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Which Team’s Future Is Brightest: The Astros Or Dodgers?

Hope you didn’t get sick of the Astros and Dodgers, because you’re going to be stuck with them for a lot of Octobers to come. Based on our analysis of all MLB teams since 1988,1 this year’s Astros and Dodgers each appear to have two of the brightest futures for any pair of World Series teams ever.

Here’s how we figured that out. We gathered data on all MLB teams from 1988 to 2012 and tried to see which factors best predicted their win totals over the following five seasons. After testing different combinations,2 we found that five metrics emerged as significant predictors of a team’s future record: A team’s Elo rating through the end of the World Series (which contributed about 33 percent to a team’s future win projection); its batting wins above replacement (WAR)3 (29 percent); its pitching WAR (13 percent); and the average ages — weighted by playing time — of its batters (6 percent) and pitchers (12 percent) — plus a bonus for making the World Series (7 percent).4

Unsurprisingly, having a talented young core (especially on the hitting side) is a good ticket for a return trip to the World Series. After running the numbers for the final two teams standing this year, here’s how the Dodgers and Astros stack up against the other 56 World Series teams in our data set:

Los Angeles Dodgers (90.0 wins per season)

2017 Elo Rating: 1581.6 (11th)

2017 batting WAR: 29.9 (18th)

2017 pitching WAR: 21.3 (21st)

2017 average age, batters: 27.7 (5th-youngest)

2017 average age, pitchers: 29.7 (33rd-youngest)

Despite losing to the Astros in Game 7 on Wednesday, LA appears to have the brighter future of this year’s World Series teams, albeit only just. The Dodgers are projected to win about 90 games per season for the next five years, but that’s nothing new to them. Since 2013, the Dodgers have averaged an MLB-best 95 wins per season and were twice denied a shot at the World Series. The bulk of this year’s production for the Dodgers has come from a mix of young phenoms and veteran stars. Turner, Clayton Kershaw and 23-year-old Corey Seager were the top three WAR contributors to the Dodgers. Seager has emerged as one of the premier players in the league and, with just three years of MLB experience to date, he ranks sixth all-time for the most WAR among shortstops in their first three seasons. Although he was up and down during the playoffs — he missed the NLCS with a back injury and hit just .237 in the postseason — Seager is one of the biggest reasons LA’s future looks so bright.

Baseball’s best young shortstops

In a player’s first three MLB seasons, most wins above replacement (WAR) while playing at least half of games at shortstop

PLAYER YEARS GAMES AT SHORTSTOP WAR
1 Arky Vaughan 1932-34 429 17.3
2 Johnny Pesky 1942-47 433 16.8
3 Francisco Lindor 2015-17 411 16.2
4 Carlos Correa 2015-17 360 15.0
5 Rogers Hornsby 1915-17 207 14.5
6 Corey Seager 2015-17 314 14.1
7 Nomar Garciaparra 1996-98 318 13.8
8 Glenn Wright 1924-26 422 13.3
9 Charlie Hollocher 1918-20 326 12.6
10 Cal Ripken, Jr. 1981-83 268 12.5

WAR is an average of the metrics found at FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.

Sources: Baseball-Reference.com, FanGraphs

It’s not just Seager that has Dodgers fans drooling. Twenty-two-year-old rookie sensation Cody Bellinger launched 39 home runs and knocked 97 RBIs in 2017 to lead the Dodgers in both categories, and is a frontrunner for the NL Rookie of the Year award. LA also has 21-year-old left-handed starting pitcher Julio Urias, who missed much of 2017 with a shoulder injury, but is still one of baseball’s most promising talents. And there’s more. LA has one of the top-ranked minor-league systems in the game, so there are even more talented Dodgers to come. Which is likely why they opened the offseason as 2018 World Series favorites.

Houston Astros (88.6 wins per season)

2017 Elo Rating: 1575.0 (15th)

2017 batting WAR: 36.5 (5th)

2017 pitching WAR: 17.0 (42nd)

2017 average age, batters: 28.8 (21st-youngest)

2017 average age, pitchers: 28.5 (17th-youngest)

For Houston, it’s been a completely different journey to the top. The Astros were really bad for more than half a decade, when they averaged an MLB-worst 69 wins between 2006 and 2014. But while the organization floundered at the major-league level, the Astros’ front office steadily stockpiled the organization’s minor-league system with high-ceiling talent through the draft and international free agency.

In 2006, Houston signed a 16-year-old named Jose Altuve for just $15,000 — Altuve is now a three-time reigning AL batting champion. In 2009, they drafted Dallas Keuchel in the 7th round of the draft, and he went onto win the AL Cy Young award in 2015. Two years after that they drafted George Springer out of Connecticut, who this week was crowned World Series MVP. Then in 2012, the Astros selected shortstop Carlos Correa with the No.1 pick in the draft — this year Correa had the team’s second-highest Wins Above Replacement in the regular season.

Put that all together and Houston had the largest WAR of any team in MLB from their homegrown players in 2017. They’ve done their time at the bottom, and now with their star trio leading the way, it’s Houston’s time to shine.

Of course, it’s also worth noting that although the Dodgers currently project for the most future wins of any current MLB team, the Astros rank third. Sandwiched in second place between the two World Series participants are the Cleveland Indians, who were upset in the ALDS by the New York Yankees but still had one of the most impressive seasons of any team in recent history. Across their entire roster, Cleveland was a little younger than either the Dodgers or Astros, so they should be a force to reckon with for the foreseeable future. Add in other up-and-coming teams (such as the Yankees) and old standbys (such as the Cubs), and 2017’s glut of good teams should continue into next season and beyond.

Which MLB teams have the brightest futures?

Most predicted wins over the next five seasons, based on 2017 team characteristics

AVERAGE AGE WAR
TEAM ELO RATING BATTERS PITCHERS BATTERS PITCHERS PREDICTED WINS/SEASON
1 Dodgers 1581.6 27.7 29.7 29.9 21.3 90.0
2 Indians 1596.7 28.1 29.1 27.6 32.5 89.2
3 Astros 1575.0 28.8 28.5 36.5 17.0 88.6
4 Cubs 1546.0 26.6 30.8 26.9 15.5 87.5
5 Yankees 1570.7 28.7 27.6 28.8 24.0 85.8
6 Nationals 1550.7 29.0 29.9 23.2 23.4 85.4
7 Red Sox 1549.9 27.3 28.4 19.2 22.8 84.8
8 Diamondbacks 1534.4 28.3 28.3 19.4 25.8 84.1
9 Twins 1509.8 27.1 29.7 26.5 8.4 84.1
10 Cardinals 1514.6 28.0 28.1 24.1 14.6 82.8
11 Brewers 1510.5 27.3 28.1 18.2 17.8 82.7
12 Rays 1505.6 28.3 27.6 24.0 12.0 81.5
13 Marlins 1483.2 28.1 28.7 27.1 2.5 81.0
14 Rangers 1497.1 28.4 28.9 16.1 12.1 80.4
15 Royals 1477.3 28.9 30.3 12.9 14.3 80.3
16 Rockies 1506.4 28.5 26.6 14.9 20.3 80.0
17 Angels 1512.8 29.9 29.2 17.4 12.6 79.9
18 White Sox 1463.9 26.7 28.9 15.1 5.8 79.9
19 Mariners 1506.6 29.6 27.9 22.4 10.4 79.8
20 Braves 1466.5 28.6 29.6 15.0 9.0 79.3
21 Phillies 1470.9 26.5 26.6 12.2 13.1 79.3
22 Reds 1454.1 27.2 27.7 22.8 1.2 79.2
23 Athletics 1491.5 28.7 27.6 17.1 10.3 78.9
24 Pirates 1486.5 28.3 27.1 11.1 13.9 78.1
25 Orioles 1474.2 28.6 28.0 15.4 7.3 78.0
26 Padres 1447.8 26.0 28.0 8.5 5.3 78.0
27 Mets 1460.3 29.1 27.3 18.6 7.7 77.6
28 Blue Jays 1496.6 31.1 28.9 9.3 17.5 77.5
29 Giants 1465.8 29.6 29.0 7.1 12.1 76.8
30 Tigers 1442.9 29.7 28.4 13.6 9.8 76.8

Sources: Baseball-Reference.com, FanGraphs

Footnotes

  1. That’s when free agency truly began to reshape the way teams build following a period of collusion between owners.

  2. Specifically, variable selection was performed using the Lasso.

  3. Averaging together the versions found at Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.com.

  4. Winning the World Series, while all sorts of fun, didn’t predict much for the years to come, after accounting for all this other stuff.

Daniel Levitt is a sports writer at FiveThirtyEight. He’s an alum of the University of Missouri.

Neil Paine is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.

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