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Don’t Bring Me Down

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Elo sez the 2018 White Sox were the fourth-worst team across all sports, and ended in the franchise’s worst shape in more than 38 years

Kansas City Royals v Chicago White Sox
Whoops, I Did it Again: A poor start in 2019 could find the White Sox slipping to their lowest Elo rating in almost 50 years.
Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

Forgive the intrusion into our free agent dreaming, Eloy Jiménez Rookie of the Year/MVP mashups and Luis Robert September cups of coffee, but the estimable stat nerds at FiveThiryEight have issued some fightin’ words.

Actually, they’re not fighting words at all, but stat-based evaluations with zero bias and methodolo...zzzzz.....zzzzzzzzzzz.

Anyway, the crux of the biscuit is that the White Sox are the fourth worst team in all of sports.

No, not just in baseball, but the NBA, NFL, NHL, and to rub it in a bit more, men’s college basketball and football.

FiveThirtyEight

The methodology used to determine these rankings across sports that play different season lengths, and so on, are detailed in the linked article above. The meat of the ratings themselves are something FiveThirtyEight dubs each team’s Elo Rating (again, explained in the link but for baseball coming down to “home-field advantage, margin of victory, park and era effects, travel, rest and — most importantly — starting pitchers”)

And one thing the Elo Rating showed in 2018, is that tanking has reached epidemic proportions: five of the 21 worst baseball seasons since 2000 fell in 2018.


Historically, where does this put the White Sox? Elo Ratings don’t end up varying terribly from simple won-loss percentage, or placement in division or league standings, of course. But just like home runs and RBIs might not tell the whole story of a player’s value vs. a more intricate stat like WAR, winning percentage bears a somewhat similar, simpler relationship to Elo.

The 2018 White Sox ended with their lowest Elo Rating of the season on the last, 100th loss-clinching, day of the season, September 30: 1442.

On June 18, 1989, after a 7-4 loss to the Boston Red Sox that dropped the team to 24-44, the White Sox dipped to a 1449 Elo. Close, but not quite.

You have to go all the way back more than 38 years, to a 7-1 loss vs. the Oakland A’s on Sept. 24, 1980, to match that 1442 Elo the White Sox ended 2018 with.

And you need to dial back a few more seasons still, to the end of the 1976 season (Oct. 3, 1976, a 3-0 loss vs. the Texas Rangers that dropped the club to 64-97) to come up with a lower Elo: 1437.

There aren’t many lower points than the end of 2018, Elo-wise, in White Sox history.

Bad Elos beyond 1976:

  • 1412 after a 9-3 loss to the Washington Senators on Sept. 12, 1932, dropping the White Sox to 43-95.
  • 1421 after a 5-4 loss vs. the California Angels on Oct. 1, 1970, ending the season at 56-106.
  • 1422 after a 12-10 loss to the Detroit Tigers on Sept. 26, 1934, dropping the White Sox to 51-96.
  • 1426 after a 4-0 loss to the St. Louis Browns on Oct. 1, 1948, ending the White Sox season at 49-101.

(In several instances, particularly in the early 1930s, the White Sox had several Elo scores lower than 1442 over the course of the season; I merely picked the lowest ebb during those runs.)

Otherwise, the White Sox have never really had Elo scores anywhere near as low as 1442. There were some high 1440s in the early 1900s, but really, what we witnessed in 2018 was pretty near historically bad work from the White Sox.

In other words, it’s Yasmani Grandal time, with a side of Manny Machado or Bryce Harper!