World Series at its best

This is the fourth article of a series. The first time a statistical method to identify exciting games was introduced then, in the second installment, it was used to find the most thrilling regular season contests since 1974. After that the series moved to the postseason, and the best LDS games have been ranked in part three and the most electrifying LCS contests have been presented in part four.

Now it’s World Series time. Instead of listing a countdown of the best games like it has been previously done, we’ll take the chance to compare the automatic way of ranking games with seven lists compiled by THT’s Chris Jaffe some time ago.

During the 2007-2008 offseason, Chris wrote seven articles ranking the best World Series games: He started comparing Game Ones among them, then went all the way to the Game Sevens.
Given the nature of the subject we are dealing with, this would mark one rare case in which the subjective ranking will be used as the standard by which the statistical method will be judged.

Below you’ll find Chris Jaffe’s rankings and factor analysis rankings side by side, with some commentary on what caused the lists to be different.

Game One.

    Chris Jaffe					Factor Analysis
10. 1923: Giants 5, Yankees 4			1912: Red Sox 4, Giants 3
 9. 2004: Red Sox 11, Cardinals 9		2003: Marlins 3, Yankees 2
 8. 1916: Red Sox 6, Robins (Dodgers) 5 	1977
 7. 1946: Red Sox 3, Cardinals 2 (10)		1922: Giants 3, Yankees 2
 6. TIE: 1977: Yankees 4, Dodgers 3 (12) 	1923
         2000: Yankees 4, Mets 3 (12)
 5. TIE: 1929: A's 3, Cubs 1 			1924
         1968: Cardinals 4, Tigers 0
 4. 1954: Giants 5, Indians 2 (10)		1954
 3. 1924: Giants 4, Senators 3 (12)		1907: Tigers 3, Cubs 3 (12)
 2. TIE: 1948: Braves 1, Indians 0		1946
         1949: Yankees 1, Dodgers 0
         1950: Yankees 1, Phillies 0
 1. 1988: Dodgers 5, A's 4.			2000

Six of the top 10 games according to factor analysis are also in Chris’ list. However the Kirk Gibson game is notably missing from the statistical ranking. Here is a clear example of where the automatic ranking fails: for Leverage Index and Win Expectancy, it’s just another walk-off, two-out, two-run homer, while we know the batter could barely walk to the box and the pitcher was the most effective closer around.

A similar fate is encountered by another Gibson: the 1968 17-strikeout performance by Bob is seen as a 4-0 game with nothing going on for the Tigers.

On the other side, a tie game (from 1907) is considered as the third best Game One ever by factor analysis. In that contest there was equilibrium (the Cubs having scored the only run for seven innings) and a great rally—after Detroit scored three times in the eighth, Chicago came back with two in the ninth, the tying run coming on a dropped third strike on what would have been the final out. The game was called after 12 because of darkness.

Other notes: The proposed method prefers 4-3 and 3-2 games, while Chris favors 1-0 pitching duels; Connie Mack‘s tactical wizardries (the surprise start of Howard Ehmke) of 1929 are obviously lost when the work is done by a computer.

Game Two.

    Chris Jaffe					Factor Analysis
10. 1992: Blue Jays 5, Braves 4 		1925: Pirates 3, Senators 2
 9. TIE: 1969: Mets 2, Orioles 1		1969
         1990: Reds 5, A's 4 (10)
 8. 1924: Senators 4, Giants 3 			1978: Dodgers 4, Yankees 3
 7. 2002: Angels 11, Giants 10 			1913
 6. 1973: Mets 10, A's 7 (12) 			1980: Phillies 6, Royals 4
 5. 2005: White Sox 7, Astros 6 		1990
 4. 1913: Giants 3, A's 0 (10)			1979: Pirates 3, Orioles 2
 3. 1944: Cardinals 3, Browns 2 (11)		1944
 2. 1934: Tigers 3, Cardinals 2 (12)		1950: Yankees 2, Phillies 1 (10)
 1. 1916: Red Sox 2, Robins (Dodg.) 1 (14) 	1934

Once again the automatic ranking fails to acknowledge what Chris believes to be the greatest Game Two ever, this time even more surprisingly. You would expect a 14-inning 2-1 affair to be in the top 10, but that’s not the case: The game surely had equilibrium, but it lacked the scoring threats that make factor analysis spot exciting situations. The great Babe Ruth allowed an inside-the-park homer in the first, then was nearly untouchable for the remaining 13 innings; before the final pinch hit single by Del Gainer, neither team ever threatened to score after the game was tied in the third (except for a lineout double play in the bottom of the ninth, with Hal Janvrin nailed down at the plate by Brooklyn center fielder Hy Myers).

What’s considered the second best contest by Chris, is the top-ranked by factor analysis. This time the main differences in the lists are due to Chris favoring a couple of high-scoring affairs (see 1973 and 2002).

Game Three.

    Chris Jaffe					Factor Analysis
10. 1995: Indians 7, Braves 6 (11) 		1998: Yankees 5, Padres 4
 9. 1975: Reds 6, Red Sox 5 (10) 		1964
 8. TIE 1950: Yankees 3, Phillies 2		1914
        1992: Blue Jays 3, Braves 2
 7. TIE 1915: Red Sox 2, Phillies 1 		1925: Senators 4, Pirates 3
        1964: Yankees 2, Cardinals 1
 6. 1911: A's 3, Giants 2 (11)			1950
 5. 1972: Reds 1, A's 0 			1992
 4. 1935: Tigers 6, Cubs 5 (11) 		1911
 3. 1991: Braves 5, Twins 4 (12)		2005
 2. 1914: Braves 5, A's 4 (12)			1980: Royals 4, Phillies 3 (10)
 1. 2005: White Sox 7, Astros 5 (14)		1991

Nothing to say; the lists align pretty well. I’m with Chris on the 1995 game: I remember watching it on TV and getting more and more excited as it went on.

Game Four.

    Chris Jaffe					Factor Analysis
10. 1910: Cubs 4, A’s 3 (10) 			2002: Giants 4, Angels 3
 9. TIE 1933: Giants 2, Senators 1 (11)		2006: Cardinals 5, Tigers 4
        1978: Yankees 4, Dodgers 3 (10)
 8. 1993: Blue Jays 15, Phillies 14 		1972
 7. 1972: A’s 3, Reds 2				1935: Tigers 2, Cubs 1
 6. 1969: Mets 2, Orioles 1 (10) 		2005
 5. TIE: 1905 Giants 1, A’s 0 			1927: Yankees 4, Pirates 3
         1906 Cubs 1, White Sox 0 
         2005: White Sox 1, Astros 0
 4. TIE 2001: Yankees 4, D'backs 3 (10)		2001
        2003: Marlins 4, Yankees 3 (12) 
 3. 1941: Yankees 7, Dodgers 4 			1978
 2. 1929: A’s 10, Cubs 8 			1939: Yankees 7, Reds 4 (10)
 1. 1947: Dodgers 3, Yankees 2 			1933

Once more, the computer rankings can’t take into account what’s behind Win Expectancy and Leverage Index. Bill Bevensnearly-no-hitter-turned-tough-loss is nowhere in the top 10.

Mental Health and the CBA
A particular bit of language in the latest CBA could have negative consequences for some players.

To the contrary, factor analysis spotted an interesting game in the 1939 series between Cincinnati and New York. The fact that it was the last contest of a sweep doesn’t make it one to remember by historical standards. However six innings of perfect equilibrium (no scoring by either team), followed by three frames of Win Expectancy roller coastering (the Yankees scoring twice in the seventh, the Reds immediately responding with three of their own followed by another one in the eighth, and the Pinstripes coming back with two more to tie the game in the ninth) surely made for an animated match-up. (You can find Chris’ original article here.)

Game Five.

    Chris Jaffe					Factor Analysis
10. 1926: Yankees 3, Cardinals 2 (10)		1996
 9. 1930: A’s 2, Cardinals 0 			1942
 8. 1915: Red Sox 5, Phillies 4 		1922: Giants 5, Yankees 3
 7. 1972: Reds 5, A’s 4 			2000: Yankees 4, Mets 2
 6. 1911: Giants 4, A’s 3 (10) 			1933: Giants 4, Senators 3 (10)
 5. TIE: 1957: Braves 1, Yankees 0  		1980: Phillies 4, Royals 3
         1996: Yankees 1, Braves 0
 4. 1929: A’s 3, Cubs 2 			1952: Dodgers 6, Yankees 5 (11)
 3. 1942: Cards 4, Yankees 2			2001
 2. 2001: Yankees 3, Diamondbacks 2 (12)	1936: Giants 5, Yankees 4 (10)
 1. 1956: Yankees 2, Dodgers 0*			1926

How could Chris put on top a game where the losing team never once threatened to come back? Wait, maybe it has something to do with the fact that the losing team never once reached first base?

Not on his list, but very close to the top on mine, is the 1936 game featuring two New York clubs. The visiting Giants opened with fireworks: five hits (two for extra bases) gave pitcher Hal Schumacher a three-run cushion to start with. The Yankees inched closer with a George Selkirk solo homer to right in the second and a wild third: a couple of walks, a wild pitch and an error gave the American League team another run, then Schumacher escaped further damage retiring future Hall-of-famers Joe DiMaggio (strikeout), Lou Gehrig (strikeout) and Bill Dickey (flyout to right) with the bases loaded.

The Giants benefited from an error by shortstop Frank Crosseti to score their fourth run in the sixth, but the Yankees connected for three straight two-out singles in the bottom of the same frame to tie the game. Three scoreless innings for both teams followed.

Jo-Jo Moore opened the top of the 10th with a double and was advanced to third by Dick Bartell‘s bunt. Player-manager Bill Terry flied out to center but that was enough to score Moore. Schumacher completed his effort with a scoreless 10th to give the Giants the second win of the series.

Game Six.

    Chris Jaffe					Factor Analysis
10. TIE 1992: Blue Jays 4, Braves 3 (11)	1934: Cardinals 4, Tigers 3
        1995: Braves 1, Indians 0  
 9. 1935: Tigers 4, Cubs 3			1986
 8. 1985: Royals 2, Cards 1			1945
 7. 1993: Blue Jays 8, Phillies 6 		1971: Orioles 3, Pirates 2 (10)
 6. 1945: Cubs 8, Tigers 7 (12)			1991
 5. 1991: Twins 4, Braves 3 (11)		1992
 4. 2002: Angels 6, Giants 5 			1935
 3. TIE 1953: Yankees 4, Dodgers 3 		1919: White Sox 5, Reds 4 (10)
        1956: Dodgers 1, Yankees 0 (10) 
 2. 1986: Mets 6, Red Sox 5 (10)		1975
 1. 1975: Red Sox 7, Reds 6 (12)		1985

The rankings pretty much agree for Game Sixes. It’s unfortunate that the 1985 game is remembered for umpire Denkinger’s blunder, because according to factor analysis that was a terrific contest (perhaps enhanced by the bad call itself).
Carlton Fisk‘s game is not just Carlton Fisk’s game: the Win Expectancy for the Reds was over 90 percent when Boston’s Bernie Carbo, pinch hitting for pitcher Roger Moret, tied the game with one swing of the bat in the eighth.

Then, the Sox had the chance to win it in the ninth, having loaded the bases with nobody out: Denny Doyle was gunned at home by George Foster‘s throw from left when he tried to score on Fred Lynn‘s flyball.

In the top of the 11th Joe Morgan hit a long drive to right with Ken Griffey on base. At first it seemed the ball would leave the playing field, but Dwight Evans managed to catch the ball near Pesky’s Pole, robbing the Reds of two runs.

Then it was Carlton Fisk’s game.

A final note on 1975 Game Six: Ever wondered why Sparky Anderson was called “Captain Hook”? Just look at the pitcher usage for that game.

The best game not in Chris’ list comes from the crooked series of 1919. In the sixth game the Black Sox were clean, coming back from a 4-0 deficit to win it 5-4. Ironically, the winning run in the top of the 10th inning spurted off the bat of none other than Chick Gandil, the first baseman who started the whole fixing scheme.

Game Seven.

    Chris Jaffe					Factor Analysis
10. 1926: Cards 3, Yanks 2 			1972: Athletics 3, Reds 2
 9. 1925: Pirates 9, Senators 7 		1962
 8. 1955: Dodgers 2, Yankees 0 			1952: Yankees 4, Dodgers 2
 7. 1997: Marlins 3, Indians 2 (11)		1940: Reds 2, Tigers 1
 6. 2001: D-backs 3, Yankees 2			1975: Reds 4, Red Sox 3
 5. 1912: Red Sox 3, Giants 2 (10) 		1946: Cardinals 4, Red Sox 3
 4. 1962: Yankees 1, Giants 0			1997
 3. 1991: Twins 1, Braves 0 (10)		2001
 2. 1960: Pirates 10, Yankees 9 		1991
 1. 1924: Senators 4, Giants 3 (12)		1924

It’s not a perfect match, but Chris and factor analysis agree right at the top. Follow the link to Jaffe’s original article for a detailed account of the best Game Seven ever.

After the 1924 beauty, according to the statistical algorithm we have Jack Morris‘ 1991 masterpiece (let’s not forget that the game was memorable also because of John Smoltz‘s effort on the Braves side); contrary to other 1-0 games that did not make into the list for their lack of events, in this one the teams always looked on the verge of taking the lead (both teams were denied a run with bases-loaded, inning-ending double plays in the eighth).

At No. 3 we have the ninth inning rally by the Diamondbacks on Mariano Rivera in 2001, at the end of a Roger Clemens versus Curt Schilling pitching duel.

Fourth on the list is the 11-inning marathon between the Marlins and the Indians in 1997, decided by a young Edgar Renteria.

The first games not in Chris’ list are ranked fifth and sixth by factor analysis and both involve The Curse at its best: 1946 was the year of Enos Slaughter‘s mad dash or “when Pesky held the ball”; in 1975, the night after Fisk waved the ball fair, the Sox jumped to a 3-0 lead only to be reached in the seventh and lose the series in the ninth.

Bonus – Game Eight.

There have been four World Series Game Eight in baseball history.
The worst is surely the one from the infamous 1919 Fall Classic: Lefty Williams‘ lack of effort led to a four-run first inning and the score was 10-1 before the Black Sox scored four runs in the bottom of the eight.

In the final game of the very first World Series (1903) the Pirates never had a chance once the Boston Americans took a 2-0 lead in the fourth, rounded by a third run in the sixth. Pittsburgh had just four hits in the game, and the only time two of them came in the same inning (the sixth), nobody was running on the second one as Deacon Phillippe had just been picked off first by catcher Lou Criger.

In 1921 the Giants scored one run off Yankees starter Waite Hoyt in a hitless first inning and that was all the support Art Nehf needed to win the game and the series.

But the real Game Eight beauty happened in 1912. The series score was 3-3, because Game Two had been called because of darkness after 11, with the Giants and the Red Sox tied at six. Thus the series was up for grabs for both teams, just like your typical Game Seven—in fact Chris Jaffe ranked it fifth among the Game Sevens (according to the method we have been using for the past weeks this one ranks even higher at second).

After scoring in the third, New York rested on Christy Mathewson‘s shoulders, who at one point retired 12 straight Bostonians. Big Six couldn’t complete the shutout as pinch hitter Olaf Henriksen doubled home Jake Stahl in the bottom of the seventh to tie the game. After six innings of silence the Giants’ bats gave Matty another run: Red Murray doubled with one out in the 10th and Fred Merkle drove him home putting New York back on top. Had Mathewson retired the side in the bottom part of the inning, probably Merkle would now be remembered for a series-winning extra inning hit rather than a bonehead play.

Fate had different plans: the Sox tied the game on Tris Speaker‘s single which scored Clyde Engle and won the series on a sac fly by Larry Gardner.

References & Resources
Chris Jaffe’s articles are linked throughout mine, but here they are collected together for your convenience:
Game Ones
Game Twos
Game Threes
Game Fours
Game Fives
Game Sixes
Game Sevens

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So 2001 had three games in the top four.  There should be a total series rank.

Max Marchi
Max Marchi

it’s coming…

Dave Studeman
Dave Studeman

Max, this is terrific!  I love comparing the two lists side by side.  Great idea.


One quibble:  In ‘75, Evans was nowhere near the foul pole when he caught the ball.  It was a sensational over-the-shoulder catch running towards the runway/Section 1.  Griffey would never have been doubled off first otherwise.


I think this list shows just how underrated the 2005 World Series was. I know it was a sweep, but every game (even game 1 which isn’t listed) was a nail-biter. Game 2 stands out as especially insane. Konerko’s grand slam, the 2 run single with 2 out by Orlando Palmeiro off the seemingly invincible Jenks in the top of the 9th, and the home run off dominant Lidge by Scott freaking Podsednik (0HR in 568PA’s in 2005’s regular season) was the icing on the cake.

In the words of the (in)famous McCarver: “How does this stuff happen?”

Dan Evensen
Dan Evensen
This confirms a suspicion I’ve always had: the 1980 World Series, for one reason or another, is one of the most overlooked Series of all time. Games 2, 3 and 5 all featured exciting late game rallies, and the losing teams in Games 1, 4 and 6 were within reach (i.e. had the required number of baserunners) of tying it in the last two innings. I’ve got copies of all 6 games on DVD, as well as cassette tape copies, and consider it one of the finest 6 game Series of all time. And I’m not a Phillies fan. I’m… Read more »