As the MLB Playoffs get underway, people are quick to make their pick on who they think will win the World Series in about four weeks. To a certain extent, these picks are fairly arbitrary, as anyone can pick who they think is the best team with the best chance to win out of a field of worthy candidates (this is the playoffs after all).
I’m going to take a different approach. I’m going to look to the past, and take a statistical look at the last 20 World Series champions, since the Wild Card era began in 1995. I actually looked into 27 different statistical categories, but I’ve narrowed it down to 10 which are among the most important in determining which teams are cut out to make a deep postseason run and win the World Series. Let’s see how the eight teams in the Division Series round of the postseason compare to the last 20 world champions.
Team Batting Average
Trend: .250 or better
Every one of the last 20 World Series winners have had an average of .250 or better, with the last 19 each hitting .255 or better, with the 1995 Braves hitting .250. Naturally, it’s very helpful to be able to hit consistently in the playoffs, when you go against some very good pitching. You don’t necessarily have to hit .288 like the 1996 and 1998 Yankees each did, but the higher the average the better.
Within the trend: Blue Jays (.269), Royals (.269), Rangers (.257), Cardinals (.253), Dodgers (.250), Astros (.250)
Outside the trend: Mets (.244), Cubs (.244)
Number of Starters Hitting .290 or better
Trend: two or more
Outside of the 2005 White Sox, when Scott Podsednik hit .290 on the number and was the only starter at that mark or better, every team to win the World Series since 1995 has had multiple starters hitting .290 or better for the season. This stat identifies a team has multiple players capable of consistently hitting well, who can be relied on to get the big hit when necessary. On some world champions this is most of the team, like the 1998 Yankees with seven of them, but most teams who win it all have two or three of these players.
Within the trend: Royals (Cain, Hosmer, Morales), Dodgers (Kendrick, Ethier, Turner), Blue Jays (Revere, Donaldson)
Outside the trend: Cardinals (Piscotty), Rangers (Fielder), Astros (Altuve), Mets (none), Cubs (none)
Trend: 4.00 or better
This measures a team’s overall pitching performance for the entire season, and is relevant because everyone knows how important pitching can be in the postseason. While there have been six World Series winners with an ERA above 4.00 in the last 20 years, the last was the 2009 Yankees, and with the game’s overall trend towards good pitching in the last few years, there is a correlation that the ERA of the championship team is going down. The last five champions have had an ERA of 3.78 or lower, something all of the trend-fitting teams can also say except for one.
Within the trend: Cardinals (2.94), Cubs (3.36), Mets (3.43), Dodgers (3.49), Astros (3.57), Royals (3.73), Blue Jays (3.80)
Outside the trend: Rangers (4.24)
Trend: 4.25 or better
Starting pitching in particular is important in the playoffs, as we saw last year as the Giants rode ace Madison Bumgarner to the title. 15 of the last 20 World Series champs have been within this trend, so there are certainly outliers, although in the last five years, every team to win the World Series had a starting ERA of 3.84 or better. The four champions before that all had a starting ERA of 4.21 or worse, inflating the number for this trend a little bit, but all of the teams who fit the trend in this year’s playoffs are under 4.00.
Within the trend: Cardinals (2.99), Dodgers (3.29), Cubs (3.36), Mets (3.44), Astros (3.71), Blue Jays (3.96)
Outside the trend: Rangers (4.32), Royals (4.34)
Trend: 3.92 or better
Finishing games is so important in October, and 14 of the last 17 World Series champions have had a relief ERA of 3.92 or better, including each of the last eight, with the last 20 averaging a . While everyone allows some runs in relief over the course of a season, to win the World Series, ideally a team wouldn’t allow any.
Within the trend: Royals (2.72), Cardinals (2.82), Astros (3.27), Cubs (3.38), Mets (3.48), Blue Jays (3.50)
Outside the trend: Dodgers (3.93), Rangers (4.12)
Home Winning Percentage
Trend: .550 or better
Each of the last 20 World Series winners have had a home winning percentage of .550 or better, with 12 of them at over .600. In the postseason, the home crowd can be a big ally to a team’s success, so protecting homefield is important.
Within the trend: Cardinals (.679), Dodgers (.679), Blue Jays (.654), Astros (.654), Royals (.630), Mets (.605), Cubs (.605)
Outside the trend: Rangers (.531)
Away Winning Percentage
Trend: .520 or better
While winning at home is important, winning on the road is just as important, particularly for the lower-seeded teams in the postseason who will be playing more games on the road. Last year, the Royals and Giants were both very stellar on the road on their way to the World Series out of the Wild Card round. A team who plays well on the road shows they are able to block out the distractions and focus simply on the game. 17 of the last 20 world champions have been within the trend, and while the other three all actually had losing road records, the last eight champions have all had a .531 road winning percentage or better.
Within the trend: Cubs (.593), Cardinals (.556), Rangers (.556), Royals (.543)
Outside the trend: Mets (.506), Blue Jays (.494), Dodgers (.450), Astros (.407)
Winning Percentage after September 1
Trend: .500 or better
As simple as it sounds, teams want to be playing well late in the regular season as they head into the postseason. Some teams have to win a lot of September games to make the playoffs, while others are cruising to a division title, but they still need to play well to carry momentum into October, as 17 of the last 20 World Series winners have been .500 or better after September 1, with six of the last seven coming down the stretch at .640 or better.
Within the trend: Cubs (.719), Rangers (.625), Blue Jays (.613), Mets (.548), Dodgers (.538)
Outside the trend: Cardinals (.484), Royals (.469), Astros (.433)
Winning Percentage in one-run games
Trend: .500 or better
It is important to be able to win close games in the postseason, as low scoring, one-run games are very common in October. While there have been five teams to be under .500 in one-run games and still win the World Series since 1995, the only team to do is since 2007 was the Giants last year (.450).
Within the trend: Cubs (.618), Cardinals (.582), Royals (.575), Rangers (.551), Mets (.510)
Outside the trend: Dodgers (.447), Astros (.420), Blue Jays (.349)
Baseball-Reference.com Simple Rating System
Trend: 0.2 or better
The Simple Rating System (SRS), compiled by baseball-reference.com, is a measure to indicate how many runs per game a team is better or worse than the average team, by combining run differential with strength of schedule. From 1995-2005, 10 of the 11 world champions had an SRS of 0.5 or better, but in recent years the World Series-winning SRS hasn’t been as strong, with three of the last four coming in at 0.2 or worse.
Within the trend: Royals (1.6), Astros (0.9), Blue Jays (0.7), Cardinals (0.5), Rangers (0.4), Cubs (0.2)
Outside the trend: Dodgers (0.1), Mets (0.0)
Out of 10 criteria, none of the eight remaining postseason teams fit all 10, or even nine of the 10. In the American League, the Royals and Blue Jays each fit eight criteria, while the Astros hit six, and the Rangers hit five. In the National League, the Cardinals and Cubs each fit eight, while the Dodgers and Mets fit 6.
That being said, in the American League playoffs, by this formula, the Royals and Blue Jays would advance to the ALCS. As I said earlier, I actually looked into 27 statistical categories in all, and when I tried to break this tie by using the trend in all 27, both fit 25 of the criteria. The Blue Jays were better, however, in 15 of the 27 criteria, with the Royals better in 10, and the teams tying in two, making the Blue Jays the AL favorites according to these figures.
In the National League, the Cardinals and Cubs are the two best equipped for a deep run, but they play each other in the NLDS, and both fit eight of the 10 criteria. Out of all 27, the Cardinals fit 20 and the Cubs fit 19, giving St. Louis the slight advantage. The Mets and Dodgers also tied by fitting six of the 10 criteria, but out of all 27 categories, the Dodgers fit the trend in 17, and the Mets in 15. This would point to a Cardinals-Dodgers NLCS for the second time in three years, marking the third straight year they would meet in the playoffs, and this formula also points to the Cardinals eliminating the Dodgers for the third straight year.
Therefore, the trends suggest a “Battle of the Birds” in the World Series between the Blue Jays and Cardinals. Both fit eight of the initial 10 criteria, but in the complete list of 27 categories, Toronto fits the trend in 25, and St. Louis fits 20. If this holds true, the Blue Jays would win the World Series for the first time since 1993.
In a different way, the Blue Jays have been a “trendy” pick to win it all. But by this criteria, they fit all the trends of a World Champion as well.
Here is how many out of all 27 categories each playoff team was “within the trend”:
Blue Jays- 25