Monday, January 17, 2005

A good start ...

So, I was thinking, "What do the Nats have to do to make the playoffs this year?" (you can do these kinds of things in January). Anyway, more precisely, what kind of pace do they need to maintain for playoff contention? I reviewed the records of the 80 playoff teams since they were expanded in 1995, and found some interesting things. First, no team that has won 97 or more games has failed to make the playoffs. Only one team that won 96 failed -- the 1999 Reds, who lost a playoff game to the Mets. On the other end, the worst record to make the playoffs is 84-78, the 1997 Astros. But that's a bit of a fluke, as they were the only team to do that, and no team with 85 or 86 wins have made it. When you get to 88 wins, 8 teams have made it, so that is really the low end of the serious contenders.

That means the real target is 88 to 96 wins. The average record for playoff teams is 95 wins. The amazing thing about baseball is that the difference between 87 wins (out) and 97 wins (in) is less than one game in every ten. In other words, if you go 5-5 every ten games, you are out. If you go 6-4, you're pretty much in. Just one game about every two weeks. SuperNoVa's White Sox blog tracks the 10-game segments during the season, which is a very useful way to measure progress, but also reveals what a punishing march the entire season is. (You can see there that the 2004 White Sox were holding their own until Segments 10 through 13, where simply going 4-6 for four straight segments killed their playoff chances.).

My rule of thumb has been that a team should play .500 ball on the road and take 2 of 3 at home, which gives you 95 wins (54-27 home and 41-40 road), and pretty good shot at post-season. The problem is that that is a tough pace to keep up.

But what about the Nats? Our problem is the April schedule, which makes it tough to start out on a playoff pace, as we play all the Eastern teams, who are good on paper, except for the home opener series against Arizona. As I see it, we will need to sweep the D'Backs and pick one East team to beat up on (my guess is Florida) to overcome the expected losses against the Phils, Braves and Mets. But even maintaining .500 ball for April will be an accomplishment, so if we go 5-5 and 5-5 for our first two 10-game segments in April, that would be terrific. On the other hand, I wouldn't be surprised if we go 3-7 and 2-8.

[Edit: During the season, we will track the Nats against the Playoff Pace using a hypothetical team that wins and loses games according to the pace. For example, when the Nats are at home, the Pace Team goes like this: Win, Win, Loss, Win, Win, Loss. When the Nats are on the road, the Pace Team goes: Win, Loss, Win, Loss. We'll update the "standings" as the season progesses.]

[May 2006 Update] Due to circumstances beyond our control, we can no longer in good conscience provide Playoff Pace. We have refocused our efforts to a more realistic measure of the Nats 2006 season: the Royals Watch. SuperNoVa mentioned about a month ago that our personnel had dropped to the Royals level, so we'll track that for the rest of the season.


At 3:20 PM, Blogger dexys_midnight said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 10:28 AM, Blogger SuperNoVa said...

Holy Moly, DM, I just realized you posted something incorrect about teams with low win totals making the playoffs! Here are the below-90 win playoff teams since 1969

The 2003 Cubs went 88-74 to win the NL Central.
The 2001 Braves went 88-74 to win the NL East.
The 2000 Yankees went 87-74 to win the AL East.
The 1998 Indians went 89-73 to win the AL Central.
The 1998 Rangers went 88-74 to win the AL West.
The 1997 Indians went 86-75 to win the AL Central.
The 1997 Astros went 84-78 to win the NL Central.
The 1996 Orioles went 88-74 to win the AL Wild Card.
The 1996 Cardinals went 88-74 to win the NL Central.
The 1990 Red Sox went 88-74 to win the AL East.
The 1989 Blue Jays went 89-73 to win the AL East.
The 1987 Twins went 85-77 to win the AL West (they were the FIFTH best team in the AL).
The 1984 Royals went 84-78 to win the AL West!
The 1982 Braves went 89-73 to win the NL West.
The 1979 Angels went 88-74 to win the AL West.
The 1974 Pirates went 88-74 to win the NL East.
The 1973 Mets went 82-79!!! to win the NL East.
The 1970 Pirates went 89-73 to win the NL East.

At 11:46 AM, Blogger DM said...

A couple of points. First, I only went back to 1995 when the playoffs were expanded.

Second, I mentioned the Astros 84 win season, which is fluke since 1995. The only teams you could argue I left out are the 2000 Yankees and 1997 Indians who went 87-74 and 86-75, but I normalized all records to a 162 game season, which means these equate to 88 win seasons, which was the low end I chose to highlight.

I stand by my position that you need to win at least 88 games to realistically expect a shot at the playoffs


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