Back on March 16th, Jonathan Mishory launched a series of polls — a contest based on Survivor — for visitors to the Effectively Wild podcast’s Facebook fan group. Through 29 rounds, votes were tallied and teams eliminated until we determined a consensus champion. A team that was least offensive to the largest number of Effectively Wild‘s baseball analytics-minded audience.
I tracked the results in a spreadsheet which is the point of reference for this recap. Excerpts are included below, but it’s available in its entirety in a Google doc. A tab includes links to each poll’s thread in the Faceboook group.
The Key: Each round, I colored the eliminated team red and the runner-up yellow. The theory is that the runner-up is the team likeliest to be voted out the following round (though it doesn’t always work out like that).
In column B, the first team from each division eliminated is colored red, and the last from each division is green. In the bottom line, I marked vote totals that were relatively low (<350) red, and the highest (>450) green. (Totals ranged from 300 to 613, FYI.)
Each team’s total votes against are tallied, and average per round is calculated. Highest average per round (>39) is colored red, lowest average per round (<19) is colored green. Sort of redundant, but I also calculated percentage of votes against. That is, total number of votes divided by total potential votes. It tracks the averages per round, with >9% being high (red) and <5% being low (green).
I had hoped that by tracking number of votes I could develop a hierarchy less subject to the whims and strategy of the daily Survivor challenge. I ranked them in the final column. I think it works for the teams with more votes against, but vote totals overwhelm the fundamentals as we get into the later rounds. It’s probably less fair to our champion and runner-up than the daily voting.
A great big thank you to Jonathan, for posting these polls and tallying each day’s results. I truly appreciated his commentary as the game unfolded. And thanks to Ken Maeda, who helped me to get this data and recap posted, and for doing the mascot picture that illustrates it. I merely put together the spreadsheet, which was mostly for my own entertainment. Now that you have the data, here’s a series of recaps by round, as I try to add a little context and hopefully enhance your appreciation for the contest.
30. Yankees: The Yankees were voted out in round 1. They’re MLB’s perennial bad guy team, having won (by far) the most World Series and the most games. They’ve crushed the hopes and dreams of most other American League fan bases, and have defeated several National League team in many World Series. They’re in the biggest market, and many feel that they often poach the best players via free agency rather than develop internal talent (although they do that too). Even when they rebuild they have a respectable season. Everyone who roots for another team hates them (unless they’re the kind of fan who backs a winner for winning’s sake).
29. Astros: Some recency bias here, and maybe in a few seasons they’ll somewhat transcend their current scandals. If this contest had been held before last season — before the cheating/bang scandal was unearthed, and before the Osuna trade controversy escalated with Brandon Taubman and the Astros’ malevolent (and then head-smackingly tone-deaf and clumsy) attempt to thwart consequences for it, I think they might’ve even been a consensus favorite, probably beating the Rangers and maybe the Angels in AL West esteem. But for right now they’re among the most hated teams. You could see it coming in round 1, as they had the second-highest votes against.
28. Cardinals: The vibe is different — middle market, midwest city in decline — but the Cardinals are the Yankees of the NL simply by virtue of having the most World Series titles in their league. And their marketing effort as “the best fans in Baseball,” bragging dominance of the NL-Central, “the Cardinals Way” — their fans may love this stuff but for everyone else it’s grating. It’s like they want to be perceived as a perennial scrappy underdog, but it’s incongruous with being the dominant team in the NL. They can’t have it both ways. We could see this one coming in votes earlier, when they drew a lot of votes in round 1 and were runner-up in round 2.
27. Red Sox: Back before the 21st century, the Boston Red Sox were sympathetic, having not won a World Series in nearly 100 years and having to deal with the villainous Yankees regularly. They cast themselves as the “Rebel Alliance” while the Yankees embraced the role of Evil Empire. Seattle sports fans had a natural affinity for the Boston teams, as the Red Sox battled the Yankees, the Boston Celtics regularly played the hated LA Lakers in the NBA Finals, and the New England Patriots hadn’t yet won a championship. After the 2004 World Series, I think national affection for the team increased. But as the decade unfolded, Boston won championships in every major sport and became less sympathetic, and they became regular World Series winners. Fans of other teams — I’m a Mariners fan — got tired of seeing a sea of red Red Sox jerseys at our home games. We all got tired of Tom Brady winning Super Bowl after Super Bowl. The Red Sox have become part of a free agent-buying, big-money “evil empire” of its own. And that makes them early-round losers in this contest. The team’s path toward elimination began in round 1 among the top vote-getters, and were runner-up by a large margin in round 3.
26. Cubs and 25. Dodgers: I think we can call rounds 5 and 6 a tie. Voting against these teams was close in every round until the Cubs were eliminated. The Dodgers had slightly more votes (and were runner-up) in round 4, and then the Cubs lost in round 5 by only 10 votes. Both represent big cities and huge markets, and have relatively limitless resources — an enviable position that attracts enemies. The first six teams represent something of a “tier,” drawing votes against from the very beginning.
24. Phillies: Opposition to this team started coalescing in round 5, where they drew the third-highest number of votes against. They were runner-up in round 6, and eliminated in round 7. This team represents a big market that competes against several big city fan bases regularly and therefore has lots of natural enemies.
23. Indians: Back in the 1980s, this was one of the least successful franchises in MLB. I remember seeing an episode of Family Ties where young Jennifer tells big brother Alex she’s headed to the Seattle-Cleveland game, and Alex says “Clash of the Titans.” A few years later, the Major League film series featured this team partly because it was understood to be hapless. A few years after that, the Indians became a good team and have been consistently respectable ever since. And recency bias works against them — they’ve been the dominant team in the AL Central for the past few seasons. I would guess if this poll were done after 2010 or 2012, a division rival might’ve been a bigger target. Also working against the team is the team name, mascot, and Chief Wahoo logo, which draw perennial criticism. Opposition against the team kicked in in earnest in the round 6 vote; it was a close runner-up in round 7 and lost fairly closely in round 8.
22. Braves: The team name and Tomahawk logo/”chop” worked against this team and it was runner-up to the Indians in round 8. They’re also a major rival to fans of the other NL East teams. Their loss in round 9 wasn’t particularly close, so these three might be another “tier” of disliked teams.
21. Marlins: Eliminated out of nowhere this round in a fairly tight competition with Giants and Mets. Going into this round, we expected the Giants to go, as they’d had a surge in votes against in round 8, and were runner-up in rounds 9 and 10. Miami hadn’t attracted a large number of votes in any previous round, they were just suddenly out of contention with this vote. That makes me see this elimination as an anomaly — maybe the Marlins drew votes early and the fans of other teams piled on to protect their own voting interest. There is some animosity towards this team’s ownership (mostly past owners). Their fans are long-suffering, but the team has also managed to win two World Series in a relatively short span of existence, so that tempers sympathy somewhat. I’d guess in a contest stripped of anomaly, the team would be in the middle of teams eliminated, maybe 15th or 16th, not top 10.
20. Giants: This was a close vote with the Mets, but the momentum had been building against the Giants longer with a spike in votes against in round 8. The Giants represent a large market with plenty of money, have a major historic rival with a large fan base in the Dodgers, and have won several World Series recently, and are appropriately unsympathetic.
19. Mets: This team started attracting more than average votes against in round 7, and steadily gained votes each round until eliminated. The less storied, poorer team that represents New York City is still a huge-market team that should have the among the largest payrolls (if ownership wasn’t so awful). I also think other NL East teams’ fans were voting in a semi-coordinated groupthink way to eliminate rivals. Still, the poll was close, as runner-up Texas survived by a handful of votes.
18. Nationals: Totally blindsided this round, as this team hadn’t ever drawn enough votes in previous rounds to suspect elimination was imminent. This was as close as it gets — the Brewers survived by a single vote, 104-103. I suspect that divisional rivals again drove this spike. Washington was the least-disliked team in the NL East, and would’ve made the top ten if percentages of the total vote are a meaningful metric. I don’t think winning the 2019 World Series hurt, because it was against an obvious villain in the Astros.
17. Rangers: Vote total jumped against the Rangers in round 10, then they were nearly eliminated in round 12, then pressure eased up with the Nationals-Brewers competition in round 13. But with the Nationals out, attention whipped back to eliminate this team in a not-very-close loss. I can’t explain it; this team is simply disliked roughly in sync with the round it was eliminated, but maybe would have gone a round or two later in an anomaly-free contest.
16. Pirates: Going into this round, you might have guessed that the Brewers were next to go, but they narrowly survived as the crowd turned against the Pirates. Momentum had been turning against them starting with round 12, but there were plenty of other teams drawing votes. This one was a surprise in a close vote. I’d guess that with the NL East eliminated, Cardinal/Cub fans started picking off the other rivals.
15. Brewers: Their time finally comes, but the runner-up Orioles are reasonably close.
14. Royals: Another surprise. The Royals were almost completely under the radar until this round, though they drew a lot of votes against in round 15. It’s not a total blow-out, so maybe things went against them early in the voting and non-fans of the team piled on to save their favorites.
13. Orioles: Close vote with the White Sox nearly going instead. The tide turned against the Orioles in round 14 and they’d been runner up in the previous two.
12. White Sox: The runner-up in round 18 goes this round, and it’s a blow-out, no one else is close. That makes this the last team in a “tier” that extends ten rounds, from Marlins to White Sox.
11. Reds: The least-disliked team in the NL Central is the Reds, who didn’t draw serious attention until round 17, then hung with a pack of teams that outlasted them for a few before getting hit hard and eliminated here. The vote is close with the Tigers this round, but it’s the Reds’ time to go.
10. Diamondbacks: Kicks off a couple of rounds where the Angels are flirting with elimination.
9. Tigers: It seemed like things were turning against the Angels but they squeaked past this round with the Tigers taking the hit.
8. Angels: Goodwill towards Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, among other factors, keep the team alive deep into the game, and they outlast every other huge-city/major-market team (NY, LA, Chicago…). The runner-up Blue Jays have managed to avoid scrutiny thus far and last a few more rounds, but are in danger from here out.
7. Rockies: Things turn suddenly against the Rockies, who haven’t been all that close to elimination until recently and didn’t seem to be in too much danger.
6. Rays: Bloody close battle between the remaining AL East teams for Effectively Wild favorite. The Rays get the boot by only two measly votes, without much indication they were under threat.
5. Blue Jays: The favorite team in the AL East goes here in a total blow-out, and I think this is a good place to call a tier: Reds-to-Blue Jays.
4. Twins: The favorite team in the AL Central outlasted the Tigers by several rounds. Runner-up Mariners weren’t all that close behind.
3. Padres: The favorite team in the NL West is eliminated here. Runner-up Athletics are a distant second.
The Championship Round: This time the vote was flipped, and votes were cast for the team that participants wanted to win, and the winner was: The Oakland Athletics!
To make things work with my spreadsheet format, I simply applied votes for the Athletics to the Mariners (as votes against) and vice-versa. The A’s were triumphant.
Runner-up – Mariners: I have a theory that sympathy for a rival only goes so far. You don’t mind them because they aren’t threatening; they’ve never factored into one of your favorite team’s truly demoralizing defeats. Maybe they beat a hated rival one day when you were paying attention and earned some goodwill with you. But ultimately you prefer another team, and they’re a rival capable of handing you a bad day or week or season. And maybe it’s worse when they’re a rival you take for granted as a weaker team. They have no business being threatening in any way. Maybe you met a fan of their team, and they don’t experience your favorite team as a team whose victories are to be celebrated — your favorite team probably gave them a bad day, or week or season at some point in its storied past.
So, it is with the Seattle Mariners. They’re a sympathetic team, by virtue of never having accomplished something every other team in MLB has accomplished — playing in a World Series — but you don’t want to lose to them, even if it’s just a popularity contest. It’s better to lose to a team that does have some accomplishments.
The Champion – A’s: The Oakland Athletics are quite sympathetic. A relatively poor team. Playing in one of the league’s dumpiest stadiums. Surviving in the shadow of the region’s more popular and successful team — literal Giants. They were the subject of Moneyball, a book (and later movie) that appeals strongly to the people voting in this contest. It may be the reason they became interested in baseball analytics in the first place. It was published in 2003 — 17 years ago. And the team itself does have great historic accomplishments: only the A’s and the Yankees have won at least three consecutive World Series.
So, there you have it: the Oakland Athletics — the least disliked team in baseball according to fans of Effectively Wild. Congratulations!
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