The World Series Futility Index
Well, that was a stemwinder of a series. It kept me up past my bedtime, and I have reached the stage in life where I don’t take that lightly. It had everything: A major market team to make the television executives happy, a compelling narrative making it easy for the talking heads to avoid the horror of not hearing their own voices, and a game seven that turned out to be a daisy (as those of us with an occupational hazard of using 19th century slang would say).
About that narrative… You might have heard that the Cubs hadn’t won the World Series in a while. I have been critical of this narrative, partly because the Cubs fan’s woe-is-me shtick is old and tiresome, but also because it is all about the streak. Streaks are flashy, but not terribly meaningful. Would you rather your team go 10 and 2, with the losses sandwiching a ten game winning streak, or go 11 and 1, with that loss in the middle? Say you would prefer the streak and I will point and laugh. The emphasis on streaks also smacks of presentism. Sure, the Cubs won some World Series, but not recently, so for some reason they don’t count. feh
So what teams, along with their fans, have the best claim to World Series futility? We can measure this. The the spirit of modern “data-driven” writing, I just now invented the World Series Futility Index. I calculated the WS shares by assigning every major league team has an equal share each year. So during the classic pre-expansion era from 1903-1960 each team has a 1/16 share each year. There were 57 series (remembering that there was no World Series in 1904) giving each team 3.56 WS shares for those years. MLB expanded to 18 teams 1961-1962, then to 20 1963-1968, 24 1969-1976, 26 1977-1992, 28 1993-1997, and 30 1998 to the present. It is straightforward to adjust the divisor with each new cohort and add the WS shares to the older clubs (remembering that in a moment of inattention they forgot to play the World Series in 1994). The classic sixteen teams end up with 5.70 shares each, while the newest cohort (the Rays and the Diamondbacks) have 0.63.
I made the simplification of ignoring that the two leagues were not always the same size. If one league had ten teams and the other eight, the teams in the one league should have a different WS share than those in the other. I ignored this because it is pretty marginal, and mostly because I was, as aforementioned, up late last night.
The other point to mention is that I treat a franchise move as the same franchise: none of this nonsense that the Nationals were a new franchise, unconnected with the Expos. Sorry, Pilots, fans: you are subsumed under the Brewers name.
Putting this together, I divided each team’s actual WS wins by its WS shares to arrive at its Futility Quotient. I would have done it the other way around, dividing its shares by its actual wins, but this would have led to a fruitless discussion of dividing by zero and how no, the answer isn’t infinity. I was up too late for that. So here we go:
|team||expected wins||actual wins||actual/expected|
My ruling is that the Rangers are the most futile team. They have the highest WS Shares of any team to have zero WS wins. Congratulations, Rangers fans! Your complaints are legit. As for the Cubs, even before last night’s win they were tied with the Indians and the Phillies.
This is mostly fun and games, but there are some interesting tidbits in there. The classic sixteen teams have a hugely disproportionate number of WS wins. A lot of this is the Yankees, of course, who have won nearly a quarter of all World Series. But even if you take the Yankees out, the remaining fifteen still have about ten more wins than they do shares. This isn’t itself too surprising. The classic teams pretty much by the nature of things grabbed the best markets, or in those cases where they share a market with an expansion club the classic team still has the established fan base.
But dig down a bit. There were two waves of expansion. The first ran from 1961 to 1977, adding ten teams spread across the period. Then there was a pause, followed by four teams added 1993-1998. It’s a small sample size, but the 1990s expansion teams have collectively done OK. The 1960s and ’70s expansion teams are screwed. I don’t know why. Modern free agency means that an owner can buy a contender, without the dreary necessity of drafting and developing players. That explains the Marlin’s success. But why the first wave of expansion teams can’t now do this as well as the second is not immediately apparent to me. Growing up in Southern California as a Dodgers fan, I felt condescending pity for the Padres and Angels. I was more right than I knew.
I leave as an exercise for the reader to calculate how long the Yankees would have to go without a World Series win before their fans have the right to piss and moan about it.