October country’s refugees (part 2 of 2)by Chris Jaffe
November 10, 2008
In last week's column I asked one of the classic questions of baseball sports fans: who was the best team to never make the World Series? More importantly, I had a way to try to answer this question; ask SG from the Replacement Level Yankee Weblog to run 1,000 Diamondmind season sims with a computer program he set up to do just that.
In part one, I went over the 28 teams I had SG enter into the sims. My guidelines for choosing teams were: 1) minimal (ideally no) overlap with a real pennant winners, 2) no overlap with another team in the mix, 3) try to represent all eras, 4) avoid really recent teams because they just might win a pennant still, and 6) if possible, try to avoid one-year wonders.
It's impossible to come up with a Perfect List of 28 because picking the bunch is inherently subjective, and frankly more than 28 teams deserve entry. The guidelines help, but there's always a question of which rule you emphasize the most. If I had to pick 28 teams 10 different times, I'd have 10 slightly different lists. That's part of the fun though.
You can check the last column for the bunch I came up with. I'm sure there are one or two differences I'd make if I did it again (1982 Braves out, 2002 Twins in) but I stand by it. There's always some wiggle room when constructing these lists.
Anyhow, no one's reading this for overly in-depth background. Let's get to the fun part—who were the best of October country's refugees?
Finally - the results
In previous columns based on SG sims, I divided up the results rather than give it in one big block. Looking back, I'm not sure why I did it that way. Here they all are, for your reading pleasure. It includes their average wins/losses to a tenth of a game in the simulations, and their run scoring:
Year Team W L RS RA 2001 SEA 98.1 63.9 686.9 550.0 1922 SLB 96.7 65.3 731.0 575.9 1994 MTL 94.7 67.3 605.1 510.4 1994 CWS 91.9 70.1 681.4 593.1 1924 DET 90.6 71.4 735.1 625.8 1986 HOU 89.5 72.5 578.6 526.3 1930 BRK 89.1 72.9 646.2 574.8 1985 TOR 87.1 74.9 660.7 605.2 2002 OAK 86.7 75.3 641.7 608.3 1991 PIT 85.3 76.7 674.5 633.0 1985 NYY 83.4 78.6 701.8 672.1 1895 PHI 82.2 79.8 804.0 781.4 1938 PIT 81.8 80.2 600.8 576.6 1961 BAL 81.5 80.5 604.2 593.2 1986 CAL 81.4 80.6 596.6 602.7 1950 DET 78.8 83.2 647.0 656.0 1964 CHW 78.2 83.8 557.1 589.8 1999 TEX 77.7 84.3 664.9 706.1 1940 CLE 77.3 84.7 548.2 568.9 1979 MTL 73.8 88.2 552.4 610.6 1964 PHI 72.6 89.4 578.0 667.5 1895 CLV 72.6 89.4 563.8 629.4 1912 WAS 72.0 90.0 583.8 658.3 1970 NYY 72.0 90.0 567.3 652.2 1969 CHC 69.9 92.1 567.4 665.7 1898 CIN 68.9 93.1 590.8 674.9 1982 ATL 68.4 93.6 570.3 702.3 1948 PHA 65.9 96.1 596.0 724.9
Well, that's a lot of info to digest. Let's take it from the top . . .
The 2001 Seattle Mariners won. Well, that's not even remotely surprising, now is it? The only problem with the exercise was that I already knew what the result was going to be. They won 116 games—top that.
1922 St. Louis Browns
In many ways this exercise was really a battle for second place—which is why I'm so thrilled at the results. I never expected the 1922 St. Louis Browns to come away so well.
They really had a tremendous team. Not only did they have one of the better records of any team here, but they actually underachieved their pythag mark by five games. Going by runs, they should've been 98-56 (.636) on the year. They led the league in runs scored and ERA. Not many non-pennant winners can make that claim. They also led in both ERA+ and OPS+. That team was a dynamo.
Their only Hall of Famer was first baseman George Sisler. He doesn't get much respect in sabermetric circles because a fairly empty batting average (inflated by his era) propelled him to Cooperstown. In 1922, however, he had his best season, hitting .420. Era, schmera—that's pretty damn valuable. Plus he stole 51 bases, another career best.
Alongside him, the Browns had a fantabulous outfield of Baby Doll Jacboson, Jack Tobin, and Ken Williams. When Bill James pondered what was the greatest outfield ever in the 1987 Abstract (the yellow one), this was one of the 13 that made his short list. Combined, they hit .327 with 61 homers. Ken Williams was a monster, clubbing 39 homers with 155 RBIs, hitting .332 and stealing 37 bases.
They also had very good hitting starters at catcher, Hank Severeid, and second base, Marty McManus. The team led the league in hits, triples, batting average and slugging percentage while coming in second in doubles, homers and on-base percentage.
Yet their combined OPS+ of 116 wasn't as good as their ERA+ of 122. They had only one hurler throw more than five innings with a below-average ERA+ (and that guy only tossed 92.7 IP).
Their ace was Urban Shocker, probably the best pitcher in St. Louis Browns history. He's one of the pitchers on the cusp of Cooperstown. He had a prime worthy of induction, but he had a late start and tragically died in 1928—after remaining a quality pitcher through 1927.
Shocker had maybe his best season, leading the league in both strikeouts and fewest walks per nine innings, a combination as impressive as it is unusual. He also tossed an impressive 348 innings and 29 complete games in 38 starts en route to a 24-17 record.
It's perfect because they're exactly the sort of team that made me want to do this study in the first place. You want some surprises in a study like this. Otherwise what's the point? Also, the surprise better make sense. This one certainly does.
Last but not least, the 1922 Browns truly have no overlap with any other pennant winners. The squad hadn't won a pennant in its previous 21 years of existence and wouldn't in its next 21 seasons as well. That's what I'm looking for. If the teams topping the list had overlap with an existing pennant winner ... man that would suck. It would ruin the whole point of the exercise.
After last week's column, I got a lot of feedback from people who wanted to know why Team X, Y or Z wasn't in. In every case, the mentioned teams would have made fine entries. Heck, if I redid the list from scratch I'd probably include one or two instead of the ones I did. However, most of the ones mentioned had more overlap with a pennant winner than I was comfortable with.
For example, the omission that drew the most attention was the 1993 Giants, who went 103-59, only to come in second place to the 104-58 Braves in the last season before the wild card. They were a great squad, but had key contributors (Will Clark, Robby Thompson, and Matt Williams) who were on the 1989 NL champs.
That may not sound like much, but it's more overlap than any of these 28 squads. Only three teams here even had a pair of notable performances appear on a nearby pennant winner. The 1940 Indians had Lou Boudreau and Bob Feller, who stuck around until 1948. The 1985 Yanks had 1977-81 holdovers Willie Randolph and Ron Guidry. The 1961 Orioles had Steve Barber and Brooks Robinson. (And Barber barely threw 130 IP as a starting pitcher for the 1966 pennant-winning Orioles).
Otherwise, you had teams with one connection with a pennant winner—Walter Johnson with the 1912 Senators, Ty Cobb with the 1924 Tigers, Hal Newhouser on the 1950 Tigers, Jim Landis on the 1964 Sox, Thurman Munson on the 1970 Yanks, Tom Henke with the 1985 Jays, and Frank Thomas on the 1994 Sox. I'm sure there's a few I missed, but I really meant it when I made "no overlap" my first guideline.
So thank God for the 1922 St. Louis Browns. They're the sort of team that makes me want to look up stupid stuff like this.
Beneath the Browns, a pair of 1994 teams emerge: the Expos and White Sox. They probably both benefit from playing in a shortened season that helps their rate stats out, but each were fantastic squads.
The 1924 Tigers were the only other team to win 90 games. That's a real shocker. They came in third place that year despite exceeding their pythag record by four games. Their pythag winning percentage was .532—hardly what you'd expect from a team that does well in a computer simulation.
Their advantage was a great offense. They averaged 735 runs in SG's sims, the best of any team since 1900. (The 1895 Phillies were the only team higher, but that Gilded Age squad also allowed the most runs per game in the sims.) Whatever his limitations as manager, Ty Cobb knew how to get the most out of his bats.
At the other end, the two teams with the worst real-life winning percentages, the 1948 A's and 1982 Braves, had the worst results here. At least they're consistent. The 1948 A's were included to get a second team from the 1940s involved. I wish I knew why I added in the Braves. Looking back, they aren't nearly as good a candidate as the 2002 Twins. Or the 1961 Tigers. Or the 1983 White Sox. Or the 1957 Cards, 2004 Cubs, and yes, possibly even the 1993 Giants. Or a half-dozen other teams.
But you expect the worst choices to be at the bottom. The real interest at the bottom is finding the biggest disappointment. Which "no brainer" pick did the worst?
If we're looking for the biggest disappointment, I suppose it's all too fitting that the award go to the only Cubs team in the mix. The 1969 Cubs were one of my obvious, core picks. The franchise had six straight winning seasons with a steady corps that included 3 Hall of Famers (Ernie Banks, Fergie Jenkins, and Billy Williams) and a fourth player (Ron Santo) who deserves entry.
Their offense dragged them down, as their 567.4 run average was one of the worst of the bunch. Banks was well past his prime by 1969. Even worse, they had nothing up the middle. Glenn Beckert has arguably the emptiest batting average in baseball history. His .291 mark in 1969 masked a complete lack of power, walks, or speed. Shortstop Don Kessinger and catcher Randy Hundley were similarly poor hitters. Two great hitters couldn't overcome a lineup littered with holes.
No matter which way you do it, the 2001 Mariners are the best team to never win a pennant. You don't need a computer study to figure that out.
Some might think the 1993 Giants are better than the 1922 Browns, but including them would make it a different study than what it was. Among all of October's overlooked, that Browns season truly was the best season by a 20th century team that had no overlap with a pennant winner.
References and Resources
I looked at the Yellow Abstract for the bit about the Browns.
The other big source, of course, was SG's super-dup-season-simmer.
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.
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