Earlier in the week, I wrote about the 40 game mark and the statistical improbability of the 1984 season. But I wanted to see how the best record in baseball after 40 games affects end of the season outcomes.
I again used data after the season was expanded to 162 games (1961-2013). The median end of season wins was 96 and the mean end of season wins was 95.6 (while of course throwing out the strike shortened seasons of 1981 and 1994-1995). At the 40 game mark, Fangraphs Projected Standings ironically had the Tigers pegged for 95.6 wins (this has since dropped to 93.7 wins after the recent 4 game skid).
Using those same teams over that time period, 62% made the playoffs, 37% made the World Series, and 16% won the World Series. But most of this data is inherently flawed since regular season AL/NL champs automatically qualified for the World Series and the League Championship Series didn’t arrive until 1969. A better yardstick for future outcomes is using the data since the institution of the Divisional Series in 1995 (and oddly in 1981).
In this scenario, we would expect more teams to make the playoffs and less teams to win the World Series (given 3 as opposed to 2 playoff series). Not surprisingly, this is exactly the case. When we only include those teams (1981, 1995-2013), 75% made the playoffs, 33% made the World Series, and 16.7% won the World Series. Again referencing Fangraphs Playoffs Odds, the Tigers have the highest predicted World Series odds at 17.7%.
If all playoff teams are created equally (with the same statistical chance of beating one another), each division winner (excluding Wild Cards since the one game playoff essentially cuts their odds in half) would have a 25% chance of making the World Series and a 12.5% of winning the whole thing. Thus, having the best record in baseball represents a historic 4.2% absolute advantage and 33.6% relative advantage of winning the World Series over the "average" playoff team. 4.2% may not be monumental, but an advantage is still an advantage.
Overall, the Tigers are really good. But the best team doesn’t always win the World Series. In fact, since the advent of the LDS, the team with the best regular season record has only won the World Series four times (1998 Yankees, 2007 Red Sox, 2009 Yankees, 2013 Red Sox). Due to the player strike and bizarre format, the 1981 Reds had the best record in baseball at 66-42 and didn’t even MAKE the playoffs.
Ultimately, although we make ourselves feel better with advanced statistics, baseball is a highly unpredictable sport. To win a World Series, you still need health, luck, and a few less plays like this: