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Ranking every MLB franchise since 1995

This probably won’t surprise you but the Cardinals fare pretty well.

2011 World Series Game 7 - Texas Rangers v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

I’ve read some rumblings here and there that we’ve finally reached the end of the Cardinals’ sustained success. That’s worth pondering. The Cardinals haven’t been this far under .500 this late in the season in a very long time. Since the beginning of the 2016 season, the Cardinals are 117-113, which does not exactly scream dominance, and there’s little on the horizon to suggest this will reverse course tomorrow.

Nevertheless, it’s still too early to bury them (the NL Central has been bad), but, whether the end is near or not, it’s a fine time to analyze how good it has been. So let’s do that.

Most would argue that the Cardinals’ recent run began in 2000, when they won at least 86 games in 14 of the next 17 seasons. And save for one, those three outlier seasons weren’t even bad - one even resulted in a World Series. But to understand where the Cardinals place with the rest of the league, I wanted to back up to 1995 so as to not just cherrypick their best seasons, and because if there are several points in time that can be flagged as the beginning of the modern era of baseball, 1995 is arguably one. That’s when MLB was carved up into six divisions and the wild cards were introduced.

So to rank each team, I used the following simple formula:

From 1995 to 2016, each team gets:

  • +1 point for every regular season game won;
  • +15 points for every division title;
  • -10 points for every last place finish;
  • +2 points for every playoff game won;
  • +20 points for a Pennant; and
  • +50 points for a World Series title.

Now, a couple of things before we get to the numbers. First, the Diamondbacks and Rays didn’t join the league until 1998. I averaged their win total by season from 1998-2016 to fill in the blanks for 1996 and 1997, and pro-rated that average win total to fit the 1995 144-game strike-shortened schedule. But they’re at a disadvantage because those are three seasons in which they didn’t have the opportunity to accrue points by playoff wins, pennants, etc. On the other hand, they would have been expansion clubs so if anything this just saved them from being docked 10 points a couple of times because of possible last place finishes.

Second, I awarded the Cardinals a division title in 2001 as well as the Red Sox in 2005, even though they were technically the wild card but finished with the same respective record as the division winning Astros and Yankees. In similar fashion, the Rockies and Diamondbacks were both docked 10 points for finishing with the same last place record in the NL West in 2006, and same with the Royals and Indians in 2009. And no points were awarded for winning the wild card. Those teams are left with the points from what should be a decent amount of regular season wins and whatever they were able to accomplish in the postseason (i.e., the 1997 and 2003 Marlins). As you’re going to see, that hurt teams like the Pirates but I didn’t see the need to award a team who neither won the division nor went far in the playoffs.

Third, from 1995 to 2012, before the Astros jumped ship to the American League, the AL West only had four teams, which meant it was a bit easier to win the division or finish in last, I guess. Something to consider. And this, of course, meant that during this same timeframe there were six teams in the NL Central, and finishing last out of six teams is just a bit harder than finishing last out of five. Just ask the 2012 Cubs, who lost 101 games but won’t even get the courtesy of being penalized 10 points because the silly Astros lost 107 games and ruined everything.

Fourth, there’s nothing scientific nor perfect about this formula. If you have a better system feel free to treat the comment section like a blank canvas. I value the regular season which is why a majority of the points come from regular season wins, and why teams are docked points for a last place finish. Putting a fan base through that over the course of a marathon 162-game schedule deserves a certain amount of scrutiny so it only seemed fair. But flags do fly forever, so I wanted the point system to fairly credit teams who not only made it to the postseason, but were also able to win games once they got there and I think it did that.

That was a lot and if you’re still onboard, here’s the 30 teams ranked by the point system (far right column) per the parameters laid out above:


Team Regular Season Wins Division Titles Last Place Finishes Total Playoff Games Won Pennants World Series Titles Total Points
Team Regular Season Wins Division Titles Last Place Finishes Total Playoff Games Won Pennants World Series Titles Total Points
1. Yankees 2,071 13 0 99 7 5 2,854
2. Cardinals 1,931 11 0 71 4 2 2,418
3. Braves 1,972 12 1 50 3 1 2,352
4. Red Sox 1,942 5 3 50 3 3 2,297
5. Giants 1,862 5 3 48 4 3 2,233
6. Indians 1,856 8 1 45 3 0 2,116
8(t). Angels 1,877 6 2 21 1 1 2,059
8(t). Dodgers 1,895 8 0 22 0 0 2,059
9. Rangers 1,820 7 6 21 2 0 1,947
10. Phillies 1,766 5 5 27 2 1 1,935
11. White Sox 1,787 3 1 12 1 1 1,916
12. Mets 1,788 2 2 27 2 0 1,892
13. Athletics 1,831 6 6 15 0 0 1,891
14. Diamondbacks 1,731 5 6 17 1 1 1,850
15. Cubs 1,727 4 6 21 1 1 1,839
16. Astros 1,751 4 3 18 1 0 1,837
17. Marlins 1,678 0 6 22 2 2 1,802
18. Mariners 1,769 3 7 15 0 0 1,774
19. Reds 1,731 3 2 5 0 0 1,766
20. Blue Jays 1,761 1 4 10 0 0 1,756
21. Tigers 1,662 4 6 25 2 0 1,752
22. Padres 1,710 4 7 8 1 0 1,736
23. Twins 1,699 6 7 6 0 0 1,731
24. Orioles 1,691 2 4 15 0 0 1,711
25. Brewers 1,665 1 3 6 0 0 1,662
26. Nationals/Expos 1,683 3 8 5 0 0 1,658
27. Royals 1,581 1 9 22 2 1 1,640
28. Rockies 1,664 0 7 9 1 0 1,632
29. Rays 1,637 2 10 13 1 0 1,613
30. Pirates 1,604 0 9 3 0 0 1,520

A few things to take note of: The Cardinals, Dodgers, and Yankees are the only teams without a single last place finish. On the other end, the Marlins, Pirates, and Rockies are the only teams still searching for a division title. That the Marlins have still won two World Series titles (and have yet to lose a playoff series) just doesn’t quite seem fair when you see the Indians still trying to get over the hump for the first time since 1948.

And those same Indians (6th) are the highest ranked team above without a World Series title and the Dodgers (t-8th) are the highest sans-Pennant team. I was of age when those mid-to-late 90s Indians teams were wreaking havoc on the league but I was still surprised to see them that high. Same with the White Sox, who only have three division titles but got a lot of mileage from their 2005 World Series title along with only one last place finish.

To the surprise of no one, the Marlins (17th) are the lowest ranked team with multiple titles since 1995, and the Royals (27th) are the closest to the bottom while winning at least one. In fact, had it not been for 2014 and 2015, the Royals would have had a strong grip on the last spot. That belongs to the Buccos though, who haven’t been able to capitalize on their recent success with long runs in the postseason. And they were 402 games under .500 from 1995 through 2012 which didn’t help much either.

As for the top five, that looks just like you’d expect it to, right? A lot of regular season wins with a fair mixture of postseason success which left a team like the Dodgers (one of only 10 teams to have not made a trip to the World Series since 1995) on the outside looking in, and the Giants (and their three World Series titles) in the top five even though six teams have been better overall in the regular season. In total, the Yankees, Cardinals, Braves, Red Sox, and Giants account for 21 of the 44 Pennants and almost two-thirds of the World Series titles since 1995.

The Cardinals had the fourth most regular season wins from 1995 to 2016, but were able to leapfrog the Braves and Red Sox mostly due to the fact that they have 21 more postseason wins than both of them and zero last place finishes. They’ve won more Pennants, too.

And that about sums it up. In this modern era, if we can call it that, the Cardinals have won the division more often than not, they haven’t put the fan base through a last-place finish, and two new flags were added to the right field stands. They’re not far and away the second best team in baseball since 1995 - the Yankees are firmly entrenched at #1, but 2 through 5 is likely pretty fluid depending on the criteria - but no other team has as convincing of a case as they do. Now hopefully the 2017 team can start winning so they can hold on to that claim for a bit longer.

Credit to Baseball Reference’s Play Index for most of the stats in this post, and to Rob Mains of Baseball Prospectus, who showed me a good backdoor way on the Play Index to calculate postseason wins by team. (Go to Pitching Game Finder / Find Teams with Player Games Matching Criteria, years 1995 to 2016, check Postseason, Pitcher Decision = Win.)