With the second half of the season set to get underway today, the Cleveland Indians are sitting on a 52-36 record and a 6.5-game lead in the American League Central. Their chances of winning their first division title in nine years seem good. To get a sense of how good their chances might be, I looked back at every season since 1995, the first year the postseason included more than two teams per league.
During the 21 seasons from 1995 to 2015, 68 teams had a record as good or better than the Indians have right now at the All-Star break. Of those 68, 57 of them (84%) made the postseason, and 45 of them (66%) won their division. (In case you're curious, the 2006 White Sox had the best first-half record (57-31, a .632 W%) among teams that have missed the postseason during the Wild Card era. They went 33-41 in the second half and missed the postseason by five games.)
A two out of three chance of winning the division doesn't sound too bad, but using a team's record maybe isn't the best way of going about it, because a team can win 60% of its games and have a ten-game lead in the division, or can win 60% of its games and find itself in second place, behind a team playing even better. Instead of their record, what if we focus on their 6.5-game lead?
From 1995 to 2015, there were 25 teams that had a division lead of 5-8 games at the All-Star break. Of those 25 teams, 23 of them (92%) made the postseason, and 22 of them (88%) won their division.
The three teams that didn't win their division:
- The 1995 Rockies had a 5-game lead at the break, but were caught by the Dodgers. They did win the Wild Card though.
- The 2001 Twins had a 5-game lead at the break, but were caught by the Indians (hooray!). They missed the postseason.
- The 2003 Royals had a 7-game lead, but were caught by the Twins and missed the postseason.
Including 13 teams that had a lead even bigger than eight games at the break, there have been 29 teams with an All-Star break lead bigger than five games from 1995 to 2015, and 28 of those 29 won their division, with only the 2003 Royals blowing it. (Those Royals were 51-41 at the break, a .554 W%, and three games worse than the Indians are right now.)
If you don't give a damn about history, but are interested in math, the current projections are also very keen on the Tribe's chances. The Playoff Odds report at FanGraphs have the Indians with a 86.6% chance of winning the Central and a 91.7% chance of making the postseason. The PECOTA projections at Baseball Prospectus have the Indians with a 90.7% chance of winning the Central and a 95.2% chance of making the postseason. Both those sources also have the Tribe with a better chance of winning the American L
I realize that with the Lukehart Effect being a scientific principle nearly as strong as the gravity on Jupiter, I probably should have mentioned any of this, but there you have it.