How You Felt About the 2017 Season

The other day, I ran a polling project, asking you to consider the 2017 season overall. I wanted to know about your fan experiences, as followers of particular teams, and this is the same project I ran after last season, and after the season before. The initial post is always fun, for the dialogue that gets started, but the real meat is in the data analysis. So I always most look forward to the data analysis, which I’ll be discussing below. Thanks to the many thousands of you who participated in the voting, since, obviously, without votes, this would be an embarrassing failure. You know those polls you occasionally stumble upon with like three or four responses? That is my nightmare. Thank you for not making me live out my nightmare.

As a refresher, this is what a sample poll looked like. There were polls for all 30 teams.

Here are sample results! Results, at least, expressed as percentages.

The question itself is broad, intentionally vague. Different people want different things out of baseball. Different people expect different things from baseball. If you always love baseball, even if your favorite team sucks, I wanted to know that. If you just couldn’t quite get on board for whatever reason, even though your team got into the playoffs, I wanted to know that. I wanted, essentially, everyone’s gut response. How would you sum up the way you felt about the season? And to all the results, I ran some basic math. A very good experience was worth five points. A pretty good experience was worth four points, and so on, all the way down to one. This is how I’ve calculated all of the ratings.

Before the ratings themselves, here’s the usual landscape of team-by-team participation. You see the percent of the total votes that each team received.

For anyone who’s spent much time on FanGraphs, there are certain consistencies. The Yankees always have an outsize presence. The same goes for, say, the Cubs, or the Blue Jays. Meanwhile, we never find that many Rays fans, or Marlins fans, or Padres fans. There’s a whole host of reasons for why this is, but these are trends that’ve held up for a long time. Still, I’m satisfied by the number of responses in even the least popular polls.

Out of the top five, we find the four participants in the two league championship series. Those are mostly popular teams to begin with, but there’s also the effect of some recency bias; those fans have recently been the most invested, and they’ve had the least amount of time to “check out,” if you will. But then, this isn’t all about winning, which you could glean from the terrible Giants finishing in second place. The Mariners, Mets, and Blue Jays are up there, too, owing to their relatively large internet footprints. Toward the other end, the Diamondbacks are sixth-lowest, despite a very strong season. The Rockies come out only a little higher. Neither of those teams has ever been so well represented on FanGraphs.

Now for the more fun part: the average ratings, for each team. The theoretical minimum is 1, and the theoretical maximum is 5. I made only one manual edit, and it’s the same edit I made in each of the previous two seasons: I eliminated any negative votes for the World Series winner. Sure, I guess, a fan might prefer to root for a horrible team, but I’m not sure I’ve met one of those. I have met internet trolls. This is how I silence them. Usually I don’t want to interfere with the data, but I’m comfortable with this adjustment. Anyhow, here you go.

Say what you will about all of the details, but, at the end of the day, fans are pretty simple. Fans care about results, and they care about results vs. the earlier expectations. When I first ran this project, I found a strong relationship between rating and record, but I found a stronger relationship between rating and the difference between the actual and preseason projected records. When I ran this project last year, the reverse was true. And this year, the relationships are of about equal strength. It’s great when a team is successful, but it’s even greater when it was expected to be something worse. This is the secret to happiness in baseball, and it’s the secret to happiness in life.

Look, the Dodgers are up there. They’re in sixth. Almost won the World Series. The Cubs are up there. They’re in tenth. Got to the NLCS. But it’s the Yankees who show up in second, behind the Astros, and then you get a run of teams whose playoff runs were brief. The Diamondbacks won a game, then got swept. The Twins and the Rockies both lost in the wild-card showdowns. Those results didn’t diminish the overall feelings. Those teams were surprises, whereas, say, the Cubs were arguably a disappointment. Championships can set impossible standards.

Between the Mets and the Giants, it kind of looks like a tie for last. Indeed, if you go to two decimal points, it’s a tie at 1.52. But if you stretch it out, the Mets finished with an average rating of 1.523, while the Giants finished with an average rating of 1.516. No one enjoyed the season less than Giants fans did. Hey look, they won something! They won last place!

Using the actual records, and also the differences between the actual and the projected records, I was able to calculate, for every team, an “expected” fan rating. There was obviously a very strong relationship between the actual ratings and the expected ones, and here’s what the plot looks like.

Still, it’s not perfect. The biggest positive outlier is the Twins. The Twins drew a rating of 4.48, but they had an “expected” rating of 3.83, and, with some rounding, that means they had a difference of +0.64 points. Twins fans had a lot to be thankful for, after the disaster that was their 2016. In second place are two teams at +0.59: the Rockies and the Giants. The story with the Rockies is similar to the story with the Twins. The story with the Giants, meanwhile, is that their “expected” rating wound up below the theoretical minimum. Bad year for San Francisco.

At the other end, the Royals are the biggest negative outlier, at -0.79. That makes them the biggest outlier of all. This could reflect a few things. Royals fans might’ve thought more of the team in spring training than the projections did. There could be some sort of lingering World Series hangover effect, where the expectations were set too high. And then there’s the additional reality that the core of the team is getting broken up. That was a story all summer, and the team couldn’t capitalize on having the group for one last run. People are complicated, in why they feel how they feel, but the Royals here do stand out.

One more plot. This shows how all the team ratings changed from 2016 to 2017.

The Diamondbacks just finished with the third-highest rating. Last year, they had the lowest rating. The Twins just finished with the fourth-highest rating. Last year, they had the second-lowest rating. For Arizona and Minnesota, 2016 was borderline catastrophic, so the fans embraced this year’s success, and then some. There’s a pretty obvious and self-explanatory relationship between the change in rating and the change in record. Yet it’s not perfectly linear. For example, this year, the Indians and Red Sox wound up with lower ratings. Their regular-season records weren’t any worse. Most significantly, though, look at the White Sox. The White Sox had the sixth-biggest improvement in rating, while also having the eighth-biggest decline in winning percentage. The fans are thankful. They’re thankful the White Sox finally chose a direction, and stuck to it. Even though it sucks to rebuild and see great players go out the door, White Sox fans — on FanGraphs, at least — seem enthusiastic about the process. There’s some actual hope, now, which didn’t used to be present.

As a final note, the White Sox voting was unusual. Everything above deals with averages, but it’s not like every single voter was on the same page. Each poll presented five different options, but no single option for the White Sox got more than 31% of the votes. That was baseball’s lowest maximum. The White Sox had 17% of people say they had a very bad experience, and they had 15% of people say they had a very good experience. No team had double digits in each column. The White Sox votes were the most spread out, followed by the Padres and the A’s. You can sell a rebuild, and you can sell young-player progress, but you can’t sell it to the whole fan base as a collective. Losing is always unpleasant.

Okay, I’m finished. Thank you one more time. You have all been a great help.





Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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HappyFunBall
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HappyFunBall

As a Nationals fan, I am amused that a 2017 season so similar to the 2016 season has produced almost the exact level of fan satisfaction. Is this how ennui begins?

lilpudge
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lilpudge

I went to 13 games at Nats Park this year and I think they won 9 of them, but I could only muster “pretty good experience” because the thrill of regular season excellence has been so dulled by first round heartbreak. I remember going to games in the first few years in DC when it was a serious treat to see a win.

I really hope someone in the division can miraculously pull together an 85 win season so I don’t spend May-September dreading the first weeks of October with no regular season intrigue to distract me.

David
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David

I believe you mean you’ll be dreading the first WEEK of October.