Can April Showers Bring Ocotber Flowers?

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The 2013 season is nigh and despite the excitement from the fan base, there is still growing concern about their bullpen and the back end of their rotation. Local media and fans have speculated throughout the spring as to what the club will do about these two weaknesses and so far the answer has been simple….nothing. The narrative has been consistent throughout that the Rangers will rely on in-house options while they await the return of Colby Lewis, Joakim Soria, Kyle McClellan, and Martin Perez from injury sometime during the first half of the season. The question most Rangers fans are asking is can they survive the first two months with what they have in place right now and still be a World Series contender? Can Nick Tepesch fill that coveted fifth spot in the rotation? Is the Ross to Frasor to Nathan combination strong enough to keep this club afloat until help arrives? The answers to these questions will unfold as these season begins next Sunday night, but in the meantime I wanted to look at how previous World Series champions began their seasons and examine whether or not the old cliché, “You can’t win pennants in April and May, but you sure can lose them” holds true or if that myth can be debunked.
I realize there are scores of great teams who didn’t win the big one, but because I have a full-time job and three children, I was unable to devote a week to that kind of research. When deciding on which teams to use as my sample for this thesis, I wanted to focus on teams who ended up having great seasons and see how their starts compare and if there are any consistent patterns throughout their seasons and if we can expect something similar from the Rangers in 2013. The task of gathering data for all “great” teams became more cumbersome than I originally thought, so I decided to focus on the WS winners since 2000. It was an easier sample to research and since us Rangers fans have been so close recently, why not set the bar at nothing but the best?

How well a team begins the season is often forgotten when August or September rolls around, but getting off to a great start will prove to be invaluable in winning it all. Since the 2000 New York Yankees won the World Series only one champion has had a losing record in April. That belonged to the 2002 Anaheim Angels who were 11-13 when April concluded. They went on to have a great May (19-7), but never led the division until September 15th which they quickly lost four days later and ended up winning the Wild Card berth despite winning 99 games. The 2003 Florida Marlins are the only WS champion to have a losing record in the month of May. They were 12-16 in May and were an even .500 in April for a combined two month start to the season of 26-30. They are the only team amongst this group to have a losing record after both April and May. These Marlins or course went on to win the Wild Card and the World Series, despite never leading their division the entire season. Since 2000, the average wins in April for the WS champs stands at 14. The 2006 Cardinals and the 2005 White Sox are tied with the most wins in the month with 17. The aforementioned Angels in 2002 hold the lowest win total with 11 with the 2009 Yankees and the 2012 Giants with only 12 wins in the opening month.

The month of May is a completely different story. Teams that are of championship caliber begin to flex their muscles a little bit in May with the average number of wins at 16. The 2007 Boston Red Sox hold the record for most wins in May with 20 during their dominant 96 win season. The 2000 Yankees were an even 13-13 in May to hold the lowest number of wins for that month since 2000. The 2009 Yankees have had the most wins since 2000 among this group and their record after the first two months of the season was a very modest 29-21. They didn’t get hot until the temperatures got warmer, but did just enough early on in the season to stay in the hunt. They were 0.5 games out of first place at the end of May, but ended up winning the division by 8 games. Below you can see the records for each team during the first two months of the season along with their combined records for the two months as well.

WS Winner
SFG
STL
SFG
NYY
PHI
BOS
STL
CHWS
BOS
FLA
ANA
ARI
NYY
Year
2012
2011
2010
2009
2008
2007
2006
2005
2004
2003
2002
2001
2000
April Record
12-10
16-11
13-9
12-10
15-13
16-8
17-8
17-7
15-6
14-14
11-13
13-12
15-8
May Record
15-14
17-12
14-14
17-11
17-12
20-8
17-11
18-10
16-14
12-16
19-7
18-10
13-13
Combined
27-24
33-23
27-23
29-21
32-25
36-16
34-19
35-17
31-20
26-30
30-20
31-22
28-21
Of the 13 teams used in this study, only 7 were tied or leading their division at the end of the month of April. That number stayed the same in May with only the 2007 Red Sox establishing a significant lead by the end of the first two months (10.5).

The 2010 and 2011 Texas Rangers were one of the best teams in the American League for those respective seasons, but how did they start? The table below shows their record in April and May for both of the ’10 and ’11 seasons.

Texas Rangers
2010
2011
April Record
11-12
16-11
May Record
15-12
13-15
Combined
26-24
29-26
Much like the other teams used in this article these two seasons did not get off to a great start, but luckily they avoided a horrendous start to the season.

The most important thing we can learn from disaggregating all of this data is that getting off to a GREAT start isn’t necessary if you want to contend in September or October. But, there needs to be a steady upswing above .500 as May ends. Several teams on this list hovered around the .500 mark throughout the first two months, but all of them (except for the ’03 Marlins) were above .500 by the end of May.  But, what else did these teams do that helped get them in the post-season?  Of the past 13 World Series champions, no team had a sub .500 first half to the season. The only team during this span to have a losing record in either half of the season was the 2006 Cardinals who went 35-39 in the second half of the 2006 season. Establishing this consistency appears to be one of the keys for winning the big one, but what about starting or finishing the season hot or cold? The average number of wins in the first half for these teams stands at an even 50 with the average for second half wins at 44. In fact, only three teams on this list had a better second half than first half with last year’s San Francisco Giants being the most recent. They were 46-40 in the first half, but 48-28 in the second. The 103 win 2009 Yankees and the 2004 Boston Red Sox were the other two teams with this dubious distinction.  Below you can see how each team did in the respective halves of the season:

Team
SF Giants
STL Cards
SF Giants
NY Yanks
PHI
BOS
STL Cards
White Sox
BOS
Marlins
Angels
ARI
Yanks

Average # of wins
Year
2012
2011
2010
2009
2008
2007
2006
2005
2004
2003
2002
2001
2000
First Half
46-40
49-41
47-41
51-37
52-44
53-34
48-39
57-29
48-38
49-46
51-35
51-36
45-38

49.5
Second Half
48-28
41-29
45-29
52-22
40-26
43-32
35-39
42-34
50-26
42-25
48-28
41-34
42-36

43.7
Maybe the most important discovery is the fact that only three teams had their best months during April or May. The 2007 Red Sox were 20-8 in May and the 2007 Cardinals best month came in April at 17-8. The only other team to have a great early start was the 2002 Angels who were 19-7 in the month of May. Two of these three teams though (LAA, BOS) won more than 15 games during five different months of the season. They were consistent winners throughout and didn’t rely on one big run. The 2007 Cardinals had three months where they won more than 15.  Below you can see the number of 15 win months for these teams:
Team
SF Giants
STL Cards
SF Giants
NY Yanks
PHI
BOS
STL Cards
White Sox
BOS
Marlins
Angels
ARI
Yanks
Year
2012
2011
2010
2009
2008
2007
2006
2005
2004
2003
2002
2001
2000
15+ Win in a Month [Month(s)]
4 times (May,June,Aug,Sep)
4 times (Apr,May,Aug,Sep)
2 times (Jul,Sep)
5 times (May,June,Jul,Aug,Sep)
5 times (Apr,May,Jul,Aug,Sep)
5 times (Apr,May,Jul,Aug,Sept)
3 times (Apr,May,July)
5 times (Apr,May,June,Jul,Sep)
4 times (Apr,May,Aug,Sep)
3 time (June,Jul,Sep)
5 times (May,June,Jul,Aug,Sep)
3 times (May,June,Aug)
3 times (Apr,Jul,Aug)
As you can see, the consistency is pretty relevant for these past champions. Other than the 2010 Giants all of these teams won 15 or more games at least three times during the season. Five different teams accomplished this feat five times during the season. How do you create this consistency? It starts with starting pitching eating up quality innings and keeping you in the ballgame night in and night out. A weak back end of the rotation spells doom for winning multiple games per month on a consistent basis. Anyone can get hot from time to time, but the consistency is found in a steady rotation from top to bottom.

Avoiding a disaster to start the season, much like the Angels experienced last year, is an obvious must for this years Texas Rangers. Do they have the rotation to keep them in games consistently? Since 2000, only six champions were leading their division at the end of May. Digging yourself too deep of a hole to climb back from can be devastating unless you are one of those famous teams of “destiny” like the 2006 Colorado Rockies or the 1969 Amazing Mets. The 2007 Rockies were 25-29 at the end of May, but went on a tear in September to earn the Wild Card berth. The ’69 Mets were 21-23 after May, but needed a hot finish and a collapse by the Cubs to win the pennant and eventually the World Series. If the Rangers hope to return to the post-season for a fourth consecutive season and win the World Series, recent history shows that getting off to a good start is what championship teams do. The idea that they just need to survive and stay in the hunt until Lewis, Soria, and company return isn’t completely invalid, but hanging around .500 at the break isn’t a recipe for success. It helps that their schedule to open the season is one of baseballs easiest. 17 of the first 27 games come against the Astros, Mariners, Twins, and Cubs, which would help almost any club needing to get off on a good start. So, whether their best month comes in April or September, the Rangers need to be pulling above that .500 mark when May comes to a close or it could spell heartbreak for Rangers fans. A steady dose of showers in April and May could produce more weeds than flowers come this October.

Jeff Johnson is a Staff Writer for ShutDownInning. He can be reached at Jeff.Johnson@ShutDownInning.com or on Twitter @Houstonhog
Jeff Johnson

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