Which Sub-.500 Teams Will Make the Playoffs Next Year?

This is the follow-up to the poll post I just ran. In that post, I surveyed the audience — that’s you! — to see which 2016 playoff teams you think are most likely to not make the playoffs a year from now. That goes toward addressing a question we get very often in late-season chats. There’s a related question we get almost as much: Which bad teams will make the playoffs a year from now? That’s what this poll post is about. Once again, there’s a poll at the end, and it allows you to select multiple options if you so choose.

I expanded beyond the usual group. Frequently, when I get this question, I’m asked about the teams that finished in last place. I wanted to include more teams, mediocre teams, so I set my cutoff at .500. The way I figure, it wouldn’t be a surprise if some half-decent 2016 team made the 2017 playoffs. It’s more surprising when you’re talking about a team or two that most recently lost more often than they won. Below, there are 14 teams, with small captions. When you’re through that, please vote! I’m not asking for your specific playoff odds. I just want to know who you think is most likely to make the playoffs, if any of these teams should make it at all. Forward we march.


Right now, the Angels project to be surprisingly okay. It is ever so early, and that’s just one set of projections, but it’s something to go off. As we’ve said time and time again, there’s no better way to start than by building around baseball’s best player. And as supporting pieces go, you could do worse than Andrelton Simmons, Kole Calhoun, and C.J. Cron. So many issues remain, including but by no means limited to the attempted non-surgical recovery by Garrett Richards. If that works out for him, that’s a tremendous boost for the roster. If it doesn’t, well, the ace is either Matt Shoemaker or Tyler Skaggs. At least they’re going to get more Tyler Skaggs. Even if this team isn’t good, it sure feels like it should be better.


I think many of us are conditioned to assume the A’s are improbably boring. I totally get it, and there have been years where I’ve agreed with the sentiment, but this could shape up to be something awfully interesting, mostly on account of the starting rotation. It feels safe to figure Sonny Gray should put this most recent season behind him. And there’s legitimate upside with Sean Manaea, Jharel Cotton, and even Andrew Triggs. Kendall Graveman is in there as a fine-enough innings sponge. With a bullpen that’s also serviceable, a healthy A’s pitching staff should do its job. So it’ll be on the hitters to play adequate defense. And also to hit. Hitters have so many responsibilities. 🙁


It’s hard to shake a first impression, and the 2016 Braves’ first impression was starting out 0-9, and eventually 10-30. Do you remember all those articles from April and May about how the Phillies’ rebuild was kicking the Braves’ rebuild’s ass? Somehow, the second-half 2016 Braves had a winning record. They had a finishing run of 24-14, and Freddie Freeman spent much of the year looking like he’d be an MVP candidate if his team’s record didn’t suck. One thing about the Braves: It feels like they’re going to try to accelerate things, with the new stadium about to open. Another thing about the Braves: They still need so, so much help. But pieces have been gradually coming together.


For my money, the Brewers have done the best job of rebuilding of anyone. Of anyone currently rebuilding, I mean. They’ve stocked an impressive farm system, and they’ve done that while hitting on so many lower-profile additions like Keon Broxton, Jonathan Villar, and Junior Guerra. I love the way the Brewers have been managed, and I quite look forward to seeing where they are two or three years down the road. In the immediate, they’re unlikely to make any sort of acquisitional splash, and the roster is light on stars. Rebuilding doesn’t happen overnight.


Granted, we have no idea what the Diamondbacks are going to do about their front-office vacancy. A few candidates have already turned down GM interviews, which indicates that there’s a certain amount of distrust. The Diamondbacks are one of the organizations that feels like it’s a shitshow, yet at the same time, it’s not like the roster is barren. As bad as the team just was, you can’t shake off the loss of an A.J. Pollock, and David Peralta was seldom healthy. They’ll be back and ready, and there’s still Paul Goldschmidt, and the confusing-yet-presumably-still-good Zack Greinke. There could be a chance for a new GM to come in and get credit for something his predecessors mostly put together.


The game will forever miss Jose Fernandez. It is worse off without him, and his talent and spirit are irreplaceable.


By WAR, the Padres’ best player was Wil Myers. Their second-best player was Yangervis Solarte. Their third-best player was either Drew Pomeranz or Ryan Schimpf. I’m kind of bummed out, myself, so, no, you’re not alone. Tyson Ross, at least, could conceivably re-emerge, now that he’s recovering from thoracic-outlet surgery. And the Padres have done well to land young talent like Anderson Espinoza and Manuel Margot. Maybe Hunter Renfroe is ready to do stuff. I’m not going to say the Padres are in a great position. But I have, at least, seen teams in a worse position.


The whole story about the Phillies was their pitching. And they did manage to keep Jerad Eickhoff healthy and good. In a worse turn of events, Aaron Nola had to stop pitching on account of his arm, but they think they got lucky there. They also think they got lucky with Vince Velasquez. A healthy version of Nola should be fantastic, if that’s what they get. With Velasquez, it remains unclear if he can actually hold up to the demands of working out of a rotation. On the position-player side, Maikel Franco just had a very disappointing campaign. Odubel Herrera, though, cemented himself as a regular, and Cesar Hernandez had one of the more surprising 4-win seasons in memory. J.P. Crawford is on the verge. Jorge Alfaro might be on the verge. The system is strong just about everywhere and the organization has money to spend if that’s what it wants to do. This team is trending well. It’s just a matter of how quickly you think they’ll get decent.


The Pirates shouldn’t lose anyone too important — that is, unless they actually decide to trade Andrew McCutchen, which would alter the course of the franchise. They’d only think to do that on account of the coming Austin Meadows, and you can see the link to the next generation here, with Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow, and Josh Bell. The Pirates are in that almost impossible position of trying to contend every year with limited resources, but they’ve mostly pulled it off, and it’s not hard to see how they could get back with just a few positive 2017 developments. It’s just 2016, had not very many positive developments.


All that probably needs to be said: While the Rays finished 68-94, they finished with a BaseRuns record of 81-81. They were as far under their estimated record as the Rangers were above theirs, and, you know how we feel about BaseRuns divergence around these parts. It was pretty devastating when the outfield lost Kevin Kiermaier, and this team got Alex Cobb for only five starts. There’s more here than you might assume, which contributes to the AL East once again profiling to be particularly rough.


It’s true that, by WAR, the Reds literally just had the worst team pitching staff in the history of baseball. So, you can let that sink in for a moment. Yet it wasn’t all bad — Anthony DeSclafani is a legitimate starter, Cody Reed might be, Brandon Finnegan got better and better, and Raisel Iglesias adjusted well to his relief role. Nevertheless, the upside almost everywhere is limited, and from the sounds of things the Reds are virtually certain to move Zack Cozart, who is good right now. The Reds have made some good rebuilding moves. They’re far from being finished having to make those.


A few times over the course of our recent road trip, I told Dave the Rockies have real upside, and he disagreed. I see sleeper potential, and he apparently doesn’t. Which is fine. Gotta hear both sides. But I’m the only one writing this post, so, what the hell, take a look at what they have! Nolan Arenado! Trevor Story! DJ LeMahieu! Charlie Blackmon! David Dahl! Carlos Gonzalez! And, finally, some pitchers! Rockies starters just had their highest WAR since 2010, and Jeff Hoffman should be better than he looked. Jon Gray might be recognized as an ace under different circumstances. The Rockies have depth problems, and the bullpen probably still blows. But if you don’t see a real core here, I don’t know what you’re looking at.


I know the Twins just finished nine games worse than anyone else. That’s terrible, and the Twins were terrible, but just for the record, they also finished a dozen games below their BaseRuns record, which tied them with the Angels and Diamondbacks. It’s something. Objectively, the Twins are a bummer, because Jose Berrios has been a major-league nightmare, and Miguel Sano just had a worse offensive year than Robbie Grossman. Yet if you want to dream, you don’t even have to rely on Brian Dozier, because Byron Buxton had a September WAR of 1.6. So much about the Twins starts to look so much better if you think that Buxton is about to turn the corner. Or if you think he already did turn the corner. He has the capability to be a landscape-altering player, and the 2017 Twins are going to have their fingers so tightly crossed.

White Sox

The one thing we don’t know is in which direction the White Sox will navigate. They could, in theory, just about own the offseason starting-pitcher market. But just as there’s an argument for them to sell, there remains the argument for them to keep trying, around the core of Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Adam Eaton, and Jose Abreu. Maybe Carlos Rodon is ready to be better. Maybe Carson Fulmer is ready to start. You can envision a .500 ballclub, which allows you to envision a team squeaking into the playoffs. I just don’t know if the White Sox will think that’s good enough to pursue.

The voting’s all yours!

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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Brad Johnsonmember
7 years ago

I went with the Reds and Rockies. Cincinnati should have Hamilton and Peraza at the top of the lineup which kinda echoes memories of Pierre and Castillo. Extreme speed can be a difficult menace. Their little bandbox park makes it hard for the pitching to perform well, but they improved steadily throughout the year (unlike the Phillies who completely ran out of arms).

I project the Rockies to have the top offense before park adjustment. By a wide enough margin that they may also have the top offense after adjusting for league (i.e. pitcher hitting). The pitching had enough positive glimmers to think they may get enough out of the arms for the bats to work.

7 years ago
Reply to  Brad Johnson

Plus I hear Joey Votto is assuming the role of the entire bullpen!

7 years ago
Reply to  Brad Johnson

Have you seen the reds division?