Can We Predict Who Will Win the World Series?

With the World Series approaching this week, and at the suggestion of my friend, Eric Edward, I thought I’d take a look at whether we can predict which teams make it to the World Series, and why others do not.  A huge topic, I know, but I have found some statistics that might shed some light on the subject.

 

We now know that the New York Yankees
Yankees Logo.jpgwill play the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series
Phillies Logo small.gif, which will begin Wednesday night in New York.  The Phillies are looking to 2-peat, having won the Series last year.  The Yankees, who have won more World Series than any other franchise (26), are really pumped, if last night’s game against the Angels is any indication.   It should be a very good series.

 

So were these two teams the likely candidates to play in the World Series?  Let’s look at some numbers in various categories:  salaries, market size, attendance, team value, and prior World Series appearances, to see if we could have predicted this year’s Series contenders.

 

Salaries/Payroll:  It is no surprise that the Yankees have the highest team payroll in the Majors at $201,449,289 for 2009, as of opening day.  The teams ranked 2 through 10 have payrolls between $135,773,988 (Mets) down to $98,904,167 (Mariners).  Of the top 10, only 5 made it into the post season at all, and 4 of the 5 made it to the Championship Series.  If only half of the top ten teams in payroll get into the post season, the correlation between Payroll and getting into the world series is pretty significant, but not over whelming, especially since the 13th, 16th and 24th teams in this category also made it.  So maybe it’s not only about paying players more money.

 

Market Size:  4 of the top 5 teams in market size–Yanks(1), Dodgers (3), Angels (4) and Phillies (5) made it to the 2009 postseason and the same 4 won their respective divisions. The Mets (#2) didn’t make it to the postseason, but their #2 position is due largely to the fact that they are in a very densely populated metropolitan area and they moved into a very nice new stadium this season.  The other 4 teams in the playoffs were #6 (Red Sox-Wild Card), #21 (Twins), #23 (Cards) and #24 (Rockies-Wild Card).  Thus it appears that market size helps your chances because there is a larger pool of fans to draw from, but it is not determinative in making it to the postseason.

 

Attendance:  6 of the 8 top teams in attendance made it to the playoffs in 2009, as well as nos. 11 and 14, all in the top 50% of teams.  The top 5 teams in this category won their respective divisions.  So it looks like Attendance seems to track closely with appearance in the postseason.  But what does this mean?  Are the teams doing well because they have more people coming to the games, or do more people come because the team is doing well?  My guess is it is the latter, which means that attendance alone is a good indicator but not a deciding factor.

 

Team Value:  By far the most valuable MLB franchise is the New York Yankees ($1.5 billion).  The Mets ($912M, 2nd), the Red Sox ($833M, 3rd), the Dodgers ($722M, 4th), and the Cubs ($700M, 5th) make up the rest of the top 5.  23 of the other teams are worth between $509 million (Angels, ranked 6th) down to $314 million (Royals, ranked 28th).  The Pirates ($288M, 29th) and the Marlins ($277M, 30th) and are “in the bottom two,” a la Dancing With The Stars.

 

But let’s look at the most valuable teams and how they have fared in the World Series.  #1 and #7 will compete in the Fall Classic; both are division and, obviously, the pennant winners.  The 2 other teams that played in the Championship Series are the Dodgers (# 4) and the Angels (#6).  When we go back to the Division Series, the results are mixed.  The Red Sox (3rd) and the Cardinals (8th) are in the top 10, but the Rockies (20th) and Twins (22nd) are way back in the value pack, and show that much less valuable teams can at least make it to the Division Series, though not very likely.  Since 7 of the top 10 in this category made it to the postseason, the team value category seems to have the highest correlation with getting beyond the end of the season.

 

World Series Experience: The Yankees by far have played in most World Series (39).  Of the rest of the top 10 — Dodgers (18), Cardinals and Giants (17 each), Athletics (14), Red Sox (11), Tigers and Cubs (10 each), and the Reds and Braves (9 each)–only the Yankees, Dodgers, Cardinals and Red Sox made it to the post season in 2009.  So World Series experience certainly helps, but it didn’t help the Yankees in 2001-2007 when they got eliminated in the ALDS 5 times, and in the ALCS once and lost the World series twice.  The Bronx Bombers haven’t made an appearance in the Series since 2003 and haven’t won it since 2000.   They also didn’t play in the post season at all in 2008, the first time in 14 years.  Because a lot of ancient baseball history skews these results, I didn’t include World Series experience in my statistical analysis.

 

So what do we make of all this?  I determined the rank of each team in each category and then averaged the 4 ranks for each team.  The top teams, from 1 to 10, are, : Yankees, Mets, Dodgers, Red Sox, Angels, Phillies, Giants, Astros, Tigers, and Cards.  6 of them made it to the post season, and #1 and #5 are playing in the World Series.  The 1st 6 teams are bunched together in averaged ranks; teams 7-10 (including the Cards) are ranked considerably lower.  So I guess this ranking system is pretty good in predicting who will make it to the post season, but beyond that it’s anybody’s guess and involves a lot of luck.

 

The aberrations in the top 10 are interesting:  the Mets, Giants, Astro’s and Tigers.  None of them made it to the post season but all have circumstances leading to unusually high ranks: a new stadium, attendance and large market size (Mets), a reasonably new stadium, attendance and long history (Giants), high payroll and market size (Tigers), and then there’s the Houston Astros (T#5 in Payroll, #7 in Market Size, and #12 in attendance account for their high rank), go figure.

 

That’s a lot to digest, but if you are a numbers geek like me and want to see my Excel spreadsheet, email me at beebee723@comcast.net and I’ll email it to you.  It has some very interesting and surprising statistics.

 

So sit back and enjoy the World Series.  If my ranking system is correct, the Yankees should win it easily.  But this is the Fall Classic and anything can happen.  As is often said, the team that wants it most will find a way to win it.  We should have a great series to watch.

 

Data Spources:

Payroll Data: www.cbssports.com/mlb/salaries

Market Size Data: http://www.baseball-almanac.com/articles/baseball_markets.shtml  N.B. For New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Baltimore/Washington and the SF Bay Area, all metropolitan areas with 2 teams, the Census data was allocated according to attendance info.

Attendance Data: www.baseball-reference.com

Team Value Data:    http://www.forbes.com/lists/2009/33/baseball-values-09_The-Business-Of-Baseball_Value.html

World Series Experience: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Series     

4 Comments

My prediction? Phillies in 6. Just a gut feel.

Julia
http://werbiefitz.mlblogs.com/

I sure do like your prediction, Bee, but I must admit you went way over my head with all the numbers! I’m just not smart about stats, so I’ll leave them to you!

- http://janeheller.mlblogs.com

I find this article absolutely fascinating, Bee. Well done.
Hugo

And p.s. I will really miss the season when it’s over, for I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your columns.

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