Philadelphia Phillies: Regular Season Success Means Little in October

NJMCorrespondent IIISeptember 17, 2011

This article comes from the blog 90% is Half Statistical and to read the other posts of this blog go to

Barring an absolute collapse, the Phillies look primed to win more than 100 games and have the best record in all of baseball. They are ahead of the Yankees by seven games in the loss column. Even if the Yankees won all their games from here on out, the Phillies would only need to go 12-6 to be the sole possessors of the best record in the MLB.

This comes as no surprise. In the weaker league and with a pitching staff as deep as the 1997 Braves, it would have been a surprise if they did not win the National League pennant.

Now, does the Phillies regular-season dominance mean anything come October? How much is regular-season prowess correlated to winning the World Series? Let’s look back at the history of NL teams that have ended the regular season with the best record in the Majors.

Since the World Series started in 1903, a team in the National League has finished with the best record in 42 seasons, or 39.2% of the time.[1] Looking at the 18 teams who accomplished this after 1968,[2] only eight made it to the World Series (44.4%). However, after the 1994 season,[3] only two of the seven teams made it to the Fall Classic (28.6%).

Let’s take it a step further and look how these regular season titans did when it came to winning the World Series. Of those 42 teams, only 13 teams have won the World Series, giving those teams a success rate of 31.0 percent.

However, only three of those World Series champions won after 1968. With 18 NL teams having finished with the best record since 1968, the success rate of those squads was 16.7%. And since 1994, no National League team has won the World Series after achieving the best record in the MLB.

Obviously it looks like the Phillies regular season dominance guarantees them nothing when it comes to the playoffs.[4]

While the Phillies pitching speaks for itself, the age and the offense of the Phillies raise some red flags. The Philles have the oldest batting age in all of the MLB at 31.5 years. Compare this to the ’86 Mets (28.0), ’76 Reds (29.3), and the ’75 Reds (28.6). In fact, should the Phillies win the World Series this season, they would have the third oldest batting age of a World Series champion.[5]

Offensively, the Phillies are a slightly above-average offense, putting up a team slash line of .255/.325/.402. Compare that to the more prolific offenses of the Mets and the Reds. The ’86 Mets put up a slash line of .263/.339/.401 and lead the NL in each of those categories. The ’75 Reds had a slash line of .271/.353/.401 which ranked 2/1/3 in the NL. The ’76 Reds led the MLB in each slash line category, posting a .280/.357/.424 line.

While the Phillies pitching staff is better than those three teams, the margin of error for the staff is small. Last season, the Phillies ran into a staff that could match them pitch-for-pitch in the San Francisco Giants.

This year, they could potentially avoid such a team due to the question marks about the health of Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens of the Braves. There is one team that the Phillies must be wary of in the NL and that is the Milwaukee Brewers.

In a series against the Phillies, the Brewers have the better overall lineup. They would have four of the six best offensive players in the series. Then, factor in the uncertainty of Jimmy Rollin’s and Chase Utley’s health going into the playoffs and the Brewers have a big advantage offensively.

While the pitching of the Brewers does not match that of the Phillies, they have the right kind of pitchers to win in the postseason. Their trio of starters (Gallardo, Greinke, and Marcum) are all pitchers who can get strikeouts when they need them. In the playoffs, that is a critical aspect of starting pitching since it helps pitchers get out of jams with minimal damage. When comparing the bullpens it's pretty much a wash.

The Phillies have had a remarkable regular season and there is no one who can take that away from them. However, World Series are only lost from April to September. They are won in October. So once the playoffs begin, you can throw out the regular season records. In baseball, all you have to do is get in and you have a shot at becoming champions.

1)Year: Best Record/Pennant Winner/ World Series Winner

1904: Giants/Giants/N/A (The Giants had refused at the beginning of the season to play any AL team in the World Series if they won the pennant)

1905: Giants/Giants/Giants

1906: Cubs/Cubs/White Sox

1907: Cubs/Cubs/Cubs

1908: Cubs/Cubs/Cubs

1909: Pirates/Pirates/Pirates

1910: Cubs/Cubs/A’s

1913: Giants/Giants/A’s

1916: Robins/Robins/Red Sox

1918: Cubs/Cubs/Red Sox

1919: Reds/Reds/Reds

1924: Giants/Giants/Senators

1935: Cubs/Cubs/Tigers

1940: Reds/Reds/Reds

1942: Cardinals/Cardinals/Cardinals

1943: Cardinals/Cardinals/Yankees

1944: Cardinals/Cardinals/Cardinals

1945: Cubs/Cubs/Tigers

1949: Dodgers*/Dodgers/Yankees

1952: Dodgers/Dodgers/Yankees

1953: Dodgers/Dodgers/Yankees

1955: Dodgers/Dodgers/Dodgers

1958: Brewers*/Brewers/Yankees

1962: Giants/Giants/Yankees

1967: Cardinals/Cardinals/Cardinals

1972: Pirates/Reds/A’s

1973: Reds/Mets/A’s

1974: Dodgers/Dodgers/A’s

1975: Reds/Reds/Reds

1976: Reds/Reds/Reds

1981: Reds/Dodgers/Dodgers

1985: Cardinals/Cardinals/Royals

1986: Mets/Mets/Mets

1991: Pirates/Braves/Twins

1992: Braves/Braves/Blue Jays

1993: Braves/Phillies/Blue  Jays

1994: Expos/N/A/N/A (not included)

1997: Braves/Marlins/Marlins

1999: Braves/Braves/Yankees

2000: Giants/Mets/Yankees

2003: Braves*/Marlins/Marlins

2004: Cardinals/Cardinals/Red Sox

2005: Cardinals/Astros/White Sox

2006: Mets*/Cardinals/Cardinals

2010: Phillies/Giants/Giants

* = Tie between AL and NL leaders

2) After 1968, the NL and AL were split into two divisions each. The winners of the divisions played each in the NLCS or ALCS for the right to play in the World Series. This did not hold true in 1981 where a players’ strike split the season in two. MLB decided to grant the division winners of the first and second half playoff spots. This led to eight teams in the playoffs. The winners of the East and West division were pitted against each other in the first round

3) After the strike shortened season of 1994, the Wild Card was implemented and the NL and AL were divided into three divisions each giving way to the current divisional and playoff system.

4) Another conclusion that is easily proven is that increasing the amount of playoff teams reduces the importance of the regular season. This is why expansion of the playoffs is a bad idea when it comes to competitive integrity. Say the playoffs expanded to six teams this season. Then the Cardinals and the Giants would be in the playoffs with the Dodgers just four games out in the loss column of a playoff spot. Please Mr. Selig, keep the playoffs the way they are.

5) Only the ’01 Diamondbacks (32.3) and the ’45 Tigers (32.4) were older.

However, the Diamondbacks, while having a better offense and the two best pitchers in baseball (who had better seasons than any two starters on the 2011 Phillies) needed seven games (and every break they could get in the ninth inning of Game 7) to beat the Yankees.

The 1945 Tigers were the last of the WWII World Series champions and also had the benefit of having Hank Greenberg back from the military on July 1st. Most Major Leaguers would wait until 1946 before they could go back to playing professional baseball.


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