Which teams blew the best possible shots at making the postseason, and where do the ill-fated teams on this year's NL slate stand to land?
Today's article represents an update of Clay Davenport's piece from two years ago that described the biggest collapses in playoff chase history (spoiler alert!), as defined by the teams that had the highest percentage chance to reach the playoffs at some point during the regular season who then failed to do so. I have a comprehensive set of playoff odds reports that Clay prepared for us in connection with It Ain't Over, and was therefore able to identify a couple of races that Clay had missed during his spot-checking. In addition, I will be looking all the way back to the start of the season, rather than limiting things to August 1st as Clay did; it's surprisingly easy for teams to establish a stranglehold on a playoff spot relatively early in the season in the Wild Card era, and if they're a bit less dramatic as narratives go, those collapses still deserve discussion. In addition, Clay has made some improvements to his methodology since the time his article was originally published, so all of that goodness is incorporated herein.
Something's going right in Steeltown, while change takes other forms in Houston and Kansas City.
The Pittsburgh Pirates took an unexpected vacation on their way to getting closer to one of baseball's infamous records during the month of August-they visited the land of winning baseball. The Pirates went 17-13 during the month, which may not seem like a big deal until you consider that only the Angels, Yankees, and Padres had more wins in August (all three contenders notched 18 victories). The 17 wins were the most victories in a month for the Pirates since they also notched 17 victories in May, 2004.
Seven teams had better projected chances to make the postseason than the 2005 Indians did and missed, according to the Playoff Odds Report.
Yesterday, it came became apparent that we were living in one of those 35,000 worlds where the Indians did not make the playoffs, despite having the advantages of playing at home, with four games left against the two worst teams in the American League, while their chief opponents were going to play each other and hopefully knock each other off. Seven agonizing days later, losing six of seven games by a combined total of seven runs, the Tribe gets to spend a winter in pained remembrance.
Yet they have this consolation: the Odds Report doesn't think they blew the best chance of all time, in terms of having a playoff spot right there and then letting it slip away. Since 1901, there have been 320 races for the Odds Report to analyze: two races every year from 1901 to 1968, four a year from 1969 to 1993, and eight a year since 1995. (I've decided to simply leave 1981 and 1994 out of the discussion.) Given that many races, you'd expect to have somewhere between five and 11 teams who reached the upper 90s and then missed out on the playoffs, and in fact there are seven teams who have fared worse than this year's Indians.
At the time, I had no response. Unfortunately, I hadn't given the matter much thought, and the answer I provided was,
translating roughly, "blrxgh."
Thanks to Retrosheet and the genius of Keith Woolner, I can now take a pretty good
look at Torborg's record. The short answer is that there's some reason to be concerned for the arms of Beckett, Brad Penny,
and Ryan Dempster.