ARE PLAYOFFS A “CRAPSHOOT”?

There is a flawed thinking that the regular season record is a good way to judge how good a particular team is. This idea leads some to think that the playoffs are a “crapshoot”. The problem with this type of thinking is that teams don’t play to have the best record, they play to win the World Series, which requires qualifying for the playoffs, and that doesn’t mean having the best record. There are also injuries and trades that affect teams. If a team made trades that drastically improve the team mid-season, foes it make sense to look at their record for the entire season, including their pre-trade record, when evaluating how good the team is at the time of the playoffs? Having the best record can of course mean having the best team, but it’s not always true.

For the analysis in this article, I didn’t typically compare teams in different leagues for obvious reasons, as interleague play is too small of a sample size. Teams also don’t play every other team in the other league either. I focused on the “wildcard era”: 1995- as that’s the era with the most playoff teams. The purpose of this article is to show that the best team or less often one of the best teams, always wins the World Series, and it’s not just the hottest/luckiest team. Playoffs are NOT and never have been a “cr

1995 ATLANTA BRAVES

They finished the season with the best record in the NL (90-54) and the best ERA in the Majors (3.44).

Were they the best team in the Majors? Yes.

1996 NEW YORK YANKEES

They won it all with the same core in 1998, 1999 and 2000, so it would be silly to call that “luck”. Their FIP (4.26) was the best in the AL. They finished the season with a 92-70 record and both teams that they beat on the AL side of the playoffs, had worse records (the 90-72 Texas Rangers in the ALDS and the 88-74 Baltimore Orioles in the ALCS).

Were they the best team in the Majors? Maybe, but you can argue for Atlanta, who led the World Series 2-0 and lost the last 2 games by a run.

1997 FLORIDA MARLINS

They finished the season as one of the top teams in ERA and FIP. Bad umpiring however helped them against the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS and they beat the Cleveland Indians 4-3 in the World Series.

Were they the best team in the Majors? Maybe, but it’s debatable.

1998 NEW YORK YANKEES

They had the best record in the Majors (114-48).

Were they the best team in the Majors? Yes.

1999 NEW YORK YANKEES

They had the best record in the AL (98-64). They also beat the Atlanta Braves in the World Series in 1996 as well.

Were they the best team in the Majors? Yes.

2000 NEW YORK YANKEES

They won the World Series with the same core the previous 2 years. Is it possible that they just played good enough to get into the the playoffs? They weren’t underdogs based on them being the defending champions with the same core, despite their underperforming record. I think that based on the previous 2 years, they were the best team in the Majors.

Were they the best team in the Majors? Yes.

2001 ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

They should’ve finished with the best record in the NL based on their Pythagorean W-L record (95-67). Their real record was 92-70. Every other NL playoff team had a worse Pythagorean W-L record, including the 93-69 Houston Astros (88-74 Pythagorean) and the 93-69 St. Louis Cardinals (94-68 Pythagorean). Ultimately it took some luck for them to win a 7 game World Series against New York, and luck is always a part of a close series. That said, they were certainly the best team in the NL.

Were they the best team in the Majors? Maybe, but it’s debatable.

2002 ANAHEIM ANGELS

They had an impressive 99-63 record and the best Pythagorean W-L record in the Majors at 101-61. Despite being a Wild Card team, they were deserving champions.

Were they the best team in the Majors? Yes.

2003 FLORIDA MARLINS

They were better than their division winning Atlanta Braves in the second half (42-25 to Atlanta‘s 40-29). The San Francisco Giants (who finished with the best record in the NL) were just a little bit better (43-24), but both Florida and San Francisco had an identical 18-8 record in September. It seems to me that they “figured it out” in the second half and were among the elite teams in the Majors despite their 91-71 overall record. The New York Yankees (101-61) may have been better in the World Series, if not for shifting around hitters to new positions, bad luck in close games and injuries.

Were they the best team in the Majors? Maybe, but it’s debatable.

2004 BOSTON RED SOX

They had the best Pythagorean W-L record in the AL (96-66) and the best record in the AL in the second half. Their second half record was also and the second best in the Majors (50-26). Only the St. Louis Cardinals were better (51-24). To top it all off, they had the best offense in the Majors with 5.86 R/G. Boston swept St. Louis in the World Series (who may not have had the better record if they played in the same league), so they were deserving champions.

Were they the best team in the Majors? Yes.

2005 CHICAGO WHITE SOX

They finished the season with the best record in the AL (99-63) and beat a team with a worse record in the World Series (89-73 Houston Astros). Hard to argue that they deserved it.

Were they the best team in the Majors? Yes.

2006 ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

They had a lot of injuries that led to an 83-79 record, however they got mostly healthy by the playoffs. The healthy version was the core of the pennant winning 2004 team that finished with the best record in the Majors, and the 2005 team that finished with the best record in the NL. They just barely got past the New York Mets in the NLCS (4-3), and they had the better record (97-65). They deserved it but weren’t necessarily the best team.

Were they the best team in the Majors? Maybe, but it’s debatable.

2007 BOSTON RED SOX

They were tied with the Cleveland Indians for the best record in the Majors (96-66), but had the best Pythagorean W-L record in the Majors (101-61). They were deserving champions.

Were they the best team in the Majors? Yes.

2008 PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

They had the same second half record (40-26) as the Chicago Cubs, who finished the season with the best record in the NL. They hit the most home runs in the NL and were second in the Majors (214). They were one of the best teams, but it’s arguable if they were the best.

Were they the best team in the Majors? Maybe, but it’s debatable.

2009 NEW YORK YANKEES

They finished the season with the best record in the Majors (103-59). They were deserving champions.

Were they the best team in the Majors? Yes.

2010 SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

They had the best ERA in the Majors (3.36), the most strikeouts (1,336) and the best K/9 (8.2). They had the best pitching in the game. Their record was 92-70, however their Pythagorean W-L record was 94-68. The Philadelphia Phillies finished the season with a 97-65 record, but had a 95-67 Pythagorean W-L record, making the two teams almost equal.

Were they the best team in the Majors? Yes.

2011 ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

They were better than the Philadelphia Phillies (who finished the season with the best record in the Majors) , in September (18-8 to 16-14). In the second half (after major team changes), St. Louis went 41-29, which wasn’t much worse than Philly’s 45-26. St. Louis had the best offense in the Majors with 4.70 R/G. St. Louis however needed all 5 games to beat Philly in the NLDS and 7 games (while TWICE being a strike away from losing the series), to beat the Texas Rangers in the World Series.

Were they the best team in the Majors? Maybe, but it’s debatable.

2012 SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

The same core won it all in 2010, so it’s possible that they just played good enough to qualify for the playoffs. They still needed all 5 games to beat the Cincinnati Reds in the NLDS and then the whole 7 games to beat St. Louis in the NLCS.

Were they the best team in the Majors? Maybe, but it’s debatable.

2013 BOSTON RED SOX

They finished with the best record in the AL (97-65), which tied them for the best record in the Majors with St. Louis. They did however have the best offense, leading the Majors with 5.27 R/G. They also beat St. Louis 4-2 in the World Series.

Were they the best team in the Majors? Yes.

2014 SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

They had the same core as the 2010 and 2012 teams, so this wasn’t a fluke.

Were they the best team in the Majors? Yes.

2015 KANSAS CITY ROYALS

The defending AL Champions finished the season with the best record in the AL (95-67). They also easily beat the New York Mets (90-72) 4-1 in the World Series.

Were they the best team in the Majors? Yes.

2016 CHICAGO CUBS

They had the best record in the Majors (103-58).

Were they the best team in the Majors? Yes.

2017 HOUSTON ASTROS

They cheated but also had a 101-61 record and the best offense in the Majors (5.53 R/G)

Were they the best team in the Majors? We won’t know because they cheated.

2018 BOSTON RED SOX

They had the best record in the Majors (108-54).

Were they the best team in the Majors? Yes.

2019 WASHINGTON NATIONALS

They had a better second half record than their division winning Atlanta (46-27 to 43-28). They also had a better overall Pythagorean record (95-67 to 91-71). The Los Angeles Dodgers were only slightly better in the second half (46-24). They beat LA 3-2 in the NLDS and Houston 4-3 in the World Series.

Were they the best team in the Majors? Maybe, but it’s debatable.

2020 LOS ANGELES DODGERS

They had the best record in the Majors (43-17).

2021 ATLANTA BRAVES

They had a 44-28 record in the second half and a 94-68 Pythagorean record (their actual record was 88-73). I think that their records don’t show how good they actually were, but in the absence of strong evidence I can only call them one or the best teams.

Were they the best team in the Majors? Maybe, but it’s debatable.

So let’s put it all together: 27 champions in the Wild Card era. Out of them, 16 were definitely the best team and 11 were debatable, but still were in consideration were being the best team. A grand total of 0 were flukes.

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