AL vs. NL: The Success of Regular Season Champions

In the previous blog post, I talked about how the Phillies regular season dominance does not guarantee that they will be successful in October. However, is the lack of success among National League teams that finished with the best record mirrored by the American League? Let’s see what the numbers say.

Team with the Best Record in the MLB:

Era National League American League
1903-1968 36.4% 63.6%
1969-1993 44% 56%
1995-2010 43.8% 56.2%

Team With the Best Record in the MLB Winning the Pennant:

Era National League American League
1903-1968 100% 100%
1969-1993 54.5% 78.6%
1995-2010 28.6% 44.4%

The Team with the Best Record in the MLB Winning the World Series:

Era National League American League
1903-1968 41.7% 64.3%
1969-1993 27.3% 28.5%
1995-2010 0% 33.3%

These numbers show that historically an AL team who finishes with the best record in the MLB has been more successful than their NL counterparts in winning the pennant and the World Series. This also holds true for each era. While the introduction of Championship Series in 1969 and Divisional Series in 1995 have reduced the likelihood that the team with the best record will win the pennant and/or World Series, the AL still maintains an advantage. What could be the source of this disparity? Well, let’s look at what the numbers would look like if we took the achievements of the New York Yankees out of the equation.

Team with the Best Record in the MLB (w/0 Yankees):

Era National League American League
1903-1968 54.5% (+18.1) 45.4% (-18.2)
1969-1993 47.8% (+3.8) 52.2% (-3.8)
1995-2010 58.3% (+14.5) 41.7% (-14.5)

Team With the Best Record in the MLB Winning the Pennant (w/o Yankees):

Era National League American League
1903-1968 100% 100%
1969-1993 54.5% 83.3% (+4.7)
1995-2010 28.6% 40.0% (-4.4)

The Team with the Best Record in the MLB Winning the World Series:

Era National League American League
1903-1968 52.6% (+10.9) 55% (-9.3)
1969-1993 27.3% 27.3% (-1.2)
1995-2010 0% 33.3%

First, understand the method that was chosen was not perfect and it will be described at the end of the blog. However, the presence of the Yankees has given the AL an advantage over the NL when it comes to having teams that succeed in both the regular season and the playoffs.

The Yankees may provide the AL teams with external pressures to innovate and build rosters. And in the attempt to catch up with the Yankees the AL has had a motivating factor the NL did not have. While that is a speculation, here is what is not. The Yankees give the American League dominant team. Dominant teams the National League has not often had. The National League has only 13 teams that have had the best record in the Majors and won the World Series. The Yankees have 20 teams who have accomplished such a feat.

One could look at lists made about the greatest teams in the history of baseball and two things are certain. The list will be AL dominant and the Yankees will have by far the most representatives of any other franchise. For example, Tom Verducci’s list of the 10 greatest baseball teams includes five Yankees teams (’27, ’39, ’98, ’61, ’32) and only two NL teams from the World Series era (’75 Reds and 1907 Cubs). The Sporting News’ list contains five Yankee teams (’27, ’39, ’98, ’61, ’53) and three NL teams (’75 Reds, ’55 Dodgers, ’42 Cardinals). Roger Weber’s list for Baseball Almanac had four Yankees teams (’27, ’39, ’32, and ’98) and three NL teams from the World Series era (1907 Cubs, 1905 Giants, and 1906 Cubs)[1].

There may be another reason behind the success of these teams when they come from the AL. For example, the end of the Dead Ball Era coincides with the dominance of AL teams. Could it be possible that National League teams did not adjust to the changing times and clung onto players, managers, and a philosophy of playing the game that was anachronistic? I have no clue no being a baseball historian. But, we all know the legends that have played on so many great Yankees teams, that it is hard to dispute that the gap between the AL and NL  is not, at the very least, the fault of the New York Yankees.

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2011 Phillies: Regular Season Success Means Little In October

Barring an absolute collapse, the Phillies look primed to win more than 100 games and have the best record in all of baseball. They are ahead of the Yankees by 7 games in the loss column. Even if the Yankees won all their games from here on out, the Phillies would only need to go 12-6 to be the sole possessors of the best record in the MLB. This comes as no surprise. In the weaker league and with a pitching staff as deep as the 1997 Braves, it would have been a surprise if they did not win the National League at least.

Now, does the Phillies regular season dominance mean anything come October? How much is regular season prowess correlated to winning the World Series? Let’s look back at the history of NL teams that have ended the regular season with the best record in the Majors.

Since the World Series started in 1903, a team in the National League has finished with the best record in 42 seasons or 39.2% of the time [1]. Looking at the 18 teams who accomplished this after 1968[2], only eight made it to the World Series (44.4%). However, after the 1994 season[3], only two of the seven teams made it to the Fall Classic (28.6%).

Let’s take it a step further and look how these regular season titans did when it came to winning the World Series. Of those 42 teams, only 13 teams have won the World Series giving those teams a success rate of 31.0%. However, only three of those World Series champions won after 1968. With 18 NL teams having finished with the best record, since 1968, the success rate of those squads was 16.7%. And since 1994, no National League team has won the World Series after achieving the best record in the MLB.

Obviously it looks like the Phillies regular season dominance guarantees them nothing when it comes to the playoffs[4].

While the Phillies pitching speaks for itself, the age and the offense of the Phillies raise some red flags. The Philles have the oldest batting age in all the MLB at 31.5 years. Compare this to the ’86 Mets (28.0), ’76 Reds (29.3), and the ’75 Reds (28.6). In fact, should the Phillies win the World Series this season, they would have the third oldest batting age of a World Series champion[5].

Offensively, the Philles are a slightly above average offense putting up a team slash line of .255/.325/.402. Compare that to the more prolific offenses of the Mets and the Reds. The ’86 Mets put up a slash line of .263/.339/.401 and lead the NL in each of those categories. The ’75 Reds had a slash line of .271/.353/.401 which ranked 2/1/3 in the NL. The ’76 Reds led the MLB in each slash line category posting a .280/.357/.424 line.

While the Phillies pitching staff is better than those three teams, the margin of error for the staff is small. Last season, the Phillies ran into a staff that could match them pitch for pitch in the San Francisco Giants. This year, they could potentially avoid such a team due to the question marks about the health of Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens of the Braves. There is one team that the Phillies must be wary of in the NL and that is the Milwaukee Brewers.

In a series against the Phillies, the Brewers have the better overall lineup. They would have four of the six best offensive players in the series. Then, factor in the uncertainty of Jimmy Rollin’s and Chase Utley’s health going into the playoffs and the Brewers have a big advantage offensively.

While the pitching of the Brewers does not match that of the Phillies, they have the right kind of pitchers to win in the postseason. Their trio of starters (Gallardo, Greinke, and Marcum) are all pitchers who can get strikeouts when they need them. In the playoffs, that is a critical aspect of starting pitching since it helps pitchers get out of jams with minimal damage. When comparing the bullpen’s it pretty much a wash.

The Phillies have had a remarkable regular season and there is no one who can take that away from them. However, World Series are only lost from April to September. They are won in October. So once the playoffs begin, you can throw out the regular season records. In baseball, all you have to do is get in and you have a shot at becoming champions.

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Curtis Granderson’s MVP Chances

To sabermetric buffs, stats like RBIs, saves, and wins provide little insight to how good a player performs over the course of a season. Traditional baseball fans scoff at such a notion. That brings us to the case of Curtis Granderson. To many, Granderson is an MVP candidate this season. The voters for the MVP award will consist of the traditional baseball writers who grew up with BA, HR, R, and RBI as the greatest measures of player performance, and modern writer who are more inclined toward stats like WAR, WPA, WoBA, and OBP. While Curtis Granderson is fifth in the AL in FanGraphs WAR (6.6) and is 16th in the AL in Baseball-Reference WAR, he is second in home runs, second in RBIs, and is first in runs among all Major Leaguers. Does that mean that Curtis Granderson is guaranteed to dominate the ballots of traditional writers in the MVP vote? Well, lets look at how players have faired in MVP voting when they lead the Majors in HRs, RBIs, and runs.

Alex Rodriguez ’07: 54 HRs, 156 RBIs, 147 R (MVP)

Mickey Mantle ’56: 52 HRs, 130 RBIs, 132 R (MVP)

Johnny Mize ’47: 51 HRs (Tied with Ralph Kiner), 138 RBIs, 137 R (3rd in MVP voting) (MVP – Bob Elliot)

Ted Williams ’42: 36 HRs, 137 RBIs, 141 R (2nd in MVP voting) (MVP – Joe Gordon)

Lou Gehrig ’31: 46 HRs (Tied with Babe Ruth), 184 RBIs, 163 R (2nd in MVP voting) (MVP – Lefty Grove)

Since they have given the MVP Award only two out of five have won while leading the majors in HRs, RBIs, and runs. And let’s look even further into the two MVP seasons of Rodriguez and Mantle.

Rodriguez not only led the Majors in those three categories, but also led all other players in WAR that season and it was not even close. Baseball-Reference calculated a WAR of 9.9 which had him a full win above Magglio Ordonez and three wins above C.C. Sabathia who finished second and third in AL WAR respectively.  Fangraphs had him with a 9.8 WAR and 1.7 wins ahead of Magglio Ordonez and two wins above Granderson who was third in AL WAR.

Mickey Mantle’s season is one of the great offensive seasons in the history of baseball. In his first of back-to-back MVPs, Mantle won the Triple Crown. He led the league in SLG, OPS+, and was second in OBP to Ted Williams. Even though WAR did not exist in 1956, look at Mantle’s WAR numbers that year. Baseball-Reference calculated a 12.9 WAR which was 4.4 wins better than AL second place finisher Early Wynn. FanGraphs calculated a 12.2 WAR which was 5.1 wins better than second place finishers in Al Kaline and Yogi Berra.

Looking at those who did not win, Johnny Mize lost to Bob Elliot who did not lead the National League in any statistic but finished 61 points ahead of Mize[1].

Ted Williams won the Triple Crown in 1942 and still lost the MVP by 21 points to Joe Gordon of the Yankees. While Johnny Pesky may have helped to split the vote finishing third, Ted Williams demolished Gordon in almost every meaningful statistical category[2] and there is not a statistical argument one could make for Gordon.

Lou Gehrig lost the inaugural MVP award[3] to Lefty Grove who won 31 games that year and carried 98% of the first place votes.

While initially it looks like Granderson is a contender in the AL MVP race, the stats and the history proves otherwise. Granderson will not receive much support from the sabermetrically inclined voters and history has shown that leading all of baseball in HRs, RBIs, and runs does not sign, seal, and deliver him the votes of the traditional baseball writers. Without a jaw dropping rest of September, the evidence points towards Granderson not being a contender for the AL MVP award. Continue reading

Ryan Braun’s Pace: 30-30 with 100 RBIs and 100 Runs

On September 2nd, a Brewers fan named Owen emailed the Baseball Today podcast about Ryan Braun. The first part of his email talked about how Braun would rank among baseball players in terms of their value to the franchise on and off the field [1]. However, it was the second part of his email that intrigued me. He pointed out that Ryan Braun was on pace for a 30-30 season with 100 RBIs and 100 runs[2]. He then asked how many times this has happened before in MLB history.

Overall, this feat has been accomplished by 21 different players and the feat itself has been accomplished 30 times.  Here are the 21 players:

Hank Aaron, Bobby Abreu (2x), Jeff Bagwell (2x), Carlos Beltran, Dante Bichette, Barry Bonds (5x with a 40-40), Bobby Bonds, Ellis Burks, Jose Canseco (40-40), Eric Davis, Ron Gant, Shawn Greene, Vladamir Guerrero (2x), Howard Johnson (2x), Dale Murphy, Alex Rodriguez (40-40), Alfonso Soriano (2x), Daryl Strawberry, Larry Walker, Ken Williams, and David Wright.

Going in the games of September 11, Braun has a WAR of 6.7[3]. That projects to a 7.4 WAR if he continues this level of play and appears in games at his current rate. With that in consideration, the list of players who go 30/30/100/100 and posted a WAR of 7.4 or more is as follows:

Hank Aaron, Jeff Bagwell (2x), Barry Bonds (4x with a 40-40), Burks, Canseco, Eric Davis, Howard Johnson, Alex Rodriguez, Larry Walker, and David Wright.

Now it’s been discussed that baseball lacks a superstar face of the game who is playing at a superstar level especially with Derek Jeter on the backside of his career. But just look at those numbers. Ryan Braun is putting up numbers that guys like Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds[4], and Alex Rodriguez once put up. He should be someone who the MLB goes out of their way to market. He’s handsome guy; he puts up great numbers; there is not a hint a steroid suspicion;  he plays on a contender in the National League. If he has a great postseason and/or leads the Brewers to the World Series, then there is no excuse for Major League Baseball to not go out of their way to showcase one of their best American stars on the national stage.

Looking at this postseason, the MLB has plenty of stars who should become household names[5], along with those on their way to superstardom[6]. Though the MLB was not lucky enough for the NFL lockout to extend beyond the World Series, this postseason gives them a golden opportunity to increase their stake in the public consciousness.

(Stats and Years of the Players Who Accomplished 30/30/100/100)

Hank Aaron ’63: 44 HR, 31 SB, 130 RBI, 121 R, 10.0 WAR

Bobby Abreu ’04: 30 HR, 40 SB, 105 RBI, 118 R, 4.8 WAR

Bobby Abreu ’01: 31 HR, 36 SB, 110 RBI, 118 R, 4.9 WAR

Jeff Bagwell ’99: 42 HR, 30 SB, 126 RBI, 143 R, 7.7 WAR

Jeff Bagwell ’97: 43 HR, 31 SB, 135 RBI, 109 R, 8.1 WAR

Carlos Beltran ’04: 38 HR, 42 SB, 104 RBI, 121 R, 5.5 WAR

Dante Bichette ’96: 31 HR, 31 SB, 141 RBI, 114 R, 0.7 WAR

Barry Bonds ’97: 40 HR, 37 SB, 101 RBI, 123 R, 8.8 WAR

Barry Bonds ’96: 42 HR, 40 SB, 129 RBI, 122 R, 10.8 WAR

Barry Bonds ’95: 33 HR, 31 SB, 104 RBI, 109 R, 7.3 WAR

Barry Bonds ’92: 34 HR, 39 SB, 103 RBI, 109 R, 10.0 WAR

Barry Bonds ’90: 33 HR, 52 SB, 114 RBI, 104 R, 9.7 WAR

Bobby Bonds ’77: 37 HR, 41 SB, 115 RBI, 103 R, 4.7 WAR

Ellis Burks ’96: 40 HR, 32 SB, 128 RBI, 142 R, 7.6 WAR

Jose Canseco ’88: 42 HR, 40 SB, 124 RBI, 120 R, 7.6 WAR

Eric Davis ’87: 37 HR, 50 SB, 100 RBI, 120 R, 8.0 WAR

Ron Gant ’91: 32 HR, 34 SB, 105 RBI, 101 R, 2.3 WAR

Shawn Green ’98: 35 HR, 35 SB, 100 RBI, 106 R, 3.1 WAR

Vladimir Guerrero ’02: 39 HR, 40 SB, 111 RBI, 106 R, 6.5 WAR

Vladimir Guerrero ’01: 34 HR, 37 SB, 108 RBI, 107 R, 4.8 WAR

Howard Johnson ’91: 38 HR, 30 SB, 117 RBI, 108 R, 4.1 WAR

Howard Johnson ’89: 36 HR, 41 SB, 101 RBI, 104 R, 7.7 WAR

Dale Murphy ’83: 36 HR, 30 SB, 121 RBI, 131 R, 7.2 WAR

Alex Rodriguez ’98: 42 HR, 46 SB, 124 RBI, 123 R, 7.9 WAR

Alfonso Soriano ’05: 36 HR, 30 SB, 104 RBI, 102 R, 1.7 WAR

Alfonso Soriano ’02: 39 HR, 41 SB, 102 RBI, 128 R, 4.7 WAR

Daryl Strawberry ’87: 39 HR, 36 SB, 104 RBI, 108 R, 6.7 WAR

Larry Walker ’97: 49 HR, 33 SB, 130 RBI, 143 R, 9.0 WAR

Ken Williams ’22: 39 HR, 37 SB, 155 RBI, 128 R, 7.3 WAR

David Wright ’07: 30 HR, 34 SB, 107 RBI, 113 RBI, 7.8 WAR

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The Blog Has To Come Along Slow But Fast

Hey guys,

This blog is an idea I came up with from listening to Baseball Today. During the podcast both the hosts and the emailers ask questions of a statistical nature.  While they may be able to get to an email answering questions from previous episodes, there is a chance they do not get those emails or they are not able to fully divulge all the information in the email. You cannot expect to read off every name or every number because they have other (probably more important) stuff to talk about. But for those fans crazy about the answers to these statistical inquiries (like me), then this is a blog for you.

Feel free to comment with your thoughts and email any ideas for future blog posts to halfstatistical@gmail.com.

Thank you and enjoy.