Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A Sporcle Quiz and Other Assorted Trivia for the 2016 World Series

In honor of the World Series starting, I released a new Sporcle Quiz: Can you pick the World Series match-ups? It’s pretty difficult, but also a lot of fun.

Also, as a follow-up on my 2016 Drought Report: it’s been a pretty good year. We got one of the sixteen possible World Series match-ups that had never occurred before, but that's just the start of it. The Cubs and Indians (1908 and 1948, in case you need a refresher) represent not just the two longest active championship droughts in the playoffs this year, but in baseball overall. In fact, in all of the North American sports leagues, the only way you could construct a longer combined title drought right now is if the Cubs somehow faced off against the Arizona Cardinals (naturally; who else would the Cubs face but a Cardinals team?) in what I only presume would be the World Championship of Calvinball.

With a combined 174 years of drought between them, the 2016 World Series’ record is guaranteed to stand for a little while, because one of the two longest droughts is guaranteed to end. The Cubs (as of right now) by themselves automatically make any potential match-up third on this list. If they go, we’re going to need to wait for the Brewers, Padres, or Nationals to catch up. Each of those three is yet to win it all since being founded in 1969, tying them for second longest championshipless streak in the National League. If the Indians and one of those three were to not win until their combined droughts topped 174 years, we’d be waiting until the 2047 season.

But even if the Indians triumph and leave us the Cubs’ drought, we’ll still have a few years with the record at minimum. The next possible match-up to top 174 years would be a 2023 Cubs-Rangers World Series, with a Cubs-Astros series tying the record (those 1960s expansion teams have had it rough, overall).

And again, that’s assuming not only that we get those very specific matchups, but also that none of those three teams win in the interim; they all seem poised to be strong for some time, and as we’ve seen, any team can get hot in October. And it wouldn’t be unheard of for one or both of these teams to have a sustained run of success after this season. Just look at the runner-up matches on that list: the Red Sox, Cardinals, and Giants all appear, and have combined for seven of the past twelve titles.

All signs seem to point to this not only being a unique occurrence in baseball history, but also to it staying that way for quite a while.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Droughts, Expansion Team Series, and Other Trivia on the 2016 Playoffs

Two years ago, I wrote about all of the teams with World Series droughts that would be going to the postseason. I didn’t intend to make it a regular feature back then, but then the very next season, wouldn’t you know it, there was yet another batch of teams looking to bust their drought! (And that postseason actually ended with a drought getting busted, unlike 2014!)

Two years of looking at this aspect of the playoffs was enough to inspire me to look again, and it wound up being yet another interesting set of teams, so it looks like I have a new tradition on my hands here. How does it stack up to years past? Well enough, actually. In fact, once again, the Blue Jays are the third-shortest championship drought in the whole thing, despite last year marking their first postseason appearance in 22 seasons.

Giants: 2014
Red Sox: 2013
Blue Jays: 1993
Dodgers: 1988
Mets: 1986
Orioles: 1983
Nationals: Never (team founded in 1969)
Rangers: Never (team founded in 1961)
Indians: 1948
Cubs: 1908

Comparing that to last year, we lose a little bit at the top (since the Yankees and Cardinals were the most recent winners from last year’s set, with 2009 and 2011 wins, respectively), but the addition of the second-longest active title drought in the Indians more than makes up for that. We once again have two 1960s expansion teams that have never won, although the Nationals are a little younger than the Astros.

How does that look in the larger context of the wild card era?

Yep, once again, this year’s set of playoff teams are some of the longest suffering. With a 39.9 year average drought and a 31.5 median, they stand above every year other than 1998, which was a murderer’s row of suffering teams, between the Cubs, Indians, pre-2004 Red Sox, and the championshipless Astros, Rangers, and Padres…but wound up with the Yankees on top anyway.

Another interesting way to look at this year’s set of teams: throughout baseball history, only 25 times has a World Series drought lasted more than 30 seasons. Eleven of those droughts are active, and for the second season in a row, five of thoes eleven teams are playing in October.

Relatedly, the ten teams left have combined for only 33 titles, which is interesting in its own right. That’s the fewest combined titles for a playoff set since the league expanded to a ten-team finale. Heck, even going back to when only eight teams made it, that’s still the second-lowest combined total ever; the only year with less decaorated teams (both in sum and in average) was 2008, with the Phillies, Cubs, Dodgers, Brewers, Rays, White Sox, Angels, and Red Sox combining for only 20 wins. Granted, this number is a little misleading. The Yankees alone are nearly enough to put any year above this*, with their 27 titles. But it’s interesting trivia all the same.

*Fun fact: the lowest total number of previous World Series titles you can construct for a ten-team postseason set that features the Yankees is 30.

Also, if you’re interested in World Series match-ups as much as I am, this is a pretty good set of teams. With 25 possible combinations available, only 9 of them have previously occurred, and 6 of those haven’t occurred in five decades or more. The nine World Series that have occurred before from this set of teams includes:

Cubs-Red Sox (1918)
Dodgers-Indians (1920)
Dodgers-Orioles (1966)
Dodgers-Red Sox (1916)
Giants-Red Sox (1912)
Giants-Indians (1954)
Giants-Rangers (2010)
Mets-Orioles (1969)
Mets-Red Sox (1986)

So yeah, there’s a greater-than-80 percent chance we see a matchup we haven’t seen since 1920. Whatever happens will more than likely be something that we’ve never seen personally before. It’s also worth noting that five of those pairings involving the Giants or Mets, one of whom will be knocked out after Wednesday, while six involve either the Red Sox or Indians, who are facing off in the ALDS, making the probabilities of repeats slightly less likely.

And lastly, I have to cover the All-Expansion-Team angle, as has also become something of a tradition here. Just because we got our first example last year doesn’t mean I’m going to stop just like that. And while we don’t have five expansion teams playing on like last year (which was a record), we did get pretty close, with four.

Assuming each series has 50/50 odds (which isn’t too far off, to be honest), the AL has a roughly 37.5% chance of being represented by an expansion club (the Blue Jays in the Wild Card game and the Rangers set to face of against the Wild Card game winner). Meanwhile, the NL has similar odds (with the Nationals in the NLDS and the Mets in the Wild Card game), although their set-up is different, meaning that we might either end up with an all-expansion NLCS or no expansion teams moving on.  Put together, that’s a 14.1% chance of our second all-expansion team World Series, or just under 1-in-6. That doesn’t sound great, but it’s not much worse than what we had last year, so it could happen.