Power Ranking the MLB Fanbases, Spring Training Edition

Ely SussmanCorrespondent IFebruary 21, 2013

Power Ranking the MLB Fanbases, Spring Training Edition

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    Above all else, MLB teams strive to cultivate huge, passionate fanbases. These 2013 power rankings weigh quantity of supporters just as heavily as their intensity.

    Clubs understandably put an emphasis on their number of supporters. More people means a greater demand for merchandise and rising profits.

    The overall strength of a fanbase is determined by other qualities, too.

    The best ones always have optimistic expectations, either improvement from one season to the next or—at the very least—sustained excellence. It's a "chicken or the egg" phenomenon, as you'll notice that most highly ranked teams in this slideshow have enjoyed recent triumphs on the field.

    We'll gauge confidence using Bleacher Report polls. Articles from our "Season Preview" and "Preseason Evaluation" series asked readers to predict how the standings would look come season's end. Voters' sentiments revealed a lot, as did the varying sizes of the samples.

    Beyond that, home attendance stats speak volumes about commitment. Major league stadiums have unqiue seating capacities, so focusing on raw totals wouldn't be helpful. Instead, each slide specifies a rank (first through 30th) based on what percentage of seats were filled last summer.

    And thirdly, diehard fans with team colors running through their veins felt the urge to campaign for spots in the MLB Fan Cave. Earlier this year, their peers could show support through unlimited voting. We can see which fanbases rallied behind their candidates by categorizing the 30 finalists by team.

    With spring training in full swing, here is how they compare.

    *All B/R voting totals current as of Feb. 21.

30. Miami Marlins

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    2012 attendance rank: 13th.

    2013 B/R Season Preview poll: 50.6 percent predict last-place finish in NL East (271 votes).

    2013 MLB Fan Cave finalists: none.

    Marlins Park drew disappointing numbers in its debut season, particularly after the non-waiver trade deadline.

    Can you blame fans of the Fish for staying home? Management gutted the roster midway through what was supposed to be a contending year.

    The most accomplished players departed this past winter in a massive salary dump, leaving the fanbase completely demoralized.

    Clark Spencer of The Miami Herald reports about apathy and "discontent" among South Floridians.

29. Tampa Bay Rays

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    2012 attendance rank: 25th.

    2013 B/R Season Preview poll: 60.3 percent foresee a division title (451 votes).

    2013 MLB Fan Cave finalists: none.

    The Tampa Bay Rays always overachieve on the field.

    That said, support has been lacking.

    Of all the MLB teams that posted winning records in 2012, the Rays are the only one without a Fan Cave finalist this spring.

    Fans would prefer a new stadium in a more convenient location, yet online petitions like this one don't indicate any urgency.

28. Cleveland Indians

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    2012 attendance rank: 29th.

    2013 B/R Season Preview poll: 98.0 percent say third place or better in AL Central (1,421 votes).

    2013 MLB Fan Cave finalists: one.

    Cleveland Indians fans recognize that the organization is eager to contend. Long-term deals with Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher provide incentives to improve upon their pitiful attendance habits.

    But currently, most people who purchase their merchandise do so just because they like the goofy caricature.

    Soon enough, we'll hear closer Chris Perez whining again.

27. Colorado Rockies

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    2012 attendance rank: 18th.

    2013 B/R Season Preview poll: 16.5 percent expect 85 wins or more (133 votes).

    2013 MLB Fan Cave finalists: one.

    Hardly anyone responded to the Bleacher Report poll, and the opinions were overwhelmingly negative.

    The Colorado Rockies desperately needed to improve their pitching but completed very few notable moves. Available arms were certainly deterred by the high altitude of Coors Field.

    Still, don't you think a reputable veteran would have signed with the Rockies this winter if he felt his services would be appreciated?

26. Houston Astros

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    2012 attendance rank: 28th.

    2013 B/R Season Preview poll: 57.6 percent have them finishing last in AL West debut (250 votes).

    2013 MLB Fan Cave finalists: one.

    When the Houston Astros introduced a new owner, "season ticketholders and many fans" made it clear that they would not support a name change (via USA Today).

    They get a few bonus points for valuing their past.

    Presently, though, as the franchise begins a thorough rebuilding project, the fans seem completely dejected. About 20,000 showed up for an average home game last season. Plus, their new logo is generating fewer merchandise sales than the Miami Marlins did in early 2012.

25. San Diego Padres

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    2012 attendance rank: 19th.

    2013 B/R Preseason Evalutation poll: 51.9 percent predict 73-82 wins (81 votes).

    2013 MLB Fan Cave finalists: none.

    Southern California is notoriously laid back.

    The Los Angeles-based teams have made headlines in spite of the culture by acquiring marquee players and winning championships.

    The San Diego Padres? Not so much.

    Past organizational excellence has been attributable to the pitching staff, which doesn't attract fans like offense does. Frugal spending allowances eliminates the Padres in most free-agent bidding wars.

    This previous winter, San Diego again opted not to make any expensive guarantees.

24. Kansas City Royals

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    2012 attendance rank: 24th.

    2013 B/R Season Preview poll: 19.9 percent imagine a losing season (331 votes).

    2013 MLB Fan Cave finalists: one.

    One Kansas City Royals fan observed lines "almost completely out of the building in two directions" at January's FanFest.

    Locally, there's a lot of optimism about the 2013 pitching staff.

    However, the franchise has virtually no support along the coasts.

23. Atlanta Braves

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    2012 attendance rank: 21st.

    2013 B/R Season Preview poll: 97.4 percent expect at least 90 wins (2,085 votes).

    2013 MLB Fan Cave finalists: one.

    Everybody's optimistic about the Atlanta Braves. They added the talented Upton brothers, signed solid role players and only parted with surplus pieces.

    But just a few months ago, this fanbase embarrassed itself by covering Turner Field in trash after disagreeing with a call in the 2012 NL Wild Card Game. It will take some time for that ugly memory to fade.

    Braves supporters don't flock to the turnstiles despite the club's consistent success.

22. Arizona Diamondbacks

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    2012 attendance rank: 26th. 

    2013 B/R Preseason Evaluation poll: 6.3 percent say less than 84 wins (379 votes).

    2013 MLB Fan Cave finalists: one.

    Most impartial analysts insist that the Atlanta Braves took Justin Upton from the desert at a discount price.

    But Arizona Diamondbacks fans clearly have a peachier perspective. They almost unanimously predict an improved record following an 81-81 season.

    The main flaw of this fanbase is size. Major universities like Arizona State University and the University of Arizona seemingly get more attention.

    To be fair, the D-Backs have only played 15 seasons, making them the youngest National League franchise. Give them some time to blossom.

21. Seattle Mariners

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    2012 attendance rank: 30th.

    2013 B/R Preseason Evaluation poll: 74.0 percent guess more wins than losses (708 votes).

    2013 MLB Fan Cave finalists: none.

    Dave Cameron, one of the most powerful voices in the baseball analytics community, considers himself a Seattle Mariners fan.

    Eleven straight years without a playoff berth can discourage any group. Last summer's brutal finish—12 games behind the third-place Los Angeles Angels—suggested the M's weren't close to bucking the trend.

    But there's been plenty of good news since the calendar turned to 2013.

    By signing an $175 million contract extension (rather than waiting for free agency), Kurt Wagner of The Seattle Times writes that Felix Hernandez showed fans his appreciation for their support.

20. Chicago White Sox

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    2012 attendance rank: 22nd.

    2013 B/R Preseason Evaluation poll: 19.6 percent predict 90-plus wins.

    2013 MLB Fan Cave finalists: one.

    The ruler of the free world can only have so much influence.

    Forcing change at U.S. Cellular Field was in the hands of other Chicago White Sox fans, and they were successful. Supporters protested high ticket prices, which ESPN's Darren Rovell reports pressured club executives to make the game-day experience more affordable.

    But sending a message to the team meant staying away from the ballpark, thus depriving the players of an important advantage.

    This fanbase, of course, isn't even the strongest one in its own city.

19. Toronto Blue Jays

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    2012 attendance rank: 27th.

    2013 B/R Season Preview poll: 80.8 percent say AL East title (1,451 votes).

    2013 MLB Fan Cave finalists: one.

    The Toronto Blue Jays fanbase is growing after an amazing offseason. People have already jumped on the bandwagon weeks prior to the first meaningful game.

    That's not saying much, of course, considering the apathy of the past two decades.

    The Blue Jays have the advantage of being the lone MLB presence in Canada. Big things should be expected with such a massive population available.

18. Milwaukee Brewers

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    2012 attendance rank: 10th.

    2013 B/R Season Preview poll: 76.2 percent expect a playoff berth (517 votes).

    2013 MLB Fan Cave finalists: one.

    The NFL's Green Bay Packers set an unrealistic standard for pro sports teams based in Wisconsin. Only dynastic success can help the Milwaukee Brewers reach such widespread recognition.

    They aren't in great shape entering 2013.

    Their fanbase takes pride in developing All-Star-caliber players from a young age. However, it could be awhile before the next Ryan Braun or Yovani Gallardo emerges. ESPN Insider Keith Law explains why the fragile farm system is among the league's thinnest:

    "This system has one Top 100 prospect and a lot of back-end starters or probable relievers. I didn't love their draft in 2012 despite the extra picks, as they didn't manipulate their money to get any players who fell for signability reasons."

    Miller Park still fills up relatively well, but it's tough for anyone to get excited. 

17. Oakland Athletics

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    2012 attendance rank: 20th.

    2013 B/R Season Preview poll: 74.5 percent predict first-place finish in AL West (593 votes).

    2013 MLB Fan Cave finalists: one.

    The Oakland Athletics deal with the challenge of calling a football stadium their own. Efforts to relocate a few miles away have been halted by the San Francisco Giants, who want to protect their territory.

    Strength of this fanbase has fluctuated in the several decades since the most recent championship.

    Coming off a shockingly good campaign, the A's are headed in the right direction, but they remain the Bay Area's second-best MLB organization.

16. Minnesota Twins

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    2012 attendance rank: eighth.

    2013 B/R Season Preview poll: 19.3 percent see the Twins in the AL Central cellar (503 votes).

    2013 MLB Fan Cave finalists: none.

    All other AL Central clubs have more major league talent, but Minnesota Twins fans surprisingly envision a decent summer for themselves.

    In 2011, there weren't enough healthy bodies to compete, and last year went just as poorly because of weak starting pitching.

    Despite disappointing results, locals adore the team, while manager Ron Gardenhire is admired by a broader audience.

15. Pittsburgh Pirates

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    2012 attendance rank: 16th.

    2013 B/R Season Preview poll: 90.7 percent expect improvement (998 votes).

    2013 MLB Fan Cave finalists: one.

    Once again, the Pittsburgh Pirates collapsed down the stretch. Finishing 2012 above the .500 mark seemed inevitable...until the Bucs began slumping in every facet of the game.

    At least rooting for them isn't total torture anymore.

    Andrew McCutchen is a legitimately elite player and genuine individual who expands the fanbase into the African-American community. General manager Neil Huntington has finally decided to make significant free-agent additions.

    And gradually, more people have been appreciating the attractive confines of PNC Park.

14. Baltimore Orioles

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    2012 attendance rank: 23rd.

    2013 B/R Preseason Evaluation poll: 17.2 percent say at least as many victories as 2012 (945 votes).

    2013 MLB Fan Cave finalists: one.

    Baltimore Orioles fans lack the confidence of elite fanbases.

    Most admit that last summer was fluky. Even though all the key contributors have returned, few O's fans believe they can win as often.

    Where's the enthusiasm?

    Another postseason berth would turn the skeptics into giddy supporters.

13. Cincinnati Reds

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    2012 attendance rank: 15th.

    2013 B/R Season Preview poll: NL Central champs, according to 90.5 percent of participants (906 votes).

    2013 MLB Fan Cave finalists: one.

    The Cincinnati Reds have some national appeal thanks to "The Big Red Machine."

    Anybody who grew up in the 1970s couldn't help but applaud their consistency. Even those who scattered away from Ohio didn't leave their admiration behind.

    New fans will be drawn in this decade. Stars like Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto have agreed to long-term extensions, and starting pitchers like Homer Bailey and Mat Latos could soon go through that process.

    This should be a year of considerable fanbase growth.

12. New York Mets

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    2012 attendance rank: 17th.

    2013 B/R Season Preview poll: 26.0 percent think Mets will finish first or second in NL East (1,644 votes).

    2013 MLB Fan Cave finalists: two.

    Interest in the New York Mets continues to wane as their years of relevance seem like distant memories. The 2013 season might be rock-bottom.

    With Fred Wilpon's finances in order, and the farm system deepening, the fanbase will eventually bounce back into the Top 10.

    Longtime supporters won't abandon the team, and baseball fans without an allegiance could latch on if the young talented pitching meets expectations.

11. Texas Rangers

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    2012 attendance rank: seventh.

    2013 B/R Season Preview poll: 10.9 percent say third-place finish or worse (1,181 votes).

    2013 MLB Fan Cave finalists: two.

    Competitiveness has completely reinvigorated the Texas Rangers franchise.

    Fans were definitely discouraged by the quiet winter, but the vast majority of them still have high hopes.

    Moreover, Josh Hamilton's antagonizing (via The Dallas Morning News) lit a fire underneath them. His return to Dallas-Fort Worth should be met with spirited booing.

10. Los Angeles Angels

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    2012 attendance rank: 11th.

    2013 B/R Season Preview poll: 83.5 percent believe they'll win AL West title (953 votes).

    2013 MLB Fan Cave finalists: one.

    The Los Angeles Angels bought themselves a fanbase to rival their National League counterpart a few miles north.

    Since 2011, ownership has spent a fortune on contract extensions (Erick Aybar, Howard Kendrick, Jered Weaver, etc.) and free agents like Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols.

    And Mike Trout is among baseball's most marketable players.

9. Chicago Cubs

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    2012 attendance rank: ninth.

    2013 B/R Season Preview poll: Only 16.8 percent chose 80-plus wins (1,784 votes).

    2013 MLB Fan Cave finalists: one.

    What good is a massive population if so much of it is feeling bitter?

    Chicago Cubs fans evidently weren't amazed by the club's small army of newly signed free agents. Or perhaps they doubt the homegrown players can pull their weight.

    Misery unites generations of North Siders, though they won't be a particularly vocal group in 2013.

8. Detroit Tigers

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    2012 attendance rank: fifth.

    2013 B/R Season Preview poll: 96.5 percent predict first-place finish in AL Central (1,143 votes).

    2013 MLB Fan Cave finalists: two.

    The Detroit Tigers continue to invest in expensive talent. Torii Hunter and Anibal Sanchez most recently signed multi-year deals.

    Attendance was up for the second consecutive season, a trend that is almost certain to continue.

    The vocal fanbase undoubtedly influenced 2012 American League MVP voting.

    Detroit's Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels were expected to garner near-identical support from BBWAA writers. Instead, Miggy won convincingly with 22 of 28 first-place votes.

7. Washington Nationals

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    2012 attendance rank: 14th.

    2013 B/R Preseason Evaluation poll: 51.9 percent have expectation of triple-digit wins (668 votes).

    2013 MLB Fan Cave finalists: one.

    The 2013 Washington Nationals are overrated.

    That's generally a subjective statement, but the hype machine is overheating this spring. A historically stinky franchise somehow finds itself facing championship-or-bust pressure.

    It's unclear how the players have been affected by the enthusiasm. Regardless, the tidal wave of bandwagon baseball people is crashing to shore, about to flood online retailers who sell Washington swag.

6. Los Angeles Dodgers

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    2012 attendance rank: 12th.

    2013 B/R Preseason Evaluation poll: 38.3 percent guess at least 97 wins (407 votes).

    2013 MLB Fan Cave finalists: two.

    Similar phenomenon on the West Coast.

    While the Los Angeles Dodgers don't seem quite as stacked, they receive plenty of unconditional love from geezers who started watching during the Brooklyn era.

5. Philadelphia Phillies

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    2013 attendance rank: second.

    2013 B/R Season Preview poll: 15.6 percent expect another third-place team (1,899 votes).

    2013 MLB Fan Cave finalists: one.

    Philadelphia sports fans have a reputation for being loud and profane.

    Better that than quiet!

    The Phillies didn't look like contenders at any point in 2012, yet home games were regularly sold out. People still feel confident that strong starting pitching can lead the club back to prominence.

    With that said, the following was much larger several years ago.

4. Boston Red Sox

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    2012 attendance rank: first.

    2013 B/R Season Preview poll: 56.2 percent anticipate fewer than 90 wins (1,431 votes).

    2013 MLB Fan Cave finalists: one.

    Pete Abraham of The Boston Globe predicts that the legendary Fenway Park sellout streak which began in 2003 is nearing its end.

    And deservedly so. The Boston Red Sox grossly underachieved last season, creating ugly headlines on the field and in the clubhouse.

    Through all the drama, though, no more than a handful of fans decommitted from Red Sox Nation. Millions of others still support the cause.

3. New York Yankees

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    2012 attendance rank: sixth. 

    2013 B/R Preseason Evaluation poll: 3.7 percent think they'll win fewer than 76 games (1,361 votes).

    2013 MLB Fan Cave finalists: one.

    In terms of sheer size, the New York Yankees obviously have an excellent fanbase. The interlocking N.Y. logo can be found in every region of the world.

    There's no momentum, however, following a quiet offseason. In previous springs, you wouldn't see anyone predict a losing record for the Bombers.

    If the small yet significant minority is correct, the Yankees will suffer their worst summer since 1991.

2. St. Louis Cardinals

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    2012 attendance rank: fourth.

    2013 B/R Season Preview poll: 97.5 percent count on top-two finish in NL Central (1,820 votes).

    2013 MLB Fan Cave finalists: two.

    The new Busch Stadium opened in 2006 and has attracted impressive crowds each year. The St. Louis Cardinals filled more than 90 percent of available seats last summer.

    But Cards fans make their presence felt outside the ballpark, too.

    They supported David Freese en masse with the #FreesePlease hashtag during the All-Star final vote. The campaign was successful, earning the third baseman his first-ever appearance in the Midsummer Classic.

    Players evidently enjoy the atmosphere and often choose to extend their contracts with St. Louis instead of testing free agency. Examples include Chris Carpenter and Yadier Molina.

1. San Francisco Giants

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    2012 attendance rank: third.

    2013 B/R Season Preview poll: 9.5 percent say no repeat as NL West champs (1,435 votes).

    2013 MLB Fan Cave finalists: one.

    The San Francisco Giants have started the 2010s in fiery fashion with a pair of World Series championships.

    Three of their position players were elected NL starters for the 2012 All-Star Game. Catcher Buster Posey set a new Senior Circuit record with his fan vote total.

    Giants fans also flexed their muscles with a Twitter takeover, and it came at a critical time.

    With the team facing playoff elimination and Barry Zito on the mound, #RallyZito trended across the country. Subconsciously, the left-hander must have felt the support, as he delivered the most clutch performance of his 13-year career.

    Right now, no fanbase is as influential on Bleacher Report or around the globe.