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:

teamexpected winsactual winsactual/expected
White Sox5.7030.53
Red Sox5.7081.40
Blue Jays1.3921.44

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.

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Richard Hershberger is a paralegal working in Maryland. When he isn't doing whatever it is that paralegals do, or taking his daughters to Girl Scouts, he is dedicated to the collection and analysis of useless and unremunerative information.

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14 thoughts on “The World Series Futility Index

  1. For these purposes, why start the Rangers in ’61 when their long-suffering DFW fans have only had a team since 1971? Same goes for the Nats and the happier Twins fandom. I mean, how much Walter Johnson memorabilia is available at Target Field?

    You could differentiate this from the Dodgers, Giants, Braves and As, since both TX and MN completely abandoned the Senators name and (losing) tradition.

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    • Honestly, I perhaps over-react to the absurdity of the Cleveland Browns, with the fiction that the Browns simply disappeared for a few years, only to reappear and continue on as the same Cleveland Browns, as if they had fallen into a rift in the space-time continuum, but they are back now, so carry as as normal. The Baltimore Ravens? What do they have to do with this discussion?

      You are right that there is a different look and feel to the Dodgers, Giants, Braves, and A’s. The Dodgers and the Giants wanted to continue their traditional rivalry. The Braves had the whole Hank Aaron thing going. The A’s, umm…. I have no idea. But this is different from the St. Louis Browns moving and adopting the traditional Baltimore baseball name. Everyone knows that the Dodgers used to play in Brooklyn. It is a bit of historical trivia that the Orioles used to be the St. Louis Browns. (Of course, who wouldn’t want to forget that?)

      So if you want to readjust the Futility Index this way, the math is perfectly straightforward, and you have my blessing. Go forth and multiply, or in this case add and divide.

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  2. As a fan of the Mariners, who attended their first game, I say ‘amen’! But Texas has it worse, which makes sense. They’ve always seemed hapless. They are always the team with the great offense that does well in the regular season and then folds in the playoffs because they see better pitching, and don’t have any of their own.

    Of course, that could describe a lot of Mariner teams, too.

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    • Well, in futility terms, at least the Rangers made it to the WS twice. The Mariners and Expos are the only teams never even to make it to the last round. That has to count for some bonus points.

      Joined at the hip, those two. Came into the league at the same time. Wore powderish light blue up to the last decade it was possible to do that unironically. Horrible stadiums. Silly logos which still are more memorable than the modern equivalent. One of their best players all-time still on the outside of the HOF looking in when he should have slid in without a throw (although Edgar would likely have injured himself while doing so).

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  3. I have been critical of this narrative, partly because the Cubs fan’s woe-is-me shtick is old and tiresome…

    Nevertheless, it is part of their persona as a club. Now that’s gone, and in 20 years, they’ll be just another team whining about going 20 years without a World Series title.

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  4. To add misery, the Rangers were just 2 outs away from winning the World Series in game six in 2011. They were up by two runs and had a 95.9% win expectancy. The Cardinals tied the score, and then in the 10th inning, the Rangers took another two-run lead, which they were unable to hold. Game graph.

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