Remembering 1984: 35-5 will stand the test of time

Duane Burleson

It has now been 30 years since the magical 1984 season. That year, the Tigers started the season an incredible 35-5 over their first 40 games. They never looked back and won a team record 104 games, en route to the team’s 4th and most recent World Series title.

Yesterday, the Tigers defeated the Boston Red Sox and are currently 26-12. With that win, they have guaranteed themselves to again have the best record in baseball at the 40 game mark (the A’s, Brewers, and Giants were all 25-15 after 40 games).

I decided to look into how improbable a 35-5 start truly is. Given that the next best start to a season is 31-9 (1998 Yankees, 2001 Mariners), my suspicion was that it was rare. But, I never thought it was impossibly rare.

Using, I looked back at the historical standings at the 40 game mark since 1961. I chose 1961 because this was the first year the season expanded to 162 games. Over that time period, the best record in baseball ranged from 24-35 wins with the following distribution:

24-16: 1 time (1.89%)

25-15: 7 times (13.21%)

26-14: 9 times (16.98%)

27-13: 12 times (22.64%)

28-12: 6 times (11.32%)

29-11: 14 times (26.42%)

30-10: 1 time (1.89%)

31-9: 2 times (3.77%)

32-8: 0 times

33-7: 0 times

34-6: 0 times

35-5: 1 time (1.89%)

After compiling the data, the mean "best record" was 27.51 wins and the standard deviation was 1.96 wins. For the sake of ease, I examined the data against a normal distribution. The Tigers in 1984 were 3.83 standard deviations above the mean. To put this in perspective, only 15.9 % of events in a normal distribution are more than one standard deviation above the mean. Only 2.28% lie more than two standard deviations above the mean. At 3.83 standard deviations above the mean, the probability of a team going 35-5 is 0.0064%, or 1 in 15625. Even if you round the numbers (as teams cannot earn a fractional victory) to a mean of 28 and a standard deviation of 2, the probability is still staggering at 0.0233%, or 1 in 4292.

To further examine this, I created a simulation of seasons with random numbers generated in a normal distribution using the mean and standard deviation of the data set. If expanded for 10,000 seasons, the occurrences of the following records would be:

32-8: 120 times (1.20%)

33-7: 36 times (0.36%)

34-6: 16 times (0.16%)

35-5: 1 time (0.01%)

36-4: 0 times

A graphic representation is also seen below (Note: due to a relatively small n and rounding to whole numbers, the data is not in a perfectly normal distribution. But, the data still fits relatively well with a correlation coefficient of 0.86).


This record may not be as impossible as Vander Meer’s consecutive No-Hitters, Dimaggio’s 56 game hit streak, or even Hack Wilson’s 191 RBIs. But, the 1984 Tigers are a significant statistical outlier and it is safe to say that we will never see a team rival the 35-5 start, let alone beat it.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of the <em>Bless You Boys</em> writing staff.

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