The View From Wisconsin
Just a random set of rants from a Sports Fan from Wisconsin.
Wednesday, March 09, 2005
Back during the off-season of 1982-83, Bill James wrote an article in his Baseball Abstract about how teams with exceptional records tended to get more awards than teams with winning records. As his premise, James pegged teams into three groups: 90 or more wins; teams with a winning record; and all other teams.
When I first read that article, now over two decades ago, I contemplated what else differentiated the "pennant contenders" from all of the "pretenders" in baseball. With the advent of spreadsheets and resources like Sean Lahman's Baseball Database, it was pretty easy to play around with the numbers and see what's there.
The basic method of the study was simple: divide the major leagues into groups of "contenders" and "pretenders." That would seem easy to do – draw the dividing line at .500, and you have practically every team (except one) that's won their division or league in major league history. However, I wanted to take a look at teams that were just under the 90-win mark – teams that had winning records, but weren't likely to win their division or any pennants. Out of balance, I figured to add teams that finished either at .500 or lower – but didn't lose 90 games.
The first group, which we'll call the 90-Win Teams, played in a total of 100,910 games in the 134 years since 1871. They went a combined 60,757-39,373, for a winning percentage of .607. That translates roughly to a total of 98 wins per 162 game season. The second group, the Above-500 Teams, played in 86,974 games, but had a record of 45,834-40,644, a percentage of .530 and approximately 85 wins per 162. The third group, the Sub-500 Teams (which actually include teams that played .500 ball), played in only 73,692 games, with a record of 35,005-38,318, for a .477 percentage and approximately 77 wins per 162. The last group, the 90-Loss Teams, played in more games than any of the other three groups – 106,694. This is somewhat sad when you think about it, but I digress. 90-Loss Teams won only 41,351 games, losing 64,612 for a measly .390 winning percentage. This translates to a mere 63 games per season.
None of the 90-Loss teams won any sort of pennant or playoff berth. Only two of the 171 division winners since 1969 have had .500 or worse records, and none of the 20 Wild Card teams since 1995 have had records at or below 500. Of the 106 World Series champions since 1883, only three have not been 90-Win teams. Seven of the 250 pennant winners since 1871 have been Above 500 teams, as have five of the 20 Wild Cards.
As for the statistical totals, there were a lot of things that you'd expect between the four groups:
· Many of the major statistical formulae – Runs per game, batting average, total bases, slugging and on-base percentage, ERA, Baserunners per 9 innings, and Defensive Efficiency Rating – were pretty much linear in nature, with the 90-Win group having the best totals, the Above-500 group the next best, the Sub-.500 group the third best, and the 90-Loss group with the worst totals.
· Raw totals – runs scored and allowed, hits and hits allowed, doubles, bases on balls and bases on balls allowed, steals, shutouts, saves – were also pretty much linear among the teams on a 162-game basis.
· The differences between the two extremes were rather simple in most cases: almost a single run per game (actually 0.99) was the difference between the the 90-Win group (5.08) and the 90-Loss group (4.09). The difference in earned run average was less than that (0.89 runs per 9 innings), but was still distinctly better for the 90-Win group (3.33) than the 90-Loss group (4.22).
· Park Factors, interestingly, were also linear – 90-Win teams had an average BPF of 100.9; Above-500 teams averaged at 100.6; Below-500 teams were at 100.3; and 90-Loss teams were at 99.2. It was pretty much the reverse for PPF: 99.2, 100.1, 100.5 and 101.1, respectively.
There were a few surprises among the numbers over a 162-game season, though.
· The teams at the two ends of the spectrum – the 90-Win/Loss teams – actually averaged more runs scored per team, per game, than the other two groups. In a typical game for a 90-Win team, you would expect to see 9.16 runs scored by both teams. In a typical 90-Loss team's game, that total would be 9.20. Above-500 teams play in an offensive context of 9.02 per game (4.51 per team), while Sub-500 teams dip below nine runs to 8.92 (4.46 per team). Considering that each team scored an average of at least 662 runs, and allowed an average of that many as well, the difference between the four groups is somewhere between the two totals.
· The Above-500 teams were the best of the four groups over 162 games in two areas: Home Runs and (surprise) Attendance. Above-500 teams average 113 homers over a typical season, seven more than 90-Win teams and eight more than Sub-500 teams. 90-Loss teams average only 86 homers per 162 games – and only a measly 9,962 fans per game. Above-500 teams (teams that aren't quite pennant winners, but are contenders) average 16,528 fans per game – 624 more fans than the 90-Win teams. I consider this to be the Atlanta Braves Effect; teams that have the pennant sewn up don't draw more fans over teams whose post-season future is in doubt. Sub-500 teams, by the way, average 14,502 per game; that may be the "tolerance level" for fans when it comes to watching good/bad baseball.
· The teams that are in "the middle" – the Above and Below 500 teams – actually have a better team fielding percentage (and commit far fewer errors per 162 games) than the 90-Win/Loss teams. Above-500 teams average 190 errors per 162 games, with a .970 fielding percentage; Sub-500 teams commit only two more errors per 162 with the same percentage. 90-Win teams are a bit better (obviously) than 90-Loss teams, with 221 errors to the 90-Loss squads' 247, and fielding percentages of .966 and .962, respectively. Below-500 teams actually turn more Double Plays per 162 than the other three groups (145), though only one more than their middle-of-the-pack mates on the sunny side of .500.
· The 90-Loss teams averaged more fielding chances per 162 games (6417) than the other two middle groups; the 90-Win teams averaged the most (6440). You would suspect that the 90-Loss teams, with the extra errors they surrendered, were giving opponents more chances than the other teams. The 90-Win teams would be making the extra chances because more hits would be turned into outs by their defense and/or pitching.
· Strikeouts have no real relationship to any of the four groups. The Above-500 group has the most K's by pitchers (780), while the Sub-500 teams have the most strikeouts by batters (754). 90-Win teams, on average, have more K's than 90-Loss teams, though (734 vs. 677), and fewer batting strikeouts as well (639 vs. 706).
· Homers allowed is only linear if you consider the 90-Win groups (87 per 162) against everyone else (all three of the rest allowed at least 105 per 162 – 106 for Above-500, 110 for Sub-500, and 105 for 90-Loss teams).