Meaningless graphs to commemorate a pretty meaningless regular season



The 2020 regular season ended yesterday and today is the last baseball-free day until the World Series is wrapped up and we can finally put 2020 (with regard to baseball, at least) in our rearview. Not to put to obvious of a point on it, but it was a weird season. I'm actually surprised it went as smoothly as it did (and remember, this is written by a fan of the team who had to sit idle for two-and-a-half weeks). I'm surprised that I was able to enjoy a few games and briefly forget every single abnormality that hovered over the game itself. And I'm surprised the season even existed in the first place. But it happened. Each team played at least 58 more games than I would have anticipated in the early summer, and it all counted. There were division champs and everything.


That the regular season came to an end after an amount of games when we would usually still be wondering what the hell is even going on with various teams, players, stats, whatever, means nothing from a Flags Fly Forever standpoint, so it is time to update a few league-wide trends that I've been tracking over the last few years.


Consecutive Seasons Above .500


The St. Louis Cardinals are no longer the toast of MLB, the National League, or arguably even the NL Central. They have not been a particularly great offensive team in a long time. They have survived mostly in the Mike Shildt-era on solid pitching and great defense, which, as Joe Sheehan noted in a recent newsletter, can certainly be enough, especially with a bloated playoff format. And that is all fine, but I certainly do miss the days when they trotted out a club that was a threat to lead the league in runs and/or win 100 games.


That said, there is one thing the Cardinals do better than almost anyone and that is putting together a squad that will win more games than they lose. This feature is meant to be appreciated during the long slog of a 162-game schedule rather than a farcical 60 games because 162 games is a lot, six months is a long time, and staying with a team wire-to-wire is much more doable when waking up to agreeable highlights on Quick Pitch more often than not. But I was concerned when it became evident that the season was actually going to happen, that this could be the year that the Cardinals stumble out of the gate and then I have to stare at a .483 winning percentage on Baseball Reference for years to come.


Thankfully, that did not happen. The Cardinals finished 30-28. Sure, had they had to make up their final two games with Detroit they could have lost both and failed to finish with what amounts to a winning season, but since it was Detroit, I feel fine believing, if anything, they were cheated out of a 32-28 record. Whatever? Whatever.


Here's how all 30 teams stack up in MLB with regard to consecutive seasons above. 500.


*y axis = seasons above .500

If it is hard to read, the Cardinals have now finished above .500 for 13 straight seasons (and 20 of 21), second only to the Yankees, who are running laps around the field as they are wont to do. Maybe this is not the biggest deal. We did not celebrate the 2017 team's 83-79 record. But I would note that currently only eight teams have finished above .500 for more than two straight seasons. It is not as easy as it sounds in this day and age. That the Cardinals have not finished at or below .500 since 2007 seems worth celebrating, especially since I did not really care all that much about 2007 because I was still basking in the glow of 2006.


Also of note: The Phillies have the longest streak without a winning record, nine straight seasons, or, if you want to be a jerk about it, every year since their dream season ended with Ryan Howard in a crumpled heap somewhere along the first base line.


Consecutive Seasons Without a Last Place Finish


Watching your baseball team finish in last is a terrible thing. A (usually) six-month investment with zero return. I do not remember but I assume that is how I felt about it in 1990 when I was in Ms. Mara's 5th Grade class and the Cardinals finished last in the old NL East. Anyway, I'm now in my 40s and look at this.


*y axis = years without a last place finish

2020 marked 30-straight seasons without a last place finish, which is tied for best in MLB with the Yankees. And because it was the dreaded Pirates who finished last this year in the NL Central, it also marked 21-straight years with the Cardinals finishing ahead of that team in the standings. If you can find a better, ongoing stat in sports I would like to see it. (Note: The Nationals and Mets finished this year tied for last in the NL East. The Nats had the better head-to-head record, but I am labeling them both last place clubs.)


NL Central: 1994-2020


With regard to what I just wrote about the Cardinals finishing ahead of the Pirates, here it is in ugly, hard-to-discern graph form. Let me note that when I first started this regrettable graph a few seasons ago, I did not have a 60-game season in mind and I do not feel like doing the legwork to change it all to wining percentage for a smoother appearance, so just laugh at it for what it is. And notice that it has been a very long time since the yellow dot landed above the red dot.


*y axis = wins

That is all for the 2020 regular season. It did not conclusively tell us a whole heck of a lot other than that the Dodgers are very good and that the Pirates are very bad. That is about all I know for sure. I do not want to ever experience a season like this again, both on and off the field, but I am going to enjoy the postseason and cross my fingers that this will be the last time we will have to tolerate 16 teams.


Once it is all over, I will update the franchise power rankings dating back to 1995. Until then, go Cardinals.