The great 28 (part 1 of 2)

Finally.

This is something I’ve been waiting to do ever since I came to THT over five years ago.

I’ll occasionally ask SG from the Replacement Level Yankee Weblog for a favor. He has a computer set up that allows him to input 28 teams from any period in baseball history and run 1,000 simulated seasons using Diamond Mind Baseball to see how the squads shake out.

In the past, I’ve asked him to look at the worst teams of all-time, the best teams to miss the World Series, the worst world champions, the best World Series losers, and various other sims. But it’s all been working toward this. It’s the ultimate for one of these season-simulation exercises.

Let’s look at the best teams in history and see how they did.

Now, admittedly, this isn’t scientific, and the debate will always go on as to what the best teams are. But it’s an intriguing way to approach the question. It certainly feels like quite a bit more than me just spouting off my opinion.

First, though, we need to select the 28 teams to square off against each other. I have a few general guidelines. First, I want to have respect for various eras. You have to look at how a team did in the context of its own time and then compare their relative dominance across time.

Second, I put the start of modern baseball at 1893. That’s when the last great rule change occurred, the 60 foot, six inch pitching distance. Many others pick 1900 or 1901, but I never cared for that. There were only 12 teams in the 1890s and 16 in the 1900s, which is to say the overall talent level was diluted starting in 1901. I don’t want to pick the starting point with a year when the overall quality of a team went down.

So I’m looking at the best teams from all eras from 1893-2011. Ideally, we’ll have two or three per decade, maybe with more in recent decades, but let’s not get too hung up on each one. As it happens, there are 14 pre-expansion era, and 14 expansion-era squads. That works.

As for picking the precise 28 teams, a couple guidelines are in place:

- Both the best one-season wonders and the best dynasties should be represented.

- Actual and pythag records both matter.

- Postseason performance isn’t the most important factor, but it is a factor.

- Let’s try to avoid teams that overlap each other. We want 28 distinct squads in here.

If I sat down 10 different times to create a list of the best 28 teams, I’d have 10 slightly different lists. That’s okay, as there’s only 10 or so teams you truly need, and there always will be debates along the edges.

All right, enough dilly-dallying, here are the 28 teams selected for the sims:

1896 Baltimore Orioles (90-39 actual record, 87-42 pythag record)

If you’re going to go back to the 1890s, you need the Orioles, who won three straight pennants from 1894-96 behind a star-studded lineup featuring Willie Keeler, Joe Kelley, John McGraw, and Hughie Jennings. I picked 1896 from the trio of first place squads because they had the best combined pythag/actual winning percentages. That’s normally how I settle it with dynastic teams. As it happens, 1896 was also their best actual record, with a .698 winning percentage.

1897 Boston Braves (93-39 actual record, 91-41 pythag record)

It’s the other 1890s dynasty. From 1891-98, the Braves won five NL pennants, which means either Boston or Baltimore topped the league eight straight seasons. According to Win Shares, this is one of the best defensive infields ever.

1902 Pittsburgh Pirates (103-36 actual record, 103-36 pythag record)

They set an all-time single-season wins record (which wasn’t going to last long, as baseball soon lengthened the season to 154 games). These guys were on pace for a 114-40 record over that many contests. The Pirates could’ve sleep-walked to 110 wins. Aside from big stars on offense like Honus Wagner and Fred Clarke, they had a really solid pitching staff behind Jack Chesbro, Deacon Phillippe, Jesse Tannehill, and Sam Leever.

1906 Chicago Cubs (116-36 actual record, 115-37 pythag record)

This is one of the obvious, inner-circle choices. The Cubs have the most wins and highest winning percentage of any team since 1893. In 1906, they scored 79 more runs and allowed 83 fewer runs than any team. The Cubs of the Tinker-Evers-Chance era also have the record for most wins over two years, three years, four years, five years, six years … these guys were good.

1910 Philadelphia A’s (102-48 actual record, 103-47 pythag record)

The A’s had a great run from 1910-14, winning four pennants and three world titles in five years, with one of those world titles coming in 1910. In this season, they posted their best record and had an even better pythag mark. They allowed the fewest runs in the league and were second in runs scored, just eight runs behind Detroit, who played in a much better hitter’s park.

1912 Boston Red Sox (105-47 actual record, 102-50 pythag record)

The Red Sox won four world titles in the 1910s, and this was their best season, as they scored the most and allowed the fewest runs of any team in the league.

1921 New York Giants (94-59 actual record, 95-58 pythag record)

This is one of the borderline teams that fill out the roster of 28. The Giants were never truly dominant in any single season, but they did win four consecutive pennants from 1921-24. For that, we’ll give them a spot. This particular team wins out by combining actual and pythag record. Plus, they won the World Series in 1921.

1927 New York Yankees (110-44 actual record, 109-45 pythag record)

Well, duh. This is an inner-circle team and a legitimate contender for the title.

1929 Philadelphia A’s (104-46 actual record, 100-50 pythag record)

Connie Mack’s second dynasty won three straight pennants from 1929-31. Initially, I figured the 107-45 1931 team would be the representative, but they had only a 97-55 pythag mark. Average actual and pythag records, and this one is slightly ahead.

1939 New York Yankees (106-45 actual record, 111-40 pythag record)

This is another Yankee team that could win it all. Though not as famous as Babe Ruth’s 1927 Murderers Row squad, the 1939 team was the fourth consecutive team that cruised to a world title and the best of all that 1936-39 foursome. This team even has a better pythag record than the 1927 Yankees.

1942 St. Louis Cardinals (106-48 actual record, 107-47 pythag record)

This might seem controversial because of players being drafted into WWII, but in 1942 not many guys had been taken from the NL. The most prominent NL player gone was Hugh Mulcahy, whose nickname was “Losing Pitcher.” So, yeah, we’ll let the 106-win team from that league in. The 1942-44 Cards are also the only team to post three straight 105-win seasons.

1953 New York Yankees (99-52 actual record, 101-50 pythag record)

Based solely on regular-season performance, they don’t belong here. But of course, they’re not here just on regular-season performance. The 1949-53 Casey Stengel Yankees won five straight world titles, and this was the best of that bunch.

1953 Brooklyn Dodgers (105-49 actual record, 99-55 pythag record)

This is the Boys of Summer Dodgers at their best. Sure, they won the world title in 1955, but they won 105 freaking games in 1953. Besides, the squad this team lost to for the world title is also in the Great 28 list. It’s the only pairing of World Series competitors on this list.

1954 Cleveland Indians (111-43 actual record, 104-50 pythag record)

They aren’t as good as their actual record, as the AL was the weaker league, and more than any other team in history the Indians beat the hell out of the little teams of the earth. They were 89-21 against teams with losing records (an amazing 75-13 if you exclude the Tigers), but only 22-22 against teams with winning records, not including getting swept in the World Series. Okay, so they aren’t as good as their record, but check out that record! A cool 111 wins? Yeah, the Tribe gets a place here.

1961 New York Yankees (109-53 actual record, 103-59 pythag record)

Despite winning 109 contests, I considered leaving this team out. Or I considered leaving them in and pushing the 1953 Yankees out as there is some overlap between the squads with their key players, Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, and Whitey Ford. But if we’re going to bend the overlap rule a little bit, this is the time to do it. The Yankees won 14 out of 16 pennants from 1949-64, so giving them two representative from eight years apart seems reasonable.

1968 Detroit Tigers (103-59 actual record, 103-59 pythag record)

Though not usually thought of as a historically great team, they led the league in runs scored, fewest runs allowed, had a great actual record, a great pythag record, and won a world title. That’s a nifty combination.

1969 Baltimore Orioles (109-53 actual record, 110-52 pytahg record)

Damn few teams win 109 games while underachieving their pythag record. They won 108 games and a world title in 1970, but with “only” 104 pythag wins in that season.

1972 Oakland A’s (93-62 actual record, 97-58 pythag record)

This team began the Mustache Gang’s three-peat dynasty. Based solely on regular-season performance, they don’t belong among the 28 squads, but winning those titles gets them in. The 1972 A’s had fewer wins than the 1973 squad, but then again there was a brief players’ strike in 1972 that cost Oakland seven games. They were on pace for 97 actual and 101 pythag wins.

1975 Cincinnati Reds (108-54 actual record, 107-55 pythag record)

The Big Red Machine is one of the obvious picks, with their all-everything offense and solid pitching. Their 108 wins are tied for the most by any NL team in the last 100 years.

1984 Detroit Tigers (104-58 actual record, 99-63 pythag record)

They began the year 35-5 and coasted from there, topping the league in runs scored and allowed. Then in the postseason, the Tigers woke up and easily handled all comers for the world title.

1986 New York Mets (108-54 actual record, 103-59 pythag record)

This is the team tied with the 1975 Reds for most wins in the regular season in the NL over the last 100 seasons.

1988 Oakland A’s (104-58 actual record, 100-62 record)

When the A’s are great, they’re really great. They had another dynastic run in 1988-90, and while the 1989 team was the only one to win the world title, they were far more dominant in the 1988 and 1990 regular seasons. This one gets the nod over 1990.

1995 Cleveland Indians (100-44 actual record, 93-51 pythag record)

They were on pace for 113 wins over 162 games. I once did an SG sim for the best teams not to win the World Series, and this team came in first place. In a 14-team league, they led in most runs scored and fewest runs allowed.

1998 New York Yankees (114-48 actual record, 108-54 pythag record)

This was the team I figured was likely to win it all when I selected teams. Let’s see what the season simulation machine will say.

1998 Atlanta Braves (106-56 actual record, 106-56 pythag record)

I think 14 division titles in 15 years merits a place here, don’t you? Aside from a legendary run of dominance, this team deserves a slot for just what they did in 1998 itself. Reaching 106 victoires is tough to do, and it’s even tougher without exceeding your pythag record.

They have one of the greatest starting rotations of all time, with all five pitchers winning 16 or more games with quality performances.

2001 Seattle Mariners (116-46 actual record, 109-53 pythag record)

Yes, a team with 116 wins belongs in this simulation.

2004 St. Louis Cardinals (105-57 actual record, 100-62 pythag record)

They had a great season in the midst of a great run. They won 100 games the next year and claimed a world title in 2006. Not many teams win 105 games these days, but the 2004 Cardinals did.

2011 Philadelphia Phillies (102-60 actual record, 103-59 pythag record)

Not only are they the most recent team, but they are also the 28th team picked. The last slot came down to the 1904 Giants, 2009 Yankees, and 2011 Phillies. I decided I’d rather have a third recent team than a seventh team from 1896-1912. I picked the Phillies over the Yankees because, according to WAR, this team has the best pitching staff of all time. Besides, I’d rather have a Phillies team than another Yankees squad.

Those are the 28 teams I picked, but before moving on, I want to note some also-rans and explain why they were left out.

Left behind

1904 Giants (106-47 actual record, 106-47 pythag record): They were nearly as good in 1905 as well, and a legitimately great team, but only the third-best NL team in the decade. The NL was a little too separated between its haves and have-nots in this period, so I left them out.

1909 Pirates (110-42 actual record, 105-47 pythag record): They’re the only 110-win team left out, and they’re left out for overlapping a bit too much with the 1902 squad. Hitters Honus Wagner, Fred Clarke, and Tommy Leach, and pitchers Sam Leever, and Deacon Philippe were on both. So I left this one off but the team with the higher winning percentage on.

1912 Giants (103-48 actual record, 100-51 pythag record). The Giants won three straight pennants from 1911-13 but lost each World Series and weren’t quite good enough in the regular season.

1917 White Sox (100-54 actual record, 101-53 pythag record). They won the world title this year, famously threw the Series in 1919, and nearly won the 1920 pennant. But they weren’t really as impressive as the teams listed above.

1932 Yankees (107-45 actual record, 99-55 pythag record). They have one of the best win totals for any team left out, but they overlap a bit too much with the superior 1927 squad, plus their pythag isn’t very good.

1934 Tigers (101-53 actual record, 100-54 pythag record). They won back-to-back pennants and the 1935 World Series, but weren’t really one of the top 28 teams.

1935 Cubs (100-54 actual record, 101-53 pythag record). The Cubs won four pennants from 1929-38, and this was their best team, but that doesn’t mean they were good enough.

1940 Reds (100-53 actual record, 96-57 pythag record). The Reds won back-to-back pennants in 1939 and ’40, the world title in 1940, and won the 1940 pennant by 12 games this year. So they’re one of the better forgotten teams, but not good enough for here.

1946 Red Sox (104-50 actual record, 97-57 pythag record). They had one of the best records for a one-season team. But they were just a one-season team, didn’t have that great a pythag record, and didn’t win the World Series. With their core, had it not been for WWII, they could’ve been a great team throughout the 1940s, but WWII happened, so the rest is hypothetical.

1948 Indians (97-57 actual record, 104-50 pythag record). They had a great pythag record and won a world title, but won “only” 97 games and definitely overlap with the 1954 Indians.

1957 Braves (95-59 actual record, 93-61 pythag record). The Braves won the pennant in 1957-58 and narrowly missed out in 1956 and 1959. If they had won four in a row, they might get in, like the 1921 Giants, but they didn’t. And their single-season record was never that good.

1963 Dodgers (99-63 actual record, 92-70 pythag record). The Dodgers won three pennants in the 1960s, but were never that great in any one year.

1967 Cardinals (101-60 actual record; 97-64 pythag record). St. Louis won three pennants in the 1960s as well, and won the pennant by 10.5 games on the year, but that’s just enough to earn an honorable mention here.

1974 Dodgers (102-60 actual record, 106-56 pythag record). They’re a legitimate contender, and I wouldn’t argue against someone putting them in, especially given their continued success in the decade, but … well, actually I’m talking myself into putting them in, frankly. Hey, if you make a list 10 different times, you’ll have 10 slightly different lists of 28. If they’d beaten the A’s in the World Series, they’d definitely get the nod over the Mustache Gang.

1976 Phillies (101-61 actual record, 104-58 pythag record). Another team just under the cusp. If they’d had more success in the postseason and/or had their actual/pythag record flipped, they’d have a stronger case.

1977 Yankees (100-62 actual record, 99-63 pythag record). They won back-to-back world titles but weren’t that great in either season.

1985 Cardinals (101-61 actual record, 100-62 pythag record). The Cardinals won three pennants in the 1980s, but their only world title was with their worst of those three teams. This team wasn’t quite as good as the 1967 Cards, and that wasn’t good enough, so neither was this.

1992 Blue Jays (96-66 actual record, 91-71 pythag record). They won back-to-back world titles in 1992-93 but weren’t especially great in either regular season.

1993 Giants (103-59 actual record, 98-64 pythag record). They are the best team in recent decades to miss a postseason birth, but that doesn’t mean they’re one of the 28 best ever.

1994 Expos (74-40 actual record, 70-44 pythag record). On pace for 105 wins, but most teams on pace for that through 114 games fall short in the next 48. A great, young, what-if team, but there’s no real pressing reason to put them in the 28. They’re a one-year wonder that’s ultimately only a two-thirds-of-a-season wonder.

2001 A’s (102-60 actual record, 104-58 pythag record). This is another squad that arguably belongs. They had back-to-back great years, but they just didn’t quite click for me. Maybe if they’d won a postseason series, or if there hadn’t been two other teams with more wins in the first half of the decade.

2002 Angels (99-63 actual record, 101-61 pythag record). This is a personal favorite because I think they played in the toughest division of all time: the 2002 AL West. Seattle, Oakland, and Anaheim were all stacked, and they won 99 games with a superior pythag and a world title. But there’s no way they make the final 28.

2009 Yankees (103-59 actual record, 95-67 pythag record). As noted above, the last slot came down to them and the 2011 Phillies, and I picked the Phillies.

Those are the ones left behind. Tune in next week to see how the Great 28 picked actually did.

References & Resources
Team info comes from Baseball-Reference.com.

The sims come from SG at the Replacement Level Yankee Weblog.

The whole exercise is inspired by a thread from years ago at Baseball Think Factory.

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Comments

  1. Andy Moursund said...

    Chris, I like the balance over time, I like the idea of not listing teams with overlapping rosters, and I like the fact that you didn’t overdo the usual “stathead” preference for the regular season over the postseason.  All in all, it’s a very good selection.

    My sole beef is with your choice of the 1954 Indians over the 1948 team. As you note, those 111 wins were solely achieved on the backs of five of the worst Major League teams ever put together in one league in any single year. 

    The 1948 team had far better hitting (113-102 OPS+), pitching that was just as good (127-133 ERA+ in a far less topheavy league**), and it fared far better when faced with real competition:  55-39 against teams with winning records, vs. 22-26 for the 1954 team. And that’s not counting the 1954 team’s 8-13 record against the Giants in the Cactus League—-Spring training, sure, but that’s a pretty damn big sample size of head-to-head competition.

    **And by one metric the 1948 staff was superior to 1954’s.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but IIRC it was one of only two teams since 1901 with a team ERA over a run below the league average.  I know that it goes against all proper instincts to brush off those 111 wins, but that 1948 team was simply better.

  2. Chris Jaffe said...

    Andy – that’s a very impressive argument on behalf of the 1948 Indians.

    It’s really nice—but I’m just not gonna toss out a team with 111 wins.  That’s a lot of wins!  Ultimately, that’s the part that matters most to me.  If I left them out, the main thing I’d wonder about when I got the results is “How would the 1954 Indians have done?”  I don’t really have any serious curiousity about the 1948 Indians.

    (Yes, I know I leave off the 110-win Pirates, but the 1902 squad had a better winning percentage than the 1909 squad.  Heck, they barely needed to play .500 over the 13 extra games to be as good, and a 103-36 team should be expected to play a little over .500 over a 13 game stretch).

  3. Andy Moursund said...

    Given that much of my case for the 1948 Indians over their 1954 counterparts relies on the relative (and IMO quite striking) decline of the AL vs the NL over that six year period, the next great advance in metrics will be a reliable way of measuring relative league strength from year to year.  And given the AL raids of 1902 that mostly bypassed the Pirates,  it wouldn’t surprise me that when you factor in relative league strength the 1954 Indians may not be the only team to get knocked down a notch, given the relative strength of the 1909 Pirates’ competition at the top vs. that of the 1902 team.

  4. Chris Jaffe said...

    Well, strength of the league is a tricky issue for me to get into.  When you get down to it, the most recent teams must be the best for that reason.

    My goal is to see how good a team was in its own era, and see how dominant they were in that season.  And then compare their relative dominance. 

    So I’m not going to get too much into strength of various leagues, except in extreme cases, like WWII or the very early years of baseball.

  5. Andy Moursund said...

    Chris, that’s why I put any reliable measurement of relative league strength in the future tense.  For now it’s mostly a gut feeling based on a few easily observable factors, but when it comes to the 1954 American League, in the 60 years I’ve been following baseball I’ve never seen a league with such a paucity of Grade A talent**, nearly all of what little there was of it concentrated in the top 2 or 3 teams. I can’t help but taking that into consideration when I look at the 1954 Indians, 111 wins or no 111 wins.

    And hell, if games won is that significant, the 1954 Yankees with 103 wins were Stengel’s “best” team, even though both their hitting and their pitching metrics were down from the previous year.

    **After that 1954 World Series debacle, there was an article in SPORT that was titled “Has The American League Gone Minor?”  While obviously the headline was hyperbolic, it touched upon many of the factors that no contemporary observer could fail to notice.

  6. mando3b said...

    I, too, really like the fact that you have teams from all eras. (It seems like it has become fashionable in some circles to dismiss early stars and teams.) I especially like the inclusion of some powerful 19th-cen. clubs, as well as the ‘02 Pirates. And it’s so nice to see so many teams that aren’t the Yankees! Of course, you have to give the Bronx Bombers their due—the historical record speaks for itself—but too many people ignore all these other great teams. (I think the 1929 A’s are victim #1 here.) By the way, I’ve always thought the late-‘30s Yankees were actually better than the famous 1927 squad. It will be interesting to see what happens in your simulations!

  7. Shane Tourtellotte said...

    So, anybody willing to step up and say who they think will win this mega-simu-tournament?  It may be a bit of a mug’s game, since the simulations have probably been run and the results determined, but I will give it a shot.

    My choice:  the 1939 Yankees.  Six great hitters to produce a huge offensive attack, plus a strong and remarkably deep pitching staff that can absorb some rough outings and still have fine arms to throw at you. (And some of them can hit, too, as anyone who’s read my previous articles knows.)  Thanks to Neyer and Epstein, they’re not the upset pick they might once have been, but they are my pick.

  8. Andy Moursund said...

    For a combination of regular season dominance in an era that featured a deep worldwide talent pool; balance throughout the roster; balance between power and speed; rotation depth and bullpen depth; balance between the offense and the defense; and postseason performance, I can’t see any team but the 1998 Yankees.  Other teams may have been better using a few of those measurements, but it’s the consistency throughout them that makes the ‘98 Yanks stand out.  No team on this list ever combined their accomplishments with their level of competition.

    Whether a hothouse sim will confirm this remains to be seen, but in real life there’s not a team that could hope to beat the 1998 Yankees over the course of a season.

  9. Chris Jaffe said...

    Shane – I noted in the article that the 1998 Yankee are the most likely pick.  That said, as to Andy’s statement that no team on the list matches the 1998 Yankees given the strength of competition – there’s the 116-Mariners from 2001.

    Yeah, Seattle blew it in the postseason, but that doesn’t mean anything to the computer simulator.  I’d pick them, but the 1995 Indians won a previous sim I did with non-Series winners.

    One of those three teams would be my pick – I’d go 1998 Yanks for first, 1995 Indians for second, & 2001 Mariners for third.

    (NOTE: I have seen the results, but I’m not basing the above statements on the results one way or the other. I’m basing it on my thoughts before seeing the result.  Sorry if the verb tense is confusing at all).

  10. AaronB said...

    @ Andy M:  the Red Sox were just on fire after coming back and beating the Yankees.  They may have taken out the ‘27 Yanks the way they were playing.  Also, the Cards didn’t have Chris Carpenter for the WS so the Cards were missing one of the top SP’s. 

    Chris, one interesting thing really stood out to me:  everyone talks about how the big market teams win all the time, or that it’s hard to compete with them, but looking through the historical record, it seems to me like there’s a greater chance of a team winning it all or making a good run now than there was 100 years ago.  Two dominate teams of the 1890’s, first the Pirates, then the Cubs for the 1900’s…heading towards the Giant dynasty.

  11. Andy Moursund said...

    AaronB:  Given the league strength and given the way the Red Sox were playing at the end, I don’t see that 2004 World Series as much of an upset.  People sometimes forget that the Red Sox overall postseason record that year was 11 and 3, and all three of their postseason opponents were teams of very high quality.

    That said, in defense of the 2004 Cardinals, their interleague record in the regular season was 11 and 1.  And while I wouldn’t place them in my personal list of all-time greatest 28 teams, or even say that they were better than the Red Sox, they’re certainly worth an honorable mention for their regular season accomplishments.

    And to John C:  No way that the 2004 NL was as pathetic as the 1954 AL.  Look at the rosters of those bottom 5 teams, and outside of Ted Williams (who missed 37 games), what have you got?  Put a truly great team up against that sort of quasi-AAAA competition, and instead of 89-21 they’d likely go about 105-5.

  12. Andy Moursund said...

    Chris, I wasn’t saying that the 1998 Yankees faced competition that was any better than the Mariners.  I wrote that while other teams may have matched or bettered that Yankee team in SOME of the factors I listed, it was the COMBINATION of all those factors that makes them stand out.  The 2001 Mariners folded in the postseason, the Jim Crow era teams faced inferior competition, the ‘75 Reds didn’t have much of a pitching rotation, most of the other teams didn’t come that close to the Yanks’ overall .714 WP, and so on.  I don’t think that isolating one particular factor gets you all that far in terms of making an overall assessment.  IMO you have to look at all of these factors in full context before coming to a final conclusion.

  13. KJOK said...

    Chris – I think you did a fantastic job of picking the teams.  The only thing I might quibble with, which the DMB sim will ignore, is that the NL was definitely stronger than the AL post-integration.  Those 1968 Tigers just barely snuck past the 1968 Cards, which were inferior to the 1967 Cards (and there’s all those NL all-star game wins).  Plus the late 60’s Tigers really weren’t a great team.  So I would have taken 1957 MLN, 1967 STL, or 1963 LAN instead of DET, who all also had better surrounding seasons, but that’s really nitpiking.

  14. Chris Jaffe said...

    Andy – Gotcha.

    KJOK – Yeah, there’s that.  But I’m hazily under the impression that by the late 1960s it wasn’t as bad as it was say 10 years earlier.  Just an impression.

    I don’t put too much stock in the ‘68 Series telling us that much.  McLain lost 2 games after going 31-6, and Detroit still wins.  The team’s best players wasn’t at his best and they still did it.

    If I’m going to throw in a different team, it’ll probably be the 1974 Dodgers.

  15. John C said...

    All looks good, but I think I would have taken the ‘74 Dodgers ahead of the 2004 Cardinals, hands down. I don’t think you can ignore the way the Red Sox just destroyed them in the World Series, especially when they should have been ripe for a letdown after winning the ALCS in the fashion they did. I don’t even remember the Cardinals holding a lead in any game of that series. The NL in 2004 was probably weaker, relative to the other league, than the AL was in 1954.

  16. Andy Moursund said...

    Truth is, Chris has given himself an impossible task, since no two people are going to weigh all the various metrics in exactly the same way.  I just appreciate that he seems conscious of the first and foremost point:  This is fun, not science.

  17. Philip said...

    Chris, if you’re trying to stop talking yourself into finding spot for those 1974 Dodgers, this won’t help you.

    I know this may border on heresy to those that think the Big Red Machine was one of the greatest teams ever. But consider this:

    The 1974 Dodgers won only 6 fewer games than the 1975 Reds – and did so without Tommy John from July 18th on. That meant he wasn’t available in the World Series either, which the A’s won in 5 games with winning scores of 3-2, 3-2, 5-2 and 3-2.

    Game 3 in Oakland was a 3-2 Dodger loss in which Al Downing started instead of Doug Rau (who wasn’t used at all in the series after a poor outing in the NLCS vs. Pittsburgh). If TJ starts and wins that game 3 instead of Downing losing it, the Dodgers would have gone back home down 3 games to 2, with John ready for game 6 and Messersmith the likely game 7 starter if John won again.

    During the regular season, TJ was 13-3 in his 22 starts (the Dodgers were 17-5 overall in those games).

    Manager Walt Alston exclusively used a 4-man rotation the whole season. Here are the starts by Dodger pitchers in 1974:

    40 Messersmith
    39 Sutton
    35 Rau
    22 John
    16 Downing
    10 Zahn
    —-
    162

    John’s replacement in the rotation was either Geoff Zahn or Al Downing (and by over-using Messersmith). The Dodgers went 6-10 in the games Downing or Zahn started after John’s last game that season.

    In 1975, Los Angeles was without TJ the whole season and injuries to left fielder Bill Buckner and shortstop Bill Russell limited them to 176 games COMBINED.

    Buckner suffered a severe strain to his left ankle trying to steal a base against the Giants on April 18th. He left the game and his replacement Tom Paciorek got injured trying to catch a foul ball later in the game. (Eventually the Dodgers called up Charlie Manuel – yes, THAT Charlie Manuel – from AAA).

    Incredibly, despite Buckner’s injury, Alston kept playing him. And Russell’s play was so poor when he returned (likely prematurely) that when the 1975 season ended the Dodgers were discussing trading him and Buckner to the Royals for Amos Otis and Freddie Patek. As in 1974, Messersmith was over-used by Alston and would later develop arm trouble.

    Yet, despite the injuries the 1975 Dodgers actually lead the NL West by a half-game on June 1st. Eventually, the injuries took their toll and the Reds ran away with the title by 20 games. But despite all that, the Dodgers won 88 games that year and it really is not that far-fetched to ponder that with a healthy John, Buckner and Russell it would have been the Dodgers facing Boston in the World Series. (To be fair, though, I’d give the nod to the Reds if you also magically healed Don Gullett, who started only 22 games due to injury.)

    Now, skip to the following season. Though the Reds won 102 games in 1976 (same as the 1974 Dodgers), Davey Lopes didn’t play a game until May, the Dodgers having traded their starting right fielder, Willie Crawford, to St. Louis to acquire an aging Ted Sizemore during spring training.

    The hole this now created in right wasn’t plugged until Los Angeles gave up Joe Ferguson in a deal for Reggie Smith (on June 16th). A steal for sure considering Smith’s play in 1977.

    But Smith could have still been acquired, perhaps even earlier on for Crawford, especially if the Dodgers hadn’t traded AAA 2nd baseman Bob Randall in December to the Twins. Randall hit .267 as the Twins starting 2nd baseman in 1976 – as a rookie. Ted Sizemore was SLUGGING .265 on May 1st.

    (Furthermore, imagine Smith in an outfield with Dusty Baker – and a healthy Bill Buckner and TJ in the 1976 rotation! The Big Red Machine wouldn’t have stood a chance. Buckner hit .301 and stole 28 bases on BAD knees and ankles in ‘76!)

    Yet despite these problems, the Dodgers entered Memorial Day tied with the Reds for 1st place. (Cincinnati would win the division by 10 games).

    I would certainly find room for the 1974 Dodgers. Perhaps replacing steroid-tainted 1988 A’s.

    Or maybe have 42 teams… 14 in it automatically with a ‘buy’, with 28 playing to eliminate the bottom 14, then adding the survivors to the 14 who got a ‘buy’.

    And the ‘46 Red Sox belong in there, too! But that’s another story.

  18. Philip said...

    Just one thing about the whole idea of running the 1,000 simulated seasons using DMB. I do like the concept. But an even more accurate simulation would also pit all of the teams from those seasons against each other. (i.e. include the hapless 1975 Astros in there, too)

    This way we get to see the results of the 1927 Yankees facing not only the selected great teams from the 70s, but also the poor teams from those same years.

    One problem with pitting only great teams (and usually great hitting teams at that) against each other is that the pitching staffs get worn out.

    Allowing the 1902 Pirates, 1906 Cubs and 1954 Indians to face some of the worst-hitting teams in history would give an even more accurate measure as to how dominate their staffs might have been in such a tournament.

    It would obviously be a lot more work. Just using the 28 teams you originally picked would mean expanding that to 306 total teams (good and bad – using only their own league’s opponents for a given year, not the opposite league too) to schedule evenly against each other. It would mean playing out eleven 1,000 game simulations.

    With 28 teams in a master league playing 1,000 simulated season, each team faces all others six times each (3H, 3A) during a 162 game schedule.

    That means 6,000 games just between the 1927 Yankees and the 1998 Yankees. (I hope you post all the team-by-team results.)

    I highly doubt the 1927 Yankees would win an average of 110 games a season under the current simulation format. If they do (or if any team in the tourney does) something is wrong.

    But if Murderers’ Row got to play the greats as well as the teams those greats regularly ran roughshod over, they might push the 120 mark quite easily.

    Lastly, someone brought up the 1939 Yankees. That club won its 4th straight pennant essentially WITHOUT Lou Gehrig, who played his last few games). (The 1940 Yankees lost the pennant by 2 games.)

    With a healthy Gehrig, no one would be talking about the 1949-1953 Yankees as baseball’s greatest dynasty. It would have been the 1936-1942 Yankees, 7 flags in a row, perhaps as many World Series titles as well.

    (Though if WW2 hadn’t intervened, the Red Sox would have put a nice end to it in 1943 – and in 1947 would have been trying for their own 5th pennant in a row.)

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