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Baseball Judgments

Baseball Judgments | SportsLibrary.net
The best baseball teams of all time

 

By Roger Weber

 

Click here to download a clean Word version of this study

 

A version of this study completed in December 2005 is available in the online Baseball Almanac. It is generally regarded as one of the most conclusive studies of its kind and is the most visited study on great baseball teams on the internet.

 

Throughout the years, there have been many great baseball teams, and it seems that each year there is another. Based on just memories, it is difficult to compare teams between years, and without any on field competitions possible between these teams, there is really no way of determining an all time champion. As a result, there have been conflicting comparisons of teams through different statistical means.

 

For all the attention some of the more famous comparisons get, I feel there are a few areas where they are inaccurate. So in this study, I looked to explain both sound reasoning and thorough math to determine the best team ever.

 

It is important for a baseball team to perform far better than its competition to be considered great. But giving so much emphasis to the number of games ahead of second place seems to not only be grading the team, but the competition they played as well. Perhaps a team who finishes 30 games ahead of second place in a division is playing weak competition. It doesn't seem right to reward them for that.

 

In my comparison, I use number of games ahead of second place, but don't give much emphasis to it. Some may argue that it isn't fair to older teams that I count a margin of games ahead of second place within a division equal to games ahead of second place in a league. The divisions were created for a reason, though. As the league expanded, each division became in itself a miniature league, comparable in size to the entire league from the early 1900s. It would be even more unfair to count a team's games over second place in a league of six teams equal to a team's games over second place in a league of 16 teams.

 

Some comparisons count out teams from before 1920. These teams tend to have a higher final rank, for many reasons. To me, though, it doesn't seem fair to discount a team due to their existence prior to an arbitrary date, but it also seems unfair to include teams that may skew the rankings. In my analysis, I include all teams from 1902-2005, but I will also include in this article a ranking of teams not including 1902-1919.

 

Selecting teams for the comparison

 

I used fairly basic criteria for selecting teams for the comparison. All World Series winning teams were included, except for a few whose circumstances I will explain. Also, teams like the 1954 and 1995 Cleveland Indians were undoubtedly great teams, yet neither won the World Series. For that reason, all teams with regular season winning percentages of at least .670 were included. While this number is quite arbitrary, it worked as a good cutoff point between including some great teams who didn't win the World Series, and allowing too many teams to be included in the scoring. There are a few exceptions to this rule, though.

 

The 1998 Atlanta Braves are included in the rankings although their winning percentage was just .654. They played dominantly, and if not for a very "lucky" San Diego Padres team, these Braves may have won the World Series.

 

The 1994 Montreal Expos are also included. Since there was no World Series in 1994, it seemed logical to include the team with the best record from the regular season. Since part of the scoring is based on postseason play, the 1994 Expos, 1904 Giants, and 1902 Pirates, all of whom never played in playoffs or a World Series, are included and are given arbitrary but fair 50% postseason winning percentages.

 

There are a few teams not included in the final rankings. Mainly, the period from 1942-1945 was not included because it was the time of World War II. Most teams lost many good players to the war effort, and young, inexperienced, and probably inferior quality players were called into major league action. The talent level of major league baseball went down, as did that of the minor leagues as a result, creating a few years of mostly inexperienced players. It isn't fair to compare Babe Ruth's teams to teams made up of mostly minor or lower league players.

 

As stated before, teams from before 1920 are sometimes excluded from all time rankings. While it isn't fair to exclude them completely, I include them along with a ranking for teams post-1920 excluding teams from pre-1920.

 

The formula

 

Most importantly, a team must win the majority of its games. Winning is what determines the champion, so winning should be the number one basis for how to decide a great team. Winning, though, is determined by a team's ability to produce and defend against runs. For that reason, I view a team's scoring dominance over the opponents as a similarly important aspect of greatness.

 

While it is given great importance to some historians, I don't view games ahead of second place as a key determining factor, but it does deserve some merit, since a great team should be able to separate itself from the competition easily. A team's dominance over the rest of the league or division defines its unique ability to win in the year it played. Great teams don't finish second. The Florida Marlins have twice won a World Series despite never winning their division. Had they finished with the record they had prior to 1994, the year in which the Wild Card was created, the Marlins would have missed the postseason.

 

A great team should finish atop both leagues, with the trophy in the display case. While not winning a championship doesn't necessarily take away from a team's winning ability, a team like the 1954 Indians, who finished the regular season 111-43, but lost in the World Series 4 games to 0 should not be placed on the same level as a team who finished with a 107-47 regular season record but won the World Series 4 games to 0, even though both finished with the same final record of 111-47.

 

A large determinant of a team's greatness is how it performs in the postseason. Great teams don't choke. They continue to play as they had all season long, or better in the postseason, dominating their opponents in the World Series, and any Playoffs.

 

The regular season versus the postseason

 

It is greatly debated as to how much the regular season should count compared to the postseason in a comparison. Here is how I determined this aspect:

 

I will give 85% of the overall score to a combination of regular season winning percentage, run scoring dominance over opponents during the regular season, and postseason winning percentage.

 

Since the length of the regular season and the playoffs has changed frequently throughout history, there is no uniformly fair way to determine how much weight to give the postseason. I will try to determine the relative importance of the postseason, in essence, how many regular season games the postseason should count for using the current setup of the season.

 

First of all, the regular season is 162 games. The playoffs are usually an average of about 15 games for any given team that plays in the World Series. But, for the first 162 games, all 30 MLB teams are involved. In the first round of the playoffs, just eight are involved. Therefore, I think games in the first round of the playoffs should be considered 3.75 (30/8) times as important as regular season games, since about one fourth the number of teams plays in them. Games in the second round of the playoffs see only 4 teams playing, so it seems those games should be about 8 (30/4) times as important as regular season games. Games in the World Series match just two teams, so they should be about 15 (30/2) times as important as a regular season game.

 

Situation          Games              Involved           Importance compared to reg. season gms.

Reg. Season      162                   30                                1 each

LDS                 4                      8                                  3.75 each

LCS                 5.5                   4                                  7.5 each

W.S.                 5.5                   2                                  15

 

This means that the average 15 game playoff is worth 138.75 regular season games. Divided by this value, this makes the regular season for a given team 117% as important as the postseason including the World Series. This result though seems a little high for my purposes.

 

There is another method, which includes just assuming the entire playoffs include 8 teams. This means that the 15 games of the playoffs should be multiplied by 3.75 (30/8) to get the number of regular season games the playoffs are worth. This outcome is 56.25 games, meaning the regular season is 288% as important as the playoffs.

 

To get my value, I averaged these two outcomes to find that the regular season should count 202.4% as much as the postseason. I left 85% open for the regular season and postseason stats, so of that, about 57% should be made up of regular season statistics, and 28% of postseason stats. The regular season, though, I split into two categories. I will split that 57% into Regular Season Winning Percentage and Run Scoring Dominance over opponents.

 

Based on these thoughts, I tried to give a percentage value to each aspect of a great team.

 

Category                                   Importance

Regular Season Winning Percentage, 28.427%

Run scoring dominance over opponents, 28.427%*

            Games Above Second Place, 10%

            Postseason Winning Percentage, 28.146%

           

*The asterisk next to run scoring dominance over opponents: Run scoring dominance is difficult to define. A team may either be a dominant defensive team, or a powerful offensive team. For this reason, run scoring dominance over opponents is split into two categories, each which counts 14.214% of the overall grade.

1. Average runs per game – team ERA: A great team wins its games by several runs on average. I determined this statistic by dividing runs scored by the number of games played by the team Earned Run Average.

2. Percentage of Runs scored in the season: A defensive team might not win its games by great margins, but may score a great majority of the runs scored in a game. This percentage is determined by dividing a team's runs scored by the sum of their runs scored plus their team ERA times the number of games played.

 

If these percentages are added up, the total is only 95%. The other 5% is a small measure of what rank among all major league baseball teams for that season that this team took. This category serves not any real purpose other than to punish teams slightly for not winning the World Series or the LCS. Some would say that a team that doesn't win the World Series should lose almost all of its points, but logically, it isn't fair to totally eliminate the 1954 Cleveland Indians who finished 111-43 but lost the World Series if we also keep the 1987 Minnesota Twins, who finished 85-77 but won the World Series. Keep in mind also that this is not the only place in which teams are punished for performing poorly in the postseason. Another 28% of the grade is devoted to a team's winning percentage in the postseason. This place in the final MLB standings is determined by their place rank among all teams in MLB after the postseason. A World Series winner will be #1, a W.S. loser #2, an LCS loser either 3 or 4, etc. The weight of this category shouldn't be focused on as being too small. It simply tweaks the rankings a little, and is not meant to serve as a major component of the score. The playoff winning percentage of a team is what really does the job that many on first glance would expect this component to do, and that is punishing teams for not winning the World Series.

 

Inserting the numbers

 

It would seem to make sense just to multiply a team's totals by the desired percentages, but that would leave far too much emphasis on games above second place and postseason winning percentage. For that reason, I tried dividing the desired percentage by the average count for a certain category. This seemed to work, but there was a problem. With the categories like winning percentage, there is a very small span that these teams cover, yet with games above second place, there is a large span between best and worst, which left games over second place counting far more than regular season winning percentage, even with the applied desired percentages, and this was not my intention.

 

This led me to consider standard deviations, since they are an accurate span of difference from the average. What I finally found to be most accurate was to divide the desired percentage by the standard deviation for that category. By doing this, I made it so the possible difference between the best and the worst teams in that certain category is equal to the desired percentages of overall grade. This is somewhat confusing, but here is a chart to help define how the formula was ultimately created. (All winning percentages and % of runs scored are divided by 100. They are a fraction of 1.)

 

Category, Standard Dev., Multiplied by, to yield desired percentage

Winning Percentage, 0.04695, x, 605.414, =, 28.427

Avg. Runs - ERA, 0.5909, x, 25.0547, =, 14.214

% of runs scored, 0.03869, x, 367.402, =, 14.214

Games above second place, 6.94399, x, 1.44009, =, 10

Postseason Win %, 0.17662, x, 159.36, =, 28.1457

Won W.S.?, 0.47848, x, 10.4498, =, 5

 

To get the resulting score for a team, I multiplied its season totals by the numbers in the column labeled "Multiplied by". If this seems crazy to multiply winning percentage by 605, and games above second by just 1.4, remember that the goal was to make the difference created between the best and worst teams be equal to the desired percentage. Most of the 605 is guaranteed for every team. Only a small portion of that is different between teams. Every team on the list has a winning percentage of at least .530, but none has a winning percentage above .741. Yet, the span between games above second goes from -10 to 30. If you don't understand it, just trust that I spent a great deal of time figuring this out mathematically.

 

Scoring the teams

 

If you have figured out how the scoring works, you can figure out the team rankings.

 

Before I expose the team by team rankings, I should give some basic data about the overall findings. (All winning percentages and % of runs scored are divided by 100. They are a fraction of 1.)

 

For all teams:

 

Category: average, standard deviation

Winning Percentage: 0.63285, 0.04679 

Avg. Runs – ERA: 1.68763, 0.59228    

% of runs scored: 0.60386, 0.03875      

Games above second place: 8.23874, 6.91568    

Postseason Win %: 0.6891, 0.17716      

 

Average Scores:

Teams: average, standard deviation

Pre-1920: 804.8443, 53.89875

Post-1920: 744.5767, 60.97084

All: 755.979, 64.017

 

Because the average score of teams from before 1920 is so much higher than the average score of teams from after 1920, it is probably a good idea to eliminate all teams from before 1920 to insure a more accurate rating system. Certain lurking variables skew the results form before 1920. Mainly, these are that the competition was poorer, and since the league was smaller, one team could attain more great players. Also, the postseason was shorter, so it was easier for a team to win all their postseason games. Also, with a smaller league, a team had a better chance to finish many games ahead of second place.

 

In my rankings, I will rank all teams in order of score, but I will also give post-1920 teams a ranking among all teams from that era.

 

Here is another interesting feature comparing the decades.

 

Years: average score

1902-1909: 832.4726

1910-1919: 784.1231

1920-1929: 781.5494

1930-1939: 804.41

1940-41, 1946-49: 755.2973

1950-59: 740.8345

1960-69: 735.5162

1970-79: 740.9028

1980-89: 703.8307

1990-99: 726.9237

2000-05: 701.387

 

Obviously, this is not an accurate comparison of all baseball between the decades. What I believe accounts for the recent decline is the addition of playoffs and the Wild Card, which allows for weaker teams to win the World Series, and since these rankings include all World Series winners, this may have an impact.

 

From the 1930s to the 1960s, there is a steady decline. This may be because the leagues were getting larger, yet there was still just one division in each league, which left for smaller annual "games above second place" counts. This idea is supported by the average increase in the 1970s, as divisions became a factor.

 

It is interesting to note that the 2000s have been the weakest years. This can be explained by the fact that three Wild Card teams have won the World Series. These were weaker teams that would not have been in the World Series in prior years.

 

The teams

 

110 teams are included in the Rankings.

 

Note that disparities in the numbers of games played were taken into account in the formula. Also note that teams from seasons in which there were no playoffs are given an arbitrary, but fair 50% winning percentage in the playoffs, since it can be safely assumed all teams on the list would have made the playoffs.

 

Click here to download report with full team listing

 

Notes

 

The Florida Marlins have won two World Series', but they make up two of the worst teams on this list, because neither won the division, and both had fairly poor records, and got "lucky" many times, winning by small margins. They never got "hot" until the playoffs.

 

The dynasty of the Oakland Athletics in the 1970s supposedly had some great teams, as they won three straight World Series titles. However, none of those teams scored above 706, a very poor score eclipsed by even a Wild Card winner like the 2002 Anaheim Angels.

 

The 1987 Twins are the lowest ranked team on the list. They finished the regular season 85-77.

The teams from pre-1920 have on average higher rankings than they probably deserve for a number of reasons, previously mentioned.

 

Rankings

 

All Teams

 


 

Rank    Team               

1, 1927 Yankees

2, 1939 Yankees

3, 1907 Cubs

4, 1932 Yankees

5, 1902 Pirates

6, 1910 Athletics

7, 1905 Giants

8, 1998 Yankees

9, 1906 Cubs

10, 1929 Athletics

11, 1909 Pirates

12, 1938 Yankees

13, 1937 Yankees

14, 1904 Giants

15, 1936 Yankees

16, 1928 Yankees

17, 1931 Athletics

18, 1911 Athletics

19, 1970 Orioles

20, 1912 Red Sox

21, 1915 Red Sox

22, 1995 Indians

23, 1976 Reds

24, 1969 Orioles           

24, 1941 Yankees

26, 1922 Giants

27, 1975 Reds

28, 1954 Giants

29, 1950 Yankees

30, 1984 Tigers

31, 1917 White Sox

32, 1914 Braves

33, 1961 Yankees

34, 1908 Cubs

35, 1903 Boston

36, 1912 Giants

37, 1986 Mets

38, 1919 Reds

39, 1953 Yankees

40, 1913 Athletics


 

 

There is no truly conclusive way to determine the best team ever. There are so many different criteria that can be used. Some would say that a team must win the World Series to be considered great. Some say that teams from before a certain time shouldn't be included. The outcome depends on the formula used, and the qualifications for teams even to be included. After completing the comparison, I feel that teams from prior to 1920 should be eliminated. There is a bias that causes them to get higher scores. This is probably the most accurate criteria to use.

 

Teams Post-1920 Only

 


 

Rank    Team               

1, 1927 Yankees

2, 1939 Yankees

3, 1932 Yankees

4, 1998 Yankees

5, 1929 Athletics

6, 1938 Yankees

7, 1937 Yankees

8, 1936 Yankees

9, 1928 Yankees

10, 1931 Athletics

11, 1970 Orioles

12, 1976 Reds

13, 1995 Indians

14, 1969 Orioles

14, 1941 Yankees

16, 1922 Giants

17, 1975 Reds

18, 1954 Giants

19, 1950 Yankees

20, 1984 Tigers

21, 1961 Yankees

22, 1986 Mets

23, 1953 Yankees

24, 1966 Orioles

25, 1920 Indians

26, 1930 Athletics

27, 1923 Yankees

28, 1963 Dodgers

29, 1931 Cardinals

30, 1948 Indians

31, 1989 Athletics

32, 1949 Yankees

33, 1995 Braves

34, 2001 Mariners

35, 1955 Dodgers

36, 1999 Yankees

37, 1940 Reds

38, 1935 Tigers

39, 1906 White Sox

40, 1969 Mets

41, 1956 Yankees

42, 1951 Yankees

43, 1947 Yankees

44, 1933 Giants

45, 2004 Red Sox

46, 1925 Pirates

47, 1968 Tigers

48, 1998 Braves

49, 1946 Red Sox

50, 1953 Dodgers

51, 1921 Giants

52, 1983 Orioles

53, 1994 Expos

54, 2005 White Sox

55, 1946 Cardinals

56, 1978 Yankees

57, 1916 Red Sox

58, 1977 Yankees

59, 1957 Braves

60, 1967 Cardinals

61, 1958 Yankees

62, 1971 Pirates

63, 1979 Pirates

64, 1952 Yankees

65, 2002 Angels

66, 1954 Indians

67, 1934 Cardinals

68, 1960 Pirates

69, 1974 Athletics

70, 1924 Senators

71, 1972 Athletics

72, 1991 Twins

73, 1973 Athletics

74, 1962 Yankees

75, 1990 Reds

76, 1926 Cardinals

77, 1988 Dodgers

78, 1993 Blue Jays

79, 1992 Blue Jays

80, 1965 Dodgers

81, 1981 Dodgers

82, 2001 Diamondbacks

83, 1982 Cardinals

84, 1996 Yankees

85, 1980 Phillies

86, 1959 Dodgers

87, 1964 Cardinals

88, 1997 Marlins

89, 1985 Royals

90, 2000 Yankees

91, 2003 Marlins

92, 1987 Twins


 

 

Other Criteria

 

Another set of criteria that may be used is the 1947 incorporation of blacks into Major League Baseball. Truly, blacks improved the quality of play, and the quality of the competition of the great teams. It would be interesting to see how Babe Ruth would perform if he were playing the premier black baseball players of his day. For this reason, some people like to eliminate all teams from prior to 1947. Some people also like to note that the league expanded in 1961, spreading out the good players, reducing their possible concentrations on great teams. This leaves the option to consider the 1947-1960 years the best era of baseball ever.

 

Post-1947 rankings

 


 

Rank    Team               

1, 1998 Yankees

2, 1970 Orioles

3, 1976 Reds

4, 1995 Indians

5, 1969 Orioles

6, 1975 Reds

7, 1954 Giants

8, 1950 Yankees

9, 1984 Tigers

10, 1961 Yankees

11, 1986 Mets

12, 1953 Yankees

13, 1966 Orioles

14, 1963 Dodgers

15, 1948 Indians


 

 

1961-2005 rankings

 


 

Rank    Team               

1, 1998 Yankees

2, 1970 Orioles

3, 1976 Reds

4, 1995 Indians

5, 1969 Orioles

6, 1975 Reds

7, 1984 Tigers

8, 1961 Yankees

9, 1986 Mets

10, 1966 Orioles

11, 1963 Dodgers

12, 1995 Braves

13, 2001 Mariners

14, 1999 Yankees

15, 1969 Mets

 

 

 

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