Best of the second best (part 2)by Chris Jaffe
July 27, 2009
Welcome to the second part of a two-part lark here at THT. About once or twice a year here at THT, I ask SG of the Replacement Level Yankee Weblog to do a favor for me. He, in his infinite wisdom, has constructed a computer database that runs 1,000 season simulations with the greatest of ease.
I ask him to run a particular group of 28 historic teams through his simulation using Diamondmind information and he provides the results. This isn't meant to be the most rigorous analysis in the world, but it sure is fun to do in order to answer particular questions.
Last week I posed one of the classic baseball questions: what was the best team to lose the World Series? Part I listed the teams I gave SG along with my rationale for them. Short version: there are really only nine teams I'm especially interested in seeing. These are nine squads who had terrific seasons, lost the World Series, and didn't win it in any surrounding seasons. There were only nine such teams because great teams either: A) win the Series that year, or B) win it another year. Makes sense if you think about it.
To fill out the bracket I gave him 17 teams that lost the Series that year, but won in another year, and two ringers: teams that missed the Series but came out as the best teams to never appear in it when SG did a previous simulation for me.
Enough of the background—now for the reason everyone is reading this: the results.
Fun stuff: results
First things first, who did best? The following five teams averaged the most wins in the sims. Listed are average wins, losses (rounded to the nearest tenth) and runs scored and allowed:
Team W L RS RA 1995 CLE 94.6 67.4 849 739 2001 SEA 92.6 69.4 774 679 1941 BRK 88.6 73.4 774 699 1969 BAL 88.4 73.6 758 689 1906 CHC 88.0 74.0 719 639
The 1995 Indians are the winners. I expected the 2001 Mariners (one of my ringers), but Cleveland makes sense. They won "only" 100 games, but the season was 144 that year due to the strike. They were on pace for 112 wins over a regular 162-game schedule.
Looking back, it's extraordinary how great their lineup was. You can make a Hall of Fame case for a majority of their starting nine hitters. Veteran Eddie Murray is already in there. Manny Ramirez had had one of the greatest slugging careers of his generation, as had third baseman Jim Thome. (Hey, I forgot he initially played third!) Albert Belle was a peak monster, especially that year when he somehow combined 50 homers with over 50 doubles. Omar Vizquel had won numerous accolades in his lengthy career at short.
The rest of the lineup was pretty good, too. Kenny Lofton was a star center fielder. Carlos Baerga was a terrific player until he got old quick. The team's 849 runs scored per simulation were the best of the 28 in the bunch.
While the team is most well known for its hitters, that year the pitching was fantastic as well. El Presidente Dennis Martinez pitched possibly the best season of his career with a 3.08 ERA in the early Silly Ball Era. (Still to be determined: how could he win only 12 games while starting in front of that lineup all year.) Orel Hershiser had possibly his last really good season as well.
Also, Cleveland had a phenomenal bullpen. Closer Jose Mesa had a season for the ages, posting a 1.12 ERA with 46 saves. A solid cohort of middle relievers assured the road to the ninth inning would be smooth as Eric Plunk, Paul Assenmacher, Julian Tavarez, all posted ERAs well under 3.00 and fellow bullpen man Jim Poole also was well above average. Ultimately, there is a reason why the 1995 Indians were the only 20th century team to win all their extra-inning games.
They lost one of the greatest World Series of all time. The 1995 Fall Classic is sorely neglected in baseball's collective memory because it came after the strike, but it was grand. One run decided five of the six games. That Series was won by the Atlanta Braves, for the team's only world championship of the Bobby Cox era. Had Cleveland won, Atlanta might have won this exercise.
The 2001 Mariners had a better winning percentage than the 1995 Indians did, but all things considered I do find the Cleveland squad more impressive. Seattle merely had a club where everything gelled at the same time. Cleveland was a dynamo year in and year out en route to five successive division titles. Seattle is the best team to miss the World Series, but I'd take the 1995 Indians over the Mariners if I had to pick one roster.
The 1941 Dodgers stunned me by coming in third. Their hitters topped the league in runs by a healthy margin, and their pitchers—despite working in an offensive park—narrowly missed leading the league in runs allowed. They went 100-54 that year and followed it up with a 104-win performance in 1942. Incredibly, that still wasn't enough to claim the flag as St. Louis won 106 games. (Though it was during WWII, the draft had scarcely affected the National League in 1942.)
I'm skeptical the Dodgers were as good as the sim makes out, but they are an underrated World Series loser from the first half of the century.
Unlike the Dodgers, the 1969 Orioles and 1906 Cubs were squads I expected to finish near the top of these sims. Both are widely remembered as dominant teams shockingly upset in the World Series. I've heard people argue the 1969 Birds might be the best team of all time, and the Cubs still own the best post-1900 single-season winning percentage of them all. The Cubs allowed fewer runs than any team in the sims.
The main nine
Those were the best; now for the nine teams in which I was most interested. How did they stack up in these sims?
Team W L RS RA 1995 CLE 94.6 67.4 849 739 1941 BRK 88.6 73.4 774 699 1912 NYG 80.8 81.2 774 765 1946 BOS 77.7 84.3 749 782 1909 DET 77.0 85.0 760 785 1935 CHC 75.1 86.9 711 748 1962 SFG 75.1 86.9 743 794 1933 WAS 72.7 89.3 697 765 1965 MIN 70.5 91.5 735 845
By and large, they fared poorly. Then again, they were up against the best teams to lose World Series which won in surrounding seasons—the 1969 Orioles, 1953 Dodgers, 2004 Cards et al. The teams that made multiple Series and won some should be a bit better. That said, I suppose it's impressive that the two best teams here were among the best three overall.
While I'm not that surprised to see clubs like the 1933 Senators or 1909 Tigers scuffle, I'm amazed how poorly the 1965 Twins did. They were one of the teams that I had in mind when I thought up this little experiment. They actually did the worst among the 28 teams in the simulation. Their pitching staff was to blame, as it allowed the most runs among all the clubs. (It was only two more runs than the 1914 A's, but that was the only squad within 50 runs.)
The Twins actually had a good staff with Jim Kaat, Mudcat Grant and Camilo Pascual anchoring the rotation, Johnny Klippstein and Al Worthington providing a terrific one-two punch from the bullpen, and Jim Perry helping out both parts of the staff while serving as swingman. They did play in a pitcher's park, but still. I don't buy that they were this bad.
The 1946 Red Sox are the other big surprise. They might be the most snake bitten team in history. The team had a great core of players come into their prime—just in time for WWII. They had this one great season where they won 104 games, lost two pennants by one game each later in the decade and began to decline. Not only do they do poorly overall, but they also do worse than the teams closest to them in the baseball timeline: the 1941 and 1953 Dodgers.
Speaking of the 1953 Dodgers, how did the rest of the teams do?
The remaining teams
Below, are 17 Series losers where the core players won the title on another occasion. Two other teams, the 2001 Mariners and 1922 Browns are just in there to satisfy my own curiosity about how the best non-pennant winners (according to these Diamondmind sims anyway) do in comparison.
Here's how they stack up:
Team W L RS RA 2001 SEA 92.6 69.4 774 679 1969 BAL 88.4 73.6 758 689 1906 CHC 88.0 74.0 719 639 1953 BRK 86.4 75.6 833 776 2004 STL 85.7 76.3 726 703 2003 NYY 84.8 77.2 777 755 1954 CLE 84.2 77.8 712 678 1922 STB 84.1 77.9 816 775 1979 BAL 83.5 78.5 713 690 1931 PHA 81.8 80.2 774 756 1999 ATL 81.0 81.0 655 671 1974 LAD 79.5 82.5 719 726 1985 STC 79.4 82.6 719 741 1970 CIN 79.1 82.9 720 751 1914 PHA 77.4 84.6 817 843 1988 OAK 76.9 85.1 720 760 1963 NYY 76.5 85.5 712 759 1939 CIN 73.8 88.2 698 769 1919 CWS 73.0 89.0 661 734
Both pennant losers do well here. I suppose that makes sense—the best of the thousands of teams that missed October should hold up well in all baseball history.
There aren't a lot of big surprises for me here. By far the most interesting result is the squad at the bottom: the Black Sox. Perhaps they threw the sims?
Among all 28 teams, the Black Sox finished 26th, better than only the 1933 Senators and 1962 Twins. The Sox are sometimes hearkened back on as one of the great teams in baseball history. Movies like "Eight Men Out" make them seem like a team for the ages, when in reality they were just a really solid, very good team. They were the best team of 1919 (the AL was much stronger than the NL in those days), but nothing much more than that. The Red Sox were the real team of the decade (they won multiple World Series in those years), and the 1914 A's score better in this sim than the 1919 Black Sox. If it wasn't for the fix, I doubt they'd be as well remembered.
The first time I ever did one of these sims, I gave the results by breaking up the teams into four divisions, from oldest seven to most recent seven. I think it's more interesting to show the results in bigger groups, so I've gone away from that, but there is something to be said for clustering them by era. That allows you to see how teams performed against their peers.
Rather than rehash all the above charts, I'll just briefly here summarize how the groups work out if you do it this way.
The oldest group consists of teams from 1906 to 1931. Only three of them posted winning records, and one by the thinnest of margins (the 1931 A's averaged 81.8 wins). In order, they ranked as follows: 1906 Cubs, 1922 Browns, 1931 A's, 1912 Giants, 1914 A's, 1909 Tigers and 1919 White Sox (who were four games worse than the Tigers). Those guys averaged 80.3 wins per sim.
The second cohort contained teams from 1933 to 1954. Again, three of them had winning records. From best to worst, they were: 1941 Dodgers, 1953 Dodgers, 1954 Indians, 1946 Red Sox, 1935 Cubs, 1939 Reds, and 1933 Senators. This bunch average slightly worse than the first group, at 79.8 wins per sim. It's worth noting that of the dozen pre-integration teams, only four wound up with winning records.
The third bunch lasted from 1962 to 1979. Only two of these teams had winning records, though another two narrowly missed it. These seven teams averaged 78.9 wins per sim, which was the worst of all. I don't think that means very much. There is no reason for anyone to agree with how the sims timeline. Hashing out the results is half the fun of doing this. In order, the third division results were: 1969 Orioles, 1979 Orioles, 1974 Dodgers, 1970 Reds, 1963 Yankees, 1962 Giants, and 1965 Twins.
The 1960s seem to be a bit of a dead spot, aside from Earl Weaver's squad. Similarly, the 1930s had a trio of teams who finished poorly with one team over .500 (though barely in the case of the 1931 A's). That might just be a fluke or the computer system. Or it might say something else. Keep in mind, we're looking at World Series losers here. In the 1930s, a lot of times the better team kept winning, most obviously Joe McCarthy's incarnation of the Yankee Dynasty. Then again, it could just mean I picked the wrong teams to represent. Maybe the 1968 Cards would've done better than the 1963 Yanks.
If the first three groups all did below .500, the most recent bunches should have done quite well. Sure enough, four finished over .500, a fifth right on 81 wins, and a sixth scarcely below. In order, they are: 1995 Indians, 2001 Mariners, 2004 Cardinals, 2003 Yankees, 1999 Braves, 1985 Cards, and 1988 A's. They averaged exactly 85 wins per sim. Any way you slice it, the Indians and Mariners were among the best teams to ever not claim the grand postseason prize.
References and Resources
This pair of articles is entirely dependent on SG's mainframe capable of running 1,000 computer season simulations.
History instructor by day, statnerd by night, Chris Jaffe leads one of the most exciting double lives imaginable; with the exception of every other double life possible to imagine. Despite his lack of comic-book-hero-worthiness, Chris enjoys farting around with this stuff. His new book, Evaluating Baseball's Managers is available for order. Chris welcomes responses to his articles via e-mail. Oh, and now he's on twitter.