How Much Does Beating Good Teams Matter?

Paul Daugherty actually has a level-headed article up today about how, yes, the Reds are struggling against winning teams, but what really matters is the 162-game schedule, not just stretches against good teams. Obviously it's important that they keep winning. As Brandon Phillips says, "We can compete with anybody. But competing is over now. It's about winning. We have a winning team.'' If you want to make the playoffs, you do need to win a certain number of games. But does it matter who those wins come against?

Well, let's start by saying that it definitely helps if you beat good teams. If we retroactively determine good teams as teams that finished the season with a .500 or better record, we can get an idea of what it takes to be a winning team. For instance, if you are planning on winning the World Series, well it definitely helps if you can beat the good teams during the regular season too.

Historically, World Series winners have dominated their opponents, both good or bad, during the regular season. As a group, world champions have a combined .571 winning percentage against teams with a .500 or better record and an impressive .671 winning percentage against teams with a losing record. This makes sense, especially since prior to 1969, you had to have the best record in your entire league in order to make it to the World Series. Since the dawn of division play in '69, the regular season success of a world champ has been diminished - .540 winning pct against good teams, .652 against bad. Those numbers have fallen even further in the wild card era - .534 vs. good teams, .643 vs. bad.

Despite the decline in quality, you'll still notice that World Series winners tend to beat the good and the bad teams all throughout the season. In fact, only 10 teams in history have won the World Series despite having a losing record against good teams during the regular season:

Year Team vs Good Teams vs Bad Teams
W L PCT W L PCT
1908 Cubs 30 36 .455 69 19 .784
1920 Indians 21 23 .477 77 33 .700
1926 Cardinals 32 34 .485 57 31 .648
1973 Athletics 34 38 .472 60 30 .667
1993 Blue Jays 43 44 .494 52 23 .693
2000 Yankees 42 43 .494 45 31 .592
2001 Diamondbacks 42 43 .494 50 27 .649
2002 Angels 38 42 .475 61 21 .744
2006 Cardinals 21 26 .447 62 52 .544
2008 Phillies 43 46 .483 49 24 .671

One thing you'll probably notice from this list, half of the teams on this list have come since the 2000 season. They say that anything can happen in a short series, and I think we've seen over the past decade that it's not always the best regular season team that wins the World Series. This is even more true now with 8 teams in the playoffs than when it was just the best from each league.

So, from what we've seen, if you want to win the World Series, it helps to dominate all of your opponents during the regular season, but it's not mandatory. If all you are hoping to do is to get to the playoffs, the requirements are even less stringent. Since the playoffs expanded to 8 teams in 1995, playoff teams have had just a .528 winning percentage against good teams and a .631 winning percentage against the bad. Out of 120 playoff teams in the 15 seasons, 34 have had losing records against the good teams, and as we've seen already, 5 of those 34 went on to win the World Series.

My advice to the Reds is keep doing what you are doing. Keep beating up on the teams they are supposed to beat - no team has made ever made the playoffs with a losing record against sub-.500 teams (the closest was the 2005 Padres who were .500 against bad teams) and no team has won a ring with a sub-.540 record against bad teams. If they can stick around .500 against good teams, they can still make the playoffs. And as we've seen in recent years, anything can happen once you are in the playoffs.

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