Baseball Hot and Cold Starts
- Updated: May 3, 2016
by Jim Feist
More than any other sport, baseball is a game of patience. It’s not how you start, but where you finish, and with a 162-game regular season, there is a LOT of baseball left. Did your team get off to a bad start? Well don’t panic. There is plenty of time to make adjustments and turn things around. Did your team get off to a hot start? Don’t start making World Series reservations just yet.
The Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals did something they were expected to do last season but couldn’t – get off to a hot start. Great, but a year ago the first week of May the Yankees were in first place in the AL East while the Toronto Blue Jays were in last place. By the time the 2015 regular season ended the Blue Jays had won the division and the Yankees were missing the postseason.
Two years ago this week Kansas City was 14-17 and going nowhere in the American League. Fast forward to October and the amazing Royals were hosting Game 7 of the World Series. Last season in May they were neck-and-neck with the Tigers but ended up winning the whole thing. In June of 2014 the San Francisco Giants had a miserable 5-18 skid, certainly not looking like the champs they would become in October.
Three summers ago Boston had a major makeover from a last place finish and won the World Series. But hot starts don’t guarantee anything. Two years ago this week the Milwaukee Brewers were 22-11, distancing itself from the pack in the NL Central. But when the season ended, there they were in third place with an 82-80 mark. Three years ago in June the Dodgers were sitting in last place with a 29-38 record, looking up at four other teams. By the time October rolled around they were in first place, 11-game ahead of Arizona!
The Giants have won three of the last six World Series but four years ago they were just a .500 team, trailing the Dodgers the first week of May in 2012. Of course, you don’t want to get off to the kind of start the Twins and Braves have had this season. If fans of those teams are looking for hope, they can look at the 2003 Florida Marlins, who started 19-29 and ended up winning the World Series. In 2002, the Angels started 6-14 and wound up winning their only World Series.
Look at it another way: two years ago the only NL division leader at this time that went on to win the division was Washington. And in the AL the Angels ended up passing Oakland by 10 games. Three years ago Texas and Arizona were leading in both West divisions in May, but ended up losing out the division titles to Oakland and the Dodgers.
So don’t panic if your team is stumbling and don’t start thinking about printing playoff tickets if your team started 18-7. Some of the early season disappointments have been the Mets, Rays, Astros, Pirates and Diamondbacks. But remember that a few years ago the Phillies started 1-7 and ended up as NL East champs, while the eventual NL Champion Rockies were 10-16, last place in the NL West at the end of April, and 45-46 at the All Star break.
Oakland GM Billy Beane once said you spend the first third of the season seeing what you have and evaluating your team. The middle third trying to acquire pieces to fill weak spots, and the final third sitting back and watching the team make a run at the postseason — or not. We are in the first third of the season and there’s a long way to go. General Managers are in the process of evaluating what they have.
In the same way GMs need patience when analyzing baseball, so do handicappers. Surprises will emerge over a long season and offer smart bettors good value for their wagering dollar, even with individual players. Pitchers are more susceptible to injuries than any other professional athletes and remember that betting numbers are made based on current and past performance. It can take a while before oddsmakers catch on to a struggling or injured pitcher.
A few years ago the Royals started 17-4, the Mariners started 40-18 and the Diamondbacks were 52-42 at the All Star break. None made the playoffs. Those examples give hope to those teams that are off to struggling starts and should provide caution to teams that are in first place. After all, it’s only May!