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What a Difference 8 Games Make
2008-10-08 23:27
by Mike Carminati

With the Phils facing off against the Dodgers tomorrow just after the shofar is blown—I hope they don't fill up on nosh—I have to think that the Phils' significantly better, though still somewhat modest, record has to weigh in on the final outcome of the series.

Keep in mind that the Dodgers with an 84-78 record would be the third worst team to reach the World Series behind the '73 Mets (82-79) and '06 Cards (83-78). The 92-70 would just be tied for 16th worst (better than the '80 and '83 teams, mind you). Even so, the Phils are 8 wins better than the Dodgers.

So the question is whether being 8 games better than your opponent in a playoff series really matters.

To answer this, I looked at all such playoff series. I found that teams that were 8 or more wins better than their opponents won the series 58 times and lost the series 32 times for an overall series winning percentage of .644.

That's a pretty good winning percentage, but maybe it makes no difference if the team is one game better than their opponent or eight. So I ran the numbers for the series in which fewer than 8 games separated the two opponents. The results were that in this case the teams with the better record won 68 times, the team with the worse record won 79, and 11 times the teams had the same number of wins. So when the teams are close, apparently, having a slightly superior regular-season is no advantage and may even be a disadvantage.

Now, you might say this can be explained by World Series opponents who have may have similar records but have wildly divergent talent given the, by and large, non-interlocking records. That is, you could have a team with a great record in a weak league that loses to a team with a so-so record from a tough league.

If we remove these series, looking at series in which one opponent was 8 wins better than the other, we find the "better" team won 33 times and the "worse" team won 15 times for a .688 winning percentage. Looking at the series where teams were within 8 wins of each other, the "better" team won 40 times, the "worse" team 43 times, and seven times the two teams had the same number of wins. That's a .482 winning percentage.

So I have to think that the Phils being eight wins better than the Dodgers has some significance. It's not the be-all end-all, but how many Kirk Gibson moments does this team have up its sleeves, or maybe more significantly, how many Joe Carter moments do the Phils have up theirs?

2008-10-08 23:52:54
1.   berkowit28
The Cubs had 13 more wins than the Dodgers.
2008-10-09 07:11:33
2.   Cliff Corcoran
The difference might actually be greater given the unbalanced schedule, and the fact that the Dodgers play in a weaker division.

There's a temptation to say "yes, but the Dodgers have been better since they acquired Manny Ramirez," and they have, posting a .579 winning percentage with Manny compared to a .486 mark without him, but the Phillies were also better over the season's final two months playing .621 ball after having a .538 winning percentage over the first four months of the season.

2008-10-09 10:13:28
3.   Mike Carminati

Yes, the are factored in the results. And the Cubs were in a best-of-5 which favors the "worse" team. I did a study on it last year. That's why a) so many WC teams sneak farther in the playoffs and b) the best-of-5 sucks

2008-10-09 10:23:07
4.   old dodger fan
Dodgers with Furcal 23-16 .590
Dodgers w/o Furcal 64-62 .508
2008-10-09 10:57:29
5.   Cliff Corcoran
4 Indeed, and now they have both Furcal and Ramirez, which is why I picked them to win in six games.
2008-10-09 11:52:35
6.   dzzrtRatt
The Dodgers you'll see in this series are the most Darwinian team to make the playoffs in many years. Their record is only relevant to the extent it was barely good enough to get them into the playoffs. However, the team you're seeing now never appeared in the regular season, except for a few days after they clinched. It's like an all-star team comprised of first-half and second-half leaders. A lot of addition by subtraction: No more hoping Andruw Jones will finally get a hit, no more inconsistency from Brad Penny, no more kidding themselves about whether Juan Pierre, Nomar Garciaparra and Jeff Kent are anything more than role players off the bench, no more confusion (til after the post-season ends) about who should play third base. We also have several young players who moved from prospect status to established major leaguers over the course of the season, and several more who established themselves last season who have shown flashes of star quality in 2008.

In short, this is an unusual situation that past statistical tendencies might not account for. If this team had been the Dodgers all season, they would have easily won their division, and likely won as many games as the Phillies.

2008-10-09 15:36:49
7.   Lexinthedena
6 So well put. The Dodgers mediocre regular season record has been exhausted in the build up to, and during the playoffs. Furcal's importance is flying under the Manny radar, but if he hadn't of gotten hurt, L.A wins the west by a wide margin with or without Manny.

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