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Does a Slump Follow a Championship Win?

When a sports club appears to still be on the rise, or it has won a championship and expects to repeat the following year, it may seem natural to anticipate more excellence from them, correct? Sadly, that is not always the case for supporters of that specific team.

A "championship hangover" occurs when a team hits the summit of its sport and then appears to collapse in performances the next year, either not entering the playoffs at all or departing the postseason sooner than they would desire.

Now let us examine the hangover impact once a team wins a championship and find out how a baseball probabilistic model might be extended to other prominent sports in the United States.

Hangovers Are the Worst


Whilst Bill James, a baseball analyst and published author of multiple books on baseball statistics, created the Plexiglass Principle for baseball fans, the principle can easily be adapted to other sports. This Plexiglass Principle states that while a squad develops during the course of a season, they tend to fall behind in the next campaign.

The combined victory rate of all hangover years by each league is displayed above. Although all leagues have an average victory rate (above 50%) the campaign after a title, the NHL has the highest hangover at 54.2 percent, trailed by the MLB at 54.6 percent. Both the NBA and the NFL have well over 60%. (66.7 percent and 67.5 percent, respectively).

It's a similar story for teams that go out and not just do well but also capture their league's title — after that apex is reached, the team begins to regress and performs poorly in subsequent seasons. It's been seen in MLB clubs for what feels like ages, and it's known as the hangover effect. It also does not always represent a team's overall growth throughout their championship-winning season. We've taken it a step further by applying the concept to other pro sports leagues, like the NBA, NHL, and NFL.

Although this doesn't happen regularly (see the NBA's several repetitions and three-peats), it happens frequently enough to warrant consideration. Let's take a look at which teams had the worst title hangovers and the largest changes in championship campaigns.

Tumbling After a Big Game


Firstly, we'll look at the top eight championship hangovers per team. The Washington Redskins have the unique distinction of being ranked first in this category. The team has managed to win three league titles, and when the average win percentage of their championship campaigns was compared to the coming series, there was a dramatic drop as their total win rate of championship runs was 83 percent, and their next seasons' aggregate win ratio was 63 percent, representing a 25 percent difference.

They really aren't; however, alone in this place. The Denver Broncos had a 24% fall rate after three championship campaigns, while the New York Giants were close on their heels with a 23% fall rate following four titles.

If we separate it by season, these percentage differences are much more noticeable. The San Francisco 49ers, for instance, saw a 59 percent decrease in win ratio after claiming the title in 1981, moving from a 13-3 division-winning season to a meager 3-6 in the protest shortened 1982 campaign.

Then consider the Broncos' championship hangover after winning back-to-back titles in 1997 and 1998 — their overall record in 1988 was 88 percent, which was succeeded by a disastrous 1999 season in which their win percentage plunged to 38 percent (a change of 57 percent). After those two incredible seasons, starting quarterback John Elway departed, leaving the club missing his unique set of skills and consecutive visits to the Big Game, as they flailed in last place in their conference in 1999.

The Hangovers that Follow NBA Finals


The NBA is not impervious to post-championship hangovers. We compared the average win percentage of all championship years to the average win percentage of the years that followed to see which team's fall was the worst – and the New York Knicks, with two championship titles, took the top place with a 39 percent decrease. The Philadelphia 76ers came in second with a 37 percent decline, while the Detroit Pistons followed just behind with a 34 percent decline.

Then we looked at the largest single-year hangovers. NBA's Chicago Bulls' stock plummeted following their championship campaign in 1998. This one was their third victory in three seasons and their sixth victory in eight years. What was the difference in 1999? Michael Jordan, together with his six rings and unparalleled ability, decided to retire. Although their win percentage dropped by 66 percent through one campaign to the next, the 1998-99 Regular season was exceptional in its own right, since it was cut short due to a severe lockout that stretched for months. The Bulls' eighth-place result was undoubtedly influenced by the two reasons (Jordan's departure and the strike).

The Boston Celtics were the next club to see a significant decline in quality. They reached the finals in 1969 but did not win again the following year, resulting in a 29 percent drop in victory rate. This was their final championship victory during this incredible streak of repetition after repeat (after repeat) — they won 11 titles in 13 campaigns.

The third team is the Dallas Mavericks, who improved by 22% from their championship season in 2010-11 to the next season. Another strike shortened the following season, and numerous players, notably Tyson Chandler, J.J Barea, and DeShawn Stevenson were dismissed. The Mavericks returned to the postseason the subsequent year, but they did not get through the first round of the Western Conference.

Repeats Can’t be Swung


We'll examine how MLB clubs perform after capturing a best-of-seven World Series. The Florida Marlins won this category with a 25 percent shift from the cumulative total of their championship runs (they had two) and subsequent seasons. The Detroit Tigers were close behind, with a 19 percent difference among the cumulative average of its four World Series victories and the years that followed.

When looking at seasons one by one, it's simple to uncover even significant disparities, just as it is with the other sports. The 1997 Marlins, for instance, had a fantastic season, winning 92 games before defeating the Indians in the World Series 4-3. The next season, they finished bottom in their group after dishing out only 54 victories, a 41 percent difference. Its lackluster play on the pitch was most likely attributable to a big "fire sale" following the World Series in which the team traded a large number of their most noteworthy stars.

The next club on our list didn't endure quite as much of a hangover as the Marlins did after their first World Series victory, but after the Boston Red Sox claimed it all in 2013, their overall record dropped by 27% the subsequent season, dropping from first to last in their division. Remarkably, they were also in last position the season before their World Series victory, thus they moved from being the worst to first and back again in three seasons.

After winning the World Series in 2002, the Los Angeles Angels (then known as the Anaheim Angels) saw a similar fall. In the same year, they nearly won 100 games (99-63) then won the World Series 4-3 over the San Francisco Giants. During 2003, however, they did not have a positive season and were eliminated from the playoffs.

Skating on Thin Ice


Lastly, let's have a look at the National Hockey League. The Los Angeles Kings won two championships yet finished first on our ranking, including the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils because their winning seasons had a 13 percent greater average win percentage than the seasons that came after.

Nevertheless, when we compared season to season, we noticed significantly larger reductions. The Detroit Red Wings, for instance, had a 52 percent increase in their winning rate after winning the Stanley Cup in 1937. This one was their second title (and second in a row) and third final appearance in four seasons, although they dropped from first place to fourth and completely failed to make the playoffs.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are the next team on our list of dubious distinctions. Their fall was not as severe as the Red Wings', but it was nonetheless a collapse (a 31 percent difference) after the 1948 Stanley Cup Final. The next year, however, was not a complete loss for the team, as they fell in the playoffs, and the year following that saw them lift the Stanley Cup as winners for the third time.

Watching it Play Out

It's not always simple to retain a stronghold on a sports team once it's won a championship. As seasons progress, franchises are influenced by a variety of circumstances, including injuries, retirements, wage caps, protests, as well as the Plexiglass Principle. While being a repeating champion is feasible, it is not a given after a club has reached its height throughout a season. But it's a lot of fun to see how each season unfolds!

How We Did It

On January 22, 2019, we obtained historical championship statistics from sports-reference.com for the four main sports leagues in the United States (MLB, NFL, NHL, and the NBA).  We looked at NFL title records dating back to 1970, NBA titles dating back to 1950, MLB World Series wins dating back to 1969, and NHL Stanley Cup triumphs dating back to 1937. We summed the win rates of all seasons after the championship triumph and ranked them from lowest to highest to find the poorest title "hangovers." These rankings featured only teams who have won at least two championships. Throughout the history of each club, the most recent team name is used to symbolize it.

The primary drawback of this investigation is that the information from the source may be partial or incomplete. Furthermore, abbreviated seasons were not eliminated from our research; hence, events (such as a player strike, for instance) may have an impact on the rankings. Another disadvantage of this study is that championship "hangovers" alter with time, which may have an influence on the greatest championship "hangover" standings among clubs in their individual leagues. This article was made only for recreational reasons.