Bad Teams, Great Baseball

This past Friday, David Schoenfield on ESPN published an article that pointed out that this World Series features two teams with the fourth lowest combined wins in Series history. He even goes on to say that as far as quality of teams, this Series might just be one of the worst matchups ever. It was a fun article, meant to point out that we’re seeing two teams that few imagined would be in the Fall Classic, but as with such things, the Facebook cognoscenti called Schoenfield an idiot for publishing such tripe.

Well, I do not believe Schoenfield is an idiot, and I considered his piece more whimsy in the spirit of the magical runs both the Royals and Giants are on than an attempt to be serious, but it did make me wonder if this year we’re really scraping bottom in the century plus of historical precedent.

To rate each one of these Series (dating back to 1903) I used run differential as my guide to determine team quality. Sure, I could break each team into their unique components, try to find a common measurement, assign points, argh! That would be crazy. I want to enjoy the early weeks of sweater season and watch great baseball (even if Fox has given the finger to everyone on the East Coast who has to work by starting these games past eight), not spend my hours confirming/refuting Schoenfield’s article. Since the object of baseball is to win games by outscoring your opponent, and good teams should outscore their opponents more, run diff is my statistic of choice.

Is Schoenfield correct, then?

Based upon the all-mighty run diff, the 2014 pairing is the weakest in the history of the World Series. There, I’ve said it. This World Series is horrible, and we should all just watch the NBA preseason instead.

The Giants outscored their opponents by 51 runs this season, which was eighth in the Majors and third in the NL, while the Royals outscored opponents by 27 runs, good for 11th in the Majors and seventh in the AL. Their combined total of 78 runs was seven less than the next lowest in 1987, and that featured the Twins, the only Series participant (and winner!) to have a negative run differential at -20. In fact, 2014 and 1987 were the only years where the pair had less than 100 combined.

Individually, the Royals and Giants rank fourth and seventh worst for run differential. The three teams above the Royals are the 1987 Twins (-20), the 1973 Mets (18), and the 2006 Cardinals (19), and the 1959 Dodgers (34) and 1985 Royals (48) appear right after. So, no, we’re not exactly discussing juggernauts.

On the flip side, the seasons with the largest run differential combined between the two teams are the 1939 Yankees/Reds where the two outscored their opponents during the season by 583 runs (411 of those by the Yankees), the 1942 Cardinals/Yankees (568), and the 1927 Yankees/Pirates (535).

Just to be thorough, the top two teams in terms of run differential have met in the Series 36 times, though the majority of those happened prior to 1969 (when the format changed for the postseason from a single round). In fact, since the Tigers/Cardinals matchup in 1968, the top two teams (run differential only) in the Majors have met in the Series six times, last year’s Red Sox/Cardinals being the latest. The Red Sox and Cardinals have met in the Series four times as the top two (2013, 2004, 1967, and 1946).

If you’re still with me, I won’t bore you with tables or attempt to belabor the point any longer. This wasn’t a rigorous examination of team quality, and honestly, run differential is about as arbitrary as using team wins. In reality, the two go hand in hand since run differential is a good indicator of a team’s win total. It’s probably why I picked it because I’m lazy and I didn’t want to do independent research.

Despite what win totals and runs for/against tell us, I’m looking forward to this World Series more than any other in a quite a while. Maybe it’s because Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, and Madison Bumgarner could each win his third title, or that Travis Ishikawa returned just in time to earn his second, or maybe it’s because all those years of promise for the Royals is turning into a postseason of continued heroics for the likes of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon, and Lorenzo Cain. Jeremy Affeldt was 31 when this San Francisco run started in 2010, is now 35, and who knows how many seasons remain.

Wins and run differential won’t tell us about those, about the stories or the walk-offs or just who employs the better third basemen (because in this second season, both Sandoval and Moustakas have been amazing), and when it comes down to it, in terms of quality, I don’t know if this postseason could get any better.

I wouldn’t bet against it, though.

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