NOTE: As a Tampa Bay Rays fan, I try to catch as much pre-game and post-game broadcast coverage from the local broadcast team, Sun Sports/Fox Sports Florida. During a Tampa Bay Rays away coverage, Barry LeBrock and Orestes Destrade cover the both pre- and post-game coverage. In lieu of the seemingly random and unexpected defensive struggles on the Rays’ part, Barry LeBrock mentioned it would be interesting to see the how teams ranking high in errors for the season perform in the offseason. With that, I decided to take a look into the matter.
To start off, fielding and defensive statistics are a bit more difficult to analyze than are offensive statistics. The main statistic looked at for this article’s purpose is the fielding error. According to James Click with Baseball Prospectus, “Errors, especially recently, have become assigned in such an ad hoc fashion as to relegate the statistic to nearly unusable status.” To further explain, with the analysis I am providing, I’m not really trying to draw any substantial or scientific conclusions, but rather identify trends that can further be analyzed. With that, there is definitely quite a bit of bias associated with this and will be noted accordingly.
Since the World Series began in 1903, the playoff format has developed by expanding to allow more teams to be involved. To decide the “top ranked” error teams, I simply took the total number of eligible teams and added two additional teams. To me, it appeared this would allow for any variations that occur in errors to be accounted for. So for the playoffs from 1903-1968, the top 4 teams were looked at; from 1969-1994, the top 6 teams were looked at; from 1995-2011 the top 10 teams were looked at. (The following table lists the top ranked teams, the season, their rank and the highest playoff level they reached, and the outcome. Highlighted in red are top ranked teams that won the World Series; top ranked teams appearing in the same season are grouped together with similar color.)
To summarize: of the 107 World Series played, there have been 18 top ranked teams to play in the fall classic, with only 7 teams winning the World Series. To expand to the further playoff series that occur, 18 top ranked teams have made it to the Championship Series of either league, AL or NL. 12 of the top ranked teams that have made it to a Champion Series have won the series. Finally, looking at the Division Series in either division, 22 top ranked teams have made it to the Division Series with only 9 winning the series and advancing.
To give a few percentages and rates, only 32.4% of top ranked teams have made it to the Division series, 21.4% have made it to the Championship Series, and only 8.41% of top ranked teams have made it to the World Series. Only once has a #1 ranked team gone to the World Series (1965 Minnesota Twins) going on to lose that series. Only on two other occasions has a #1 ranked team made it to a playoff series, both being the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1985 (NLCS) and 1995 (NLDS). The highest ranked team to ever make it to the World Series was the 1997 Florida Marlins, ranked at 2 overall, a year in which they won, as well. The next highest rankings to win were the New York Giants (3 in 1963 and 4 in 1954) and the New York Yankees (4 in 1928). It should be noted the Championship Series and Division Series did not exist in these years and there were far fewer teams playing.
The error is not the end all statistic to determine the chances at a team making the playoffs and winning the World Series. Many factors determine the outcome and success of a team and the error is a very biased statistic to make any definitive claim on postseason success. With that, it is not impossible to make it to the World Series with a loose defense, but it certainly does not help.
Once again the Rays fan in me is coming out. The Rays are currently ranked 2nd in total errors by a team, with the Orioles in 1st. Pitching and defense have been the key and backbone for the Rays success since 2008. Without the fundamental aspect of impeccable defense, the Rays have dropped a few games that should have been won if the defense were on top of their game. History isn’t really in favor of the Rays, if they keep up their current rate of errors and fielding blunders. Cleaning up the defensive game could be the key to improving the Rays’ chances at making the postseason, especially with the addition of the extra Wild Card spot. However, too many factors exist to put blame on one aspect of the game the Rays need to fix.
To see errors from each full season up to 2011: Click on “Errors Updated to 2011” in sidebar.