Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The World Series and superstars

By Rick Morris

Since the post-lockout/wildcard playoff format/serious 'roiding era of baseball began in 1995 (this started the culmination of these factors, even though steroids had been around before that), what kind of correlation has there been between the World Series teams with the greater number of top-end players and ultimate victory? I decided to determine this. Keep in mind that by definition the labeling of a player as a "superstar" is inherently a bit arbitrary, so I make no pretense whatsoever about the scientific nature of this piece. In terms of how I arrived at whether a player was a superstar at the time, I went by track record (in other words, I eliminated players who appeared at the time to be a one-year wonder) and, because I'm a big roto/stats guy, dominating statistical production. Here's how my fun little study proceeded in terms of whether it was predictable or not by this admittedly random criteria:

2006: St. Louis (3 superstars: Chris Carpenter, Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen) over Detroit (2 superstars: Ivan Rodriguez, Justin Verlander). While Verlander didn't have an extensive track record through 2006, he was a very high-ceiling prospect and I factored in his pedigree in determining that he already was a legitimate superstar. I did not include everyone's favorite intangibles player/underdog David Eckstein to keep the good folks at Fire Joe Morgan from having their heads explode!

2005: Chicago White Sox (3 superstars: Paul Konerko, Jermaine Dye, Mark Buehrle) over Houston (5 superstars: Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Brad Lidge). Remember, Lidge was tarnished only by the Pujols homer in the NLCS at this point and had yet to lose his invincible image. UNPREDICTABLE.

2004: Boston (5 superstars: Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, Keith Foulke) over St. Louis (5 superstars: Albert Pujols, Chris Carpenter, Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen, Jason Isringhausen). PUSH.

2003: Florida (1 superstar: Ivan Rodriguez) over New York Yankees (6 superstars: Jorge Posada, Alfonso Soriano, Derek Jeter, Mike Mussina, Roger Clemens, Mariano Rivera). While the Marlins had many youngsters on the verge of stardom, by the fall of '03 few if any could be said to have proven themselves at that level yet. UNPREDICTABLE.

2002: Anaheim (2 superstars: Garret Anderson, Troy Percival) over San Francisco (3 superstars: Jeff Kent, Barry Bonds, Robb Nen). UNPREDICTABLE.

2001: Arizona (3 superstars: Luis Gonzalez, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling) over New York Yankees (6 superstars: Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera, Mike Mussina, Roger Clemens). UNPREDICTABLE.

2000: New York Yankees (5 superstars: Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Roger Clemens, Mariano Rivera) over New York Mets (3 superstars: Mike Piazza, Mike Hampton, Al Leiter). PREDICTABLE.

1999: New York Yankees (4 superstars: Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, David Cone, Mariano Rivera) over Atlanta (6 superstars: Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Chipper Jones, Kevin Millwood, John Smoltz, Andruw Jones). UNPREDICTABLE.

1998: New York Yankees (5 superstars: Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, David Cone, Mariano Rivera, Paul O'Neill) over San Diego (4 superstars: Tony Gwynn, Kevin Brown, Andy Ashby, Greg Vaughn). PREDICTABLE.

1997: Florida (5 superstars: Gary Sheffield, Moises Alou, Bobby Bonilla, Kevin Brown, Robb Nen) over Cleveland (4 superstars: Matt Williams, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Dave Justice). PREDICTABLE.

1996: New York Yankees (4 superstars: Bernie Williams, Paul O'Neill, David Cone, John Wetteland) over Atlanta (9 superstars: Javy Lopez, Fred McGriff, Chipper Jones, Marquis Grissom, Ryan Klesko, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Mark Wohlers). UNPREDICTABLE.

1995: Atlanta (5 superstars: Fred McGriff, Ryan Klesko, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux) over Cleveland (7 superstars: Carlos Baerga, Jim Thome, Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Kenny Lofton, Eddie Murray, Dennis Martinez). UNPREDICTABLE.

So the team with more elite players lost in 1995, 1996, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2005. 2004 was a push with an equal number of superstars on each team and the team with more superstars won in 1997, 1998, 2000 and 2006. Now, the '06 determination could come as a surprise to some, because the Cards only won 83 games in a vastly inferior National League, but St. Louis certainly had fewer players just below the superstar level than Detroit.

Other notes:

^ A more talented Braves team on paper lost the Series in '96 after winning in '95. Their young talent was a year more advanced, but couldn't get past a cohesive Yankees squad, who would go on to beat them notwithstanding a similar talent situation again in '99.

^ The World Series with the most combined superstars? 1996 (minor surprise that it had more than the year before, but it did because of the previously mentioned maturation of the Braves lineup) with 13, 1995 with 12 (no surprise at all), 1999 with 10 (with many of the same players as 1996) , 2004 with 10, 1997 with 9 (the Tribe in its prime and the Marlins with their mercenaries) and 2001 with 9 (the beginning of the end of the Yankees dynasty).

^ The World Series with the least combined superstars? 2002 and 2006, each with 5.

I'm at a loss in terms of spotting definitive trends out of that data. The team with more elite players has failed to win the World Series 7 times since 1995, but in many instances they had more players on the next tier down. If anything, we could speculate that the "superstar effect" can be overrated in October, but I wouldn't stake my life on that claim.

How do this year's potential teams rate?

Colorado (5 superstars: Matt Holliday, Garrett Atkins, Brad Hawpe, Troy Tulowitzki, Todd Helton). I'd still consider Helton at that level by the skin of his teeth given his power decline and I rate Tulow up there based on the "Verlander Precedent" of 2006 in that his superb pedigree means that we can give him the benefit of the doubt sooner than most.

Cleveland (5 superstars: Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner, Victor Martinez, C.C. Sabathia, Fausto Carmona). Ryan Garko comes close to making the cut but misses just barely on experience (and thus not being given the benefit of the doubt given that his minor league projections were high, but just a shade below Tulow and Verlander). But since I included Troy T., so too will I include Fausto, who was projected as a #1 starter in the minor leagues and has survived more adversity than most major leaguers already with his infamous disaster at closer in '06. Rafael Betancourt was not listed because I did not include Mariano Rivera in 1996 -- it's hard for me to regard a setup man, no matter how dominant, on the level of other elite players.

Boston (6 superstars: Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Mike Lowell, Josh Beckett, Curt Schilling, Jonathan Papelbon).

The quick note that comes to mind when looking at a Cleveland-Colorado matchup is that the lazy national media template would be to regard both teams as a collection of ragamuffins because they haven't been here before or recently, as the case may be. Regardless of who comes out of the American League Championship Series, this will mark only the second time since 1999 that we have seen a World Series with a double-digit number of superstars being involved, albeit many of them lesser-known to the casual fan. So reject that superficial storyline for the pabulum that it is if you encounter it.


Unknown said...

Ryan Klesko was the man back in those days with the Braves. It's too bad that injuries have really plagued his career. He was a major superstar!

Rick Morris said...

Michael, you are right about that, he was a monster! What a beautiful swing, picture-perfect.

--Rick Morris