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In most North American sports, the phrase games behind or games back (often abbreviated GB) is a common way to reflect the gap between a leading team and another team in a sports league, conference, or division.
In the below standings from the 1994 Major League Baseball season, the Atlanta Braves are six games behind the Montreal Expos. Atlanta would have to win six games, and Montreal would have to lose six games, to tie for first. The leading team is always zero games behind itself, and this is typically indicated in standings by a dash rather than a zero.
|New York Mets||55||58||0.487||18½||23–30||32–28|
Computing games behind
Games behind is calculated by using either of the following formulas, in which Team A is a leading team, and Team B is a trailing team. Example math in this section uses the above standings, with Montreal as Team A and Atlanta as Team B.
- It can alternately be said that Montreal is six games ahead of Atlanta.
- A games behind situation can change rapidly when two teams contesting for the lead play each other. For example, Atlanta could cut Montreal's lead in half (to three games) by sweeping a three-game head-to-head series.
- The leading team, in terms of games behind, is the team with the best won–loss difference. This is not always the team with the most wins. For example, a team with an 80–70 record (10 more wins than losses) would be one game behind a team with a 79–67 record (12 more wins than losses).
The formulas implicitly treat any difference in the number of games played by the two teams as each unplayed game being "worth" 0.5 wins and 0.5 losses. This can lead to anomalies when teams have played an unequal number of games, especially during the early portion of a season.
- Two teams with different winning percentages may be tied in terms of games behind. For example, Team A at 6–4 would be tied with Team B at 4–2, in terms of games behind. However, Team B has the better winning percentage, at .667 compared to .600 for Team A.
- A team with a lower winning percentage may lead (in terms of games behind) a team with a higher winning percentage. For example, Team A at 6–4 would lead Team B at 2–1 by a half-game when calculating games behind. However, Team B has the better winning percentage at .667, compared to .600 for Team A.
- An example of this occurred in May 2018, when the New York Yankees were 28–13 and the Boston Red Sox were 30–14. The games behind calculation had New York a half-game behind Boston; however, New York had the better winning percentage, at .683 compared to .682 for Boston.
- Also, on December 28, 2018, in the National Basketball Association, the 24–10 Milwaukee Bucks were a half-game behind the 26–11 Toronto Raptors. Yet the Bucks were ranked first in the Eastern Conference, their .706 win percentage superior to the Raptors’ .703.
Leagues generally use winning percentage to order teams, so in both of the above examples Team B would be considered to be in first place.
The games behind calculation is often used in professional baseball and basketball, where tie games are not permitted. Standings for these sports appearing in print or online during a season usually will have teams ordered by winning percentages, with a "GB" column provided as a convenience to the reader. Games behind is used less often in American football, where ties are possible but relatively uncommon. Games behind is rarely used in ice hockey and soccer, where ties are common and standings points are typically used.
Major League Baseball
Major League Baseball (MLB) defines games behind as "the average of the differences between the leading team wins and the trailing team wins, and the leading teams losses and the trailing team losses." A games behind column almost always appears in MLB standings for each five-team division.
Wild card race
In the 1994 MLB season, the American League and National League each split into three divisions, and each added a wild card team to the playoffs. Following this change, it became common for the media to publish an additional set of standings for the wild card race. It included all teams from a league, with the exception of the division leaders, and games behind was calculated with respect to the team with the highest standing in the wild card race.
In the 2012 MLB season, both leagues add a second wild card team. Now, games behind in the wild card race is calculated with respect to the team with second highest standing in the wild card race. MLB's website distinguishes this statistic as wild card games behind, abbreviated WCGB. Assuming that teams are not tied for first place in the wild card race, this results in the team leading the wild card race being shown as some number of "games ahead" of the second place team, indicated by a plus sign ("+") in the standings. As an example, see the 2012 NL Wild Card standings, which shows the Atlanta Braves six games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals.
National Basketball Association
National Basketball Association (NBA) standings typically report games behind within each five-team division. However, it is not as closely followed as in baseball, because more teams qualify for the NBA playoffs, and the divisional statistics are not as important for playoff qualification. Sometimes, especially nearing the end of the regular season, games behind will be given with respect to the eighth position in the Eastern Conference and Western Conference, as the eighth position is the last to qualify for the playoffs in each conference.
National Football League
National Football League (NFL) standings sometimes report games behind, although the statistic is not emphasized; winning percentage is used, computed from each team's win–loss–tie record. This is especially true since the introduction of the bye week in 1990, exacerbating differences in the number of games that teams have played at various points in time. Games behind is omitted from standings on the NFL's website and is absent from most published standings.
The games behind statistic is eschewed in sports where tie games are traditionally common, such as the National Hockey League (NHL) and Major League Soccer (MLS). Leagues in these sports typically rank teams by awarding a certain number of points for each win or tie. The Canadian Football League (CFL) also does not use games behind, and awards standings points.
Teams are sometimes referred to as being over or under "five hundred", in comparison to a .500 winning percentage. The calculation for this is simple subtraction (there is no division by two). For example, a team at 55–50 is "five games over five hundred", while a team at 40–50 would be "ten games under five hundred". 'Above' and 'below' can be substituted for 'over' and 'under', respectively.
- Magic number (sports), the number of wins needed to clinch a championship
- GB glossary entry at baseballprospectus.com