Pythagoras and the Wild Card

For what it’s worth, the Pythagorean record of both the White Sox and Astros this season was 91-71.
While I was rooting for Houston, I must say my one disappointment from the NLCS was missing the chance to see two first place teams in the World Series for the first time in four years. In the past 9 seasons we’ve had 7 Wild Card teams in the Series, which just feels like too much, especially given that only one of those teams – the 2000 Mets – lost the series to a first-place team. Overall, Wild Card teams are 24-17 in postseason serieses dating back to 1995, and that just doesn’t seem right.

11 thoughts on “Pythagoras and the Wild Card”

  1. If you let wild card teams in the playoffs, you have to let them try to win, don’t you?
    Maybe you’ve made a case for returning to two divisions — or, considering the Mets’ near World Championship in 1973 with 82-79, maybe to pre-1969 non-divisional play. Sixteen teams in one division wouldn’t be so bad, now, would it?

  2. Can’t agree with you on this one, Crank. In some cases (2002 Angels; 2004 Red Sox) the champs were wild cards . . . but also the best teams in their leagues. And, as I’m certain you know, the 2000 Mets had a better record than the Yanks, though I suspect their pythag records were close, if not inverted.
    I was against the WC when it was implemented, but I’ve come to like it. It allows good teams into the post-season. Think of how many chances the 84-90 Mets (one of baseball’s truly great teams) would have gotten. They would have reached the post-season every year. Hell, they would have won the NL East every year under the current alignment, one that requires a WC because of the odd number of divisions.
    In a perfect world, I’d go back to the one league-one regular season pennant winner of pre-1969. But since that ain’t happening, I’ll take the ’94 (’95 in practice) to the present system over that of ’69-’93 any day. It was that middle regime that produced the worst atrocities: ’93 NL, ’80 AL, ’85 NL, ’78 AL to name but a few. Those Giant, Orioles, Met & Red Sox teams should have been in the post-season, especially since all four had superior records to the other division winners.

  3. The inherent weakness in the current divisional system will be revealed when a .500 team (like this year’s Padres) succeeds in winning the World Series. As for the wild card phenomenon, the interesting question is, why have wild card teams won the championship so often? Is it that the often intense competition for the wild card carries over as “momentum” into the post season? Attention then shifts to the “hot” team while the solid achievement of a consistently excellent team, for example, the Braves, is displaced.

  4. maybe it is because of the WC fighting to the end to get in the playoff and the are that little edge sharper.

  5. I’d say it’s luck.
    Both the 2002 Angels and the 2004 Red Sox had the best pythagorean records in their respective leagues. The 2002 Angels had the best run differential in baseball. Yet the 2004 Red Sox lost the division race to a Yankee team that grossly exceeded its pythag projection (i.e., luck), and the 2002 Angels were “victimized” by an A’s team that won 20 games in a row down the stretch (i.e., luck).
    And the 2003 Marlins were lucky: got hot and faced a team in the series that had spent itself on a killer ALCS.
    A three year run does not form a pattern.

  6. I think part of it has to do with the NLDS being 5 games not 7. It is a much different makeup for a club to win best of 5 than 7, particularly with pitching rotation. If your weakness was a thin bullpen and your fourth and fifth starters, that is not as evident in a 5 game series, particularly if you have two strong #1 type guys…
    But I agree with most that the WC is great (and not just because my beloved Stros are in it)…I think it removes the Padres factor in the post season…Think if the Astros hadn’t gone but the Padres did…I just think it makes for a more exciting race, makes the trading deadline much more difficult for GM’s(which I think is great…not so many “dumping” activities going on), and provides smaller market teams a chance to be a goliath killer in the playoffs…

  7. I’ve always been a supporter of the wild card. Anyone would be if their team missed the playoffs having posted the 3rd best record in baseball, but the 2nd best in their division.

  8. I’d guess the reason the Wild Card teams have done well in postseason play is that they are frequently the second best of the four teams in their league. That would inherently give them a pretty good chance.

  9. There’s only one thing wrong with the current system and that is the 5 game Divisional Series. Having more teams since 1969 is good, but the only way to make it work was to ensure that a good second place team in a strong division has a shot at the Series, and, by the same token, ensure that the lead team in a weak division has to prove its merit by playing several games against a strong team. The 7 game series is the standard that proves who has the best all around team and it should apply throughout the post season. Since the regular season now emphasizes (over-emphasizes IMO) games against teams within one’s own division, there’s no longer anything sacred, if there ever was, about the 162-game season. Cut the season back to 154 games, expand the divisional series to 7 games, and finish the World Series in early October so that crucial games are not played in weather fit only for a pick-up game of hockey.

  10. Also, the WildCard team is often the hottest team coming into the postseason, because they had to fight right down to the last game to get there.

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