Friday, September 15, 2006

how to win the wild card

Since MLB adopted the current Wild Card playoff format in 1995, there have been 11 post seasons, and 22 wild card winners. Of those 22, 10 of those teams finished in the top ten in the Majors in the category of getting hit by pitches. 6 finished between 11 and 20 and 6 finished in the bottom 10, but no wild card winner has ever finished last in the major leagues in getting plunked. The wild card teams have averaged 56 regular season plunks, and have an average finish of 14th in MLB plunk standings. The 2001 Oakland A's were hit the most times for a wild card winner, with 88 that year, but they finished 2nd in the plunk standings. The 2003 Angels were the only team to lead the league in getting hit AND win the wild card.
Division winners, on the other hand, have averaged only 55 plunks during the wild card era, and have finished around 15th on average. Of the 66 division winners in the past 11 seasons (since the wild card came in), 20 have finished in the top 10 in getting hit, 28 have finished between 11th and 20th, and 18 have been in the bottom 10. The NL Central is the only division to have been won in that span by a major league plunk champion - the Astros did both in 1997 and 2001 and the Cardinals did it in 2000.
There are 2 conclusions to be drawn from this. One is that being hit by a lot of pitches shows the kind of toughness and hustle a playoff team needs, but the division winners are more likely to wrap up their playoff spot earlier and slide back to the middle of the plunk standings, while the wild card winners have to scrap it out to the end, and therefor finish more often near the top of the HBP charts.
The other conclusion, though much more counterintuitive, is that there is no real connection between HBPs and making the playoffs, and these distributions are just a result of randomness. You be the judge.

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