In the celebration Sunday after Boston pitcher Chris Sale struck out Manny Machado to end Game 5 of the World Series, clinching a title for the Red Sox, much was made about this being the best Boston team ever. That’s a topic we covered as well going into the series, but this team was also an all-time great squad, period. After all, the Red Sox won 108 regular-season games and went a scorching 11-3 during the playoffs.1

So, we must ask: How does this Boston squad stack up against history’s greatest champions? Let’s put the Sox to the test using the same metrics we employed to judge another recent all-time champ, the 2016 Chicago Cubs. There, we looked at teams according to a handful of criteria:

  • Winning percentage. With a regular-season mark of .667, Boston ranks 17th all-time among eventual World Series winners. MLB hadn’t seen a 108-game winner since the 2001 Mariners, and no team that had won so much had captured the World Series since the 1998 Yankees. In other words, on wins alone, seasons like that of the 2018 Sox are exceedingly rare in baseball history.
  • Pythagorean record. Perhaps a better judge of a team’s performance than raw W-L record is its underlying run differential, as measured by the Pythagorean expectation. And by this standard, the 2018 Red Sox do drop down a bit — falling to 30th among all-time champs. According to Pythagoras, Boston really “only” played like a 103-win team that saw somewhat good fortune in close games.
  • Wins above replacement. Digging deeper into a team’s performance, we can also look at WAR (averaging together the versions found at Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs) to get a sense of how well its roster played at a player-by-player level. For Boston, WAR per game splits the difference somewhat between winning percentage and Pythagorean record, ranking the 2018 Sox 27th among champions. Their 53.3 total WAR during the regular season was almost exactly the same as Houston’s last season.
  • Elo ratings. Here at FiveThirtyEight, we also have our own pet metric for judging a team’s performance — the Elo rating. In a nutshell, it tracks a team’s estimated skill level over time, updating after every game and accounting for things like home-field advantage and starting pitching in each contest. Just as my former colleague Reuben Fischer-Baum did when rating MLB teams a few years ago, here I’m blending a team’s final end-of-playoffs Elo with its peak and average daily Elo from throughout the season.2 As we noted before the game, Boston ranks ninth all-time in final Elo, and its blended Elo comes in 12th among historical champs. Elo is the category in which Boston looks best, since it gives credit for both wins and margin of victory while also crediting the Red Sox for their outstanding playoff run.

Pulling it all together, we can add up a team’s ranking in each category — winning percentage, Pythagorean record, WAR and blended Elo — to get a master ranking of world champs since 1903:

Baseball’s greatest World Series champions

All-time best World Series winners, according to a mix of Elo ratings, winning percentage, run differential (Pythagorean record) and wins above replacement, 1903-2018

Elo Rank Stat Rank
Year Team max avg final blend wpct pyth WAR total
1 1927 Yankees 6 12 2 3 2 2 1 8
2 1939 Yankees 1 1 1 1 5 1 3 10
3 1998 Yankees 4 5 7 2 4 9 6 21
3 1944 Cardinals 2 2 25 4 12 3 2 21
5 1942 Cardinals 7 18 3 7 9 4 7 27
6 1909 Pirates 3 10 6 5 1 5 19 30
7 1905 Giants 16 7 14 13 10 6 4 33
8 1910 Athletics 17 20 10 18 13 7 5 43
9 1932 Yankees 11 6 5 6 6 23 11 46
10 1929 Athletics 15 8 17 15 7 13 15 50
11 1936 Yankees 18 17 13 17 17 14 9 57
12 1937 Yankees 9 3 12 9 22 14 16 61
13 1907 Cubs 13 4 11 10 3 11 41 65
14 1912 Red Sox 27 38 32 31 8 10 17 66
15 1970 Orioles 12 34 8 16 17 25 13 71
16 1911 Athletics 10 9 4 8 15 17 35 75
17 1975 Reds 20 19 18 21 17 19 24 81
18 2018 Red Sox 14 16 9 12 17 30 27 86
19 2016 Cubs 37 21 30 27 36 16 10 89
20 1953 Yankees 19 15 27 20 25 11 36 92
21 1938 Yankees 5 13 19 11 30 28 30 99
22 1915 Red Sox 32 36 31 32 15 35 20 102
23 1976 Reds 23 14 21 19 43 30 12 104
24 1961 Yankees 30 29 23 25 14 33 38 110
25 1986 Mets 59 33 51 43 17 30 21 111
26 1948 Indians 43 58 49 48 51 8 8 115
27 1928 Yankees 8 11 24 14 25 52 40 131
28 1919 Reds 28 46 26 30 10 18 74 132
29 1935 Tigers 22 27 43 26 61 23 31 141
30 1941 Yankees 24 25 29 24 25 47 48 144
31 1920 Indians 62 43 54 47 37 38 23 145
32 1930 Athletics 39 22 34 28 22 61 37 148
33 1917 White Sox 44 42 42 39 31 20 59 149
34 1955 Dodgers 58 37 67 58 35 45 14 152
34 1903 Americans 76 83 68 75 24 21 32 152
36 1908 Cubs 21 49 15 23 33 26 71 153
37 1968 Tigers 55 56 60 60 37 26 34 157
38 1947 Yankees 34 24 47 33 43 22 67 165
39 1956 Yankees 33 23 52 34 43 28 61 166
40 1950 Yankees 25 28 16 22 37 41 68 168
41 1940 Reds 71 54 73 65 29 35 42 171
43 2009 Yankees 38 52 28 37 37 80 18 172
43 1984 Tigers 56 51 55 53 34 56 29 172
43 1923 Yankees 65 41 59 57 32 40 43 172
45 2017 Astros 31 32 61 38 53 58 28 177
46 2007 Red Sox 26 60 20 35 84 45 22 186
47 1931 Cardinals 36 40 37 36 25 38 90 189
48 1943 Yankees 52 39 44 42 37 73 39 191
49 1913 Athletics 41 26 69 45 49 34 70 198
50 1954 Giants 67 74 56 67 43 37 52 199
51 2002 Angels 35 75 35 49 66 41 49 205
51 1952 Yankees 50 44 46 44 56 50 55 205
53 1951 Yankees 54 35 48 40 37 57 75 209
54 1977 Yankees 70 72 74 70 56 59 26 211
55 1946 Cardinals 61 50 58 55 48 50 64 217
56 2013 Red Sox 47 86 38 63 77 53 25 218
57 1999 Yankees 29 47 22 29 71 75 47 222
58 1922 Giants 40 30 64 46 75 55 54 230
59 1978 Yankees 51 63 41 54 65 63 51 233
60 1958 Yankees 46 45 87 62 81 47 44 234
61 1949 Yankees 57 31 50 41 43 53 98 235
61 1925 Pirates 60 48 63 59 54 59 63 235
64 1971 Pirates 69 62 71 69 77 47 46 239
64 1957 Braves 64 64 65 66 56 64 53 239
64 1921 Giants 63 55 53 56 63 41 79 239
66 2004 Red Sox 42 71 33 50 71 69 50 240
66 1972 Athletics 84 65 86 78 76 41 45 240
68 1960 Pirates 94 81 107 95 56 69 33 253
69 1989 Athletics 48 61 39 51 66 69 73 259
70 1966 Orioles 66 53 81 68 70 65 58 261
71 1967 Cardinals 81 85 79 81 49 67 65 262
72 1995 Braves 68 59 57 64 52 86 77 279
73 1983 Orioles 45 67 36 52 71 77 80 280
74 1934 Cardinals 75 87 66 76 54 79 83 292
75 1979 Pirates 53 78 45 61 71 82 81 295
76 1924 Senators 86 89 83 87 81 77 57 302
77 1981 Dodgers 93 73 92 85 97 61 60 303
78 1906 White Sox 72 82 62 71 61 73 99 304
79 1914 Braves 49 111 40 72 63 85 97 317
80 2001 Dbacks 88 84 78 83 98 81 56 318
81 1974 Athletics 87 68 84 80 109 66 66 321
82 1973 Athletics 82 66 91 79 92 75 76 322
82 1933 Giants 83 76 96 84 77 69 92 322
84 1993 Blue Jays 79 79 76 77 88 97 62 324
85 1962 Yankees 74 57 88 73 84 84 87 328
86 2005 White Sox 80 92 75 82 66 95 88 331
87 1918 Red Sox 101 77 99 94 83 68 95 340
88 1969 Mets 77 112 70 91 56 90 104 341
89 1963 Dodgers 96 88 90 93 66 92 93 344
90 1992 Blue Jays 102 96 98 99 84 96 69 348
91 1991 Twins 98 98 101 101 88 88 72 349
92 1965 Dodgers 100 99 95 98 77 91 84 350
93 2008 Phillies 90 94 80 89 98 89 78 354
94 2010 Giants 85 101 77 90 98 86 85 359
94 1916 Red Sox 78 70 72 74 87 97 101 359
96 1926 Cardinals 91 90 85 92 94 82 94 362
97 2015 Royals 95 80 89 88 88 100 108 384
98 1988 Dodgers 106 102 100 104 91 94 100 389
99 1990 Reds 109 97 104 107 105 93 86 391
100 1996 Yankees 105 93 106 102 98 103 89 392
101 1980 Phillies 111 104 108 110 105 99 82 396
102 2012 Giants 92 105 82 96 92 103 107 398
104 1982 Cardinals 99 91 94 97 98 101 106 402
104 1964 Cardinals 103 106 105 108 96 107 91 402
104 1945 Tigers 108 95 103 103 95 102 102 402
106 2003 Marlins 104 109 97 105 105 108 96 414
106 2000 Yankees 73 69 110 86 112 111 105 414
108 2011 Cardinals 97 103 93 100 109 106 103 418
109 1997 Marlins 112 107 111 112 98 103 111 424
110 1985 Royals 107 108 102 109 105 110 109 433
111 1959 Dodgers 113 113 113 113 104 112 110 439
112 2014 Giants 110 110 109 111 111 109 112 443
113 2006 Cardinals 89 100 112 106 114 113 113 446
114 1987 Twins 114 114 114 114 113 114 114 455

Blended Elo rating is based on an average of a team’s peak, final and average Elo ratings during a season.

Source: FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference.com, Lahman’s Baseball Database

According to this measure, the 2018 Red Sox just edge out the 2016 Cubs (a team built by former Boston general manager Theo Epstein) to take 18th place among all-time champs. That also puts them right next to the 1975 Cincinnati Reds — the best version of Cincy’s “Big Red Machine” dynasty — and makes them the second highest-ranking World Series winner since the ’70s, trailing only the 1998 Yankees.

Sure, you can complain about tanking having helped to produce an imbalanced era where the elite teams are vastly better than the bottom-feeders. But even so, this Red Sox season was historic. And unlike its two championship predecessors — the Cubs and Astros — Boston didn’t really bottom out to help get there. The Red Sox finished with a truly bad record only once since last winning the World Series in 2013, and even that was only an ordinary-bad season (71 wins), not the sub-60-win atrocities some of today’s tankers are forcing their fans to endure.

But maybe the greatest testament to the team built by Dave Dombrowski, Boston’s president of baseball operations, was how many different contributions it received along the way to the title. At the top, there was American League MVP favorite Mookie Betts, who had 10.6 WAR during the regular season — one of the best individual performances ever by a player on an eventual championship club:

The best individual championship campaigns

Most wins above replacement in a single season for players who ended the year on a team that would go on to win the World Series, 1903-2018

Wins above replacement
Player Season Team Batting Pitching Total
1 Babe Ruth 1923 NYY 14.5 0.0 14.5
2 Babe Ruth 1927 NYY 12.7 0.0 12.7
3 Lou Gehrig 1927 NYY 12.2 0.0 12.2
4 Mickey Mantle 1956 NYY 11.4 0.0 11.4
5 Joe Morgan 1975 CIN 11.0 0.0 11.0
6 Lou Boudreau 1948 CLE 10.6 0.0 10.6
7 Mookie Betts 2018 BOS 10.6 0.0 10.6
8 Hal Newhouser 1945 DET 0.7 9.8 10.5
9 Willie Mays 1954 NYG 10.4 0.0 10.4
10 Mickey Mantle 1961 NYY 10.4 0.0 10.4

Source: FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference.com

Yet, before Betts homered to give Boston a 3-1 lead in Game 5, he was hitting .200 in the postseason and was 4 for 21 in the World Series. Boston was so deep, top to bottom, that it didn’t even need its MVP to play like an MVP. J.D. Martinez, who would have contended for MVP himself if Betts and Mike Trout were not so historically dominant, had an .881 OPS in the World Series. Reliever Joe Kelly appeared in every game of the series, refusing to yield a single run in six important innings. Much-maligned starter David Price turned around a disastrous beginning to his postseason with four straight rock-solid outings,3 earning his second victory of the World Series with a win in Game 5.

And none of those guys were even named series MVP! That nod went to journeyman hitter Steve Pearce, who didn’t join the Red Sox until a June 28 trade brought him over from the Toronto Blue Jays. After murdering the Yankees in both the regular season and the playoffs, Pearce took home World Series MVP honors with a 1.667 OPS and three homers against the Dodgers. Even in a universe where Edgar Renteria and Pat Borders have won that award, Pearce might be the single most random player ever to emerge as World Series MVP, in terms of just how little he’d done in his career before shining on the game’s biggest stage:4

None of that matters now, though. Pearce and the rest of the 2018 Red Sox are champions, and they can take their rightful place among the best World Series winners in history. As my ESPN colleague Bradford Doolittle wrote last week, Boston’s performance in 2019 and beyond will help further tell us where this group belongs in the context of all-time great team runs. But in terms of one-year performances only, this Red Sox season stands right up to the best the game has had to offer.