Sunday, August 3, 2014

Why 70 wins matter

Here's a debut post from Astros fan/writer/friend of Astros County (FOAC) @McKanabar:

I was hoping that the Astros would win 70 games this year. While I'm sure that OKC, CC, Lancaster, The Woodlands, Palm Beach, and Quad Cities are as good as everyone says, my Astros entertainment only comes from the big club. So, selfishly, I was hoping to watch a more competitive team than the past couple years. 

In addition, I want 70 wins because:

1) Crane has said that the club would spend when the time was right: "Once our minor league system is filled in, we'll move up into the top five or 10 in payroll." In my mind, I was hoping that the team winning 70 games this year would finally trigger that spending. I guess you can say that I'm not down with ODP (opening day payroll).

2) I read this Freakanomics article about how losing (tanking) doesn't pay off in the NBA. I suspect the same is true in baseball but I don't have the horsepower to do that analysis. Regardless, I think the article is interesting in light of what the Astros are doing and I recommend it.

3) My hypothesis is that very few, if any, teams make the playoffs the season after winning less than 70 games. So, if the Astros again win less than 70 this year, they aren't going to make the playoffs next year. Maybe all of you already know that they aren't going to make the playoffs. I'm not smart enough to know that.

There's no way to test #1. We'll just have to wait and see what happens. 

If I was rewriting my econ thesis, I'd get into #2. Since I sell chicken fingers for a living on the beach in Belize, I'll pass.

Luckily, it is possible to look at data for #3. Here I've compiled the playoff teams for the past 10 postseasons (2004 to 2013). And I have included each playoff team's record the previous season. 

Here's what I found:

1) Fangraphs projects the Astros to finish 67-95. Fortunately, in the past 10 post seasons, there have been 6 teams that have won less than 70 games and made the playoffs the following season. So, there's a chance for the Astros to make the playoffs next year.

Team - Year before playoff appearance - Record - Opening Day Payroll (ODP)

Boston - 2012: 69-93 - ODP: $173M
Cleveland - 2012: 68-94 - ODP: $78M
Baltimore - 2011: 69-93 - ODP: $85M
Arizona - 2010: 65-97 - ODP: $60M
Tampa Bay - 2007: 66-96 - ODP: $24M
Cubs - 2006: 66-96 - ODP: $94M

2) What this really means is that for those of you who are beating the 2016 drum, you should really, really hope that the Astros win more than 70 games in 2015. Because while 6 teams in the past 10 years have won less than 70 and made the playoffs, the vast majority (78 out of 84) have won 70 or more games the year before making the playoffs.

3) Note that 3 of the 6 occurrences have happened since the playoff format was expanded. I don't know what that means.

4) The 2013 Red Sox won the World Series, after going 69-93 in 2012. And the 2008 Rays played in the World Series, after going 66-96 in 2007.

5) Making the leap from winning less than 70 games to the playoffs the following year doesn't necessarily lead to lasting success. Of the 6 teams, only 1 (2006 Cubs) made the playoffs 2 years in a row after winning less than 70 games. We can probably blame the NL Central for that. Ahhh, the good ol' NL Central. Note: if Cleveland makes the playoffs this year, they would be the 2nd team. 

It seems like the Astros aren't going to win 70 games this year.  I'm disappointed about that. To those who have their eye on 2016 as the year for the Astros to break through to the playoffs: start paying attention in 2015. If they win less than 70 games again next year, October baseball in Houston in 2016 will be very unlikely.