The Dodgers' World Series Victory Cements Their Place In History
The 2020 Dodgers led the National League in runs scored and fewest runs allowed.
So did the 2019 Dodgers
And so too did the 2018 Dodgers.
Leading one’s league in runs scored and fewest runs allowed in consecutive seasons is rare. Thanks to a data query run by Baseball-Reference.com, we know that the 1970 and ’71 Orioles did it. The 1942, ’44 and ’46 Cardinals did it three times in five wartime seasons. But no team had done it for three straight seasons since the Joe DiMaggio-era Yankees of the 1930s.
In fact, New York led the American League in runs scored and fewest runs allowed an incredible four seasons in a row from 1936 to ’39. The Yankees won the World Series all four years.
While the Dodgers of recent vintage can’t match those Yankees teams’ success in October, they have racked up many accolades of their own, including eight straight National League West division titles, a pair of NL pennants in 2017 and 2018 and ultimately a World Series championship in 2020.
Los Angeles came away with only one Commissioner’s Trophy in three trips to the World Series in a four-season span, but the teams that defeated the Dodgers in October—the 2017 Astros and 2018 Red Sox—were two of the stronger champions of the expansion era, which dates back to since 1961.
What’s more, those Astros and Red Sox were later revealed to have engaged in sign-stealing operations that prompted MLB investigations and triggered penalties, including loss of draft picks and one-year suspensions for general manager Jeff Luhnow, managers A.J. Hinch and Alex Cora and a Boston replay operator.
While the Dodgers of recent vintage have been unlucky or undecorated in October—depending on one’s point of view—one thing is indisputable: They have hit on all cylinders during the six months of the regular season.
The 2019 Dodgers won 106 games and recorded a plus-273 run differential that is the fourth best of the expansion era, trailing only the 1998 Yankees, 2001 Mariners and 2019 Astros. The 2020 Dodgers played just 60 games in a pandemic-shortened season, but their plus-163 run differential projects to plus-367 over 162 games, which would have been far and away the best mark of the expansion era. That sort of gap between credits and debits that would typically yield a 115-win team.
Of course, it would be misleading to extrapolate the Dodgers’ pace after 60 games—which is 37% of a typical schedule—and take it as gospel, but we can place their performance in the context of an unusual 2020 season by way of standard deviation z-scoring.
Z-scores can be used to estimate a team’s dominance by calculating units of standard deviation above (or below) the league averages for runs scored and runs allowed. Incorporating the concept of standard deviation allows us to measure both the direction and magnitude of a team’s dominance, because teams that excel in leagues with greater parity produce higher z-scores.
Rob Neyer and Eddie Epstein introduced this method of standard deviation scoring in their 2000 book “Baseball Dynasties.”
The 2020 Dodgers’ offense scored at 1.73 standard deviations above the NL average, and their pitching/defense received at 1.71. Summing those values produces an overall z-score of 3.44, meaning that the 2020 Dodgers were nearly three and a half standard deviations above the NL averages for run creation and run prevention.
The 2020 Dodgers’ overall z-score ranks fourth in the expansion era, trailing only the 1998 Yankees, 1984 Tigers and 1986 Mets. Thus these teams can be viewed as four of the most well-rounded champions of the last 60 years.
But it’s also true that the unusual circumstances of the 60-game season—regional schedules, lack of traditional minor league reinforcement, no fans in the stands—could skew the results. To help smooth the data, let’s now consider teams’ z-scoring totals over three-year periods.
The Dodgers so thoroughly dominated the National League in 2018, 2019 and 2020—a period of roughly average parity for the league—that they rank as the No. 1 team by cumulative z-score over a three-year span during the expansion era.
That type of sustained dominance speaks to the Dodgers' overall balance as well as the organization's near flawless track record for drafting, developing and and acquiring championship-caliber players.
When evaluating the Dodgers of recent vintage, it's also important to consider how the quality of front offices has evolved. The gap between the best- and worst-run organizations is much smaller today than it ever has been, which is a credit to Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, manager Dave Roberts, scouting director Billy Gasparino and every key decision-maker in the Los Angeles front office.
Because the information gap between organizations continues to shrink, we may never again see a true baseball dynasty. But with or without another World Series ring, these Dodgers are historic.
The Rule Of Three
The list below captures the top 10 three-year performances for overall z-score (in parentheses) during the expansion era. These teams dominated league competition in the regular season for three consecutive seasons, though some are more decorated than others in October. Overlapping entries are omitted to show 10 unique franchises.
1. 2018 to 2020 Dodgers (9.58)
Pct: .626. Manager: Dave Roberts.
Pennants: 2018, 2020. Champion: 2020.
While stars like Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager in the lineup and Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler in the rotation are marquee names, the real secret to the Dodgers’ sustained success rests with their depth of quality players and cohesive culture.
2. 1969 to 1971 Orioles (9.44)
Pct: .660. Manager: Earl Weaver.
Pennants: 1969, 1970, 1971. Champion: 1970.
The Earl Weaver Orioles of this period averaged 106 wins per season and defeated the Reds in the 1970 World Series, but lost to the Mets and Pirates in 1969 and ’71. Led by Hall of Famers Frank Robinson, Jim Palmer and Brooks Robinson, these Baltimore teams were famous for their power, on-base ability, pitching and defense.
3. 1997 to 1999 Yankees (9.34)
Pct: .634. Manager: Joe Torre.
Pennants: 1998, 1999. Champion: 1998, 1999.
The historic 1998 Yankees won 114 games and cruised to their second of three straight World Series titles. Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera are Hall of Famers—and Roger Clemens is gaining steam with two ballots to go—but these Yankees teams were most notable for being so well-rounded. The wide supporting cast was highlighted by Andy Pettitte, David Cone, Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams.
4. 1986 to 1988 Mets (8.88)
Pct: .620. Manager: Davey Johnson.
Pennant: 1986. Champion: 1986.
The 1986 Mets won 108 games and claimed the World Series. The 1987 and ’88 editions are remembered more for what could have been. Regardless, these Mets teams dominated the NL with lineups centered on Darryl Strawberry, Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter and pitching staffs led by Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling and David Cone.
5. 2017 to 2019 Astros (8.30)
Pct: .640. Manager: A.J. Hinch.
Pennants: 2017, 2019. Champion: 2017.
An epic homegrown position core including Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and George Springer formed the backbone of these strong Houston teams. Trades for Justin Verlander and then Gerrit Cole and then Zack Greinke elevated them. Houston’s 2017 championship, however, is clouded by its sign-stealing scandal.
6. 1988 to 1990 Athletics (8.07)
Pct: .630. Manager: Tony La Russa.
Pennants: 1988, 1989, 1990. Champion: 1989.
Famous for Bash Brothers Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco, these Oakland teams were about more than slugging. The A’s were the best run-prevention team in the AL during this period, thanks to the contributions of Dave Stewart, Bob Welch, Hall of Fame closer Dennis Eckersley and the Oakland Coliseum. Trading for Rickey Henderson in 1989 gave the club a speed dimension.
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7. 1994 to 1996 Indians (7.81)
Pct: .634. Manager: Mike Hargrove.
Pennant: 1995. Champion: None.
The greatness of these Indians teams is easy to miss because they never won the World Series. Just as the team started to ascend in 1994, they lost the postseason to the players’ strike. Cleveland then lost a hard-fought 1995 World Series to the Braves. The ’95 lineup was an all-timer, featuring Albert Belle, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Kenny Lofton and Omar Vizquel, but the Indians of this period don’t get enough credit for their pitching and defense. The 1995 and ’96 squads led the AL in fewest runs allowed.
8. 1974 to 1976 Reds (7.65)
Pct: .634. Manager: Sparky Anderson.
Pennants: 1975, 1976. Champion: 1975, 1976.
The Reds developed Hall of Famers Johnny Bench and Tony Perez—and HOF-caliber Pete Rose—but trades for Joe Morgan and George Foster in the early ’70s put them over the top. The Big Red Machine has a reputation as the greatest lineup in history, and that reputation is backed by Cincinnati having two of the highest batting z-scores of the expansion era in 1975 and ’76.
9. 1972 to 1974 Athletics (7.65)
Pct: .578. Managers: Dick Williams, Alvin Dark.
Pennants: 1972, 1973, 1974. Champion: 1972, 1973, 1974.
Owner Charlie Finley stockpiled an incredible amount of talent in the late ’60s, signing Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers, Joe Rudi and Bert Campaneris and drafting Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando, Vida Blue and Rick Monday, who turned into Ken Holtzman via trade. Hunter, Fingers and Jackson developed into Hall of Famers. These A’s teams are famous for winning three straight World Series and also their dysfunction, fostered by Finley’s pernicious ways, which is evident in the club finishing 18 wins under its expected total based on runs scored and allowed.
10. 1976 to 1978 Phillies (7.42)
Pct: .601. Manager: Danny Ozark.
Pennants: None. Champion: None.
Even with Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton in tow, these Phillies teams seem like the most head-scratching entry here. Their regular season dominance has been obscured by defeats in the NLCS in all three seasons, albeit to truly great Reds (1976) and Dodgers (1977 and ’78) teams. Philadelphia declined after this period but still managed to capture the franchise’s first World Series title in 1980.
Just missed: 1961 to 1963 Yankees (7.37)
Pct: .637. Manager: Ralph Houk.
Pennants: 1961, 1962, 1963. Champion: 1961, 1962.
The Yankees so thoroughly dominated the game before the 1961 expansion, which brought the Angels and Senators to the AL, that it seems odd to list only one New York entry among the top 10. The early ’60s teams were terrific, led by Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra, albeit with his everyday catcher days behind him, plus two-time MVP Roger Maris. These Bronx Bombers were incredibly well balanced, though New York would fall out of relevance soon after as they grappled with the new realities of the integrated game and the draft, which was introduced in 1965 and prevented wealthy teams from luring the top amateur talent with lucrative bonus offers.