How will long wait affect Mets’ World Series chances?
We know the New York Mets dominated the Chicago Cubs in the National League Championship Series. the Cubs never held the lead; the Mets scored in the first inning in all four games; they were aggressive on the basepaths; their pitching was outstanding; Daniel Murphy homered, then homered again, then homered a few more times. We could list many more ways the Mets were historically successful in the NLCS. Let’s just say this instead: While the Cubs are set up for a very successful future, the Mets deserve to be in the World Series.
Because of the level of supremacy they showed against the Cubs, the Mets are enjoying a lengthy break between the NLCS and World Series: a five day lull, to be exact. That’s usually something that happens when one of the Championship Series results in a sweep, as the sweeping team has to wait around for the prescheduled first day of the World Series to start (which can be a lengthy interval). When Game One begins Tuesday, will that five days have mattered for the Mets?
Naturally, this is a topic that elicits differing viewpoints: one side might say the extra rest is beneficial for recharging tired arms and bodies, while the other side might say that rust accumulates with too much down time. Starting pitchers might get to rest elbows and shoulders that already have over 200 innings on them, but a hot-hitting team (as the Mets were in both the NLDS and NLCS) might cool off with an extended break leading up to the World Series. If you’ve watched or heard postseason baseball talking heads, you’ve almost surely witnessed both of these arguments being made.
That’s most likely because we have easily graspable examples that fit those narratives. There were the 2007 Colorado Rockies, who won 21 out of 22 games leading up to the World Series and were about as hot as any team has ever been over that number of games. Then they had an eight-day break before the Fall Classic: swept by the Boston Red Sox, they scored only 10 runs in four World Series games.
Fixating on those types of examples is easy to do: most of all, they’re memorable. But is what they tell us true? Do longer breaks between the LCS and World Series negatively or positively impact how teams perform? Let’s find out.
Using Baseball Reference’s playoff section, I’ve pulled all of the playoff series since 1969, the first year that baseball had League Championships (i.e. playoffs with four total teams). I then calculated how many days off each team that made it to the Fall Classic had between the Championship Series and the World Series. I then crunched some of the results in a number of ways.
First, let’s start by looking at how much rest teams usually get before the World Series, and how that has changed over time. Here’s a chart of how many days teams had off before the start of the Series for our time period:
Only one team since 1969 had no rest going from the Championship Series to the World Series (i.e. they played the final game of the LCS and the first game of the WS on back to back days): the 1981 Dodgers, who beat the Yankees four games to two.
Then there’s the other end of the spectrum, which we’ve already discussed: the eight day break the 2007 Rockies had. They’re the only team to have gone that long — in fact, they’re the only team since 1969 to have had a break longer than six days, as no other team has ever taken a week or more off between the League Championship Series and World Series.
As we can see, two days was the most common amount of time teams had off before playing for the championship. However, there has been a marked increase in the average number of days off over time. Take a look:
This trend can largely be explained by the way television and advertising operates in 2015 versus forty years ago, as the postseason has gotten stretched in the past two decades to maximize airtime and revenue.
Now that we’ve established how long teams usually take off before the World Series, let’s get to answering our main question: do teams cool off after a certain number of days off, and does it impact how often they win the World Series? For ease, I’ve taken the 1981 Dodgers and 2007 Rockies out of our sample. Here’s the percentage of teams who won the World Series grouped by how many days off they had beforehand:
Overall, there isn’t a huge trend that says more rest is either good or bad, and as we can imagine, there is a lot more than rest that goes into winning it all — which is surely the reason for some of the variability in our chart. If we were to draw a conclusion based on this limited sample, we could say more rest is better. However, there is a deeper level that we can go into, and that’s the role that rest plays in World Series that go to six or seven games.
I’ve narrowed our sample down to only World Series that went to at least six games. Take a look:
We can see something here: a lower rate of titles for teams on short rest in long series and a higher rate of titles for well-rested teams. The samples are small, so this very well could be noise, but teams that had five or more days of rest won long series five out of seven times. Conversely, teams with between one to four days of rest won 20 out of 44 series. That intuitively makes sense; more rest should theoretically set a team up to perform better for longer. We just need many more years of baseball to draw on to help validate that idea.
In short, there’s no striking evidence to tell us that longer breaks before the World Series damage team’s prospects of winning a championship. We have one extreme example with the 2007 Rockies, but that was a situation that baseball will be doing its best to avoid in the future. In fact, from the data we have, we see that a high number of days off before the series has led to a higher winning percentage during the Fall Classic, especially during series that go to six or seven games.
Obviously we are looking at only about forty World Series, so this isn’t the greatest amount of data. However, the idea that longer breaks might lead to teams cooling off isn’t apparent in what we’ve seen. There are plenty of influences that can ruin great runs in the playoffs: great pitching, timely hitting, a lights-out bullpen. A few more days off before the World Series doesn’t seem to be one of them.