erik lundegaard

Alternate History: What If Baseball Had Never Gone to the Division Format?

So baseball's 2015 regular season is over and we have our 10 postseason teams, and in a short series anything goes. But I've often wondered what would've happened if baseball hadn't changed to a playoff format in 1969, and the team with the best record in each league continued to meet in the World Series.

This year we would get the Show Me Series: the St. Louis Cardinals (100-62) vs. the Kanas City Royals (95-67), 1985 Redux. AKA, the “Take Pity on Don Denkinger” Series.

We still might get it. But how likely is it? How often do the teams with the best records in each league meet in the World Series?

I'm glad you asked: 

Year AL Best Record NL Best Record AL Pennant NL Pennant
1969 Baltimore Orioles New York Mets    
1970 Baltimore Orioles Cincinnati Reds    
1971 Baltimore Orioles Pittsburgh Pirates    
1972 Oakland A's Pittsburgh Pirates   Cincinnati Reds
1973 Baltimore Orioles Cincinnati Reds Oakland A's New York Mets
1974 Baltimore Orioles Los Angeles Dodgers Oakland A's  
1975 Oakland A's Cincinnati Reds Boston Red Sox  
1976 New York Yankees Cincinnati Reds    
1977 Kansas City Royals Philadelphia Phillies New York Yankees Los Angeles Dodgers
1978 New York Yankees Los Angeles Dodgers    
1979 Baltimore Orioles Pittsburgh Pirates    
1980 New York Yankees Houston Astros Kansas City Royals Philadelphia Phillies
1981 Oakland A's Cincinnati Reds New York Yankees Los Angeles Dodgers
1982 Milwaukee Brewers St. Louis Cardinals    
1983 Chicago White Sox Los Angeles Dodgers Baltimore Orioles Philadelphia Phillies
1984 Detroit Tigers Chicago Cubs   San Diego Padres
1985 Toronto Blue Jays St. Louis Cardinals Kanas City Royals  
1986 Boston Red Sox New York Mets    
1987 Detroit Tigers St. Louis Cardinals Minnesota Twins  
1988 Oakland A's New York Mets   Los Angeles Dodgers
1989 Oakland A's Chicago Cubs   San Francisco Giants
1990 Oakland A's Pittsburgh Pirates   Cincinnati Reds
1991 Minnesota Twins Pittsburgh Pirates   Atlanta Braves
1992 Toronto Blue Jays Atlanta Braves    
1993 Toronto Blue Jays Atlanta Braves   Philadelphia Phillies
1995 Cleveland Indians Atlanta Braves    
1996 Cleveland Indians Atlanta Braves New York Yankees  
1997 Baltimore Orioles Atlanta Braves Cleveland Indians Florida Marlins
1998 New York Yankees Atlanta Braves   San Diego Padres
1999 New York Yankees Atlanta Braves    
2000 Chicago White Sox San Francisco Giants New York Yankees New York Mets
2001 Seattle Mariners Houston Astros New York Yankees Arizona Diamondbacks
2002 New York Yankees Atlanta Braves Los Angeles Angels San Francisco Giants
2003 New York Yankees Atlanta Braves   Florida Marlins
2004 New York Yankees St. Louis Cardinals Boston Red Sox  
2005 Chicago White Sox St. Louis Cardinals   Houston Astros
2006 New York Yankees New York Mets Detroit Tigers St. Louis Cardinals
2007 Boston Red Sox Arizona Diamondbacks   Colorado Rockies
2008 Los Angeles Angels Chicago Cubs Tampa Bay Rays Philadelphia Phillies
2009 New York Yankees Los Angeles Dodgers   Philadelphia Phillies
2010 Tampa Bay Rays Philadelphia Phillies Texas Rangers San Francisco Giants
2011 New York Yankees Philadelphia Phillies Texas Rangers St. Louis Cardinals
2012 New York Yankees Cincinnati Reds Detroit Tigers San Francisco Giants
2013 Boston Red Sox St. Louis Cardinals    
2014 Los Angeles Angels Washington Nationals Kansas City Royals San Francisco Giants

For the first three years, it was a wash. Same same. Then divergence. If it seems the divergence got worse, it did, because the playoffs became more complex: from best-of-five LDS until 1984, to best-of-seven LDS until 1993, to a two-tiered playoffs with wild card that we have today.

But back to the question: How likely is it for a team with the best record in its league to make the World Series?

  • Best-of-five LCS (1969-1984): 56%
  • Best-of-seven LCS (1985-1993): 61%
  • Wild card era: best-of-five LDS, then a best-of-seven LCS (1995-present): 32%

Some observations:

  • The Braves have suffered the most from the playoff format. They had the best record in the NL nine times but only went to the World Series five times, for a deficit of 4. 
  • Cubs and Pirates also suffered. Both have deficits of 3. That's right: in a non-playoff format, the Cubbies would've gone to the World Series three times in the last 30-odd years: in '84, '89 and '08.
  • The Giants have benefitted most from the playoff format: best record once (in 2000, when they lost to the Mets in the LDS), but five World Series appearances for a net gain of 4. 
  • The Yankees have a deficit of 1, so they'd have 41 pennants rather than 40. Also their period of domination would've been more recent. No pennants in '96, '00 or '01, but pennants in 2006, '11 and '12.
  • The two teams that have never been to the Series (the Mariners and Nats), each would've gone ('01 and last year), but now four teams would be no shows, since they're all post-'68 teams that have never had the best record in their league: Rockies, Marlins, Padres and Rangers. 

We would've gotten Royals/Phillies in '77 rather than '80. The Braves wouldn't have gone in '91 but would've gone in every subsequent year in the decade, plus '02 and '03. In 2000, the Yankees/Mets subway series would've been replaced by the White Sox/Giants series, but would've reemerged in '06.

Certain teams seem to do particularly well when they have the best record. The BoSox led the AL in wins three times, and each of those times ('86, '07, '13) they won the pennant. And good news for Cardinals fans: Six times they've had the best record in the NL and five of those times they made the Fall Classic (2005 was the misstep).

But overall the playoff format seems tailor-made for upstarts. It's October 5, 2015, and a whole new season. 

Cubs vs. Athletics: 1989 World Series

Who could forget the great Cubs-A's World Series of 1989?

Tags: , , ,
Posted at 06:18 AM on Mon. Oct 05, 2015 in category Baseball  
« It's the Last Day of Baseball's Regular Season: How Did April's Predictions Go?   |   Home   |   Lancelot Links Goes to 'Jaws 19' »
 RSS    Facebook

Twitter: @ErikLundegaard

ARCHIVES
LINKS