A month ago I looked at the Cubs historic start to the 2016 season by using Baseball Prospectus's 3rd order winning percentage.The Cubs didn't have any comparables at the time and today I set out to find the top team in 3rd order winning percentage each season going back 50 years. I looked for the top team as of games ending on June 8th because that's where the Cubs were when I began looking. The Cubs were at .796, which is quite a bit below their .851 a month ago, but still unbelievably high when the season is already more than one-third completed. Unlike last time, this isn't a list of the best 3rd order winning percentageg, but in each season with their actual record in parantheses. There's also a note or two added for some of them since the data isn't entirely complete. It shouldn't change the list though.
- 2016: Cubs .796 (41-17 actual record)
- 2015: Dodgers .650 (33-25)
- 2014: A’s .708 (39-24)
- 2013: Tigers .696 (34-26)
- 2012: Rangers .650 (34-25), no team data for Expos and Marlins
- 2011: Red Sox .610 (35-26), no team data for Expos
- 2010: Yankees .677 (36-22), no team data for Expos
- 2009: Dodgers .633 (39-20), no team data for Expos
- 2008: White Sox .617 (36-27), no team data for Expos
- 2007: Red Sox, .671 (39-21), no team data for Expos
- 2006: Red Sox, .635 (34-23), no team data for Expos
- 2005: Orioles, .632 (35-24), no team data for Expos
- 2004: Red Sox, .630 (34-23),
- 2003: Mariners .668 (42-19)
- 2002: Yankees .726 (29-23)
- 2001: Red Sox .670 (35-24), Eventual 116 win Mariners were 47-12 with a .660 W3 %
- 2000: Red Sox .645 (32-24)
- 1999: Astros .655 (34-23)
- 1998: Yankees .730 (44-13), Yankees finish season 114-48
- 1997: Braves .706 (41-20)
- 1996: Braves .699 (38-21), no team data for Angels
- 1995: Braves .639 (23-17), no team data for Angels, strike-shortened season
- 1994: White Sox .697 (33-21), no team data for Angels
- 1993: Phillies .636 (39-17), no team data for Angels
- 1992: Orioles .627 (34-21), no team data for Angels
- 1991: Blue Jays .580 (30-26), no team data for Angels
- 1990: A’s .661 (36-17), no team data for Angels
- 1989: A’s .602 (38-20), no team data for Angels
- 1988: Mets .659 (38-19), no team data for Angels
- 1987: Blue Jays .605 (34-20), no team data for Angels
- 1986: Mets .681 (37-15), no team data for Angels
- 1985: Padres .594 (31-22), no team data for Angels
- 1984: Tigers .715 (41-13), no team data for Angels
- 1983: Yankees .612 (38-26), no team data for Angels
- 1982: Royals .616 (31-21), no team data for Angels
- 1981: Dodgers .637 (35-19), no team data for Angels
- 1980: Yankees .630 (32-19), no team data for Angels
- 1979: Orioles, .679 (35-21), no team data for Angels
- 1978: Phillies .586 (28-21), no team data for Angels
- 1977: Dodgers .638 (37-18), no team data for Angels
- 1976: Reds .718 (33-20), no team data for Angels
- 1975: Reds .648 (34-22), no team data for Angels
- 1974: Dodgers .766 (41-16), no team data for Angels
- 1973: Dodgers .644 (34-23), no team data for the Angels
- 1972: Pirates .647 (30-16), no team data for the Angels
- 1971: Orioles .657 (32-19), no team data for the Angels
- 1970: Reds .683 (40-15), no team data for the Angels
- 1969: Orioles .741 (39-16), no team data for the Angels
- 1968: Indians, .625 (31-25), no team data for the Angels
- 1967: Giants .618 (30-21), no team data for the Angels
There were some teams who had better overall records than the Cubs did. I'm not sure how many. I wasn't interested in that. I'm also guessing that some of these teams on the list above fell quite a bit over the final four months. The Cubs still are the best at this point using 3rd order winning percentage. They're the best by quite a bit. The 1974 Dodgers still come closest. The 1969 Orioles and the 1998 and 2002 Yankees are also in the mix.
The 1974 Dodgers finished the season 102-60. They scored 798 runs and allowed 561 runs for a Pythagorean record of 106-56. Their 3rd order winning percentage at the end of the season was .659 (.106.8-55.2). It was almost immediately after their 41-16 start that they stumbled a bit. They'd lose 7 of the next 10, but then they got hot again.
They won 10 of their next 11 games and their record was 54-24. They pretty much traded wins and losses for the next several weeks until they were 77-46 on August 20th. They went on a little runs and would finish the season 42 games above .500.
Their entire lineup had an above average OPS except for shortstop Bill Russell (96). They were led by Jim Wynn at 151 who also led the team with 32 home runs. Steve Garvey and Willie Crawford each had an OPS+ of 130. Steve Yeager was at 119 and then they had Bill Buckner at 117 and Ron Cey at 113. Davey Lopes was at 109. Yeager was the only one of these guys to play in less than 139 games. He played in only 94 games. Joe Ferguson started 70 games behind the plate in Yeager's absence. In 111 games that year Ferguson had an OPS+ of 132. That team had a lot of guys who had really good offensive seasons.
Three of their five starters had an ERA+ above average. They were led by Andy Messersmith who threw 292.1 innings and had an ERA+ of 132. Tommy John made 22 starts that year and threw 153 innings. He had an ERA+ of 132. Don Sutton was the other above average starter (106). Doug Rau (92) and Al Downing (94) were the other two. Mike Marshall appeared in 106 games without starting a single one. He finished an amazing 83 games and had only 21 saves. He pitched 208.1 innings in relief. His ERA+ was 141.
The Cubs offense doesn't quite compare to the 1974 Dodgers. The Cubs starting eight have only four guys who have an above average OPS+, but each of them are higher than any of the '74 Dodgers hitters except for Jim Wynn. Ben Zobrist (155), Dexter Fowler (148), Anthony Rizzo (143) and Kris Bryant (137). On the other side of that, they also have some pretty bad hitters in their lineup. Jason Heyward (74), Addison Russell (82), Miguel Montero (82) and Jorge Soler (89). While the Dodgers had some tremendous hitters in 1974, the Cubs have done it in part because of some great hitters, but their pitching to this point destroys what the '74 Dodgers starters did.
Jake Arrieta's ERA+ is 223 and Jon Lester's is 195. Jason Hammel's is 187 and John Lackey's is 152. Kyle Hendricks has the worst ERA+ of the group and his is 138. Their lowest is better than Andy Messersmith who had the highest ERA+ for that Dodgers team. The bullpens are different these days so there's no point in comparing Hector Rondon to Mike Marshall.
What's the point? It's an off day so this was something to do. The Cubs are a great team, but they've done it slightly differently than their most comparable team over the last 50 years. I'm kind of surprised that the Dodgers didn't have more starters dominating the league in terms of ERA+ like the Cubs have had, but the Dodgers lineup was well above average at each spot except for one and he was pretty much league average.
The 1974 Dodgers were the closest team to the Cubs last month and they still are. There are a few others that are worth looking at it, so maybe next month I'll look at one of them.