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April 10, 2006

P A N I C !

At what point does likelihood become inevitability? After how many games does a losing record guarantee a losing season?

You probably have read about the importance of avoiding a bad start. Teams that visit the postseason rarely begin the season by losing nine of twelve. Yes, both Oakland and Houston made the playoffs after dropping to fifteen games below .500, but most teams that start bad finish bad.

Does this maxim apply to the Rangers (2-5 after Sunday), and if so, at what point in the season? I compared the Rangers’ eventual finish to their record after every odd number of games played early in the year (an odd number insures a winning or losing record – no 5-5 or 7-7 standings to garble the analysis). I excluded strike-shortened 1981 and 1994 but accepted the 144-game ’95 season.

Does the first game forecast the season? Not in Texas. Prior to 2006, Texas had triumphed in seventeen openers and finished above .500 in eight seasons, just 47% of the time. Conversely, the Rangers have six winning seasons in the fifteen in which they’ve lost their first game (40%). The difference signifies nothing.

After three games, the crystal ball isn’t much less foggier except when the team really starts well or terribly. In the six years in which Texas has begun the season 3-0, they have four winning seasons and have averaged seven games above .500. On the other hand, they have only winning season (1991, 85-77) in five years when opening with three defeats; each losing team finished with no fewer than 90 losses.

The Rangers stood at 2-5 going into Monday’s contest against Los Angeles, but a review of previous seven-game starts doesn’t reveal much. Texas has had a record of 4-3 or better on fifteen occasions but finished above water only eight times (53%). They finished below .500 65% of the time (11 of 17) when they started 3-4 or worse. In six prior years, Texas began with a 2-5 record. In 1978 they managed to win 87 games. In strike-shortened 1995 they finished 74-70. On the other four occasions, they never lost fewer than 91 games.

In fact, the Rangers have no early tipping point at which time panic is “appropriate;? their starts doesn’t correlate strongly to their finishes until the 25-game mark. By then, the team has broadcasted its strength and weaknesses, if not its eventual record. Texas has been 13-12 or better after 25 games in nineteen season and finished with a winning record in thirteen (68%). Rather unimpressive, actually. Viewed differently, Texas has never finished worse than ten games below .500 after starting 13-12 or better. Thus, a respectable start at least foretells a not-terrible season. Satisfaction is where you find it, Ranger fans.

On the other hand, in the thirteen seasons in which Texas has a losing record after 25 games, they’ve ended with a winning record exactly once. In 1991, Texas began 11-14 and promptly won their next fourteen games. They proceeded to lose eleven of their next twelve but held on for an 85-77 finish. Their second best effort after a losing 25-game start was last year’s 79-83 mark. The other eleven times, Texas never finished better than 75-87.

Unfortunately for Texas, regardless of the number of games played, an early losing record indicates future losing much more than an early winning record predicts success. After 41 games (basically ¼ of the season), Texas has 21 winning records and only eleven losing records. Yet Texas has only fourteen winning seasons. The Rangers frequently start strong then falter during the summer. Their collapses aren’t myth or a product of selective memory. A table for emphasis:

Texas Rangers History
Above .500
Below .500
Record after 41 games 21 11
Record at end of season 14 18

On April 30th, Texas completes a three-game stand at Cleveland and will have played 25 games, weather permitting. Restrain expressions of hopelessness until then.

Posted by Lucas at April 10, 2006 11:25 PM