What does a true .500 team look like?

June 22nd, 2020

The phrase ‘a .500 team’ gets thrown around a lot in baseball. The idea is simple: a team that wins as many games as it loses. But not all .500 teams are created equal: some are better than their record, some are worse and some are truly just in the middle.

There have been just 54 National and American League teams to finish exactly at .500 in the Modern Era (since 1900). Some outscored their opponents by more than 50 runs, indicating they may have been better than their record suggested, while some were outscored by more than 20, meaning perhaps their record should have been worse.

With such a wide range, what does a true .500 team really look like? Beyond run differential, as noted above, there are other considerations, like the team’s time spent at .500 throughout the year, how far above or below the team strayed from an even record and more.

Here’s a look at 10 of the “most .500” teams in the Modern Era, among those to finish with an even record.


1983 Padres: 81-81 record, 0 run differential
This team is one of two with both a .500 record and a run differential of zero, along with the 1922 White Sox. Given that run differential is often used to project what a team’s record should have been, being equal in both metrics is at least part of the true definition of a .500 team.

The ‘83 Padres hovered around .500 the entire season, never finding themselves more than seven games above or below the mark. They were first at .500 through four games, when they dropped to 2-2 after a loss. The club had as many wins as losses after a game played 23 times throughout the season, including five times in the final two-plus weeks of the season. A George Hinshaw walk-off single in the team’s penultimate game of the year put them at 81-80 entering the final day of the season. The Padres lost that final game to the Braves by just a run, sealing an 81-81 record for the second consecutive season.

1922 White Sox: 77-77 record, 0 run differential
This team holds the distinction of being the first team to finish at .500 with a run differential of zero. The White Sox were at .500 after playing a game 17 times over the course of the year, with the first instance coming after their sixth game, when they won to pull to 3-3. The team’s most games above .500 was seven, and most below the mark was nine.

After an 8-3 win over Walter Johnson, who allowed eight runs and 15 hits, and the Senators on Sept. 22, it appeared the White Sox might be headed for a winning record with four games to go. But they went on to lose each of their final four games, to the Senators and Browns, to finish at 77-77. How close did they come to 78-76? After entering the final game of the season at 77-76, the Sox took an early 1-0 lead but couldn’t hold on, losing 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth on a Gene Robertson walk-off single.


2011 Blue Jays: 81-81 record, 33 games at .500
The 2011 Jays didn’t have a run differential that screams “.500” -- it was minus-18. Despite that discrepancy, they managed to stay at .500 on the dot more than most other teams in baseball history.

The Blue Jays were at .500 after completing a game 33 times in 2011, tied for most among teams to finish at .500, and tied for third most among teams all time, regardless of their final record. The only teams to spend more time at .500 were the 1959 Cubs, who did so 35 times and finished 74-80, and the 2009 Twins (34 times), before finishing 87-76, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

They were never more than five games above or below .500, hovering right around the number for the entire season. They first reached the mark after their 10th game, when a walk-off loss in Seattle dropped Toronto to 5-5. After a win on Sept. 23, the Blue Jays were 80-77 with five games to go. They lost the next four, before beating Chris Sale in Chicago on the last day of the season to clinch 81-81.

2010 Athletics: 81-81 record, 33 games at .500
Like the 2011 Blue Jays, the Athletics’ run differential wasn’t what made them so .500 -- they had a plus-37 mark. But they still managed to spend a significant portion of their season at .500 (33 games), just like Toronto a year later. The A’s reached .500 after just two games, winning in walk-off fashion to improve to 1-1 in early April. From there, they never strayed far, never dropping more than six games below, nor climbing higher than five games over. April set the tone, as the A’s went 12-12.

The A’s managed to have both a six-game losing streak and a four-game winning streak within their final 10 games, which turned a 77-75 record into 81-81. Seven of the team’s times at the .500 mark came from Sept. 10 onward. That included a nine-game stretch where the A’s were at .500 every other game, five times total, beginning at 70-70 after Sept. 10 and ending at 74-74 after Sept. 19.


1984 Angels: 81-81 record, minus-1 run differential
The Angels came just one run shy of becoming the third team with a .500 record and zero run differential. They first reached .500 after their second game of the season, at which point they also had a zero run differential, winning the first game, 2-1, and then losing the second game by the same score. In total, they were at .500 after 12 games throughout the season, climbing as high as seven games above but never dropping more than four below.

The Halos were 79-79 with four games to go, and they went on to lose the first two, then win the next two. Not only did the Angels’ final game of the season seal the 81-81 record, the 1-0 win also clinched that almost-zero run differential.

1989 Expos: 81-81 record, plus-2 run differential
Unlike some of the other teams that hovered around the .500 mark, the Expos got there due to a precipitous dropoff. They were 19 games above .500 through Aug. 2 with a three-game division lead. They went 18-37 the rest of the way, a .327 winning percentage that was the worst in baseball in that span, to end up at 81-81. They had a plus-50 run differential through Aug. 2, then posted a minus-48 in that final 55-game span to end up at plus-2 overall on the season.

To add insult to ignominy, this was the season that the Expos traded Randy Johnson to the Mariners in a deal in late May. At the time, he was a 25-year-old former second-round pick with a 4.69 career ERA in 11 games.

1984 Twins: 81-81 record, minus-2 run differential
The Twins finished with an almost even run differential and were at .500 19 times after a game in 1984. They first reached .500 after their fourth game.

As late as Sept. 24, it looked like a winning record might be in the cards for Minnesota for the first time since 1979. They were 81-75 with six games to go, having just extended a winning streak to five games. Instead of maintaining that pace, the team went on to lose six straight -- its longest losing streak of the year -- to finish 81-81. The six games, all on the road, included two walk-off losses in Cleveland, with Ron Davis getting the loss in both of those. Former Twins pitcher Bert Blyleven, who would later return to the club, got the win for the Indians on the final day of the season, pushing his former team to 81-81.

1972 Twins: 77-77 record, plus-2 run differential
The ‘72 Twins’ path is one that drops off, though not as steeply as the ‘89 Expos. The Twins were at .500 just eight times in 1972.

Minnesota got off to a hot start, going 23-12 over the first two months of the season. That was the team’s high point, though. The Twins proceeded to post losing records in each of the remaining full months of the season, before going 2-2 in October. They went 45-42 in the first half and 32-35 in the second half to end up right in the middle. A late-season six-game losing streak brought the Twins to 75-75 with four games to go. They managed to split those, winning the first and the last of them.


1974 White Sox: 80-80 record, 29 games at .500
Like the 2010 Athletics and '11 Blue Jays, the 1974 White Sox don’t seem to be one of our “most .500” teams based purely on run differential: they were minus-37 on the year overall. Despite being outscored as such, they spent a lot of time sitting at the .500 mark. Their 29 times at .500 after playing a game are third most among teams to finish even.

They were never more than seven games below .500 or five above. Their low point happened early, too -- through April 16, when they were 1-8. They first reached .500 on May 4, pulling to 11-11. They pulled to 78-78 on Sept. 27, after not having been at .500 since early in the month. With four games to go, they lost the first two, then won the last two. They did it in dramatic fashion, too, winning the final game on a walk-off wild pitch with Bucky Dent at the plate.

1958 Tigers: 77-77 record, 26 games at .500
The ‘58 Tigers outscored their opponents by 53 runs, but they still did not spend much time away from the .500 mark. They were at .500 after 26 games in 1958, fourth most among teams to finish at .500. They were as many as eight below and three above but had already reached each of those extremes for the last time by Aug. 1.

They first found themselves at. 500 through four games, when they lost to fall to 2-2. Six of their 26 times at .500 came on Sept. 14 or later. In fact, the team’s final nine games were all a see-saw from .500 to one game above, but they weren’t able to string together two straight wins. They lost the first game of a doubleheader on Sept. 20 to fall to 73-73, then alternated from there, culminating in a loss on the final day to finish at 77-77.