Great Teams, Awful Baseball | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

Unfortunately, the time between my most recent pep talks has been entirely too short, but Brewers fans seem to need more reasons to be optimistic about their beloved (or hated?) Milwaukee Nine.

So, say it with me: Great teams can play awful baseball.

Take the 21st Century’s World Series Champions, for instance. Judged simply by their streaky losses, those 14 clubs put together 838 games of .320 ball. That’s right; in approximately 37% of their games played, those World Series Champions were only a game better than the 2013 Houston Astros.

Now, if you’re like me, you’ll probably protest, “But there are a lot of World Series champs that aren’t that good.” You’ve got your “everything went right / one-and-done” clubs like the ’02 Angels ’05 White Sox, and ’13 Red Sox. You’ve got your “hot at the right time” Cardinals clubs (in ’06 and ’11), and, who could forget, 2003 Marlins club. There are a couple of “dynasty” teams (’04 and ’07 Red Sox, arguably, ’10 and ’12 Giants, ’08 Phillies), but even here one can find some truly dismal baseball (take the Phillies: in 2008, they had a 90 game stretch of 46-44 baseball, and their “streaky losses” accounted for nearly half their games (27-53)).

So, even if one notes that nearly half of the recent Championship clubs are not that impressive (and, that there are plenty of “better teams” that didn’t win World Series during the 21st century), let’s still enjoy the fact that World Series clubs can play really, really crappy baseball. Of course, this should satisfy sports fans who say, “They play for the Championship, and everything else is a failed season,” which we all know is a rich load of fertilizer. Yet, I wager that it’s these very fans who most need this Brewers pep talk: while the Brewers have had a dismally streaky July, it’s good to remember Great Teams Can Play Awful Baseball.

Team Bad Stretch G WPCT Remaining G WPCT Difference
‘01 Diamondbacks 85 .341 77 .818 +37 W
‘06 Cardinals 82 .268 79 .772 +40 W
‘08 Phillies 80 .3375 82 .756 +34 W
‘02 Angels 70 .300 92 .848 +50 W
‘11 Cardinals 70 .386 92 .685 +28 W
‘00 Yankees 69 .290 92 .728 +40 W
‘03 Marlins 67 .328 95 .726 +38 W
‘04 Red Sox 63 .349 99 .768 +41 W
‘10 Giants 56 .357 106 .679 +35 W
‘07 Red Sox 48 .333 114 .702 +42 W
‘12 Giants 40 .325 122 .664 +41 W
‘13 Red Sox 38 .316 124 .685 +46 W
‘05 White Sox 32 .3125 130 .685 +48 W
‘09 Yankees 29 .241 133 .722 +64 W

Terrible Championship Baseball
Let’s dive further into some choice examples:

  • I’m starting with the 2002 Angels, because they’re my favorite streaky club on this list. While they only had 70 games worth of “streaky bad baseball,” they were pretty bad in those games (their .300 WPCT places them more than a win behind the “average” streaky bad ball of the 21st century champions). Those 70 games really impacted their season, right? Indeed: Anaheim went 78-14 (!!!) in all other games (!!!!). The number of extended winning streaks by these Angels is mind-blowing. Streaky clubs can be really, really good (and really good clubs can be super-streaky).
  • How about the 2001 Diamondbacks? They played more streaky bad games (85) than any other 21st century champion. That’s awful! More than half their games occurred when the losses were coming in bunches! Fortunately, they were better than average during those bad stretches (.341), and they won nearly 82% of their remaining games.
  • The 2006 Cardinals were B-A-D! More than half their games occurred during streaky bad stretches, and they won only .268 of those games! Luckily for the classiest fans on earth, their St. Louis Nine remembered to play the game the right way in 80 contests, which helped them to squeak by in a terrible NL Central.
  • The 2000 Yankees deserve their proper respect for closing the season with a 2-13 stretch. YIKES! They should have been a much better team: they were on pace for only 59-to-60 streaky bad games before their terrible closing stretch.
  • I mentioned the 2008 Phillies above. Think about that dynasty club the next time a Brewers fan says, “oh, the Brewers are only .500 since __________.” The Phillies “only” played .500 baseball for nearly half the season, and they ended up with 80 streaky bad games.
  • The 2011 Cardinals are a GREAT club compared to the 2006 Cardinals, but even they played their fair share of stinky bad baseball. Beyond their 70 streaky bad games, the Cardinals went 44-47 between May and early September. Sound familiar?
  • Compared to these Championship teams, the other group of clubs are downright competent. The dynasty Giants appear to be about as consistent-a-dynasty as one could desire; they didn’t even play 100 streaky bad games between their two championship seasons. The ’04 and ’07 Red Sox were marginally worse (111 total streaky bad games).
  • What’s that? Another .500 club for several months played in Boston? That’s right: the 2004 Red Sox were 41-41 from April to August. The 2007 Red Sox should have been much better, too: after their 35-15 start, they won 24 fewer games than expected, thanks to stretches of 15-26 baseball scattered from June onward.
  • The ’13 Red Sox, ’09 Yankees, and ’05 White Sox are the most consistent 21st century champions, by far. Not one of these clubs played even 25% of their games during streaky-bad stretches. These were simply great clubs, sustaining 124-to-133 game stretches of .685, .722, and .685 baseball (respectively).

By now, the picture should be clear, and it shouldn’t necessarily be surprising. The baseball season is almost prohibitively long, if consistency is what you’re after as a fan. First and foremost, the grind of the game and the length of the season leaves plenty of room for injuries. Furthermore, teams in general go through surges and swoons; even if teams like the 2014 Marlins or Astros are not true contenders (or worse), those clubs can hit hot stretches and make things difficult for stronger ballclubs. Finally, baseball is a sport that includes so much mechanical repetition, advanced scouting, and adjustments that players are simply bound to be streaky in some ways. Even seemingly-silly announcer fodder captures this spirit: how often do you hear analysts say, “oh, a pitcher might have their best stuff in 30% of their starts”?

2014 Pennant Race
This exercise can be applied to the 2014 pennant race, where one finds a shocking truth: the Brewers are actually one of the consistently strong squads on the Senior Circuit. That’s right: the Brewers’ streaky bad baseball has only consumed 39.4% of their games, compared to 43.9% for the Pirates and 58.8% for the Reds. Someone ought to note that for a club that allegedly does things the right way, the Cardinals sure play a lot of streaky ball: streaky bad baseball has consumed nearly 52% of the Cardinals’ schedule (and they’re only .309 during those games, by the way). Not surprisingly, the Dodgers and Nationals are the most consistent clubs:

Team %BadStreakG Bad Good RemainingGood RemainingBad W
2014 Dodgers 28.7% 9-22 52-25 26-12 5-11 92
2014 Nationals 35.2% 10-27 48-20 26-11 5-15 89
2014 Brewers 39.4% 10-33 50-16 24-8 5-16 89
2014 Pirates 43.9% 14-33 43-17 22-9 10-14 89
2014 Braves 39.8% 10-33 48-17 24-8 5-17 87
2014 Giants 42.6% 9-37 49-13 25-6 4-19 87
2014 Cardinals 51.9% 17-38 39-12 21-6 9-20 86
2014 Reds 58.8% 19-44 34-10 18-5 10-22 81

Applying each club’s streaky bad trends to their future ballgames, one can get a picture of how the pennant race might unfold. Of course, these trends are not necessarily predictive, but it’s still fun to think about how each club’s streaky bad stretches might impact their upcoming games. No matter how one looks at this pennant race, however, it’s an extremely tight race with few frontrunners or candidates to break the race wide open. The Dodgers might be the best candidate to run away with a spot, but even they will have to go on an absolute tear to win 95 games. With six teams bunched between 86 and 89 wins, the importance of potential trades at the deadline should be noted: watch the deadline today, for there are six NL clubs that are in the perfect range to try and separate their club from other contenders.

But, even if our beloved Milwaukee club fail to make another impact move, remember: Great teams can play awful baseball. Boy, even this year’s Champion will probably have some stinky, nasty stretches of terrible baseball. Brewers fans ought to embrace their club’s streaks, for they are actually one of the most consistently good clubs on this year’s circuit.

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