Let Youth Be Served: Baseball’s 40-40 Teams

The NL East has to be baseball’s surprise division this season, with the upstart Braves and Phillies so far besting the pre-season favorite Nationals, currently just a .500 team after running away with the division a year ago. For the Phillies, it’s their second straight year as a 40-40 club, a back-to-back they also accomplished in the 1949 and 1950 seasons, the latter a pennant-winning campaign. So, what’s a 40-40 team? If you guessed 40% of PA and 40% of IP given to players aged 25 and under, you nailed it. More after the jump.

Here are the numbers so far this year for each team.As is suggested by these numbers, 40-40 teams are fairly unusual, with only the Phillies making the grade this season, just as they were the only club to do so last year. That is consistent with the recent past that has seen more than one such team in only two seasons since 2001, in 2006 (two) and 2013 (three). If Philadelphia maintains its current pace and finishes the season as a 50-50 club, they would be just the second such team since 2001, following the 2006 Marlins.

40-40 clubs haven’t always been so rare, as shown in the next chart.The spike in the 1900s and 1910s (it probably makes sense to combine those decades as the data only begin with the 1908 season) probably reflects scarcity of talent in the two seasons of the Federal League (although the FL itself had only one 40-40 club), pitchers tending to be younger under the cumulative effect of the heavy workloads of the time, and, possibly, the nature of the small ball offensive game tending to favor younger and faster players. The spikes in the 1960s and 1970s reflect some of the same factors, with talent scarcity in an expansion era, and another lower offensive environment favoring younger players and the speed game then in vogue.

Were the Phillies to reach the post-season this year, they would be the first 40-40 team to do so since the 1970s. A 40-40 team may precede a period of success or may follow one as a team embarks on a rebuilding process (as the Phillies are doing now). Financial imperatives may also dictate a younger roster, examples of which are indicated in the table below.The A’s and, in the current era, the Marlins, are the prime examples of financially-driven 40-40 clubs. Included among the A’s 22 40-40 seasons are a run of ten such clubs (including two pennant winners) in 11 years (1912-22), and a 5-year run (1965-69) and another season in 1971, the last the first of 5 straight post-season appearances. At the other extreme is baseball’s most successful franchise, with the Yankees having had but one such season and that more than a century ago (the current Yankees, like last year having 25-and-under batters and pitchers both above the 30% mark, are the youngest since 1970).

The best and worst 40-40 teams are both from the dead-ball era, with the 1912 Red Sox boasting a .691 W-L% while the 1916 A’s recorded only a .235 mark (36-117), the lowest of any team since 1901. Plotting season by W-L% yields this picture. While 40-40 teams that post winning records are definitely the exception rather than the rule, the recent incidence of very bad 40-40 teams (shaded area) does seem to have diminished over the past 35 years or so.

Thanks as always goes to baseball-reference.com for making available the data used to prepare this analysis.

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24 Comments on "Let Youth Be Served: Baseball’s 40-40 Teams"

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Dr. Doom
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Great post, Doug! Wow… a lot of thoughts. So, first of all, I’m shocked by how old some of the teams I think of as “young” are. Maybe it’s just that, when I think of the rosters loaded with “nobodies,” I think of them as being “young…” but as this post attests, those are NOT the same thing. Second of all, I wonder if there’s future success correlated to really young teams like that. As a Brewers fan, I looked at the most recent time the Brewers showed up on this list… 1976. Well, that was before their run as… Read more »
Doug
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I’ll post the list of seasons so you can judge the success of rebuilding efforts.

Another example of a big success is the 1990 Braves.

Dr. Doom
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I missed the 1980 Tigers before – in Year5, they won the World Series, and really had a pretty good half-decade based on that 1980 youth injection. Perhaps most obviously, the 1971 Reds were coming off a World Series, somehow managed to reload and have it only set them back for a year, as they won the World Series three times in the next five years (losing an NLCS that went the distance and winning 98 games in the other two of five). And, of course, on the list above, we see also the 1916 Yankees, as well as the… Read more »
e pluribus munu
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Really interesting, Doug. I wonder what you’d get with different cutoffs, including unbalanced hitting/pitching percentages. I don’t think the Federal League could have much to do with the high rate of 40-40 teams in the 1910s. By my count (of your list) there were actually 37 such teams in the 1910s, an average of 3.7/yr., with only 7 occurring in the years 1914-15, which is just about average for the period. It’s the year before the FL, 1913, that has the highest total (8); then 1912 (6) and 1911 (5). During the period 1908-1919, two teams (A’s and Cards) account… Read more »
e pluribus munu
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However, to modify my last post, the Federal League was certainly a factor in what may be the most extreme 40-40 team of all time (just guessing): the 1915 Athletics. Connie Mack’s youth movement of that year, which was a capitulation to the loss of some of his older stars to the FL, was an extreme example of a “financially-driven” 40-40 team, to use Doug’s term. If I’m calculating right, over 63% of PAs were given to players in their year-25 season or under. And when it comes to pitching, the figure is just over 95% — and that’s for… Read more »
John
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Connie Mack was a strange bird indeed. He basically went with what we’d today call a Triple-A team in 1915. He not only wanted cheaper players, uh, er, less expensive players, he wanted “his kind” of people. I don’t know exactly what that means, but with the demise of the FL, there were plenty of players he could have gotten on the cheap. He didn’t go for them because they weren’t “his kind” of people. He sold off his team again in the 1930’s, after winning 3 straight WS’s. Lefty Grove to the Red Sox, Mickey Cochran to the Tigers,… Read more »
e pluribus munu
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Since the Federal League didn’t place a franchise in Philadelphia, I’m not sure there’s an easy answer to your closing question, John. There’s discussion of the drop and its effects on Mack in a 1999 book on the A’s (one effect was that he declined to purchase the contract of Babe Ruth mid-season from Jack Dunn’s minor league Baltimore team, because he was aware of the financial drift caused by low numbers!), but no indication of its cause.

John
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Connie Mack nearly got the A;s back to the top in the late 40’s before he retired, but couldn’t quite get over the hump before he retired after the 1950 season. It then took until the early 1970’s and two city moves to get them back on top. Great what if?… What if Moneyball had been available for Connie Mack? Speculation for another time perhaps.

e pluribus munu
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I’m not sure Mack was responsible for much of the A’s late-40s resurgence: his coaches had pretty much taken over active decision making. On the question of A’s attendance in 1914, I’ve been doing a little more research. 1914 was an economic recession year, and that may have contributed to the drop, but it’s also true that in Philadelphia, the Phillies lost about 70% of their 1913 attendance (surely prompted, in part, by a disappointing season, following a strong showing in ’13). AL attendance was down about 25%. The FL must have had an effect, but it was very uneven:… Read more »
John
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Good point about the 40’s A’s.

I did not know there was an economic downturn in 1914. Three teams in St. Louis and Chicago and four in the New York area – five when Indianapolis moved to Newark – it seems to me the organizers of the FL could have chosen other markets. Indianapolis, KC and Buffalo, maybe instead of Newark the Pepper could have moved to Milwaukee. Louisville could’ve been a good choice. Of course, 100 years later, we’ll never know.

e pluribus munu
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By odd coincidence I was reading the second volume of Harold Seymour’s trilogy on baseball and came across a comment modifying a general statement about the rosy economic context for baseball in the first two decades of the 20th century: ” . . . short though severe depressions in 1907 and 1914 marred the era.” If it hadn’t been for your question, I might not have noticed. The move to Newark was apparently an attempt to get even more in the face of MLB: Wikipedia’s account says that the FL had felt that their Brooklyn Tip Tops would have been… Read more »
Doug
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Thanks for digging into this further, epm, and identifying that many of the deadball teams came from a few franchises.

Hard to believe that the FL didn’t have an impact; I’ll look into why not. One FL impact that extended beyond 1915 was the reception given to players who jumped; they weren’t exactly welcomed back with open arms, and many had difficulty resuming their careers.

Mike L
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Looking at John’s comment below reminds me that you have to take into account the two tectonic economic forces that might have an impact on these results: Loss of the reserve clause, which bound players to their teams (as they aged) for so long as the teams wanted them, and because of the high prices for Free Agents, exacerbated the differences between team, and the modern CBA, which creates guardrails through arb eligibility, service time manipulation, compensation, drafts picks, 5-10 rights, etc.

Doug
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Good thought, Mike.

It would seem logical that teams would have less incentive to invest in younger players knowing they could lose them just about the time they were reaching their primes. Probably a contributing factor to the decline in young teams since UFA came into being.

Yet, we have examples of recent teams having success by building with younger players, including teams (Twins, Royals) without the resources to be confident of retaining their best talent.

e pluribus munu
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I think it’s still a lot cheaper to invest in young talent with a seven-year window at low low (so to speak) salary levels than in free agent talent, which so frequently costs more to sign than the gamble is worth. I’d guess that 2-3 year rebuilding programs are generally targeted to pay off in a pennant drive before the seventh year. Of course, most rebuilding plans do involve mixing young players with some more expensive veterans, and often require a relatively high free-agent addition or two as the target is approached. I’d be interested in a discussion of Mike’s… Read more »
Mike L
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It’s interesting how the way we describe most contending teams now is in “windows of opportunity” which must close because superstar younger players will be free agents in X years. As long as that’s true, then all but the wealthiest teams have to treat their rosters like jigsaw puzzles, subtracting to trade for controllable talent, adding older players to one year deals to flip them at the trading deadline, etc. One more point I wanted to make about the old rules is that you really could be an awful team for a very long time with absolutely no hope. The… Read more »
e pluribus munu
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The Phillies had exactly one winning season from 1918 through 1948.

But then it turned out their patient rebuilding plan paid off with a bang!

Voomo Zanzibar
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Ryne Stanek as a Starter:

10 GS
14.2 IP
1.23 ERA
0.886 WHIP

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