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Weekend Recap: Beating Bad Teams

While the ending was bittersweet, the Brewers had another successful week. They won four of their six games, with three wins in Cincinnati. However, they only took one of three games from Pittsburgh at home. Unfortunately, this performance seems to have created a schism on Brewers Twitter. Some look at the Brewers, a team with a 20-15 record, in second place in the NL Central and tied for the Wild Card and see a team of frauds. How can they be good when they only beat bad teams?

These detractors will look at Milwaukee’s 14-1 record against teams with a sub .463 winning percentage, which does look poor when compared with their 6-14 record against teams above the .463 mark. I chose .463 as a demarcation line because that’s a seventy-five win pace, which I feel is a good point to differentiate between teams that could have been contenders with a few more breaks, as opposed to teams that, to put it politely, were not good.

Looking at the Brewers this season, that 14-1 record is good enough for a .933 winning percentage. That winning percentage would be tops all time in the expansion era. According to Baseball Reference Play Index, here’s a list of the teams with the best records against “bad” opponents sorted by winning percentage:

Rk Tm Year G W L W-L%
Rdiff RS RA pythW-L%
1 LAA 2018 9 9 0 1.000 42 68 26 .853
2 STL 2018 9 9 0 1.000 29 50 21 .830
3 MIL 2018 15 14 1 .933 36 82 46 .742
4 LAD 1988 30 25 5 .833 56 133 77 .731
5 NYM 2018 6 5 1 .833 13 37 24 .688
6 KCA 1962 18 15 3 .833 25 94 69 .638
7 OAK 1981 29 24 5 .828 75 144 69 .794
8 BOS 2018 11 9 2 .818 22 68 46 .672
9 NYY 1998 64 52 12 .813 224 407 183 .812
10 PIT 1962 54 43 11 .796 94 285 191 .675
11 ATL 1997 34 27 7 .794 70 173 103 .721
12 BAL 1981 19 15 4 .789 37 95 58 .712
13 BAL 1997 36 28 8 .778 92 197 105 .760
14 CHW 1964 54 42 12 .778 113 265 152 .734
15 NYM 1986 72 56 16 .778 158 393 235 .719
16 PHI 1964 36 28 8 .778 68 171 103 .717
17 LAD 1962 54 42 12 .778 133 342 209 .711
18 LAD 1963 54 42 12 .778 90 236 146 .707
19 NYY 1962 36 28 8 .778 81 235 154 .684
20 MIN 1991 36 28 8 .778 68 199 131 .682

Literally no team has ever done what the Brewers are currently doing (and take note: the two 2018 teams above them on that list have fewer games in the sample). Milwaukee is not likely to continue playing .933 baseball against bad teams and, truth be told, there is some luck built into their current record. If we were to sort these teams by Pythagorean winning percentage, which looks at runs scored and allowed, the Brewers slip, but not by as much as you think. Once again, to the Play Index:

Rk Tm Year G W L W-L% Rdiff RS RA pythW-L%
1 LAA 2018 9 9 0 1.000 42 68 26 .853
2 OAK 2015 13 9 4 .692 40 68 28 .835
3 STL 2018 9 9 0 1.000 29 50 21 .830
4 NYY 1998 64 52 12 .813 224 407 183 .812
5 OAK 1972 39 29 10 .744 97 180 83 .805
6 PHI 2018 9 6 3 .667 29 55 26 .798
7 OAK 1981 29 24 5 .828 75 144 69 .794
8 LAD 1969 42 30 12 .714 111 227 116 .774
9 BAL 1969 66 48 18 .727 168 344 176 .773
10 MON 1994 33 25 8 .758 89 183 94 .772
11 CLE 2018 16 12 4 .750 34 70 36 .772
12 HOU 1981 36 25 11 .694 67 142 75 .763
13 BAL 1997 36 28 8 .778 92 197 105 .760
14 HOU 2018 19 13 6 .684 43 94 51 .754
15 MIN 2006 47 35 12 .745 123 270 147 .753
16 STL 1963 54 39 15 .722 124 277 153 .748
17 BAL 1971 58 45 13 .776 136 306 170 .746
18 BAL 1973 48 37 11 .771 125 281 156 .746
19 LAD 1964 37 26 10 .722 76 171 95 .746
20 MIL 2018 15 14 1 .933 36 82 46 .74

Hey, that’s still a top 20 team all time, with three of the teams ahead of the Brewers having played only nine games. What does this mean? Is there some value in beating the teams you should, or is this all just smoke and mirrors and the team will be exposed as they play better teams?

I’ve taken all the teams on the two charts above, except the other 2018 teams, and looked at their seasons to see if there was some predictive value in beating bad teams. There are twenty-six team seasons represented below:

Team Year Overall Record Record Against Teams w/ >.463% Season Result
KCA 1962 72-90 (.444%) 57-87 (.396%) 9th in AL, no playoffs
PIT 1962 93-68 (.578%) 50-57 (.467%) 4th in NL, no playoffs
LAD 1962 102-63 (.618%) 60-51 (.541%) 2nd in NL, no playoffs
NYY 1962 96-66 (.593%) 68-58 (.540%) Won WS
LAD 1963 99-63 (.611%) 57-51 (.528%) Won WS
STL 1963 93-69 (.574%) 54-54 (.500%) 2nd in NL, no playoffs
PHI 1964 92-70 (.568%) 64-62 (.508%) 3rd in NL, no playoffs
LAD 1964 80-82 (.494%) 54-72 (.429%) 6th in NL, no playoffs
CHW 1964 98-64 (.605%) 56-52 (.519%) 2nd in AL, no playoffs
LAD 1969 85-77 (.525%) 55-65 (.458%) 4th in NL West, no playoffs
BAL 1969 109-53 (.673%) 61-35 (.635%) Lost WS
BAL 1971 101-57 (.639%) 56-44 (.560%) Lost WS
OAK 1972 93-62 (.600%) 64-52 (.552%) Won WS
BAL 1973 97-65 (.599%) 60-54 (.526%) Lost ALCS
OAK 1981 64-45 (.587%) 40-40 (.500%) Lost ALCS
BAL 1981 59-46 (.562%) 44-42 (.512%) 2nd in AL East, no playoffs
HOU 1981 61-49 (.555%) 36-38 (.486%) Lost NLDS
NYM 1986 108-54 (.667%) 52-38 (.578%) Won WS
LAD 1988 94-67 (.584%) 69-62 (.527%) Won WS
MIN 1991 95-67 (.586%) 67-59 (.532%) Won WS
MON 1994 74-40 (.649%) 49-32 (.605%) 1st in NL East. The less said about the playoffs that year, the better.
ATL 1997 101-61 (.623%) 74-54 (.578%) Lost NLCS
BAL 1997 98-64 (.605%) 70-56 (.556%) Lost ALCS
NYY 1998 114-48 (.704%) 62-36 (.633%) Won WS
MIN 2006 96-66 (.593%) 61-54 (.530%) Lost ALDS
OAK 2015 68-94 (.420%) 54-90 (.403%) 5th in AL West, no playoffs.

First glance at the chart shows that beating bad teams was much easier to do in the early expansion years than any time recently. Out of our twenty-six team sample we have only three of those squads playing in the last twenty years, which is probably worth its own article (as a tease, here’s the list for teams since the Colorado/Florida expansion).

Out of the twenty-six teams represented on the table, fifteen made the postseason, which does not include Baltimore missing in the split 1981 season despite finishing 2nd overall in their division, and the ill-fated 1994 Expos (who did not reach the playoffs due to the strike). Nine of the playoff qualifiers made the World Series and seven won the championship. Even looking at the non-playoff teams, only three of those teams finished in the bottom half of their division. These are clearly good teams.

Taking out the three teams which finished under .500, which I’ll address in a moment, the lowest overall winning percentage was .525, which is an eighty-five win pace. That’s not a great team, but it is a group that likely remains competitive through September in our two wild card world.

There are three outliers on the chart: the 1962 Kansas City Athletics, 1964 Los Angeles Dodgers, and 2015 Oakland Athletics. The 1962 Athletics finished 9th in a ten team American League. That season the Washington Senators finished last in the AL, winning only 60 games. They were an easy foil for those Athletics.

The 1964 Dodgers went 26-10 against bad teams, namely the Houston Colt .45s and New York Mets, two teams in their third year of existence. In particular, those Mets were putrid, finishing with the 10th worst record of the expansion era. The Dodgers went 16-3 against that team, covering up their mediocre record against everyone else.

The 2015 A’s are the worst team record wise on the list, and they also played the fewest bad teams. This is likely because they themselves were a bad team. They were the worst team in the AL that season and likely wouldn’t make this list if they had a larger sample of games. Unfortunately, they couldn’t play themselves.

Notably every single team had a better record against bad teams than not bad teams. This shouldn’t be some sort of revelation, but fans sometimes lose perspective. A team can’t be great unless it beats bad teams. A team also can’t be really good unless they beat bad teams. These are the games that teams need to win. Not just any team can run up their record against the worst squads, otherwise the depths of the league would struggle to win forty games a season while we’d see multiple 100 win teams a year.

It’s not likely that the Brewers are going to be the best team ever against bad teams, but beating bad teams is generally indicative of a good to great team. These are banked wins and they shouldn’t be discounted or thrown away. A win over the Reds counts as much as one against the Cubs. There are no polls to win or degrees of difficulty awarded for tough opponents.

 


 

Coming up this week, the Brewers have Monday off, then Cleveland comes into town for two games before the Brewers travel to Colorado to play the Rockies. Both teams are at or above .500 so we’ll see how the team fares against what we’ll call “good” teams. Luckily for Milwaukee, they’ve drawn Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco, so there are no excuses if the team wins either of the games.


 

Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch, USA Today Sports Images

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