It’s a natural, though unoriginal, question: What was the best team of the decade? This is the sort of pondering that is a staple conversation talk during dead time on sports radio or slow days at the office around the water cooler.
So I thought I’d enter in myself. As an added bonus, I have my own secret weapon to help me answer it: SG of the Replacement Level Yankee Weblog. For that site, SG created a computer program that allows you to plug in 28 teams of your choice, and it runs 1,000 simulated seasons with, giving you the ability to compare/contrast teams.
SG has been kind enough to use his Super Season Simmer for numerous queries of mine in the past, and with the end of one decade and the dawn of another, he was willing to do this one as well. I just need to fill out a bracket of 28 teams and tell SG who they were.
When it came to filling out the field of 28 teams, I had a few ground rules for picking which teams from 2000-09 to include:
- All World Series champions make it automatically. I don’t think anyone aside from the most partisan Redbird rooters really regards the 2006 Cardinals as one of the best teams of the decade, they deserve credit for winning the big prize, and it helps give a sense of scale. Which was the worst World Series winner? The best? Hey, I got 28 slots to fill folks. I got room for all the champs.
- I prefer width of teams. For example, the Padres never won 90 games in a season in the 2000s. They won 87-89 games three times in four years, but ultimately their best team wasn’t as good as the sixth best Yankees team. But who really cares about the sixth best Yankees team? I don’t want to get carried away with this stipulation (I ended up putting three Yankee squads in my field), but I think it’s more interesting. This is ultimately a fun exercise, so I’ll lean toward interesting. Frankly, there’s only about a half-dozen teams I need to put in, and many of them won the World Series anyway.
- I wanted some sort of AL/NL balance. It didn’t have to be exactly 14 teams from each league (though that is how it worked out), but tried to make it even.
- I look at both real records and pythag records. To be honest, I forget exactly how I weighted them. I think I just averaged real wins with pythag wins. (Thinks for a second) — Yeah, that sounds right.
The 28 teams
Here they are, going year by year, with their record and pythag records listed:
Yankees (87-74 actual, 85-76 pythag). Only here because they won it all.
Giants (97-65 actual; 97-65 pythag). This represents their nice run from 2000-04 with Barry Bonds. They won the pennant in 2002, and won 100 games in 2003, but this season had their best actual/pythag win combination.
Diamondbacks (92-70 actual, 95-67 pythag). One problem with my ground rules: the 2002 D-backs, who may very well have been the better squad, got cut out. The ’01 squad got the automatic bid as champs, and the ’02 team wasn’t good enough to overcome my desire to focus on width of franchises represented.
A’s (102-60 actual, 104-58 pythag). They won one more game in 2002, but their pythag was eight games worse that year. Advantage: 2001 A’s.
Mariners (116-46 actual, 109-53. Look, they’re going to win this computer simulation. I don’t see any way that doesn’t happen. In many ways, this whole exercise is more about seeing how teams compare to each other, and who does unexpectedly well/poorly than who actually wins.
Angels (99-63 actual, 101-61 pythag). World champs. A bit of a personal favorite of mine because I think they were considerably better than their record. That 2002 AL West may have been the toughest division of all-time.
Yankees (103-58 actual, 99-62 pythag). I know I want to spread it out, but let’s not get carried away. There’s plenty of overlap with these guys and the 2000 Yanks, but this isn’t like the 2001-2 D-backs were the non-champion was slightly better than the trophy claimant. They lead the 2000 squad by 16 actual wins and 14 pythag ones. The real problem for me is that once I put the 2002 squad in, I felt obligated to leave the 2003 team out. They might be the best team not in my 28.
Braves (101-59 actual, 96-64 pythag). They slightly edge the 2003 Atlanta squad.
Marlins (91-71 actual, 87-75 pythag). The only team here from ’03. Other squads are either overshadowed by surrounding seasons, or just missed the cut.
Red Sox (98-64, 96-66). World champs. Most wins by any Boston team since 1978.
Cardinals (105-57 actual, 100-62 pythag). One of the few teams that really need to be here.
Astros (92-70 actual, 91-71 pythag). Actual and pythag wins averages out to 91.5. The 2001 team averages at 90.5, and the 2005 pennant winners at 90.0. That’s a franchise that deserves an entry, but not great enough to garner two.
White Sox (99-63 actual, 91-71 pythag). For the second time, the world champs are the only team from the year.
Cardinals (83-78 actual; 82-79 pythag. The best bet for last place in this. I wonder how close they’ll be to the other world champs.
Mets (97-65 actual; 91-71 pythag). The Mets had a nice run late in the decade, and this was clearly their best squad.
Twins (96-66 actual; 93-69 pythag). Best team for a squad having a nice decade.
Tigers (95-67 actual, 95-67 pythag). An easy pick.
Red Sox (96-66 actual, 101-61 pythag). Boston’s best pythag of the decade, as well as their best actual/pythag average.
Indians (96-66 actual, 91-71 pythag). The franchise never lived up to its hype or promise, but they sure had a nice season in ’07.
Padres (89-74 actual, 89-74 pythag). Best of the late-decade Pads.
Rockies (90-73 actual, 91-72 pythag). Every franchise with at least one 90-win season got in. Added bonus: Both squads from the Matt Holiday game get to duke it out over 1,000 sims.
Phillies (92-70 actual, 93-69 pythag). In ’09, they won 93 and pythag’ed 92, but this was the year they won the World Series.
Rays (97-65 actual, 92-70 pythag). If I’m putting in the ’08 Rockies, I better put them in.
Cubs (97-64 actual, 98-63 pythag). Best winning record the franchise has had since 1945 – and their pythag was even better.
Angels (100-62 actual, 88-74 pythag). By my own logic, I should’ve put in the 2009 Angels, whose actual/pythag average win is a hair higher. But I’m a sucker for triple-digit win totals. The Angels were good enough long enough to justify a pair of entries from this franchise.
Brewers (90-72 actual, 87-75 pythag). The last team I added to my list.
Yankees (103-59 actual, 95-67 pythag. Not a bad team at all.
Dodgers (95-67 actual, 99-63 pythag). They earned it.
Results: best of the decade
Well, those are the teams. Now for the fun part: the results. I’ll divide it by AL/NL, because two blocks of 14 is easier to read than one giant glump of 28.
There’s another reason. When SG presented me the results, he said the DH could skew things. He had the computer use DHs when the sims made AL teams home teams. The overall results, as you’ll see in a second, indicate a slight edge to AL teams. Whether that’s due to the DH or differences in league quality or whatever else I’ll let you judge on your own.
But for now, here are the sims. Listed are wins and losses to the 10th decimal, and the average runs scored and allowed in the 1,000 sims. First the AL:
Team W L RS RA SEA01 94.9 67.1 824 689 NYA09 89.7 72.3 927 846 BOS04 88.6 73.4 889 816 BOS07 85.1 76.9 820 768 ANA02 84.9 77.1 808 762 OAK01 83.9 78.1 801 754 NYA02 83.9 78.1 811 775 NYA00 82.5 79.5 845 847 TBA08 81.8 80.2 780 740 DET06 80.2 81.8 754 760 CHA05 80.2 81.8 697 730 MIN06 79.4 82.6 742 766 LAA08 74.0 88.0 708 783 CLE07 73.3 88.7 729 805
Now the NL:
Team W L RS RA SLN04 88.1 73.9 801 748 CHN08 85.7 76.3 795 762 LAN09 83.4 78.6 758 719 SDN07 82.7 79.3 711 694 SFN00 82.4 79.6 834 826 ARI01 82.1 79.9 794 789 COL07 80.9 81.1 805 790 NYN06 78.4 83.6 768 778 PHI08 77.1 84.9 754 786 HOU04 75.7 86.3 749 816 FLO03 75.4 86.6 718 811 ATL02 74.7 87.3 678 732 MIL08 71.1 90.9 712 803 SLN06 67.7 94.3 744 863
Seven of the nine best teams overall are AL squads. Seven of the nine worst here are NL squads. DH? League strength? Computer glitch? You’re call is as good as mine.
It’s no surprise the Mariners came in first. The scale is impressive: They average more than five wins better than anyone else. That’s an even bigger gap than separates the 2006 Cards from the worst remaining team. Seattle was the only team to never finish in the bottom three teams, and came in the bottom six only once in 1,000 sims.
The 2004 Cardinals end up as the NL’s team of the decade. Again, that’s not terribly surprising.
The 2009 Yanks win the award for best World Series winner, thanks to the best offense in the listing. Interestingly, the five best World Series winners all came from the AL, even though that league contained only six world champs in the decade. Even the underwhelming 2000 Yanks topped the best NL champion (the 2001 D-backs).
Four of the top seven teams won the World Series (2009 Yanks, 2004 and 2007 Red Sox and 2002 Angels), and a fifth team lost in the World Series to one of those squads (2004 Cards). I suppose that means the ’04 Fall Classic had the highest overall talent. Damn shame the World Series sucked.
The best pennant-losers then were the ’01 Mariners (of course), and the ’08 Cubs. I’m a bit surprised the Cubs scored as highly as they did – second best NL team of the decade! They were a helluva team, though. They led the league in ERA+ and were second in OPS+. Interestingly, the two best teams to not make it to the World Series were managed by the same man: Lou Piniella.
At least the Mariners won the LDS. The 2008 Cubs are the only team in the top seven who failed to win any round in the postseason, and the only one in the top 10 who didn’t win a game in the postseason. I would’ve figured the Beane-ball A’s would be the best team to fail in the LDS, but not quite. Not according to this anyway.
The worst non-Cardinals World Champion was the Marlins. That isn’t terribly surprising. What does surprise me is how well the 2000 Yanks did. Going by wins and pythag info, they were rather easily the second worst team in the entire field. They somehow emerged from the sims with a winning record. I can’t really explain that one. Even if you think there’s some sort of league difference or DH issues, those Yanks still finished eighth among all AL teams. (Besides, talk of differences in league strength was much more muted in 2000.) Then again, the biggest of these oddities tell us more about the quirks of the computer than the quality of the teams.
Speaking of surprises, I’m amazed at how the 2007 Padres did. They neither won nor pythaged 90 wins, but the sim calls them the fourth best NL team of the decade. Their secret was run prevention. Only the 2001 Mariners averaged fewer runs per game. That fact likely owes a great deal to their park, though. In real life, they led the league in ERA despite an ERA+ of only 108.
References & Resources
The article would be inconceivable without SG of the Replacement Level Yankee Weblog and his super-season simmer thingee.