With spring training upon us once again, it’s time to dust off the old calculator, find that scoring system we stole from The Athletic NFL writer Bob Sturm and crank out another edition of the tested, trusted, completely objective, never-been-questioned, all-math, no-bias MLB franchise rankings.
As a true ballwriter of the people, I read through the 219 comments on last year’s rankings and implemented a few changes based on reader recommendations. The first is that this ranking now covers the Wild-Card Era (1995-present), not the 30-Team Era (1998-present), because the 30-Team Era isn’t a real era and because post-strike simply is a more logical starting point.
The other change is that, after months of tinkering in the lab, we tweaked the Sturm scoring system to better fit it to baseball’s postseason structure.
- Winning the World Series (WS): 9 points
- Losing in the World Series (WSL): 6 points
- Losing in the Championship Series (CS): 3 points
- Losing in Division Series (DS): 2 points
- Losing in Wild-Card (WC): 1 point
There’s more. Readers wanted to incentivize division titles and penalize prolonged non-competitiveness/tanking. So, teams are now rewarded each time they win their division (+1 point) and docked when they lose at least 90 games in consecutive seasons (-1 point). Consider the first bad season a grace period; lose 90-plus games five seasons in a row, like the 2001-05 Tigers, that’s -4 points total. This change barely impacted the top of the board, as none of the top 12 teams moved more than one spot based on the bonus points and demerits, but there was significant movement in the midfield and below.
Add up the point totals for each of the past 28 seasons, from the shortened 1995 season through the 2022 World Series, and you’ve got the updated franchise rankings. Because there are no ties in baseball, tiebreakers are World Series wins, then World Series losses, then Championship Series appearances, then Division Series appearances, then division titles. We’ve also provided teams’ point totals for the past decade, and their average points per year.
Oh, I also obliged one more reader demand. From Matt S.: Good idea, lousy format. Get the losers out of the way first and count down to the best teams to maintain interest. Matt is a Reds fan. He won’t have to wait long now.
Tier 5: The Lightweights
30. Pittsburgh Pirates
Total: -4 points
So, yes, the updated scoring system makes negative point values possible. The Pirates are squarely in last place, like they were in last year’s rankings, and no further formula tweaks will change that for now. Since 1995, the Pirates have had more 90-loss seasons (13) than winning seasons (4) and playoff games (8) combined. And that’s not even penalizing them for their 110-loss pace in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. As the Pirates bring back former NL MVP Andrew McCutchen and start searching for an exit ramp in their rebuild, they’ll need a trip to the 2023 World Series to get them out of the red next year.
- Total playoff years: 13DS, 14WC, 15WC
- Playoff years: 3 | WC losses: 2 | DS losses: 1 | CS losses: 0 | WS losses: 0 | WS wins: 0 | Division titles: 0 | Consecutive 90-loss seasons: 8
- Last decade (since 2013): 3 points (MLB rank: t-22nd)
- Average: -0.14 points per season
29. Baltimore Orioles
Total: 6 points
Expanding our timeframe to include the 1995-97 seasons — a stretch in which the Orioles had a division title and back-to-back ALCS appearances — saved Baltimore from joining the Pirates in the red. Winning seasons were few and far between in the ensuing 25 years, but the 2022 Orioles surprised many by turning in an 83-79 record while breaking in several of their top prospects in the majors. More help is on the way. The Orioles have the No. 3 farm system in baseball, according to The Athletic’s Keith Law. Wouldn’t take much for Baltimore to join the cluster of teams just ahead in the rankings.
- Total playoff years: 96CS, 97CS, 12DS, 14CS, 16WC
- Playoff years: 5 | WC losses: 1 | DS losses: 1 | CS losses: 3 | WS losses: 0 | WS wins: 0 | Division titles: 2 | Consecutive 90-loss seasons: 8
- Last decade: 4 points (MLB rank: t-20th)
- Average: 0.21 points
28. Kansas City Royals
Total: 8 points
No team in the majors has made the playoffs fewer times in the Wild-Card Era than the Royals, but they rode their two postseason trips all the way to the World Series in 2014 and 2015. Outside of those pennant-winning seasons, Kansas City averaged 91 losses per season since 1995, which begins to explain the Royals backsliding in the rankings. A ring is a ring, and World Series diamonds are forever, but Royals faithful have weathered a whole lot of losing.
- Total playoff years: 14WSL, 15WS
- Playoff years: 2 | WC losses: 0 | DS losses: 0 | CS losses: 0 | WS losses: 1 | WS wins: 1 | Division titles: 1 | Consecutive 90-loss seasons: 8
- Last decade: 15 points (MLB rank: t-10th)
- Average: 0.29 points