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Behind the Historical Eight-Ball?

Posted By Bill Baer On July 26, 2010 @ 7:34 am In MLB,Philadelphia Phillies,Sabermetrics | 29 Comments

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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