As the Twins have sprinted to a 23-12 start and the best record in baseball, fans have grown increasingly optimistic while still realizing that there is plenty of season left. If you are somewhere between “It’s all going to fall apart” and “The only question left is planning the World Series parade route,” you are probably not alone.
To try to get a handle on how optimistic you should be, I took a look at some data about teams who have gotten off to similarly good starts. I went back over the last 10 season in MLB, from 2009-2018, and looked at the teams that 1) Had the best record in the majors through games of May 9 and 2) Were at least 10 games above .500 through May 9 to see how they finished up.
Long story short: Early success is a pretty good predictor of season-long success, though there are a few cautionary outliers.
*First, a list of the teams with the best records in the majors each of the last 10 season with their record through May 9 in parentheses and their finish at the end:
2018: Yankees (26-10) – Made playoffs as Wild Card, finished 100-62.
2017: Baltimore (22-10) – Missed playoffs, finished 75-87
2016: Cubs (24-6) – Won division and World Series, finished 103-58
2015: Cardinals (22-8) – Won division, finished 100-62
2014: Detroit (20-11) – won division, finished 90-72
2013: Cardinals (21-12) – won division, finished 97-65
2012: Texas (20-10) – wild card, finished 93-69
2011: Philadelphia (23-11) – won division, finished 102-60
2010: Tampa Bay (22-9) – won division, finished 96-66
2009: Dodgers (22-10) – won division, finished 95-67
Overall, you see 9 of 10 teams made the playoffs, including 7 division winners, and all 9 of the playoff teams won at least 90 games.
But you also see a recent case of a team that got off to a fast start before cooling off significantly — Baltimore, which two years ago finished below .500 and well out of the playoff race.
*If we expand to the teams that were at least 10 games above .500 through May 9, we have a larger sample and a few more cautionary tales — but overall we still get a pretty optimistic picture for the Twins.
Of the 17 teams that fit that criteria over the last 10 seasons, 13 of them reached the postseason. And it includes the last three World Series winners: Boston in 2018, Houston in 2017 and the Cubs in 2016 were all 10 games or more over .500 at this point.
But in each of the last three seasons, there has been a team 10 games over .500 at this point that missed the playoffs. Two of those teams (Baltimore in 2017 and the White Sox in 2016) finished below .500, while Arizona last year finished 82-80 after starting 24-12.
Still, 13 out of 17 is 76 percent. And of course 9 out of 10 is 90 percent. Whether the Twins become another cautionary tale or part of the norm remains to be seen, but the odds are on their side for a strong season even though it’s still early.