A lot of people who I follow on Twitter are very worried because the Tigers lost three games in the standings over the last week or so. MY hypothesis is that they have nothing to worry about. In addition to the Tigers have nearly as easy a schedule as the Indians and a better team I think history is on there side. I decided to look at similar leads over the last 10 years. Now ideally you would look when there were 18 games left. That occurs at a different time each season so instead I used September 10 as a proxy. It’s close, but not exact. Ideally you would use exactly the same lead, but that would limit your number of comparables too much. So I used leads between 4 and 8 games. The parenthetical will give the cumulative ‘record’ of these teams as far as winning their division in that year. I will bold teams that lost for emphasis.
In 2003 there were not any races in that range.
In 2004 The Braves were up 7 and the Dodgers were up 6. They both won their Division. (2-0)
In 2005 the Red Sox were up 4, the White Sox were up 6.5, the Braves were up 6, and the Padres were up 7. All ended in first place. The Red Sox ended up tied with the Yankees and the tie was not broken as under the 1 wild card format playing the extra game was deemed worse for a team than just having a lower seed in a 4-team tournament. (5-0-1)
In 2006 the Athletics were up 5.5 and the Cardinals were up 4.5. Most Tigers’ fans know that those teams advanced. (7-0-1)
In 2007 the Red Sox were up 5, the Indians were up 6, the Mets were up 6 and only the Mets managed to lose the lead. The Mets had 19 games to play on September 10. (9-1-1)
In 2008 only the Cubs met the standard with a 4.5 game lead and they won the division. The Mets did manage to lose a 3.5 game lead and finish 3 games back though. (10-1-1)
In 2009 I couldn’t find data on 2009 and have no recollection of the end of that season so let’s assume teams in our situation went 2-1. Let’s further speculate that the team that lost the lead was up 5.5 games on September 10 and was up 4.5 games with 18 to play. (12-2-1)
In 2010 the Twins, Rangers and Reds all held leads of between 4 and 8 games and all won their division. (16-2-1)
In 2011 the Brewers held a 6 game lead and finished with a 6 game lead. (17-2-1).
In 2012 the Nationals and Giants held leads of between 4 and 8 games and won their divisions. (19-2-1)
So, if you don’t believe log 5 or Baseball Prospectus projections; if you don’t want to make a binomial projection about wins; then trust history. Now if you are both a Tigers and a Mets fan I will grant you a little anxiety.