Where do the 2015 Toronto Blue Jays stand in team history?
Monday, October 05 2015 @ 05:15 PM EDT
Contributed by: Mike Green
It has been a great regular season. To be able to ask the question, "was this the best Blue Jay regular season in team history?", without gales of laughter ensuing is a rare treat. So, let's do it. With some statistics and some flights of fancy.
We have to first define our terms. What do we mean by "best regular season"? Teams go through arcs over a regular season, and the 2015 Blue Jay season was a pretty extreme example of that. If we are trying to measure the best Blue Jay club at a point in time, this one is (to my mind) pretty clearly the best. With Price and Stroman in the rotation, Tulowitzki at shortstop, Revere in left-field and Lowe and Hawkins bolstering the bullpen, this club was, I am sure, better than any Blue Jay club at a particular point in time. I'll leave that for someone else to work on. I am more interested in the season as a whole. It also might be obvious that a "team" is more than the sum of the players, but I should say it anyways. Managerial preferences (and of course, luck- more on that later) do lead to more or fewer losses than the individual player performance would lead one to anticipate. So, you have to take that into account.
With the definitions out of the way, let's move on to the contenders. The leading Blue Jay clubs with win totals in parentheses are 1985 (99), 1992 (96), 1987 (96), 1993 (95), 2015 (93) and 1991(91). Off the top, you would think that it was unlikely that the 2015 club was better than the 1985 club because of the six extra wins and we may come back to that conclusion. We'll hold that thought. With that in mind, I realized the question that I wanted to answer. If those six clubs were in a division and played 162 games (33 against two of the other clubs and 33 against the others randomly assigned), and they played 1000 of these seasons, who would likely win the most times? With the same managers as the actual club, the same injuries that the actual club sustained and the same acquisitions at the same times as the actual club made. Perhaps an example will help. The 1987 Blue Jays probably had more talent over the course of the season than any of the clubs. With Jimy Williams at the helm, they managed to give Rance Mulliniks, Cecil Fielder and Nelson Liriano 745 PAs total while allowing Garth Iorg, Willie Upshaw and Kelly Gruber 1287. We will not pretend here that the 1987 Blue Jays had a better manager who would have given an obviously ready Fielder (and Fred McGriff) more of an opportunity than a fading Upshaw and who would have recognized that Mulliniks was a perfectly capable everyday third baseman and that Garth Iorg was not deserving of more than 100 PAs at the most.
To begin, with a honking big chart to summarize the overall performance of the six clubs (all figures courtesy of Baseball Reference):
In the chart, the normalized figures are normalized to the Rogers Centre in 2015. The park played as a significant pitcher's park in 2015, and as a neutral park or hitter's park in prior years. I did not fully appreciate that the club's strength in the previous great clubs was almost uniformly on the run prevention side. This year's club has by far the best offence in the history of the club. But you knew that already.
Let's move on to the tougher parts of the analysis, strength of schedule and luck/inefficiency.
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
The Blue Jays of 2015 dealt with a different schedule arrangement than the other five clubs. The schedule for the first five clubs was the same: 13 games per team against divisional opponents, 12 per team against non-divisional opponents in the AL and no interleague play. The current arrangement is very different, 19 games per team against divisional opponents, 6 or 7 games against non-divisional opponents in AL and 20 interleague games. This year, the AL East was arguably the strongest division in the major leagues, and their inter-league counterparts this year (the NL East) was the weakest. I don't know that the increased number of inter-divisional games against tough opponents exactly offsets the games against the NL East, but it seems to me that it would be an essentially neutral factor when comparin the 2015 Blue Jays with their predecessors.
There are a couple of different types of luck/efficiency:
1. turning the components of runs scored and allowed- singles, doubles, triples, home runs, walks, strikeouts, GIDP, SB, CS and so on- into runs scored and allowed; teams can be lucky/efficient or otherwise in both the run-scoring and run-prevention sides.
2. turning runs scored and allowed into wins and losses.
The 2015 Blue Jays were efficient/lucky at turning the elements of runs scored into runs scored, neutral with respect to runs allowed, and very inefficient/unlucky (of course) in turning runs scored and allowed into wins. What does this mean for the simulation?
Can we agree that luck and inefficiency both play a role? That's my position and I am sticking to it, and perhaps you'll agree. If that is the case Pythagorean record matters, but is not determinative. Here is why it matters. The 2015 Blue Jays won 93 games against weaker competition than they would face among their great predecessors. They would be expected to win fewer than 93 games. However, how many fewer games depends in part on their margins of victory. The Blue Jays of 2015 went 15-28 in one run games and 37-12 in games decided by 5 runs or more. It is clear to me that luck plays a much larger role in the first sub-set of games than the second and over 1000 seasons, the luck element would be minimized.
THE ARCS OF THE SEASONS
By necessity, this exercise requires some flights of the imagination. So, what does the mean season look like from the perspective of the 2015 Blue Jays? Through July 31, the 1985 and 1987 clubs have much better records and somewhat better runs scored and allowed figures, the 1992 and 1993 clubs have significantly better records and worse run performance, and the 1991 club has a better record and much worse run performance. Let's use the 100 game marker. The 2015 Blue Jays were 50-50. I'm going to make them 47-53 against this tougher competition and 7 games back of the 1985 club. The standings:
And now, the 1992 club adds David Cone. The 1993 club adds Rickey Henderson. The 2015 Blue Jays make the changes that you are well aware of, but their predecessors are a lot tougher competition than the 2015 Yankees. We come to the last week of the season, and here are the standings with 7 games to go:
And what do we know of the ending? Pure guesswork. The 1985 club was pushed to the end by the hard-charging Yankees. The 2015 club was not. In most of the seasons with this competition, everyone but the 1991 club would be playing all out to the end.
My guess is that the 1985 Blue Jays win 30% of the time, the 2015 Blue Jays 25% of the time, and the 87, 92 and 93 clubs split the remainder with the 87 club getting more of them. Feel free to disagree. I am pretty sure that David Price wouldn't be skipping a start in most of the seasons...