The Ultimate Crapshoot…

Washington, this is what could have happened in 2012 if you didn’t shut down your TJS survivor. (p/c: Andy Murray / USA Today)

One of the biggest draws to playoff/postseason competition is that every team in the field has a “realistic” chance to come home with a trophy.

This belief stretches across all sports at all levels, and has proven to be true in many instances. A recent example would be the Ohio State football team, who snuck into the inaugural College Football Playoff with its third-string quarterback and ended as the last team remaining in the four-team bracket. A lesser-known example (but known too well by yours truly unfortunately) would be the Rochester Institute of Technology women’s hockey team, who entered the College Hockey America (CHA) Tournament as the lowest seed but left with the league’s first automatic NCAA bid.

Last Wednesday, the New York Mets advanced to their first World Series in 15 years with an 8-3 victory over the Chicago Cubs. The Mets entered the MLB postseason with a 90-72 record, which was the lowest mark among the National League (NL) playoff teams. (They were slotted into the bracket as the third seed, but that’s for another debate.) Pointing that tidbit out isn’t to disregard their accomplishment, but rather it encouraged me to look at what teams were advancing to the championship game/series in their respective sports.

I decided to look at the “big four” American sports leagues (MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL) and determine if their postseasons over the last 20 years are bigger toss-ups than the others. To do this, I ranked the postseason teams in their respective conferences/leagues based on regular-season record and not playoff seeding; however, ties were broken by the latter. After conducting that research, I counted the amount of times each “seed” made it to the final(s) and whether they were victorious or not.

(Disclaimers that went into this brief research include: the expansion of the MLB playoff field in 2012, the addition of divisions in the NFL, NBA, and NHL, and work stoppages in the 1995 MLB, 1998-99 and 2011-12 NBA, and 2004-05 and 2012-13 NHL seasons. This year’s MLB postseason was also not taken into account.)

Top 10 championship game/series appearance rate:
1.) #5 MLB – 66.7%
2.) #1 NBA – 47.5%
3.) #1 NFL – 45%
4.) #2 NBA – 37.5%
5.) #1 MLB – 32.5%
6.) #2 NHL – 26.3%
7.) #2 NFL – 25.0%
8.) #2 MLB – 22.5%
9.) #1 NHL – 21.1%
t-10.) #3 MLB – 20.0%
t-10.) #4 MLB – 20.0%

Obviously, the top spot here is extremely skewed due to a small sample size of three seasons. Top seeds seem to rule in the NBA and NFL as one of them seems to advance to the championship almost half of the time. The data also shows all five MLB seeds in the top 10, which is expected due to its smaller playoff field.

Below are MLB’s World Series results over the last 20 years:

Major League Baseball1
19952: #1 ATL (90-54) over #1 CLE (100-44) in 6 games
1996: #2 NYY (92-70) over #1 ATL (96-66) in 6 games
1997: #2 FLA (92-70) over #4 CLE (86-75) in 7 games
1998: #1 NYY (114-48) over #3 SD (98-64) in 4 games
1999: #1 NYY (98-64) over #1 ATL (103-59) in 4 games
2000: #4 NYY (87-74) over #4 NYM (94-68) in 5 games
2001: #3 ARZ (92-70) over #3 NYY (95-65) in 7 games
2002: #3 ANA (99-63) over #4 SF (95-66) in 7 games
2003: #3 FLA (91-71) over #1 NYY (101-61) in 6 games
2004: #2 BOS (98-64) over #1 STL (105-57) in 4 games
2005: #1 CHW (99-63) over #3 HOU (89-73) in 4 games
2006: #4 STL (83-78) over #3 DET (95-67) in 5 games
2007: #1 BOS (96-66) over #2 COL (90-73) in 4 games
20083: #2 PHI (92-70) over #2 TB (97-65) in 5 games
2009: #1 NYY (103-59) over #2 PHI (93-69) in 6 games
2010: #2 SF (92-70) over #4 TEX (90-72) in 5 games
2011: #4 STL (90-72) over #2 TEX (96-66) in 7 games
20124: #3 SF (94-68) over #5 DET (88-74) in 4 games
2013: #1 BOS (97-65) over #1 STL (97-65) in 6 games
2014: #5 SF (88-74) over #4 KC (89-73) in 7 games

#1 – 13 appearances, 7 wins, 6 losses (3 times 1v1)
– 32.5% WS, 53.8% win, 46.2% loss
#2 – 9 appearances, 5 wins, 4 losses (1 time 2v2)
– 22.5% WS, 55.6% win, 44.4% loss
#3 – 8 appearances, 4 wins, 4 losses (1 time 3v3)
– 20% WS, 50% win, 50% loss
#4 – 8 appearances, 3 wins, 5 losses (1 time 4v4)
– 20% WS, 37.5% win, 63.5% loss
#5 – 2 appearances, 1 win, 1 loss (0 times 5v5)
– 66.7 % WS, 50% win, 50% loss

Judging from this (and again, the fact that it has the smallest playoff field), it seems like baseball has the most balanced postseason in regards to any team being able to win. The top seed still holds serve as the favorite, but recently the fourth or fifth best team has made an appearance and/or won the World Series in four of the last five years.

National Football League
1995: #1 DAL (12-4) over #2 PIT (11-5), 27-17
1996: #1 GB (13-3) over #2 NE (11-5), 35-21
1997: #2 DEN (12-4) over #2 GB (13-3), 31-24
1998: #1 DEN (14-2) over #2 ATL (14-2), 34-19
1999: #1 STL (14-2) over #3 TEN (13-3), 23-16
2000: #3 BAL (12-4) over #1 NYG (12-4), 34-7
2001: #2 NE (11-5) over #1 STL (14-2), 20-17
2002: #3 TB (12-4) over #1 OAK (11-5), 48-21
2003: #1 NE (14-2) over #3 CAR (11-5), 32-29
2004: #2 NE (14-2) over #3 PHI (13-3), 24-21
2005: #5 PIT (11-5) over #1 SEA (13-3), 21-10
2006: #3 IND (12-4) over #1 CHI (13-3), 29-17
2007: #4 NYG (10-6) over #1 NE (16-0), 17-14
2008: #2 PIT (12-4) over #6 ARZ (9-7), 27-23
2009: #1 NO (13-3) over #1 IND (14-2), 31-17
2010: #5 GB (10-6) over #2 PIT (12-4), 31-25
2011: #6 NYG (9-7) over #1 NE (13-3), 21-17
2012: #5 BAL (10-6) over #2 SF (11-4-1), 34-31
2013: #1 SEA (13-3) over #1 DEN (13-3), 43-8
2014: #1 NE (12-4) over #1 SEA (12-4), 28-24

#1 – 18 appearances, 8 wins, 10 losses (3 times 1v1)
– 45% SB, 44.4% win, 55.6% loss
#2 – 10 appearances, 4 wins, 6 losses (2 times 2v2)
– 25% SB, 40% win, 60% loss
#3 – 6 appearances, 3 wins, 3 losses (0 times 3v3)
– 15% SB, 50% win, 50% loss
#4 – 1 appearance, 1 win, 0 losses (0 times 4v4)
– 2.5% SB, 100% win, 0% loss
#5 – 3 appearances, 3 wins, 0 losses (0 times 5v5)
– 7.5% SB, 100% win, 0% loss
#6 – 2 appearances, 1 win, 1 loss (0 times 6v6)
– 5% SB, 50% win, 50% loss

The NFL has seen one of its top seeds in the Super Bowl for the majority of this 20-year stretch, but it seems like the fifth seed is a lottery ticket of sorts. Only three of them have played a game in February, but all (2005 Pittsburgh Steelers, 2010 Green Bay Packers, 2012 Baltimore Ravens) came out with the Lombardi Trophy.

National Basketball Association
1995-96: #1 CHI (72-10) over #1 SEA (64-18) in 6 games
1996-97: #1 CHI (69-13) over #1 UTAH (64-18) in 6 games
1997-98: #1 CHI (62-20) over #1 UTAH (62-20) in 6 games
1998-995: #1 SA (37-13) over #8 NYK (27-23) in 5 games
1999-00: #1 LAL (67-15) over #1 IND (56-26) in 6 games
2000-01: #2 LAL (56-26) over #1 PHI (56-26) in 5 games
2001-02: #3 LAL (58-24) over #1 NJ (52-30) in 4 games
2002-03: #1 SA (60-22) over #2 NJ (49-33) in 6 games
2003-04: #2 DET (54-28) over #2 LAL (56-26) in 5 games
2004-05: #2 SA (59-23) over #2 DET (54-28) in 7 games
2005-06: #2 MIA (52-30) over #2 DAL (60-22) in 6 games
2006-07: #3 SA (58-24) over #2 CLE (50-32) in 4 games
2007-08: #1 BOS (66-16) over #1 LAL (57-25) in 6 games
2008-09: #1 LAL (65-17) over #3 ORL (59-23) in 5 games
2009-10: #1 LAL (57-25) over #4 BOS (50-32) in 7 games
2010-11: #3 DAL (57-25) over #2 MIA (58-24) in 6 games
2011-126: #2 MIA (46-20) over #2 OKC (47-19) in 5 games
2012-13: #1 MIA (66-16) over #2 SA (58-24) in 7 games
2013-14: #1 SA (62-20) over #2 MIA (54-28) in 5 games
2014-15: #1 GS (67-15) over #2 CLE (53-29) in 6 games

#1 – 19 appearances, 12 wins, 7 losses (5 times 1v1)
– 47.5% NBAF, 63.2% win, 36.8% loss
#2 – 15 appearances, 5 wins, 10 losses (4 times 2v2)
– 37.5% NBAF, 33.3% win, 66.7% loss
#3 – 4 appearances, 3 wins, 1 loss (0 times 3v3)
– 10% NBAF, 75% win, 25% loss
#4 – 1 appearance, 0 wins, 1 loss (0 times 4v4)
– 2.5% NBAF, 0% win, 100% loss
#5, #6, #7 – 0 appearances, 0 wins, 0 losses (0 times 5v5, 0 times 6v6, 0 times 7v7)
– 0% NBAF, 0% win, 0% loss
#8 – 1 appearance, 0 wins, 1 loss (0 times 8v8)
– 2.5% NBAF, 0% win, 100% loss

The NBA findings are probably the least surprising, with its top three teams in each conference making the Finals 95 percent of the time. The rare outlier here is the 1998-99 New York Knicks, who advanced to the NBA Finals in a strike-shortened season as the lowest-seeded team in the Eastern Conference.

National Hockey League7
1995-96: #2 COL (104) over #4 FLA (92) in 4 games
1996-97: #3 DET (94) over #2 PHI (102) in 4 games
1997-98: #2 DET (103) over #4 WAS (92) in 4 games
1998-99: #1 DAL (114) over #6 BUF (91) in 6 games
1999-00: #2 NJ (103) over #3 DAL (102) in 6 games
2000-01: #1 COL (118) over #1 NJ (111) in 7 games
2001-02: #1 DET (116) over #7 CAR (91) in 5 games
2002-03: #2 NJ (108) over #7 ANA (95) in 7 games
2003-04: #1 TB (106) over #6 CAL (94) in 7 games
2005-06: #2 CAR (112) over #8 EDM (95) in 7 games
2006-07: #2 ANA (110) over #3 OTT (105) in 5 games
2007-08: #1 DET (115) over #2 PIT (102) in 6 games
2008-09: #4 PIT (99) over #2 DET (112) in 7 games
2009-10: #2 CHI (112) over #8 PHI (88) in 6 games
2010-11: #4 BOS (103) over #1 VAN (117) in 7 games
2011-12: #8 LA (95) over #5 NJ (102) in 6 games
2012-138: #1 CHI (77) over #3 BOS (62) in 6 games
2013-14: #6 LA (100) over #5 NYR (96) in 5 games
2014-15: #4 CHI (102) over #3 TB (108) in 6 games

#1 – 8 appearances, 6 wins, 2 losses (1 time 1v1)
– 21.1% SCF, 75% win, 25% loss
#2 – 10 appearances, 7 wins, 3 losses (0 times 2v2)
– 26.3% SCF, 70% win, 30% loss
#3 – 5 appearances, 1 win, 4 losses (0 times 3v3)
– 13.2% SCF, 20% win, 80% loss
#4 – 5 appearances, 3 wins, 2 losses (0 times 4v4)
– 13.2% SCF, 60% win, 40% loss
#5, #7 – 2 appearances, 0 wins, 2 losses (0 times 5v5, 0 times 7v7)
– 5.3% SCF, 0% win, 100% loss
#6, #8 – 3 appearances, 1 win, 2 losses (0 times 6v6, 0 times 8v8)
– 7.9% SCF, 33.3% win, 66.7% loss

The eight-team playoff field in the NHL is the only detractor from its claim to postseason balance. Each seed has been represented in the Stanley Cup Finals at least twice over the last 20 years, while the second-best team leads the way in SCF appearances with 10.

This isn’t designed to prove which playoffs are better than the others (although, I prefer watching the MLB and NHL playoffs over the others), but rather to examine recent trends in the leagues’ respective postseasons. As I believed prior to conducting this research, the NHL and MLB have the most “wide-open” playoffs while the NBA and NFL mostly have gone according to chalk. These trends will almost certainly remain the same with the new Wild Card game in baseball and the “hot goaltender” theory in hockey.

1 – Prior to 2012, teams in the same division could not play each other in the Divisional Series.
2 – The 1995 MLB season was 144 games due to a work stoppage.
3 – The lowest “seeds” in the AL (Chicago White Sox) and NL (Los Angeles Dodgers) were the fifth and eighth best teams in their respective leagues.
4 – The Detroit Tigers finished the regular season with the seventh best record in the AL. Non-playoff teams such as the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Angels were left out despite having better records than the Tigers.
5 – The 1998-99 NBA season was 50 games due to a work stoppage.
6 – The 2011-12 NBA season was 66 games due to a work stoppage.
7 – Only 19 NHL seasons are listed due to a full-season lockout in 2004-05.
8 – The 2012-13 NHL season was 48 games due to a work stoppage.
Advertisements
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Ultimate Crapshoot…

  1. Pingback: An Attempt to Debunk the Ring Narrative… | Woy's Word

  2. Pingback: Clayton and the Awful Narrative… | Woy's Word

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s