Traveling Championship

Suppose the World Series winner from the previous season held a championship they had to defend every game, sort of a “championship belt”. I’ll call this the “traveling championship”. Once the traveling champion loses, the championship is then transferred to the team that beat them. Then, that team goes on to defend the title. This goes on until the end of the regular season and the last team to hold the title is the “Traveling Champion”.

You might ask:
What does this tell us?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Is the “traveling champion” the best team?
Most likely no.

Why do this?
It’s fun, or at least I think it is.

Without further adieu, the current 2015 Traveling Champion is the Cleveland Indians. Here is how it got there:

Date Champion Defeated
4/10 SDP SFG
4/13 ARI SDP
4/14 SDP ARI
4/18 CHC SDP
4/19 SDP CHC
4/22 COL SDP
4/25 SFG COL
4/27 LAD SFG
4/28 SFG LAD
4/29 LAD SFG
5/13 FLA LAD
5/15 ATL FLA
5/19 TBD ATL
5/20 ATL TBD
5/22 MIL ATL
5/23 ATL MIL
5/25 LAD ATL
5/27 ATL LAD
5/28 SFG ATL
5/30 ATL SFG
6/11 NYM SFG
6/13 ATL NYM
6/14 NYM ATL
6/17 TOR NYM
6/20 BAL TOR
6/24 BOS BAL
6/25 BAL BOS
6/29 TEX BAL
7/10 ANA SEA
7/11 SEA ANA
7/12 ANA SEA
7/23 MIN ANA
7/25 NYY MIN
7/29 TEX NYY
8/10 BAL SEA
8/11 SEA BAL
8/14 BOS SEA
8/16 SEA BOS
8/17 TEX SEA
8/18 SEA TEX
8/19 TEX SEA
8/20 DET TEX
8/21 TEX DET
8/25 TOR TEX
8/27 TEX TOR
8/31 SDP TEX
9/13 HOU ANA
9/14 TEX HOU
9/18 SEA TEX
9/19 TEX SEA
9/20 SEA TEX
9/23 KCR SEA
9/25 CLE KCR

Here is the number of games each team has successfully defended the championship:

Team Successfully Defended Times Won Championship
TEX 15 13
ANA 12 6
LAD 9 6
ATL 6 6
SDP 6 4
BAL 5 4
SFG 4 6
NYM 3 4
NYY 3 1
TOR 3 2
ARI 2 4
COL 2 1
SEA 2 9
BOS 1 2
KCR 1 1
MIN 1 1
CHC 0 1
CLE 0 1
DET 0 1
FLA 0 1
HOU 0 1
MIL 0 3
TBD 0 1

Disparity in Division Quality

It’s time to change the playoff seeding, just as the NBA did recently.

The following is each division’s record vs non-divisional opponents during the wild card era (1994-present). As you can see, the NL Central (.555) has the seventh best winning percentage of any division, which equates to a 90-72 record over 162 games.

The NL East, however, has the fourth worst winning percentage (.424), which equates to a 69-93 record.

Year Lg Div W L W-L%
2002 AL West 251 165 0.603
2001 AL West 250 166 0.601
2008 AL East 255 194 0.568
2012 AL West 237 183 0.564
2013 AL East 243 188 0.564
2010 AL East 251 199 0.558
2015 NL Central 228 183 0.555
1998 AL East 316 254 0.554
2003 NL East 237 192 0.552
2011 AL East 248 202 0.551
1994 AL Central 205 168 0.550
2009 AL West 230 190 0.548
2005 NL East 239 199 0.546
2002 NL West 234 195 0.546
1994 NL East 208 175 0.543
1997 AL East 307 263 0.539
1997 NL East 307 263 0.539
2006 AL West 226 194 0.538
2000 NL West 298 256 0.538
2013 NL Central 231 199 0.537
2004 NL Central 232 200 0.537
2006 AL Central 233 201 0.537
2007 NL West 241 209 0.536
2009 AL East 241 209 0.536
2002 NL East 229 199 0.535
2001 NL West 230 200 0.535
2011 NL East 240 209 0.535
2009 NL West 240 210 0.533
2012 AL East 240 210 0.533
1999 AL East 300 264 0.532
2003 AL West 221 195 0.531
2008 NL Central 263 233 0.530
2015 AL East 218 196 0.527
2004 AL West 219 197 0.526
1997 NL West 265 239 0.526
2003 AL East 226 204 0.526
1994 AL East 215 195 0.524
2012 NL East 236 214 0.524
2010 NL East 236 214 0.524
1996 AL Central 287 261 0.524
2004 AL East 225 205 0.523
2000 AL West 260 237 0.523
2007 AL West 219 201 0.521
1995 AL West 220 202 0.521
2005 AL West 219 205 0.517
1996 NL West 254 238 0.516
2014 AL East 221 209 0.514
1999 AL West 258 244 0.514
2005 AL East 226 214 0.514
1998 NL Central 327 310 0.513
2015 AL Central 212 201 0.513
2014 AL West 220 210 0.512
2006 NL East 225 215 0.511
1998 NL West 292 279 0.511
2010 NL West 230 220 0.511
1995 NL West 214 206 0.510
2014 NL Central 219 211 0.509
2000 AL Central 286 276 0.509
1999 NL West 282 274 0.507
2007 AL East 228 222 0.507
1999 NL East 283 276 0.506
2005 NL Central 251 245 0.506
2003 NL West 217 212 0.506
1994 NL Central 183 179 0.506
2014 AL Central 217 213 0.505
1995 NL East 231 228 0.503
1999 NL Central 301 297 0.503
2011 NL West 226 223 0.503
2008 AL Central 226 224 0.502
2007 NL East 225 225 0.500
1996 AL West 245 245 0.500
1998 AL West 251 252 0.499
2006 NL West 217 218 0.499
2007 AL Central 224 226 0.498
1995 AL Central 231 233 0.498
2014 NL East 214 216 0.498
2011 AL West 209 211 0.498
2004 NL East 213 217 0.495
1996 NL East 272 278 0.495
2015 AL West 205 210 0.494
2005 AL Central 215 221 0.493
2000 NL East 274 283 0.492
2012 NL West 221 229 0.491
1996 NL Central 270 280 0.491
2006 AL East 215 223 0.491
2000 AL East 275 287 0.489
2013 AL Central 210 220 0.488
2001 NL East 210 220 0.488
1995 NL Central 227 238 0.488
2015 NL West 202 212 0.488
2010 AL Central 219 231 0.487
2013 NL West 209 221 0.486
1997 AL West 244 260 0.484
1995 AL East 222 238 0.483
2008 NL East 217 233 0.482
2002 AL East 207 223 0.481
2008 AL West 201 218 0.480
2009 NL East 215 235 0.478
1996 AL East 262 288 0.476
2010 AL West 198 222 0.471
1998 NL East 268 302 0.470
2003 NL Central 220 248 0.470
2013 NL East 201 229 0.467
2009 NL Central 232 266 0.466
2001 NL Central 218 250 0.466
2001 AL Central 200 230 0.465
2004 NL West 200 230 0.465
2014 NL West 199 231 0.463
2011 AL Central 208 242 0.462
1997 AL Central 261 309 0.458
2013 AL West 197 234 0.457
1997 NL Central 260 310 0.456
2011 NL Central 226 270 0.456
2000 NL Central 272 326 0.455
2012 NL Central 225 271 0.454
2004 AL Central 195 235 0.454
2010 NL Central 227 275 0.452
2001 AL East 194 236 0.451
1998 AL Central 256 313 0.450
1994 NL West 156 193 0.447
2009 AL Central 201 249 0.447
2007 NL Central 221 275 0.446
2012 AL Central 199 251 0.442
1999 AL Central 248 317 0.439
2008 NL West 195 255 0.433
2006 NL Central 210 275 0.433
2002 NL Central 184 247 0.427
2005 NL West 189 255 0.426
2015 NL East 175 238 0.424
2003 AL Central 180 250 0.419
1994 AL West 144 201 0.417
2002 AL Central 177 253 0.412

The top three teams in the National League Central also have the three best records in the league. If the season ended today, two of them would have to settle for a one game “play-in”, just to enter the tournament. This type of situation wasn’t as big of a problem before the addition of the second wild card in 2012, when all playoff teams were in the tournament. But now, it is unfair to force better teams to have to win a one game crap shoot.

If we are stuck with three divisions and five playoff teams, I would rather see all division winners plus two wild card teams advance to the playoffs with the caveat that the two teams with the worst record face each other in the “play-in” game. Admittedly, it’s not perfect, but it is better than what we have now.

Greatest Comeback Seasons in History

Just like Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over”. Year after year, we watch magic numbers and debate whether or not a team is “done” or if they still have a chance to make the playoffs. Pennant races are one of the countless reasons that make the game of baseball so unique. Some teams, like the 1984 Tigers, go the entire season without much of a fight from their rivals. Some, like the 2007 Mets, get so close to making the postseason, just to have it slip out of their hands. Others, stage what seem like improbable comebacks, after most, if not all fans have counted them out. Here are the nine greatest comebacks in baseball history.

Note: Earlier in the year, I added historical pennant race graphs to the site. These are pennant and wild card win expectancies from every single day in baseball history (1871-present). These expectancies are figured by simulating the remaining schedules 100,000 times, which over the course of baseball history, is 1.7 trillion game simulations. The best way to look at pennant win expectancy is based on a team’s record, the records of their divisional/league opponents and the remaining schedule, this is the probability that they will win the pennant.

9) 1934 St. Louis Cardinals (1.05% probability)

1934 NL
The Challenge:
On September 4th, the Cardinals were tied for second place with the Cubs, seven games behind the defending champion New York Giants. Of the 25 games left to play, St. Louis was scheduled to face teams in the second division 18 times.
How they did it:
The Gas House Gang’s pitchers were led by brothers Dizzy and Paul Dean, who won 49 games between the two of them. They started 13 and won 12 of the team’s final 25 games. St. Louis would tie the Giants for first place on September 28th, with two games remaining.
Before the season began, Giants manager and first basemen Bill Terry was asked how he felt about the Brooklyn Dodgers chances in the upcoming season. He responded “I haven’t heard anything from them lately. Are they still in the league?” Fate would have it that the Giants final two games would come against those same Dodgers. With the Cardinals Paul and Dizzy Dean facing the last place Reds for their final two games, the Giants had a tough battle ahead. Sure enough, the Dodgers were still in the league and would beat the Giants in both games while the Cardinals won their two to advance to the World Series.
World Series:
In the World Series, St. Louis faced the 101-win Detroit Tigers, led by future Hall of Famers Hank Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer, Mickey Cochrane & Leon “Goose” Goslin. Down 3 games to 2, the Cardinals tied the series with a late go ahead run in game six. Game seven was a 11-0 route, which included Cardinals left fielder Joe “Ducky” Medwick being forced to leave the field by Commissioner Landis, since Tigers fans were hurling objects in his direction. Medwick had slid hard into third base during the sixth inning, further angering fans who were already down due to their team’s grim prospects. At the time of Medwick’s removal, the Tigers had a 1% series win expectancy.

8) 2004 Houston Astros (1.03% probability)

2004 NL
The Challenge:
On August 26th, the Astros were a game over .500 and trailed the Cubs (7 GB), Giants (6 GB) and Padres (5 GB) for the National League wild card.
How they did it:
Not only did Houston have to surpass three teams to advance to the postseason, those three teams would all have winning records over the final 35 games of the season. That did not stop the Astros, as they would go 28-7 during that same stretch, which would include a 12-game winning streak from August 27th to September 8th. During the winning streak, the Astros offense averaged over nine runs per game, led by Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Lance Berkman, Jeff Kent & mid-season trade acquisition Carlos Beltran. They took the lead in the wild card on October 2nd with one game left to play and clinched the next day with a 5-3 win over the Rockies
After losing to the Braves in the 1997, 1999 & 2001 NLDS, the Astros finally got revenge by beating Atlanta in five games. They went on to face their division rival Cardinals in the NLCS, taking the series a full seven games. In the sixth inning of the final game, Houston had a 2-1 lead before the Cardinals scored three runs on the Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens. The Astros would only get one base runner in the final three innings as the Cardinals advanced to the World Series.

7) 1978 New York Yankees (1.02% probability)

1978 AL East
The Challenge:
On July 18th, the defending champion Yankees were in fourth place in American League East and behind their hated rival and division leading Red Sox by 14 games.
How they did it:
In the second year of free agency, the 1978 Yankees roster was filled with high priced stars, clashing egos and colorful personalities, which led them to be referred to as “The Bronx Zoo”. In late July, manager Billy Martin went off on Reggie Jackson and owner George Steinbrenner to reporters. Before he could be fired, he resigned and was replaced by laid-back Bob Lemon. Under the new leadership, the Yankees went 47-20, highlighted by a four game sweep in Boston in mid-September which would leave the two teams tied for the division lead. The series would later be referred to as the “Boston Massacre”. They finished tied after 162 games at 99-63, so a tiebreaker was played at Fenway Park (chosen by coin flip). During the 7th inning, the Red Sox were leading 2-0 and had a win expectancy of 81.6%. That is until light-hitting Bucky Dent hit a three-run homerun that gave the Yankees the lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
For the third straight year, the Yankees defeated the Kansas City Royals in the ALCS. Then they would beat the Dodgers in the World Series for the second season in a row.

6) 1951 New York Giants (0.86% probability)

1951 NL
The Challenge:
On August 11th with 44 games left to play, the Giants were 13 games behind the crosstown rival Brooklyn Dodgers, who were 70-36 and appeared to be well on their way to their third World Series in five years.
How they did it:
From August 12-27, the Giants won 16 straight games, cutting the Dodgers lead to five games. The race would go down to the final day of the season with the two teams tied after 154 games. This resulted in a best-of-three tiebreaker series. The game locations were decided by a coin toss, which the Dodgers won. However, they made a questionable decision to host the first game at home and play the second/third games on the road. After splitting the first two contests, the tiebreaker came down to the final (157th game). Down 4-1 in the 9th inning, the Giants series win expectancy was as low as 3.2%. But a 4 run rally culminating with Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” won the Giants the pennant. Years later, it was revealed that the Giants were stealing signs from center field at their home park during the series.
World Series:
After an exciting regular season finish, the Giants lost the World Series to the Yankees, who were in the middle of winning five World Series in a row. The 1951 World Series was the first for rookies Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle and the final for Joe DiMaggio.

5) 2011 St. Louis Cardinals (0.80% probability)

2011 NL
The Challenge:
On September 5th, the Cardinals were 10 games behind the Brewers in the division and 8.5 games behind the Braves for the Wild Card with 21 games remaining.
How they did it:
From September 9-11, the Cardinals swept a three game series from the Braves, cutting their wild card lead from 7.5 to 4.5 games. It didn’t stop there as St. Louis went 11-5 the rest of the way, while the Braves went 5-10.
The Cardinals comeback coincided with the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League, which ultimately culminated in “Game 162” on September 28th. Tied with Atlanta on the final day, the Cardinals defeated Houston, then retreated to the clubhouse to watch the end of Braves game. Needing a win to stay alive, the Braves had a 3-1 lead against the Phillies going into the seventh inning, before Philadelphia tied it in the ninth. Finally, the Phillies won it in the 13th, allowing the Cardinals to clinch the wild card.
The Cardinals defeated the 102-win Phillies in the NLDS. Then they went on to beat the division rival Brewers in the NLCS. Finally, they continued the dramatics of the regular season in the World Series vs the Rangers. During the 9th inning of game 6, the Cardinals had a 2.1% series win expectancy, but rallied behind clutch hits from David Freese and Lance Berkman to force a game 6 and eventually win the series.

4) 1964 St. Louis Cardinals (0.63% probability)

1964 NL
The Challenge:
On September 20th, with just 13 games left to play, the Cardinals were tied for second place with the Cincinnati Reds while 6.5 games behind the Phillies. At that point, Philadelphia was so close to clinching that they printed World Series tickets.
How they did it:
1964 is remembered much more for the Phillies collapse (and manager Gene Mauch’s questionable managerial moves) than the Cardinals comeback. But just about any comeback requires that other teams under-perform to some extent. The final stretch of the 1964 season produced one of the greatest pennant races in history that saw three teams occupy first place during the final week of the season. In the final 13 games, the Cardinals went 10-3, which included a three game sweep of the Phillies which moved them from third to first place.
World Series:
The Cardinals defeated the Yankees in seven games. Shortly after the series, Cardinals manager Johnny Keane resigned and was quickly hired by the Yankees to be their new manager. In fact, Keane had officially resigned during the pennant race in September.

3) 1973 New York Mets (0.50% probability)

1973 NL East
The Challenge:
On August 5th, the Mets were in last place in the National League East and 11.5 games behind the division leading Cardinals.
How they did it:
The “Ya Gotta Believe” Mets got some help from the other National League division (West), who beat up on the Mets Eastern division rivals. Over the final two months of the season, every team in the East, save for the Mets, lost more games than they won while all but one Western division team won more than they lost. But that’s not to take away from the Mets’ accomplishment. They went 34-19 after August 5th and won the division by a game and a half. The pitching staff, led by Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman & Jon Matlack, had a league best 2.63 ERA over the final two months of the season.
They finished the season just three games over .500 (82-79) and have the lowest winning percentage (.509) of any pennant winning team in history.
The Mets defeated the Reds in the NLCS, which was highlighted by the infamous Bud Harrelson and Pete Rose fight. However, the Mets would lose the World Series to the Oakland A’s in 7 games. The series would also be the final games of Willie Mays’ career.

2) 1914 Boston Braves (0.25% probability)

1914 NL
The Challenge:
On July 5th, the Braves were in dead last and 15 games behind the leading Giants. They appeared to be on their way to their 12th consecutive sub-.500 season. What sets the 1914 Braves apart from the other teams on this list is that their comeback began earlier than any other team (just 66 games into the season).
How they did it:
The “Miracle Braves” finished the season 68-19 (after starting off 26-40). The turnaround wasn’t the result of one major change, but that of the entire team. Manager George Stallings used a strict platoon with his left fielders Joe Connolly (158 OPS+) and Ted Cather (115 OPS+), something that hadn’t been done regularly by 1914. Bill James became the ace of the staff, going 19-1 with a 1.55 ERA in 214 innings after July 5th. In the second half of the season, all but one regular batter had a higher OPS than they did in the first.
Not only did they leapfrog seven National League teams, they did it so easily that they finished ahead of the second place Giants by 10.5 games. In fact, they took over sole possession of fist place on September 8th and held on to that spot for the next four weeks. From July 5th until the end of the season, the Braves outscored their opponents by almost 2 runs per game.
World Series:
The Braves swept the defending champion and highly favored Philadelphia Athletics in four games.

1) 1930 St. Louis Cardinals (0.16% probability)

1930 NL
The Challenge:
On August 19th, the Cardinals were in fourth place and ten games back of the first place Cubs with 37 games remaining, 23 of which were on the road. Of the 100,000 simulations from that date, the Cardinals would win the pennant just 160 times, or one in every 625 simulations.
How they did it:
As if that wasn’t a big enough hurdle, the three teams in front of the Cards on August 19th would all play .500 or better the rest of the way. But that is what makes their comeback even more impressive. Sparked by the midseason trade in which they acquired future Hall of Famer Burleigh Grimes, the Cardinals went 31-6 over the remaining 37 games and outscored their opponents by more than 100 runs. They tied for first place on September 16th and won the pennant by 2 games. On the final game of the season, after having already clinched the pennant, Dizzy Dean made his major league debut and allowed just one run and three hits in a complete game victory.
The club’s September run included a couple of crazy stories. On September 15th, the Cardinals were in Brooklyn to face the first place Dodgers. With the team being just a game behind in the standings, the next day’s starting pitcher Flint Rhem disappeared. Rhem, who was known to enjoy libations, even during prohibition, wouldn’t reappear until two days later. The story came out that Rhem said to have been kidnapped by several men and forced to drink liquor. However, it was later discovered that manager Gabby Street had concocted the kidnapping story.
Fortunately for the Cardinals, this did not hinder their comeback attempt. But maybe because they had the benefit of a soothsayer, who would instruct manager Gabby Street who to pitch and would correctly predict the outcome of those games. It seemed to work flawlessly until they reached the World Series.
World Series:
The Cardinals lost to Connie Macks’ Philadelphia A’s in 6 games. But the following season, they would exact revenge on the A’s by winning the 1931 World Series in seven games.

The 1930 Cardinals are rarely, if ever mentioned among the greatest comebacks in baseball history. Perhaps it is because their comeback didn’t also include a great collapse from a league rival. Perhaps it is because their roster didn’t include sexy names or inner circle Hall of Famers. A few of the Cardinals that did make it into the Hall of Fame are those that many feel are undeserving or are in the bottom tier (Jim Bottomley, Jesse Haines & Chick Hafey). Whatever the reason, the 1930 St. Louis Cardinals deserve the credit of overcoming the most difficult odds of winning the pennant in baseball history.

Honarable Mention

10) 1883 BSN 1.18%
11) 2005 HOU 1.29%
12) 1936 NY1 1.29%
13) 1938 CHN 1.49%
14) 2011 TBA 1.77%
15) 1974 BAL 2.00%
16) 1988 BOS 2.12%
17) 1969 NYN 2.13%
18) 1987 DET 2.36%
19) 1974 PIT 2.50%
20) 2009 COL 2.56%
21) 1984 KCA 2.59%
22) 1995 NYA 2.60%
23) 2003 FLO 2.65%
24) 2013 LAN 2.79%
25) 2007 COL 2.83%

Re-introducing Series Win Probability Added

A few years ago, I added postseason series win probability graphs and data. Most people are familiar with win probability graphs, which show each team’s win expectancy based on the inning, score, outs, & bases occupied. For series win probability, I took it one step further and put it in the context of a postseason series.

New Graphs
Recently, I started upgrading the graphs on the site. Previously, the graphs were generated with jpgraphs, which uses php and generates an image on the user’s browser. The new graphs are generated using highcharts, which uses javascript and allows the user to interact with the graph. The biggest difference is the user can now hover their mouse over the plot lines to see the data from each play.

I feel that these new graphs are a big step forward in following the play by play of each postseason series and I hope you feel the same.

Individual Player’s Series Win Probability Added (sWPA)
When I originally added the postseason data, I included a page for the top plays in postseason history. This shows which plays had the biggest difference in sWPA from before and after the play. In the new update, each player is credited/debited sWPA based on their involvement in the play. I decided to use the same method for allocating WPA that is used at Baseball-Reference.

This now allows us to see which players had the biggest impact on a particular series and also which players have accumulated the most sWPA in their postseason careers.

sWPA vs wsWPA
wsWPA is World Series Win Probability Added. This is not just the win probability of winning the series, but winning the World Series. This is calculated as sWPA divided by (# of series before the World Series * 2). Obviously, the sWPA in the World Series would be equal to the wsWPA.

Example: Francisco Cabrera’s walk-off 2-run single in the 1992 NLCS increased the Braves chances of winning the series by 74% (26% -> 100%). Since the NLCS is one series away from the World Series, this is how we calculate wsWPA:
74% / (1 * 2) = 37%
This tells us that Cabrera increased his team’s chances of winning the World Series by 37%.

A 20% sWPA play in the Wild Card game would be divided by six since it is three series away from the World Series:
(20% / (3 * 2)) = 3.33%

wsWPA is a good way to compare the importance of plays from different types of series

I have included regular season tiebreakers in the postseason data. While they are not technically postseason games, they are pivotal in World Series win probability.