The Diff is your weekly Wednesday WFNY look into the amazing world of sports statistics. For a complete log of articles, click this link. Last week, The Diff was on vacation in sunny Tybee Island, Georgia. Apologies for the lack of content. Now, we’re back this week with more MLB stats.
In a roundabout way, your 2013 Cleveland Indians somehow sit in a very familiar position: a 26-18 record through 44 games. For those with a poignant memory, that’s exactly where the team was through 44 games in 2012, too, before embarking on one of the worst collapses in baseball history. Today, my plan is to look at what all of the 26-18 teams have done by perusing the deep, dark pages of the MLB record books.
In order to answer this question, I utilized the fantastic “Best n-games streak” function within the Play Index tools over at Baseball-Reference.com. I only subscribed to that website a month ago, but it’s already been one of my favorite sports decisions ever. There is limitless information within just a few mouse clicks over there. I couldn’t possibly recommend a subscription more highly.
So, I was able to search for all of the 44-game start-of-season stretches in baseball history. Obviously, schedules have been all sorts of different lengths. My limit for the data below is only for seasons of 144+ games. For the rest, it’s just not comparable enough. I’m also limiting it to teams that started exactly 26-18 in their first 44 games, since ties also used to be a thing.
Overall, there were 23 teams that started 26-18 but didn’t finish with 144+ games. Also, there were 41 teams that might have started 26-18 in their first 44 decision, but had a tie in there, so I was unable to truly track it down easily.
Skipping right to the tables today, here are the results of my search for the 26-18 starts in 44 games for teams with 144+ games in their season in the amazing Baseball-Reference.com database. The rest of today’s article will cover what all of these numbers mean:
|Future Wins for 26-18 MLB Teams|
|Record||# times||Avg Pct||Per 162|
|Playoff Odds for 26-18 MLB Teams|
|Run Differential Since 1962 (78 Teams)|
The reason for picking 1995: That’s the year the first-ever Wild Card system was put into effect, dramatically increasing the potential for making the playoffs. Then, the reason for later picking 1962: That’s the year the 162-game schedule became the standard in both leagues, hence setting the stage for a relatively reasonable data set of modern baseball history.
The 2013 Indians and other research
The 2013 Indians, the ones who are currently 26-18, also own a +33 run differential. More on that and how it compares in a moment. It’s also notable to remember that the Tribe started the season on an 8-13 stretch (-17 run differential) and have been 18-5 since (+50 run differential). It’s been a tale of two polar opposite streaks so far from slightly-below-average to best-in-baseball.
Last year, I spotted this link from the wonderful John Dewan that described the meaningfulness of the first 10 games of the season. I’d encourage you to check that out and see how it compares to the 44-game stretches I’m looking at for this post.
Now going into the three detailed sets of stats from above, I’ll begin by looking at the storylines behind the maximum, Q3, median, Q1 and minimum season-wins for teams that started out 26-18.
Max – 1963 NYY (104-57): These Yankees weren’t all that impressive to start the season (30-23, .566), but then were by far the best team in baseball the rest of the way (74-34, .685). They then got swept by Sandy Koufax and the LA Dodgers in the World Series.
Q3 – 1984 CHC (96-65): They continued to play slightly above-average baseball for another month (38-33, .535), then played excellently in the final three months (58-32, .644). They then lost 3-2 in the NLCS to the San Diego Padres.
Median – Five teams, most recently 2012 TBR (90-72) and 2010 SDP (90-72): This is right in the middle of the success. Neither Tampa Bay nor San Diego actually made the playoffs, however.
Q1 - Seven teams, mostly 2005 FLA (83-79) and 2005 MIN (83-79): None of these seven teams made the playoffs. All had to collapse at some point, such as Florida’s 2-12 September run and Minnesota’s 12-20 late-season run.
Min – 2012 CLE (68-94): Yes, the worst-ever season for a 26-18 team in this data-set. The Indians started 26-18 (.591), then went 24-31 (.436) in the middle part of the season and finished with a God-awful 18-45 (.286) stretch. This was historically dreadful.
So what does this all mean? More likely than not, as shown by the average and the Q1-Q3 range 3 , on average, you’d put their final 162-game win-estimate in the 86-92 range. That’s just historically what has been most likely for teams with 26-18 starts.
Above, I also shared the eventual playoff odds for 26-18 teams historically. Similarly, what’s most important to look at is what has happened since 1995 with the first Wild Card playoff structure. Below is a table that shows playoff odds by total number of wins for all teams since that season:
Previously, we saw that teams with 26-18 starts have eventually made the playoffs in 18 out of 35 occurrences since 1995. That’s just over 50%. Similarly, it matches up with the 89.0-90.9 range here, which also is 52%. That’s just about the median and mean for these teams as well, so it all makes sense.
In 2013, obviously, there’s a slight uptick in the odds because of the expected difference with the new two Wild Card system. But also, in terms of the Indians in 2013, there’s the added crutch of the difficult division partner (Detroit) and the several other AL contenders expected to be much better than Cleveland this season (NYY, BOS, TBR, OAK, TEX, LAA). Some of those teams might not be in the race for the long-run, of course, but it’s just using a Nate Silver/Bayesian-approach to adjusting our previous expectations.
Finally, the third main topic I shared in the table was early run differential and how it relates to future wins for these 26-18 teams. As one can tell, the run differential was pretty well distributed, ranging from +65 to only +0 for these 78 teams with identical records dating back to 1965.
Notably, the correlation between the 44-game run differential and future wins in that season is only .362. That’s only moderately meaningful, yet still positive as one would assume. This chart below shows exactly what the correlation was trying to pick up:
|Run Differential||Win Pct Avg||Per 162||Teams|
Last year, for reference, the Indians only had a +1 run differential, one of the worst among these 78 teams. This year, the Indians are at +33, slightly above average for this range. But since the correlation is not all that significant, this just leans only slightly favorably for the team’s forecast for the rest of 2013.
So there you are with a review of how all 26-18 teams have eventually performed. For the 2013 Cleveland Indians, it’s been one hell of a lot of fun through the one-quarter mark of this season. Still 1.5 games ahead of Detroit, they’ve been one of the best stories in baseball so far.
But after the Cavaliers won the NBA Draft Lottery last night, is it possible Cleveland will see its baseball team also contending for a win in the real playoffs in 2013? As of right now, per the historical trajectory of 26-18 teams, the odds are close to about 50%.
Last year’s epic collapse from a 26-18 start was the worst in MLB history. That was an extreme outlier that is certainly not the established norm. On average, these teams finish with records in the 86-92 range. They don’t usually collapse, although some do as shown in the examples above. That win range then usually should be enough to contend for a playoff spot, especially with two Wild Cards available in 2013.
- Q1 is the 25th percentile; Q3 is the 75th percentile. Just like median, they represent the quarter-points of the data. This helps to get a more accurate representation of the distribution of the data, not just by averaging. [back]
- Since there were many seasons of games ranging from 144-163, I was forced to use winning percentage overall for the season for comparison. That’s why you see a maximum of 104.7. It’s because that was a shortened season that began with 26-18. [back]
- Also known in statistical terms as the IQR, inter-quartile range. [back]