The Wild Card and Central divisions are the best things Bud Selig has ever done.
Baseball first split into six division in the ill-fated 1994 season. Prior to that, the Central divisions did not exist and fans had to deal with such malarkey as the Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds in the NL West and the Chicago White Sox in the AL West. Two divisions per league was nice and quaint, but expansion out west made things pretty awful for teams located in the midwest (and somehow Georgia). So when the Central divisions were created, everything was fixed.
Until the final round of expansion occurred and the Tampa Devil Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks threatened to mess everything up. This forced the Milwaukee Brewers to abandon the DH and move to the NL Central, with the Detroit Tigers moving from the AL East to the AL Central to replace them. Even with the Houston Astros moving into the AL next year, the AL Central will continue to exist in the same form it has since 1998.
I thought about this one idle day back in June, a happier time full of Illinois and live baseball games, and started to wonder how each team had performed overall since the AL Central became what we know it to be. For simplicity's sake, I did not use the numbers from this current 2012 season.
All hail my pretty chart.
- Winning percentage: .520
- Mean wins per season: 84.2
- Median wins per season: 83
- High water mark: 99 wins in 2005
- Nadir: 72 wins in 2007
- Seasons above .500: 8
- Winning percentage: .507
- Mean wins per season: 82.2
- Medians wins per season: 80.5
- High water mark: 97 wins in 1999
- Nadir: 65 wins in 2009
- Seasons above .500: 6
- Winning percentage: .458
- Mean wins per season: 74.2
- Median wins per season: 73
- High water mark: 95 wins in 2006 & 2011
- Nadir: 43 wins in 2003
- Seasons above .500: 4
- Winning percentage: .417
- Mean wins per season: 67.6
- Median wins per season: 66
- High water mark: 83 wins in 2003
- Nadir: 56 wins in 2005
- Seasons above .500: 1
- Winning percentage: .509
- Mean wins per season: 82.4
- Median wins per season: 86
- High water mark: 96 wins in 2006
- Nadir: 63 wins in 1999
So what have we learned so far? Being a White Sox fan over the past fourteen years hasn't resulted in very much anguish, as they've averaged the most wins over that time frame and have the least painful worst season in the bunch. The Indians started off as the kings of the division, fell into mediocrity, had a brief resurgence, and once again appear headed right back to mediocrity. Hooray Cleveland!
The Tigers spent the first half of their tenure in the division battling the Royals for last place. Their mean wins per season are skewed due to the awful three year stretch of 2001-2003 during which they only won 164 games. But if you listen to Tigers' fans, it's like that nightmare stretch never happened. Kansas City has been exactly what you thought they were the entire time, finishing above .500 one time. Some day they will be good again. But until then feel free to point and laugh.
The Twins are the kind of success story the Royals have to hope they can become since they lack an owner willing to spend money on free agents out of fear of the Grim Reaper. David Glass is an unholy hellbeast with no soul that cannot die, so that motivation isn't really something he feels. He actually feels nothing, on account of the whole being an unholy hellbeast with no soul thing. The Twins went from the verge of contraction to being the division heavyweight in only a few seasons, though they look to be entering another bad stretch currently.
The AL Central teams have experienced a mixed bag of success when it comes to winning the major three awards (MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year). Despite winning more games over the fourteen year span than the other four teams, the White Sox have not won any major awards over that frame of time. The Twins have experience the most success, having two MVPs (Joe Mauer in 2009, Justin Morneau in 2006) and two Cy Young awards (Johan Santana in 2004 & 2006).
The Indians had the honor of two different pitchers winning the Cy Young while in Cleveland (CC Sabathia in 2007, Cliff Lee in 2008) only to trade them away shortly after. Cleveland! Detroit is the only team to win all three major awards since '98. What makes it even more interesting is the same player is responsible for all three. That cyborg is Justin Verlander (Cy Young & MVP in 2011, Rookie of the Year in 2006).
The Royals don't have much to brag about, but they can at least say they've had more young players win the AL RotY award than any other team in the division. Carlos Beltran won it back in 1999 and went on to become one of the franchise's best players before being traded away to Houston. Angel Berroa won it in 2003 before becoming awful at baseball.
There are some people who consider every season a team doesn't make the playoffs a failure. I think those people are weird. The Twins have won the division six times (2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2009, 2010), more than any other team. Cleveland sneaks in at second with four (1998, 1999, 2001, 2007). The White Sox have managed three division titles (2000, 2005, 2008). The Tigers have one more division title than the Royals (2011) but are also the only team from the AL Central to land a Wild Card spot (2006).
All four teams that have made the playoffs have advanced to the ALCS at least once, with Cleveland and Detroit having done so twice each ('98 & '07, '06 & '11 respectively). Cleveland lost both times. Detroit split the difference. Minnesota managed to make it in 2002, but quickly lost. Chicago made it in 2005.
Detroit and Chicago are the only teams to make the World Series, with Chicago winning it in 2005 and Detroit doing the opposite in 2006.
So what did we learn today? That sneaking suspicion you've always felt that the White Sox are consistently the top team in the division is more correct than you may have thought.