Worst of The Worst: Ranking The Cellar Dwellers of Major League Baseball
It has been a season to forget for many teams.
While many teams, whether it be from front office mismanagement, injuries, or simply bad player performances, have disappointed in 2010, among them the Red Sox, Mets, Cubs, and Dodgers. Fortunately for these teams, however, it could be worse.
They could be the Orioles, Royals, Mariners, Nationals, Pirates, or Diamondbacks.
These are the six teams at the bottom of their respective divisions (the Royals are actually tied with the Indians, but are included as the representative team based on a worse Pythagorean W-L). Which team deserves the dubious title of "worst", however?
Defining the worst is a tough process, and multiple factors go into it. Of course, 2010 performance has to be weighed heavily into the mix, but all six of these teams performed badly. Luck must also be considered (example, if the team significantly underperformed their Pythagorean W-L, like the Cardinals have), as must the team's expected performance going forward.
Without further adieu, and using Jeff Zimmerman's preseason rankings as a farm system point of reference, here are the rankings of the six bottom feeders in MLB, in order from most to least hope in 2011.
#6: Washington Nationals
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2010 record (after 9/14): 61-84
2010 xW-L (after 9/14): 66-79
2010 Farm System rank: #13
So the Nationals may have to make plans for the future that do not involve Stephen Strasburg, obviously a crushing blow.
On the plus side, however, the Nationals came into 2010 with a respectably ranked farm system (#13), and drafted hot-shot prospect Bryce Harper. While High School prospects (which I still consider Harper as, given he played all of one, pre-18 year old season in Junior College) have a higher "bust" rate, some of the all time best #1 draft picks (A-Rod, Ken Griffey Jr, Chipper Jones, Darryl Strawberry, Harold Baines) were all out of High School as well, suggesting a heck of a ceiling for the kid.
For more positivity towards Washington, the team has managed a Pythagorean W-L record that surpasses their current record, suggesting a 5 game improvement in the standings immediately due to nothing but regression towards the mean. This also came in a reasonably difficult division as well, with the Braves and Phillies knocking teams around at the top.
#5: Arizona Diamondbacks
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2010 record (after 9/14): 58-87
2010 xW-L (after 9/14): 61-84
2010 Farm System ranking: #28
The Diamondbacks had a forgettable 2010 that resulted in the firing of their General Manager and Manager. Expected to perform better, the Diamondbacks sit well towards the bottom of the NL West.
I rank them #5 (or the second worse) solely for their Pythagorean W-L, the only other team after the Nationals in this list with an expected win total over 60. Their 2010 farm system ranking was brutal, but the addition of players like Tyler Skaggs will help improve their 2011 standing.
The acquisition of Daniel Hudson should help a pitching staff that, even adjusted for the favorable hitting conditions in Arizona, was well below average. Arizona also hopes Barry Enright can continue to build upon a good start to his Major League career,
Bizarrely, the Diamondbacks had three starters (Montero, LaRoche, and Upton) with a .799 OPS. Three more (Drew, Reynolds, Young) hovered within .012 points of this mark.
#4: Seattle Mariners
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2010 record (after 9/14): 55-90
2010 xW-L (after 9/14): 54-91
2010 Farm System ranking: #18
A team picked by many to be a sleeper in the AL West, it turned out the Mariners may have really been sleepers: sleepers that forgot to wake up at any point during the season.
A team that might have shown a bit more potential than it actually had after significantly outperforming its xW-L in 2009, the Mariners have had no such luck in 2010. Other than the garbage-time acquisition of Russell Branyan, the Mariners have had no legitimate power hitting option, and Ichiro looks to be in the decline phase on his career.
On a position note, the Mariners were able to acquire Justin Smoak in what could potentially end as a steal for the franchise, and 2009 top pick Dustin Ackley has already been promoted to AAA Tacoma, and looks primed to join the team in 2011. Not to mention the team still has Felix Hernandez, a legitimate Cy Young candidate, which is more than I can say about the bottom three teams on the list.
#3: Baltimore Orioles
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2010 record (after 9/14): 57-88
2010 xW-L (after 9/14): 55-90
2010 Farm System ranking: #11
Both Brian Matusz and Josh Bell made it to the majors in 2010, though both looked a bit outclassed to start. One has to think both have plenty of room for improvement, however.
Matt Wieters, once considered the next Joe Mauer, is going to hit a pivotal point of his career in 2011. While a 2.4 WAR / 96 OPS+ season is nothing to be ashamed about as a catcher, one has to believe this is disappointing for a player who received a story by Tom Verducci in Sports Illustrated before ever hitting the majors.
The Orioles are in a tough division, but at least they have some youth and internal options that will help given them a chance to contend in 2011 and beyond.
#2: Kansas City Royals
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2010 record (after 9/14): 59-85
2010 xW-L (after 9/14): 56-88
2010 Farm System ranking: #5
While the Royals' record is better than some of the teams ranked better than they are, it is partly attributable to playing in the American League's only division with three or more sub-.500 teams.
While their prospect ranking is high, Mike Montgomery is still a few years away, Aaron Crow has struggled in 2010, though Mike Moustakas looks close to assuming the third baseman job in 2011.
A major problem going forward for the Royals is that their offense, while productive by its standards in 2010 (99 OPS+), was heavily reliant on players with no long term value to the franchise. Only Billy Butler, if one does not assume Wilson Betemit will continue to hit like an All Star, projects to be a high-level in 2011 for the Royals. Some of their deadline deals also seem to have produced underwhelming results.
While there is a chance this team could turn its fortunes around, I remain unconvinced.
#1: Pittsburgh Pirates
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2010 record (after 9/14): 48-96
2010 xW-L (after 9/14): 44-100
2010 Farm System ranking: #24
There was just no way I could say a team who can be considered extremely lucky to have a 48-96 record, given their run differential, is not the most futile team of 2010.
Pedro Alvarez gives the Pirates some reason for hope, assuming he improves on his glove that currently seems best suited for Designated Hitting (-12 Total Zone, -5.3 UZR). Hometown boy Neil Walker also seems to be coming around after dropping out of the Baseball America Top 100 before hitting the majors, sporting a handsome 124 OPS+. Of course, McCutchen looks to be a star, albeit at the borderline All Star level.
Tim Alderson, regarded as a steal of a pickup when he was acquired in the Sanchez deal, has struggled in the mid-minors, and the Pirates seem to have great issues at pitcher.
On a positive note, however, the Pirates must be applauded for turning middle reliever Octavio Dotel into James McDonald and Andrew Lambo. Lambo has not hit at the level expected for a First Base / Corner Outfield type, but he is only 21. McDonald, however, looks to be the answer to many Pirate fans' prayers so far, sporting a 2.44 K/BB, a low HR/9 rate, and a 115 ERA+ after going eight scoreless versus the Mets.
This is the kind of "ground-up" model that helped the Rays become successful, acquire talent at a discounted rate by selling useful, but journeymen-level veterans. The Pirates will need to make a lot more trades like this in the near future, however, if it has any plans to compete.