I mean that lovingly. But we all know that San Francisco’s different — and a place where difference is celebrated. In that vein, and while Giants fans are still too giddy to feel how affronted, let’s see just how offbeat is this dynasty of 2010-12-14.
As usual, all stats used here come from the better-than-sliced-bread Baseball-Reference.com, plus a bit of Excel elbow grease.
There are now 47 World Series winners who won it for at least the second time in five years. I compiled the won-lost records for each 5-year span culminating in that second WS win (or third, etc.). The worst 5-year records:
- 1991 Twins — .525 for 1987-91 … 85-77 equivalent in a modern season
- 2012 Giants — .533 for 2008-12 … 86-76
- 2014 Giants — .538 for 2010-14 … 87-75
- 1967 Cardinals — .557 for 1963-67 … 90-72
The average for all 47 teams is .606 (98-64), or 11 more wins per year than these Giants … who won three titles in their span.
Out of the 18 WS winners taking it for at least the third time in five years, San Francisco has the worst 5-year record, by far, and is one of two under .600 for the span. The bottom three:
- 2014 Giants — .538 for 2010-14 … 87-75 equivalent
- 1974 Athletics — .582 for 1970-74 … 94-68
- 1962 Yankees — .602 for 1958-62 … 97-65
The average of these 18 teams is .621 (101-61), or 14 more wins per year than these Giants. Out of 59 discrete team-seasons in these spans, the Giants own the worst and the 4th-worst, including the only losing season — they went 76-86 last year. But why dwell on the past? (There are only 59 relevant team-seasons because of overlapping spans, mostly the Yankees, who comprise 12 of the 18 “third-timers.”)
For 2010-14 combined, San Francisco ranks 7th in winning percentage, a total of 20 games behind the #1 Yankees. Of the other 17 “three-out-of-five” champs, only three did not have the best overall record in their spans: The A’s were 3rd for 1970-74 (a total of 12 games behind Baltimore); and the Yanks were 2nd to Atlanta for both 1995-99 and 1996-2000 (17 GB and 13.5 GB, respectively). Besides SF, the others averaged about 12 games ahead of the field over their 5-year span.
Of course, divisional play and wild cards make it easier to win the Series without a great record. And none of this is meant to chip at their epic achievement. (Said the Tigers fan, still tasting sawdust and sour grapes.) Still, the three other teams in the divisional era to win a third WS in five years averaged 10 more wins per year than the Giants, for their respective spans, and the two that did it in the wild-card era averaged 11 more wins (1999-2000 Yankees).
The six teams above SF in 2010-14 win percentage went a combined 83-92 in the postseason (equivalent to a 77-85 season), and even the three that did reach the Series — STL, TEX and DET combined for five pennants — went 66-63 in the postseason (like an 83-79 year). The Giants’ postseasons add up to 34-14 (akin to 115-47).
By Pythagorean W%, the Giants rank 13th for 2010-14. Five higher teams have failed to get past even one playoff foe, in a total of 12 chances: Oakland, Atlanta, Cincinnati (all 0-3), Washington (0-2) and the Angels (0-1). (The Tigers fan feels better.)
Surging Down the Stretch
The Giants won their division in two of these three championship seasons, but never led at the All-Star Break. For the three years combined, they played like an 88-win team in the first half, but a 96-win team in the second half, and a 100-win team from Sept. 1 through end of regular season. Adding the postseason, their second-half W% looks like a 100-win season, and their Sept. 1 through WS mark looks like a 106-win season.
The 2014 Giants didn’t play so well down the stretch: 35-31 second half, 13-12 in September, and 4-6 in their last 10 games. But the mediocre chase pack never really put on any pressure. The second half began with San Fran one game clear of the nearest playoff have-not; that lead grew to 3 games by the end of August, and 5 games with ten left to play, as Milwaukee, Atlanta and Cincinnati all collapsed.
That’s not to say they had no incentive to play well in September. Indeed, they might have caught the Dodgers for the division crown, closing within a game on Sept. 12 when Bumgarner blanked them in a series opener, but dropping four of the last five in that head-to-head. But whatever the division title might have meant emotionally, the measurable benefits — such as, potential home-field edge for a series, or at least the Wild Card Game — are more hazy:
- In 2010 and ’12, the Giants went 12-4 in postseason road games, clinching five of their six series out of town.
- From 1995-2013, home teams before the World Series were a modest 278-245 (.532), including 1-3 in the Wild-Card Game.
- From 1995-2013, wild cards had a better postseason record than division winners: WCs 162-159, DWs 459-462. (Not including the Wild-Card Game, which by definition produces a .500 record for WCs.)
- Wild cards had split eight World Series against division winners.
How did these factors play in 2014? San Francisco went 6-3 on the road, winning the first game of all four rounds. Their Series foe was another wild card, which swept through its playoffs. Meanwhile, division winners went 6-9 at home, 0-4 against the wild cards.
The Real “Pace of Play” Problem
The second wild card was introduced in 2012, to raise the stakes of division races. But those division winners are 69-77 in postseason play. That doesn’t mean the format’s faulty; every team wants home-field edge, and to avoid the play-in game. It just shows how different the postseason is from the 162-game grind.
Proposals have been floated to increase the penalty on wild-card teams, such as, no home games in the LDS. But the simplest and most logical way to reward regular-season excellence is to tighten the postseason schedule.
Thanks to copious off days (and his own heroic turn on two days’ rest), Madison Bumgarner logged 33% of San Francisco’s innings — or 35%, if you just count regulation frames. He started six of their 17 games, racking up nearly as many innings just in starts as their other three SPs combined (47.2-48.1). And except for the finale, each of his outings came with four days’ rest. Bumgarner punched the Giants’ ticket to the Series one day after Kansas City finished off their LCS, yet baseball went dark for four days, and he was fully rested for Game 1.
(A random aside: Bumgarner’s 5-inning save in Game 7 was just one out shorter than the average start in this postseason by all those not named Bumgarner.)
The schedule worked as well for the Royals, from a different angle. Kelvin Herrera relieved 11 times in 15 games — his 15 relief innings was topped by just two pitchers in the last 30 postseasons — but only twice pitched on consecutive days, thanks to the schedule. Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland combined for 29% of Kansas City’s innings, more than twice their season share. They notched 34 appearances with just eight back-to-backs, which was lower than their season share (56 of 204). The extra work share without changing their work schedule helped that trio compile a 1.12 ERA, compared to 4.47 for all other KC pitchers.
It’s too much to expect MLB to float the postseason schedule, e.g., to move up the World Series when both LCS end early, as happened this year. But a big step towards making the postseason more like what teams go through to get there would be eliminating all scheduled off days between series, and cutting in-series travel days from two to one.
The second travel day is most impactful (and unnecessary) in the LDS, now played 2-2-1. With a scheduled day off before the next round, an LDS settled by game 4 (as almost three-fourths have been) means at least three days off before the LCS. That tends to benefit the wild cards and weaker division winners: They can reset their rotation, and start the next round on virtually equal footing with the teams that earned their way to a well-set rotation by winning their divisions more easily (and avoiding the wild-card game).
Even if all their series had gone the limit, the Royals would have played just 20 games in 30 days. During the season, they played 162 games in 182 days, or 26.7 games per 30 days. So in a month of postseason play, an extra week off was built into their schedule. That’s one sure way to water down the wild-card penalty.
The scheduled days off between series have logistical value to the people that stage the events. But couldn’t most of those things proceed on a contingency basis? Teams sell and print playoff tickets before they clinch a berth, and merchandisers crank out hats and shirts for titles that may never come. What’s the extra cost of preparing media credentials, etc., for a series your team might not get to? More precisely, what’s the cost of one day’s less lead time for those things? — since many times, if not most, the off day between series follows one or more days off from clinching early. The cost of such contingent outlays seems minuscule next to the record profits MLB has seen these last few years. Wouldn’t it be worth the cost, if it helps produce more champions who were among the truly best teams over the long season?
But here’s the rub: No one within the industry has both a vested interest in more “realistic” outcomes, and the clout to change the status quo.
Best of Seven, Since 1985
Thinking of cutting travel days in series got me pondering the 2-3-2 format. Here’s the home team’s record for 2-3-2 series since 1985 (when the LCS went to best-of-seven), by game number:
- Game 1 — 48-39
- Game 2 — 50-37
- Game 3 — 50-37
- Game 4 — 42-45
- Game 5 — 42-30
- Game 6 — 31-21
- Game 7 — 18-6
By home-game grouping:
- Games 1-2 — .563 (98-76)
- Games 3-5 — .545 (134-112)
- Games 6-7 — .645 (49-27)
And summing up the teams’ home sets:
- Games 1,2,6,7 — .588 (147-103)
- Games 3,4,5 — .545 (134-112)
You might think the big edge for “1,2,6,7” merely reflects better teams having earned home-field advantage, by a better season record. But that’s a very minor factor. Remember, World Series home edge has not been tied to season record in this period. And a few LCS have given home field to a division winner with a worse record than a wild card. On average for these 87 series, the team with home advantage had a season edge of just .011 in W%, or less than two wins per season.
Contrasting LCS and WS for this period, the LCS home-field advantage is far more likely to reflect a better season record. Yet the home results have been far better in the World Series:
- LCS — .548 (183-151)
- WS — .605 (98-64)
- Total — .567 (281-215)
For the teams that get to play all three of 3-4-5 at home, we tend to assume a 2-1 record, don’t we? But those teams are much closer to .500 than to .667, coming in at .546 (118-98). A breakdown of those 72 three-game sets shows that 2-1 is barely more frequent than 1-2, and 3-0 just twice as likely as 0-3:
- 3-0 — 11 teams out of 72
- 2-1 — 29 teams
- 1-2 — 27 teams
- 0-3 — 5 teams
And while the home team W% is .567 for all games in these 87 series, the team with home-field edge is 52-35 in series, or .598.
This stuff will fry your brain if you’re not careful. For instance: Home teams went 17-13 this year after the wild-card games. But the teams with home-field edge went 1-6 in series. How’s that work? Well, the teams without home-field edge went 11-3 in their home games, while those with the edge went 6-10. Go figure.
Games pitting teams with different season records were basically a coin flip: The better record went just 239-238. For all game winners, the average season edge was .001 — another way of saying “toss-up.” This randomness was concentrated in the World Series, where the better record went 73-83, and the average game winner’s season “edge” was -.002.
All home winners and losers for each game number had an average season W% margin between +/- .010 and .013, with two exceptions:
- Game 5 home losers were at -0.017 (about -3 wins for a year); and
- Game 7 home losers were at +.028 (about 4.5 wins).
(There were just six Game 7 home losers in this study, and this margin mainly comes from two upsets:
— 1985 ALCS, the 99-62 Blue Jays fell to the 91-71 Royals; and
— 2006 NLCS, the 97-65 Mets fell to the 83-78 Cardinals.)
Ah, yes … a reminder of my other favorite team’s failure. That seems a fitting place and mood to end my first post of the dreaded off-season. Don’t forget to turn your clocks back! (I’m setting mine to April.)