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More so than any other major American sport, baseball is immersed with numbers and statistics — and it doesn’t appear to be fading. In fact, over the past 30 or so years, the sport has expanded how it gathers and collects statistics, including tacking on new columns to its standings. For many years the standings columns simply listed wins, columns, and games behind the leader for teams. Not today, when you can find acronyms like L10, WCGB and E atop columns.
What does L10 in baseball mean? Baseball fanatics will tell you that when viewing a published standings of team play, the column with the L10 atop it denotes how each team fared in the most recent 10-game stretch.
Closer Look at ‘L10’ in Baseball Standings
Under the L10 column heading in baseball standings will be two figures separated by a hyphen, with the first number signifying wins, the second denoting losses. Baseball insiders like to see these figures because the game is played over a long season, of several months, and teams go on streaks for any number of reasons. It’s good to know which team is “hot” any particular day or week – and which teams are not.
Inside fans (and bettors) sometimes like to see whether a team is on a hot streak or not. Seeing 0-10 under L10 means a team is struggling terribly. Often, baseball fans compare numbers for teams in the same division, to see if one particular team is hot while the others are cold simultaneously. This would provide the hot team an opportunity to rise in the standings.
In short, the L10 column is a fast way for a fan to ascertain a team’s momentum, one way or the other.
What about E and WCGB?
The E and WCGB columns in baseball standings also are a relatively new development, introduced over the past two or three decades. Baseball fans, clamoring for more data, like to know how close a team is to being eliminated from the post-season playoffs (the “E” noting a combination of losses plus wins by other teams that would eliminate each team from contention). The smaller the number in the E column, the closer a team is from missing the playoffs.
The WCGB stands for Wild Card Games Behind and is the result of the Wild-Card era. This began in 1994 when Major League Baseball (MLB) started allowing one “wild-card” team per league to advance to the playoffs, along with division-winning teams. Prior to that, only the GB (for Games Behind) column was needed since only division winners qualified for the playoffs.
So today, fans can see how many games behind their team is to take over first place in that team’s division, and also how it fares in an entire league (American or National) in terms of making the playoff tournament which means a chance at the championship World Series. Today it is even more important because a second wild card was added to each league, where two teams play a one-game match to determine who moves on to play a division-winner.
The PCT Column: Does It Matter?
Most published baseball standings also include a column topped with PCT, located immediately right of the Wins and Losses figures. This means winning percentage, as in, a team that wins exactly half its games is “playing .500 ball.” A perfect record is 1.000, though no baseball team finishes a season with that percentage (No team has ever come close to going 162-0). Typically playing above the .500 level will get a team into, or close to, the playoffs.
The MLB record for the worst percentage is .130, by the Cleveland Spiders of the National League, in 1899. That team won only 20 games against 134 losses, and finished a whopping 84 Games Behind the league winner. In what is called the Modern Era, post-1900, the worst is the 1916 Philadelphia Athletics, at .235. In the television era, the worst team PCT would be the 1962 New York Mets, during the first year for the new franchise, when it won just 40 games and lost 120, for a PCT of .250.
Baseball Insiders’ Peek at Baseball Standings
A reason why people watch the L10 column, among other data included in modern standings, is what baseball insiders might call “The Big Mo”: Momentum. Baseball games and seasons are chock full of streaks, both winning and losing. Some streaks can be confounding, or difficult to ascertain the precise reason why. We only know that a team is losing a lot of games over a period of time.
Momentum either way can be driven by a variety of factors. One is, a team might be filled with players who don’t like to travel or play before hostile crowds. That team might happen to be on a long road trip where they don’t play at the home stadium for a few weeks, and hence their L10 number will be lopsided with losses. Other times, a losing streak can be caused by injuries or illnesses, like to top-performing players. Losing a key player or players is a typical cause of losing streaks.
In baseball however players regularly play hurt, without telling anyone the true extent of the injury. This means they don’t go on an injured list made public — so some players might just be performing poorly due to unreported pain, and the team overall is suffering. Sometimes teams as a whole get spooked for any reason … from bad luck to a curse, and more.
Bad Juju and Baseball Streaks
A fascinating element of baseball is how the starting point of a streak can be pinpointed to a single game, or even a single play or off-the-field development. For instance, the 2004 Boston Red Sox were expected to compete for the American East title, but well past the mid-way point of the season they were many games behind the New York Yankees in the American League’s East Division. Then two things happened, either of which has been pointed to in terms of turning around the team and securing the franchise’s first World Series title in 86 years. The developments:
- In July the team got into a bench-clearing brawl with the Yankees, and when play resumed the Red Sox won the game on a game-ending home run. The win pumped up the players and offered hope for fans.
- Perhaps more importantly, there was The Trade. At the very deadline for trading players mid-season, July 31, Boston traded away star player Nomar Garciaparra in a three-team swap that garnered Boston two defensive specialists, and a speedster named Dave Roberts who eventually stole a base to keep Boston’s playoff hopes alive that October.
Either could have driven the players to try harder and/or play better. Other times, streaks could ignite due to a play where someone was injured; or something as silly as a black cat running across a field during a game. Baseball players are known to be superstitious.
The longest winning streak in MLB history was the 1916 New York Giants, who won 26 games consecutively. In modern times, the American League record of 20 wins in a row was set by the 2002 Oakland Athletics — a far cry from the A’s of 1916.
Why just look at the last 10 games for the L10 column?
Some standings go as far as tracking the last 20 games played for each team, under an L20 column heading. But looking back 10 games denotes about two weeks of play (5 games per week with two days off, typically), a solid period of time to convey a general sense of which direction a team is going. By the way, most figures under L10 are 5-5, 6-4 and 4-6. Any first number higher than 6 means a team is playing quite well.
Why baseball’s fascination with numbers and stats?
Who knows, except that the game just lends itself to keeping track of certain accomplishments per game, like number of base hits compared to chances to get a hit (for a batter’s average, or AVG). Baseball’s founding fathers over the second half of the 19th century began conjuring up ways to convey a game after-the-fact to newspaper readers, and the box score was introduced listing how each player fared in a game.
Eventually someone tallied total numbers per player (and team) over the course of the season, and over many years, and season and lifetime records were established. It’s why we know Barry Bonds hit 762 home runs over the course of his career, more than Hank Aaron’s 755 and Babe Ruth’s 714.
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