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The Rule of Thirds: Extended bad stretches have historically killed the Colorado Rockies

Another daring attempt at using only wins and losses to explain why the Rockies don't make the playoffs very often.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Fifty four games. It's 100 games less than what the length of a baseball season should be, but in the world we live in it's exactly one-third of a major league season.

I was left somewhat unsatisfied with what the data told me when I wrote my piece on half-season records last month, which was basically that the Rockies have been just about the as good (or bad) in the first half of the season as the second half of the season, and that the amount of winning halves almost exactly correlate to the amount of winning seasons. My hope was that I could find out more by breaking the season down into smaller pieces. Luckily, 162 is evenly divisible by three, so looking at thirds of a season seemed like a natural thing to do. (For 1994 and 1995, it just so happens that 117 and 144 are also both evenly divisible by three.)

So I crunched the numbers and wound up with this chart.

Let's dive into this. For starters, let's look at the highs and lows, beginning with the first third of the season.

The best winning percentage over the first third of any season came in 1995, when the Rockies went 27-21. This is somewhat deceptive though, because one-third of that season was only 48 games. Over the first 54 games, that team went 29-25, which is actually the third best mark in franchise history, behind the 1997 and 2000 teams which both went 30-24.

The takeaway here is that the Rockies have never really charged out of the gate for any extended period of time. The very best pace they've ever managed over the first third of a season would probably give them a wild card playoff spot if they kept it up for the whole year.

On the flipside, they've had some truly atrocious starts, headlined by the very first 54 games the franchise ever played, in which they went 16-38; a 114 loss pace. More recent failures to launch include going 18-36 in 2005, and the extremely disappointing 20-34 start in 2008.

Moving on to the middle third of the season...

The obvious winner here is 2009, in which the Rockies went 37-17, which makes for the best third of a season in team history. For anyone who thinks that the 2007 team only came on strong in September, their 31-23 mark in the middle part of the schedule would like a word.

As for the worst, the two least successful seasons in team history are tied in this regard, with both 2012 and 2014 reaching the basement level of 16-38. Man, those were some long summers. This year's very disappointing 21-33 mark, tied with 2002 and 1997 for fifth worst in franchise history, looks nearly competent in comparison.

And now the final third.

You may notice more black ink here than the previous two charts. Remarkably, the Rockies have played their final third of the season at .500 or better in half of their 22 seasons through 2014. Just like the second half records from my previous article, the best final third mark is a tie between 2007 and 2009, with 2007 getting the edge because of the extra game.

Another thing that jumped out to me was the fact that the all-time worst mark in this category - 2003's 19-35 - was the only time that the Rockies played at worse than a 100-loss pace in the final third of the season, compared to three times in the first third and four times in the second third.

Next up, trends!

One of the biggest things that stuck out to me when I did the half-season article was that the Rockies hadn't played a half of a season over .500 since the first half of 2010. Looking at things from an 54 game perspective revealed that things were a bit more complicated and not quite as bleak as that.

That 2010 team actually became the second team in Rockies history (and the only one in a 162 game season) to play all three thirds at or above .500. Their final third record was 27-27, despite losing 13 of their final 14 games.

The 2013 and 2014 "start fast and fade" Rockies teams both had identical, winning records of 28-26 after 54 games, despite both falling below .500 by midseason. Even this year's team was only four games under .500 at the 1/3 mark.

The next thing I noticed was that the Rockies have not had a winning second or final third since 2010. What's worse is that only once (the middle third of 2011) have they even played better than a 90-loss pace over that time. The franchise's worst 54 game start since the end of 2010 (24-30 in 2012) would be the second best 54 game split over the final two-thirds of the season during the same time period.

In short, since 2011 the Rockies have played like a 78-win team over the first third of the season, and a 65-win team the rest of the way. The worst has come in the middle of the season, where they've had a horrendous .378 winning percentage over the last five years, equivalent to a 61-101 team over an entire season.

These kinds of mid-season woes are nothing new for the franchise. From 1997 to 2006, they had a winning record between games 55 and 108 just once, in 2003 (which was followed by a late-season collapse.) The Rockies failed to make the playoffs in any of those campaigns. Then, from 2007-2010 they finished every season with a winning record during that middle stretch, making the playoffs twice in the process. The lesson here is pretty clear: if you want any hopes of sniffing October baseball, you have to do well in June and July.

Perhaps even more important than doing well in June and July is doing well in August and September, and the Rockies have actually done this a surprising amount, especially early in the team's history.

In their first nine seasons, the Rockies failed to have a winning final third only twice, in 1999 and the strike-shortened 1994. They even won 31 of their final 54 games in 1993 to give what seemed like a 110-loss team the best record ever for a National League expansion club.

The torrid 32-22 finish in 1997 wasn't enough to undo the damage of a miserable middle third, and the same was true of 2000's 29-25 mark. Both of those teams started and finished the season playing playoff caliber baseball, and were undone by the middle 54 games.

The '97 and 2000 clubs did manage to finish with winning records, and as I looked up and down the list I noticed a trend: no Rockies team has ever posted a winning record without playing the final 54 games at .500 or better.

A strong final third alone does not guarantee a winning record, not to mention a playoff appearance, but it seems to be impossible to get there without one. Consistency over the season doesn't seem to always be the key to success (ask 2010), and a strong start seems almost meaningless (2007 or 2009). With the Rockies, it's not how you start, it's how you finish.

The Rockies finished their final third in the black in 11 of their first 18 seasons, but they haven't done it since. Even so, their winning percentage over this part of the season is far higher historically than either the first two thirds at .487. That's equivalent to a 79 win team and almost 20 points higher than their overall .468 franchise winning percentage through the end of 2014.

In the first third of the season their winning percentage has been .463, and the middle third unsurprisingly brings up the rear at .456, a roughly 74-win pace.

Going forward, it seems like the key for the Rockies will be to figure out a way to win games in August and September without digging themselves in too deep of a hole over the summer for it to matter. Were they to equal their all-time best finish this year and go 33-21 over the final 54 games, they'd still finish the season at 79-83.

Unless the Rockies can avoid their June swoons and Sucktembers, we won't be seeing any more Rocktobers for a while.