With the All-Star Game in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to turn our attention to the second half of the season. The Mariners are currently three games ahead of the Oakland Athletics for the second Wild Card in the American League. With sixty-five games to go, this team has a chance to be the first Mariners team since 2001 to go to the playoffs. They could also collapse and stretch their streak of seasons without appearing in the playoffs to 17 seasons. Either way, odds are good that the Mariners will make some history for teams in the Second Wild Card (WC2) Era.
Despite their relatively brief history, the Mariners are no strangers to odd, and occasionally ominous records. It took until their 15th season (1991) to have a winning record in a single season, the longest such streak to begin a franchise of any team currently in MLB. On the other side of the coin, they set the modern record for most wins in a season, with 116 wins in 2001. Back on the first side of the coin, they were also the first team in MLB history to lose 100 games with a payroll of at least $100 million in the nightmare season of 2008. Let’s find out how the M’s can make history again this year.
The good kind of history
This section allows me to be the 2,947th person this season to talk about everyone’s favorite topic, RUN DIFFERENTIAL! If you are reading this, I’m assuming you’re familiar with Run Differential, as well as Pythag Record. If you aren’t familiar, I urge you to read this Baseball-Reference article on the topic. The article gives an in-depth explanation of the topic, as well as formulas for determining Pythag Record, but the short version is that Pythag Record looks at a team’s run differential and calculates an expected record based on those results. It’s rudimentary, but is typically thought to be a better predictor of future record than a team’s current actual record. The charts and stats referenced in the rest of this article use baseball-reference.com’s Pythag Record.
As you well know, the Mariners entered the All-Star Break at 58-39 (.598 Win %), despite a run differential of -2, good for a .498 Pythag Win %. While that is not the worst run differential by a team at the All-Star Break to make the playoffs (that “honor” belongs to the 2017 Minnesota Twins who had a breathtakingly bad run differential of -60 at the break last year), it’s not great. However, it does represent the largest numerical increase from a team’s Pythag Record to their Actual Record. Below is a chart that shows the 10 teams, during the WC2 era, that outplayed their Pythag Record by the greatest margin at the All-Star Break. The Numerical Difference is simply the Actual Winning Pct minus the Pythag Pct. The Pct Difference is how much better the Actual Winning Pct is than the Pythag Pct, by percentage. For example, 10 is 100% better than 5, but 20 is only 50% better than 10.
|Year||Team||ASB Actual Winning Pct||ASB Pythag Pct||Numerical Difference||Pct Difference|
Three important notes about this chart:
- The three teams marked with an asterisk* made the playoffs that year.
- Yes, the 2017 San Diego Padres had a larger difference between their Actual Record and Pythag Record by percentage, but that percentage is exaggerated by the fact that their Pythag Record was so bad. They had a run differential of -128 at the All-Star Break! Percentages get exaggerated when you have the second worst Pythag Record at the All-Star break in the WC2 Era.
- This chart also only shows teams that outplayed their Pythag Record. That means the poor 2015 Oakland Athletics, whose actual record was over 23% worse than their Pythag Record, don’t show up. That’s bad luck, or underplaying to expectations. What we’re interested in right now is teams that outplayed their expectations.
If the 2018 Mariners make the playoffs, they will have done so with the largest increase from their Pythag Record to their Actual Record at the All-Star Break in the WC2 era.
The bad kind of history
I’m sure you’re sick of hearing about run differential. Alright then, let’s ignore run differential. After all, the wins the M’s have right now are in the bank. You can’t take them away. Let’s take a look at a chart that shows the teams with the best Actual Winning Pct at the All-Star Break, in the WC2 Era.
|Year||Team||ASB Wins||ASB Losses||ASB Winning Pct|
The 2018 Mariners have the 16th best record at the All-Star break in the WC2 Era. The 15 teams above them on this chart? All made the playoffs. The next 10 teams on the chart? All made the playoffs. In other words, up to this point, the team with the greatest record at the All-Star Break in the WC2 Era that didn’t make the playoffs is the 2013 Texas Rangers, who had a 54-41 record at the break, finished 91-72, and missed the playoffs by one game in a stacked American League.
If the 2018 Mariners miss the playoffs, they will be the team with the highest Actual Winning Pct at the All-Star Break to miss the playoffs in the WC2 Era.
Now, should you put a lot of weight into all this numerical wizardry and gobbledygook ? Certainly not. The examination of historical stats can have merit when attempting to look forward, but this article is designed, as most of my writing is, to serve as a fun examination of where the Mariners stand in the larger scope of the game. If the Mariners make the playoffs no one will care what their run differential is, and we’ll spend the next twenty-five years watching and re-watching whatever highlight reel the marketing team throws together for them (1,000 bonus points you can find 14-year-old me in that video, because I am definitely in it).
If they don’t make the playoffs, well, at least we’ve seen history. Still, make the playoffs please.