talks about it b/c they LOVE HRs & he has the most on the team right now.

    A case could be made for him being the MVP of the Phillies. But honestly I’d argue that. Polanco has been SO consistent & made so many really brilliant defensive plays upon which whole games, pivotal games have rested.

    I’d also like us to NOT TRADE WERTH and see how the rest of his season goes. Given that he’s so obviously seeing the ball better with ea passing game, his avg went up 10 pts in maybe 5 games, and his stellar perf last night, if he finishes the season the way he began it – hey – who knows. Could be amazing.

  22. Childhood Phan

    July 28, 2010 12:29 PM

    Well hold on – how long has Votto been playing as well as this season? I don’t remember him doing THIS well for an extended period of time.

  23. Bill Baer

    July 28, 2010 12:31 PM

    Lou, here are PECOTA’s top comparables for Joey Votto:

    Adrian Gonzalez
    Eddie Murray
    Mark Teixeira
    Justin Morneau
    Jeff Bagwell
    Jason Thompson
    Wally Joyner
    Randy Milligan
    Hal Trosky
    Mo Vaughn

  24. Lou

    July 28, 2010 12:40 PM

    chilhood, pretty much every month since april( 1.000+ OPS)

    And thanks Bill, Appreciate it.

    Also What would you put Howard’s HOF Chances at all of now? In a discussion with several people they see he has a good shot. Personally, i’d put him at around 10% at best.

  25. Childhood Phan

    July 28, 2010 03:18 PM

    Lou: I was asking about prior to this yr. I don’t know anything about Votto prior to this yr. Howard’s been around a while, hitting a lot of HRs for a while. That’s what I meant.

  26. Steve

    July 28, 2010 03:47 PM

    I think Ryan Howard killed Lou’s dog.

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