Monday Rockpile: Anarchy In The West

Doug Pensinger

Change remains the only constant in the most unstable division in all of sports

For quite some time now, the N.L. West has had a very odd distinction to it - There is no alpha dog. Actually that's not quite right. The division has seen several alpha dogs, only to watch each one of them disappear almost as quickly as they arrived on the scene. The chart below monitoring the fates of the last ten teams to win 90 or more games in the division illustrates this perfectly. All of these squads (sans the 2010 Padres) went to the postseason, but so far none of them have been able to get back there the following season - And in fact, none of them have been particularly close, all losing a minimum of six more games the following season.

The 2013 Giants will have a chance to change this pattern, but history is working against them here, and if Heltonfan's projection system is anywhere close to being right, they will fit right in with the other nine teams on this list.

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This inability of ANY of the 90+ win teams in a divsion to maintain longterm success is very unusual, and you don't have to look any further than the recent standings of other divisions see this fact.

In the A.L. East, you have the Yankees who have won 90 or more games in 11 of the last 12 seasons but also the Rays who have now won 90 or more games three seasons in a row.

The N.L. East underwent a change at the top this season with Washington winning its first ever division title but before that you had the Phillies winning taking the crown for five straight seasons - All of which included win totals of at least 89 games.

The central divisions come closer in terms of parity but even there you can still find a Minnesota team in the A.L. that won the division six out of nine times between 2002 and 2010 and a St. Louis team in the N.L. that has been to the postseason in nine of the last twelve seasons.

Meanwhile the A.L. West gives us a mixed bag. While it has come close to matching the long term chaos of the N.L. West in recent years with three different divsion winners in the last four seasons (all of who won at least 90 games), the Angels dominanted the throne before that when they won 92 games and five division titles in the six seasons between 2004 and 2009.

By itself, this strange disappearing act of seemingly good teams makes the N.L. West interesting, but things only get more bizarre when you look at the cellar of this division. In the next chart, we see the opposite extreme - The last ten teams to win fewer than 70 games in the N.L. West.

With the exception of 2002 Padres and the 2004 Rockies (both of who were no more than three years away from a postseason birth anyway) all of these teams (so far anyway) have improved their win totals by at least nine games the following season. Three of them even won the division with 90 or more victories.

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Again, these numbers are far from normal. Every other division in baseball has had at least one team suffer through several seasons hardship over the last decade.

In the A.L. East, it was the Orioles. Before their magical 2012 run, the Baltimore fanbase had to endure 14 straight losing seasons - Including five consecutive in which the team failed to win 70 games from 2007 through 2011

In the N.L. East, it was the other beltway team. From 2006 through 2010, the Nationals failed to win more than 73 games each year, including win totals that reached just 59 games in both 2008 and 2009.

The central divisions have the easiest hardships to spot. In the A.L., you have the Royals who have failed to win more than 75 games for nine consecutive seasons while in the N.L. you have the Pirates who have had 20 straight losing season.

Finally you have the A.L. West where futility is a little harder to spot - But even here you have the Mariners who have finished last in seven of the last nine seasons while failing to reach 70 wins in five of those campaigns.

So once again, the N.L. West proves itself to be the most fickle - Just as it did when it came to the teams at the top of the division.

Perhaps the wildest numbers of all though when it comes to the rapid shifts in N.L. West power sit at the bottom of the third columns in these graphs. It's one thing for division winners to fall back and for cellar dwellers to rise up, but if you take the last nine teams to win 90 more games in the N.L. West and compare their follow up seasons with the follow up seasons of the last nine teams in the N.L. West to win fewer than 70 games, you find something truly remarkable. The teams who have failed to win 70 games in a season actually have a slightly higher average win total the following season than the teams who have won 90 or more games the year before.

Yes, change seems to be the only constant in this division - And after 2012, I fully embrace it!!!

LINKS

There's not much Rockies news today as the Thankgiving weekend doldrums continue, but there is huge news out of Tampa this morning as the Rays have agreed to a six year $100 million contract extension with Even Longoria that will keep him with the team through 2022.

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