Outliers (1)


Being normal is common. Easy, some would say, and for simple, obvious reason; being normal is expected. It requires no extra effort. Often nothing has to be done differently if one wants to fit in; one just has to do what others are doing and follow the trends that seem attractive to those who surround them. But being normal has rarely made history, and in the following series, will hardly be mentioned aside from comparison to how truly outstanding some abnormalities are. What makes news, what writes history, what we remember are abnormalities. Thus, we will take a look through the past 4 seasons of fake baseball to see the truly abnormal. We will do this objectively, of course; we'll plot charts and just see who doesn't fit in. Then, we'll investigate.

Some might say the Philadelphia Phillies, who won the inaugural paper cup, followed with a 4-7 start to season 2, then won their next 10 games to win the season 2 paper cup are abnormal. Others might say it's the Los Angeles Angels, who started in Baltimore, went a league worst 1-6, tied for a league worst 4-14 the following season, then moved to Los Angeles, won a wild card spot, and won a paper cup to cap it off. The Padres were viewed as the most abnormal team because of the mind-boggling ways they couldn't get a victory and their "God-given ability to lose winnable games" (from Graham Grams' Season 3 Session 9 power rankings), losing their first 11 games before a victory in session 12 after what seemed like ages. Many different folks will give you several widely varying responses as to the most abnormal team. But I think we can find that team objectively. I want to find the most interesting team because of their moxy, and how they don't fit in with any graph we can put together. I wanna find the outliers.

The first outliers I want to look at are the hitters. Which teams are the best hitters in MLR history? Which are the worst? To do this, I ranked every complete season in MLR history (sorry Nats and Twins) through the end of season 4 by total runs scored, runs scored per game, and how varying these teams were with their runs scored. I also compared the runs scored for a team to the runs scored by the league on average, as some seasons may have had rule changes which increased the overall run scoring and vice versa. Instead of comparing runs per game full stop, we are comparing runs scored by a team to the league average to show how much better each team was than the rest of the league, which will henceforth be referred to as RSA (Runs scored above average). Comparing the percentile rank of each season by RSA, here are the results:

Lots of good teams are up there at the top, kind of by themselves. Any team above the 90th percentile rank is pretty good, but as we get to the end, we see teams just leaving others in the dust. Look at some of these ranks! 1.5, 2, nearly 2.5 runs per game ahead of the league average. But we can clearly see 5 dots just chilling by themselves up there. So let's take a look at those dots and see why they're so far ahead of every other team

5. Season 4 Minnesota Twins

.286/.359/.585, 4.63 R/G, 1.23 RSA

For those around near the beginning of season 4, you may recall a particular game which will show up in this series again when we talk about the worst pitching teams in MLR History. Season 4 Session 3, the Twins faced off against the Houston Astros. In this game, the Astros gave up 22 runs in a 6 inning game, which is not only the highest in MLR history, but doubles the runs scored by any other single team in all but 10 other games in MLR History. And we can discount it a little cause the Astros were saving their pitchers' arms by the 4th inning, sure, whatever. But even position player pitchers should stop something like this, and no one could.

In this game, the Twins scored 1.35% of all runs scored in the entire league last season. If you're an average run scoring team, you will score about 3.3% of all runs in the league in a season. The Twins scored almost half of that in a single game. We'll talk about them in a future article, but the Season 4 Toronto Blue Jays took all 16 games of the season to score 28 runs. The Twins accomplished this feat in 3.

This game also featured a feat only done once before in MLR history (and now has been done one time since, later in season 4); there were 2 grand slams hit in this game by the same team. Before this, only the Brewers in Season 3 had 2 grand slams in the same game.

Oh and I forgot to mention. They hit 3. 

Call it luck, an outlier (which it definitely is), or whatever. This season by the Twins is noted as the most ridiculous outpouring of runs ever seen by the sport in a single game; it deserves to be here. As another side, the Twins were shutout once in season 4. Outside of that, they put up at least a pair of runs in every other game.

The Twins would miss out on the playoffs by a game.

4. Season 1 Washington Nationals

.331/.383/.620, 5.14 R/G, 1.69 RSA

A team clouded with mystique and an odd aura, a team that scored 5 runs within the first 2 hours of MLR's existence, shunned from the playoffs by an extra inning tiebreaker. This is the only season the Nationals finished in MLR history, and it was certainly a weird one. What makes the Nationals so weird was how consistently they scored runs. Unlike the Twins (and we'll come to find, quite a few teams up here), where a large portion of the runs for a high scoring team came from a couple games, the Nationals consistently put up great numbers. There was no off day, and no stellar breakout performance. Just a team getting on base 2 out of 5 times, and hitting the ball hard when they did hit it. Here's a chart for ya;

This shows every team in season 1 by their runs scored and the coefficient of variation of runs scored. (For you statheads, of course you would normally have teams scoring very few runs with low standard deviations, but this normalizes this, as a coefficient of variation is the standard deviation divided by the mean). Some teams are scoring 4 runs per game, but are wild in how they are scored; this was the diamondbacks. They averaged 3.86 runs/game, but they mostly scored around 2-3 runs, then had one game where they put up 10 and shot up both their average runs scored and their deviation. And that's what makes Washington special; don't mind the 4 silver sluggers, multiple 5 run games, none of that. They scored fewer than 3 runs in a game 1 time, and it was to score 2. Their median runs in a game was 5, and they were always putting up numbers. Nothing flashy, no outliers with their run totals. They just put in work. In this chart, we see the Nationals with the second lowest coefficient of variation, yet the 2nd highest runs scored/game.

The Nationals would go on to miss out on the playoffs because of a shortened season and a tiebreaker which is probably documented somewhere but honestly I'm not so sure.

3. Season 4 Kansas City Royals

.285/.365/.635, 5.44 R/G, 2.04 RSA

Uh oh. We're in the 2 runs/game-better-than-league-average territory. Strap in boys.

Yes, the Royals play in a hitter friendly park. Doesn't that mean their pitching should be bad too then? Well, it's not great, only 14th percentile in season 4 and 43rd percentile in season 3. But those numbers do not display insanity like this. Insanity like:

  • Scoring >6 runs in 9 of the 16 games in season 4, despite never scoring double digits in a single game

  • Being shutout 0 times, one of 2 teams to do so in season 4.

    • By the way, the other team to do this was the Phillies. Although the Phillies scored a single run in 4 of their games, the Royals did this in just 1

  • Never having a 3 game stretch where fewer than 11 runs were scored

    • Compared to every other team, where the fewest runs scored over a 3 game stretch ranged from 1 to 7

Here's another chart for you, ranking every team by their percentile of runs scored in season 4:

The Royals were tremendous on offense. Maybe that's why Tyler Gordon tops the stat leaderboard every year, or maybe they just have a hitter friendly park. Whatever the case, when you have 7 players on your roster with a Slugging Percentage higher than .600, you're probably gonna do pretty well.

The Royals would make the paper cup in season 4, but would fall to the Dodgers in the S4 paper cup.

2. Season 1 Philadelphia Phillies

.321/.381/.618, 5.71 R/G, 2.26 RSA

For those late to the party, turns out the Phillies were pretty good in the early days of fake baseball. We already saw them in the chart earlier from the Nats:

The Phillies were unique. Here's a challenge. Find any 5 game stretch in MLR history where a team scored 9 runs in at least 3 of those 5 games. I'll give you some time.

Done? Well, there's one. And it's the Phillies in season 1 in the final 5 games of the season. 3 full seasons and this has never been done since; 1 half season and the Phillies did it.

When talking about the season 1 Philadelphia offense, there are 3 stipulations to mention;

  1. The Phillies had an extra inning game where they scored 7 runs in extras.

  2. This is season 1, so many things that weren't optimal for balance hadn't been adjusted

  3. With only 7 games, the sample size is small

I have decided that we should ignore all 3 of these because, well who cares. The Phillies dominated; if you faced the Phillies in season 1, you had a large chance of giving up 9 runs or more. I know we've been talking about big numbers so you may be desensitized to it, but just pause and think about that. You're about to play for a playoff spot. Your matchup is the Phillies. There is a 43% chance that the Phillies will score 9 runs in your game. Good luck.

Since then, the Phillies have calmed down on offense. In the 4 seasons in which they've played, they've scored 9 runs in a game 4 times. 3 of them were in season 1.

The Phillies would go on to win the Season 1 Paper Cup over the Oakland Athletics, and go on to win the Season 2 Paper Cup as well for good measure. Great Job, Jayy!

1. Season 3 Kansas City Royals

.289/.372/.739, 5.56 R/G, 2.37 RSA

Rubs Eyes

Is that? I... no way.

Yes; the Royals have been in the league for 2 seasons, and in those 2 seasons they have put up the 3rd best and the best offensive seasons of all time. The season 4 Royals were actually a step down from this prior season, where they would hit nearly .300 as a team with a .739 team slugging percentage.

You: But Mr. Terr, don't the Royals play in a hitter friendly park? We just discussed that it takes away from it!

Me: Yes. You dumbass. Let me talk about it.

Normally if you pitch in a hitter friendly park, you're gonna have some bad team pitching. While it isn't great, the Royals pitchers were 44th percentile in RAA (runs allowed average, the pitching version of RSA). While this isn't super great, it's astounding that a team allowed 3.25 runs per game and scored 5.56 runs per game in the same season. Now, we can point to how the Royals scored 16 in a game against the Yankees, and we should. That's the 2nd most runs scored in a game ever. But unlike the Twins in that 5th spot, the Royals were scoring all the time. Only 3 times in all of season 3 did the Royals score fewer than 4 runs in a game. As a small tangent, here's where my argument for Whitt Bass as the best pitcher of all time will reside; In 2 seasons in the league (and as I write this in the middle of session 3 of season 5), the Royals have been shut out one time. This was thanks to 5 innings of 1 hit ball from Whitt Bass, then Dane Konrad coming in and almost succumbing to a typical Royals game anyway, as he gave up 2 hits in the bottom of the 6th and almost lost the 1-0 lead.

At the beginning of season 3, it was a meme to see how many Royals topped the batting leaderboards. By the end of the season, it no longer was a meme, it was the truth;

Thank God for season 3 Sam Smith cause otherwise the Royals just win the batting leaderboard. 3 of the top 5 players in BA, OBP, SLG, and wOBA. There are so many more things I could discuss when talking about the Royals here, but I think I'll just leave this at where it probably deserves to be left: the GM.

Zander Ackley is largely responsible for the Royals' domination of pretty much any pitcher in fake baseball. As an example of what he does for a team, he joined the Phillies in season 2 session 6. Up to that point, the Phillies scored an average of 1.2 runs/game. After he joined the Phillies, they scored 3.46 runs per game, and would, you know, go on to win the S2 Paper Cup after starting the season 2-3. While that isn't crazy, bumping a team's runs/game by 2.16... actually is kind of expected by Zander now. Wherever he goes, he's leading his team to new heights, and is responsible for some of the most potent offenses in MLR history.

Of course, as the tide goes, the Royals, the highest scoring team of all time, would lose their opening round playoff game to the Angels 4-3.

Next week (month? year?), join me in talking about the other side of the coin. The best of the best have been discovered, soon we'll talk about the worst of the worst. This is Riley Terr, signing off.

Written by Riley Terr

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