Ten things I didn’t know about franchise all-time records

It’s been quite a historic year for the Atlanta Braves.

First, on June 11, (as noted in advance in this column) their overall cumulative franchise win-loss record reached .500 for the first time since 1923. It fell under shortly after, but soon worked its way back over.

Then a little over a month later (about a week ago), they reached another great milestone, winning their 10,000th game in franchise history

Having completed that milestone, the Braves are on the verge of a third—loss No. 10,000. That’s not nearly as pleasant a milestone, but it’s something they’ll possibly achieve in the next week and almost certainly in the next two.

Given the impressive trifecta of cumulative franchise records the Braves have achieved or will achieved this year, I thought I’d take a look at franchise records in general. And once again, swipe a column vehicle from Boss-man Studes and write a “10 things I didn’t know” column about all-time franchise records.

1. The Braves are the fifth club to win 10,000 games.

The Giants, Cubs, Cardinals, and Dodgers all beat the Braves to the 10,000-victory club. That’s a bit surprising as the Braves are, along with the Cubs, one of the original two NL franchises still in existence.

True, but: (1) teams played 60-80 games in those early seasons, and (2) the Cards, Giants, and Dodgers started shortly after the Braves. The NL (with the Braves and Cubs) began in 1876. The Cards began in 1882, the Giants in 1883, and the Dodgers in 1884. The Braves had only 444 games under their belts before 1882, and 627 before 1884.

That isn’t too terribly difficult to overcome, especially given that the Cards, Dodgers, and Giants have been the best NL franchises and the Braves a .500 one over the long haul.

(That said, the Dodgers and Cardinals only count if you include their initial seasons as major league clubs in the 1880s American Association. You should do so, but I’m not sure the teams themselves do).

2. Seven of the eight pre-expansion NL teams have winning records

While five teams have won 10,000 games, when the Braves break the 10,000-loss boundary in the not too distant future, they’ll be only the second team to do so.

The Phillies have done it, and they’re the only ones so far. In fact, now that the Braves are on the right side of .500, the Phillies are the only pre-expansion NL team with more losses than wins in their cumulative franchise record. The five 10,000-game winners are over .500, as are the Pirates and Reds.

That doesn’t seem to likely, does it? From 1900-61, there were only eight NL teams, and there was no interleague play. By definition, those eight clubs would have a cumulative .500 record in that 62-season span. So how come seven of eight are over?

Well, let’s look back before 1900, when they got to beat up on some lesser teams. From 1876 to 1899, 22 clubs collapsed in the National League. By and large, they were the lousier clubs, which is a big part of the reason why they ceased to exist. Besides, half of the pre-expansion eight (Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, St. Louis and the Dodgers) got started in the AA, where they were able to play other weak clubs.

That accounts for some of it, but not all of it. The Cardinals, for instance, were one of the worst teams in the 19th century.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Well, during the 1900-61 period, the Phillies really were extremely bad. From 1919-61, they finished in last place in the old eight-team NL 20 times, or nearly half the time. They were better in the earlier years, but overall they were dreadful.

True, but that could explain at most why five out of eight teams have winning records, not seven of eight.

Well, that leaves the expansion era. By and large, these clubs have done very well in that period. They’ve beaten up on the new teams, which leads to point No. 3:

3. Every single expansion franchise has a losing cumulative record

Almost half the current major league clubs began as expansion teams. They’re all under .500. The Angels are the closest to .500, 28 games under prior to action this Saturday.

That’s amazing. Sure, you’d expect most of them to be under .500—expansion clubs do poorly in their first years, that’s a given. But all of them? I mean, some dug huge holes, but a few prospered fairly early on. And several have been around for decades. Shouldn’t at least one overcome their early rockiness? What’s causing the problems here?

A few things. First, let’s start with the basics. Some teams dug really big holes for themselves, the kind of holes that aren’t easy to work your way out of.

The Mets are the most well-known example. They lost 120 games their first year. Then 111 in the following campaign. Then 109. Then 112. After four years, they were 258 games under .500, and 343 under after seven. To work their way out of that, the Mets would have to play .525 from 1969 onward.

That’s 85 wins per 162 games, which isn’t hard to do in a single season, but lotsa luck pulling that off over 43 years. Only three teams have played that well from 1969 onward: the Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers.

No team had quite as large a hole as the Mets, but many had terrible starts. The Padres had four 100-loss seasons in their first six years. The Mariners did it in each of the first four years, and the Senators/Rangers in their first three. The Blue Jays averaged 106 losses their first three seasons. And so on. And most of the expansion teams have had less time to dig their way out of their situations.

Here’s another way of looking at it. The Mets are 329 games under .500 as I write this, but that means they’ve played .500 since April 1968, the last of their early dark years. Heck, the Astros have been playing .500 since June 29, 1964. Their first two and a half years are the only things pulling them under.

Not all expansion teams had a disastrous start, but as it happens, those clubs just haven’t done as well since then. The Angels had two winning seasons in their first four years, but since then have been average on the whole.

4. A few expansion clubs have been over .500 in the past

All that said, several expansion teams in fact had winning franchise records but have fallen backwards: Kansas City, Houston, Toronto, and Arizona.

Kansas City was the model expansion franchise, quickly becoming a good team and becoming a perennial force within a decade of its existence. They peaked at an impressive 162 games over .500 on September 13, 1989. It’s hard to fall under that in short time, but by God they’ve met that challenge. They’re in the midst of their 16th losing season in the last 17 years. It’s not the early growing pains of expansion that’s killing them, it’s the modern era. As I write this, they’re 262 games under .500.

The Astros broke through the .500 barrier in 2006—and then fell back under a month later. The Biggio and Bagwell years carried them over, but since then they’ve regressed and are having a nightmarish 2011 campaign.

Like Houston, the Jays also experienced a brief time over .500 but then relapsed. They actually had two times over in 1993-94. Since then, they haven’t been too bad, but they’ve lost more than they’ve won, putting them 35 under as a franchise.

Lastly, the Diamondbacks did an impressive job rising up quickly, winning the division in their third year and a world title in their fourth. Peaking at 82 games over .500 in mid-2003, things rudely cratered on them as they endured a 111-loss season and have been spotty since then.

It’s odd: If four expansion teams could rise up, you’d expect at least one or two to stay over, but in reality that’s not been the case.

5. Almost all the pre-expansion teams have winning records since 1961

Let’s bring this back to pre-expansion teams. Seven out of eight NL teams have an overall winning record, largely thanks to the more recent teams. So how have the older teams done since 1961? Here are their overall records, from Opening Day 1961 through July 22, 2011:

Team	  W	  L	U/O
NYY	4505	3545	+960
LAD	4313	3752	+561
BOS	4298	3762	+536
STL	4232	3820	+412
CIN	4226	3832	+394
SFG	4184	3883	+301
ATL	4167	3882	+285
BAL	4163	3880	+283
CWS	4084	3972	+112
MIN	4055	4005	 +50
OAK	4056	4008	 +48
PHI	4036	4022	 +14
DET	4004	4063	 -59
PIT	3964	4082	-118
CLE	3913	4135	-222
CHC	3856	4193	-337

Not too surprising based on what we’ve seen. Only four teams under .500, and one of them is pretty close to .500. In all, these teams are 3,220 games over .500. which averages to 201 per club.

So if you want to adjust for expansion, half the clubs would still be over .500, which makes sense. And the Cubs would be 538 games under, which also makes sense.

6. The Cubs have been nearly .500 since their last world title

You want something that doesn’t make sense? If you look at the Cubs in their full 103-year span since their last world title, they’re basically a .500 club.

Through last Friday’s game, they’re only 96 under: 7,950 wins and 8,046 losses. That’s a .497 winning percentage. They average 80.51 wins per 162 games, so it really does round out to a perfectly .500 mark of 81-81. From Opening Day 1909 until the last day of 1993, the Cubs have played exactly .500: 6,605-6,605.

For perspective, .497 is where the Blue Jays are at, and a bit above Houston. The Marlins have a .478 winning percentage, but they’ve won two world titles in less than 20 years. From 1909-2011, the A’s are 624 games under .500, but have won nine World Series.

Huh? Well, the Cubs actually were a pretty damn good team for those first 30 or 40 championship-free years. They won seven pennants but lost all the Fall Classics. Since then, while they’ve been bad (worst of the non-expansions!) they’re rarely terrible. So it’s been a slow decline in team winning percentage.

7. Some teams have always been under .500

Let’s go back to a point made way above. Earlier this year, the Braves moved from the wrong side of .500 to the good side. Teams rarely ever make that jump, but have any teams always had their overall franchise record on the same side of .500?

Well, if you look at franchise records going to the very beginning, even including that first week or two of existence, almost every team was over .500 once upon a time. For example, the Angels won their first game for a 1-0 franchise record, and it hasn’t been that good since.

In a bit of an upset, only one expansion-er has always been under .500: The Mets. Nearly joining them, the Rockies and Mariners both peaked with a .500 cumulative franchise mark. They both began their debut seasons 2-2.

One non-expansion team has always been under .500: The Browns/Orioles lost their first game in 1901 and stayed under. Actually, they were neither the Browns nor Orioles back then. They were the Milwaukee Brewers in 1901 and didn’t move to St. Louis until the next year.

8. Only one team has always been over .500

Exactly one team has never had a losing overall record: The Chicago Cubs. They won the NL’s first pennant in 1876, and generally won more than they lost for the next 60 to 70 years.

The Cubs have a weird history, pretty good for the first half their existence, then pretty crummy since then. Usually teams mix it up a bit better.

9. Peaking/bottoming out this year

Five clubs have set new all-time franchise records this season for most games over or under .500. Three set record highs, and the other two record lows.

Care to guess which ones they are? (Pause to give people out in reader-land some time to guess).

Let’s start with the two obvious ones: The Yankees and Red Sox both set new franchise marks for most games over .500. They do that nearly every year.

Heading into Saturday’s action, the Red Sox are 609 games over .500, their all-time best. The Yankees are 2,328 games over .500. Predictably, that’s the most games over .500 any club has ever been. They’re the only clubs whose all-time marks occured this weekend.

Earlier this year, another club reached a new all-time high: The St. Louis Cardinals. A win on June 7 gave them a season record of 37-25 and an all-time record 699 games over .500. They tied the +699 mark on June 9 but have faded a bit since then.

Also on June 9, another team set an all-time low for itself: The Nationals. Including their years in Montreal, their franchise mark fell to 344 games under .500 on that day. It would be perfect if they played the Cardinals in that game, but that’s not what happened. Immediately after that, they won 12 of their next 13 and garnered their most attention when manager Jim Riggleman shockingly quit.

The other team to set a record low this year is perhaps the most surprising of all: The Diamondbacks. When they dropped their fifth straight game on May 13, they fell to 15-22 on the year and 43 games under .500 overall as a franchise. That’s by far the best low point of any expansion franchise. That’s the upside to being the team that went to the playoffs and won it all the quickest: They have the smallest hole to crawl out of.

In fact, since May 13, Arizona is 38-25. If they keep playing at that pace, they’ll reach .500 by in less than a season’s worth of games.

10. Which teams will next hit the big franchise markers?

Well, the Braves hit (or will hit) three big numbers this year: 10,000 wins, 10,000 losses, and a .500 record. No team is likely to do all three in one season again, but when will any reach any of those goals?

The Reds are 37 wins from 10,000. They’ll probably get there in early 2012. The Pirates should reach taht mark in 2013. The Yankees will be the first AL team over the hump in 201—beating the Phillies, who have been around nearly 20 years longer.

The next 10,000-loss team will be either the Cubs or Pirates. The Cubs are closer and are playing far worse this year, and thus are the best bet. But the teams are close enough (18 losses separate them) and far enough away (barring a complete debacle, neither will get there until 2014) that there’s some room for uncertainty. The Cubs are the favorite, though.

The real tricky one is .500. The Braves themselves are probably the best guess, as they are just nine games over. 500.

But the question is next team, not same team. Here it gets tricky: The Angels, Diamondbacks, and Blue Jays are all around 30 games out. And they all have similar records this year. Anaheim is eight over .500, Arizona six games, and Toronto right at it.

The Angels are the best guess as they’re closer (28 games under .500, compared to 30 for Arizona and 35 for Toronto), are playing a bit better, and have an ownership with deep pockets. But it’s a hair’s breath between them and Arizona. I doubt it’ll be Toronto. Their division is just too tough.

Aside from the Braves, no team is even remotely close to falling under .500. The Pirates are next in line, 131 games over .500—and having a surprising season this year. If 2011 turns out to be a one-year wonder for them, they could fall under by 2017. No other pre-expansion team is within 200 games of .500.

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11 years ago

On the Cards, despite the fact that the current franchise is the same one that started in the 1880’s in the American Association, the Cards recognize 1892 as their “start” year.  I agree with you, that the pre-1892 records should count.  It was the same franchise, same owner, even some of the same players, just in a different league, but one that was considered a “major” league.  Or course I want to count those seasons, because the St. Louis franchise played some really great ball in the 1880’s, their best stretch of ball until the 1920’s!

11 years ago

If what AaronB says is true about the same owner/players/ballpark but a different league, then the Chicago Cubs trace their origins only to 1914 in the Federal League.  Compare the 1915 Whales and 1915 Cubs to the 1916 Cubs and see who matches better.

11 years ago

Depending on how you look at it, the current Atlanta Braves started life as the original Cincinnati Red Stockings in 1869.  After the National Association folded in 1875, the manager and five best players moved to Boston where they set up an N.L. franchise that, after several name changes, became the Braves.  They’re the oldest franchise in professional baseball, and the first.