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Sure Beats Losing
2007-05-29 10:00
by Mike Carminati
There are two great pleasures in gambling: that of winning and that of losing.
—French proverb

I go away for the weekend and what do the Phillies do? They sweep the Braves and finally go over .500. It took them 49 games, but they finally did it. They even discovered a lefty reliever (Mike Zagursky) who can get the ball over the plate.

Let's not get too excited. They are still in third place in the NL East, 7 games behind the Mets. The NL wild card, as always, is up for grabs with the Phils currently in fourth, 3.5 games behind the leader, the Dodgers.

So will the Phils continue to win or does this current surge presage a backslide typical of this monumentally streaky team? How do teams that take this long to cross the .500 mark typically perform over the long haul of a full season? Let's see…

I took a look at when each teams in baseball history and for each noted the first game in which they had a winning record, their overall, and how they performed in the postseason.

Note that of the twenty-two hundred team years in baseball history, just 65 took as long or longer than the Phils to establish a winning record. Here are the latest to do so. Note that the '74 Pirates are the only ones to qualify for postseason play:

YrTm1st G over .500WLPCTPOSWon DivWon WCWon LgWon WS
1997Detroit Tigers1577983.4883NNNN
1915Buffalo Blues1387478.4876 N
2006Florida Marlins1377884.4814NNNN
1988San Diego Padres1358378.5163N NN
1980Atlanta Braves1318180.5034N NN
1996Boston Red Sox1318577.5253NNNN
1902Cincinnati Reds1287070.5004 N
1990Kansas City Royals1257586.4666N NN
1984Houston Astros1258082.4942N NN
1980San Francisco Giants1237586.4665N NN
1974Pittsburgh Pirates1178874.5431Y NN
1902Cleveland Bronchos1166967.5075 N
1982San Francisco Giants1118775.5373N NN
1940St. Louis Cardinals1098469.5493 NN
1958Chicago White Sox1068272.5322 NN
1984New York Yankees1058775.5373N NN
2004Cleveland Indians998082.4943NNNN
1962Milwaukee Braves998676.5315 NN
1901Philadelphia Athletics987462.5444 N
1945Cleveland Indians987372.5035 NN

As for the overall results, here they are grouped in ten-game increments:

1st G over .500#TeamsWLPCT Avg POS Won WCWon DivWon LgWon WS
1-91887144,783136,852.514 3.86 215523397
10-1915812,06311,500.512 4.10 21173
20-29665,0974,757.517 3.86 2493
30-39403,1093,002.509 3.78 0122
40-49251,9701,728.533 3.56 2321
50-5912877878.500 4.17 0000
60-6911855810.514 4.09 0000
70-795414381.521 3.20 0000
80-8910771740.510 3.70 0000
90-9910810731.526 4.20 0011
100-1093253216.539 2.67 0000
110-1193244216.530 3.00 0100
120-1294300324.481 4.25 0000
130-1395401397.503 4.00 0000
150-15917983.488 3.00 0000

Note that of all the teams to clear the .500 hurdle, almost all (84.2%) did so in their first nine games. 91% had established a winning record by game 19.

Slightly over ninety percent of all playoff teams established a winning record before playing their tenth game. Just 1.56% made the playoffs when after taking at least 40 games to clear the .500 mark.

That said, there is very little correlation between when a team establishes a winning record and whether they will continue to win (coefficient of -0.284).

So what does it all mean? The Phils have an extremely remote shot at making the postseason, but there is no reason to think that their slow assault on a winning record consigns them to falling below .500 again. In other words, they will probably have another ever so slightly above .500, typical Phillies season. So what else is new?

Well, Mike Zagurski is. He got a callup from Double-A Reading over the weekend and pitched solidly for the Phils twice. Given that their previous lefties in the pen, Matt Smith (11.25 ERA and 11 walks in four innings) and Fabio Castro (12.27) have been execrable at best, Zagurski is a welcome addition. But before we get too fired up, keep in mind that this kid has just eight appearances above Single A for his professional career.

He did have extremely impressive stats to start the year at Single-A Clearwater, striking out nearly two men an inning (30 in 16.1 IP) and had five saves in twelve games. But let's allow the kid to establish himself as a legitimate major-leaguer before we anoint him the closer.

Besides given the Phils success with first-year lefty relievers, it doesn't look hopeful. Just two registered more than one save, Mac Scarce (in '72) and Wally Ritchie ('87). Here are the only first-year lefties to ever record a save for the Phils:

Mac Scarce197231012436.73.441.649.822.00.220
Wally Ritchie198749032362.33.751.196.501.55.250
Deke White18952110117.39.871.
Don Carman1983100011.
Fabio Castro200616001123.31.540.815.012.17.158
Frank O'Connor1893210014.
Frank Scanlan19096000111.01.640.914.091.00.210
George Darrow19349826149.05.510.862.570.50.300
Harry Smythe192912746168.75.240.391.570.80.330
Mike Wallace197317311133.33.781.055.401.33.300
Pretzel Pezzullo193534735184.36.400.822.560.53.320
Seth Morehead195733111158.73.680.955.521.80.250
Tom Jacquez2000900017.311.051.237.362.00.000

The Phils have just been able to muster a handful of lefties that have appeared in at least 20 games as a first-year reliever:

Wally Ritchie198749032362.33.751.196.501.55.250
Pretzel Pezzullo193534735184.36.400.822.560.53.320
Seth Morehead195733111158.73.680.955.521.80.250
Mac Scarce197231012436.73.441.649.822.00.220
Eddie Oropesa200130010019.04.741.687.110.88.232
Lefty Smoll1940249280109.05.370.612.560.86.320
Andy Carter199420002034.34.460.874.721.50.240

As a matter of fact, probably the best lefty specialist that they developed was Chuck McElroy who was a decent middle reliever for the Cubs for a number of years. Not much to build from in that tradition.

2007-05-29 10:29:47
1.   Bob Timmermann
If the season ended today Mike, the Padres would be the wildcard as the Dodgers have won 4 of 6 games between the two.

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