I was all set to go golfing last week when I went out to the garage and saw I had a flat tire. I changed it and took it in to get the tire patched, and as I waited, I read the October 13th edition of ESPN The Magazine and saw an article by Peter Keating (page 8) in which he made a case for playoff performance predicated on how well teams performed against the better teams during the regular season. I never would have read the article without having that flat tire -- the Lord does indeed work in mysterious ways.
I've written on this subject in the past, and it really holds true in football, so much so that Bleacher Report Afternoon Drive co-host Jason Goff (who hosts with Will Carroll) coined the term "bumslayer" to explain it. Jason was describing the 2012 Chicago Bears, a team that began the season 7-1 due to a relatively soft opening schedule, but faltered in the second half against better teams. They were bumslayers because they had no problem defeating the easy teams on their schedule but wilted against the better ones.
The central thesis of Keating's article was that teams that have success in the playoffs generally do well against the better teams during the regular season, and those who don't perform as well against better teams make early exits. He used this year's Angels as an example, citing that forty percent of their wins came against the worst teams in the AL (Red Sox, Astros, Twins and Rangers) but were only 9-11 against the other division leaders. We already know how that turned out. Logically, the argument makes perfect sense, since who are the opponents in the playoffs? Better teams.
I checked to see how well teams performed against teams who finished .500 or above going back to 1995 to see how far they advanced in the playoffs:
|Lost World Series||5.6|
In the 18 World Series played since 1995, the winners had on average the sixth-best record against good teams, the losers a smidge better, but overall the trend is clear -- teams with better records against good teams went deeper in the playoffs.
So what does this bode for this year? Here's how teams performed against teams with winning records:
*=playoff team R=runs scored RA=runs allowed pW%=Pythagorean win percent
The Mariners were in the race right up to the final day of the season, and the Orioles and Cardinals are still playing. Part of the explanation is obvious -- teams can't win enough games to make the playoffs without beating good teams at some point. Conversely, the Angels, Pirates and Dodgers might have been bumslayers, teams who beat the teams they were supposed to beat but withered against stiffer competition. This could have been a factor in their early playoff exits this year. Then again, as of this writing the Orioles are down 2-0 and the Giants won the first game in their series. Trends don't always translate directly into actual results.
This table shows the rank for every World Series team going back to 1995:
In many cases the World Series champions were the teams among the best against better competition. I highly recommend reading Keating's article, it's short and easy to understand, and as long as you have the magazine handy, flip to page 32 and read an alternate take on the World Series from Dan Szymborski. Either will do better than me -- I correctly picked the Giants to win their Wild Card game, and that's the extent of my correct postseasons picks. Three posts I
wasted wrote describing postseason picks, and it's all up in flames. Maybe if I'd read Keating's article before I wrote them, I would have reached different conclusions.
Scott Lindholm lives in Davenport, IA and swears off making playoff predictions until next September. Follow him on Twitter @ScottLindholm.