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Archived Stat of the Week


Contender or Pretender? The Predictive Value of the First Ten Games of the Season

April 12, 2011

Much has been made of the slow starts of the Red Sox and Rays, each losing the first six games of the 2011 season. The Rays, who finished with the best record in the American League last year, were expected to contend despite heavy offseason losses but have limped to a 2-8 start. The Red Sox, after trading for slugger Adrian Gonzalez and signing outfielder Carl Crawford, were heavy favorites in AL East heading into Opening Day but have started the season 2-8. Are these slow starts reason to panic?

We looked at the first ten games of the season for every team since 2002, specifically focusing on teams that won 90 or more games on the season and/or made the playoffs.

Performance in First Ten Games (2002-10)
Wins in First 10 Teams Finished 90+ Wins Pct of Total Made Playoffs Pct of Total
0-3 39 1 3% 3 8%
4 62 13 21% 13 21%
5 69 18 26% 21 30%
6 59 19 32% 18 31%
7-10 41 19 46% 17 41%

It's clear from the chart that there is some correlation between a team's first 10 games and the rest of the season. Out of the 39 teams that won three or fewer of their first ten games, only the 2002 Angels finished the season with 90 or more wins. (After starting the season 3-7, that Angels team won 99 games and the World Series!) Two others (the 2006 Padres and the 2007 Phillies) managed to make the playoffs despite slow starts. Though it wouldn't be an unprecedented comeback, the Red Sox and Rays have a lot of work to do to catch up to preseason expectations.

On the flip side, the Rangers are off to a 9-1 start in their quest to defend their American League Pennant. Of the 41 teams in our sample who won at least seven of their first ten games, 17 (41 percent) have made the playoffs. They're far from a lock to make the playoffs at this point in the season, but they're off to a great start.