Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Three Decades of Quality (Dodger) Baseball

One more foray into division predictions from the old preview guides...

As I was entering all of the predictions into the database, I noticed pretty early on that the Dodgers seemed to have some high predicted finishes. Looking at the final list, it bears this out: in 30 issues spanning 22 seasons (see the list of issues), the Dodgers are predicted to finish in 1st place 14 times, and in 2nd place 6 others. The remaining seasons are all third-place predictions, save for two fourth-place predictions (both in the 6-team NL West of the 1980s).

With all those first and second place predictions, the average predicted finish for the Dodgers across these issues is 1.93. This ties the Dodgers with the Yankees for highest average predicted finish. Further, with all of the first and second place finishes that the Dodgers actually achieved, their average actual finish across the same time is 2.17, giving them the best average actual finish of all 30 franchises (the Yankees are second, with an average actual finish of 2.2).

This struck me as odd. Having spent some time growing up in Los Angeles, I've always had a tie to the Dodgers. It never occurred to me that they were a dominant team, contending for the title every year. Sure, I don't recall ever expecting them to be terrible (*cough*Baltimore*cough*), but I never realized how well they stayed in there year-after-year.

They did win two World Series in the '80s (though Street & Smith predicted they'd finish 4th in 1988), but since then, it hasn't felt like much success. Maybe it's because they had only won one playoff game in the last 20 years before this past October.

It's easy to say that their high pre-season predicted finishes are due to being in the big city, with more people paying attention to them and their large pockets, et cetera. But that can only be used an excuse if they didn't live up to those high expectations, and they have. In the end, I think this is just a compliment to the Dodgers' system (I know I was shown otherwise when I said that about the Twins, but I think it's even more true here).

There is definitely plenty of money to be spent by the Dodgers and other teams who play in large markets, but that has hardly been a guarantee of success. Large market teams like the Cubs and Yankees and Red Sox have all had bad seasons in the timeframe we're looking at, while the Dodgers have held steady at or near the top every year. That's not to say access to money doesn't help. It's just that there has to be a quality team there in the first place for that money to make a difference.

With a good farm system producing a steady stream of ROYs and all-star talent, and with management giving some rein to the GMs to make trades and free agent signings (Kevin Brown and Andruw Jones not withstanding), the Dodgers are always able to hang in there. And when you throw their market-size and (theoretically large) wallet into the equation, you get a competitive and successful team every year.

The Dodgers may not have been dominant over these past three decades, but they have always been relevant. And that's something a lot of teams and their fanbases would love to be able to say.

2 comments:

Paul said...

I made a similar point to one of my friends recently. The Dodgers haven't won the division or gone to the playoffs every year of my lifetime, but it seems like even on the years they don't go to the playoffs they're still in the race up until the last week or even the last weekend of the season. Most teams can't say that. It would be interesting (I'm too lazy to do it) to find out which teams have been still mathematically alive the for the longest number of games on average over the last 25 years. I'll bet the Dodgers will be in the top 3. My guess: Braves, Yankees, Dodgers.

lar said...

That's a pretty good question, and one I'd love to find the answer to. I wrote the idea down as something to investigate. As soon as I can think of an easy-ish way to get that answer, I'll do it.