Earlier this week, you were asked to place some votes, and some of those votes were placed on FanGraphs. I ran a polling project identical to the one I ran after the 2015 World Series, and many thousands of you participated, for which I am grateful. On a team-by-team basis, I asked you how you felt, in general, about the season that was. Here’s a sample poll:
Part of the fun of these projects is sparking some discussion. But most of the fun of these projects comes from eventually analyzing all the results. That’s what we’re here for today. I’ve got my spreadsheet and plots all together, so, away we go!
One thing became immediately apparent. For any moderately popular Internet poll, there is going to be some percentage of troll votes. Indeed, this year, there were troll votes. But there were fewer than last time!
It’s dangerous to make any sort of assumptions about how other people feel, and maybe some baseball fans somehow derive great pleasure from their favorite teams actually losing, but it’s impossible for me to believe that one in nine Royals fans found 2015 to be miserable. It’s also impossible for me to believe that one in 25 Cubs fans found 2016 to be miserable, but look at the rate drop! Instead of 12% of respondents saying they had a bad time rooting for the champion, this year the Cubs poll wound up at 4%. For the analysis that follows, I still decided to throw out all those votes, but it’s something to see the troll level so inconsistent. I don’t know why the Cubs are less fun to troll than the Royals. This week in particular, I don’t want to try to over-interpret crowd voting results.
On to the next step: Examining participation levels.
Unsurprisingly, the Cubs poll was the most popular. Even on the average day, Cubs fans are somewhat over-represented around these parts, and now they’re especially so being the recent champs and everything. You see the Indians there in third, many of those fans having been drawn to this website because of postseason coverage. The Blue Jays always draw well here. Ditto the Red Sox, Yankees, Mariners, and so on.
At the back end, you get mostly bad or mediocre teams. More significantly, there are a lot of teams over there who just don’t seem to have strong FanGraphs representation. It’s always a struggle to find many Padres, Rockies, Marlins, and Diamondbacks fans. Part of that, I’m sure, is because FanGraphs has been more likely to be critical of those organizations, and no one wants to read bad news. But there are also teams that just don’t have so much of an Internet presence. The Padres are one of them. The Rockies are another. They’re out there, but they’re outnumbered.
Now for the meat! Here are this year’s average fan experience ratings. As always, I gave the best vote a 5 rating, and the next-best vote a 4 rating, all the way down to 1. Then it was just a matter of math.
A year ago, the champs finished first, and the runners-up finished third. The Cubs wound up in between them, Cubs fans being so over the moon for the organizational transition they’d witnessed. This year, we get the champs in first and the runners-up in second, with a healthy gap between the Indians and the Red Sox. Red Sox fans still had a great time, don’t get me wrong, but they were eliminated quickly, and that’s never a pleasant experience. Nevertheless, the Sox still edged out LCS teams in the Dodgers and Blue Jays. Boston fans were probably extra happy to just not have an embarrassing product again.
At the end, you see the woeful Diamondbacks. For perspective, their 2016 rating came out to 1.38. The average respondent had a very bad experience. The lowest rating the first time I ran this project was 1.76, shared by the A’s and the Nationals. This year’s Diamondbacks were simply brutal, even more so than the Twins, who got a rating of 1.57. That’s still lower than any rating a year ago, but thanks to what happened in Arizona, Minnesota gets a little bit of a shield.
For the sake of conducting some further and simple analysis, here’s how the ratings matched up to team success, at least in the regular season:
You expect there to be a strong relationship, and indeed, there is a strong relationship. The better the team, the better the rating. Duh. What’s interesting is that, last year, there was a stronger relationship between rating and the difference between actual winning percentage and projected winning percentage. The gap was fairly significant. This time around, the same thing isn’t observed.
The better variable for 2016 is regular old winning percentage. Still, it’s not totally predictive. You can use the equation of the best-fit line to calculate an “expected” fan rating, based on winning percentage alone. If you do that, the biggest positive outlier is the Phillies. They got a rating of 2.94, to go with an expected rating of 2.18. The second-biggest positive outlier is the Braves. You find the Indians in third — makes sense — but then you get the Brewers, and the Yankees. Clearly, fans are reasonably content with rebuilding projects they perceive to be going well. That shouldn’t be all that surprising given this project is selective for a FanGraphs audience. Good rebuilding is exciting in its own way, even if it’s no substitute for immediate success. Fans can focus on the longer-term, with the pressure of winning removed.
As for negative outliers, the White Sox are at the bottom. The team finished close enough to .500, but it wilted after a strong start, and fans are getting sick of the team not choosing a direction. The Sox had an expected rating of 2.75, but the actual rating wound up being 1.79. The second-biggest negative outlier is the Marlins, and that’s presumably due to the exceptional circumstance of Jose Fernandez passing away. There’s nothing else there to analyze. In third, the Angels. Between the team getting worse and so many pitchers getting hurt, the summer was thoroughly awful.
Now that two of these projects have been run, we can do some analysis with both data sets. For both seasons, the average rating was about 3.0. Which, yeah, that’s right in the middle. But has there been a relationship between fan experience in 2015 and 2016? Somewhat, but it shows up as quite weak.
There’s a vaguely positive trend, and the Cubs are way up there in the top-right corner. But this is almost a perfect scatterplot. Here’s another way of showing the year-to-year relationships. Here is every team’s rating for 2015 and 2016, and these are arranged in descending order of the biggest positive changes.
What I mean by that — between the last two years, the Nationals’ rating improved by 2.05 points. The year before, the Nationals sank along with Matt Williams, but this year was far more successful, and Dusty Baker oversaw a happier clubhouse. Just behind the Nationals, you get the Red Sox, whose rating improved by 2.00 points. Even though Sox fans have, I think, fairly lofty expectations every season, this season the team met them. The year before was a bummer.
You can track this all the way through. The Twins had the biggest drop, from 4.08 to 1.57. After spending 2015 as a club full of overachievers, 2016 was a total catastrophe. The bright spots were Brian Dozier and perhaps one month of Byron Buxton. The Royals had the next-biggest drop, that being 2.21 points. Any drop is inevitable when you go from being the champion to being not the champion, and any hangover effect was subtle. The Royals had a lower rating than you’d expect, just based on their winning percentage.
The Astros are a somewhat interesting case here. They weren’t a lot worse in 2016 than they were in 2015. But where 2015 ended with a playoff meltdown, 2016 ended at the end of the regular season. I don’t think that explains why they’re third-last here, though. I think this is just a shifting of expectations. The Astros were supposed to build on what they had accomplished. And they’re still sitting in a good position, overall, but it took just one year for Astros fans to expect the team to gun for the World Series. This year’s Astros couldn’t meet the standard the previous year’s Astros had set.
As a final point, I want to touch on something for which I didn’t prepare a plot or a table. Over the two years, Cubs fans have been the happiest, with an average rating of 4.92. The Blue Jays are a distant second, at 4.25. Life’s been good for half of Chicago. As for the other half of Chicago — the White Sox have the second-lowest average rating, at 1.89. Even though neither White Sox team has been awful, it’s just no fun at all to be stuck in the middle. The audience might be suggesting that it’s ready for the White Sox to tear down. The very lowest average team rating belongs to the A’s, at 1.82. They haven’t won, and they haven’t been much of a thrill in the process. You mostly know where the miserable baseball fans are, but now we at least have statistics.
Thank you once again for helping out. These projects go nowhere without you.