Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Dodgers are off to a bad start in 2017. The season is just 20 games old, so it would be insane to make some premature proclamation writing off the season. But suffice it to say, the Dodgers have a hole they need to dig out of.
The Dodgers are just 9-11, and in third place in the National League West, a full five games behind the Rockies already.
Overcoming deficits is nothing new in baseball. We can look back to last year, when the Dodgers trailed the Giants by eight games when Clayton Kershaw hurt his back, an injury that sidelined him for 10 weeks.
It took them just 36 games to catch San Francisco, then led by eight games on the day they clinched the NL West, and ended up winning the division by four games.
This year’s Dodgers team was projected to be one of the best teams in baseball, with a win total that starts with a nine. So what has their 9-11 start cost them?
If you think this Dodgers team is ultimately a 94-win team, that’s a .580 winning percentage, or about 11.6 wins over 20 games. So they are down 2.6 wins already. If they play at a 94-win pace going forward, they’d win between 91 and 92 games during the season instead of 94.
Similarly, if these Dodgers are a true 90-win team going forward, they’d win about 88 games.
If the Dodgers are an 85-win team, they are probably already screwed anyway.
For what it’s worth, the Dodgers are still the overwhelming favorites to win the division this year based on projections from both Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs, with the next 142 games enough time to undo the damage done in the first 20.
20-game starts by playoff teams
In their history, the Dodgers have only made the postseason three times after starting a season 9-11 or worse:
1996: 8-12 start, 90-72 finish, NL Wild Card
2008: 8-12 start, 84-78 finish, NL West champs
2013: 9-11 start, 92-70 finish, NL West champs
But I wanted to see how prevalent it is for teams with such a start to make the playoffs throughout baseball. I took a look back at every postseason team in the Wild Card era, from 1995-present. That’s 186 playoff teams, including the losing teams in the Wild Card Game from 2012-16.
I looked at the 20-game starts for 186 teams, and those starts added up to a .572 winning percentage, a 92.6-win pace over 162 games.
Of the 186 playoff teams, 39 started at 9-11 or worse, roughly 21% of all playoff teams in the last 22 years.
That group included five teams that reached the World Series — 2002 Angels, 2003 Marlins, 2005 Astros, 2008 Rays and 2010 Rangers — with two of those teams winning it (Angels and Marlins). Those 2002 Angels had the worst start of all the playoff teams of the last 22 years, at 6-14, yet they finished at 99-63.
Three playoff teams started 7-13, including the 2002 Athletics, who finished with 102 wins.
Twelve teams started 8-12, and 23 started exactly 9-11.
On the other end, the best start of any playoff team since 1995 is 17-3, by the 2003 Yankees, who lost the World Series to the Marlins, who started at 9-11.
Roughly half the playoff teams (94 of 186, 50.5%) started between 8-12 and 11-9.
The 39 total playoff teams with under-.500 starts after 20 games finished their season with a cumulative winning percentage of .567, a 91.9-win pace over 162 games.
What does this mean for the 2017 Dodgers? Probably not too much. How they will fare depends much more on the team actually playing better going forward, not what teams did in the last two decades.
But if you wanted some perspective from the recent past, here you go.