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Charting MLB Standings With Tufte-Inspired Sparklines

Last week I attended a day-long session with Edward Tufte, the “Leonardo Di Vinci of data,” as The New York Times once dubbed him. The session has inspired me to take the blog off paternity leave. About time.

Inside Tufte’s book “Beautiful Evidence” is a section on “sparklines,” which are small, word-sized line graphs. The section includes a visualization of a baseball season, with lines for each team showing their day-to-day trends above or below the .500 line.

The line graphs I made below, inspired by Tufte’s sparklines on page 54, show each team’s progress in the 2012 season.

First, the National League West, which includes the eventual World Series winner San Francisco. The Giants passed Los Angeles around the middle of the season and never looked back. The chart also shows Colorado’s steep collapse at the end:

Now the National League East, in which Washington led for most of the season and Philadelphia closed strong to finish its season above the .500 win-loss line.

And the National League Central, in which Houston had a terrible season:

In the American League East, New York held off Baltimore’s surge after the all-star break, and Toronto and Boston collapsed in August and September:

Detroit overtook Chicago during the last days of the season in the American League Central:

In the American League West, Texas closed poorly finish second to late-surging Oakland:

Finally, I added all the teams to one graph to show the difference in team performance. This makes color-coding lines impossible, so I included a table with each squad’s over-under .500 figure. You can see how San Francisco performed in bold black:

Notes: The charts depict each day of the season, not each game. Also, the charts should be viewed separately. Because of the variance in each division, the y axes differ. I’ve uploaded the data to Google Docs. Feel free to download the file and send me visualizations of your own.

Data source: Baseball-Reference.com