The Most Competitive World Series of All Time Formula

Despite being the most recent World Series, the 2017 version was still the third-most competitive of all-time using this formula. (via Keith Allison)

The 2018 NBA playoffs have been a joy for fans of exciting competition. Despite the Finals once again featuring the Warriors and the Cavaliers, many of the playoffs’ moments and performances have been thrilling. Seeing both conference series go the full seven games sent me down the internet rabbit hole to determine which NBA Finals were the most competitive. Since 1947, there have been 19 NBA Finals that reached a Game Seven, good for 26.3 percent of the 71 overall series that have gone the distance. And while there are occasional fan grumblings about the playoffs going the full seven games to maximize the TV rights investment, only four NBA Finals in the last 20 years have reached a seventh game.

This stands in sharp contrast to Major League Baseball, where over 35 percent of all the Fall Classics have finished with a Game Seven, not including the three that went to an eighth game (1912, 1921 and 1922), or the select pre-Modern Era series where there was a tie involved. The NBA playoffs made me wonder: Of those 40 Fall Classics that went the full seven games, which was the most competitive? Asking fans, I’ve received answers such as the “1986 Mets, the Buckner play;” “1960, the Mazeroski Home Run;” “Tigers-Cardinals, ‘68;” even the play at the plate between Yogi and Jackie Robinson in 1955, from some fans of a certain age. The disputes get loud and sometimes testy, as fans defend the highlights of their favorite team in that team’s greatest moments of glory.

These singular World Series highlights are indeed exciting, thrilling memories for fans, and worthy of historical celebration. But what if there were a way to quantify “competition” beyond the final score? What would that look like? It couldn’t be biased. It would need to fit an objective measure, removing any sentiment toward your team. What would make up that measure?

Here’s what I am calling the Championship Competition Formula.

Overall Run Differential – Winning Team Two Game Deficit – (Lead Changes + Extra-inning Games + Ninth-Inning Comebacks + Walk-off Wins + Walk-off Home Runs + Game Seven Walk-off Home Runs)

A lower score means a Series was more competitive. The two most important components are the Overall Run Differential between the winning and losing team for each game (which is slightly different than the individual team’s run differential) and “Lead Changes.” Few things get fans more fired up than when their team loses the lead. The events ignite passion inside them – a home run, a double off the wall, a triple into the power alley, an error behind the bag. But it’s the result of this action that catalyzes the excitement; what that dinger or ground-rule double truly means.

What Overall Run Differential conveys is the closeness of the scoring. The average ORD for a Game Seven series is 24.2. The average total number of lead changes for a given World Series is slightly over four times. Only three World Series have been played where the lead never changed hands; the 1966 Baltimore Orioles sweep of the Dodgers, the 1963 Dodgers four-game handling of the Yankees and the 1918 six-game Series, which featured the Boston Red Sox beating the Chicago Cubs. One interesting quirk about the ’63 Series? Only eight runs separated the Dodgers from the Yankees, or two per game, well below the average of 12.50 for all 113 Fall Classics.

Let’s explore the difference between “excitement” and competition. What made the 1986 World Series between the Red Sox and the Mets an emotional rollercoaster was obviously the game-losing error, but it was also the fact that it occurred during extra innings play. There were multiple lead changes, in addition to the Mets as a team returning from a 2-0 Series deficit to win four of the next five games.

But something not everyone remembers is that there were no lead changes until Game 6 and only three in total. If you examine it through our competition formula, you’ll find that the ‘86 Series is not even among the Top Ten “Most Competitive” World Series of all-time (it’s actually in the Top 20.)

Of course, you can’t discuss thrilling World Series games without mentioning Bill Mazeroski’s Game Seven walk-off home run. It didn’t help matters that the overall run differential was 42, which is second-highest only to the 1968 Fall Classic. There were only four lead changes the entire series, and three of them came in Game Seven. Now if there’s a conversation about the most thrilling individual World Series games, the Mazeroski home run game is among the best. For the most competitive overall Fall Classic experience, it’s a mediocre film with a spectacular ending.

Let’s also acknowledge that blowout games affect our scale of competition. Take 2001, for example. Fantastic World Series. Seven Lead Changes. The Arizona Diamondbacks gave the New York Yankees a 9-1 smack-down in Game One, then, down three games to two and facing a critical Game Six, responded with a 15-2 drubbing of the Bronx Bombers. In all, 2001 saw three walk-off wins, including a Game Seven walk-off, two ninth-inning comebacks, two extra-inning games, two walk-off home run games. Were it not for the two blowout games, this may have been among the most competitive World Series ever played.

We’ll be concerning ourselves with Series that went a full seven games. Here they are, with their competitiveness scores.

Seven-Game World Series with Competitiveness Scores
Series Year Total Games ORD Winning Team Deficit Series Lead Changes 9th Inning Comeback Extra-inning Walk-off Win Walk-off HR G7 Walk-off Total Score
1909 7 28 0 5 0 0 0 0 0 23
1920 7 21 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 21
1924 7 13 1 6 0 2 1 0 1 3
1925 7 15 2 7 0 0 0 0 0 6
1926 7 24 0 8 1 1 0 0 0 14
1931 7 25 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 24
1934 7 29 1 5 1 1 1 0 0 20
1940 7 26 1 3 0 0 0 0 0 22
1945 7 29 0 4 0 1 1 0 0 23
1946 7 24 0 5 1 1 0 0 0 17
1947 7 17 0 7 1 0 1 0 0 8
1952 7 16 1 7 0 1 0 0 0 7
1955 7 19 2 6 0 0 0 0 0 11
1956 7 36 2 5 0 1 1 0 0 27
1957 7 22 0 6 1 1 1 1 0 12
1958 7 28 2 7 0 2 1 0 0 16
1960 7 42 0 4 1 0 1 1 2 35
1962 7 17 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 16
1964 7 21 0 7 1 1 1 1 0 10
1965 7 32 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 29
1967 7 26 0 4 0 0 0 0 0 22
1968 7 41 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 37
1971 7 21 2 3 0 1 1 0 0 14
1972 7 13 0 6 1 0 1 0 0 5
1973 7 17 1 3 0 2 0 0 0 11
1975 7 15 0 9 1 2 2 1 0 0
1979 7 22 2 5 0 0 0 0 0 15
1982 7 34 2 5 0 0 0 0 0 27
1985 7 29 2 3 2 0 1 0 0 21
1986 7 23 2 3 0 1 1 0 0 16
1987 7 34 1 6 0 0 0 0 0 27
1991 7 17 1 7 0 3 3 1 1 1
1997 7 23 0 9 2 1 1 0 0 10
2001 7 29 1 7 2 2 3 2 1 12
2002 7 25 0 6 0 0 0 0 0 19
2011 7 22 1 7 2 1 1 1 0 9
2014 7 35 0 5 0 0 0 0 0 30
2016 7 24 2 4 0 1 0 0 1 17
2017 7 16 0 9 2 2 1 0 0 2

Now you might wonder, especially during its 40th anniversary this October, is the low rating for the extremely popular 1967 Fall Classic. It is one of the most memorable series of all-time, no question. Close to six books have been written about the series and the 1968 season in general over the past five years. Yes, it went seven games, but the lead only changed twice the entire series. That speaks as much to the brilliance of Bob Gibson and the Tigers’ postseason star Mickey Lolich than anything else, but there were also two blowouts and not a single one-run game. Go back one season to another celebrated Fall Classic. There were a couple of blowouts in the 1967 Series, which pitted the Cards against the Red Sox, where the lead changed just twice throughout the entire series, resulting in its low score on our scale.

Before we celebrate the most competitive seven-game World Series, let’s examine the highest-rated Fall Classics on our scale that ended too early to qualify for the top ten.

The 2005 World Series between the Chicago White Sox and the Houston Astros only lasted four games, but was an unbelievably competitive event. No single game had a run differential of more than two. There were seven lead changes. It featured a ninth-inning comeback, one extra-inning game, and the one moment that will allow Scott Podsednik to drink for free on the South Side of Chicago for the rest of his life:

There are other series that didn’t go seven but were remarkably well-contested. The 2000 Subway Series between the Mets and the Yankees offered us five lead changes in five games, one walk-off win and an extra-inning game. The ORD was seven, tied for fifth lowest all-time. Hardly anyone ever mentions the tremendous competition of the 2000 Series, not to mention the stellar pitching matchups. Not a single game was won by more than two runs. In my view, it was the most competitive five-game World Series in baseball history, slightly edging out the 1915 Series when the Boston Red Sox bested the Phillies.

Speaking of Philadelphia, a series that is often overlooked is the Phillies’ against the Kansas City Royals in 1980. It had it all: eight total lead changes, a sterling 10 Overall Run Differential, three games that saw at least two lead changes, a crazy Game Three that went back and forth three times. It was a Fall Classic that showcased future Hall of Famers Steve Carlton, Mike Schmidt, and George Brett, as well as Pete Rose and Amos Otis contributing 11 hits and three home runs in six games. This was the second most competitive six-game series of all time.

The most competitive six-game series is the 1992 matchup between the Atlanta Braves and the Toronto Blue Jays. America’s team shows up often in this exercise due to the Hall of Fame pitching of John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and later Greg Maddux. With a low Overall Run Differential of 11, this series is tied with four other Fall Classics for the most lead changes at nine, which gives it the edge over 1980. Add in two ninth-inning comebacks, an extra-inning game and a walk-off win, and it’s a shame this series isn’t as fondly remembered as the Joe Carter series-closing, home run celebration in 1993 or the Fall Classic from the year before, which we will explore shortly.

Let’s get to the Top Ten:

10) 1997: The Overall Run Differential is a little high at 23, but boy, what a series. The Game Four 10-3 trouncing of the Marlins drives up the ORD, but this series contains the only match up to include four lead changes (Game Three), a Game Seven Ninth-inning comeback and incredible performances from rookies Jaret Wright and Livan Hernandez.

9) 1947: A historically significant year in baseball history also gives us our ninth most competitive World Series, this time between the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers. With an Overall Run Differential of just 17, there were seven lead changes, including two games where the lead exchanged hands twice. It also featured one ninth-inning comeback and a walk-off win.

8) 2011: By all accounts, this was an absolutely phenomenal series. Why isn’t it higher on our scale? The nine-run differential in Game 3 knocks it back a bit. But it had a game with two lead changes, the legendary Game Six with three lead changes, and seven total for the series. It also had two ninth-inning comebacks, an extra-inning game and Freese’s shot, and, as a small bonus, a nice spiritual throwback to a beloved broadcaster:

7) 1952: Once again pitting the Yankees against the Dodgers, a below-average ORD of 16 might have knocked it out, but seven lead changes places this Fall Classic on our list. It was one of four World Series in baseball history with lead changes in six of the seven games, two of which came in the decisive final.

6) 1925: No extra-inning heroics, no walk-off dingers; this was just exciting baseball. It was rife with tight games, a 15 ORD, lead changes in five of the seven games, with two coming in Game Seven. The Pittsburgh Pirates battled the Washington Senators during the best stretch of baseball the hapless DC franchise would ever experience before moving to Minnesota decades later to start the 1961 season.

5) 1972: Where do we start with this series? A 13 ORD, tight ballgames, two ballclubs coming off thrilling LCS matchups, one walk-off win, the rare play at the plate to end a ballgame, and lead changes in each of the last four games, with two in Games Four and Five. The 1970’s included some of the most competitive Series of any decade, as we’ll see higher on this list. There were six one-run ballgames. Five Hall of Famers in total participated in this series, with Reggie Jackson sitting out from a leg injury sustained on a slide at home plate in Game Five of the ALCS against Detroit. With Mr. October’s misfortune, as well as the ballsy Odom play to end Game Five, A’s third-base coach Irv Noren should probably have been more aggressive with his postseason hold sign.

4) 1924: This one was carried by arguably the greatest pitcher of all-time in Walter Johnson, a 20-year veteran who only saw post-season play during his age 36 and 37 seasons. Two extra-inning games, one walk-off, six lead changes, including two in the 12-inning long Game Seven. With a low 13 ORD and four one-run ballgames, this Series is marked by its excitement in the finale, capped off by rookie center fielder Earl McNeely’s double to give the Senators their first and only World Series championship.

Moving on, as the slightest margin separates the three most competitive World Series.

3) 2017: It’s so fresh in the minds of most baseball fans that there hardly seems to be a need to re-examine the classic seven-game joust between the Astros and the Dodgers. Let’s look at the numbers. Its ORD was just 16, third all-time for a series that went the distance. There were two games where the lead changed three times. The series is tied for first with nine lead changes overall, two ninth-inning comebacks, two extra-inning games. There were lead changes in five of the seven games. The 2017 World Series has the fifth lowest score on our scale of all 113 World Series matches, tied with the 1922 four-game (and a tie) New York Giants sweep of the crosstown Yankees.

2) 1991: A well-celebrated Fall Classic and rightly so. The Puckett homer, the Morris game, Dan Gladden scoring the winning win to end the final 10-inning affair. This matchup checks all the boxes. The Series saw a 17 ORD, as well as the Twins coming back from down 3-2 heading into Game Six, and three games with two or more lead changes. Puckett’s celebrated walk-off home run underlined by Jack Buck’s wonderful call from the booth is a highlight, and of course, that Game Seven walk-off run. There were three extra-inning games, and five one-run games, which covers this series for the 14-5 drubbing you find in Game 5. And lucky for us, we get to hear Buck’s voice one more time:

1) 1975:

Many fans know this series primarily for Carlton Fisk’s Game Six, “Body English” extra-inning game-winning blast, but it’s so, so much more than that. A hotly contested matchup very similar to 1972, the Series had a 15 ORD, with two extra-inning games, two walk-off wins, and yes, the Fisk homer. There three games where the lead changed two times, and one ninth-inning comeback, as well as four one-run games.

Sometimes you’ll hear about a performance or a game where the legend exaggerates the significance of the actual event. You won’t find that here. The Reds had four Hall of Famers; the Red Sox, three, counting the injured rookie Jim Rice, and a slew of near-greats in both dugouts like Luis Tiant, Fred Lynn, George Foster. If ever a Fall Classic possessed the spirit of a ten-day All-Star Game, it was 1975.

Thanks to the inspiration from LeBron’s efforts to carry the Cleveland Cavaliers deep into professional basketball’s postseason, I believe I’ve discovered that overall run differential and lead changes provide a more specific view into the true competition between two World Series teams. Now I’m going to sit down and attempt to discover the most competitive NBA Finals of all-time, sifting through every lead change since 1947. Long hand.
I’ll see you in a year.

References and Resources


Dave Jordan is the co-author of Fastball John, the memoir written with former National League Rookie Pitcher of the Year John D’Acquisto. Dave is also the founder of Instream Sports, the first athlete-author website. Follow him on Twitter @instreamsports.
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Dennis Bedard
Member
Dennis Bedard

Great article. And a great trip down memory lane. The 1971 Series should get some kind of honorable mention. It went 7 games but the last two were 3-2 and 2-1 with the Orioles coming back in the bottom of the 9th in game 6 to win and Pitt winning game 7.

vslyke
Member

The 1979 WS between the same teams also is worthy of a mention. Baseball Gauge’s methodology considers Eddie Murray’s AB in the 8th as the most pressure packed AB in baseball history.

https://thebaseballgauge.com/post.php?tab=plays&first=min&last=max&type=All&WPA=champ&round=All&gm=All&BestOf=All&half=All&inning=All&outs=All&bases=All&invTm=All&batTm=All&fldTm=All&awTm=All&hmTm=All&park=All&WalkOff=&results=25&page=1&sort=LI_a#metric

WARrior
Member
Member
WARrior

McCovey in 1962 is supposed to be the highest championship leverage in history.

And no mention of 2001? Two walk-off wins in a row to turn a 2-1 game deficit to 3-2 the other way. Game 7 had to be one of the most thrilling in history, with lead changes in the 8th and 9th.

sinatra70
Member
sinatra70

Great article, Dave. I did have one question, though: weren’t the three series that went to eight games (aside from the inaugural classic) the 1912 ( Boston-NY), 1919 (Cincinnati-Chicago), and 1921 (Yankees-Giants)? The 1922 series went 4-0-1.

francis_soyer
Member
francis_soyer
The thing about the 2001 Game 6 blowout was that despite the lopsided score, there was a dramatic subtext, which was why Randy Johnson was staying in the game so long. At this point in the series, it was obvious that Kim was out as closer and that Johnson would have to close if it got to that point, yet Brenly stuck with the Unit for the 6th inning with a 15 run cushion. In the end, Randy was able to throw 7 innings and still win Game 7 in relief, but those middle innings were a lot more interesting… Read more »
johnforthegiants
Member
johnforthegiants

I don’t think the 1972 World Series could be topped. It literally had 6 nailbiters in 7 games. Other than the 6th game, every game was decided by one run, and not only did no team ever have more than a 2-run lead in any game, it was only in the 2nd game that a team was able to hold a 2-run lead for more than 2 innings, and in that game Catfish Hunter only held a 2-0 lead into the 9th by getting out of one mess after another.

Rainja182
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Rainja182

I think you need to include another weight metric that incorporates large leads overcome in a game.

Las Vegas Wildcards
Member
Las Vegas Wildcards

I would argue the unpredictability of the 1960 World Series made it a very competitive Fall Classic. Even the biggest Yankees fan would have been very concerned about the outcome of Game 7. It was like the movie “Rocky”, with the favorite landing haymakers in three convincing wins, while the underdog took the punishment to win enough rounds(games) to force a thrilling finale.

Fredchuckdave
Member

White Sox fan perhaps? I liked how close the games were other than the 18 inning one that I fell asleep during; but I also really liked that my team won each time so there wasn’t any serious stressing out needed.

Beeks17
Member
Beeks17

Awesome list but I notice one thing. The 2016 Series did not end in a walkoff. Cubs were the away team in game 7 and had to get three outs to seal it. I believe Chapman came out for a second inning to seal the deal after Rajai Davis hit one to tie it the inning prior. I hate the Cubs but that was a great game.

Dave Studeman
Editor
Member

Here’s the same idea, using WPA on championship level. 1912 was amazing. https://www.baseballprospectus.com/news/article/16359/baseball-proguestus-the-tensest-series-of-all-time/

Lanidrac
Member
Lanidrac

Since you included extra points for 9th inning comebacks, shouldn’t Game 6 of the 2011 World Series also receive an additional point knocked off for the 10th inning comeback (sandwiched between the 9th inning comeback and the 11th inning walk-off homer)?