In Good Standings

This has been one crazy year. In a July 25 ESPN Insider article, ESPN baseball analyst Rob Neyer talked about the number of teams that remain in contention for a postseason berth this year:

At dawn this morning, there are 21 teams within five games of either first place
or the wild card. Yes, five games is an arbitrary standard–and just leaves out the
Dodgers, who are five-and-a-half games behind the Padres–but hey, one has to draw
the line somewhere. And 21 teams are a lot. Last July 25, there were 18 teams within
five games of first place in one standing or another … and that was a lot.

From 1996 through 2003, the number of “contenders” on the morning of July 25 was
amazingly stable from season to season.

      1996 -- 16
      1997 -- 15
      1998 -- 13
      1999 -- 14
      2000 -- 15
      2001 -- 13
      2002 -- 13
      2003 -- 14 

So in all those seasons, roughly half the teams in the majors were close enough on
July 25 to think, without drifting into Fantasyland, about postseason glory. But last
year it was 60 percent, and this year it’s 70 percent.

70 percent of teams are in contention for a playoff spot! Between the six divisions, we’re seeing combacks, fades, competition both stellar and terrible. Here are some of the highlights …

The Turnaround

I can’t help it. When I look at the divisional standings graph for the American League West, I think of a certain Steven Spielberg movie:


Like an angry shark climbing from the depths of the ocean, the Oakland A’s have been surging to the top, and they now have the Angels in their sights. THT writer Aaron Gleeman already did a nice job of deconstructing the Athletics’ surge, but it’s worth mentioning that there are very few historical precendents for this remarkable run.

Here’s a graph of the greatest “miracle” in baseball history, the worst-to-first surge of the 1914 Boston Braves:


The Boston Braves, led by starting pitcher Bill James (36 Win Shares and a 1.90 ERA), among others, leapt from last to first in 37 days starting July 16, and proceeded to sweep the mighty A’s (then stationed in Philadelphia) in the World Series. This year’s A’s can’t top that—they were last in last place on June 24, 38 days ago and they only have to pass three teams instead of seven. But if no one stops this juggernaut, it will be one of the greatest bottom-to-top surges ever.

Mirror Images

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays are to the American League East what the St. Louis Cardinals are to the National League Central. Only in reverse.

image image


Les Pathetique

When we analyzed Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique in my Symphony class in college, the professor insisted that we pronounce it correctly, instead of “Fantastic Symphony” or something like that. A little later, when we analyzed Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique Symphony, he said “now you know why I insisted on correct pronunciation.” I was reminded of this story while scanning the National League West:


According to Frank Vaccaro, of the SABR-L mailing list, the NL West is close to setting a record for the worst division ever. Here is Frank’s list of divisions in which all teams were over or under .500, late in the season. The percentages on the left indicate the percent of the schedule that had been played at that particular point in the season.

Date, last place team and record shown, AM standings.

93.2%  1991 9/25  CAL         76-75  AL West
77.1%  1986 8/28  MIL         63-62  AL East
63.6%  2005 7/30  NYN         52-51  NL East
53.7%  1974 7/14  NYA, DET    44-43  AL East
52.0%  1981 9/7   TOR         13-12  AL East (2nd half)

46.2%  1996 6/23  SD          38-37  NL West
38.1%  1995 6/24  SF          28-27  NL West
36.4%  2000 6/10  TEX         30-29  AL West
30.2%  2001 5/27  COL, SF     25-24  NL West
27.7%  2004 5/31  PIT         23-22  NL Central

Date, first place team and record shown, AM standings.

70.3%  1994 8/12  TEX         52-62  AL West (strike occurred)
66.0%  1994 8/4   LAN         53-54  NL West
64.1%  2005 7/31  SD          51-53  NL West
56.1%  1997 7/13  HOU         45-46  NL Central
51.9%  1981 9/7   KC          13-14  AL West (2nd half)

47.5%  1996 6/24  HOU         38-39  NL Central
26.5%  1989 5/24  CLE         21-22  AL East
19.1%  1973 5/17  MIL         15-16  AL East
 9.2%  1999 4/22  TEX          7-8   AL West

In a nutshell, the NL West is eleven days away from a new record of being truly pathetique.


It doesn’t make it any easier for Nationals fans, but we all knew this was going to happen, right?


Man, even Hannibal would have had a hard time climbing that mountainous peak of Nationals wins and losses. As already noted by THT analyst Dan Fox, one-run games giveth, and they taketh away.

Retroactive Review: Ace
Looking back at some of Justin Verlander's most interesting moments.

Don’t forget that all of these graphs are available and updated daily in our THT Teams section.

References & Resources
The Boston Braves data is courtesy of Retrosheet, the most authoritative source of baseball statistics anywhere!

Thanks to Frank Vaccaro for permission to post his analysis from the SABR-L mailing list.

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Dave Studeman was called a "national treasure" by Rob Neyer. Seriously. Follow his sporadic tweets @dastudes.

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