Even with only one month of baseball in the books, it’s never too early to start trying to guess the division winners.
Does being in first place on May 1 guarantee an October finish atop the division, too?
Baseball began crowning six division champions in 1995, but that season started in late April, so the first full season of the current division format came in 1996.
Teams in First Place on May 1
That Went on to Win Division
Since 1996, there have been 102 division champions, and 53 of them were in first place on May 1. That’s only 51 percent -- barely half the teams -- which hardly guarantees a division title at the end of the season.
Last year, of the six division leaders on May 1, only the Washington Nationals went on to win the division. The other division leaders were the Tampa Bay Rays (finished third), Cleveland Indians (finished fourth), Texas Rangers (finished second), St. Louis Cardinals (finished second) and Los Angeles Dodgers (finished second).
It was the third time in this 17-season sample that only one division winner was on first place on May 1. It also happened in 2001 and 2002. There still hasn’t been a season yet in this era in which each division winner was different from the May 1 leader.
Looking further into the numbers, the likelihood of being in first place on May 1 and at the end of the season have been even lower this millennium.
Since 2001, only 30 of 72 (42 percent) eventual division champs were in first place on May 1. During this time period, the only year in which five of the six division winners were also atop the standings on May 1 was in 2003.
And the disparity has been even greater in the past four seasons (2009-12) when only one-third of the end-of-season division winners (8 of 24) were in first place entering May.
Compare that to the first five full seasons of the new format (from 1996 to 2000) in which 23 of 30 teams (77 percent) that won the division were also in front on May 1.
In three of those five seasons, five of the six division champs at the end of the season were also leading on May 1, and no fewer than four division winners in each season led at the start of May, too.