Talking Baseball

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Posted by Ben K. on Friday, February 06, 2004

From Worst to....Worst

As we all know by now, Ivan Rodriguez, the team MVP of the 2003 World Series Champion Florida Marlins, signed a four-year, $40 million contract on Monday with the Detroit Tigers. Pudge gave up the chance to make around $16 million for two years in Florida to play with a team that lost 119 games last season, a total of 225 games over the last two years, and a three-year total of 321 losses, three short of the 87-year-old American League record held by the Philadelphia Athletics.

In the face of unprecedented losing, Pudge, of course, had all the right things to say about the signing and his new team. As MLB.com reported, Rodriguez said, "Believe it or not, when I was a kid, this was one of my favorite teams. I watched Detroit a lot on TV and have all those memories of a winning team all those years. I'm very happy to be part of this organization." It's a mystery to me how Pudge, who grew up in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico, almost 2500 miles away from Detroit was able to watch the Tigers on TV. Also, in examining Detroit's team history, I see four years during Pudge's life where they could be considered competitive. So I don't know what winning Tigers teams Rodriguez watched on TV, but that's not my point today.

Instead, I'm more concerned with another one of Pudge's quotes. In the same MLB.com article, he said, "This team to me is not a losing team. Any team can have a bad year. This team did and it's already behind them." But did the Tigers really simply have a bad year last year as their new All Star catcher so succinctly put it? Let's take a closer look.

The Tigers finished last season with a 43-119 record, setting a new American League record for most losses in a single season. This dubious achievement left them with a .265 winning percentage. They finished 47 games behind the AL Central-leading Minnesota Twins and 58 games worse than the best team in the majors last year. As a team, they hit just .240 with a .300 OBP and a .375 slugging percentage. They scored only 591 runs--less than 4 runs per game.

While the Texas Rangers' pitching staff was actually a little worse than that of the Tigers', Mike Maroth and company weren't exactly setting any records. Well, actually, Maroth himself did when, on September 5, he became the first pitcher since 1980 to lose 20 games in a single season. He would finish with 21 losses. Overall, the team finished with a 5.30 ERA. They managed three complete games and held their opponents scoreless only five times the entire season. The staff struck out a Major League-low 764 hitters while racking up a team WHIP of a stunning 1.51.

Pudge, I hate to break it to you, but this team did more than just have an unlucky bad year. The 2003 Tigers were one of the worst teams in the history of the game. Only two teams have lost more games then they did, and their level of ineptitude hadn't been reached since 1962. Despite Pudge's predictions that this team won't be a losing team in 2004, it's tough to argue otherwise. Bad breaks don't account for the horrible nature of the Tigers last year.

So the Tigers were bad. In another interview, Pudge even acknowledge this. "I know they had a bad season last year, but I think this is going to be a completely different season," he said. But is it really? Will the Tigers led by Ivan Rodriguez go from worst ever to first in the league next season? For a hint on the future of the Tigers, let's take a look at all of the teams in Major History that have lost more than 110 games.

I'm going to make this nice and easy. The following table will break down the teams that have been notoriously bad. It will have the team's record in the year they lost more than 110 games, the team's record the following season, the place in which the team finished that next season, and the number of games by which the team improved. Let's do it in order of teams that lost the most games. Also, as a note, I'm going to look at teams considered in the modern era of baseball. That is, only teams after 1903 are on this list.

 RecordNext SeasonStandingsGames Improved
1962 Mets40-12051-111Last Place+10
2003 Tigers43-119NANANA
1916 Athletics36-11755-98Last Place+20
1935 Braves38-11571-836th (out of 8)+32.5
1904 Senators38-11364-877th (out of 8)+26
1952 Pirates42-11250-104Last Place+8
1965 Mets50-11266-959th (out of 10)+16.5
1932 Red Sox43-11163-867th (out of 8)+22.5
1939 St. Louis Browns43-11167-876th (out of 8)+24
1941 Phillies43-11142-109Last place+0.5
1963 Mets51-11153-109Last place+2

The future for the Tigers does not look too good from what we see in this table. First, let's look at the bad news. The 1962 Mets are the only team on this list to lose more games than the Tigers. In 1963, they improved by only 10 games and are the only team on the list in consecutive seasons. In 1964, they lost 109, narrowly avoiding the list. It would be the only time they would so between 1962 and 1965. The 1939 Phillies are clearly the team on the list that improved the least. By losing 109 games the next season, they too avoided consecutive years on the list. Those Phillies, however, lost 100 games or more for five seasons in a row. They are the only team to achieve this dubious feat. The Tigers have lost more than 100 for only two seasons in a row.

Now for the relatively good news: The Tigers have to get better. On average, teams with over 110 losses improve by 16.5 games the next season. That would put the Tigers at around 59-103 for the 2004 campaign. Additionally, no teams have done worse in the season after losing over 110 games. So I think it's safe to say that Pudge's Tigers won't be any worse this season than the Pudge-less Tigers were in 2003. What it does mean however is that the Tigers will have lost 328 games in three seasons, thus setting a new record for most losses in three consecutive seasons. And to think Pudge could have stayed in Florida, defending a World Championship and not a loss record.

Is it really realistic though to assume that the Tigers will improve only by those projected 16 games? No and yes. no, because the Tigers' offense is radically better for next season. Rondell White, Fernando ViƱa, Pudge, and Carlos Guillen are all significant upgrades over last year's no-name offense. While Pudge's 23 win shares were the most he's had in four years, it's safe to say that he'll be better than Brandon Inge was behind the plate in Comerica last year. I don't think Pudge will reach 23 again, but he'll make a difference, as will the rest of the Tigers' additions. But the pitching has not improved. Detroit's pitching staff was not fooling anyone last year, and they won't be fooling anyone this year even with the help of Ivan Rodriguez.

In the end, I predict 95 losses from the Tigers. This would represent an improvement of 24 games over 2003, which is no small feat. But it's not really the "completely different season" that Pudge predicted. It's still a season of disappointment for the players and the fans, and it's most definitely a season at the very bottom of the mediocre AL Central.

Finally, Pudge also claimed that we, the fans, would see the Detroit Tigers in the playoffs "very soon." But unless the Tigers upgrade their pitching staff, those 96 losses may be the high-water mark for the Pudge era. Rodriguez will only get older, and the Tigers don't have much in the way of pitching prospects. I highly doubt, Pudge, the Detroit Tiger, will see a return to the October glory he enjoyed with the Marlins.

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