However, the idea of going into the playoffs on a “hot” or “cold” streak influencing a team’s subsequent success has certainly been of consideration for managers and GMs alike. Inevitably, questions arise about “How to best use the expanded 40-man rosters?” or “How often should starters be rested after clinching a playoff spot?”
Without further ado, I have conducted a bit of research with data spanning 2011-2015 to take a look at how late-season performance in the MLB affects postseason success. To set the stage quickly, I looked at three different windows of the season that could be considered “late” in the season: September/October regular season games, last 14 days of the season, and last 7 days of the season. For each time period, I plotted a simple “Win% in Time Period X vs. Playoff %” as well as a more in-depth “(Win% in Time Period X – Reg. Season Win%) vs. Playoff Win%.” This second plot will give a better idea of how a team performed down the stretch relative to their entire body of work.
Before we get into any of that fun stuff, though, let’s first take a quick look to see if there’s any sort of connection between a team’s regular season performance overall and their playoff win percentage.
It’s also cool to note that a team interested in emerging from their respective Wild Card play-in game victorious would be wise to keep the pedal down through the season’s last day. Multiple teams that stumbled down the stretch couldn’t all of a sudden right the ship in time to take down their single elimination opponent.
So, what does this all mean?
Well, probably nothing. It certainly appears that there’s not much of a connection between late season performance and postseason success. Nevertheless, it’s fun to look at some of the graphs that give hope to this supposedly ridiculous concept. Maybe Don Mattingly shouldn’t have given Adrian Gonzalez days off after wrapping up the NL West or John Farrell was wise to not let his ball club get swept up in David Ortiz’s retirement ceremonies. On the other hand, I’m willing to bet that Dusty Baker would take this article and rip it into pieces after watching Wilson Ramos tear his ACL in a game with close-to-nothing on the line.
For our own enjoyment, we can take a look at late-season performance this year, maybe as a sneak peek of who could make a deep playoff run this year. For starters, the Red Sox, fresh off of an 11-game winning streak, went 19-10 down the stretch, and they certainly look formidable. The Dodgers, Cubs, and Mets had great Septembers, and it looks like they could comprise ¾ of the NLDS competitors. On the flip side of things, the Blue Jays limped their way to the finish line, going 13-16 while staving off competition for the Wild Card spot. From the looks of it, even year magic might not be enough to pull the Giants through the Wild Card round and back into the World Series. They played .500 ball in their last 30 games, and they’re unquestionably a flawed team.
So there you have it. By no means can we say for sure that one impacts the other. In fact, we can almost say for certain that it doesn’t. Either way, get ready for a jam-packed final weekend of pennant race baseball, followed by what’s likely to be an even more dramatic MLB postseason.