Power-rating MLB's top 20 of 21st century

By Steve Makinen  () 

Over the last two issues of “Point Spread Weekly,” I introduced a series using my Strength Ratings as the basis to determine the top 20 NFL and college football teams of the last 20 years. This week I continue with Major League Baseball. And for the third straight week, you will see that the team that checks in at No. 1 as the most dominant team of the 21st century did not even win a league title.

Here’s a quick explanation of how I determine the ratings. The methods I use for baseball are a bit different from the other sports in that they are based more on Power Ratings than statistics. I use stats in determining Power Ratings, but I also consider factors such as oddsmakers’ respect, public perception and betting window success. I also have a unique formula that measures the strength of the offense, starting pitchers and bullpen. I combine these when making my daily MLB ratings, and I’ve used the end-of-year numbers to help build this list.

Remember these are 100% ratings-based and are not impacted by the team’s eventual accomplishments. Nine of these teams won World Series titles, and 12 franchises are represented. Six made the list multiple times, led by Boston, which has four of the top 20 teams. As always, your comments and feedback are welcome.

1. 2001 SEATTLE MARINERS

Season record: 120-52 (69.8%), + 46 units

Run differential: + 1.67 RPG

Playoff fortunes: Lost in ALCS 

Season recap: Although the 2001 Mariners didn’t win the World Series, they were certainly a team that bettors remember fondly, having gone 116-46 in the regular season. That incredible mark produced just shy of + 50 units of betting-line profit. The 2001 season was the finest in Seattle franchise history and the second of four straight years in which it won 90 or more games. The Yankees eliminated the Mariners in six games in the ALCS, a series in which they topped three runs just once after averaging 5.7 in the regular season. Offensively, Seattle was led by 2B Bret Boone, who broke out for 37 home runs and hit .331. Left-hander Jamie Moyer was one of four starters who won at least 15 games, pacing the team with a 20-6 record.

2. 2018 BOSTON RED SOX

Season record: 119-57 (67.6%), + 42.47 units

Run differential: + 1.49 RPG

Playoff fortunes: Won World Series

Season recap: The Boston team rated highest is the 2018 version, which went 108-54 in the regular season and then faced very little resistance in the postseason, going 11-3. Alex Cora managed this team, which produced in excess of + 40 units of betting profit for backers. The Red Sox boasted an incredible 55-25 divisional record, including 14-9 against the hated Yankees. Reserve 1B Steve Pearce was a surprising World Series MVP, but the biggest offensive stars were RF Mookie Betts and DH J.D. Martinez. LHP Chris Sale was the ace, posting a record of 12-4 with 237 strikeouts in 158 innings.

3. 2004 ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

Season record: 112-65 (63.3%), + 22.2 units

Run differential: + 1.11 RPG

Playoff fortunes: Lost in World Series

Season recap: I was somewhat surprised to see only one Cardinals team make this list, as it seems as if they’ve had as good a 20-year run as any franchise. But the ’04 St. Louis team was the only one seen as truly special by my power ratings. This was one of three Cardinals squads in that time span to win 100 or more games, finishing 105-57. After beating the Dodgers in four games in the NLDS and surviving Houston in a seven-game NLCS, the Cards were swept by Boston, a team you’ll see a little later, in the World Series. They had been 11-1 against the American League before the series. Offensively, 1B Albert Pujols, CF Jim Edmonds and 3B Scott Rolen hit 34 or more home runs while driving in 111 or more runs. The rotation was balanced but far from dominant.

4. 2001 OAKLAND ATHLETICS

Season record: 104-63 (62.3%), + 23.2 units

Run differential: + 1.4 RPG

Playoff fortunes: Lost in ALDS

Season recap: The Oakland A’s have won 90+  games in the regular season in 10 of the last 20 seasons but have made it beyond the ALDS just once. They are by definition one of the best franchises not to have achieved postseason success this century. Their highest-rated team on my ledger is the 2001 group. That team went 102-60 in the regular season, then beat New York in the first two games of the ALDS before losing three straight as they mustered just six runs. Before that skid, the A’s had gone 33-14 vs. the AL East and 8-3 against the Yankees. Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada and Eric Chavez produced 30+  homers with 110+  RBIs, while Mark Mulder went 21-8 to pace the rotation. 

5. 2009 NEW YORK YANKEES

Season record: 114-63 (64.4%), + 18.1 units

Run differential: + 1.07 RPG

Playoff fortunes: Won World Series

Season recap: I expected to see more than two Yankees teams on this list, but the ’09 and ’19 versions are the only ones to make it. The 2009 Bronx Bombers won 103 regular-season games, tying the ’02 and ’19 squads. But this was the only one of those three that won the World Series, beating the Phillies in six games. Home-field advantage was a big part of New York’s recipe, as manager Joe Girardi’s team went 7-1 in the postseason and 57-24 in the regular season. The Yanks earned the Bronx Bombers moniker by hitting 244 home runs, with seven players topping 20 homers. CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera headlined a loaded pitching staff.

6. 2013 BOSTON RED SOX

Season record: 108-70 (60.5%), + 23.45 units

Run differential: + 1.24 RPG

Playoff fortunes: Won World Series

Season recap: Boston’s second entry on the list is also a World Series champion, the ’13 team. This group won 97 games in the regular season and survived a tough postseason run in which it was challenged by Tampa Bay, Detroit and St. Louis. The Red Sox were 18-8 in interleague play for the season and got past the Cardinals in six games in the title series. DH David Ortiz was the regular season and postseason offensive star, hitting 30 HRs and winning Series MVP honors. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz carried the rotation.

7. 2002 LOS ANGELES ANGELS

Season record: 110-68 (61.8%), + 35.55 units

Run differential: + 1.28 RPG

Playoff fortunes: Won World Series

Season recap: The Angels have won one World Series title in their 60-year existence, doing it in 2002. The ’08 team had a better regular season, but the ’02 squad played its best when it mattered most, going 11-5 in the postseason, including a 4-3 World Series win over the Giants. The Angels had 10 or more hits 12 times while scoring 6.3 RPG in the postseason. Troy Glaus was the World Series MVP and paced the lineup with 30 home runs in the regular season. Jarrod Washburn was 18-6, but John Lackey was the postseason workhorse. Mike Scioscia managed this team and went 84-32 (72.4%) when favored in the ’02 season.

8. 2011 TEXAS RANGERS

Season record: 107-72 (59.8%), + 15.35 units

Run differential: + 1.04 RPG

Playoff fortunes: Lost in World Series

Season recap: I watched this Rangers team last week on an MLB Network classic game and was reminded of what a powerful lineup Texas had. With 2B Ian Kinsler, 3B Adrian Beltre, OF Josh Hamilton, C Mike Napoli and DH Adrian Beltre, Texas had a lethal attack that hit 210 home runs. In the game I watched, Game 6 of the World Series, the Rangers came up big offensively in what looked to be a title-clinching win, but they blew two late leads to the Cardinals and lost that game and the next night to fall four games to three. The Rangers won 96 games in the regular season and had not only that powerful balanced lineup but a starting staff on which five hurlers won 13+  games. 

9. 2003 ATLANTA BRAVES

Season record: 103-64 (61.7%), + 18.45 units

Run differential: + 0.98 RPG

Playoff fortunes: Lost in NLDS

Season recap: The 2003 Braves are the only Atlanta team to make the list but are the highest-rated NL team not to even make it past the divisional round of the playoffs. This team won 101 games for the second straight regular season but fell in a five-game NLDS to the Cubs. This was possibly the best offensive team Atlanta has ever brought to the diamond, as it hit 235 home runs while averaging 5.6 RPG. Catcher Javy Lopez had a huge year, hitting .328 with 43 home runs, while Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones and Gary Sheffield were also stalwarts. Russ Ortiz went 21-7 as a starting pitcher on a staff that also featured Greg Maddux and starter-turned-closer John Smoltz, who had 45 saves. These Braves were at their best in day games, going 38-16 for + 16.9 units of betting profit.

10. 2019 NEW YORK YANKEES

Season record: 108-63 (63.2%), + 14.4 units

Run differential: + 1.28 RPG

Playoff fortunes: Lost in ALCS

Season recap: The other Yankees team on the top-20 list is the 2019 version. It could be a foreshadowing of 2020 if the season gets started, as New York is widely predicted to win the World Series. The ’19 Bronx Bombers were in fact home run bombers, hitting 306, which would have been a record had the Twins not passed them on the final day with 307. New York was missing two of its biggest home run threats for much of the season but wound up having an amazing total of 14 players hit double-digit dingers. The starting staff was good, not great, but a bullpen anchored by closer Aroldis Chapman was recognized as one of the best in baseball. This Yankees group was eliminated in the ALCS in six games by Houston but won the AL East by seven games and went 54-22 (+ 21.1 units) versus divisional rivals.

11. 2007 BOSTON RED SOX

Season record: 107-69 (60.8%), + 11.8 units

Run differential: + 1.49 RPG

Playoff fortunes: Won World Series

Season recap: Boston’s third of four inclusions on the list won its final seven games of the postseason and swept Colorado in the World Series. That winning streak produced an offensive explosion of 8.4 runs per game. It was a bit of a surprise outburst, since the Red Sox scored a modest 5.3 RPG in the regular season while hitting only 166 home runs. David Ortiz hit 35 and led the team with a .332 batting average. Mike Lowell, who hit .324, emerged as World Series MVP. Josh Beckett was the team’s stud pitcher, going 20-7. This Boston team was one of two title winners for Terry Francona, but it produced just 11.8 units of betting profit despite going 38 games over .500. 

12. 2017 HOUSTON ASTROS

Season record: 112-68 (62.2%), + 14.15 units

Run differential: + 1.11 RPG

Playoff fortunes: Won World Series

Season recap: Yes, this is the Astros championship team that was discovered to have stolen pitching signs electronically. The Astros actually won fewer regular-season games than the 2018 and ’19 versions but were ranked a bit higher in my Power Ratings. They were a little more balanced offensively. Officially, the 2017 Houston team played the most games of any team in the baseball history, 180, winning 112 for + 16 betting units. The Astros beat the Dodgers 4-3 in the World Series, the Yankees 4-3 in the ALCS and the Red Sox 3-1 in the ALDS.

13. 2019 LOS ANGELES DODGERS

Season record: 108-59 (64.7%), + 13.85 units

Run differential: + 1.64 RPG

Playoff fortunes: Lost in NLDS

Season recap: The 2019 Dodgers were heavy NL favorites but succumbed to the Nationals in a classic five-game NLDS. It was the Dodgers’ seventh straight season of making the playoffs and coming up short. With 106 wins, it was also the franchise’s most regular-season wins. Los Angeles was highly respected by oddsmakers throughout the season, playing as an underdog just nine times (3-6 record) while being favored 158 times. As a result, despite going 49 games over .500, the Dodgers produced just 15.2 units of betting profit. Right fielder Cody Bellinger won league MVP honors after hitting 47 of the team’s NL-record 302 home runs. Walker Buehler (14-4, 215 strikeouts) emerged as the ace.

14. 2016 CHICAGO CUBS

Season record: 114-64 (64.0%), + 7.45 units

Run differential: + 1.51 RPG

Playoff fortunes: Won World Series

Season recap: Almost everything about the 2016 season was magical for Chicago, including the comeback from a 3-1 World Series deficit against Cleveland. Manager Joe Maddon’s team won 103 games in the regular season and then disposed of the Giants and Dodgers in the playoffs. Like many teams on this list, their betting prices were overinflated by bookmakers, and despite going 50 games over .500, they produced just 6.7 units of profit. Kris Bryant won the NL MVP award, hitting 39 home runs, while Anthony Rizzo starred in the supporting actor role. Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks each won better than 66% of his decisions, and Aroldis Chapman was added midseason to secure a suspect bullpen.

15. 2019 HOUSTON ASTROS

Season record: 117-63 (65.0%), + 5.3 units

Run differential: + 1.55 RPG

Playoff fortunes: Lost in World Series

Season recap: Knowing what we know now about how the Astros won the 2017 World Series, most of us are probably happy the Nationals turned them away from a second crown last October. The 2019 Astros set a franchise record with 107 wins. They went on to play just one fewer than the maximum number of games a team can play in the postseason, going 10-8. In terms of betting success, Houston produced just 7.2 units of profit, with divisional games being its strong suit (56-20, + 19.2 units). This is another team that set a franchise record for home runs with 288. Four Astros hit 30+ , led by Alex Bregman’s 41. Starting pitchers Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole each won 20+  games.

16. 2004 BOSTON RED SOX

Season record: 109-67 (61.9%), + 5.2 units

Run differential: + 1.15 RPG

Playoff fortunes: Won World Series

Season recap: The final of the four Red Sox teams on the list is the 2004 version. This was the team that broke the 86-year World Series drought by sweeping higher-rated St. Louis. The Red Sox made history by coming from 3-0 down in the ALCS versus New York and winning their final eight playoff games despite being underdogs in four of them. Manny Ramirez was one of this team’s two huge offensive stars, hitting 43 home runs and driving in 130 runs. He also garnered World Series MVP honors. David Ortiz had 41 HRs and 139 RBIs. Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez and potential future HOFer Curt Schilling carried the pitching staff.

17. 2017 LOS ANGELES DODGERS

Season record: 114-63 (64.4%), + 9.4 units

Run differential: + 1.24 RPG

Playoff fortunes: Lost in World Series

Season recap: The 2017 Dodgers were the franchise’s first in 29 years to reach the World Series. However, they were beaten by a Houston team that was later found to have been stealing signs electronically. Los Angeles won 104 games in the regular season, a 64-year record for the franchise that was topped two years later. The Dodgers were 7-1 in the playoffs before meeting Houston. Overall, they represented just + 9.4 units of profit for bettors. Cody Bellinger was the top offensive star, while pitchers Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood and Kenley Jansen had huge years.

18. 2018 OAKLAND ATHLETICS

Season record: 97-66 (59.5%), + 38.02 units

Run differential: + 0.82 RPG

Playoff fortunes: Lost in AL wild-card game

Season recap: The 2018 A’s are the only team on the list not to even reach the divisional round of the playoffs, losing to the Yankees in the wild-card game. Even so, the season was a rousing success, with a 97-65 regular-season record that produced 39+  units of profit for bettors. Oakland boasted fantastic records in almost every split or situation. After a 5-10 start, the A’s went 92-55 from April 15-Sept. 30. DH Khris Davis clubbed 48 home runs to go with 123 RBIs, while relievers accounted for 33 pitching wins. Closer Blake Treinen posted a gaudy 0.78 ERA with 38 saves.

19. 2008 CHICAGO CUBS

Season record: 97-67 (59.1%), + 10.75 units

Run differential: + 1.04 RPG

Playoff fortunes: Lost in NLDS

Season recap: The 2008 Cubs won 97 games and took the NL Central by 6.5 clicks. However, for a second straight season, they were swept out of the divisional playoffs by the NL West champions. This time it was the Dodgers, who held a potent Cubs attack to just 2.0 RPG. This loss sent the franchise spiraling downward, and the Cubs did not return to the playoffs for seven years. Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee were the biggest names offensively, while the starting staff was a deep unit headlined by Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster. Kerry Wood became the closer and collected 34 saves.

20. 2019 WASHINGTON NATIONALS

Season record: 105-74 (58.7%), + 15.79 units

Run differential: + 0.93 RPG

Playoff fortunes: Won World Series

Season recap: The final team on the list is the most recent MLB champ, the Nationals, who turned back Houston last fall in an epic seven-game World Series thriller. Washington survived a tough wild-card duel with Milwaukee, then edged Los Angeles in a five-game NLDS before sweeping the Cardinals in the NLCS. The Nats had a phenomenal rotation anchored by studs Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. The World Series MVP was 3B Hector Rondon, who carried on his regular-season work (34 HRs and 126 RBIs). Washington produced almost 16 units of profit for bettors and won 20 of 23 games from Sept. 20-Oct. 23.

 

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