Home MLB BaseballGB Team Picker – An introduction

BaseballGB Team Picker – An introduction

by Matt Smith

If you are new to baseball, perhaps having taken a curious glance at the recent World Series, one of the key decisions you face is picking which MLB team you should support.   It’s unlikely that you can follow one of the more established ways of deciding which team is for you, such as selecting your home town team or following family tradition, so what should you do?  Have no fear; the BaseballGB Team Picker is here.   

Joe and I had an idea several months ago to come up with a fun system in which we could rank all thirty teams in terms of their current appeal to a British newcomer to the sport.  We didn’t want to arrive at the final positions simply by throwing our own personal favourites together.  We wanted a system based on actual data that could be updated each year and could be the source of plenty of discussion/argument, both in terms of the final standings and the methods used to create them.

So, we’ve put together what we think are the key considerations for a British sports fan when it comes to picking a team and have rolled them into five categories.  From there, we’ve searched for data that we could use for all of the categories to hopefully make it as impartial as possible.  For all thirty MLB teams, we’ve awarded a score out of twenty for each of the five categories.  The teams with the highest scores overall are the best candidates for a British fan.

Here are the five categories:

Roots and tradition

Why is it important to a British fan?  History matters to Brits; our rich history is one of the defining characteristics of our nation.  So a team with a long history should be appealing, but we also have to take into account one of the aspects of North American sports that is less attractive: franchises.  A British fan should value how long a team has been playing in its current location first and foremost, while years spent in previous locations should count for less. 

How did we rate this?  We looked at the history of each franchise and gave out points using the following equation: one point for every six years in the current location, one point for every nine years in the location before that, and one point for every twelve years in the location before that.  As with all the categories, once we had ranked the teams we then gave out scores from twenty down to five.  The minimum of five in this case is to recognise the fact that a new(ish) team also holds some appeal.

Underdog status

Why is it important to a British fan?  If there’s one thing Brits love, it’s an underdog.   Teams who can buy success generally fail to buy their way into the affections of many people (Chelsea being a good example from football).  It almost takes the fun out of any success that is achieved because it was expected that they would win anyway.  The real excitement comes when an unfancied team rises up, takes on the big boys and wins the day.

How did we rate this?  To be an underdog you need to have been starved of recent success and to not to have a big payroll.  Each team started with twenty points.  For recent success, we took a weighted average of regular-season wins over the past three years (2008 counted for four-ninths of the average, 2007 three-ninths, and 2006 two-ninths) and then penalized teams for each win over sixty-seven (the Nationals got a bonus point here as they had a weighted average of 66; the Angels received the biggest penalty, with a weighted average of 95).

For payroll, we again took a weighted average over the past three years, but this time based on total salary for the opening-day roster plus the disabled list (again, 2008 counted for four-ninths of the average, 2007 three-ninths, and 2006 two-ninths).  We penalized teams for each dollar spent over $45,000,000 and awarded bonuses for those under this budget (the Marlins did best out of the bonuses here). No prizes for guessing who got the most penalty points!

Big spenders were penalized more heavily than big winners, and the range of scores once the maths had been done was five to twenty.

Hope for the future

Why is it important to a British fan?  Jumping on to the bandwagon of an already successful team might not be the best  idea, but you still want to support a team that has some good young talent and a chance to provide a bit of excitement over the next few years.  So, when a Brit chooses his or her team, they should look for one that has some potential to compete over the next few years.

How did we rate this?  There were two factors that we wanted to include: 1) prospects and 2) players who will be under contract for at least the next two years.  For the prospects side, we simply took the Baseball America top 100 list for 2008 and gave teams two points for every player of theirs in the top 50 and one point for every player from 51 onwards.  For established players, we used the recently published Elias rankings as our guide.  A team received three points for every Type A ‘free agent’ classified player under contract for at least the next two years and one point for every Type B player. 

Following from afar

Why is it important to a British fan?  Primarily, British fans will be supporting their team from the U.K., so an important factor is how easy it is to follow their games.  Due to the time difference, day games in the States take place at a convenient hour during the evening in Britain, as opposed to night games when first pitch can be at 01.00 or even 03.00 in the morning.  A British fan should therefore value a team that plays a significant number of day games, particularly during the working week.

How did we rate this?  We measured this category simply by adding up the amount of day games each team played in the 2008 season during the working week.

Road trip prospects

Why is it important to a British fan?  Swapping teams (without good reason) is generally frowned upon, so once you’ve picked your team you should normally stick by them.  Consequently, a Brit may want to consider what a team’s home is like in terms of being a good tourist destination for a future road trip to the States. 

How did we rate this?  The scoring was not based on personal preference but instead on an objective measure of tourist popularity.  We used 2007 rankings for cities and states from the Office of Travel and Tourism Industries’ “Overseas Visitation Estimates for U.S. States, Cities, and Census Regions” (published May 2008).

Owing to proximity from the perspective of tourism, we used Los Angeles for Anaheim, San Francisco for Oakland, Miami for Miami Beach, Tampa for St Petersburg, and Dallas/Fort Worth for Arlington.  Toronto (which was obviously not covered in a US list) was added in manually, second to New York City, based on several sources on tourist numbers.  Once we had state and city rankings, we used the figures to assign scores between five and nineteen (Joe has been to New York, and says it was good but not worth a twenty); the city had double the weight of the state in the calculation.  This category could be made a lot more sophisticated but it works for now.

The results

The results for our first attempt at a Team Picker will be revealed over the next five days, with the third placed team announced tomorrow, the second placed team on Wednesday, the top team on Thursday and then an overall breakdown on Saturday. 

We’ve already started thinking about ways in which the system could be improved and the scores for the ‘Hope for the future’ category could change quite a bit over the next few months as free agents link up with new teams.  So, we intend to publish a new set of rankings in March next year, just before the 2009 season gets under way.  Feel free to add any comments as the week progresses on ways in which we might be able to improve the system.

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Thomas Ogilvie November 17, 2008 - 6:46 pm

Can you factor in the extent to which you can greet the sight of a baseball cap with a friendly “Hey alright, go [insert team here]” and get a favourable response? I’m pretty sure that will eliminate 95% of Yankees ‘supporters’, most of whom don’t seem to realise that the logo on the cap means something. In contrast, if you see someone wearing an Indians cap, you can be fairly sure they’re aware of who the Indians are.

Matt Smith November 17, 2008 - 7:22 pm

Not sure how we can fit it in, but it’s definitely worth considering! I remember back in 2004 when I stayed up to watch a game from the classic ALCS and then happened to see someone wearing a Yankees cap later in the day as I was doing some shopping. I was going to say something but thought the likelihood that they would have no clue whatsoever about what I was referring to was too high to risk the embrrassment!

Chico November 17, 2008 - 8:38 pm

Hi Matt and Joe! I look forward to where the Chicago White Sox fit into your calculations. They won the 1st game in the history of the American League on April 24, 1901 in Chicago beating Cleveland. They finished with an 83-53 record winning the first pennant in AL history. As you know, they share the hearts of Chicagoans with their Northside rivals, the Cubs. Both teams have been in Chicago since 1900 and part of the great rivalry is the absolute die hard “battles” between the Northside fans (Cubs) and the Southside fans (Sox). It is by far the longest running and most heated rivalry in all of Major League Baseball. The Yankees and Mets or the Red Sox/Yankees or any West Coast teams rivalries are tame compared to Chicago’s baseball “turf war”. We thought 2008 might be the year. The Sox beat the Cubs in the World Series in 1906 when the “Hitless Wonders” from the Southside beat the 116 game winning highly favored Northsiders. This thing runs deep, being passed on from generation to generation. It is truly an experience without rival in Baseball. Unfortunately, even families are split at times! Some books I recommend are: “White Sox The Illustrated History” by Whittingham, “Total White Sox” by Lindberg and Fletcher and “The White Sox Encyclopedia” by Lindberg. The big difference now between the Sox and Cubs is that the Cubs have become a more popular choice and in my opinion have more “band wagon” fans from around the world. Wrigley Field, WGN Superstation TV, more day games and the “Lovable Losers” tag have made the Cubs more fashionable. The White Sox have generally more blue collar knowledgeable fans than the Cubs. When one sees a Sox hat, it generally means a real fan. Cubs hats fit into the Yankees, Red Sox bandwagon types. I highly recommend becoming a Sox fan because of its storied history. By the way, the Sox have finished 2nd more than any team in history. Thanks for the forum to brag a bit about my team!

Ron November 17, 2008 - 10:12 pm

You could look at attendanace per captia. Los Angeles drawing 3,000,000 vs St Louis drawing 3,000,000 obviously showing how the teams are supported in thier community.

The number of sellouts, or percentage of capacity, might be something also.

Teams that are supported by thier community should be weighted more than just being a team in a large population center. Look at Atlanta. They couldn’t even sell out World Series games.

JJ Blu November 22, 2008 - 10:09 pm

Nice job. But there’s not enough emphasis on ACHIEVEMENT. If you go to Yankee Stadium you will see the giant sign proclaiming the franchise’s 29 championships. TWENTY NINE. That’s important to many, many fans. Having great players (like the Cubs’ Ernie Banks, say) is important. But having a great team, that’s bigger – Murderer’s Row, the Gashouse Gang, etc.


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