16 September 2019

Talking Tanking: Why Are So Many MLB Teams So Terrible???

In case you were as yet uncertain of the State of Things in Major League Baseball, i.e. whether teams were really tanking in order to try to A) be more competitive in the future, or 2) make more profit in the meantime, I submit the following:

In the entire history of major league baseball, there has, I think, been only one season in which four teams finished with 100 or more losses. That was in 2002, which if you recall, was right in the thick of several MLB owners crying poor all the time and insisting that if the players union did not accept a salary cap immediately, if not sooner, they would need to contract two teams. The Twins and the Expos were most often cited, though also occasionally the then-Florida Marlins, as examples of teams the sport could better do without.

Ironically, none of those teams were the ones that lost 100+ games in 2002. Those teams were in fact: Detroit, Kansas City, Milwaukee, and Tampa Bay. The last two of those also had their names bandied about as possible contraction options, though not as much as Montreal and Minnesota.

This year, there are already two teams in MLB with 100+ Losses, Detroit and Baltimore, and two more (I know, I know...) on a pace for 100 or more.

The 2019 Miami Marlins, with a baker's dozen worth of games left to play, will face only teams with winning records the rest of the way. They have three games each against Arizona, Washington and Philly, and four against the Mets. Only the games against the Nationals - who currently lead the NL Wild Card race - are at home for them, not that they have much of a home-field advantage, with the third worst home record in MLB.

Believe it or not (Phillies Phans sure do :-/ ) The Marlins actually have winning records against The Diamondbacks and the Phillies, but are a combined 7-24 against the Nats and the Mets. :-( They could reach their 100th loss before payday this week! Unless you get paid on Tuesdays for some odd reason.

The other potential 100-loss team, the Royals, currently sit at 95 losses, with 12 to play, but again they face only winning teams for the last two weeks of the season. They play three at Oakland, who has one of the best at-home records in MLB, then four at Minnesota, who's good at home, but better on the road. Then the Royals host a two-game series (two games??) against the NL East winning Braves, who have the third-best road record in MLB, followed by a season ending three-game set against the Twins...who actually do have the best road record in MLB.

This is, I believe, will be the only time other than 2002 when four teams lose 100 or more, as I mentioned above.

Not that there haven't been a couple of close calls.

In 1985, three teams (out of 26 total) lost 100 or more: the Giants, Indians and Pirates, and the Rangers may very well have joined them had they made up a rain out. They finished 62-99, and could very well have lost their 100th to the Brewers if they'd played all 162 games in their proposed schedule, though the Brew Crew was no slouch in the Losing Games Department that year either, finishing 71-90 themselves.

The Giants and Pirates at the time were in the midst of a couple of down years, but both were about to get really, really good, at least for a while. The Tribe was always a mess in those days, which is hard to imagine now, but they had only one season with a winning record between 1981 and 1994, and even that was just an 84-win season in 1986 before returning to 100-loss form in 1987.

The other close call was 1969, an expansion year with 24 teams in MLB  That year, two teams lost 110(!) games - the expansion Expos and Padres, of course - and two others lost 99 (Cleveland and Philly). Again, with a shortened season, Cleveland missed its chance for 100 L's, finishing 62-99. Philly went 63-99.

So, in short, there has never been a season in which four teams finished with at least 100 losses if they were actually trying to win. It's worth noting that some of the examples of times when it has happened or has come close to happening, come with extenuating circumstances.

In 1969, for example, two of the 99+ loss teams were hamstrung by the slim pickings available from an expansion draft. Given a variety of options, I promise that you would not choose to start off the first Canadian MLB franchise with the likes of Bobby Wine and Gary Sutherland and a 36-year old Maury Wills, quite literally on his last legs (or so he seemed, until he went back to the Dodgers).

Or a San Diego franchise with Jose Arcia and Tommy Dean and what used to be Johnny Podres, whom I'm pretty sure the Padres just picked up because they thought it would be a good marketing ploy or something.

In 2002, the Devil Rays were only in their 5th season, right in the middle of a decade of not just not winning, but losing at least 90 games every season. That team took a while to get its footing. Mostly it took new owners.

The Royals in 2002 had their first 100-loss season in history, but they had been bad for years under the Foundation ownership group that took charge of the team after Ewing Kauffman died in 1993. They would have a winning season in 2003 before sinking even lower into the depths, with three straight 100-loss seasons. Similar to the Astros of a decade ago, those terrible teams helped lay the foundation for the teams that would eventually appear in two World Series, and even win one.

And that's really what this all comes down to. The Marlins, Orioles, Royals and Tigers are essentially cutting everything unessential out, tanking on purpose to try to get better draft picks, and more of them, to win in the future, while still making profits now. They're doing what Houston did a decade ago, and even then some people could see it, as Sports Illustrated famously predicted in 2014 that the 100-loss Astros would win the 2017 World Series.  I can't say it doesn't make business sense, but I can tell you this:

All four of them cannot win the 2022 World Series.

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