Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Best Teams to Miss the World Series

Last week, we took on the challenge of finding the best team to miss out on playing in the World Series.

When looking at teams of the past 100 years, the discussion begins and ends with the 2001 Seattle Mariners.  Throughout the history of the game, or at least since the World Series was invented, the 2001 Mariners still look like the best team to not showcase their game in the Fall Classic.  In 2001, they set all time records with 116 wins and a +1.85 Run Differential per Game (Rdiff).

Only the 1909 Cubs having a higher Pythagorean Winning Percentage, but as you'll see in a minute that's the only metric by which they compare favorably to the M's.

There are a few lists included here.  Newspaper articles and blogs that have lists are easy to read, often popular, but too frequently lazy fluff pieces of this and that.  We aren't advancing the list of great human achievement over here, but at least our lists merely skim the surface of thorough information gathering.

I think what's interesting here, if there's anything at all, may be found in the journey to these conclusions.  Trying to retrace our steps, and provide quick snapshots until the overall rankings list at the the bottom of the post, let's take it from the top.

After 116 Wins, Ichiro's Mariners
didn't get a chance to face Schilling & Johnson in '01

Greatest Winning Percentage
2001 Mariners .716
1909 Cubs .680
1942 Brooklyn Dodgers .675
1954 Yankees .669
1998 Braves .654
1915 Tigers .6493
1994 Expos .6491
1993 Braves .642
1928 Phil A's .641
2002 Yankees .640
1908 NY Giants .6364
1908 Pirates .6364
1980 Yankees .6358
1993 SF Giants .6358
2002 Oakland A's .6358

Some fans believe in the predictive value of the Pythagorean Winning Percentage.  I'm not sure if it should carry much more weight than run differencial, for our purposes, but it is better to have more information than less.

Sadly, this is where's where the Cubs' 102+ year Championship drought began.

Pythagorean Winning Percentage
1909 Cubs .712
2001 Mariners .673
1909 Phil A's .667
1942 Brooklyn Dodgers .662
1954 Yankees .656
1908 NY Giants .656
1998 Braves .654
1998 Astros .654
1993 Braves .642
2001 Oakland A's .642
1976 Phillies .642
1922 StL Browns .636
1954 White Sox .636
1928 Phil A's .634
1972 Pirates .632

If you believe deeply in the Pythagorean formula, then you may argue the 1909 Cubs should have won more games than any of these teams, that the 2001 Mariners were lucky, and the Cubs trying to 3-pete World Series titles in 1909 were foreshadowing a century of bad luck.  It's incredible to think of the Cubs as a powerhouse team a hundred years ago.  They won it all in 1907 and '08, and arguably had the 2nd best team ever to not play in the World Series.

Pitcher, Orval Overall, wasn't as famous as Mordecai Brown,
but he got it done for the Cubbies a hundred years ago.

It's pretty typical, I guess, that only a Cubs fan would spend a few hours writing a post on a topic as mundane as the best team ever to not appear in the World Series.  I mean any really good Cubs team of the past hundred years should appear on this list, and yet those teams are probably worse than dozens of others that actually won pennants.  Red Sox fans, White Sox fans, Giants fans... they've all celebrated long droughts that lasted at least a lifetime.

Here is a grouping of non-World Series teams, sorted by Run Differential.

Greatest Run Differential/Game (Rdiff)
2001 Mariners 1.85
1909 Cubs 1.58
1998 Astros 1.56
1954 Yankees 1.56
1922 StL Browns 1.52
1998 Braves 1.51
1932 Phil A's 1.49
1942 Brooklyn Dodgers 1.48
2001 Oakland A's 1.48
1949 Red Sox 1.46
1928 Phil A's 1.40
1921 Indians 1.38
1935 Cardinals 1.32
1930 Wash Senators 1.32
1976 Phillies 1.31

The '98 Astros made one of the best trade
deadline moves when they got Randy Johnson

We like Run Differential a lot, but not enough to consider it as the entire story.  Which gets us to our next list, using Wins Above Replacement.  This time, we're using information solely from Baseball Reference because Fangraphs does not have WAR information on pitchers throughout history.

Wins Above Replacement
2001 Mariners 66.6
2001 Oakland A's 57.0
1998 Braves 54.7
1998 Astros 53.9
2002 Yankees 52.9
1988 Mets 52.6
1922 StL Browns 52.5
1909 Cubs 51.3
1930 Wash Senators 51.1
1996 Indians 50.3
1942 Brooklyn Dodgers 50.0
1932 Phil A's 49.8
1951 Brooklyn Dodgers 49.8
1976 Phillies 49.7
1908 NY Giants 49.6

A lot could have been different
for the 2001 Oakland Athletics.
That 2001 season and those 2001 Oakland A's really were something, huh?  This A's team was the only Wild Card team to ever win 100 games.  Wouldn't it be interesting if the two best teams, at least by WAR measurements, to miss the World Series were both in the AL West in 2001?  That's kind of bizarre.

We ranked seventy-four teams that looked like they had a chance to be in the discussion.  We compiled various statistics including the four shown above, plus Rtot and UZR/150 for defense and Fangraphs' WAR to have just another perspective on contemporary clubs.  While we looked as all statistics, the following list primarily uses Rdiff/game, WAR, and Pyth% because they are all encompassing enough and extend all the way back to the first World Series in 1903.

More than likely, there are some other teams out there that could probably crack the Top 40 of the list below, which has 74 teams.  This was not the most scientific of studies, but we are confident that we have found at least the top 12 or 20 teams for sure.  Finally, here is our list of the day; we present our overall study rankings and conclusions...

Greatest Teams to miss World Series
1.) 2001 Mariners
2.) 1909 Cubs

I struggle to maintain perspective with this pennant drought.  On one hand, it's years and years of mismanagement.  On the other hand, there have been decades of bag luck.  Recent eras have had teams that succumbed to extraordinarily intense postseason pressure.

Is Mike Quade the right
choice for the Cubs
or the Cubs' payroll?
Now, we have new ownership, very expensive tickets, additional revenue streams with ads on the behind-the-plate bricks, but a philosophy to keep the payroll level for next season.  How does a disastrous team making lots of money, with a rabid fan base, and a 102 year old Championship drought tell those fans that payroll will not be increased to improve the Major League club?  Without increasing the payroll, there is virtually no chance the Cubs will be able to compete for at least 3 or 4 seasons.  It's infuriating.  Their team stinks, and it looks a lot like Mike Quade was chosen because he's the cheap route for a team looking to save money wherever they can.  Infuriating, yet, I maintain efforts to keep things in perspective.

3.) 1998 Braves
4.) 1942 Brooklyn Dodgers
5.) 1998 Astros
6.) 2001 Oakland A's
7.) 1954 Yankees
8.) 2002 Oakland A's
9.) 1993 Braves

This tells us a lot about the Braves of the 90's and the Moneyball A's.  Two teams in the top 9 of this list really is a bitter acknowledgement.

Darryl... Darryl... Darryl...
10.) 1928 Philadelphia A's
11.) 1908 NY Giants
12.) 1915 Tigers
13.) 1976 Phillies
14.) 1988 NY Mets

If memory serves, this '88 Mets team was outstanding.  That alone tells me a lot about the thirteen teams listed above them in these results.

15.) 1909 Philadelphia A's
16.) 1949 Red Sox
17.) 1922 St. Louis Browns
18.) 1932 Philadelphia A's
19.) 1930 Washington Senators
20.) 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers
21.) 1977 Royals
22.) 1977 Phillies

Philadelphia has been represented quite often, so far.  Between the Phillies and Philadelphia A's, we have five of the top twenty-two non-World Series teams of all time.  It also looks like a Phillies and Royals World Series in 1977 would have been a pretty cool matchup, too.

23.) 1935 Cardinals
24.) 1980 Yankees
25.) 1996 Indians
26.) 1993 SF Giants
27.) 1994 Expos

Interestingly, the 1993 Giants were immediately nominated for this award, and they placed just outside of our Top 25, tied for 26th with the purgatorial fated 1994 Montreal Expos.  This Expos team may have won the World Series that was canceled due to the '94 strike.  They were the best of those old Expos teams with amazing homegrown talent who'd go on to excel for other teams.  This team was loaded.  The lineup was fueled by Moises Alou, Larry Walker, Marquis Grissom, Cliff Floyd, and Wil Cordero.  Starters Ken Hill, Pedro Martinez, and Jeff Fassero set the table for a solid bullpen anchored by Mel Rojas and John Wetteland.

28.) 2002 Yankees
29.) 1921 Indians
30.) 1941 Cardinals
31.) 1972 Pirates
32.) 1973 Orioles
33.) 1949 Cardinals
34.) 1985 Blue Jays
35.) 1912 Pirates
36.) 1961 Tigers
37.) 1962 LA Dodgers
38.) 1934 NY Giants
39.) 1935 Yankees
40.) 1954 White Sox
41.) 2002 Braves
42.) 2005 Cardinals
43.) 1945 Cardinals
44.) 1980 Orioles
45.) 1971 Oakland A's

Around here is where I think there is a bunch of room for more teams to enter the discussion.  Someone may say something like "Hey, I remember growing up this one team we had was great, but they didn't end up doing anything.  They collapsed.  Or, that happened to be the year that so-and-so won 104 games, so they missed the postseason.  If you think any other teams come to mind, they very likely would fall somewhere in the 40-75 range on our list.

46.) 1997 Orioles
47.) 1983 White Sox
48.) 1952 Indians
49.) 1908 Pirates
50.) 1919 NY Giants
51.) 1970 Twins
52.) 1942 Red Sox
53.) 2010 Yankees
54.) 1969 Twins
55.) 1950 Tigers
56.) 2002 Diamondbacks
57.) 1920 White Sox
58.) 2010 Rays
59.) 1973 Reds
60.) 2003 SF Giants
61.) 1991 Pirates
62.) 2008 Angels
63.) 1969 Cubs

Chicago folklore holds the '69 Cubs in great regard.  This was the Cubs team that inexplicably collapsed, at least until we heard about Steve Bartman and the Renegades.  Growing up listening to stories of Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, and Ron Santo made me think this was an All Time Great Team that didn't make it.  Therefore, it should be easy to imagine my surprise when this team rated worse than 62 others, including the 2008 Angels.  Who remembers the 2008 Angels as a team that could've/should've done better?  Outside of the Scoscia household, the answer is not many people.

64.) 1977 Rangers
65.) 2010 Phillies
66.) 1979 Expos
67.) 2006 Twins
68.) 1981 Reds
69.) 1979 Brewers
70.) 1916 Phillies
71.) 2010 Reds

It would make sense to expect that looking back on history, there could be 40 or 50 teams who didn't make the World Series but were better better than the 2010 Reds.  These Reds didn't capture the imagination of fans all over the country, yet, we found them in the Top 75 of our informal study.  I just think that's interesting.  What can I say?  Maybe I need to find a new book to read if this stuff fascinates me and no-one else.

72.) 1999 Rangers
73.) 1986 Astros
74.) 1996 Padres

So, whom did we miss?  Please let us know in the comments section of other teams that come to mind as great clubs that never got to show it in the World Series.

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