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Most Dominant/Most Dominated Single Season Teams In Japanese Baseball History

Our webmaster, Craig Tomarkin, suggested after I submitted my article on Japanese baseball’s dynasties that I consider doing an article on Japan’s best single season teams. He further suggested I look at his articles on the greatest teams in major league history since 1893. It’s four articles: Part I   Part II   Part III   Part IV  .

I read the articles and while just like with every rating system (including my own), I wouldn’t agree with all the conclusions it reached, it looked like Craig’s suggestions were a very promising idea. I’ve also been working on assessing sustained success and failure of Japanese teams, so the thought of using Craig’s system or a mirror image of it to determine the worst teams appaealed to me. One thing I liked about Craig’s last formula to do his ratings was the use of the ratio of runs scored to runs allowed. Those of you familiar with Bill James’ work realize there is a predictable relationship between winning percentage and this ratio. Thus, unless a team is unusually lucky or unlucky, Craig’s adjustment merely reinforced the team’s position. However, if it was unusually lucky or unlucky, this adjustment helped address this factor and thus more accurately assess how a team did. In fact, I believe the system does a fine job of assessing the dominance of a team.

When I tried to apply Craig’s approach to Japanese baseball, I eventually learned a hard lesson. Namely, assessing a team’s dominance is not quite the same thing as assessing its greatness. True, all great teams are, by definition, dominant. However, my experience in doing this article convinces me that not all dominant teams are great ones. Craig certainly understood much of what I will write below when he wrote his own articles. He acknowledges he is measuring dominance, and that if he evaluated 19th century teams as well, the rating system would place an unusually high number of those teams at the top of his list. Similarly, when I suggested in an email to him that he consider joining me in rating the worst teams that the list would be dominated by teams early in the period selected (assuming he went back to at least 1900).

I would agree with Craig’s sense that the 19th century teams should not be seen as consistently the greatest teams in baseball history. However, I believe it is reasonable to assert that they were consistently the most dominant teams in baseball history. The reason is good teams in that era had one tremendous advantage in being dominant over teams from later periods. Namely, that there were often some very bad teams around also. Naturally, the good teams beat up on their hapless foes. It certainly makes them more dominant over their opposition, but it has little to do with the greatness of the team, because great teams are ones which would stack up well against quality opposition.

Getting back to Japanese baseball, there are two eras which had a bunch of exceptionally bad teams. They occurred at the very beginning of Japanese professional baseball during wartime in Japan and for the first five or six seasons after the big expansion in 1950 to two leagues from one. When I tried using Craig’s system to identify the best teams and the mirror system to identify the worst teams, both lists were heavily populated by teams from those two time frames. I first thought it might be a function of the shorter schedules of Japanese baseball, but my first attempt to alleviate such an effect had only a small effect on those two eras domination of the two lists.

It finally occurred to me that the problem lay in the dominance versus greatness issue I’ve been writing about here at such length. I eventually realized that it was no coincidence that the two lists were skewed toward those eras. In fact, it was common for a single season to be represented on both lists.

That last phenomenon could only logically be explained in three ways: 1) it was merely random, 2) there were a lot of great teams then, and they just beat up on the lesser opposition, or 3) there were a lot of awful teams then, and they were consistently thrashed like rented mules by teams which were good and/or great.

The explanation of random chance has two key strikes against it: one, the clustering of the teams into two eras, and two (and maybe more tellingly) is the frequency with which the same season showed up on both lists. The second choice is possible, but I really favor the bad teams explanation. I have several reasons for feeling this way. First of all, any sport which does not have a free agent system when it starts out and/or goes through a huge expansion has a couple of teams which are real stinkers. It is unlikely that Japanese baseball is any different in this regard. Second, there is the confirmed tendency in all sports for the extremes to reduce over time. Third, there is the assertion by many well-informed observers that the quality of Japanese baseball has improved over time. It is easy to fit all of these facts into a scenario where the quality of play improves, with the largest improvement coming from the worst teams. This scenario would work well with the bad teams explanation. I cannot think of a similarly good scenario to fit these facts and the good teams explanation.

As I indicated earlier, I think Craig’s system does a good job of identifying dominance. However, this exercise has taught me that unless a system tries to filter out the difference between a great team and a dominant one, I cannot accept it as anywhere near the final word on a team’s greatness. I am aware of one effort which at least seems to try and address this issue. Rob Neyer and Eddie Epstein wrote a book entitled Baseball Dynasties, and their method for identifying great teams relied on standard deviatons from the mean. I’d have to refresh my familiarity with the fine points of such mathematics to give you a good assessment of how well they’ve dealt with the distinction between dominance and greatness, but it’s clear they have tried to do so.

Frankly, I decided I wasn’t going to take the time to bone up on my math nor to program Excel to do the standard deviation calculations I’d need to try and replicate the Neyer-Epstein approach or some similar idea. I settled for 1) titling my article in terms of dominance rather than greatness, 2) manipulating the evaluation system to give teams from every era a chance to show up on either list, and 3) confessing here that such manipulations require a definite compromise in truly assessing dominance. I retained Craig’s idea of using the ratio of runs scored to runs allowed in the formula, and the idea of using the mirror image of the system used to identify dominant teams to identify the teams which were most dominated. The formulas are:

For dominance:

((2 times wins) minus losses) times winning percentage times (runs scored divided by runs allowed), plus a postseason bonus I will describe later

For being dominated:

((2 times losses) minus wins) times (1 minus winning percentage) times (runs allowed divided by runs scored)

If a team is around .500, it should allow about as many runs as it scores, and both systems should come close to replicating wins (dominance) and losses (being dominated) plus one half of ties. The dominance formula will push high win teams which score a higher ratio of runs relative to their opponents dramatically forward, and the being dominated formula will push forward exactly the opposite kind of team.

I wound up using the two times wins figure in the dominance calculation in order to 1) give every era a chance to get a team on the list, and 2) to minimize the effect of random chance on a shorter schedule. My two lists still wind up with heavy representation from the two time frames in question, the startup in wartime era, and the big expansion era. Since I am measuring dominance, I can live with those eras dominating the lists. I do believe that the most dominant teams are quite good, but I have reservations in asserting it accurately represents the greatest teams in Japanese baseball history based on the fact the lists are both skewed toward those two eras. As you might guess, I am considerably more comfortable in asserting that the "most dominated" list is close to a correct rendering of the worst single season teams in Japanese baseball history.

There is one aspect of the dominant formula which is not mirrored by the most dominated formula. That is the playoff bonus aspect. This part of the formula exists to push forward Japan Series winners more strongly than those who lost the Japan series, but yet to push those teams forward more strongly than those who only won a split season title without winning the whole season, but yet to push those teams forward more than those who didn’t even qualify for any playoff. A team which wins its league for the full season receives 7 points, and a split season champion which does not win the league for the full season or a team qualifying for a league championship series but fails to get to the Japan Series gets 3.5 points. Finally, a team which makes a playoff but fails to play for the league championship gets 1.5 points. I also awarded two points for every Japan Series win (four has always been the mark to win the series). I allowed one half a Japan Series win to those full season league champions who predated the Japan Series (the 1939-1949 league champs, in other words). These relatively small bonuses helped sort the results in a way that the list is dominated either by teams which won the Japan Series or who predated it.

Below are the two lists for your consideration, first the one for the dominating teams, then the one for the most dominated teams.

Most Dominant Teams

Rank  Year/Team Wins  Losses  Runs  Runs allowed  Playoff Status  J Series wins Dominance Score
1. 1955 Yomiuri Giants 92 37 579 291 1 4 223.59
2. 1950 Shochiku Robins 98 35 908 524 1 2 216.57
3. 1951 Yomiuri Giants 79 29 702 381 1 4 188.86
4. 1940 Tokyo Kyojin 76 28 439 221 1 0.5 188.00
5. 1953 Yomiuri Giants 87 37 667 392 1 4 178.55
6. 1966 Yomiuri Giants 89 41 559 335 1 4 171.51
7. 1956 Nishitetsu Lions 96 51 611 372 1 4 166.24
8. 1955 Nankai Hawks 99 41 606 445 1 3 164.19
9. 1952 Yomiuri Giants 83 37 650 389 1 4 164.09
10. 1942 Tokyo Kyojin 73 27 399 228 1 0.5 160.02
11. 1954 Chunichi Dragons   86 40 570 376 1 4 151.58
12. 1939 Tokyo Kyojin 66 26 493 267 1 0.5 148.41
13. 1951 Nankai Hawks 72 24 496 322 1 1 147.63
14. 1941 Tokyo Kyojin 62 22 357 193 1 0.5 147.26
15. 1959 Nankai Hawks 88 42 574 408 1 4 142.61
16. 1954 Nishitetsu Lions 90 47 560 379 1 3 142.10
17. 1990 Yomiuri Giants 88 42 589 399 1 0 140.90
18. 1950 Manichi Orions 81 34 713 512 1 4 140.55
19. 1956 Yomiuri Giants 82 44 568 351 1 2 137.38
20. 1978 Hankyu Braves 82 39 700 482 1 3 136.02
21. 1947 Osaka Tigers 79 37 502 325 1 0.5 135.28
22. 1989 Yomiuri Giants 84 44 520 358 1 4 133.20
23. 1965 Yomiuri Giants 91 47 536 404 1 4 133.11
24. 1957 Nishitetsu Lions 83 44 546 370 1 4 132.66
25. 1948 Nankai Hawks 87 49 592 395 1 0.5 127.84

Most Dominated Teams

Rank   Year/Team Wins   Losses   Runs   Runs Allowed   Dominated Score
1. 1955 Taiyo Whales 31 99 290 578 253.48
2. 1958 Kintetsu Pearls 29 97 326 613 238.85
3. 1961 Kintetsu Buffaloes 36 103 421 691 206.76
4. 1954 Yosho Robins 32 96 365 625 205.48
5. 1970 Yakult Atoms 33 92 336 552 182.58
6. 1950 Hiroshima Carp 41 96 511 877 181.60
7. 1940 Lion 24 76 225 416 179.86
8. 1955 Tombo Unions 42 98 420 691 177.36
9. 1952 Shochiku Robins 34 84 326 573 167.66
10. 1950 Kokutetsu Swallows 42 94 480 790 166.08
11. 1959 Kintetsu Buffaloes 39 91 381 578 151.86
12. 1965 Sankei Swallows 44 91 337 533 147.12
13. 1952 Kintetsu Pearls 30 78 356 568 145.19
14. 1940 Nankai 28 71 242 424 143.24
15. 1957 Daiei Unions 41 89 377 575 143.05
16. 1956 Takahashi Unions 52 98 403 611 142.64
17. 1954 Daiei Stars 43 92 402 589 140.79
18. 1965 Kintetsu Buffaloes 46 92 397 574 133.02
19. 1956 Taiyo Whales 43 87 319 483 132.74
20. 1952 Hiroshima Carp 37 80 365 573 132.03
21. 1942 Daiwa 27 68 191 322 131.53
22. 1971 Nishitetsu Lions 38 84 425 623 131.21
23. 1990 Fukuoka Daiei Hawks   41 85 522 757 126.20
24. 2003 Yokohoma Bay Stars 45 94 563 715 124.48
25. 1939 Eagles 29 65 247 434 122.72

Notes:  In "Playoff Status", a value of "1" means the team won the league in a full season, a value of "0.5" means the team won a split season half, but either lost in the playoffs of no playoff existed. Teams winning their league before the Japan Series started in 1950 were awarded one-half a win in that category.

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