The SF Giants finished with the 5th best record in the majors. Clearly they were an elite team and won their division, but finished the season five games worse than the same Phillies that they dispatched in 6 games in the NLCS.
Their victory in the World Series continues an interesting trend in Baseball, and in most of the other major sports in this country for that matter, where the team with the best record in the regular season does not win the year end title. I call it the “wild card” effect on professional sports. Each major sport has a playoff structure that allows in “wild card” teams that have a chance to win the year end title despite not even being able to win their own division throughout the regular season.
Here’s a quick rundown of the best Baseball teams in the regular season (by overall record) versus who won the WS. I’ve got the data going back to 1990, a convenient starting point since the Wild Card was instituted in 1994. Bolded means that the best team won the WS:
|year||MLB WS Winner||MLB Best Reg Season Team per league|
|2010||San Francisco||Philadelphia, Tampa Bay|
|2009||New York||New York, LA Dodgers|
|2008||Philadelphia||LA Angels, Chicago Cubs|
|2006||St. Louis||NY Yankees, NY Mets|
|2005||Chicago WS||St. Louis, Chicago WS|
|2004||Boston||St. Louis, NY Yankees|
|2003||Florida (Miami)||NY Yankees, Atlanta|
|2002||Anaheim (LA)||NY Yankees, Atlanta|
|2001||Arizona (Phoenix)||Seattle, Houston|
|2000||New York||SF Giants, Chi WS|
|1999||New York||Atlanta, NY Yankees|
|1998||New York||NY Yankees, Atlanta|
|1997||Florida (Miami)||Atlanta, Baltimore|
|1996||New York||Cleveland, Atlanta|
|1994||(no WS, player strike)||Montreal, NY Yankees|
|1991||Minnesota (Minneapolis)||Pittsburgh, Minnesota|
Since 1990, only THREE times has the team with the best regular season record won the World Series. The fantastic 1998 NY Yankees team, the 2007 Boston Red Sox and last year’s 2009 Yankees team. This year, the Rays fell to Texas and the Phillies fell to the Giants, meaning the two best teams in the league didn’t even make the World Series. This “wild card” effect resulted in one of the regular season teams ever (the 2001 Seattle Mariners) not even reaching the World Series (falling at the hands of the Yankees, who then lost to the wild card Diamondbacks). Several times wild card teams have won the WS out right (Florida in 97 and the 04 Red Sox as other examples), meaning that our WS champion would not have even qualified for the playoffs just a few years earlier. For some reason I find this troubling.
Are the other major sports even worse? Both the NBA and NHL allow in more than half the league’s teams to the playoffs. In the MLS, half the teams qualify and then play a “home-and-home” first round of playoff games, essentially negating any home-field advantage earned by winning your division (ridiculous frankly; why have any value to the regular season?) Football seems to have a pretty well-regarded playoff system right now but the imbalanced talent in the 2010 season may result in deserving AFC 10-6 teams being left out in favor of 8-8 NFC teams. Here’s a quick breakdown of our major leagues and the percentage of teams allowed into the playoffs.
|Ttl Teams||# Playoff teams||Pct|
Baseball still has the stringiest playoff-qualifications, even post 1994 wild card expansion. Now Bud Selig wants to add in more wild card teams in what is clearly a money-grab for his fellow greedy owners (a third of whom are basically refusing to field a competitive team and are sucking in revenue sharing dollars like a trust fund kid).
So, how many times do the other leagues crown their best regular season team as champs? The answer may surprise you. Here’s a similar table going back to1990 for all the major sports. Here’s the summary. Since 1990:
- 3 times the best Baseball Team won the World series
- 6 times the best Football Team won the Super Bowl
- 8 times the best Basketball Team won the NBA championship
- 5 times the best Hockey Team won the Stanley Cup
How’s that for parity? I used to knock the NHL for the proclivity of #8 teams knocking off #1 seeds in the playoffs (something that’s only happened twice in the NBA). The NHL is infamous for having teams “built for the playoffs” and it not really being a surprise when a team like last year’s Washington Capitals lose in the first round of the playoffs. However, look at baseball. Only three times in 20 years has the best team won the World Series. This fact gives credence to Billy Beane’s comment that the playoffs are indeed a crapshoot and GMs should build towards making the playoffs and then crossing their fingers.
Anyway you slice it, the Giants earned this World Series victory by beating the best. I would have personally loved to see a NY Yankees-Philadelphia series (as would have every TV executive at Fox) and it would have crowned a champion that truly was one of the two best teams this year in the regular season. But this series was definitely entertaining in its own right and featured some great pitching (the topic of my next blog posting…)