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Japan’s Greatest Teams

by Jim Albright

The last time I addressed this issue, in this article, I felt the system I used to attempt to identify the greatest teams did a good job in determining which teams were the most dominant, but was flawed in terms of determining greatness.  I felt this way largely because the lists of the greatest and the worst teams were both dominated by the startup/wartime era (1936-1944) and the two league expansion era (the early 1950’s).  Further, the same years tended to show up on both lists.  I believe that the list of the worst teams derived by that method is reasonable, and will not redo it.  However, I was concerned that the greatest list had been distorted because some good or very good teams had been able to beat up on some of the worst teams ever.

I have now found a method which I believe adequately addresses that concern.  Essentially, the system is similar to the first in that it relies on wins versus losses and runs scored versus runs allowed as a major part of the evaluation of greatness.  There is also a method for rewarding post season success, though I have tweaked that a bit as well.  I also gave some small credit to teams which were able to sustain their success over a period of time, using the dynasty points system, found here.  .  I am not a great fan of using other seasons to determine a team’s greatness, and thus kept the dynasty factor small.  However, a team’s ability to stay on top is such powerful evidence of greatness I could not in good conscience ignore it totally.  A major misgiving is that injuries, retirement, etc can obviously affect a team’s ability to sustain success—and yet those things have nothing to do with the team in the season being evaluated.  One may not agree with the compromise position I adopted, but it satisfies me, and since I’m the one doing this evaluation, I am entitled to exercise my own opinion in this regard.

The post season success points strongly favor teams which win the Japan Series, but not so strongly that a pre Japan Series team or a Japan Series loser cannot make the list.  There is also a bias toward dominating postseason performances.  A team which blows away the best of the other league has given greater evidence of its greatness than a team which squeaks out a 7th game championship.  The evidence provided by a best of seven series cannot be regarded as more important than that provided by 100 to 130 games, on the other hand.  I gave those teams which won their leagues before the Japan Series existed a record of  0.9 wins and 0 losses.   All other teams received their actual Japan series record.  The point totals for various results is given below:
  0 Losses      1 Loss    2 Losses    3 Losses    4 Losses
0 Wins    see note n/a n/a n/a 0 points
0.9 Wins    see note 4.3 points n/a n/a n/a n/a
1 Win    n/a n/a n/a n/a 2 points
2 Wins    n/a n/a n/a n/a 8 points
3 Wins    n/a n/a n/a n/a 18 points
4 Wins    44 points 41 points 38 points 35 points n/a

NOTE: If a team didn't win its league, it gets no points under this rule. However, if they won their league prior to 1950 (when the Japan Series began), they are credited with 0.9 wins and no losses for this rule.

However, the greatest difference in the system, and the one which addresses the problem I had with the first attempt lies in comparing the team to the second best in its league in runs scored and the second best in runs allowed.  No points are awarded if the team in question is second in the given category.  If it is better than second in the league in the category, it gains points.  If it is worse than second in the league, it loses points.  The gain or loss of points is determined by the how far above or below the second place mark the team is.  Thus, for instance, a team which scores a lot more runs than the second best run scoring team will score better than one which merely edges the second best mark.  Basically, the teams which score best in the comparisons to the second best runs scored and the second best runs allowed are those teams which dominate everybody in the league.  As a result, the list is much less skewed toward the startup/wartime and two league expansion eras than the first effort.  Modern teams show up much more often under this new method than in the older ones.  I’ll first give the list with all the teams.  Ultimately, I will eliminate the ones with asterisks using a rule that no franchise may have another team listed within two years of a team which is not eliminated by this rule.  I did this to get more diversity in the teams because they frequently don’t change very much when they’re on top.  However, if I didn’t give this unedited list, it might appear that the weight given to postseason results does not adequately push forward the best performances.  I think this list is sufficiently populated with teams with postseason success, but I want to give you the opportunity to see for yourself if you want to.

Team & Year       Score
1955 Giants 579.6
1951 Giants 506.0
1983 Lions 474.8
1953 Giants* 469.2
1966 Giants 450.8
1950 Robins 437.5
1956 Giants* 432.2
2002 Giants 416.1
1956 Lions 413.9
1990 Giants 411.2
1942 Kyojin 402.9
1978 Braves 401.8
1941 Kyojin* 399.4
1965 Hawks 386.3
1940 Kyojin* 392.8
1968 Giants* 382.1
1952 Giants* 380.5
1963 Giants 380.4
1991 Lions 380.1
2003 Hawks 373.8
1989 Giants* 369.4
1969 Giants 368.9
2000 Giants* 356.7
1947 Tigers 355.9
1967 Giants* 355.6
1992 Lions 355.3
1970 Giants* 354.2
1939 Kyojin 350.6
1950 Orions 346.3
1959 Hawks 343.3
1958 Giants 338.8
2002 Lions 335.9
1949 Giants* 335.0
1993 Swallows 334.2
1951 Hawks 333.0
1957 Lions 330.8
1971 Giants* 330.1

Now for the list of the top 20 teams, complete with the data used to arrive at these results, after the teams eliminated under the two year rule are removed:

Place Team/Year   L    Runs   R All   Lg   Dynasty   JS wins   JS losses   vs 2d off   vs 2d def   Score
1.   1955 Giants   92 37 579 291 1 11 4 3 155 43 579.6
2.   1951 Giants   79 29 702 381 1 9 4 1 76 84 506.0
3.   1983 Lions   86 40 700 440 1 6 4 3 54 100 474.8
4.   1966 Giants   89 41 559 335 1 27 4 2 36 64 450.8
5.   1950 Robins   98 35 908 524 1 2 2 4 109 0 437.5
6.   2002 Giants   86 52 691 485 1 3 4 0 124 17 416.1
7.   1956 Lions   96 51 611 372 1 9 4 2 0 85 413.9
8.   1990 Giants   88 42 589 399 1 5 0 4 14 129 411.2
9.   1942 Kyojin   73 27 399 228 1 11 0.9 0 106 0 402.9
10.   1978 Giants   82 39 700 482 1 18 3 4 112 0 401.8
11.   1965 Giants   88 49 614 449 1 7 1 4 107 28 386.3
12.   1963 Giants   83 55 611 432 1 3 4 3 78 29* 380.4
13.   1991 Lions   81 43 624 439 1 13 4 3 27 56 380.1
14.   2003 Hawks   82 55 822 588 1 3 4 3 72 37 373.8
15.   1969 Giants   73 51 599 472 1 27 4 2 104 -2 368.9
16.   1947 Tigers   79 37 502 325 1 2 0.9 0 92 0 355.9
17.   1939 Kyojin   66 26 493 267 1 11 0.9 0 55 1 350.6
18.   1955 Orions   81 24 713 512 1 2 4 2 53 0 346.3
19.   1959 Hawks   88 42 574 408 1 3 4 0 13 39 343.3
20.   1958 Giants   77 52 521 370 1 11 3 4 77 11 338.8

I’ll give the gory details of how these numbers resulted in the scores given at the end of the article, if you happen to care about such details.  Those of you who don’t won’t be burdened by that stuff this way.

Is it a perfect system?  Absolutely not.  I don’t think any system can be.  Beyond that, I am aware of one elusive aspect of greatness this system doesn’t address.  That aspect is a team’s ability to go to other times and places (deadball versus home run laden times or vice versa, in small parks and large ones, etc.) and still succeed.  I abandoned the effort to measure this element of greatness even though one can measure if a team has a wide range of skills such as speed, power, patience at the plate, hitting for average, good fielding, pitchers with control, pitchers who keep the ball in the park, and so on.  However, it is hard to get a comprehensive list of measures of these diverse skills and even more difficult to give appropriate weight to those factors for the entire history of Japanese baseball.  For example, giving a proper weight to home runs for all of Japanese history is very tricky indeed.  Before 1945, the home run really wasn’t a significant part of the Japanese game.  Afterward, it became much more important.  The pitchers of post 1945 teams wouldn’t have to concern themselves with the home run in a pre 1945 environment.  However, a  team which relied on home runs to fuel its dominance would lose that weapon in a pre 1945 environment.  The adjustments from before 1945 to after 1945 are rather difficult, because not only would one have to study the difference, but when one factors in the quality of players who served in the Japanese military through 1945, you have to believe the quality of play was diluted in this era.  The bottom line is that accounting for this issue would take a lot of time if it can be done adequately, and I’m not sure it can be.  I just don’t have the time to do that research when I have grave doubts it will yield results which I find satisfying.

Frankly, something like a simulated season involving all the great teams which allows the home team to not only play in its home park, but in its own era would be the best way to deal with measuring a team’s ability to continue to succeed in a variety of settings.  If someone has a simulation which would meet this requirement and wants to take the teams on either of my lists in this article to investigate this, go for it.   I can assure you that I’m not going to do that any time soon, if ever.

A small concern is what happens if a league has two great teams at the same time.  First of all, this is not common.  Second, when it does happen, it almost always falls into one or both of the following scenarios:  1) one team is declining from an even greater level of greatness while the other is rising to new heights or 2) each team has at least one outstanding season perhaps because the other has injury problems or otherwise drops just a little bit for some other reason.  In either of these situations, both great teams have the chance to be represented somewhere along the line.  Therefore, I do not find this to be a major issue to worry about.

Some believe that a great team must have great players.  While it is true that great teams generally have great players who push them to the dominance and broad range of skills that great teams have, I am unconvinced this is a requirement for a team to be great.  Bad players can do as much to pull a team away from greatness as a great one can to push it there.  Similarly, a team could have lots and lots of very good (but no great) players and achieve what a great team does.  The bottom line is, we are evaluating teams, not individuals.  If that argument doesn’t convince you, how are you going to define greatness?  If you use a career standard, is the player’s performance in other seasons really germane to evaluating a given team?  Further, you have to consider the possibility that key players, especially pitchers and catchers, may get hurt and/or retire.  I singled out those two positions because they seem the most susceptible to career threatening injuries.  If you’d rather use a single season definition for greatness, how do you make sure you exclude fluke seasons?  At the very least, one couldn’t declare a season a fluke without examining whether or not a player suffered serious injury.  The truth is, even if I wanted to do this, I don’t have the time or language skills to do so for Japanese teams.  If we try to use some other standard, that standard may alleviate but not eliminate the single season or career standard issues while adding the problem of the arbitrary nature of why the particular standard was chosen

Now we will conclude with the details of the system, for anyone who happens to care about this stuff.  The greatness score is the sum of the following nine factors:

1)    wins minus losses
2)    wins times winning percentage
3)    100 times runs scored divided by runs allowed
4)    dynasty points
5)    2.5 points for making a playoff but failing to qualify to play for the league championship, 5 points for winning a split season or qualifying for the league championship but failing to make the Japan Series in either case (include the 1937 and 1938 fall and spring campaigns in this rule) and 10 for winning the pennant
6)    two times the square of Japan Series games won
7)    if the team won the Japan Series three times wins minus losses (teams before the Japan series get 0.9 wins and 0 losses for rules 6 & 7);
8)    the closer point total to zero of
      a)    the team’s runs scored divided by the second best total of runs scored in the league, subtracting one from that result and multiplying that number times 500
       b)    the team’s runs scored minus the second best total of runs scored in the league
9)    the closer point total to zero of
      a)    the number of runs allowed by the second lowest total of a team in the league minus the team’s runs allowed or
      b)    by dividing the second lowest total in the league by the team’s total, subtracting one from that result and multiplying that number by 500 or

The reason for the two-headed eighth and ninth rules is that while I like percentages for my comparison, the 500 multiplier could otherwise make each run count for more than one point, which just seems to me to be too much.  This approach keeps these two rules from being dramatically more important than the first three while still retaining a preference for percentages.

Note: a "1" in the "Lg" category means the team won its league. A "0.5" would mean it won a part of a split season, but did not participate in a Japan Series.

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