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Monday, October 15, 2012

Loser Scores

On September 5, 2012, the Texas Rangers jumped out to an early 3-0 lead in Kansas City, and managed to hang on late for a 7-6 win that gave them their 81st victory of the season. Although I am sure that no one on the field was aware of it, this victory also maked a franchise milestone. By clinching their fourth consecutive season of .500 ball or better, the Rangers guaranteed that they would start 2013 with a Loser Score of zero for the first time since the franchise came into being as the second incarnation of the Washington Senators in 1961. Huh? What is a Loser Score? Glad you asked…

Loser Scores were developed by Bill James in 2010, after the Pirates set the record for consecutive losing seasons by a major professional sports team in the United States. James was asked by a Pittsburgh sportswriter to compare the Pirates’ string of futility with others, and took this approach an an effort to balance out all of the aspects that go into making a team a true Loser. James figured these through 2010; the article he wrote was published in the book Solid Fools Gold in 2011.

Loser Scores are computed differently, based on whether the franchise had a losing record or a winning record in the season in question. If the franchise had a losing record, you compute its Loser Score as follows:

  • Take the Loser Score from the season before;
  • Add the number of games below .500 that the franchise finished in the current season;
  • Add 1 for each consecutive season that the franchise has finished below .500.
  • So in the case of the 2012 Pirates, for example, their Loser Score as of the end of the 2012 season is their Loser Score from 2011, plus 4 since they finished 79-83, plus 20 since they now have 20 consecutive seasons below .500.

    If the franchise has a .500 or better record in the current season, you compute its Loser Score as follows:

  • Take the Loser Score from the season before;
  • Multiply it by .9 if this is the first .500 or better record in succession, .8 if the second, .7 if the third, and so on;
  • Round to the nearest integer;
  • Subtract the number of games that the franchise finished above .500 in the current season
  • Zero out the Loser Score if the franchise wins the World Series.
  • Loser Scores cannot be negative; the Yankees, Cardinals, and Giants all had Loser Scores of zero entering 2012. The Tigers, thanks to their run of poor teams in the late 90s and early 00s, had a positive loser score entering 2012; they still need a WS victory to wipe it out even though they are working on a string of four consecutive seasons of .500 or better. If they don’t win this year, they will need to finish at least 97-65 in 2013 to get to zero.

    Let’s look at the Rangers in depth. In 1961, the American League allowed the existing Washington Senators to move to Minnesota, and replaced them with an expansion team that took on the Senators name. That team finished ninth in the now 10-team AL, going 61-100. Its Loser Score after its first season in existence was 40 - representing a zero Loser Score entering the season, plus 39 for the number of games under .500, plus 1 for the initial season in an under-.500 string.

    From 1962 through 1968 the Senators continued with a string of under-.500 finishes, building up the Loser Score:

    Season	W	L	Under	Consecutive	Loser Score
    1961	61	100	39	1		40
    1962	60	101	41	2		83
    1963	56	106	50	3		136
    1964	62	100	38	4		178
    1965	70	92	22	5		205
    1966	71	88	17	6		228
    1967	76	85	9	7		244
    1968	65	96	31	8		283
    

    In 1969, Washington hired Ted Williams to manage the team, and Williams presided over a dramatic turnaround as the Senators posted their first over-.500 season in franchise history, finishing 10 games over .500 at 86-76. The franchise Loser Score went down by 38 points:

  • 283 * .9 = 254.7, rounded to 255
  • 255 - 10 games over 500 = 245
  • The turnaround lasted exactly one season, however. Over the next four seasons, as Williams’s magic wore off, attendance plummeted, and Bob Short moved the team to Dallas, the franchise returned to its losing ways, and the Loser Score followed suit:

    Season	W	L	Under	Consecutive	Loser Score
    1969	86	76	-10			245
    1970	70	92	22	1		268
    1971	63	96	33	2		303
    1972	54	100	46	3		352
    1973	57	105	48	4		404
    

    The Rangers hired Billy Martin at the end of 1973, and Billy worked his usual turnaround trick in 1974, giving the franchise its second winning season. Over the next few years, the team oscillated back and forth between good and bad seasons, posting the best record in franchise history (bettered only twice since then) in 1977 under four different managers, and chopped its Loser Score down to a level not season since the very early days:

    Season	W	L	Under	Consecutive	Loser Score
    1974	84	76	-8			356
    1975	79	83	4	1		361
    1976	76	86	10	2		373
    1977	94	68	-26			310
    1978	87	75	-12			236
    1979	83	79	-4			161
    1980	76	85	9	1		171
    1981	57	48	-9			145
    

    In 1982, things went south again, and the Rangers would have only one over-.500 season in the next seven:

    Season	W	L	Under	Consecutive	Loser Score
    1982	64	98	34	1		180
    1983	77	85	8	2		190
    1984	69	92	23	3		216
    1985	62	99	37	4		257
    1986	87	75	-12			219
    1987	75	87	12	1		232
    1988	70	91	21	2		255
    

    Things were about to get better, however, as the franchise rebuild initiated by Tom Grieve took shape. Beginning in 1989, and extending for 11 years, the Rangers were about to embark on the longest stretch of more-or-less sustained success in their franchise history, capped by three division titles in four years, although the Rangers exited in the first round of the postseason each time. Despite this success, however, the team couldn’t quite get its Loser Score to zero:

    Season	W	L	Under	Consecutive	Loser Score
    1989	83	79	-4			226
    1990	83	79	-4			177
    1991	85	77	-8			116
    1992	77	85	8	1		125
    1993	86	76	-10			103
    1994	52	62	10	1		114
    1995	74	70	-4			99
    1996	90	72	-18			61
    1997	77	85	8	1		70
    1998	88	74	-14			49
    1999	95	67	-28			11
    

    And then the team reversed course yet again, with eight losing seasons in the next nine:

    Season	W	L	Under	Consecutive	Loser Score
    2000	71	91	20	1		32
    2001	73	89	16	2		50
    2002	72	90	18	3		71
    2003	71	91	20	4		95
    2004	89	73	-16			70
    2005	79	83	4	1		75
    2006	80	82	2	2		79
    2007	75	87	12	3		94
    2008	79	83	4	4		102
    

    Note that although the Rangers were posting losing records, they weren’t really terrible, so by the time that 2009 rolled around the Loser Score was just touching triple digits, easily capable of being wiped out with a couple of good seasons. And this was exactly what was about to happen as the franchise entered its second Golden Age:

    Season	W	L	Under	Consecutive	Loser Score
    2009	87	75	-12			80
    2010	90	72	-18			46
    2011	96	66	-30			2
    

    One more win in 2011, either during the regular season or during the World Series, would have brought the franchise to zero. While that wasn’t to be in 2011, the Rangers have now cleared the books.

    The Pirates, with their 20 consecutive losing seasons, stand at 632. They were at zero after 1992, wiping out their deficit from the 80s, but since then they have finished a cumulative 422 games below .500 and get an additional 210 points for the string of 20 straight sub-.500 efforts. As you might expect, the Pirates currently have the highest Loser Score among major league teams, but they have been there only since 2006; the Tigers’ run of futility from 1994 through 2005 had put them at 465 before their breakout in 2006. Even with that breakout and their improvement since then, the Tigers still sit at 61 with the World Series possibly pending. A couple of other notes:

  • The San Diego Padres have never been at zero in their franchise history. The closest they have come is 23, following the 2007 season. The Padres are currently at 82.
  • From 1918 through 1978, the Phillies had a positive Loser Score, peaking at 1367 (the highest ever) following the 1948 season. The Phillies had one winning season from 1918 through 1948 - and that was a 78-76 ledger in 1932. They reached triple digits in 1921 and stayed there until 1966.
  • The Cubs’ last season with a Loser Score of zero was 1946. They have had a positive score after every season since (currently at 127, 66 years and counting). The Cubbies got it as low as 6 after the 1972 season. They haven’t been particularly terrible, mind you - they’ve only gotten above 200 twice since 1972 - but they’ve never really come within striking distance of zero since then either.
  • After the 2007 season, the Tampa Bay Rays were at 382. Since then, after five straight winning seasons, in four of which they won at least 90 games, they are still at 15.
  • The Yankees’ last season with a non-zero Loser Score was 1994. They peaked at 81 in 1992, after their last of four straight losing seasons, and it took three seasons after that to wipe out the positive balance.
  • The largest Loser Score to be wiped out by a World Series win was not the 1969 Mets, but rather the 1914 Miracle Braves, who were coming off a string of 11 consecutive losing seasons that had pushed their Loser Score to 531. The Mets were at only 371.
  • Mike Emeigh Posted: October 15, 2012 at 10:36 AM | 15 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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    Reader Comments and Retorts

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    Statements posted here are those of our readers and do not represent the BaseballThinkFactory. Names are provided by the poster and are not verified. We ask that posters follow our submission policy. Please report any inappropriate comments.

       1. Foghorn Leghorn Posted: October 15, 2012 at 01:56 PM (#4271121)
    Cool. It's like the "Misery Index" for baseball fans.
       2. puck Posted: October 15, 2012 at 03:15 PM (#4271279)
    This is great. Though, is 61-100 39 games under .500, or 19.5 under?

    How many teams are currently above zero? What's the Pirates' score?
       3. Mike Emeigh Posted: October 15, 2012 at 03:29 PM (#4271306)
    Another data point: The Milwaukee/St.Louis/Baltimore franchise was above zero from its inception until the Orioles won the World Series in 1966. The franchise went above 200 for the first time in 1911, and stayed there until 1966, reaching a high of 931 in 1956. The series win in 1966 took the franchise from 236 to zero; if they had not won the Series that year it would have taken them until 1970 to clear the books. In 1967 the Orioles finished 9 games under .500 (Loser Score 10) but they immediately erased that in 1968 and stayed at zero until 1986. Since 1986, however, the franchise has finished a season at zero exactly once, in 1997.

    -- MWE
       4. Mike Emeigh Posted: October 15, 2012 at 03:35 PM (#4271320)
    61-100 is 39 games under .500, by James's definition.

    There are 21 teams currently above zero, which is close to normal. As I noted in the article, the Pirates are at 632.

    -- MWE
       5. Mike Emeigh Posted: October 15, 2012 at 03:49 PM (#4271342)
    The Red Sox are at 25 after the 2012 season. They have been higher than 25 only once since 1969, that being 31 after the run of three straight losing seasons ended in 1994. The 86-58 finish in 1995 immediately erased that.

    -- MWE
       6. Slivers of Maranville descends into chaos (SdeB) Posted: October 15, 2012 at 04:15 PM (#4271386)
    I assume that Cleveland's first year as a professional franchise it started out with a Loser Score of 100?
       7. BDC Posted: October 15, 2012 at 04:24 PM (#4271401)
    Enough fans in Texas can remember the entire history of the Rangers franchise that the clearing of the Loser Score really does seem to me to correspond to a general community acceptance that they might be OK after all. In fact, in terms of local feelings, you'd have to start them off without all the Washington baggage; at that rate they'd have cleared the books a little while back, and that's also when fan interest in them around here really surged. (As a contrast, nobody quite believed the 1990s team was really superior, and the playoffs seemed to prove it.)

    For a team like the Red Sox, I wonder how much the years in the wilderness really factor in, any more. They were last bad for an extended period in the 1960s, and the 1930s-and-earlier badness is now largely beyond human memory. (Though I do know one living person who says he was a Braves fan till Ted Williams came up; he grew up in the '30s thinking the Red Sox were just endemically terrible.)
       8. Mike Emeigh Posted: October 15, 2012 at 05:21 PM (#4271480)
    SdeB: The current Indians franchise started in 1901, going 54-82 for a Loser Score of 29. The 1879 Cleveland Blues were 27-55, also a Loser Score of 29. The second Cleveland franchise, which became the Spiders, were 39-92 in their first season, a Loser Score of 54. That team, by the way, had cleared the books by 1898, after seven straight winning seasons, but wound up their professional life with a Loser Score of 115, all based on 1899.

    BDC: You're probably correct in that. They would have peaked at 142 in 1988 (which was probably about the low point for the franchise in Texas) and then gone to zero in 1999; they would not have gone back above 100 since.

    The Red Sox weren't really bad in the 1960s; they peaked at 165 in 1966, and except for the three-year stretch between 1964-1966 they've been below 100 consistently since 1940. It's generally getting harder for teams to stay really bad, which is why the Pirates' stretch is so remarkable in a way. The Red Sox went from 0 to 637 in a span of 15 years (1919-1933), but even with that it was mostly during the last 10 years of that stretch that they were horrible; after 5 years they were only at 95. It took the Pirates 20 years to get to 632.

    -- MWE
       9. Mike Emeigh Posted: October 15, 2012 at 10:29 PM (#4271990)
    2012 Loser Scores:
    Franchise Season W  L   Under WS Loser Score
    PIT       2012   79 83  4     N  632
    KCR       2012   72 90  18    N  496
    BAL       2012   93 69  
    -24   N  328
    WAS       2012   98 64  
    -34   N  214
    SEA       2012   75 87  12    N  161
    HOU       2012   55 107 52    N  140
    COL       2012   64 98  34    N  136
    CHC       2012   61 101 40    N  135
    MIL       2012   83 79  
    -4    N  114
    CLE       2012   68 94  26    N   94
    CIN       2012   97 65  
    -32   N   93
    SDP       2012   76 86  10    N   83
    MIN       2012   66 96  30    N   69
    DET       2012   88 74  
    -14       61
    NYM       2012   74 88  14    N   58
    MIA       2012   69 93  24    N   53
    ARI       2012   81 81   0    N   52
    BOS       2012   69 93  24    N   25
    TOR       2012   73 89  16    N   23
    OAK       2012   94 68  
    -26   N   19
    TBR       2012   90 72  
    -18   N   15
    ATL       2012   94 68  
    -26   N    0
    CHW       2012   85 77  
    -8    N    0
    LAA       2012   89 73  
    -16   N    0
    LAD       2012   86 76  
    -10   N    0
    NYY       2012   95 67  
    -28        0
    PHI       2012   81 81  0     N    0
    SFG       2012   94 68  
    -26        0
    STL       2012   88 74  
    -14        0
    TEX       2012   93 69  
    -24   N    0 


    Detroit can still go to zero by winning the World Series, as noted earlier.

    -- MWE
       10. Harold can be a fun sponge Posted: October 16, 2012 at 01:04 AM (#4272201)
    Wow, this is awesome. This is the kind of thing that Bill James is often great at -- coming up with a formula to represent a concept, and playing with it (iterating) until it "feels" right. As in, there's no theoretical reasoning for why this formulation represents reasoning, but it appears like something he's played with quite a bit to get it to come out right, and the results that Mike E describes sure make it sound that way.

    And there's nothing wrong with that! I mean, the whole subject domain here is subjective: how much of a loser does this franchise seem to be any time? So working the formula to get the results makes total sense. I can't argue with any of the results that Mike E reports above, so it seems to work for me.

    I put a spreadsheet together with the current NLW teams, and created this graphic (hopefully the colors are intuitive). It's interesting to see that the Dodgers had a long losing streak that made them as pitiful as the Padres at their worst; and that those lows were pretty atypical.
       11. Harold can be a fun sponge Posted: October 16, 2012 at 02:18 AM (#4272206)
    Hey! How's everyone doing? Nothing to see here. Certainly not a double-post, that's not possible with this software implementation. Amirite?
       12. Harold can be a fun sponge Posted: October 16, 2012 at 10:29 PM (#4273302)
    I'm loving this stuff. I put together a graph with all of the original 8 NL teams. It made it appear that we've had a ton of parity since the beginning of expansion, and I wondered whether it was really that the expansion teams were losing. So I added the 1960's expansion teams:

    NL historical "loser scores"

    I think this does show the parity since the '60s, with a few long-term losers (the Padres their first 15 years, the Natspos the last 15 years, the Pirates the last 20 years), but things have been much better than the previous 60 years.

    How about the Cardinals as perennial losers pre-Gas House Gang? Or the Phillies being so bad historically that they initially threw off the scale for the whole chart?
       13. Mike Emeigh Posted: October 17, 2012 at 10:18 AM (#4273827)
    Cool stuff, Harold.

    James covered a lot of this ground in his original article, where he listed the worst teams over time. The Phillies from 1918-1948 had one winning season in 31 years, and that was a 78-76 record in 1932 - because of that they never had 20 losing seasons in a row, but their overall performance was certainly far worse than what the Pirates have done over the last 20 years. Note that the A's during that period had losing seasons 20 times - James speculates that this contributed to the hard-hearted nature of Philadephia sports fans :)

    James also notes, both in this article and in a couple of others in the book, that the data is starting to reflect a trend toward decreasing competitive balance in MLB - although it's still modest when compared to the wider fluctuations of pre-WWII baseball.

    -- MWE
       14. Don Geovany Soto (chris h.) Posted: October 17, 2012 at 01:38 PM (#4274173)
    I have nothing of value to add; I just wanted to say that this is awesome stuff, Mike.
       15. mkt42 Posted: October 18, 2012 at 12:05 AM (#4275003)
    Just awesome. Bill James' Loser Score correctly gives the Phillies the all-time record. Pittsburgh's not close to that level -- but OTOH it appears that their current Loser Score might be the worst that any team has ever achieved aside from the Phillies? That's still pretty historic, sort of like how Walter Johnson's victory total is way behind Cy Young's but is still mighty mighty impressive.

    As a Mariner fan, I wonder what their Loser Score peaked at, given that they started their existence with what I believe is an expansion team record 14 straight losing seasons. If I did the calculations right, they peaked at 443 after the 1990 season; plenty bad but two current teams are worse than that, the Pirates and Royals.

    The Mariners are close on the heels of the Padres though in terms of failling to achieve zero Losing Scores. If my calculations are right, the Mariners did reach zero after the 2003 season. But that was their only time at zero. So the Padres have a more futile record than the Mariners in that sense; OTOH they've never had a loser score above 400, as the Mariners have had several times.

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