For years debates have raged about which major league baseball team was the best of all time. Was it the 1927 Yankees, or 1961 Yankees? Maybe the 1976 Reds?
If the rankings would include all teams, where would the pennant-winning 2008 Rays fit into all of this? Do either of Miami’s World Series-winning teams of 1997 and 2003 have a place? Thanks to Nate Silver and his team at FiveThirtyEight, we have some answers.
According to the Elo rating system, the top team of all-time was none of the above. The 1939 New York Yankees received the highest rating. The 1927 Yankees came in third behind the 1906 Chicago Cubs.
The 2008 Tampa Bay Rays are ranked at 325. In fact, the complicated ratings show that was not the best Rays team ever. The 2012 club that went 90-72 and missed the playoffs is ranked ahead of the pennant-winning club that was 97-65.
How does FiveThirtyEight come to these conclusions? They convert the Elo system, named after physics professor Arpad Elo and designed for chess, into baseball rankings.
FiveThirtyEight takes the averages of teams playing at peak levels and when they are playing poorly and mixes in post season performance to determine their final ranking or “composite Elo.” This leads to some statistical surprises.
The 1961 Yankees with Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and company were no better than 41st despite winning the World Series. The 1976 Reds team with Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and others that won 102 games and did not lose a game in the postseason, came in at number 23.
The Chicago Cubs produced the greatest regular season of all time in 1906. They won 116 games and lost only 36. Their loss to the cross-town White Sox in the World Series knocked them to number two all-time.
Among the modern day teams, the 1998 Yankees, with an 114-48 record and World Series title, comes in fifth.
Miami’s 2003 World Champions (Florida Marlins) could do no better than 601st place, while their 1997 titlists were at 607.
What team was worst? Most would immediately point to the 1962 New York Mets who finished with the still-worst record of 40-120.
That distinction goes to the 1904 Washington Senators, who managed to win only 38 games while losing 113. The 2003 Detroit Tigers were second after a 43-119 season.
The complete rankings for all major league teams in history and the formula to determine them can be found here.