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Monday, February 18, 2013
Does top mark after Aug. 1 mean anything?

By David Schoenfield

@dschoenfield We saw the F offseason grade for the Orioles. They don't need anybody else they had the best record in baseball after August 1

— Ross Parker (@KP112) February 13, 2013
 

Ross may have disagreed with my report card on the Orioles, but his tweet raises a question: Does having the best record over the final two months mean anything for the following season? Now, years ago Bill James showed that teams that played better in the second half than the first half tend to improve the following season. But Ross was very specific in his data point, so let's check the teams with the best record since Aug. 1.

I went back to 1996 and came up with this handy-dandy little chart:



Overall, the teams declined an average of 3.8 wins; take out the 1997-98 Yankees and the average decline increases to 5.1 wins. All of this makes sense: This is mostly a list of good teams and any list of good teams will likely see a decline the following season. The good news for Orioles fans is that nine of the 17 teams still won 90-plus games the following year.

I also looked at all the teams with the second-best record in the majors from Aug. 1. I won't present the entire table, but this group of 18 teams declined an average of 7.9 wins the following season. Included on this list is the 2010 Twins, who fell from 94 wins to 63 wins (and thus skewing the average). Eight of the 18 teams on this list won 90-plus games the following season.

What does all this mean for the Orioles? O's fans argue that their Aug. 1 squad was much different from the first four months, mainly due to an improved rotation. Guys like Tommy Hunter and Brian Matusz had been replaced by Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman. Still, the O's were such a historical outlier with their all-time best record in one-run games that it's hard to compare them to historical trends.

I still say the Orioles will be hard-pressed to win 93 again, even with better starting pitching. And just because they played great from Aug. 1 on doesn't mean they shouldn't have been more ambitious in looking to improve the club in the offseason.