How Much Hope Do the Bad Teams Have?

Spring training has gotten surprisingly close, and — in terms of significant activity — the offseason is mostly complete. Just about every team around has a pretty good idea what the opening-day roster is going to look like, which means we’re coming up on projection season. Now, you could argue it’s always projection season, at least here on FanGraphs, but the team projections should, in theory, be better than they’ve been all winter. So let’s work with that.

Right now, all we have available is Steamer. We’re still a little while away from ZiPS getting folded in. But Steamer isn’t stupid, so, looking at that, we see the following teams projected to bring up the MLB rear: the Padres (66 wins), the Brewers (67 wins), and the Reds (69 wins). No one else is projected right now for a win total in the 60s, and while the White Sox would end up down there if they sold Jose Quintana, that hasn’t yet happened, so we shouldn’t assume anything.

You could argue the three worst teams are on the right tracks. All of them are openly rebuilding, and none of them think they’re going to win in 2017. Keith Law just ranked the Padres’ farm system No. 3 in the game. He ranked the Brewers at No. 6, and he ranked the Reds at No. 8. I don’t think many people thought the Reds would come in so high! There they are, though. Lots to hope for in the future.

But what about the near-term future? How good could these teams be in the year just ahead? None of them plan to win, but, miracles happen. To get to the point: I consulted my spreadsheet of team projections going back to 2005. That’s 12 years, and over that span, I found 26 teams projected to win no more than 70 games. Here’s a big (sortable) table of how all those teams did:

Worst Projected Teams Since 2005
Team Season Projected W Actual W BaseRuns W
Orioles 2012 70 93 82
Blue Jays 2010 65 85 84
Marlins 2008 68 84 81
Astros 2010 69 76 68
Brewers 2016 69 73 76
Nationals 2007 70 73 69
Pirates 2011 70 72 70
Phillies 2016 64 71 63
Royals 2011 68 71 78
Astros 2014 67 70 77
Royals 2007 65 69 74
Braves 2016 68 68 70
Orioles 2008 67 68 72
Pirates 2008 70 67 67
Pirates 2005 69 67 72
Rays 2005 70 67 64
Twins 2013 67 66 63
Phillies 2015 66 63 59
Marlins 2013 69 62 65
Pirates 2009 70 62 66
Royals 2006 65 62 62
Nationals 2008 70 59 62
Astros 2011 66 56 62
Royals 2005 68 56 59
Astros 2012 64 55 58
Astros 2013 60 51 57

On average, the teams were projected to win 68 games. On average, they actually won 68 games, with an average BaseRuns win total of 68. Pretty good, all in all, by which I mean, pretty bad. The medians are also in agreement.

Of note: The worst projected team was even worse than expected. Of greater note, though, is that three of these 26 teams finished over .500. That’s about a 12% success rate, if that means anything to you. The 2012 Orioles are the greatest success story included, because they outdid their projected win total by an unbelievable 23. They made the playoffs! Their win totals leading up to the season in question: 69, 66, 64, 68, 69, 70. Between 2007 – 2011, no team in the American League won fewer games than the Orioles. Between 2012 – 2016, no team in the American League has won more games than the Orioles. That year in 2012 was when the whole story of the organization was flipped on its head.

The 2010 Blue Jays were only a little outdone. They beat their projection by 20 wins, and just looking at BaseRuns, they finished better than the 2012 Orioles. Those Jays were thought to be somewhat rebuilding, after ridding themselves of J.P. Ricciardi, and no team would expect to win after trading away Roy Halladay. The Jays played just one month that year with a sub-.500 record.

And then you’ve got the 2008 Marlins, before they decided to identify just with Miami. What the 2008 projections knew was that, in December 2007, the Marlins traded Miguel Cabrera to the Tigers. But the projections didn’t think the run prevention would improve by 124. It wasn’t a playoff season, but it was a hell of a lot better than it could’ve been.

In all, 26 projected bad teams. Of those, 23 were at least mostly bad. Odds are, the Padres, Brewers, and Reds will be bad, too. But let’s just say, for simplicity, there’s a 3-in-26 chance for each given team to do better than .500. It would follow there’s about a 30% shot for at least one of these teams to do better than .500. Wouldn’t that be something? I’ll pick the Brewers, and live with it.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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7 years ago

The real question is if Jeff kept a straight face when mentioning “hope” and the Reds in the same paragraph.