Even since Dark Overlord Dave Appelman updated the FanGraphs leaderboards to allow multi-year analyses, I’ve been meaning to do something fun with them. The feature lends itself well to answering questions with a large scope, like: who’s been the best first baseman over the last five seasons? What team has had the best bullpen over the last three seasons? What’s the highest single-season strikeout rate any starting pitcher has had over the last ten years? The possibilities are nearly endless.
While this feature obviously has analytical purposes, I feel it has a larger, much more important use: trivia! As pointless as inane baseball statistics can be, what baseball fan doesn’t love their trivia? It’s something we all grew up with, as you can’t escape digesting large amount of pointless facts if you watch or listen to baseball, and I’ve found that even the most ardent statheads love a bit of mindless fun every now and then. Numbers don’t always have to mean something; sometimes, it’s enough for them to merely provide a chuckle or a shake of the head.
So let’s use this amazing multi-year leaderboard to take a look back through time. What sort of fun superlatives will we find if we flip open the yearbook to The Aughts (2000-2009)?
Best Position Players (Offense and Defense): The Cardinals, 272 WAR
Surprise! I bet you were expecting this to be the Yankees or Red Sox, right? I certainly was, and it’s true that both those teams absolutely destroy the league when you look solely at offense. The Yankees had a .351 wOBA as a team over that decade – yes, that is as impressive as it sounds – and the Red Sox had a .348 wOBA, while the next closest team was the Rangers with a .340 wOBA. The Yankees were horrible at defense for the majority of the decade, though, posting the worst defensive ratings in the majors by a wide margin (for the record, both UZR and DRS agree on this). The Yankees theoretrically lost around 50 wins during the Aughts as a result of poor defense, while the Red Sox (who ranked within the worst third of teams defensively) only cost themselves about 10 wins.
EDIT: I meant no disrespect to the Cardinals by glossing over them here. See my little write-up on them in the comments below.
Best Pitching Staff: The Red Sox, 248.7 WAR
As with any discussion of pitching value, this verdict is up for debate. The Red Sox didn’t have the best team ERA, FIP, or xFIP – in fact, they ranked ninth best in ERA and second best in FIP. However, the Dodgers were the team that had the best ERA and FIP, and their pitchers obviously don’t have to worry about allowing homeruns as much as Red Sox pitchers. However you look at it, though, the Sox had some of the best overall pitchers during the Aughts.
Worst Overall Team: The Nationals, 212.7 WAR
This actually took a bit of spreedsheet work, so the above link won’t take you to the results. But yes, the Nationals – apparently their offense, defense, and pitching combined didn’t provide as much value as the Red Sox’s pitching staff alone. Or, for that matter, the Indians’ position players (225.6 WAR). This surprises me somewhat, as the Nationals actually had a few decent seasons in there. They cracked .500 not once, not twice, but three times over the course of the Aughts, which is three times more than the Pirates can say (who just barely sneaked ahead of the Nats with 217.2 total WAR).
If we break down suckiness by area, the Royals had the worst overall position players (103 WAR), while the Padres had an awful pitching staff (87 WAR, only one of two teams to drop into the double digits). Yet despite having such a bad staff, the Padres were actually dead smack in the middle of the league in Runs Allowed (16th overall). It helps to have a good home ballpark, huh?
Most Patient Team: The Yankees, 9.8% walk rate
Finally, an area where the Yankees were best! I’m sorry to all the Yankee fans out there that had to wait this long to read it. I know it must have been tough.
Most Hack-tastic Team: The Brewers, 22.3% strikeout rate
Strikeouts aren’t any necessarily much worse than any other type of out, but they do make it tough for you to hit for a high batting average. The Brewers had the worst batting average in the majors during the Aughts (.255), which meant that despite their middle-of-the-road patience (15th best) and above-average power (10th best), their overall offense still rated as 8th worst in the majors (.324 wOBA). If you’re going to strike out that much, you need to be able to walk a ton to make up for it in your OBP.
Best Bullpen: The Twins, 55.1 WAR
Thank you Joe Nathan, as his 15.1 WAR catapulted the Twins into first place. But at the same time, the Twins had a large collection of great bullpen arms during the Aughts: Eddie Guardado, LaTroy Hawkins, Juan Rincon, Johan Santana (remember that?), J.C. Romero….the list goes on. The Twins had the seventh best starting pitching staff during the Aughts, and they almost always had a dominant bullpen to finish the game.
Worst Bullpen: The (Devil) Rays, 11.2 WAR
If not for the Rays having an improved bullpen in 2008 and 2009, the Rays would have come darn close to ending up in the negatives here. Seth McClung, Dewon Brazelton, Jesus Colome, Chad Orvella, Jae Kuk Ryu, Jae Seo Wong – I mean, doesn’t this list inspire confidence? Casey Fossum was the 19th best relief pitcher the Rays had during the Aughts and compared to many of the others on the list, he was an attractive option. Oh, and who was the worst reliever on the team with the worst bullpen? That’d be “proven closer” Troy Percival, at -1.1 WAR.
Does any of this mean anything? No, not necessarily. But this information sure is fun to peruse, and it’s just one of the many things you can do with the multi-year function of the Leaderboards.