Updated: Nov 1, 2018
The 2018 season is over. On Sunday, the Boston Red Sox put the final touches on what was one of the most dominant seasons of the modern era and effortlessly cruised through the playoffs in the face of some daunting opposition. And the Cardinals missed the postseason for the third year in a row, the first time that has happened since the late 1990s. Good riddance, I guess.
It has been debated what exactly counts as the modern era in baseball. Given how the playoff structure quite radically changed beginning in 1995, I think that's as good of a starting point as any. So returning to a project I have done the last two seasons, this is an updated rankings of all 30 MLB franchises in the Wild Card era now that the season is complete. This is something that I first started at Viva El Birdos and then continued last offseason at my own aggressively-dormant blog Seat Cushion Night.
What lies below is a point system that attempts to reward both regular season success and those teams lucky enough to make it all the way through October. Straight from the previous versions with a few tweaks, here's how it works.
From 1995 to 2018, each team gets:
+1 point for every regular season game won;
+15 points for a division title;
-10 points for a last place finish;
+2 points for every playoff game won;
+20 points for a Pennant; and
+50 points for a World Series title.
For instance, the Red Sox accumulated 215 points this season by way of 108 regular season wins, a division title (+15), 11 wins in the playoffs (+22), a Pennant (+20), and a World Series title (+50). The Orioles finished with just 37 points resulting from their 47 regular season wins and minus 10 points because of their very dreadful last place finish. These point totals were added to what was already on their resume from between 1995 and 2017.
Now, a couple of things before we get to the rest of the numbers. First, the Diamondbacks and Rays didn’t join the league until 1998. I averaged their win total by season from 1998-2018 to fill in the blanks for 1996 and 1997, and pro-rated that average win total to fit the 1995 144-game strike-shortened schedule. But they’re at a disadvantage because those are three seasons in which they didn’t have the opportunity to accrue points by playoff wins, pennants, etc. On the other hand, they are spared possible last place finishes, too.
Second, I awarded the Cardinals a division title in 2001 as well as the Red Sox in 2005, even though they were technically Wild Card teams but finished with the same respective record as the division winning Astros and Yankees. In similar fashion, the Rockies and Diamondbacks were both docked 10 points for finishing with the same last place record in the NL West in 2006, and same with the Royals and Indians in 2009. And no points were awarded for winning the Wild Card. Those teams are left with the points from what should be a decent amount of regular season wins and whatever they were able to accomplish in the postseason (e.g., the 1997 and 2003 Marlins). As you’re going to see, that hurt teams like the Pirates but I didn’t see the need to award a team who neither won the division nor went far in the playoffs.
One thing to quickly note: As we saw in 2018, the Brewers and Cubs, as well as the Dodgers and Rockies, each finished with the same record in their divisions after 162 games and needed an extra game to decide who would be relegated to the Wild Card play-in game and who would be crowned king. Unlike the example above with the 2001 Cardinals and the 2005 Red Sox, I did not award the Cubs and Rockies points for winning their divisions this season because they didn't win their divisions as denoted by the extra game which shows up in the standings. See look here. Contrast that with the standings from 2001 or 2005 where you will find two teams with the exact same record forever frozen in time in the history books. I find this methodology to be fair.
Finally, before moving on to the updated standings, for compare and contrast purposes, here's how the teams ranked following the 2017 season:
1. Yankees - 2,951
2. Cardinals - 2,501
3. Braves - 2,424
4. Red Sox - 2,407
5. Giants - 2,287
6. Indians - 2,237
7. Dodgers - 2,218
8. Angels - 2,139
9. Astros - 2,045
10. Rangers - 2,025
11. Phillies - 1,991
12. White Sox - 1,983
13. Mets - 1,962
14. Athletics - 1,956
15. Cubs - 1,954
16. Diamondbacks - 1,945
17. Marlins - 1,879
18. Mariners - 1,852
19. Blue Jays - 1,832
20. Reds - 1,832
21. Twins - 1,816
22. Padres - 1,807
23. Tigers - 1,806
24. Orioles - 1,776
25. Nats/Expos - 1,774
26. Brewers - 1,748
27. Royals - 1,720
28. Rockies - 1,719
29. Rays - 1,693
30. Pirates - 1,595
By this formula the Cardinals can still claim the title of the second best franchise in MLB since the wild cards were introduced. Barring something unforeseen, the only thing that could dislodge them from that spot after next year would be another Red Sox World Series title (I feel comfortable saying that the Braves are not yet a credible threat on that front next season).
Well, shoot. Not only was I well off on the Braves still being a year away, the only other thing that could have happened to knock the Cardinals from the #2 spot did happen. In light of that, here's how things now stand.
Sure enough. Boston's historical season knocked the Cardinals down a peg. And maybe it's not just media bias because here is evidence that the Yankees and Red Sox are the top two teams of MLB in this era. Always nice to have our nightmares confirmed, isn't it? The Yankees, to the surprise of very few, hold a firm grip at the top of these standings and won't be relinquishing that spot any time soon.
The good news is that the Cardinals remain one of just three franchises to not have a last place finish since the Wild Card was introduced, with the Yankees and Dodgers being the only other two members of this club. On the other side of the coin, since the Rockies lost the extra game versus the Dodgers to decide the NL West this season, they are still in search of that elusive first division crown, a status in which they are kept company by the Marlins and Pirates.
I don't know how to correctly measure parity in MLB nor whether it's even a problem. But of the 24 World Series that have been claimed during this modern era, 15 have been won by five of the top six teams above. Those six teams are also responsible for half of the 48 Pennants. Again, this is merely an observation, not commentary, and I'm guessing this top-heaviness isn't any worse than say the NFL or NBA.
Lastly, I wrote this last season, but it's worth repeating that while the Cardinals have been very good to us during this era, it would be nice if they could pad their point total next season with something more than just regular season wins. Other than that, the song remains the same: In spite of Boston's historical season, this is still the Yankees' world and we are all just living in it. They really should be contracted.