What does it mean to win 94 games?

One of the fun aspects of what I do is the ongoing dialogue we can engage in. When I posted my top-10 power rankings on Sunday, and then a follow-up on why I didn't include the Giants, I heard it loud and clear from Giants fans on Twitter and in the comments section. OK, OK, I get it: I didn't show your team enough respect. The two major gripes were: (A) The Giants are not only the defending World Series champions, but have won two in three years; (B) They won 94 games in 2012.

Starting with the first one, I'd argue what happened in 2010 is completely irrelevant to what may happen in 2013, especially since the 2012 Giants only had one starting position player who was the same in both postseasons, (Buster Posey, as Pablo Sandoval was benched for much of the 2010 playoffs). The 2010 playoff rotation didn't include Barry Zito (not on the roster) and the 2012 rotation didn't include Tim Lincecum (demoted to the bullpen), except for one start. So the two teams really weren't the same team (which is a credit to the front office). As for the 2012 results, I understand the desire to give credit to the team that just won it all, but I also don't think it's accurate to give too much credit for predicting 2013 based on what happened in 2012 -- and, specifically, placing too much emphasis, for example, for beating the Reds in a five-game series that swung on Brandon Phillips' baserunning play in Game 3 and Johnny Cueto's injury.

But that paragraph won't win over Giants fans. This next section might not either, but here goes. What does winning 94 games mean exactly? Now, one of my arguments in leaving the Giants out of the top 10 was that I believe their true talent level is lower than that of a 94-win team. But even leaving that aside, let's say 94 wins is 94 wins, regardless of how a team got there. What happens the next season? I looked at all teams in the wild-card era to win 94 games -- and, to get a larger sample size, all teams that won 93 or 95 games as well. This gave us 31 teams, not including 2012. The results:

  • Those 31 teams declined by an average of seven wins the following season.

  • Eight teams did improve, by an average of four wins per season.

  • Two teams had the same record.

  • That means 21 of the 31 teams declined -- by an average of nine wins per season.

Look, when you win 94 games -- when any team wins 94 games -- that means a lot of things probably went right: The rotation stayed healthy or somebody had a monster season or the bullpen came together or the team did particularly well in one-run games. That's not always the case, of course; a talented team can win 94 games based on depth alone, even without career seasons. But, as you can see from the numbers above and the table below, 94-win teams decline. As Bill James outlined in his early writings, there are six "indicators" that can be used to predict a team's improvement or decline the following season. Let's run each through for the Giants.

1. Pythagorean record. Teams that outperform their Pythagorean record tend to improve the following season. The Giants outperformed theirs by six wins. So this may not be the strike against the Giants that I indicated.

2. The Plexiglass Principle. Teams that improve one season tend to decline the next, and vice versa. The Giants improved from 2011, so this would suggest a decline in 2013.

3. The Law of Competitive Balance. All teams tend to drift toward a .500 record, which is known as regression to the mean. This would also suggest a decline.

4. Age. Not surprising, young teams tend to improve and old teams to decline. The Giants are a mixed bag here -- their weighted age for batters was eighth-youngest in the majors, but their weighted age for pitchers was fifth-oldest. The Giants' big moves have been to re-sign Angel Pagan (who turns 32 next season) and Marco Scutaro (who turned 37 in October).

5. Late-season performance. Teams which play better in the second half tend to improve the following season. The Giants played better in the second half -- 48-28 versus 46-40 -- so another positive sign (especially since Melky Cabrera missed much of the second half).

6. Performance of Triple-A team. This speaks to organizational depth. Fresno was 74-70 (and Double-A Richmond 70-71), so this seems like neither a positive nor a negative.

Anyway, I don't know if all these indicators still hold true. The game is always evolving and changing and we can always conduct new studies of old ideas. One final note: Of the teams that did improve below, you'll note that several made major offseason acquisitions -- the 2009-10 Phillies traded for Roy Halladay, the 2005-06 Yankees added Johnny Damon, the 2003-04 Red Sox added Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke, the 2001-02 Yankees signed Jason Giambi and David Wells.

The Giants have elected to stand pat (for now). Hey, I could be wrong. Buster Olney put them No. 1 in his power rankings. As great as the October run was by the Giants, that run is over. Flags fly forever, but they don't predict the future.