History's Most Lopsided Teams

Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay are two of the biggest reasons Philadelphia's roster has been lopsided the past few seasons. - Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

Examining teams throughout history that have leaned heavily to one side of the roster or another.

In 2012, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim powered their way to 89 wins primarily on the strengths of their offense. Mike Trout led the Halo's effort with an amazing 8.6 offensive WAR (or "oWAR," which is WAR without consideration of defense) as calculated by Baseball-Reference. With support from Albert Pujols (3.8 oWAR), Torii Hunter (4.0), and even Eric Aybar (3.8), the Angels managed to score more runs than 25 of the 29 other teams in the major leagues.

But with a miserable pitching staff that could eke out only 2.6 pitcher's WAR, the Angels ultimately fell flat in the race to win the AL West in 2012, placing third behind the Texas Rangers and the division champion Oakland Athletics.

Rewind the clock one year earlier to 2011 and you may remember almost the polar opposite situation in Philidelphia. The oft-hyped rotation of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt fronted a pitching staff that led the majors in pitcher's WAR that season, but received little help in the way of run support from an offense that could be considered league average at best.

There's an old Buddhist saying (I think) that goes something along the lines of, there are many paths up the mountain, but the view at the top is always the same. This morning I want to look at some of the more extreme paths up the mountain that baseball's front offices have taken over the years.

In a historical context, the 2012 Angels were a rather uniquely designed ballclub as it turns out. In the 92 years that have made up the live ball era, only eight other lineups have had that much of an advantage over their pitching counterparts of the same uniform:

Most Lopsided Teams Favoring Offense

#
Team Year W/L% Run differential oWAR /162 pWAR /162 WAR_diff
1 New York Yankees 1930 0.558 164 42.3 1.4 40.9
2 New York Yankees 1931 0.614 307 45.8 7.7 38.1
3 Texas Rangers 2008 0.488 -66 32.5 -5.2 37.7
4 Milwaukee Braves 1964 0.543 59 33.7 -0.7 34.4
5 New York Yankees 1933 0.607 159 39.1 5.1 34.0
6 New York Yankees 1929 0.571 124 34.6 2.2 32.4
7 San Francisco Giants 1995 0.465 -124 18.7 -13.2 31.9
8 Cincinnati Reds 1976 0.630 224 40.5 9.0 31.5
9 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 2012 0.549 68 33.6 2.6 31.0
10 Seattle Mariners 1996 0.528 98 31.2 0.9 30.3

It's interesting to see so many good teams show up on this list. There are four seasons representing the Yankees "Murderer's Row" clubs from the late '20s and early '30s, where Ruth and Gehrig slugged enough year in and year out to cover for some near-replacement level pitching staffs.

Fittingly, not one of these extremely talented Yankee rosters featured in this top ten managed to win the pennant. In fact, the only season from 1929-1933 in which the Yankees did win the pennant is also the only season that does not show up as one of the most lopsided teams. In 1932, Yankees pitchers were worth almost 15 WAR/162, almost twice as much as they had been worth at any point in that five year stretch. Not coincidentally, the Yanks also went on to win both the pennant and the World Series later that fall.

The 1995 Giants clearly had it the worst of the group, winning only 47 percent of their games in that strike-shortened season. Although the recent misfortunes of the 2008 Texas Rangers are not too far behind with a win-loss record of just 79-83 that season.

That year for the Rangers, Frank Francisco-- a reliever mind you-- led all of Texas pitchers with just 1.4 WAR. With 50 combined games started, Vincente Padilla and Kevin Milwood led the rotation with a stunningly abhorrent .8 WAR and .6 WAR respectively. Scott Feldman (-.5 WAR), C.J. Wilson (1.3), and Louis Mendoza (-2.8) also played major roles in the disaster.

All together the Rangers staff that year was worth an abominable -5 WAR. Yet despite this, Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, and Milton Bradley all had career years at the plate. Just two years later the Rangers would revamp their rotation by adding Cliff Lee and Colby Lewis, re-assigning C.J. Wilson and Alexi Ogando and then make back-to-back World Series appearances.

Only the 1976 Cincinnati Reds were able to go the distance despite leaning heavily on the strengths of their lineup all season long. The Big Red Machine's pitchers weren't nearly as bad as some of the other staffs from the list (9 WAR), but they were still outshined by one of the most feared lineups in the history of the game.

Just outside the top ten at #11, The Milwaukee Brewers came close to winning the World Series, having lost to the Cardinals after taking the AL pennant. Harvey's Wallbangers were worth a grand total of 36 oWAR to just 7 pitcher's WAR.

On the flip side of things, our 2011 Phillies club with the rotation of aces doesn't rank nearly as lopsided as the 2012 Angels. In fact, the most recent example of a team favoring its pitching so decidedly is the 1992 Boston Red Sox:

Most Lopsided Teams Favoring Pitching

# Team Year W/L% Run differential oWAR /162 pWAR /162 WAR_diff
1 Brooklyn Robins 1927 0.425 -78 -0.8 24.1 24.9
2 Detroit Tigers 1942 0.474 2 0.3 25.0 24.7
3 Boston Red Sox 1936 0.481 11 6.3 29.9 23.6
4 Cincinnati Reds 1967 0.537 41 8.5 30.8 22.3
5 Boston Red Sox 1992 0.451 -70 3.4 25.0 21.6
6 Cleveland Indians 1933 0.497 -15 3.0 24.1 21.1
7 Chicago White Sox 1968 0.414 -64 -0.2 20.5 20.7
8 Philadelphia Athletics 1926 0.553 107 10.4 30.6 20.2
9 Cincinnati Reds 1951 0.442 -108 1.1 21.2 20.1
10 Seattle Mariners 1983 0.370 -182 -2.3 17.6 19.9

The pitching success in Boston that year was mainly attributable to Roger Clemens and his outstanding 8.4 WAR total, although Frank Viola did play an important supporting role contributing an additional six WAR to the Red Sox cause. Unfortunately for the Sox, this was Wade Boggs' worst year at the plate and his normally reliable batting mastery was limited to just 1.4 oWAR. Only right fielder Tom Brunansky was able to muster an OPS+ above league average.

The 2009 Giants come in at #14 however, tilted heavily on the side of the roster that included young superstars Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum. Similar to the '08 Rangers, the Giants front office proceeded to amend its lopsided roster the following season with the surprisingly beneficial acquisitions of Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell, thereby narrowing their WAR difference to just 1.8. Add in a rookie sensation with Buster Posey and a career season from quad-A lifer Andres Torres and the Giants brought home a World Series trophy just one season removed from having one of the most lopsided rosters in recent history.

Anecdotes

You may have noticed that the lopsided teams that favored hitters managed better win/loss records than their pitching-heavy counterparts. Be advised, however, that this is almost exclusively because the WAR difference for the top ten hitter-heavy teams was twice as large. When analyzing all team-seasons since 1992, there were 139 teams that scored 10 more oWAR than pWAR, but only 15 teams that scored 10 more pWAR than oWAR.

Before you read too much into that, it is important to remember that Baseball-Reference assigns just 41% of all possible WAR to pitchers and the remaining 59% to position players.

In that same 1991-2012 sample, there was no significant correlation between W/L record and pitcher-heavy teams or hitter offensive-heavy teams (with r < .01 for each test).

Only five teams have won the World Series with a staff WAR more than 10 wins higher than their lineup. Those teams are as follows:

  • Atlanta Braves 1995
  • Kansas City Royals 1985
  • Chicago White Sox 2005
  • New York Mets 1969
  • Arizona Diamondbacks 2001
  • . . .

    James Gentile writes about baseball at Beyond the Box Score and The Hardball Times. You can follow him on twitter @JDGentile.

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