Ranking the Top 25 Regular-Season Teams in MLB History

Ely SussmanCorrespondent ISeptember 24, 2013

Ranking the Top 25 Regular-Season Teams in MLB History

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    Joe Morgan led the Cincinnati Reds to dominance in both 1975 and 1976.
    Joe Morgan led the Cincinnati Reds to dominance in both 1975 and 1976.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Major League Baseball has always had a disproportionately brief postseason, and it's unfortunate that a handful of games can overshadow how teams perform during the eternal summer.

    With these rankings, we'll select the best regular-season teams in league history, placing emphases on consistency and well-roundedness.

    Their playoff success—or lack thereof—is noted on the bottom of each slide, but those details had no effect on the list. Rather, we rewarded clubs that won often, comfortably (high run differentials) and through various means.

    Know from the get-go that only rosters from 1901* to the present were considered. The expectation for winning percentage was lower for more recent teams because MLB expansion has increased competitive balance. Understanding that dominant teams often rest their stars once a playoff berth has been secured, September/October performance wasn't weighed as heavily as the other months.

    As always, you're encouraged to comment about teams who may have been overlooked or underrated.

     

    *Prior to 1901, the American League was a minor league.

    **Stats gathered from Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

Honorable Mentions from the Wild Card Era (1995-Present)

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    The 2002 Oakland Athletics just missed the cut despite 103 wins and an AL West title.
    The 2002 Oakland Athletics just missed the cut despite 103 wins and an AL West title.Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    A few recent examples of teams that fell slightly outside the top 25 will give you a better idea for what we were looking for.

    Michael Lewis wrote a best-selling book about the 2002 Oakland Athletics (103-59), Bennett Miller directed a popular movie based on that book and Brad Pitt starred in that movie, so we all know the story.

    With some homegrown pitching, a dominant Eric Chavez/Miguel Tejada pairing on the left side of the infield and under-the-radar transactions by general manager Billy Beane, the A's were shockingly effective. They even set a new American League record with 20 consecutive regular-season wins.

    However, if you believe in Bill James' pythagorean winning percentage, this team seemingly benefited from good luck. That intangible is reflected in their not-so-earth-shattering run differential of plus-146.

    Obviously, the 2009 Yankees (103-59) subscribed to a very different roster construction strategy, yet their run differential and pythagorean winning percentage were similarly underwhelming.

    The 2013 Boston Red Sox, by comparison, boast a plus-185 run differential through their first 157 games. Being one of the few teams this millennium without a losing streak longer than three games, they also received serious consideration for inclusion.

    The Sox have, unfortunately, gone through periods of inconsistency, like a 2-9 stretch in early May. Their overall dominance doesn't wholly offset that.

25. 1984 Detroit Tigers

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    Kirk Gibson starred on the 1984 Tigers and later spent several years on the team's coaching staff.
    Kirk Gibson starred on the 1984 Tigers and later spent several years on the team's coaching staff.Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images

    Regular-Season Record: 104-58

    Run Differential: Plus-186 (829 RS, 643 RA)

    Number of MLB Teams: 26

    Few teams have ever manhandled a quarter of their schedule as easily as the Detroit Tigers did at the beginning of their 1984 campaign. They nearly doubled up on their competition through 40 games, outscoring them 236-120 en route to a 35-5 record.

    These Tigers slipped so far down on this list, however, because they essentially sleep-walked during the next two-and-half months. From Memorial Day through the first week of August, Sparky Anderson's crew barely played .500 ball.

    Kirk Gibson (.282/.363/.516, 27 HR) and Alan Trammell (.314/.382/.468, 14 HR) probably deprived one another of top-10 AL MVP votes by both excelling at the plate. As a team, Detroit led the majors in both home runs and on-base percentage.

    Right-hander Jack Morris often gets credit for the pitching staff's success, but the back end of the bullpen really had a greater influence. Willie Hernandez and Aurelio Lopez totaled a jaw-dropping 278 innings as relievers and surrendered only 205 hits. Hernandez, in particular, absolutely massacred left-handed batters, limiting them to a .407 OPS in 150 plate appearances.

     

    Hall of Famers: Sparky Anderson

    Postseason Result: Won World Series

24. 2011 Philadelphia Phillies

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    Midseason acquisition Hunter Pence was very productive at the plate down the stretch.
    Midseason acquisition Hunter Pence was very productive at the plate down the stretch.Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Regular-Season Record: 102-60

    Run Differential: Plus-184 (713 RS, 529 RA)

    Number of MLB Teams: 30

    The 2011 Philadelphia Phillies could never be mistaken for a "balanced" team. The offense was once of baseball's weakest until Hunter Pence joined the lineup in July.

    Of course, their pitching staff was arguably the best we've seen so far in the new millennium.

    Per Fangraphs, the trio of Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee ranked top 10 among National League starters in terms of innings, earned run average, strikeout-to-walk ratio, Fielder Independent Pitching and Wins Above Replacement. Even the back end of Roy Oswalt (3.69 in 139.0 IP) and Vance Worley (3.01 ERA in 131.2 IP) was rather imposing.

     

    Probable Future Hall of Famers: Roy Halladay, Chase Utley

    Postseason Result: Lost NLDS

23. 1976 Cincinnati Reds

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    Regular-Season Record: 102-60

    Run Differential: Plus-224 (857 RS, 633 RA)

    Number of MLB Teams: 24

    Using most of the same personnel who contributed to the 1975 championship team (also included on this list), the Cincinnati Reds were once again the class of the National League.

    Joe Morgan was the engine that powered the Big Read Machine. His 1976 is still viewed as the best offensive campaign by an MLB second baseman.

    Morgan batted .320/.444/.576, leading the NL in the latter two categories. He homered 27 times, stole 60 bases and posted a 186 OPS+ (also an NL best). Perhaps most impressively, the perennial All-Star drew 114 walks compared to only 41 strikeouts, which attests to his otherworldly plate discipline and hand-eye coordination.

    Run-scoring didn't totally hinge on his production, of course. With a supporting cast that included Johnny Bench, George Foster and Pete Rose, the Reds lineup was genuinely circular. No other team in modern baseball history has had eight different position players with at least an 100 OPS+ and 550 plate appearances.

    The Cincinnati pitching staff was far from elite, but there were several notables. A 24-year-old Pat Zachry logged 204 innings and emerged as a strikeout artist on his way to winning NL Rookie of the Year, while Rawly Eastwick maintained a 2.09 earned run average in his 71 appearances out of the bullpen.

     

    Hall of Famers: Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez

    Postseason Result: Won World Series

22. 1912 Boston Red Sox

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    Regular-Season Record: 105-47

    Run Differential: Plus-255 (799 RS, 544 RA)

    Number of MLB Teams: 16

    Tris Speaker had a few unstoppable seasons as a member of the Boston Red Sox, but perhaps none were better than his 1912 season. He won league MVP at age 24 by batting .383/.464/.567, which translated to a 188 OPS+.

    As mentioned above, Speaker had three separate hitting streaks of at least 20 games that summer, the last of which enabled his team to pull away in the American League standings.

    However, Speaker didn't have a strong enough supporting cast. There was nearly a 200-point drop-off in OPS from him to the next-most productive hitter in the lineup.

    On the bright side, Boston's pitching staff featured strikeout artist Smoky Joe Wood. He maintained a 1.91 earned run average through 344 innings and won an AL-high 34 games (back when a starter's win-loss record used to mean something).

     

    Hall of Famers: Harry Hooper, Tris Speaker

    Postseason Result: Won World Series

21. 1942 New York Yankees

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    Joe DiMaggio's plaque in Monument Park.
    Joe DiMaggio's plaque in Monument Park.Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Regular-Season Record: 103-51

    Run Differential: Plus-294 (801 RS, 507 RA)

    Number of MLB Teams: 16

    More so than any other legendary New York Yankees team, the 1942 edition leaned on its pitching staff.

    Spud Chandler, Lefty Gomez and Red Ruffing all stuck around deep into their thirties and continued to perform at a high level. The Yankees posted the only sub-3.00 earned run average in the American League and were clear leaders in strikeout-to-walk ratio.

    Aside from Cooperstown-bound backstop Bill Dickey, the starting position players were all quite young. Joe DiMaggio, Joe Gordon and Charlie Keller drove in more than 100 runs apiece. New York ranked second among the eight AL teams in each triple-slash category.

     

    Hall of Famers: Bill Dickey, Joe DiMaggio, Lefty Gomez, Joe Gordon, Joe McCarthy, Phil Rizzuto, Red Ruffing

    Postseason Result: Lost World Series

20. 1931 Philadelphia Athletics

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    Regular-Season Record: 107-45-1

    Run Differential: Plu-232 (858 RS, 626 RA)

    Number of MLB Teams: 16

    Lefty Grove is inexplicably overlooked in discussions about the best pitchers of all time. It's difficult to put into words how much he dominated during the offense-friendly 1920s and 1930s, so we'll stick to numbers from his 1931 campaign with the Philadelphia Athletics.

    The 31-year-old secured his seventh consecutive American League strikeout crown with 175 whiffs in his 41 appearances. Grove's 217 ERA+ (adjusted earned run average) isn't far from the top of this list representing the best single-season efforts ever.

    Despite an obviously stellar overall winning percentage, the A's sputtered out of the gate, posting a losing record in April.

     

    Hall of Famers: Mickey Cochrane, Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Grove, Waite Hoyt, Al Simmons

    Postseason Result: Lost World Series

19. 2004 St. Louis Cardinals

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    Jim Edmonds was still dominant at age 34.
    Jim Edmonds was still dominant at age 34.Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    Regular-Season Record: 105-57

    Run Differential: Plus-196 (855 RS, 659 RA)

    Number of MLB Teams: 30

    Manager Mike Matheny has led the 2013 St. Louis Cardinals atop the NL Central, although not with the same style points that the 2004 Cards did it.

    Jim Edmonds (.301/.418/.643, 171 OPS+), Albert Pujols (.331/.415/.657, 173 OPS+) and Scott Rolen (.314/.409/.598, 158 OPS+) guided an explosive offense. Each of them, not surprisingly, finished among the top five in National League MVP voting.

    Their scoring was significantly lower in September, as Rolen nursed an injury, while Edmonds and others received more rest than usual. St. Louis tallied 10 runs or more in 20 of its first 124 contests, but it reached double digits just once the rest of the way.

    The rotation provided more bulk than quality. All five starters each eclipsed 180 innings, but only Chris Carpenter showed much ability to generate swings-and-misses.

    St. Louis, nonetheless, boasted a deeper pitching staff than the 1931 Philadelphia Athletics thanks to a Jason Isringhausen-led bullpen that specialized in suppressing home runs.

     

    Probable Future Hall of Famers: Tony La Russa, Yadier Molina, Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen

    Postseason Result: Lost World Series

18. 1936 New York Yankees

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    Regular-Season Record: 102-51-2

    Run Differential: Plus-334 (1,065 RS, 731 RA)

    Number of MLB Teams: 16

    No Babe Ruth? No problem.

    The New York Yankees went back to being a dominant offensive team the year after the legend retired. Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and a few other all-time greats solidified a lineup that score 15 percent more runs than any other in the majors. Bill Dickey's .362/.428/.617 batting line is still one of the best ever posted by a catcher, and he only struck out 16 times in 472 plate appearances.

    The pitching staff had its issues with walks, although it compensated by leading the American League in strikeouts. The fact that New York's 4.17 earned run average was the AL's best sums up how easy it was to score back then.

    Perhaps the biggest knock against this club was its tendency for getting blown out. An amazing regular-season team doesn't lose by 10-plus runs on a monthly basis.

     

    Hall of Famers: Bill Dickey, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Lefty Gomez, Tony Lazzeri, Joe McCarthy, Red Ruffing

    Postseason Result: Won World Series

17. 1907 Chicago Cubs

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    Regular-Season Record: 107-45-3

    Run Differential: Plus-184 (574 RS, 390 RA)

    Number of MLB Teams: 16

    The two members of the 1907 Chicago Cubs with Cooperstown plaques, Mordecai Brown and Joe Tinker, actually had unimpressive seasons. The former provided 20 complete games (the fewest since his rookie year of 1903) and 233 innings, while Tinker batted .221/.269/.271. That's unacceptable offense in any era.

    Rather, the Cubs relied on their depth, particularly that of their starting pitchers. Besides Brown, four others also posted an earned run average below 2.00. The team combined for an NL-high 30 shutouts.

    Chicago only had only two losing streaks lasting longer than two games.

     

    Hall of Famers: Mordecai Brown, Joe Tinker

    Postseason Result: Won World Series

16. 1986 New York Mets

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    Keith Hernandez is still connected to the Mets as a television analyst for SNY.
    Keith Hernandez is still connected to the Mets as a television analyst for SNY.Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    Regular-Season Record:  108-54

    Run Differential: Plus-205 (783 RS, 578 RA)

    Number of MLB Teams: 26

    The 1986 New York Mets didn't have any otherworldly offensive players, but their lineup depth was extraordinary. In an era before active rosters really bloated, manager Davey Johnson allocated 150-plus plate appearances to 14 different players, 10 of whom posted at least an 100 OPS+.

    This team ranked atop the Senior Circuit in walks, OPS and runs scored.

    The pitching staff, meanwhile, was both unhittable and efficient. Only the Houston Astros tallied more strikeouts, and they had Nolan Ryan.

    With a sexier run differential and more victories earlier in the summer, these Mets might have neared this list's top 10.

     

    Hall of Famers: Gary Carter

    Postseason Result: Won World Series

15. 1942 St. Louis Cardinals

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    Stan Musial.
    Stan Musial.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Regular-Season Record: 106-48-2

    Run Differential: Plus-275 (755 RS, 480 RA)

    Number of MLB Teams: 16

    At just 21 years of age, outfielder Stan Musial emerged as an elite offensive weapon by batting .315/.397/.490 in 140 games.

    It was also a breakout season for right-hander Mort Cooper. Entering 1942 with a pedestrian 3.56 career earned run average, he pitched exactly twice as well en route to MVP honors (1.78 ERA, 0.99 WHIP in 278.2 IP).

    These St. Louis Cardinals were first among MLB teams in earned run average, and only the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees prevented them from making the same claim about runs scored.

     

    Hall of Famers: Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter

    Postseason Result: Won World Series

14. 1929 Philadelphia Athletics

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    Regular-Season Record: 104-46-1

    Run Differential: Plus-286 (901 RS, 615 RA)

    Number of MLB Teams: 16

    We already mentioned Lefty Grove and how outstanding he was during his prime. Although not quite up to 1931's standards, his contribution to the 1929 Philadelphia Athletics still merited superlatives (2.81 ERA, 170 K in 275.1 IP). He was the reason why the A's pitching staff tallied the most strikeouts in the American League.

    However, Jimmie Foxx (173 OPS+) and Al Simmons (159 OPS+) had the biggest influences on Philly's quest for the NL pennant. They combined for 67 home runs, 275 runs batted in and drew more walks than strikeouts. The A's offense had an AL-best .815 OPS, and outdoing the New York Yankees in that department at any point during this decade was especially remarkable.

    Just to nitpick, the club's middle infield and bullpen were soft spots.

     

    Hall of Famers: Mickey Cochrane, Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Grove, Al Simmons

    Postseason Result: Won World Series

13. 1961 New York Yankees

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    Regular-Season Record: 109-53-1

    Run Differential: Plus-215 (827 RS, 612 RA)

    Number of MLB Teams: 18

    Yeah, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were absolutely magnificent in 1961, but aside from them and backstop Elston Howard, the New York Yankees lineup lacked oomph. They didn't even lead the American League in runs scored that summer.

    Depth-wise, New York's pitching was actually more impressive.

    Behind Whitey Ford and his 283 stellar innings, the Yankees also had starters Bill Stafford (2.68 ERA in 195.0 IP) and Ralph Terry (3.15 ERA in 188.1 IP). Moreover, southpaw, Luis Arroyo was among the best bullpen arms on the era (2.19 ERA, 87 K in 119.0 IP).

    Ultimately, several other Yankees teams were more convincing in the regular season.

     

    Hall of Famers: Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle

    Postseason Result: Won World Series

12. 1970 Baltimore Orioles

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    Regular-Season Record: 108-54

    Run Differential: Plus-218 (792 RS, 574 RA)

    Number of MLB Teams: 24

    This was Frank Robinson's final superstar-caliber season with the Baltimore Orioles. First baseman Boog Powell dwarfed his offensive numbers, however, bating .297/.412/.549 with 35 home runs to earn American League MVP honors.

    The 1970 season established the late Earl Weaver as an elite manager because he once again assembled an excellent pitching staff.

    There wasn't much of a drop-off from ace Jim Palmer (2.71 ERA, 17 CG, 199 K in 305.0 IP) to Mike Cuellar (3.48 ERA, 21 CG, 190 K in 297.2 IP) and Dave McNally (3.22 ERA, 16 CG, 185 K in 296.0 IP). Moreover, the bullpen featured four relievers with 50-plus innings pitched and earned run averages better than league average.

    With so many steady options on the mound, Baltimore had a chance to win virtually every night. More specifically, only three of its 54 losses came by more than five runs.

     

    Hall of Famers: Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson

    Postseason Result: Won World Series

11. 1998 Atlanta Braves

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    John Smoltz.
    John Smoltz.Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    Regular-Season Record: 106-56

    Run Differential: Plus-245 (826 RS, 581 RA)

    Number of MLB Teams: 30

    Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz were still in their primes, as evidenced by the fact that they all finished top five in National League Cy Young Award voting. Maddux was arguably the best of the trio with a 2.22 earned run average and nine complete games in 251 innings, but Glavine, who ultimately took home the hardware, had a special season as well (2.47 ERA, 4 CG in 229.1 IP).

    The Atlanta Braves pitching staff ranked No. 1 in the majors in just about every meaningful pitching category. That included earned run average, strikeout-to-walk ratio, strikeout total, batting average against, complete games, team shutouts and complete-game shutouts.

    The 1998 lineup, meanwhile, often gets overlooked, despite producing the fourth-most runs in a 16-team National League. Those batters were similarly second in NL home runs and third in OPS+. Andres Galarraga, Andruw Jones, Chipper Jones and Lopez all went deep more than 30 times.

    There aren't many advanced fielding stats available from that summer, but the Braves committed by far the fewest errors in the National League, and the younger Jones received a Gold Glove for his brilliance in center field.

     

    Probable Future Hall of Famers: Tom Glavine, Chipper Jones, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz  

    Postseason Result: Lost NLCS

10. 1954 Cleveland Indians

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    Bob Feller's statue outside of Progressive Field.
    Bob Feller's statue outside of Progressive Field.Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

    Regular-Season Record:  111-43

    Run Differential: Plus-242 (746 RS, 502 RA)

    Number of MLB Teams: 16

    It's kind of sad that the Cleveland Indians have been around since the American League's 1901 inception, yet they have only one season with more than 100 victories. At least the time they did it was memorable.

    Four everyday players on the 1954 team posted an OPS+ above 125: Bobby Avila, Larry Doby, Al Rosen and Al Smith. There were a few too many soft spots in the batting order, however. The Tribe had the most home runs in the American League, but they didn't rank No. 1 in any other significant offensive categories.

    Cleveland employed plenty of revered veteran pitchers, like Bob Feller and Bob Lemon. Lemon, Mike Garcia and Early Wynn each contributed more than 250 innings with sub-2.75 earned run averages, which made them only one of deadliest starting trios of their generation.

    Aside from the very beginning of the regular season, the Tribe never lost more than five games in a 10-game span. That consistency lifted them into the top 10.

     

    Hall of Famers: Larry Doby, Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Hal Newhouser

    Postseason Result: Lost World Series

9. 1975 Cincinnati Reds

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    Regular-Season Record:  108-54

    Run Differential: Plus-272 (840 RS, 568 RA)

    Number of MLB Teams: 24

    To clarify what's being said in the above video, Pete Rose had spent the 1972-1974 seasons as the everyday left fielder on the Cincinnati Reds. He was still an extraordinary hitter in '75, but the Reds were eager to get George Foster into the lineup as well.

    After a gradual transition, manager Sparky Anderson decided on May 20 that Rose would work exclusively at third base. Cincinnati entered that game with an underwhelming 20-19 record and went 88-35 for the remainder of the summer (.715 winning percentage).

    The overall inconsistency took them out of contention for the No. 1 spot on this list, but just like the 1976 team, these Reds could score in bunches. It's no wonder that at season's end, three of their position players were top-five finishers in National League MVP voting (Joe Morgan was the near-unanimous winner).

    Cincy's starters totaled the fewest complete games in the Senior Circuit, although that is mostly a reflection of this team's bullpen depth and the trust that Anderson had in his relievers.

    Don Gullett (2.42 ERA, 1.15 WHIP in 159.2 IP) and Gary Nolan (3.16 ERA, 1.10 WHIP in 210.2 IP) did wonderful work stabilizing the rotation. If not for their excellence early in the summer, the Reds would've fallen into a much deeper hole.

     

    Hall of Famers: Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez

    Postseason Result: Won World Series

8. 1909 Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Honus Wagner statue.
    Honus Wagner statue.Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    Regular-Season Record: 110-42-2

    Run Differential: Plus 252 (699 RS, 447 RA)

    Number of MLB Teams: 16

    No wonder Honus Wagner is immortalized outside of PNC Park. He was the best player on the most dominant Pittsburgh Pirates team ever.

    The shortstop was still going strong at age 35, batting .339/.420/.489 in an era when .300 batting averages were extremely rare. Wagner also led the 1909 Pirates with 35 stolen bases. Another longtime Bucs player, Tommy Leach, scored 126 runs.

    Vic Willis and the Pirates pitching staff only issued 320 walks in more than 1,400 innings. That was the best rate in Major League Baseball.

    Pittsburgh's only extended slumps occurred during the opening and closing weeks of the summer. Looking at run differential and streakiness, this team doesn't have the necessary style points to stack up with several others from the same decade.

     

    Hall of Famers: Honus Wagner, Vic Willis

    Postseason Result: Won World Series

7. 1969 Baltimore Orioles

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    Frank Robinson.
    Frank Robinson.Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    Regular-Season Record: 109-53

    Run Differential: Plus-262 (779 RS, 517 RA)

    Number of MLB Teams: 24

    The 1969 Baltimore Orioles sneak ahead of the following year's edition on the strength of their run differential and superior bullpen.

    Relievers Dick Hall, Pete Richert and Eddie Watt were all close to unhittable. The most frustrating part for Orioles' opposition must've been the fact that all of them knew where the ball was going, so even walks were seldom given out.

    Baltimore's non-pitchers combined to bat .276/.355/.433, scoring a dozen runs or more on a handful of occasions. Frank Robinson and Boog Powell had terrific years at the plate, as did—somewhat surprisingly—center fielder Paul Blair. He boosted his OPS more than 200 points from the previous summer.

     

    Hall of Famers: Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson

    Postseason Result: Lost World Series

6. 1904 New York Giants

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    Regular-Season Record: 106-47-5

    Run Differential: Plus-270 (744 RS, 474 RA)

    Number of MLB Teams: 16

    In 1904, New York Giants manager John McGraw had the golden right arms of Christy Mathewson and Joe McGinnity at his disposal, and he squeezed everything out of them. They combined for 90 starts and 101 total appearances, totaling more than 775 total innings.

    The pitching staff as a whole led the National League in shutouts and strikeout-to-walk ratio. Only the AL's Boston Red Sox posted a lower team earned run average than the Giants' 2.17.

    Twelve different players on the roster homered at least once, and New York's total of 31 tied for the major league lead.

    Impressive as their final winning percentage was, McGraw surely could've done better had he not eased off the accelerator during the final weeks. The Giants started off 99-34-5 before coasting to an NL championship.

     

    Hall of Famers: Christy Mathewson, Joe McGinnity, John McGraw

    Postseason Result: Won National League (no World Series played)

5. 1939 New York Yankees

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    Regular-Season Record: 106-45-1

    Run Differential: Plus-411 (967 RS, 556 RA)

    Number of MLB Teams: 16

    Lou Gehrig struggled, then ended his consecutive-games streak, then learned that his life was ending. It couldn't been easy for his teammates to maintain their focus during that sequence.

    Following his departure, Joe DiMaggio embraced his new role as the focal point of the New York Yankees lineup. He batted .381/.448/.671 in 1939 and was named American League MVP despite only 120 games played. The Yankees averaged 6.36 runs per contest.

    Of course, New York's gaudy run differential would not have been possible without a tremendous pitching staff. Manager Joe McCarthy had one of the oldest stables of hurlers in baseball, so he split up the workload among a large, trustworthy core. Eight different pitchers contributed at least 115 innings.

    As a result, the Yankees combined for a 3.31 earned run average, which was three-quarters of a run better than any other AL rival.

    After opening the season on a 53-17 tear, they dropped six straight games in early July. This team might have otherwise had a legitimate case for No. 1 placement on the list.

     

    Hall of Famers: Bill Dickey, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Lefty Gomez, Joe Gordon, Joe McCarthy, Red Ruffing

    Postseason Result: Won World Series

4. 1927 New York Yankees

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    Regular-Season Record: 110-44-1

    Run Differential: Plus-376 (975 RS, 599 RA)

    Number of MLB Teams: 16

    Babe Ruth's 60 home runs were more than any of the other American League teams, and Lou Gehrig wasn't far behind with 47 bombs. They ranked first and second in the majors in numerous offensive categories, according to FanGraphs, including slugging percentage, walk rate and Wins Above Replacement.

    As a team, the 1927 New York Yankees batted .307/.384/.488 for a 127 OPS+. Just imagine a never-ending lineup of Allen Craigs.

    This team's pitching staff often gets overlooked, but Waite Hoyt and Herb Pennock were both great options atop the rotation. They combined for 41 complete games in their 58 starts, issuing only 102 walks in 466 innings. New York led all of baseball with a 3.20 earned run average.

    It bears repeating, however, that compiling so much talent on one roster would've been more impressive in a generation with more MLB franchises.

     

    Hall of Famers: Earle Combs, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, Babe Ruth

    Postseason Result: Won World Series

3. 1998 New York Yankees

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    Regular-Season Record: 114-48

    Run Differential: plus-309 (965 RS, 656 RA)

    Number of MLB Teams: 30

    The 1998 New York Yankees epitomized consistency with at least 16 victories in every month of the regular season. This was the year that established the "Core Four"—Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera—as legitimate stars and long-term building blocks.

    The Yankees showed patience with veterans like Hideki Irabu and Darryl Strawberry. Coming off horrible campaigns, both of them performed a few wins above replacement level.

    Meanwhile, several offseason acquisitions overachieved in pinstripes.

    Scott Brosius, for example, batted .203 for the 1997 Oakland Athletics and lost his starting job. Shipped to the Yankees as a "player to be named later," he served as their regular third baseman in '98 and slashed .300/.371/.472 with 98 runs batted in.

    Cuban right-hander Orlando Hernandez was another pleasant surprise. He made his major league debut in June and emerged as a terrific starter, posting a 3.13 earned run average in 141 innings and earning some consideration for AL Rookie of the Year.

    These well-rounded Bombers led the American League in runs scored while surrendering the fewest and similarly topped the AL ranks in adjusted OPS and adjusted earned run average.

     

    Probable Future Hall of Famers: Derek Jeter, Tim Raines, Mariano Rivera

    Postseason Result: Won World Series

2. 2001 Seattle Mariners

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    Lefty Jamie Moyer led the team with 20 wins.
    Lefty Jamie Moyer led the team with 20 wins.Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Regular-Season Record:  116-46

    Run Differential: Plus-300 (927 RS, 627 RA)

    Number of MLB Teams: 30

    Alex Rodriguez skipped town for a record-breaking contract and the Seattle Mariners got...better?

    Baseball is crazy like that sometimes.

    Ichiro Suzuki exceeded all expectations in his MLB debut by batting .350/.381/.457 and stealing 56 bases to earn American League MVP honors. Fellow Japanese star Kazuhiro Sasaki solidified the ninth inning for Seatlle, while Arthur Rhodes enjoyed a career year as his setup man (1.72 ERA, 83 K in 68.0 IP).

    Starting rotation depth elevated this roster above several others on this list. The 2001 M's had three pitchers surpass the 200-inning mark. According to FanGraphs, only two other teams did the same that year. Moreover, Joel Pineiro emerged as a star during the second half of the summer with his 2.03 earned run average and .191 batting average against.

    Similarly, the Mariners lineup had very few soft spots. Led by Bret Boone (.331/.372/.578, 37 HR) and Edgar Martinez (.306/.423/.543, 23 HR), there were five everyday players with an adjusted OPS of at least 120. Those guys made Safeco Field look like a little league venue.

    Under Lou Piniella's direction, Seattle never eased off the accelerator. Even with the postseason already a certainty, this team went 20-7 from Sept. 1 onward.

    This club sneaks past the 1998 New York Yankees of the same era thanks to microscopic advantages in the ratio of runs scored to runs allowed—1.48 to 1.47—and, of course, the win column.

     

    Probable Future Hall of Famers: Ichiro Suzuki

    Postseason Result: Lost ALCS

1. 1906 Chicago Cubs

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    Regular-Season Record: 116-36-3

    Run Differential: Plus-323 (704 RS, 381 RA)

    Number of MLB Teams: 16

    Genuinely mind-boggling stats about these Chicago Cubs, starting with the fact that they scored nearly twice as many runs as they allowed.

    The Cubs didn't exactly sprint out of the gate, posting a 6-6 record through Apr. 25, but they made up for it during the season's second half. August and September included three double-digit winning streaks and a 25-1 tear from Aug. 6 through Sept. 1.

    Although run-scoring was low across the entire sport during the Deadball Era, these pitchers were particularly unbeatable. The nine-man staff—they only used nine for the entire season!—completed 32 shutouts and limited the opposition to one run or fewer in nearly half of their games. The National League earned run average of 2.62 was about 50 percent higher than Chicago's 1.75, and the next-best team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, allowed an extra half-run per contest.

    Rotation ace Mordecai Brown posted a 253 ERA+, the third-best all time among pitchers to throw at least 250 innings in a season, according to Baseball-Reference.com (subscription required). The only individuals ahead of him are no-doubt Hall of Famers Walter Johnson (1913) and Bob Gibson (1968).

    Leading the NL in batting average and slugging percentage was possible thanks to aversion of the injury bug. Aside from the eight regulars in his lineup, manager Frank Chance only asked two other position players to log 100-plus plate appearances.

    These Cubs obviously had the advantage of competing in a smaller league when compared to other regular-season juggernauts, but their dominance in all facets of the game certainly compensates.

     

    Hall of Famers: Mordecai Brown

    Postseason Result: Lost World Series