The Most Exciting Team in Baseball

As a baseball fan, winning feels great and losing feels awful. When teams win in dull fashion, fans are generally content to take the wins even if they aren’t all that thrilling. The Astros, Twins, and Dodgers are blowing teams out on a regular basis, but those wins aren’t causing too much consternation. But on the other end of the spectrum are teams that lose a lot of games and fail to provide much excitement during those contests. These are the bad teams that fall behind early and don’t give too much reason in terms of wins and losses to keep following the game. By combining a team’s winning or losing ways with how important at-bats tend to be, we can determine the most exciting team in baseball, as well as the most miserable club.

To determine how often teams have tension-inducing moments, we can take a look at Leverage Index (LI). Our glossary says “Leverage Index is essentially a measure of how critical a particular situation is. To calculate it, you are measuring the swing of the possible change in win expectancy.” A game’s LI starts at 1.0, and the more meaningful plate appearances gets, the higher the index rises; if plate appearances become less meaningful, the index goes lower. Leverage Index shows up on our Play Logs and is on the bottom of our Win Expectancy graphs. Here’s one for Game 3 of last year’s World Series:

The bars along the bottom identify the biggest moments of the game, even if something big doesn’t show up on the scoreboard. For teams, we are dealing with more than a thousand plays at this point in the season. If we take the average LI of every play, we can see if teams have a tendency to have a decent number of important moments during their games or if things are decided relatively early, with the players playing out games with little chance of changing the outcome.

If we separate out hitting and pitching, we can see where most of a team’s drama takes place. The graph below shows all teams so far this season:

We could stop here, and just call the Mets the most exciting team in baseball with the Twins and Mariners the most boring. That doesn’t feel completely right, though. While creating exciting situations is nice, there’s something to be said for actually delivering when the moments get big. Jumping out to an early lead and putting teams away like the Twins have done might lead to a lot of unimportant plate appearances, but the feel-good vibes of putting a team away in the third inning probably last a few innings longer. There has to be a level of fun to the excitement.

To factor in good results with the excitement, let’s add Win Probability Added to the mix. So that we can properly compare Leverage Index with Win Probability Added, I’m going to scale both to 100 and make 15 points one standard deviation away average. For WPA it looks like this:

WPA By Team: Hitting and Pitching
Team Hitting WPA Hitting WPA Score Pitching WPA Pitching WPA Score WPA Score
Twins 5.91 122 5.09 123 122
Dodgers 9.19 135 1.81 110 122
Astros 4.08 114 5.92 127 120
Yankees 4.54 116 4.46 121 118
Rays -0.91 94 7.41 133 113
Brewers 2.32 107 1.68 109 108
Phillies 2.82 109 0.68 105 107
Cubs 2.35 107 0.15 103 105
Braves 3.49 112 -0.99 98 105
Rockies 1.06 102 0.94 106 104
Rangers 3.5 112 -2.00 94 103
Cardinals 2.21 107 -1.21 97 102
Padres -2.12 89 2.62 113 101
Red Sox 1.62 104 -1.12 98 101
Diamondbacks -0.83 94 0.83 106 100
Athletics 0.59 100 -0.59 100 100
Indians -2.64 87 2.14 111 99
Angels 2.17 106 -2.67 91 99
White Sox 2.45 108 -2.95 90 99
Pirates 2.59 108 -3.59 88 98
Mets 1.66 104 -3.16 89 97
Reds -3.32 84 0.82 106 95
Nationals 1.45 104 -4.95 82 93
Giants -3.79 82 -1.21 97 90
Mariners 1.86 105 -7.86 70 88
Tigers -3.87 82 -2.63 92 87
Marlins -5.82 74 -1.68 95 85
Blue Jays -7.06 69 -1.44 96 83
Royals -3.73 83 -6.77 75 79
Orioles -4.51 79 -6.99 74 77

This is a simple proxy for wins and losses, and provides the added context of how teams are winning and losing, either on offense or when they take the field. The Twins are pretty balanced, while the Dodgers have leaned heavily on the hitting side and the Rays have needed their pitching and defense. For Leverage Index, the same information looks like this:

Leverage Index By Team: Hitting and Pitching
Team Hitting LI Hitting LI Score Pitching LI Pitching LI Score LI Score
Mets 1.01 115 1.05 126 121
Diamondbacks 1.04 124 1.01 115 119
Tigers 1.07 132 0.97 104 118
Athletics 0.96 101 1.06 129 115
Nationals 1.01 115 0.99 110 113
Cubs 0.98 107 1.02 118 113
Reds 1.01 115 0.97 104 110
Rays 0.96 101 1.02 118 110
Brewers 0.95 99 1.03 121 110
Red Sox 1.01 115 0.96 102 108
Rockies 1.01 115 0.95 99 107
Pirates 0.98 107 0.98 107 107
Yankees 0.97 104 0.98 107 106
Braves 0.93 93 1.01 115 104
Marlins 1 112 0.93 93 103
Padres 0.93 93 0.99 110 101
Phillies 0.94 96 0.96 102 99
Blue Jays 0.96 101 0.91 88 95
Indians 0.95 99 0.92 91 95
Cardinals 0.94 96 0.92 91 93
Rangers 0.91 88 0.94 96 92
Giants 0.95 99 0.89 82 91
Dodgers 0.9 85 0.94 96 90
Angels 0.94 96 0.89 82 89
Royals 0.91 88 0.92 91 89
Astros 0.93 93 0.88 80 86
Orioles 0.91 88 0.88 80 84
White Sox 0.92 90 0.86 74 82
Mariners 0.86 74 0.88 80 77
Twins 0.8 57 0.92 91 74

Say what you will about the Mets, but they’ve certainly had opportunities to turn games around or stay ahead, even if their season hasn’t completely delivered. Take a look at the Tigers; they might not be winning a ton, but they are playing a lot of competitive games. In fact, if we were to subtract the WPA scores from the LI scores, we’d come up with a few teams delivering more excitement than their wins and losses might indicate. Of course, with that excitement has come disaster, resulting in what I am calling a Horror Score.

Big Moments and Bad Results
Team Leverage Index Score WPA Score Horror Score
Tigers 118 87 31
Mets 121 97 24
Nationals 113 93 20
Diamondbacks 119 100 19
Marlins 103 85 18
Athletics 115 100 15
Reds 110 95 15
Blue Jays 95 83 12
Royals 89 79 11
Pirates 107 98 9
Red Sox 108 101 7
Cubs 113 105 7
Orioles 84 77 7
Rockies 107 104 3
Brewers 110 108 2
Giants 91 90 1
Padres 101 101 0
Braves 104 105 -1
Rays 110 113 -4
Indians 95 99 -4
Phillies 99 107 -8
Cardinals 93 102 -9
Angels 89 99 -10
Mariners 77 88 -11
Rangers 92 103 -11
Yankees 106 118 -13
White Sox 82 99 -17
Dodgers 90 122 -32
Astros 86 120 -34
Twins 74 122 -49

As for most exciting, we need to blend the winning with the tense moments. To that end, I’ve taken scores in four components: Pitching LI, Hitting LI, Pitching WPA, and Hitting WPA. With those scores, I found the geometric mean instead of the average to ensure that any one number wouldn’t weigh too heavily on the final number. This is what I found.

MLB Team Exhilaration Index
Team Hitting LI Score Pitching LI Score Hitting WPA Score Pitching WPA Score Exhilaration Index
Yankees 104 107 116 121 112
Rays 101 118 94 133 111
Diamondbacks 124 115 94 106 109
Brewers 99 121 107 109 109
Cubs 107 118 107 103 109
Mets 115 126 104 89 108
Athletics 101 129 100 100 107
Rockies 115 99 102 106 105
Dodgers 85 96 135 110 105
Red Sox 115 102 104 98 105
Braves 93 115 112 98 104
Phillies 96 102 109 105 103
Pirates 107 107 108 88 102
Nationals 115 110 104 82 102
Astros 93 80 114 127 102
Reds 115 104 84 106 102
Tigers 132 104 82 92 101
Padres 93 110 89 113 101
Cardinals 96 91 107 97 97
Rangers 88 96 112 94 97
Indians 99 91 87 111 96
Twins 57 91 122 123 94
Angels 96 82 106 91 94
Marlins 112 93 74 95 93
Giants 99 82 82 97 90
White Sox 90 74 108 90 90
Blue Jays 101 88 69 96 88
Royals 88 91 83 75 84
Mariners 74 80 105 70 81
Orioles 88 80 79 74 80

It turns out, the Yankees have been the most exciting team to watch in baseball this year, followed closely by the Rays. While the Diamondbacks might not have the best record in the game, they are providing their fans with a lot of good games and enough positive results to rank highly. As for the fans of the Royals, Mariners, and Orioles, my apologies. If you are a fan of the Mariners and you are saying to yourself, “It feels like the team should be even worse than that,” here’s every team’s Exhilaration Index for May.

MLB Team Exhilaration Index for May
Team Hitting LI Score Pitching LI Score Hitting WPA Score Pitching WPA Score Exhilaration Index
Cubs 117 133 103 110 115
Athletics 109 124 107 112 113
Mets 132 131 96 98 113
Yankees 106 100 116 125 112
Rays 112 117 84 132 110
Brewers 114 115 91 119 109
Rockies 115 103 125 94 109
Red Sox 99 110 111 105 106
Braves 93 113 101 112 104
Marlins 122 110 87 100 104
Dodgers 84 98 127 111 104
Phillies 96 98 120 99 103
Rangers 105 102 102 101 102
Diamondbacks 117 114 85 97 102
Reds 97 92 103 103 99
Astros 73 88 117 121 98
Nationals 103 104 105 79 97
Padres 96 95 95 102 97
White Sox 94 88 103 100 96
Angels 91 89 111 92 95
Twins 71 77 120 122 95
Indians 111 85 87 97 95
Giants 100 92 97 84 93
Orioles 102 109 89 76 93
Tigers 111 93 84 84 93
Pirates 75 88 117 86 90
Cardinals 96 86 81 91 88
Royals 82 85 83 92 85
Blue Jays 96 86 69 87 84
Mariners 79 75 85 71 77

Nothing above is going to tell us what teams will do going forward, but if you feel a bit dejected watching the home nine, or if their winning doesn’t make you feel as excited as you think it should, there might be a good reason why. For better or worse, being a fan can be a bit draining but these numbers might help put some of your feelings in perspective and provide a rational explanation for the mood of a team’s fans.

We hoped you liked reading The Most Exciting Team in Baseball by Craig Edwards!

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Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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burrwick
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burrwick

And this is just one of the many examples of why I love Fangraphs!