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Talking Baseball

Your weekday baseball fix. Some days.



Posted by Jon on Saturday, January 24, 2004

Capping Off a Bad Season

When the most exciting transaction of the day involves Homer Bush, you know it’s been a slow twenty-four hours. I could comment on Halladay’s new contract or Boston’s recent acquisition of Terry Shumpert (why in the world…?), but I thought it might be nice to have some fun playing a little game of “What If?”.

A friend and I were talking basketball this evening, wondering whether the two worst NBA teams, believed to be the Hawks and the Bulls, combined into one could beat the best team in the League, presumed to be a healthy Lakers squad. I’ll spare you the arguments, but it was mutually decided that the Bawks had no chance. So I began to wonder: If the two worst teams in Major League Baseball were combined into one, would this team be better than the best team in baseball? If the worst teams could not combine to beat the best team in the NBA, which enforces a soft salary cap, but a cap nonetheless, then how many of the worst teams would have to be combined in order to field the best team in baseball? How much worse are the worst teams in baseball? Oh yes, friends, this has many real-world implications!

Tonight, I’ll just be examining the two worst teams in baseball. First, I decided to use last year’s final rosters as a basis for this comparison. Next, I came up with the teams for my little study using the 2003 adjusted standings, which tell us that according to adjusted runs scored and adjusted runs allowed per team (adjusted for league-wide comparison), the Red Sox were the best in baseball and the Tigers were by far the worst (no surprises there). The second worst team of 2003, the Reds, performed far worse than their record reports and, eliminating luck, were only seven games better than Detroit (according to these adjusted statistics). So I’ll be comparing a combined team of the 2003 Tigers and Reds to the 2003 Red Sox.

My analysis is far from perfect, and merely acts as an exercise in baseball imagination. By mixing the two worst teams into one super-bad team, we come up with a new team, hereafter referred to as the Dunce Caps. Now, let’s not have any illusions. The Tigers were a terrible team. Whereas the league average OBP was .351 and the league average SLG was .459, the Tigers’ began their season with what must be considered one of the worst OPS’s for one month ever, enduring a putrid .258 OBP and an awe-inspiring .262 slugging percentage in April. Contrary to what Dmitri Young believes, (regarding Marlin’s manager Jack McKeon’s disparaging remarks about the Tigers: “He's got to realize we're just one or two players away from doing what he did last year. ... He must be thinking of the Detroit Tigers from the mid-90s or something. I don't know."), Detroit is a ways away from competing. The Tigers are B-A-D: bad, bad, bad. Maybe the addition of the best players from Cincinnati would help? … I wouldn’t count on it.

With a little position flipping to maximize the Dunce Caps’ potential, position by position, the amalgamation compares to the Red Sox like so:

......................................AVG........OBP........SLG
CATCHER
Jason LaRue, CIN..............230........321.........422
Jason Varitek, BOS...........273........351.........512

FIRST BASE
Adam Dunn, CIN...............215........354........465
Kevin Millar, BOS...............276........348........472

SECOND BASE
Warren Morris, DET............215........354........465
Todd Walker, BOS..............283........333........428

SHORTSTOP
Barry Larkin, CIN................282........345........382
Nomar Garciaparra, BOS.....301........345........524

THIRD BASE
Eric Munson, DET ..............240........312........441
Bill Mueller, BOS.................326........398........540

OUTFIELD
Ken Griffey, Jr., CIN............247........370........566
Johnny Damon, BOS...........273........345........405
Austin Kearns, CIN.............264........364........455
Manny Ramirez, BOS..........325........427........587
Bobby Higginson, DET........235........320........369
Trot Nixon, BOS................306........396........578

DESIGNATED HITTER
Dmitri Young, DET..............297........372........537
David Ortiz, BOS................288........369........592

Pardon me if this is looking futile…but is it even worth it to continue onto pitching when the Dunce Caps post a rotation of Aaron Harang, CIN; Danny Graves, CIN; Jose Acevado, CIN; Paul Wilson, CIN; and Todd Van Poppel, Cin? Sadly, no Tigers crack this list. For kicks, the Caps’ three best relievers are Ryan Wagner, CIN; Jamie Walker, DET; and their closer is Chris Reitsma, CIN.

So the final tally has a Dunce Caps team featuring 12 Reds and five Tigers.

Comparing them to the Red Sox, it’s easy to see that the Dunce Caps don’t stand a chance. There are only two players on the Caps who I would consider better starters than what Boston offered in 2003: Ken Griffey, Jr. could certainly win a spot in Boston’s outfield, and Chris Reitsma in the bullpen. There are close calls are at DH and first base, but overall, it really isn’t close. After combining the two worst teams of 2003 (the Reds and Tigers), they are still not nearly as talented as the team Boston fielded in 2003.

Maybe using the Red Sox as a basis for comparison was cruel because they boasted the best offense in baseball last season. But my point should be clear: the best teams in baseball are so much better than the worst that it is difficult to compare them. The Tigers performed so horribly last season that they barely made it on to the Caps when competing with the Reds of 2003, the second worst team in baseball, for roster spots (less than 30 percent of the Dunce Caps was made up of Tigers).

So no, Dmitri, your Tigers will not be the surprise World Champions of 2004. Your Dunce Caps wouldn’t even be able to compete. Even Rush Limbaugh could tell you that.

What can the Dunce Caps tell us about baseball in the year 2004? They tell us that it’s a good thing players and owners agreed to some sort of salary restrictions. But the current system may not be enough to bring baseball’s moribund franchises back to life.

To create a league in which all teams can again compete, baseball needs a more rigid salary cap. Today’s exercise was painfully depressing, confirming the awkwardness of Major League Baseball’s power structure. For the good of the game Major League Baseball needs to allow teams to take off their embarrassing Dunce Caps and replace them with a better fitting salary cap.


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