If you’ve ever attended a Nationals’ home game, you’ve probably seen the best promotional event held in the Washington D.C. area– the Presidents Race. Beginning as a cartoon race featured on the video board of old RFK Stadium in 2005, the first-ever live race was held on July 21, 2006. The 10-foot tall presidents run the length of the field — across the warning track, down the foul lines, around the diamond — while often avoiding obstacles such as traffic cones and competing teams’ mascots. The race reached a fever pitch in the community and media in 2012 when Teddy Roosevelt finally broke his humiliating 500+ race-losing streak. The original competitors — Teddy, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson — were joined by William Howard Taft in 2013 and Calvin Coolidge earlier this month.
As we approach the 9th year anniversary of the Presidents Race, I thought it would be interesting to look for correlation between the Presidents Race winners and the Washington Nationals’ on-field performance. Let’s begin with a few caveats. I’ll be looking at data from the beginning of 2013 to July 2, 2015. I chose 2013 as a starting point because it marked the end of Teddy’s losing streak and the beginning of William’s running career. I did not include any data from Calvin’s career because of small-sample-size issues. Also, regarding the racing record in relation to the Nats’ performance, I include data from 4th-inning races, extra-inning races, both races in a double-header, and all playoff races. Finally, I want to give a big thanks to Let Teddy Win! which is a tremendous wealth of Presidents Race knowledge, data, and video.
Abraham is the easy race champion over this time period, finishing 2nd in the final standings in 2013 and 2014. Teddy was carried by his impressive 29-win campaign in 2014, while let’s just say that Thomas is better at writing declarations than at running races. It should be noted that Teddy has been disqualified many times in his racing career because of infractions like unnecessary roughness and cutting the outfield corner.
From 2013-2015, the Nationals were 123-80 (.606) at home, the 3rd best home record in MLB, trailing only St. Louis (.667) and Pittsburgh (.632) over the same time period. To fully appreciate the influence (for better or worse) that the Presidents Race winners had over the Nationals’ on-field performance, we need to look for the winning percentages farthest from .606.
Unsurprisingly, the father of our nation has the biggest positive influence over the Nationals ballclub, leading the squad to a crushing .697 winning percentage. The newcomer, William, also inspired the Nats to play well, despite their mediocre run differential after his race victories. And while Nats fans and opponents may love Teddy (first as a lovable loser and now as a legit competitor), Nats players have not been inspired on the nights he crosses the finish line first. (Teddy went undefeated in the 2014 playoffs, and the Nats went winless in those games.)
The front-runner for this year’s National League Most Valuable Player is clearly inspired by the nation’s front-runner for Most Valuable President. At the plate after a George victory, Harper mashes to the tune of .325, while on-pace for a 50+ HR season. Teddy and Abraham again bring up the rear, and William has another strong showing, reinforcing the idea that “as Harper goes, so go the Nationals.”
Not only does Zimmermann pitch more often on George-victory days than on other days, but he also puts up his best numbers after George pulls out a win. Teddy upsets the pattern by inspiring Zimmerman to a 2.35 ERA and a 9 K/9 mark, the best of the five.
Taft famously threw the first-ever presidential first-pitch, yet both Nats pitchers remain uninspired on William’s victory days. Thomas remains the least influential president (perhaps due to the rarity of his victories), inspiring the team, Harper, and both pitchers to average winning percentages and average career numbers. Lincoln inspires Storen’s lowest ERA and 2nd best K/9.
The results of this data crunch are clear: while Teddy may be a lovable loser, some of that losing might be rubbing off on the Nationals. And if you’re a Nats fan, you probably want to root for George. Bryce Harper and Jordan Zimmermann clearly do.