Toward A Better Or At Least Different Way Of Determining “Record Vs. Winning Teams”

I have decided that the >.500 column on the official MLB standings page, which displays each team’s record against opponents with a winning record, is fraudulent. This is in the spirit of intellectual rigor, and not because oversimplified record-keeping states that my Philadelphia Phillies, despite having an MLB-leading 31-13 record, have only played three of their 44 games against teams above .500 and gone 1-2 in those games, which would imply that it is in fact the Phillies who are fraudulent.

But MLB determines a team’s >.500 record by taking their opponents’ current record, irrespective of what that record was when they played each other. That is to say that if a team—like, say, the Phillies—played a four-game series against a team who had a winning record at the time but then went on to lose 13 of their next 17 games—like, say, the Cincinnati Reds—that four-game series would not count toward the team’s >.500 record. Thus, according to MLB, through games of May 15, 2024, the only winning opponent that the Phillies have faced is the Atlanta Braves.

There are two ways to approach this methodology. The first is to understand the reasonable justification behind it and react accordingly. Just like a relief pitcher who might have a 0.00 ERA over one or two appearances, a team isn’t actually good just because it got off to a hot start. In fact, a team can briefly win too hard under this system. Say a team opens a three-game series against a 12-10 team. If they were to sweep the series, the opponent would fall to a 12-13 record, and no longer factor into the team’s >.500 win percentage. But if the team were to win the series 2-1, the opponent would stand at 13-12 record, and the first team’s >.500 win percentage would improve.

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The >.500 column will always be wonky in the first half of a season thanks to imbalanced schedules and sample size; later in the season, it will become more informative. Until then, the >.500 column is a philosophical concern. It’s true that after 44 games a team’s record would be inflated if only three of those games were played against winning opponents, but racking up wins against bad teams is also just what good teams do. If a team (again, say, the Phillies) is holding early-season opponents to a .295 winning percentage, effectively turning every opponent into the current worst team in baseball (the Miami Marlins), it’s nothing to get defensive about.

The second approach is to get defensive anyway, label MLB’s official >.500 methodology as incorrect, and use an entirely different way to determine it. Rather than looking at former opponents’ current record, this new methodology looks at each opponent’s record when they played to determine a team’s True >.500 Win Percentage. This more intuitively factors in running into a “hot team” earlier on in the season. Without further ado, here is every team’s True >.500 Win Percentage:

Data: Baseball-Reference via PyBaseball

I know what you’re thinking: Doesn’t this methodology have some pretty extreme sample-size issues in the early game of the season, when a team would count as having a winning record even if they are just 1-0? To which I say: Hey, look, every single statistical evaluation has drawbacks, OK? In this scenario, it is the Dodgers who have played the fewest number of games against opponents who were then above .500, with 10, while the Phillies have played the fourth-fewest, with 13. Philadelphia is 6-7 under this system, which is admittedly not an incredible record, but accounts for them playing, uh, the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates.

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If I could direct your attention elsewhere! This methodology finally allows us to reward teams based on an entirely new statistic, called a knockdown. A knockdown happens when a team faces an opponent with a winning record and knocks them down to exactly .500, which would hurt a team under MLB’s accounting. Here are the current top teams in MLB by the number of times they have knocked an opponent down:

Top Teams By Knockdown:
1. Cleveland Guardians – 5
2. Boston Red Sox, Seattle Mariners – 4
3. Milwaukee Brewers, Tampa Bay Rays, Colorado Rockies, Houston Astros – 3

I’ve been saying that the Guardians, Red Sox, Mariners, Brewers, Rays, Rockies, and Astros were the seven most gritty and high-performing teams in baseball this year. Do the Phillies have a knockdown yet this season? Don’t concern yourself with such trivial matters.

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