Jim Albright / the japanese insider
Franchise Sustained Success and Futility Snapshots
Iíve attempted few articles on teams thus far. The article on dynasties only looks at teams which achieved a sustained level of high success, namely playoffs, league championships, and Japan Series championships. The article on team dominance only considered success or futility on a single season basis, and only the mostly outstanding examples of each.
However, success or futility can be and often is sustained, but rarely at the high level of dynasties. This article attempts to look at the ability of the various Japanese franchises to sustain success and/or avoid or break sustained futility at even low levels of success or futility. For purposes of this article, success begins at being over .500 while futility begins at being under .500. This study will also attempt to assess the degree of success or futility by using a formula which more dramatically increases the degree of success or failure the further a team moves from .500. Also, the formula has extra recognition of special levels of success or failure, such as success bonuses for winning a split season championship, winning a full season league championship, and winning a Japan series championship. There is also an increase in the negative futility score (futility will be expressed in negative numbers, success in positive) for finishing last in oneís league.
A single seasonís score is determined as follows: first, if a team is exactly .500, the season is scored at zero unless there is a .500 team which makes the playoffs, in which case said team gets the appropriate playoff bonuses. If there is a six way tie, only the league champion would score any points that year. Then, if a team is over .500, the success index formula is used. If it is under .500, the futility index formula is used.
The success index formula is (1 + (0.1 * wins)* (win % - 0.5)) plus three points for winning the Japan Series, two points for winning a full season league but not the Japan Series, whether or not the Japan Series existed at the time, and one point for winning a split season title but not the league for the full year or getting into a league championship series but failing to win the pennant, and half a point for making a playoff but not playing for the league championship. Typical scores are 4.7 points and up for Japan series winners, 3.5 to 4.5 points for league winners who didnít win a Japan Series, 2.2 to 3.2 points for a split season winner/league championship playoff loser, and 1 to 2 points for a team which is over .500 but didnít make the playoffs.
The futility index score is a mirror to the success index score, except there is a -1 point penalty for finishing last (including ties) as opposed to the playoff bonuses. The base formula to add to any appropriate penalty is (( 0.1 * Losses) * (win % - 0.5) - 1). Thus a typical sub .500 season will score -1 to -2 on the futility index, and a last place team will exceed -2 futility points.
One note is that the figure used for won/loss percentage is that used in the official records, which completely ignores ties. That is, it is calculated by wins divided by the total of wins and losses. Another note is I started with the 1937 season since 1936 was simply a series of tournaments and therefore very difficult to work with in this system.
There is one more feature of the way these numbers were arrived at. In order to measure the sustained levels of success, I considered a streak of success to be over when a team had a season of .500 or less. Similarly, a streak of futility was considered to be over when a team had a season of .500 or better. During the streak, all the single season scores are added together.
I will report the latest streak, the teamís greatest streak of success, the teamís greatest streak of futility, and all other streaks greater than or equal to 3 or less than or equal to -3. The success/ futility snapshot will look like the following fictitious example:
What this means is the Wizards were rather poor for the first six years. The fact this line is in bold and italic print means it is the worst streak in franchise history. The seven year gap to the next entry means the team never amassed a streak of +3 or greater or -3 or less. Basically, they were treading water around .500 during that time. Note that there was no 1945 season due to World War II, so I simply act as though 1945 doesnít exist for purposes of my calculations. Then in the period 1949 through 1960, the team recorded its greatest string of success, since it has been placed in bold and italic print. Then in 1961-1963, they had a short streak of futility, followed by a playoff team in 1964, likely a league champion (in 1964, it would have had to have been, but since this is fictitious, it is possible the fictitious league didnít follow real life, and besides, it allows me to make a point in explaining the record. However, we can be sure they didnít win the Japan Series, because such a team will score a minimum of 4 points). In 1965, they crashed and had a truly awful season, almost certainly finishing last, but probably mostly due to injuries because in 1966 they would have been .500 or better. They were in a very long period of treading water from 1966 through 2002. We know that 2002 was a .500 or worse year, or the positive streak which we show as the last entry (the last entry is always the current streak) would have extended backwards to 2002.
If you want to find a certain team, its nickname in a given year, or who it may have merged with or when it ceased to exist, please consult the franchise history page here.
After I give you the teamís numeric success/futility snapshot, Iíll give some commentary about the teamís history. I will cover teams from the Central League first, then the defunct teams, and then the teams from the Pacific League last. Teams which merged into other franchises will be presented beside under the comment for the merger partner which lasted latest in time. Also, franchises are presented within the three groups listed above in alphabetical order of the franchiseís most recent nickname. Thus, if you only care to read the Giant comment, go to G in the Central League section, and there it will be. After the team entries, I will list the ten best streaks of success and the ten worst streaks of futility.
The Bay Star franchise has had two of the worst ten streaks of futility in the history of Japanese baseball, and is one of the few teams that has not yet managed to have a success streak of ten points or more. The franchise started off badly, and even the merger after the 1952 season with the Robins didnít help bring that streak of futility to an end. The 1960 Japan Series champion (then called the Whales) is one of the franchiseís only two "streaks" of over 3 points of success. After that title, they muddled around .500 for a few years and then went on another streak of futility. They were up and down from 1969 through 1971, and then began a significant streak of futility. They managed to escape the futility for a couple of years, but then began one of their historically bad streaks of futility. They finally escaped that streak in 1995, and then in 1997 began a nice little positive streak which ended after 2001. Three sorry seasons followed starting in 2002. All in all, this franchise hasnít given their fans a lot to cheer about.
The Robins were rather awful for almost all of their existence. They managed a decent season in 1943, and in 1950 had a wonderful team which fell short in the Japan series. After that one moment in the sun, they sunk back to where they had come from, and merged with the sadsack Whales. As noted above, the franchise remained in a state of futility after the merger.
This frachise started out with one of the ten worst ever streaks of futility in Japanese baseball history, and rarely managed to escape from futility (they did have a stretch of treading water from 1968 through 1971) until Takeshi Koba took over as manager in 1975. They had some immediate success, and then in 1978, began one of the ten best ever streaks of success. Koba left in 1985, but the Carp generally stayed on the plus side for over a decade after his departure. However, since 1997, they've been mostly on the down side of things.
This franchise hasnít ever had a really bad streak of futility. On the other hand, other than the historically good streak in the 1950ís, they have had a really good one, either. For purposes of reference, Iíd call the 10 point mark the point at which a streak becomes a "really" singificant one. On the whole, the Dragons have been more up than down, but with enough dips along the way to make their fans wonder if theyíre on a roller coaster.
This franchiseís record, even beyond the titles and dynasties, is simply amazing. The closest parallel I can come up with in American professional sports is the Boston Celtics from the arrival of Bob Cousy in the 1950s to the retirement of Larry Bird, Even with the streak of titles achieved with Bill Russell and the overall excellence of those years, I think the Giantsí dominance of Japanese baseball is even more complete, and it certainly is longer. The record as a whole is so stellar, one almost has to focus on what is the most single amazing aspect of it to begin to comprehend the whole. When you try to do that, you are still confronted by an array of amazing things: 1) The greatest ever streak of success, which is just shy of being greater than the second and third best streaks combined; 2) the franchise has put together three of the best ten ever streaks of success; 3) theyíve never had two seasons of .500 or less in a row; and 4) theyíve only had five seasons of .500 or less total. Itís clear this team and their fans have a much higher standard they call success than everyone else in Japanese baseball.
This franchise started out quite poorly, with its only streak of success over 3 points in its first four decades coming under Tatsuro Hirooka in 1977 and 1978. From the inception of the franchise to 1990, they had three of the worst eleven ever streaks of futility. Then in the 1990ís Katsuya Nomura led them to several championships. Even then, theyíve had an erratic pattern frequently following a championship with a sub-.500 year and back again. They're still looking for their first streak of ten or more points on the plus side.
This franchise started out well, and through the 1960ís, were a team that was among the leaders in chasing the Giants. Unfortunately for them, they rarely caught Yomiuri. From 1970 to 1986, the Tigers were on the roller coaster ride, up and down, without sustaining either for very long. Then in 1987, this team began its first long streak of futility, escaped it in 1992, only to begin one of the ten worst streaks of futility, which continued through 2002. They finally broke that sorry run in style with the 2003 pennant, but then relapsed in 2004.
The teams which merged or went out of business were generally subpar when those events occurred, and the Eagles are no exception. Really, even the positive streak shown above is an accident caused by the timing of the two split seasons in those years. If you used the full season record instead, both 1937 and 1938 would be losing seasons as well.
The Senators are an exception to the rule that the teams doing the merging or going out of business were doing poorly at the time those events occurred. They werenít big winners, but they did manage to win more than they lost for a couple of years before the merger with Nagoya Kinko after the 1940 season, and continued to do so right up until they folded after the 1943 season.
Nagoya Kinko's team was nicknamed the Golden Dolphins. In a way, the name was apt--they were like a dolphin made out of gold (and then put in water) in that their history is an immediate drop to the bottom and then staying there. The system clearly picks this up, because a team which is scored at -2 for a season or less is usually pathetic, and they averaged less than -2.41 a season for their entire existence. Their fans should have regarded their merger partners, the Eagles, as living in the penthouse by comparison.
This franchise has never had a really bad streak. They basically treaded water until 1967, with a little bit more on the positive side than the negative. They then began their time with three quite successful managers, Yukio Nishimoto, Toshiharu Ueda, and Akira Ogi, and those three gentlemen led them to a great deal of success, including one of the ten best streaks ever. The departures of Ogi, Ichiro Suzuki, and even So Taguchi have led to three awful seasons, which comprise the worst streak ever for the franchise.
This franchise had a lot of bad teams from its beginning through 1968, especially in the 1955 to 1962 stretch. They had a brief period of success under Osamu Mihara in 1969 to 1972, and then basically treaded water until they hired Yukio Nishimoto. He led them to their best streak of success ever. They returned to treading water from 1981 to 1988, and then had another good run, mostly under Akira Ogi. The period 1995 to 2000 was pretty sad except for 1997. The 2001 Pacific League championship is the jewel of its final streak of success. This franchise finished its existence with a down year in 2004, and will merge into the Blue Wave franchise in 2005, though the Buffalo nickname will be kept.
This franchise started out with one of the ten worst streaks of futility ever, then had a nice positive run from 1961 to 1966. They sunk back toward futility, though not as badly as during their start, until 1980. They had another nice positive run through 1983. Since then, they havenít had a great deal of sustained futility, but theyíve not really sustained any success.
This team was a subpar group until the end of World War II. They hired Kazuto Yamamoto (he later went by Tsuruoka) as their player/manager, and their fortunes were reversed. After a .500 year in 1949, the Hawks embarked on the second best streak of sustained success ever, from 1950 to 1966. They generally treaded water in the period 1967 to 1978, though there was a rough patch from 1972 to 1974. In 1979, they began the very worst streak of sustained futility in Japanese baseball history. That nightmare was interrupted in 1994, but there was another streak of three bad years to be endured. They got to .500 in 1998, and Sadaharu Oh has had a nice run of success including three league championships and two Japan Series titles starting in 1999. The franchise now has its second streak of over 10 points of sustained success, and could break into the list of the ten best ever streaks of success in 2005.
The Lions started out their existence in an up and down fashion, but eventually gained traction under the leadership of manager Osamu Mihara to record one of the best 10 streaks of sustained success in Japanese baseball history. A key part of that sustained success was the dynasty of 1954 through 1956. Even after the big 1954 to 1961 streak of success ended, they remained in a generally positive position until 1968. That year, they began one of the ten worst streaks of sustained futility in Japanese baseball history. Then in 1982, starting under manager Tatsuro Hirooka and continuing under manager Masaaki Mori, they embarked on the third best streak of sustained success ever in Japanese history, just a hair behind the second place streak recorded by the Hawks. They had an off year in 1996, but then started another fine run which they have continued through the last completed season of 2004. The current streak is good enough to place them in the top 10 most successful streaks.
The Pirates had only one year of existence in the Central League before merging with the Clippers of the Pacific League to become the Lions of the Pacific League. The Pirates were a rather poor team for that one year.
The Marines won a few league titles and Japan Series through the first 25 years of their history. They were generally good, though they could rarely avoid an off year every three to five seasons or so. The inconsistency of this period reinforces my suspicion that the incessant changing of managers by the management of the club helped impede the team from achieving greater success. Another change which initially backfired was the merger with the Unions before the 1958 season. The period of 1975 through 1987 is essentially one of sustained mediocrity. In 1988, they began the current period of consistently poor play, with a slight respite in 1995 to narrowly avert having one of the ten worst streaks of futility in Japanese baseball history. They finally ended their streak of futility in 2004, with a .500 season. However, this franchise also hasn't yet achieved a positive streak of 10 or more points.
The Stars started off with a few poor years, and then followed with two modestly successful seasons for their best streak ever, at least before the mergers. They treaded water for a few years, and then began three quite poor years before merging with the at least equally hapless Unions for a similarly poor 1957 campaign before merging with the then Orions and leading them to an off season in 1958. The Orions recovered after that, however.
The Unions had four very poor seasons to comprise their entire history as a team, the last one coming after a merger with the Stars. They then merged with the Orions.
The Ten Best Streaks of Sustained Success
Note: In both this list and the one of sustained futility, if the nickname of the team was different than the most recent franchise nickname, it will be listed in parentheses behind the franchise nickname.
The Ten Worst Streaks of Sustained Futility