The Red Sox versus History

Cliff Corcoran does some research on teams that have started seasons with zero wins after the first five games. I'm a little surprised about what he finds:

In major league history, which dates to 1871, 110 teams have started a season 0-5. Just two of those 110 went on to make the postseason, less than two percent. Those two teams were the 1974 Pirates and 1995 Reds, both of whom actually started their seasons 0-6. Thirty-nine teams extended their season-opening losing streaks to seven games. Only one of those clubs finished as high as third place.

It's not the length of the streak itself. In 2010 alone, all six division winners had five-game losing streaks at some point during the season. The NL Central Champion Reds had two, the eventual American League pennant winning Rangers had an additional six-game losing streak, the eventual world champion Giants had an additional seven-game losing streak, and the NL wild card Braves had a nine-game losing streak. It's not the early deficit in the standings, either. Last year's Giants erased a five-game deficit in the NL West over a 10-day stretch in late August and early September.

Rather, what's significant is the timing. That seems counterintuitive. No five-game losing streak should be easier to compensate for than one made so early in the season. Perhaps it is because teams tend to start their seasons at full strength, thus making an inability to win one of their first five games of the season so revealing. A five-game losing streak mid-season can have an obvious cause. Perhaps a rotation ace is on the disabled list, the lineup is in a slump, or the players are simply beaten up and worn down from the long, hard slog of that 162-game season. At the start of the season, however, arms and legs should be fresh and everyone ought to be present and accounted for.

Corcoran goes on further to demonstrate that one of those two teams, the 1974 Pirates, benefitted from  playing in a weak division. Pittsburgh actually played poorly for most of the season and got in the postseason with an 88-74 record.

One thing Corcoran doesn't address is the recent change to the wildcard system. It's easier to make the postseason these days. It would be interesting to see how many of those 0-5 teams reached high 80's, low 90's win totals–the range of wins that usually gets a wildcard team into the postseason.

Regardless, maybe  I owe SF an apology  for telling him he was engaging in hyperbole when he claimed that the Yanks could effectively end* the Sox's season in April. But my instincts tell me next week the conversation will have changed.

*Just as long as he acknowledges that what he means by an end of the Sox season is them not reaching the postseason. How very Yankee Fan of him. You've become what you hate! ha ha ha (evil laugh fades, then returns) ha ha ha….(wheezing)… 

7 comments… add one

  • I would consider the Sox, with this lineup reasonably healthy, not making the playoffs, a failure. I never consider “not winning the World Series” a failure.
    I would say that’s a rather huge differentiator from Yankees fans!

    SF April 7, 2011, 6:54 am
  • It’s not Paul! And we’re in maybe opposite frames of mind–certainly in opposite parts of the world and opposite times of day:)

    Nick-YF April 7, 2011, 6:59 am
  • Nick, I left both posts up and added an editor’s note on mine. I like how they will remain for reference as the season churns on…
    And mind you: I am not saying the Sox are doomed to miss the playoffs. But I am comfortable in pointing out the history that Corcoran references, and am certainly saying that the Sox have put themselves in a position where they now have to accomplish something historic to win the World Series. And I am also comfortable saying this is absolutely NOT what I wanted to have to say after fiv f*cking games.

    SF April 7, 2011, 7:00 am
  • Sorry Nick – corrected. My bad. I just assumed that it was SFs who would be staring at this kind of precedent.

    SF April 7, 2011, 7:02 am
  • I’m always interested in what the main rival has to deal with. I actually think it’s very interesting from a statistical point of view. Five-game losing streaks happen to the best teams, so why should it make a difference when it happens? I also think his research is probably flawed by the different postseason entry rules over time.

    Nick-YF April 7, 2011, 7:04 am
  • In a vacuum, the timing of the losing streak doesn’t matter. But when it happens right out of the gate, to the team that was pretty much unanimously voted to win the World Series… the media starts talking, the players start forcing things. And getting swept by the Rangers, a very good team, isn’t a huge deal. But going to Cleveland and looking like crap against a very bad team makes it sting just a little bit more.

    Atheose - SF April 7, 2011, 8:13 am
  • First, I would call missing the playoffs a failure for both of our teams in most seasons. I am not one of the “WS or Bust” guys. Sure it’s nice, but it’s not what qualifies the season as +/-.
    As for the Sox: Forget about the record, that’s not the issue at hand. Their offense is good enough to win the next 10 in a row all by themselves. I’d be more concerned about the SP’ing as it stands right now. Lester, like CC, is the one constant (yes I know he struggled in his outing, but he’s still a constant and a Cy Young type guy)in the rotation and that has to be a slight concern. (Apple to Apples the Yankees rotation 2-5 soley based on the back of their baseball cards is certainly more of a question mark, but this is a Sox topic) Buchholz certainly less than the other guys as he should still be above average, even if it’s a performance slightly less than LY’s. Beckett, Lackey and Daisuke now have to right the ship on the fly. In order to be the team that everyone (including ME) thought they’d be they are going to at least have to be average, something they haven’t been the first time through. Personally, like I said yesterday I am not concerned. This team is just too good not to win. Even the 62 Mets had win streaks, doesn’t mean they were a good team! Much like this streak certainly doesn’t mean the Sox are bad.

    John - YF April 7, 2011, 8:36 am

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