Editor’s Letter: Baseball is a marathon, not a sprint


Dear Readers,

The St. Louis Cardinals begin their quest to win back-to-back World Series titles tomorrow against the Miami Marlins. They are trying to become the first team to do so since the 2000 New York Yankees won their third title in a row. Fans must remember the season is long with many twists and turns. You may be ready for these shifts in the pendulum because of the adventurous 2011 season. If there is more of the same in 2012, how the Cardinals handle the ebb and flow of the season becomes critical.

March 17, 2012; Lakeland, FL, USA; A detailed view of St. Louis Cardinals batting helmets inside the dugout before a spring training game against the Detroit Tigers at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

The quest has been aptly titled 12 in ’12. That’s easy enough, right? I have predicted that the Cardinals will make the postseason this year, but they’ll get knocked out in the Wild Card play-in game against the team they upended last season on their way to the championship, the Atlanta Braves. Call it the law of averages. Surprisingly no one has taken me to task on this.

I readily admit in other forecasts, I’ve been more general with my statements. I have professed that the Cardinals have the ability to win the World Series again. I stick by that statement. I could make the same statement about 10-12 other teams in the game. The Cards and the others also have the ability to lay a stink bomb and miss the playoffs entirely. The 2011 season saw two epic collapses of teams that looked like they may meet each other in the World Series at the beginning of September, the Braves and the Boston Red Sox.

This leads me back to the title of the article. The marathon symbolism goes a few ways of course. A team can get off to a fast start and never look back. Another can leap ahead of others and fall back. And yet another can tumble out of the gate and finish strong. We see examples of this just about every season.

What’s the one thing each team professes at this time of year as most important in their mission? Consistency. OK, it may not be the one thing, but is among the more important pieces. I’ll argue that many of the other elements teams point to as important to their chances of reaching the postseason; injuries, player performance and managerial decisions among them, all relate to consistency.

If a team is able to constantly field their best team, because they are not dealing with injuries, they have a great shot at winning. If the team is receiving steady performance from each facet of the team, they’ll have a better chance of being a contender. If the team is run on a day to day basis with the same motivation and in the same manner by their manager they’ll have a greater chance at victory.

What am I getting at? I’m glad you asked. There are basically 6 full months in baseball’s regular season. If a team averages 15 wins per month, that’s 90 wins. 90 wins is not a guarantee for the post-season, but it is certainly a good goal. A 90-72 record is a .556 winning percentage. If a team wins one less game per month their 84-78 record is a .519 winning percentage. Both are consistent, but one certainly provides a better probability of making the postseason than the other. So, we should revise the goal to ‘Consistently win 55.6% of games’.

If a team wins only 10 games in the first month, they’ll have to win 20 in the following month to get back to 55.6% (assuming the same number of games in each month; 27). Once they reach a total winning percentage of 55.6%, they can’t win 11 games in the third month. This is not consistent. Vice versa, a team that wins 20 in April shouldn’t let off the gas because they have a head start. Dropping back to 16 wins in May still has the team 6 games over the threshold. To maintain 20 wins a month is unrealistic. Pacing 14 wins a month after 20 wins in the initial month is consistent and maintains the same 55.6% win percentage.

The point is a team should strive for monthly win percentages without too much fluctuation one way or the other. If there is such a vacillation, it means there are inconsistencies somewhere causing the ups and downs. Hot streaks of 80% wins can drop back to 50%, but only for a short time. There needs to be an uptick back to the 55.6% level or above. If this does not happen, the team will get overtaken by the team that plays a straight 55.6% win cycle.

Hopefully you’re not shaking your head at me. I’m just trying to suggest that there are plenty of ways to get to 90 wins. Last season, the Redbirds got there playing some pretty inconsistent ball. They started strong, regressed and then got hot at the right time. But what if they lost one more game in June or July when things were really bad? They would have had a one-game playoff against the Braves.

Baseball is a marathon not a sprint. Winning 55.6% of games is similar to a four-minute mile. Nothing spectacular (not anymore anyway), but you’ll beat more than your fair share of competitors. Typically, it’s enough to make the playoffs. In my opinion the best way to get there is through a consistent season. The fewer ups and downs the better. Yes, it can work out for teams who go up and down a ladder so to speak. But, more often then not, the teams who exhibit the ability to run at a constant marathon pace succeed. Once the postseason begins sprint away.

– Chris

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