Trends of a World Series Champion, Volume III

For the last two Octobers, I’ve looked at the trends of past World Series champions, and how each team in that year’s MLB postseason field compared to the trends that a typical World Series-winning team fits.

(2015: Trends of a World Series Champion)
(2016: Trends of a World Series Champion, Revisited)

As we enter the 2017 postseason, starting with the AL Wild Card game tonight, let’s look at the 10 teams in this year’s postseason and how they stack up to the trends of a World Series champion.

 

Trend:  Team batting average of .250 or better
Within the trend:  Astros (.282), Rockies (.273), Nationals (.266), Indians (.263), Yankees (.262), Twins (.260), Red Sox (.258), Cubs (.255), Diamondbacks (.254)
Outside the trend:  Dodgers (.249)

Trend:  Number of offensive starters hitting .290 or better (min. 50 games)
Within the trend:  Astros (5), Rockies (5), Nationals (4), Indians (3), Diamondbacks (3), Dodgers (2), Cubs (2), Red Sox (2), Twins (2)
Outside the trend:  Yankees (1)

Trend:  Team ERA of 4.00 or better
Within the trend:  Indians (3.30), Dodgers (3.38), Diamondbacks (3.66), Red Sox (3.70), Yankees (3.72), Nationals (3.88), Cubs (3.95)
Outside the trend:  Astros (4.12), Rockies (4.51), Twins (4.57)

Trend:  Starting rotation ERA of 4.25 or better
Within the trend:  Dodgers (3.39), Indians (3.52), Diamondbacks (3.61), Nationals (3.63), Yankees (3.98), Astros (4.03), Cubs (4.05), Red Sox (4.06)
Outside the trend:  Rockies (4.59), Twins (4.73)

Trend:  Bullpen ERA of 3.92 or better
Within the trend:  Indians (2.89), Red Sox (3.15), Dodgers (3.38), Yankees (3.44), Diamondbacks (3.78), Cubs (3.80)
Outside the trend:  Astros (4.27), Rockies (4.40), Twins (4.40), Nationals (4.41)

Trend:  Home winning percentage of .550 or better
Within the trend:  Dodgers (.704), Diamondbacks (.642), Yankees (.630), Indians (.605), Astros (.593), Cubs (.593), Red Sox (.593), Nationals (.580), Rockies (.568)
Outside the trend:  Twins (.506)

Trend:  Away winning percentage of .520 or better
Within the trend:  Indians (.654), Astros (.654), Nationals (.617), Dodgers (.580), Red Sox (.556), Cubs (.543), Twins (.543)
Outside the trend:  Diamondbacks (.506), Rockies (.506), Twins (.494)

Trend:  Win percentage after Sept. 1 of .500 or better
Within the trend:  Indians (.867), Astros (.724), Yankees (.690), Cubs (.655), Red Sox (.607), Diamondbacks (.607), Nationals (.552), Rockies (.517), Twins (.517)
Outside the trend:  Dodgers (.433)

Trend:  Win percentage in one-run games
Within the trend:  Cubs (.605), Rockies (.600), Astros (.594), Nationals (.588), Indians (.571), Dodgers (.568), Diamondbacks (.558), Red Sox (.537)
Outside the trend:  Twins (.455), Yankees (.409)

Trend:  Baseball-Reference.com Simple Rating System of 0.2 or better
Within the trend:  Indians (1.5), Yankees (1.3), Astros (1.2), Dodgers (0.9), Red Sox (0.8), Diamondbacks (0.8), Nationals (0.6), Cubs (0.6), Rockies (0.3), Twins (0.2)
Outside the trend:  none

 

Here are how many trends of a World Series champion each playoff team fit:

Indians 10
Cubs 10
Red Sox 10
Nationals 9
Diamondbacks 9
Dodgers 8
Astros 8
Yankees 7
Rockies 6
Twins 5

By this analysis, the Indians, Cubs and Red Sox would be World Series co-favorites, and each certainly have a very strong team with a great chance at hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy.

But only eight of the 22 World Series winners in the Wild Card era (since 1995) have fit all 10 criteria, so those who have missed in a category or two still have a great statistical shot at winning the World Series.

18 of the last 22 champions have fit eight or more criteria, and 21 of those 22 have fit at least seven (the 2006 Cardinals, with just three, are the huge outlier.)

More recently, the 10 champions since that 2006 Cardinals team have all fit eight or more criteria, and four of the last seven have fit all 10.

That said, seven of the 10 playoff teams, including all six that have already advanced to the League Division Series, fit eight or more criteria and fit the trend to win the World Series.

Though the shoe fits some better than others, the race is absolutely wide open as the playoffs begin.

 

 

Using these trends (and homefield to break ties where applicable), here is how the playoffs would play out–with the very World Series matchup and outcome I predicted in March:

AL Wild Card: Yankees def. Twins
NL Wild Card: Diamondbacks def. Rockies
AL Division Series: Indians def. Yankees, Red Sox def. Astros
NL Division Series: Diamondbacks def. Dodgers, Cubs def. Nationals
AL Championship Series: Indians def. Red Sox
NL Championship Series: Cubs def. Diamondbacks
World Series: Indians def. Cubs

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Trends of a World Series Champion, Revisited

As the MLB Postsesason moves into series play today following a couple of fantastic Wild Card Games, many will try to take their pick of who is best equipped to win the World Series.

Last year, I did this by statistically putting the playoff teams up against the previous 20 World Series champions based on the trends that the majority of those champions showed, in a post called “Trends of a World Series Champion.”

Every world champion did not necessarily fit every one of the 10 criteria, but most were within the trend in a majority of the categories.  Last year’s Kansas City Royals fit eight of the 10 criteria and won the World Series.

Eight teams are still alive in the chase for the Commissioner’s Trophy:  The Chicago Cubs, Washington Nationals, Los Angeles Dodgers, and San Francisco Giants from the National League, and the Texas Rangers, Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, and Toronto Blue Jays in the American League.

Here is how each of the eight fit the trends of a World Series champion:

 

Trend:  Team batting average of .250 or better
Within the trend:  Red Sox (.282), Rangers (.262), Indians (.262), Giants (.258), Cubs (.256), Nationals (.256)
Outside the trend:  Dodgers (.249), Blue Jays (.248)

Trend:  Number of offensive starters hitting .290 or better (min. 50 games)
Within the trend:  Red Sox (5), Indians (3), Nationals (3), Cubs (2), Rangers (2)
Outside the trend:  Dodgers (1), Blue Jays (1), Giants (0)

Trend:  Team ERA of 4.00 or better
Within the trend:  Cubs (3.15), Nationals (3.51), Giants (3.65), Dodgers (3.70), Blue Jays (3.78), Indians (3.84), Red Sox (4.00)
Outside the trend:  Rangers (4.37)

Trend:  Starting rotation ERA of 4.25 or better
Within the trend:  Cubs (2.96), Nationals (3.60), Blue Jays (3.64), Giants (3.71), Dodgers (3.95), Indians (4.08), Red Sox (4.22)
Outside the trend:  Rangers (4.38)

Trend:  Bullpen ERA of 3.92 or better
Within the trend:  Dodgers (3.35), Nationals (3.37), Indians (3.45), Red Sox (3.56), Cubs (3.56), Giants (3.65)
Outside the trend:  Blue Jays (4.11), Rangers (4.40)

Trend:  Home winning percentage of .550 or better
Within the trend:  Cubs (.704), Rangers (.654), Indians (.654), Dodgers (.654), Nationals (.617), Red Sox (.580), Blue Jays (.568), Giants (.556)
Outside the trend:  none

Trend:  Away winning percentage of .520 or better
Within the trend:  Cubs (.575), Red Sox (.568), Nationals (.556), Blue Jays (.531)
Outside the trend:  Rangers (.519), Giants (.519), Indians (.513), Dodgers (.469)

Trend:  Win percentage after Sept. 1 of .500 or better
Within the trend:  Red Sox (.655), Cubs (.621), Indians (.621), Nationals (.586), Dodgers (.586), Rangers (.536), Giants (.500)
Outside the trend:  Blue Jays (.448)

Trend:  Baseball-Reference.com Simple Rating System of 0.2 or better
Within the trend:  Cubs (1.3), Red Sox (1.3), Blue Jays (0.8), Nationals (0.6), Indians (0.6), Dodgers (0.4), Giants (0.3), Rangers (0.2)
Outside the trend:  none

 

Here are how many of the criteria each team fits the trend:

Nationals 10
Cubs 9
Indians 9
Red Sox 9
Giants 8
Dodgers 7
Rangers 6
Blue Jays 5

By this token, the Nationals should be the favorites to win the 2016 World Series.  But as I mentioned, last year’s Royals only fit eight of the criteria, so that would suggest that the top five all have a legitimate chance to win it all.

With five teams qualifying so well to make a deep run, and four rating better than the Royals (or anyone else) did last year, it shows the strength of this year’s playoff field.

In other words, it should be quite a postseason.

Hamlin Bucks Trends to Win Daytona 500

Sunday, in his 11th attempt, driving car #11, Denny Hamlin won the thrilling 58th Daytona 500, the first 500 victory of his career.

Hamlin picked up the biggest win of his career by coming from fourth on the final lap, passing leader Matt Kenseth before beating Martin Truex Jr. to the line by mere inches.  The margin of victory of 0.010 seconds was the closest in Daytona 500 history.

The win marked the first Daytona 500 victory for Toyota, and the first for owner Joe Gibbs since 1993 (Dale Jarrett).

Hamlin entered Daytona Speedweeks as one of my favorites, and his car showed speed all week leading up to the 500, but leading up to the race, Hamlin was not historically in a great position to win his first Daytona 500.

Consider the trends of the Daytona 500 throughout its 58-year history, and particularly over the last 15 years of restrictor plate racing (although restrictor plate racing has been around since 1988, it has been most similar to today’s restrictor plate racing only since 2001).

Last weekend, Hamlin won the Sprint Unlimited, a season-opening exhibition race at Daytona.  Before 2016, the winner of the Sprint Unlimited had only gone on to win the 500 five times, and had never done it since 2000 (Bobby Allison in 1982, Bill Elliott in 1987, Dale Jarrett in 1996 and 2000, and Jeff Gordon in 1997).

In fact, over the nearly six-decade history of the Daytona 500, a driver who has won any of the preliminary events during Speedweeks generally does not win the Daytona 500, but instead someone who has shown speed and performed well but not won in the Sprint Unlimited, Daytona 500 Pole Qualifying, and Can-Am Duels.

Another potential strike against Hamlin’s chances to win, at least according to the trends of the previous 15 editions of “The Great American Race”, is that he led the most laps.  While early in the 500’s history, it was common for one driver to dominate the race and take the checkered flag, Hamlin became just the third driver since 2001 to lead the most laps and win, joining Michael Waltrip in the rain-shortened 2003 edition, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2014.

Lastly, Hamlin was not the leader at the white flag, but found a way around all three of the cars in front of him to beat Truex by inches.  Hamlin becomes only the third driver in the last 23 Daytona 500s to make a last-lap pass for the win, joining Kevin Harvick in 2007 (who ironically pushed Hamlin to the win), and Ryan Newman in 2008 (who, like Hamlin, passed a #20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota).

Not only are last-lap passes to win the 500 rare, but throughout Speedweeks it appeared the leader at the white flag would have control over the pack, and would be very hard to pass them.

Kenseth had actually led from lap 160 of the 200-lap race until the third turn of the final lap when Hamlin and Truex got around (in fact, after Kenseth got sideways, he slowed to save his car from spinning out, and as a result fell back to 14th).  The leader at the white flag had won every stock car event so far during Speedweeks, including Hamlin, who was not hardly threatened over the final 2 1/2 miles of the Sprint Unlimited.

With a train of Gibbs Toyotas behind Kenseth, plus Truex in a Gibbs-affiliated Furniture Row Racing Toyota, it did not appear that Kenseth, a two-time 500 winner, would be touched.

After his 500 win, Hamlin told Marty Smith of ESPN that he did not intend to jump out of line to try to pass his teammates, but only moved to the outside to block a run by Harvick, who then pushed him to the win.

You might think it would be common sense that a driver would want to be leading at the white flag, but there have been years that the aerodynamic environment of the cars made passing easier, and in some of those years I have said before the 500 that I would want to be second at the white flag if I were driving in the race.

All of this being said, Hamlin winning NASCAR’s biggest event is a surprise to no one in the sport.  Hamlin’s win in the Sprint Unlimited was his third in that event, and he has also won twice in the Can-Am Duels, so he has experience winning at the World Center of Racing.

The thing about trends is that they are not always followed, as is the case here.  Three trends went against Denny Hamlin’s chances to win his first Daytona 500, but a car that was one of the favorites throughout Speedweeks, and showed plenty of muscle from the time it was unloaded, enabling Hamlin to nullify all of the tendencies above, and win by less than a foot.

With his prior prowess on the superspeedway, and his amazing run from fourth to the front, one thing is for sure.

Denny Hamlin’s name will forever be engraved on the Harley J. Earl Trophy.  And he earned it.

 

 

 

2016 Daytona 500, Results
(Finish. Driver, Start, Team, Manufacturer, Laps Led, Points)
1. Denny Hamlin, 11, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota, 95, 45
2. Martin Truex Jr., 28, Furniture Row Racing, Toyota, 2, 40
3. Kyle Busch, 4, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota, 19, 39
4. Kevin Harvick, 9, Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet, 0, 37
5. Carl Edwards, 10, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota, 0, 36
6. Joey Logano, 5, Team Penske, Ford, 0, 35
7. Kyle Larson, 14, Chip Ganassi Racing, Chevrolet, 0, 34
8. Regan Smith, 27, Tommy Baldwin Racing, Chevrolet, 0, 33
9. Austin Dillon, 21, Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet, 1, 33
10. Kurt Busch, 8, Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet, 0, 31
Notables:
14. Matt Kenseth, 2, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota, 40, 28
16. Jimmie Johnson, 26, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet, 18, 26
20. Brad Keselowski, 25, Team Penske, Ford, 1, 22
36. Dale Earnhardt Jr., 3, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet, 15, 6
37. Chase Elliott, 1, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet, 3, 5

Trends of a World Series Champion

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)

Team ERA
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)

Starters ERA
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)

Bullpen ERA
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
Royals- 25
Cardinals- 20
Cubs- 19
Dodgers- 17
Rangers- 17
Astros- 16
Mets- 15