One of the great things about baseball is its historical context and the debates that it spawns. The game goes back to the late 1800’s and statistics have been kept since the early 1900’s. What that allows us is the ability to compare players, teams and generations on a fairly neutral playing surface. While consideration can be given to different eras like the “Dead Ball” era and the “PED” era, all statistics tend to gravitate back toward the mean. It is in these wonderful numbers that the discussions, debates, and even arguments begin.
I have a co-worker who, until the year 2010, was a long-suffering San Francisco Giants fan. We often debate on the merits of the Giants championship teams of 2010, 2012 and 2014. With no credible evidence other than a lifetime of following the game closely, I argue that these were some of the worst teams of all-time to win a World Series. With the watered down playoff field of five teams from each league, it can be argued that 2014 version of the Giants should not have even made the playoffs. The problem was, I had no proof, only my gut instinct. Could my disdain for the Giants be clouding my vision?
Having been born on the East Coast and a Phillies lifer, I found myself transplanted to the Bay Area at age 11 in 1979. You learn early on in the East Bay that you root for the A’s or the Giants, the Raiders or the 49ers, not both. While my devotion never strayed from the Phillies, the A’s took their place in my heart. Hell, it was easy. How could you not like the “Mustache Gang” of the early seventies with their gold and green uniforms, white cleats and three straight World Series titles. The “Bash Brothers” of the late 80’s and early 90’s? And besides, weren’t the A’s originally from Philadelphia anyway? Perfect, I’m in.
The Giants at that point had little to offer. Mays, Marichal and McCovey were long gone. The Giants played in the worst stadium in the league, Candlestick Park. This is a place where they would give out buttons to the fans at the end of extra-inning games for braving the cold. There was nothing particularly endearing about the Will Clark/Kevin Mitchell era. There was much to dislike about the Barry Bonds/Jeff Kent era. Zero championships since relocating from New York after the 1957 season? Why didn’t this team move to Toronto in 1976? I digress.
Back to the original question, “How can I prove the historical ineptitude of these Giants teams?” I started with my favorite website, baseball-reference.com. I started with a list of the 111 World Series winners since 1903 (no WS in 1904 and 1994). From there I settled on Team WAR as my statistic of choice. The definition of WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is “A single number that presents the number of wins the player added to the team above what a replacement player (think AAA or AAAA) would add. Scale for a single season: 8+ MVP Quality, 5+ All Star Quality, 2+ Starter, 0-2 Reserve, >0 Replacement Level”. To achieve a Team WAR, I simply added up all of the individual WAR numbers and broke it into two categories, position players and pitchers, and then totaled the two. This would allow for further analysis on who had best pitching staff, etc.
Now I had a list of 111 teams and a way to rank them, total Team WAR.
The average Batting WAR is 29.5.
The average Pitching WAR is 17.4.
The average Team WAR is 46.9.
But before I look at the Giants, does the ranking pass the sniff test?
Let’s start with the top twenty:
The list seems to correlate to what many proscribe as the greatest teams ever. The 1927 and 1939 Yankees are included. The 1929 Athletics are present as well. The 1944 Cardinals were a bit of a surprise to me. The 2009 Yankees were a surprise as well, but maybe that’s the sting from the Phillies World Series loss that year. The 2007 Red Sox are highlighted because they are one of only 16 teams that had a higher pitching WAR than batting WAR. No easy accomplishment considering that typically only 2/5 of the roster is made up of pitchers. I thought the “Big Red Machine” would be a little higher, but they had a pedestrian pitching staff. Take solace Giant’s fans, the 2002 Angels rank 11th of all time.
Let’s take a look at the bottom twenty:
My suspicion has been confirmed! The 2012 and 2014 Giants made this list at 101st and 104th. Out of 111 teams, I’d say that’s historically bad. Where are the 2010 Giants? Surprisingly, they ranked at number 56, right in the middle of the pack. They had to be the best of those teams to get by the Phillies in six games…