Does First Place on July 4 Mean Anything?

Aaron Hicks #31 and Matt Carpenter #24 of the New York Yankees celebrate scoring on a two-run home run by Carpenter off Anthony Gose of the Cleveland Guardians
Aaron Hicks #31 and Matt Carpenter #24 of the New York Yankees celebrate scoring on a two-run home run by Carpenter off Anthony Gose of the Cleveland Guardians. Nick Cammett/Getty Images/AFP.

The old adage says that if you’re in first place on July 4, you’re destined to finish the season on top. The Fourth of July is the baseball season’s traditional midpoint. This year, four teams actually play game 81 of 162 on Independence Day. The others either just hit the halfway mark or will within the next day or two.

Over history, the old saying has shown that it has some truth to it. About 60% of the division leaders on the Fourth go on to spray champagne in the fall after finishing up on top.

Last year was right in that realm, with four of the six division leaders at the midpoint holding onto their leads for the second half. The Red Sox and Mets were the two exceptions. Skipping the 60-game 2020 COVID season, 2019 saw five of the six leaders on July 4 finish atop their divisions. The Cardinals sped past Milwaukee and the Cubs, who were tied for the lead at the midpoint.

But what about the rest of the league? For our MLB betting, what can a team’s performance through July 4 tell us about what’s in store for the rest of the season?

What Happens With the Best Teams on July 4?

In general, 80 games are enough to get a read on a good team. At that point, regardless of what you expected going into the season, it’s not a fluke.

If you’re betting on the second half, expect the winning teams to keep on winning.

Top 5 Best Teams: 2021 Season

The five best teams as of July 4 last year all had winning percentages of at least .600 and had a combined percentage of .621. After July 4, all had winning records and combined to post a .601 percentage.

Three of the five had slightly worse records in the second half, but all still won more often than they lost, and the group had only a slight dropoff.

Top 5 Best Teams: 2019 Season

In 2019, the top five did even better. On July 4, they were at .637. They went .632 the rest of the way, and all of them had second-half winning percentages over .600.

Top 10 Best Teams: 2021 and 2019 Season

Expanding it to the ten best teams on July 4 shows a similar pattern. In 2021, they were a combined .596 and went on to go .550. In 2019, they actually improved as a group, hitting the Fourth at .593 and going .595 the rest of the way.

Over the two years, 16 of the 20 teams that were among the 10 best at each halfway point posted winning records in the second half. Last year, the Padres, Athletics, and Mets all turned into losing teams. In 2019, the Rangers did.

What Happens With the Worst Teams on July 4?

There was a similar pattern at the other end of the standings on July 4. If you’ve been bad so far, things likely aren’t getting much better. That could be a self-fulfilling prophesy, as many teams who were close to the bottom at the season’s midpoint became sellers at the trade deadline, stripping off any parts that could have led a second-half turnaround.

Whatever the reason, however, don’t expect a bad team to suddenly find its way.

Top 5 Worst Teams: 2021 Season

Last year, the five worst teams in MLB on July 4 had a combined .351 winning percentage. All were .415 or worse at the time. Over the second half, they posted a .386 percentage, moving toward the mean but not mounting a turnaround.

The best second-half percentage of the group was the Twins, who went .488. The Diamondbacks had the biggest improvement of the group, boosting their winning percentage by 114 points from the first half to the second, but they still finished tied for the worst record in baseball and had a second-half rate of just .382.

Top 5 Worst Teams: 2019 Season

2019 saw the same thing, with the worst five going from .342 in the first half to .361 in the second. The best second-half performance from the bottom dwellers was Toronto, who went .459 after the Fourth.

Top 10 Worst Teams: 2021 and 2019 Season

Like at the top of the standings, expanding from five to ten finds a few breakthrough teams. In 2021, one team in the bottom 10 posted a winning record in the second half—The Phillies, who went from .481 to .531. In 2019, only the Mets, who went from .448 to .627, were a winning team in the second half.

While July 4 is no guarantee, it’s still enough of the season to draw conclusions. Teams have spent the first three months telling you who they are. It’s time to start believing them for your gambling.