Are your 2019 Astros the best team of all-time on paper?
The 2005 World Series Astros excelled on pitching. The 2017 World Champion Astros had an amazing offense. But what the 2019 team is doing is truly historic.
It is not very often a team can compile a dominant pitching staff that has an equally dominant offense. Most World Series teams have one or the other, it is the truly elite teams throughout history that have been able to excel above their peers at both. Are the Astros one of those teams?
In the past, it would have been fruitless to try to compare different teams from countless different eras. The worst team from when the mounds were raised in 1968, had a lower team ERA than the best pitching staff in the height of the steroid era in 2000 (Washington Senators 3.64 compared to the Atlanta Braves 4.05).
However, with league adjusted stats like ERA+ and OPS+ teams and players from multiple eras can accurately be compared. By using the league OPS or ERA, and adding factors like park and opponents, a scale can be created, thus making 100 for either stat be the new league “average” and starting point for discussion. A score of 150 would mean you are 50% better than your peers, where a score of 50 would mean you are 50% worse.
Since 1900 pitching has been the easiest team stat to dominate. This makes perfect sense given the fact that for several decades, having two great starters meant 50% or more of your starting staff would conceivably be above league average.
Where depending on the league, it would take four or five offensive players to ensure at least 50% would help your team perform better than its peers. Since 1900 there have been 145 teams to compile a team ERA+ of 120 or better. This means 145 teams have been adjusted on a scale to be 20% or better when compared to the league in that given year.
However, since 1900, only seven teams have been able to cross the 120 mark on offense. Obviously, it is far more impressive to be 20% better than your peers on offense than it is for pitching. Historic teams are the ones that are able to make both lists, and since 1900 only two teams have been able to accomplish this.
The 1927 “Murderers’ Row” Yankees are widely considered the greatest team of all time. The numbers back this narrative with a staggering seven future Hall of Famers on the team and coaching staff. An even more impressive all-time mark of 127 adjusted team OPS, and at the time the only other team since 1900 and for the succeeding 92 years to also have a league adjusted team ERA of over 120 (the Yankees had a 122).
A team that is 20% better than the league average on both pitching and offense is obviously a daunting task since it had been accomplished once in 119 years of professional baseball. That is however until your 2019 Houston Astros took the field.
Currently, as of September 19th, the 2019 Houston Astros have an adjusted OPS of 119 and an adjusted ERA of 124. They have reached a 120 OPS as early as this month and could easily get there again by season’s end, which would make them only the second team since 1900 to accomplish this feat. Anytime you can be the only other team to accomplish something that the ’27 Yankees have done is truly a monumental feat. This does not guarantee a World Series win by any stretch.
Many teams over the years have won it all with a facet of their game being below league average. And we all know anything can happen in a short series in baseball. But having one of the most well-rounded teams in baseball history is a great place to be, come playoff time, when everything is magnified and condensed.
Enjoy the ride, appreciate the product on the field, and start counting down the days until October.