Pennants are Won in ?

“Pennants are won in September.”
- Conventional Baseball Wisdom

Tonight as I was watching ESPN’s coverage of the Angels and A’s game, Joe Morgan and Gary Thorne were discussing the American League Central race and the historical improbability of the Indians coming back from a 15-game deficit on August 1st when the White Sox stood at 70-35 and the Indians at 56-51.

During the discussion Morgan made the point that the comeback was not so much a White Sox collapse (other than the last two weeks) as the Indians catching fire after the All-Star break, especially offensively, as noted by Thorne.

Well, they were half right.

Morgan’s error can be shown best graphically in the two charts below, updated as of games of September 27.

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In this graph the Indians’ winning percentage throughout the season is shown by the navy blue line while their Pythagorean Winning Percentage (their winning percentage based on their ratio of runs scored to runs allowed) is the purple line. These two lines use the Y-axis on the left. Meanwhile the light blue line indicates the cumulative runs scored per game while the green line shows the runs allowed per game, both of which should be referenced using the Y-axis on the right.

As Morgan and Thorne indicated, the Indians did get hot after the All-Star break beginning on July 22, when they stood at 49-48. From that point on the offense exploded while the pitching tread water as the Tribe went 43-17 through yesterday. However, what they forgot was that the Indians had an earlier surge beginning on June 10, when their record stood at .500 (30-30). The Indians went 16-6 through the 4th of July using a combination of better hitting and pitching before starting to falter. But all in all, not bad from memory.

Now let’s look at the ChiSox.

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Contrary to Morgan’s point that the “Smart Ball” Sox haven’t slid, you can see their steady slide actually began around June 30, when the Sox’s record stood at 54-24. Since then they’ve gone 40-39; not a complete collapse but a far cry from their torrid pace in the first 78 games. In addition, you can see that their offense has declined from averaging over 5 runs per game and increasing in mid-August to down around 4.6, while their pitching was averaging 3.67 runs per game and now stands at 4.04.

It’s also interesting that their Pythagorean Winning Percentage has remained 5 to 10 percentage points lower than their actual winning percentage since late April. What this indicates is that very early in the season they were perhaps fortunate to win a number of one-run games. In fact by April 25th they were 16-4 and 9-1 in one-run games. Those early wins have given them a six to seven win advantage that they’ve carried since then.

While some may say that early season games don’t matter as much as those in September, in this case the White Sox will certainly have that early season fortune to thank when they are playing in October.

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