12 July 2017

What Having the Best Record Over 5 Years Earns You

As many know, the Orioles have been the winningest team in the American League over the last 5 seasons. This sounds like an accomplishment! If nothing else, it means that the team was consistently good. Despite this fact sounding like praise, it has always struck me as being both meaningless (a 5 season window of time is arbitrary), a sign of good luck (no MLB-level young arms were blown out), and irrelevant (so what?).

For some reason, the below tweet sent by this site's proprietor felt like something that needed to be addressed:

I agree with the sentiment. It's difficult to complain about a GM that has steered the team if not into ultimate success, at least toward consistent competency. Considering the 20 years of Orioles baseball that took place prior to Duquette's leadership, that can be considered a positive.

At the same time, being the winningest team over the span of 5 years strikes me as a hollow victory. It may mean that the team was consistently good, but was it consistency or quality that led to the accomplishment? I'm not advocating for the removal of Duquette by saying he did nothing, but I am questioning whether this marker of success is really all that important in the first place.

So I started digging, and generated a list of the winningest teams over rolling 5 year spans from 1997-2016. If you're not a fan of the Yankees, consider yourself warned for what you're about to see:
The first thing I notice when I see this list is that the Orioles have the fewest wins among all winningest teams over a rolling 5 year period. That's not necessarily an indicator of being somehow less worthy of the claim. The AL, and the East specifically, could be more competitive now than it was over the previous decade, making it more difficult to dominate over 5 years and more likely that the winningest team simply avoided disastrous seasons. One the other hand, this potentially points more to consistency being the key to the Orioles' 5-year run than quality of play. As in, the Orioles never dominated, but they never disappeared from the conversation either. "He was around," is more of a statement than a compliment, in my opinion.

But the Orioles were the winningest team over the last 5 years, a feat that we can't take away from them. So what does that earn them? Clearly not a World Series win, and not even a World Series appearance. How common is that?

Among the 32 distinct (I'm treating them a such but obviously many of these teams carry rosters and recent postseason accomplishments over year to year) teams to claim the status of the winningest team over the last 5 years, six failed to make a World Series at some point in their 5-year reign. Only four teams made three or fewer postseason appearances over their 5-year roll without also reaching a World Series. Only three teams made two appearances without a World Series outside of a Wild Card loss (which is hardly a postseason appearance): the 2011-2015 Yankees, the 2009-2013 Braves, and the 2012-2016 Orioles.

In my opinion, this makes being the winningest team over a 5 year span more impressive: most teams that claim the accomplishment also claim at the very least a World Series appearance, and 18 have at least one World Series title in that 5-year period. It also makes the Orioles' inability to get deeper into the postseason more frustrating. Based on recent history, a 5-year run as the winningest team in the league should mean that they run into more postseason success by virtue of trying relatively frequently.

This gets back to the whether this accomplishment is driven by consistency or quality, and starts to look more like the Orioles were either very unlucky or riding a wave of consistency without the added benefit of being really good.

Is that a knock on Duquette? Not particularly. Duquette has done a great job of filling out the roster and not resting when he hits on an unheralded player. He's added marginal wins wherever possible, and that's the job of a GM that has a competitive team - which the Orioles ostensibly did. He did not win a World Series with this team, likely because the team, while consistent, was never a head and shoulders above the competition.

Is the status of winningest team over the last 5 years noteworthy? Sure, maybe moreso than I thought. However, I don't know that I'd be bragging about it if I failed to turn it into any really notable postseason appearances.


Anonymous said...

Tell it to Billy Beane.

Anonymous said...

I'd rather be the O's than the Marlins that bought one WS championship and then sold off all the assets. It would be nice to be the Royals who pushed through once and have been largely competent during the same timeframe, but only 1/30 can win. 2014 was the real chance and the O's came tantalizingly close. The Braves were winners for much longer in the 90's with even better teams than the O's and won only one WS.

Unknown said...

I agree with Roger, in general: having a good team buys you more postseason lottery tickets and a better chance to win a World Series. At the same time, to act like the Orioles have had a peak and pitching like the Marlins, A's, or Braves or the organizational plan of the A's or Braves is misleading. Those teams were all actual contenders, not simply holders of lottery tickets.

Jon Shepherd said...

"Those teams were all actual contenders, not simply holders of lottery tickets."

I think that grossly misrepresents what the Orioles accomplished or what really any club who see MLB post season has accomplished. Even the worst club to make the post season has about a 40% chance to win a series. And let us remember that the 2014 club was a very good club that obliterated the AL East with good pitching and a great pen, very good lineup, and great fielding.

Yes, winning a lot is largely overlooked unless you win the whole thing, but winning a lot is something. It may not be the most satisfying thing in the world, but we should not overly detract from the accomplishment.

Unknown said...

Jon - fair! I don't mean to understate what the Orioles have been able to do. If we accept that the playoffs do produce random outcomes, I guess my view is that some teams hold more lottery tickets than others. Getting to the playoffs is worth a ticket, but to assume that any team last year had the same chance as the Cubs as winning would also be wrong.

Agreed that the 2014 team was the best one that the club has had in a long time. They ran into a team built in much the same way, but with better pieces.