ARE PLAYOFFS REALLY A “CRAPSHOOT”?

There is a wide belief that since “the wildcard era” has started, the best team doesn’t always win the World Series, and that the playoffs have become a “crapshoot”. In other words that the team that wins the World Series is the hottest during the playoffs, and not the best that season. Ironically this actually supports the idea that the playoffs are NOT a “crapshoot”! How? The “hottest” team is in other words the best playing team, and thus the best team. Of course what’s really implied is that the best team is the one with the best win-loss record, and that that team should win the World Series. Personally, I’m not sold on the idea that the playoffs are a “crapshoot” due to the presence of dynasties such as the 1998-2000 New York Yankees (who also made the World Series in 2001). Could a team really get to 4 World Series in a row randomly?! The Philadelphia Phillies and the Texas Rangers also made consecutive World Series trips (2008-2009 and 2010-2011) and the Kansas City Royals did it in 2014-2015. Let’s look at each championship team’s playoff series since the first year of the “wildcard era”, and see whether or not luck played a part along the way. I’ll make it very simple and focus on team records and key stats, after all if a team with a better record won a playoff series, isn’t that supposed to be expected? Isn’t it a “crapshoot” when a team with a worser record wins?

1995

ATLANTA BRAVES

W-L: 90-54 (won the division by 21 games).

NLDS: Beat the Colorado Rockies (77-67) 3-1

NLCS: Beat the Cincinnati Reds (85-59) 4-0

WS: Beat the Cleveland Indians (100-44) 4-2

VERDICT: There were no upsets on the way to the World Series. Cleveland had the better record, but were also in a different league and Atlanta had the best ERA and FIP in the Majors as a team, I think that this was a deserving title.

1996

NEW YORK YANKEES

W-L: 92-70 (won the division by 4 games).

ALDS: Beat the Texas Rangers (90-72) 3-1

ALCS: Beat the Baltimore Orioles (88-74) 4-1

WS: Beat the Atlanta Braves (96-66) 4-2

VERDICT: New York didn’t beat any teams that they shouldn’t have on the way to the World Series. Atlanta were the favorites but from a different league, and New York went on to win 3 more World Series from 1998-2000. I think that this was a deserving title.

1997

FLORIDA MARLINS

W-L: 92-70 (Wildcard).

NLDS: Beat the San Francisco Giants (92-70) 3-0

NLCS: Beat the Atlanta Braves (101-61) 4-2

WS: Beat the Cleveland Indians (86-75) 4-2

VERDICT: Florida’s Pythagorean W-L récord was 88-74 and San Francisco’s was a shockingly bad 80-82, so the NLDS result should’ve been expected. The win over Atlanta was an upset but terrible umpiring played a big part. The win over Cleveland however wasn’t an upset. Depending on how you feel about the win over Atlanta, this was either a deserved championship or not.

1998

NEW YORK YANKEES

W-L: 114-48 (won the division by 22 games).

ALDS: Beat the Texas Rangers (88-74) 3-0

ALCS: Beat the Cleveland Indians (89-73) 4-2

WS: Beat the San Diego Padres (98-64) 4-0

VERDICT: No surprises here, a well-deserved championship.

1999

NEW YORK YANKEES

W-L: 98-64 (won the division by 4 games).

ALDS: Beat the Texas Rangers (95-67) 3-0

ALCS: Beat the Boston Red Sox (94-68) 4-1

WS: Beat the Atlanta Braves (103-59) 4-0

VERDICT: Atlanta’s Pythagorean W-L récord was 98-64 and New York’s was 96-66, which is a very small difference. Looking further, New York had scored more runs per game (5.56 to 5.19), while Atlanta had a better team ERA (3.63 to 4.13) and FIP (3.85 to 4.35). The two teams faced each other in the 1996 World Series with similar rosters and New York won at the time as well. This was a well-deserved championship.

2000

NEW YORK YANKEES

W-L: 87-74 (won the division by 2.5 games).

ALDS: Beat the Oakland Athletics (91-70) 3-2

ALCS: Beat the Seattle Mariners (91-71) 4-2

WS: Beat the New York Mets (94-68) 4-1

VERDICT: There’s no getting around that at face value New York’s every series win was an upset. That said, this team won the World Series the previous 2 years. Experience and other unmeasurable values likely led to the championship. I don’t think that this was a fluke.

2001

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

W-L: 92-70 (won the division by 2 games).

NLDS: Beat the St. Louis Cardinals (93-69) 3-2

NLCS: Beat the Atlanta Braves (88-74) 4-1

WS: Beat the New York Yankees (95-67) 4-3

VERDICT: Arizona’s Pythagorean W-L record was 95-67, better than the Pythagorean W-L record of every team that they beat. It looks like a deserved title.

2002

ANAHEIM ANGELS

W-L: 99-63 (Wildcard).

ALDS: Beat the New York Yankees (103-58) 3-1

ALCS: Beat the Minnesota Twins (94-67) 4-1

WS: Beat the San Francisco Giants (95-66) 4-3

VERDICT: Anaheim’s Pythagorean W-L record was an even better 101-61. New York’s was 99-62, Minnesota’s was 86-75 and San Francisco’s was 98-63. This seems to be a deserved championship.

2003

FLORIDA MARLINS

W-L: 91-71 (Wildcard)

NLDS: Beat the San Francisco Giants (100-61)

NLCS: Beat the Chicago Cubs (88-74) 4-3

WS: Beat the New York Yankees (101-61) 4-2

VERDICT: Our furst fluke? Florida had a better team FIP than San Francisco (3.80 to 3.83), but there’s no sugarcoating that this title seemed to be the result of a hot streak. I think that Chicago’s morale dropping due to a belief in being cursed, and New York’s overconfidence and constant lineup shuffling played a part, but it does seem as a flukey championship.

2004

BOSTON RED SOX

W-L: 98-64 (Wildcard).

ALDS: Beat the Anaheim Angels (92-70) 3-0

ALCS: Beat the New York Yankees (101-61) 4-3

WS: Beat the St. Louis Cardinals (105-57) 4-0

VERDICT: Boston’s Pythagorean W-L record was 96-66 while New York’s was 89-73. St. What about the World Series? Boston was better than St. Louis at scoring runs that season (5.86 to 5.28), and had a better team FIP (4.03 to 4.17). The W-L record difference can be explained by them playing in different leagues. Boston deserved the championship.

2005

CHICAGO WHITE SOX

W-L: 99-63 (won the division by 6 games).

ALDS: Beat the Boston Red Sox (95-67) 3-0

ALCS: Beat the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (95-67) 4-1

WS: Beat the Houston Astros (89-73) 4-0

VERDICT: No upsets here.

2006

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

W-L: 83-78 (won the division by 1.5 games).

NLDS: Beat the San Diego Padres (88-74) 3-1

NLCS: Beat the New York Mets (97-65) 4-3

WS: Beat the Detroit Tigers (95-67) 4-1

VERDICT: They won the pennant two years earlier with largely the same roster and were in the NLCS for the third season in a row. It seems that experience carried them to the title. Does it mean that they deserved it this year? That’s debatable but hardly a “crapshoot”.

2007

BOSTON RED SOX

W-L: 96-66 (won the division by 2 games).

ALDS: Beat the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (94-68) 3-0

ALCS: Beat the Cleveland Indians (96-66) 4-3

WS: Beat the Colorado Rockies (90-73) 4-0

VERDICT: Boston’s Pythagorean W-L record was 101-61, Cleveland’s was 91-71. Boston definitely deserved the championship.

2008

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

W-L: 92-70 (won the division by 3 games).

NLDS: Beat the Milwaukee Brewers (90-72) 3-1

NLCS: Beat the Los Angeles Dodgers (84-78) 4-1

WS: Beat the Tampa Bay Rays (97-65) 4-1

VERDICT: Philadelphia’s Pythagorean W-L record was 93-69, Tampa Bay’s was 92-70. I think that Philadelphia’s title clearly wasn’t a “crapshoot”.

2009

NEW YORK YANKEES

W-L: 103-59 (won the division by 8 games).

ALDS: Beat the Minnesota Twins (87-76) 3-0

ALCS: Beat the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (97-65) 4-2

WS: Beat the Philadelphia Phillies (93-69) 4-2

VERDICT: The best team won the World Series.

2010

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

W-L: 92-70 (won the division by 2 games).

NLDS: Beat the Atlanta Braves (91-71) 3-1

NLCS: Beat the Philadelphia Phillies (97-65) 4-2

WS: Beat the Texas Rangers (90-72) 4-1

VERDICT: The only upset here is their win over Philadelphia, or is it? San Francisco’s Pythagorean W-L record was 94-68, Philadelphia’s was 95-67. Looking deeper, San Francisco had a better team ERA (3.36 to 3.67) and FIP (3.74 to 3.93). Philadelphia scored more runs (4.77 to 4.30). This was close and in all honesty either team could’ve won. I think that San Francisco’s title can’t be seen as a fluke.

2011

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

W-L: 90-72 (Wildcard).

NLDS: Beat the Philadelphia Phillies (102-60) 3-2

NLCS: Beat the Milwaukee Brewers (96-66) 4-2

WS: Beat the Texas Rangers (96-66) 4-3

VERDICT: There is no getting around the fact that St. Louis shouldn’t have won the World Series. They did however finish the season by going 23-9.

2012

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

W-L: 94-68 (won the division by 8 games).

NLDS: Beat the Cincinnati Reds (97-65) 3-2

NLCS: Beat the St. Louis Cardinals (88-74) 4-3

WS: Beat the Detroit Tigers (88-74) 4-0

VERDICT: There were no upsets except the win over Cincinnati. San Francisco was better at scoring runs (4.43 to 4.13), but was behind in team ERA (3.68 to 3.34) and FIP (3.78 to 3.72). This was also largely the same team that won the World Series 2 years earlier. I think that it was very close (the series did take all 5 games after all), but San Francisco’s championship isn’t a fluke.

2013

BOSTON RED SOX

W-L: 97-65 (won the division by 5.5 games).

ALDS: Beat the Tampa Bay Rays (92-71) 3-1

ALCS: Beat the Detroit Tigers (93-69) 4-2

WS: Beat the St. Louis Cardinals (97-65) 4-2

VERDICT: No randomness here. Boston’s Pythagorean W-L record was 100-62, St. Louis’s was 101-61. That said, they are in different leagues and Boston was better at scoring runs (5.27 to 4.83). It was close and Boston deserves the pennant so I don’t think that this result can be considered a fluke.

2014

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

W-L: 88-74 (Wildcard).

NLDS: Beat the Washington Nationals (96-66) 3-2

NLCS: Beat the St. Louis Cardinals (90-72) 4-1

WS: Beat the Kansas City Royals (89-73) 4-3

VERDICT: San Francisco’s Pythagorean W-L record was 87-75 and Kansas City’s Pythagorean W-L was 84-78. There’s no sugarcoating San Francisco winning the pennant howev, but once again we see an experienced team that won recent championships have an unimpressive regular season only to win the World Series. Do they deserve it? That’s debatable, but winning 3 championships in 5 years isn’t a “crapshoot”.

2015

KANSAS CITY ROYALS

W-L: 95-67 (won the division by 12 games).

ALDS: Beat the Houston Astros (86-76) 3-2

ALCS: Beat the Toronto Blue Jays (93-69) 4-2

WS: Beat the New York Mets (90-72) 4-1

VERDICT: No upsets here, a well-deserved championship.

2016

CHICAGO CUBS

W-L: 103-58 (won the division by 17.5 games).

ALDS: Beat the San Francisco Giants (87-75) 3-1

NLCS: Beat the Los Angeles Dodgers (91-71) 4-2

WS: Beat the Cleveland Indians (94-67) 4-3

Verdict: They were the favorites in every series, this was a well-deserved championship.

2017

HOUSTON ASTROS

W-L: 101-61 (won the division by 21 games).

ALDS: Beat the Boston Red Sox (93-69) 3-1

ALCS: Beat the New York Yankees (91-71) 4-3

WS: Beat the Los Angeles Dodgers (104-58) 4-3

VERDICT: There were no upsets on the way to the pennant. Did they deserve to win the World Series? Houston scored more runs per game than LA (5.53 to 4.75), and they’re in different leagues.

So what do these results show us? Out of 23 World Series winning teams since 1995, only twice can we say that the result was a “crapshoot”.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments and feel free to follow me and ask me questions on Twitter @NeilfromNYC.

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