Which MLB team’s fanbase is the most optimistic (or pessimistic) a month before opening day 2019?

By: Patrick W. Zimmerman

“Just wait ‘til next year!”

—Seemingly every baseball fan ever

It’s a month out from opening day (March 28th), and the really big fish on the market have finally overcome market forces (::cough:: collusion ::cough::) to find homes in San Diego and Philly. So we were wondering, which teams fans have already gone off the deep end? 

Hope springs eternal every spring, supposedly.  Is that actually true? Are fans really that irrationally optimistic?  Or, conversely, are fans fickle and impossible to please?

Let’s find out!  Which teams’ fans twitter fanbases seems the most optimistic? Most pessimistic?  And do the computer models suggest they have any idea what they’re talking about?

It’s ranking time.


The question

How does the mood of every team’s fanbase on Twitter compare to its predicted performance in 2019 per the computer models?  That is to say, which teams fanbases are over- or underrating their teams?


The short-short version

In general, if you want positive fans, apparently you should run a team that isn’t any good in a relatively small market.  If you want grumpy fans, consistently win ballgames. 

That sounds harsh because it is. 


The methodology

To gauge fanbase mood, we scraped hashtags across Twitter for every team on February 28th, after both Harper and Machado had signed and exactly 1 month out from opening day.  To avoid potential confounds, we picked the obvious ones like [spanformula]#pittsburghpirates[/span] rather than broader things like team names that could be referring to other things like [spanformula]pirates[/span]. We then subjected the 15,000 tweet corpus to a sentiment analysis (tweaked for baseball terminology, where [spanformula]hit[/span] is a positive statement) through the University of Málaga’s Lingmotif text analysis tool.

For our computer models, we just took the average of Dan Symborski’s ZiPS model and Nate Silver / Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA.

For each metric, we took at the z-score as a measure of its measure relative to the rest of the league, then simply subtracted the model z-score from the optimism z-score to arrive at our expectation index.


The results

Who’s most ready for the 2019 season, and who fears for the fate of all mankind?

Team wordcount Positive score Negative score Net score Sentiment z-score
Oakland Athletics 6636 743 250 +493 +2.20
Atlanta Braves 5855 747 313 +434 +1.74
Milwaukee Brewers 6300 589 194 +395 +1.44
Colorado Rockies 5879 598 224 +374 +1.27
San Diego Padres 6450 643 276 +367 +1.22
Seattle Mariners 5632 504 169 +335 +0.97
Texas Rangers 2783 375 92 +283 +0.57
New York Yankees 6192 592 318 +274 +0.50
Minnesota Twins 5931 456 187 +269 +0.46
Boston Red Sox 5290 466 202 +264 +0.42
Baltimore Orioles 6363 584 322 +262 +0.40
Tampa Bay Rays 6783 664 429 +235 +0.19
Toronto Blue Jays 6196 379 151 +228 +0.14
Washington Nationals 6541 734 517 +217 +0.05
Pittsburgh Pirates 5828 452 246 +206 -0.03
Los Angeles Dodgers 6720 628 428 +200 -0.08
New York Mets 6713 684 490 +194 -0.13
Kansas City Royals 6080 254 78 +176 -0.27
St. Louis Cardinals 6077 498 342 +156 -0.42
Arizona Diamondbacks 6821 281 132 +149 -0.48
Chicago Cubs 6694 350 208 +142 -0.53
Philadelphia Phillies 6517 401 266 +135 -0.59
Cincinnati Reds 6568 359 230 +129 -0.63
Chicago White Sox 6745 724 601 +123 -0.68
Cleveland Indians 6875 174 51 +123 -0.68
Houston Astros 6060 261 144 +117 -0.73
Miami Marlins 6246 395 291 +104 -0.83
Detroit Tigers 6477 335 292 +43 -1.30
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 5457 269 254 +15 -1.52
San Francisco Giants 6899 302 435 -133 -2.67

Important Note: Z-scores will show positive and negative ratings relative to the league as a whole, so a team like, say, Pittsburgh, can have a below-average fan sentiment score (-0.03) while simultaneously having a fanbase that is feeling, in general, positive about the upcoming season. Indeed, there is only one team with a net negative sentiment score: Giants Twitter is a dark, dark place right now.

The sweet spot for optimism seems to be relatively good (but not dominating) teams in small markets.  Oakland, Milwaukee, and Colorado all show up, along with the back-in-the playoffs Atlanta Braves.  Plus the Padres, who have some justification, having just signed Manny Machado for the low, low, price of 94% of Balboa Park. Each of these teams has a fanbase that seems to have convinced itself that its team is on the way up and that (gasp!) even a future dynasty could await. 

The pessimistic end of the spectrum is a lot weirder. Sure, Giants and Tigers and Marlins fans are in the dumps because, yeah, their teams are going to suck.  Houston, Cleveland?  What is going on with you, 2nd and 3rd ranked teams not long separated from a World Series appearance?

Ok, enough fanbase wonkery. What do the fancy spreadsheets say?

Team ZiPS win% PECOTA win% Average win% Model z-score
New York Yankees .605 .599 .602 +1.795
Houston Astros .591 .605 .598 +1.726
Cleveland Indians .568 .593 .580 +1.415
Los Angeles Dodgers .576 .574 .575 +1.322
Boston Red Sox .588 .549 .575 +1.210
Washington Nationals .553 .549 .551 +0.902
Philadelphia Phillies .529 .549 .539 +0.690
New York Mets .518 .537 .527 +0.485
Milwaukee Brewers .511 .543 .527 +0.478
St. Louis Cardinals .527 .525 .526 +0.455
Tampa Bay Rays .514 .525 .519 +0.341
Atlanta Braves .515 .519 .517 +0.295
Chicago Cubs .544 .488 .516 +279
Colorado Rockies .501 .519 .510 +0.172
Minnesota Twins .508 .506 .507 +0.125
Oakland Athletics .516 .488 .502 +0.032
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim .506 .494 .500 -0.001
Cincinnati Reds .499 .500 .500 -0.009
Arizona Diamondbacks .489 .506 .498 -0.042
Pittsburgh Pirates .483 .494 .488 -0.204
San Diego Padres .481 .488 .484 -0.276
Toronto Blue Jays .465 .463 .464 -0.634
San Francisco Giants .464 .451 .457 -0.752
Seattle Mariners .464 .444 .454 -0.806
Texas Rangers .440 .432 .436 -1.127
Kansas City Royals .427 .444 .436 -1.132
Chicago White Sox .432 .432 .432 -1.197
Detroit Tigers .420 .414 .417 -1.466
Miami Marlins .384 .414 .399 -1.783
Baltimore Orioles .388 .352 .370 -2.291

Measuring fan expectations

Putting this all together, we present the Relative Optimism Index.

The sweet spot to have upbeat fans relative to expectations seems to be mediocre or bad teams in small markets.  Of our top 5 most positive fanbases, only Oakland is predicted to play .500 baseball, and them barely (by ZiPS, not PECOTA).  Baltimore?  Sure, they’re almost certain to improve on last season’s 115-loss season, but a massive improvement, according to the models, is a 13 win gain all the way up to 102 losses

At the other end of the spectrum, the lesson seems to be “good teams will have whiny fans.” Of the 15 teams underwater in the Relative Optimism Index, exactly two of them are project to have below .500 records (Arizona, projected for an 80-84 record, and San Francisco, looking at a 74-88 record).

Putting it all togther, we have a measure of how much a given fanbase over- or under-rates its team’s chances.

Team Fanbase sentiment rank Computer model rank Expectation score
Baltimore Orioles 11th 30th +2.69
Oakland Athletics 1st 16th +2.17
Seattle Mariners 6th 24th +1.78
Texas Rangers 7th 25th +1.69
San Diego Padres 5th 21st +1.50
Atlanta Braves 2nd 12th +1.45
Colorado Rockies 4th 14th +1.10
Milwaukee Brewers 3rd 9th +0.96
Miami Marlins 26th 29th +0.96
Kansas City Royals 18th 26th +0.87
Toronto Blue Jays 13th 22nd +0.77
Chicago White Sox 24th 27th +0.52
Minnesota Twins 9th 15th +1.10
Pittsburgh Pirates 15th 20th +0.17
Detroit Tigers 27th 28th +0.16
Tampa Bay Rays 12th 11th -0.15
Arizona Diamondbacks 19th 19th -0.43
New York Mets 17th 8th -0.61
Cincinnati Reds 22nd 18th -0.62
Boston Red Sox 10th 5th -0.79
Chicago Cubs 20th 13th -0.81
Washington Nationals 14th 6th -0.85
St. Louis Cardinals 29th 10th -0.88
Philadelphia Phillies 21st 7th -1.28
New York Yankees 8th 1st -1.30
Los Angeles Dodgers 16th 4th -1.40
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 28th 17th -1.52
San Francisco Giants 30th 23rd -1.92
Cleveland Indians 23rd 2nd -2.09
Houston Astros 25th 2nd -2.45

The only advice that we can offer here is, then, this: People, relax and enjoy your good baseball while it lasts. Because you’re not all Red Sox, Yankees, and Dodgers fans who can expect their teams to spend enough to guarantee at least a decent squad every year.

About The Author

Architeuthis Rex, a man of (little) wealth and (questionable) taste. Historian and anthropologist interested in identity, regionalism / nationalism, mass culture, and the social and political contexts in which they exist. Earned Ph.D. in social and cultural History with a concentration in anthropology from Carnegie Mellon University and then (mostly) fled academia to write things that more than 10 other people will actually read. Driven to pursue a doctorate to try and answer the question, "Why do they all hate each other?" — still working on it. Plays beer-league hockey, softball, and soccer. Professional toddler wrangler. Likes dogs, good booze, food, and horribly awesome kung-fu movies.

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