For all that goes on during the six month regular season, all that matters at the end is wins and losses. The Reds won 91 games, and that earned them a playoff berth. However, it’s important to recognize that a number of factors, including luck and strength and schedule, among others, go into determining that number of wins and losses that determines who reaches the playoffs and who gets the high draft picks.
That isn’t to say that what happened behind the actual wins and losses isn’t interesting and even useful. We know much more about what a team’s performance actually means by looking at adjusted standings instead of actual wins and losses. Two of my favorite adjusted standings are the power rankings at Beyond the Boxscore and the adjusted standings at Baseball Prospectus.
The Beyond the Boxscore rankings are presented in terms of the entire league and include a league adjustment. Since I just want to look at the NL Central, I’m going to use the cW%s numbers – those adjust for strength of schedule but not for quality of league. Overall, the Brewers finished 16th in the rankings, largely thanks to a very solid finish, with a .501 league adjusted winning percentage and a .519 league neutral percentage. Here’s how that compares to the rest of the division.
Saying that Milwaukee played like an 84 win team seems moderately ridiculous, but I’m not sure it’s too far off, as much of the early season problems were due to one inning fits of horribleness from Trevor Hoffman and then the team effectively played .500 ball the rest of the way. The team had the best offense in the league, and according to the methodology of the rankings, at least part of the team’s poor pitching was luck based, as the rankings predict that the Brewers allowed more than 30 runs more than they were expected to (which, to be fair, was still a lot of runs).
Here’s how BP’s 3rd order wins had the season ending in the NL Central.
It’s worth noting that records here are completely down across the board, and in fact every NL Central team outplayed its third order record. This suggests that the NL Central is a weak division, which I don’t think too many people would argue against. Here, the Brewers are far worse, 10 games below .500. However, both systems do agree that from June on, the Brewers played above .500. It appears that the two systems mostly disagree on how to treat the Brewers early season struggles – the Beyond the Box Score system had the Brewers in the top half of the league through much of May – partly due to the destruction of Pittsburgh which added about 40 runs to the Brewers’ run differential – whereas by June, the Baseball Prospectus system had the Brewers as a .444 win percentage team.
Basically, I take away from this that the Cardinals and Reds aren’t too far ahead of the Brewers, that the Cubs were about as bad as they looked, the Astros were a mirage in the second half, and the Pirates were historically bad. The Astros finished a whopping 10 wins above their third-order record and 5 wins above their Beyond the Boxscore predicted record, so I wouldn’t buy any of the ideas floating around that the Astros could compete in 2011. The Pirates have done a good job of adding talent but are still a few years away. The Cubs might be able to add some pieces next season, and I wouldn’t completely count them out, but they have work to do. It will be interesting to see how St. Louis responds to losing some pieces like Ryan Ludwick and potentially Jake Westbrook this offseason as they handle Albert Pujols’s impending free agency. The Reds, as a young team, may be in for some regression, but at the same time, they have fantastic talent and could improve as well. The Brewers will have to improve the team somehow this winter, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that the team improved tremendously as the season progressed, and they’re probably in much better position than most people realize.