Projecting the Playoffs

David Isaacs writes a great columnfor Evan Brunell on Fire Brand of the American League. Evan is away for a few weeks and I’ll be writing two guest columns on July 31st and August 1st. Isaacs previews this year’s AL wild card contenders, which is appropriate since the last three World Series have been won by a wild card team. But is there any reason that wild card teams have been so succesful the past few years? Is there some inherent advantage in being a wild card team?
No. The Red Sox had the best record in the major leagues after July 31st last year, 42-18. Florida had the fifth-best record in the major leagues after the trading deadline in 2003, 32-22. The Angels had the second-best record after the deadline after the 2002 deadline, 36-20. The only team better was Oakland, and as well all know Billy Beane’s “shit doesn’t work in the playoffs!”
Vinay Kumar wrote an interesting articleon what does work in the playoffs a year ago, and he concluded that pitching and defense did indeed matter most, as conventional wisdom would suggest. I’m going to look at the team’s ranks in a few categories: complete games, strike outs, and runs allowed.

Team

RA

CG

SO

Red Sox (2004)

11th

10th

2nd

Marlins (2003)

6th

6th

5th

Angels (2002)

1st

10th

8th

 

Ok, so there goes the pitching and defense theory…but the wild card winners were all hot teams. And maybe that’s the advantage of being a wild card: a division winner is only competing against its division, so if everyone in the division does poorly in the second half, a team can win without actually having any momentum or being all that good (see this year’s San Diego Padres). But a wild card winner is competing against everyone, so the wild card will always be a hot team, ready to go in the playoffs. This year, I’m putting my money on the team that finishes best.

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