Play Index: Roy Halladay and the Cardinals edition

Roy Halladay died way too young in a plane crash on Tuesday. This is the worst sort of news, and the entire baseball world just felt numb yesterday. There have already been plenty of wonderful tweets and columns on his career and untimely passing that hit the mark way better than I could  so that’s not what I’m going to do here today. Plus, I’m not qualified to do that. I missed most of Halladay’s brilliance, since the bulk of his career was spent with Toronto in the American League.

My limited exposure to Halladay occurred when he was in a Phillies uniform the last few seasons of his career and pitching against the Cardinals, and all I can say is that he was terrifying. Without doing a deep numbers dive, I was more afraid of him in 2010 and 2011 than I have been of Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, or any other recent pitcher you want to name. He felt invincible. That the Cardinals beat him in Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS, on the strength of Rafael Furcal and Skip Schumaker, no less, still doesn’t quite seem possible.

It seems unfair to Halladay that many on the Cardinals side of the aisle first conjure up Game 5 when thinking of his legacy since it was a game that he lost, but when something like this happens it’s only natural to reach into one’s own memory bank and that was one of the most thrilling nine innings of baseball most of us have ever seen. I recommend visiting Viva El Birdos if you want to read some great pieces on that game. And, it’s not at all an insult because what helped make that game so special was Halladay’s obvious dominance.

He pitched eight strong innings, struck out seven, walked only one batter (and it was an intentional pass to Albert Pujols – who had a career .461 OPS against Halladay), and allowed just a single run. That run, of course, turned out to be enough for the Cardinals, and Halladay got the “loss” as a result of baseball’s unfair and sometimes antiquated ways.

But take a look at that pitching line again. From Baseball Reference’s Play Index, here’s how many times the Cardinals have won a regular season 9-inning game (dating back to 1913) when the opposing pitcher matched or topped that line and took the loss:

Screen Shot 2017-11-08 at 3.55.47 PM

Over 100 years of data and that’s the entire list. And, no shock, if you want to limit the search to just the postseason then this is all that you will find:

Screen Shot 2017-11-08 at 3.56.33 PM

Game 5 was a true gem. And let’s be clear: the Cardinals didn’t really beat Roy Halladay that night. They just got lucky that Chris Carpenter was pitching, too. Rest in peace, Doc, you were one of the best.

Credit to Baseball Reference’s Play Index for most of the stats in this post. Subscribe to the Play Index here

 

Updated MLB franchise rankings in the wild card era

Last June I devised my own simple formula at Viva El Birdos to rank all 30 MLB franchises in the wild card era. To explain, here’s the pertinent text from that post:

From 1995 to 2016, each team gets:

  • +1 point for every regular season game won;
  • +15 points for every division title;
  • -10 points for every last place finish;
  • +2 points for every playoff game won;
  • +20 points for a Pennant; and
  • +50 points for a World Series title.

Now, a couple of things before we get to the numbers. First, the Diamondbacks and Raysdidn’t join the league until 1998. I averaged their win total by season from 1998-2016 to fill in the blanks for 1996 and 1997, and pro-rated that average win total to fit the 1995 144-game strike-shortened schedule. But they’re at a disadvantage because those are three seasons in which they didn’t have the opportunity to accrue points by playoff wins, pennants, etc. On the other hand, they would have been expansion clubs so if anything this just saved them from being docked 10 points a couple of times because of possible last place finishes.

Second, I awarded the Cardinals a division title in 2001 as well as the Red Sox in 2005, even though they were technically the wild card but finished with the same respective record as the division winning Astros and Yankees. In similar fashion, the Rockies and Diamondbacks were both docked 10 points for finishing with the same last place record in the NL West in 2006, and same with the Royals and Indians in 2009. And no points were awarded for winning the wild card. Those teams are left with the points from what should be a decent amount of regular season wins and whatever they were able to accomplish in the postseason (i.e., the 1997 and 2003 Marlins). As you’re going to see, that hurt teams like the Pirates but I didn’t see the need to award a team who neither won the division nor went far in the playoffs.

With all that taken into consideration, here’s how the 30 teams ranked by points:

  1. Yankees – 2,854
  2. Cardinals – 2,418
  3. Braves – 2,352
  4. Red Sox – 2,297
  5. Giants – 2,233
  6. Indians – 2,116
  7. Angels – 2,059 (tie)
  8. Dodgers – 2,059 (tie)
  9. Rangers – 1,947
  10. Phillies – 1,935
  11. White Sox – 1,916
  12. Mets – 1,892
  13. Athletics – 1,891
  14. Diamondbacks – 1,850
  15. Cubs – 1,839
  16. Astros – 1,837
  17. Marlins – 1,802
  18. Mariners – 1,774
  19. Reds – 1,766
  20. Blue Jays – 1,756
  21. Tigers – 1,752
  22. Padres – 1,736
  23. Twins – 1,731
  24. Orioles – 1,711
  25. Brewers – 1,662
  26. Nationals/Expos – 1,658
  27. Royals – 1,640
  28. Rockies – 1,632
  29. Rays – 1,613
  30. Pirates – 1,520

Since the 2017 season concluded about 32 hours ago, I thought it worthwhile to update the rankings, and here they are as sorted by the total points in the last box (I apologize for the crowded text):

1995-2017

Team Regular Season Wins Division Titles Last Place Finishes Total Playoff Games Won Pennants World Series Titles Total Points
1. Yankees

2,162

13

0

106

7

5

2,959

2. Cardinals

2,014

11

0

71

4

2

2,501

3. Braves

2,044

12

1

50

3

1

2,424

4. Red Sox

2,035

6

3

51

3

3

2,407

5. Giants

1,926

5

4

48

4

3

2,287

6. Indians

1,958

9

1

47

3

0

2,237

7. Dodgers

1,999

9

0

32

1

0

2,218

8. Angels

1,957

6

2

21

1

1

2,139

9. Astros

1,852

5

3

29

2

1

2,045

10. Rangers

1,898

7

6

21

2

0

2,025

11. Phillies

1,832

5

6

27

2

1

1,991

12. White Sox

1,854

3

1

12

1

1

1,983

13. Mets

1,858

2

2

27

2

0

1,962

14. Athletics

1,896

6

7

15

0

0

1,956

15. Cubs

1,819

5

6

25

1

1

1,954

16. Diamondbakcs

1,824

5

6

18

1

1

1,945

17. Marlins

1,755

0

6

22

2

2

1,879

18. Mariners

1,847

3

7

15

0

0

1,852

19. Blue Jays

1,837

1

4

10

0

0

1,832

20. Reds

1,799

3

3

5

0

0

1,824

21. Twins

1,784

6

7

6

0

0

1,816

22. Padres

1,781

4

7

8

1

0

1,807

23. Tigers

1,726

4

7

25

2

0

1,806

24. Orioles

1,766

2

5

15

0

0

1,776

25. Nationals/Expos

1,780

4

8

7

0

0

1,774

26. Brewers

1,751

1

3

6

0

0

1,748

27. Royals

1,661

1

9

22

2

1

1,720

28. Rockies

1,751

0

7

9

1

0

1,719

29. Rays

1,717

2

10

13

1

0

1,693

30. Pirates

1,679

0

9

3

0

0

1,595

There really isn’t much change at the top but the Astros jumped from number 16 to the ninth spot, with 208 total points alone as a result of their just-completed World Series season and knocked the Phillies out of the top-10. The Yankees, Cardinals, and Dodgers remain the only three franchises to not have a last-place finish in the Wild Card era, a feat that shouldn’t go unnoticed by Cardinals fans even if the team did just finish with their lowest win total since 2007. And the Marlins, Rockies, and Pirates are still searching for their first division title during this span. I’m no Dan Szymborski but given the current divisional landscape I suspect that will still be the case exactly a year from now.

By this formula the Cardinals can still claim the title of the second best franchise in MLB since the wild cards were introduced. Barring something unforeseen, the only thing that could dislodge them from that spot after next year would be another Red Sox World Series title (I feel comfortable saying that the Braves are not yet a credible threat on that front next season). If you’re one of the few who cares about these things then take comfort in that, and ideally the Cardinals will add to their point total next season with more than just regular season wins.

The Cardinals and Game 7

Heading into tonight’s Game 7 of the 2017 World Series between the Dodgers and the Astros, I share the sentiment that I have seen expressed elsewhere that watching games like Game 2 or Game 5 of this series is a delight when there are no rooting interests at stake and absolutely terrifying when there are. So I can only imagine what Dodgers and Astros fans are feeling right now. And if tonight’s game turns out to be a nail-biter then Godspeed to all of them.

The rubber match of a three game series in May can tie my stomach in knots. A Game 7 to decide the entire season is another level of indescribable agony. One game to see if a new flag will fly. One game to see if an off-season of enormous goodwill awaits or if I’ll be sorting through various what-if scenarios in my head for a lifetime.

When I was eight the Cardinals went seven with the Minnesota Twins in the 1987 World Series. In almost every way imaginable the Cardinals were the superior club. The Twins even had a negative run differential for the regular season, which should rank right up there for absurdities with an 83-win team winning the World Series. But the Cardinals were banged up, and the Twins had the homefield – the Metrodome and their dreaded white roof, which felt like some level of cheating at the time.

Or maybe that was my impression based on how inept the Cardinals looked on the road in that series. Heading into Game 7 in Minnesota, the home team had won every game, which at the time was a first, and the Cardinals had been outscored at the Metrodome by 19 runs in Games 1, 2, and 6. Suffice to say, the feeling heading into Game 7 was never good. Cruelly, I was forced to go to bed before it was over with the score tied 2-2. Worse, my parents woke me up a few hours later and told me that the Cardinals lost 4-2.

The next morning I convinced myself maybe that didn’t actually happen. Maybe the Cardinals won? Maybe my favorite team had won the World Series? Nope. For the second time in just a few hours I had to be told that the Cardinals, in fact, lost the World Series. It was the first time I cried about sports.

That was not the first or last disappointing Game 7 of my lifetime. Oddly, looking back, it feels like one of the better ones. Coming off the Denkinger game in 1985, the Cardinals turned in perhaps the worst Game 7 performance that baseball has seen in the World Series and lost 11-0. And they had blown a 3-1 series lead. The Cardinals also blew a 3-1 lead in the 1996 NLCS and lost 15-0 to the Braves in Game 7. And another 3-1 lead in the 2012 NLCS to the Giants, only this time they lost 9-0 in the decisive game. Three 3-1 leads blown and then outscored by a football score of 35-0 in the three Game 7s. That doesn’t even seem possible.

That is why Game 7s make me anxious. I don’t want anything to do with them. And yet, the Cardinals actually have an exemplary record in World Series Game 7s, both recently and historically.

Of their 19 trips to the World Series, 11 have gone the distance and they have won 8 of them, more than any other team. Maybe it’s time to stop being so torn up about all those Game 7 misses from years ago.

On another note, everyone enjoy the game and unless you’re a Dodgers or Astros fan, rest easy knowing you can watch tonight in peace. And if you are a Dodgers or Astros fan, just try to survive.