As we head into 2017, it’s time to rub off the sting of last year’s Division Series that still resonates. One pertinent question to learn from is, “How does a 95-win team crash and burn like that in the post-season?”
This might explain it.
The Rangers won 95 games during the regular 2016 season. Add that to all their playoff wins, and they ended up winning a total of 95 games the entire year.
How does the team with the most wins in the league not make it past the first round of the playoffs? Simple. The team with the most wins is not necessarily the best team. Sometimes not even close.
While it was a disappointment as a Rangers fan that they got swept in the first round of the playoffs, and disappointing that they have now lost five straight post season chances—2011 World Series, 2012 Wild Card Game, 2013 tie-breaker game, 2015 Division Series, 2016 Division Series—you really shouldn’t look at the number of victories the Rangers had as translating to the relative quality of the team in the American League.
All that the title of most wins determines is home-field advantage. It doesn’t determine who the best team is. That’s thanks to the unbalanced schedule. If teams played a balanced schedule—in other words, a fair schedule where they played each team in the league an even number of times—you can make a valid argument that the best team is the one with the most wins. (The unbalanced schedule will never go away for one simple reason: because baseball would never do any thing that creates fewer Yankees-Red Sox games.)
The Rangers 95 wins in the West are worth less than 90 wins in the Central and East because the West is, and has been for some time now, the weakest division in the American League. It’s like comparing pesos to dollars.
Remember the 2013 Rangers team? It won 91 games. That’s .586 baseball. A 91-win team is good, right? Not necessarily. 91 pesos. Not 91 dollars.
The Rangers 91-win record was skewed by a sparkling 53-23 beefing up against teams in its own division, especially going 32-6 against the Astros and the Angels.
Against the rest of the American League, the Rangers were a very bad 28-38 (and 10-10 against the N. L.). That’s a winning percentage of .424. Only four teams in the American League had a worse winning percentage.
Which explains why the Rangers lost the tie-breaker game. They were a .424 team masquerading as a playoff team.
Maybe that helps explain how a 95-win team could lose in the first round of the playoffs last year.
The Rangers were 47-29 against the West, but a slightly-above-average 35-31 against the rest of the American League. Comparatively, they weren’t the best team in the American League even though they won the most games.
The fact is, the West has been the weakest division in the American League this century.
Of the sixteen A. L. teams that have made it to the World Series this century, seven have come from the East, six from the Central, just three from the West (Texas twice, Los Angeles once). So, there’s a nineteen percent chance a team from the American League West makes it to the World Series.
From 2001 to 2014, when there was just one wild card per league, only two of the nine years did the West have the wild card team. In the seven years since that there have been two wild cards, only three times have one of those two teams come from the West. Only one of those three won the wild card game.
The West hasn’t had a team advance past the first round of the playoffs since the Rangers in 2011. The last five seasons no team from the West has played in a Championship Series.
Maybe that’s how a 95-win team could get swept in the playoffs. Winning the West is like winning the Grammy for Best Rap Song.
The bar is low.