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September 4, 2012 at 11:28 AM

Bottom has literally dropped out on American League

Seems like not a week goes by when I don’t cover a bunch of games and wonder what the heck is going on with the American League. I mean, I’m used to seeing a couple of horrible teams parade through town every season. When I covered Toronto earlier last decade, you could usually count on the Tampa Bay Rays to provide comedic fodder, not to mention an historically inept Tigers team.
Lately, following the Mariners, it’s been the Royals and Indians and sometimes the Orioles tripping all over themselves. Oh yeah, up unti this year, it’s been the Mariners doing it, too.
But this year? It seems like every second series in the second-half has been against some cellar-dwellar being propped up with cardboard cutouts. I can’t ever remember seeing so many bad AL teams play one after another in the second half — once we’re already done with interleague play and the usual National League stiffs.
And yet, this year, we’ve been treated since the All-Star Break to the likes of the Twins, Indians, Blue Jays and now, the Boston Red Sox, who since the break have been as bad as any of those teams. The winning percentage numbers of those teams since the break tell the story:
Indians (.260)
Blue Jays (.354)
Twins (.380)
Red Sox (.380)
That’s just awful. Don’t forget, a sub-.380 winning percentage gets you 100 losses over a full season.
Skewing my perspective somewhat is that I also watched the Mariners play the Royals eight times in July. Well, in that one month, the Royals had just a .269 winning percentage. Since then, the Royals made the Jeremy Guthrie trade, have solidified a woeful rotation and are getting better relief performances to the point where they have been winning at a .563 clip since Aug. 1. So, the Royals were simply going through a horrendous month-long stretch during another mediocre season overall and remedied it. They don’t make our list.
But having four teams playing at a .380-or-worse clip for the past 1 1/2 months in the second-half seems to still be an awful lot. That’s because it is.
I did some checking this morning and sure enough, what we’ve seen in terms of the bottom literally dropping out on the AL is a rare occurence indeed. In fact, as I’ll show later, there is an argument to be made that we are witnessing the worst collapse of the league’s bottom tier that we’ve seen at any point since the 1977 expansion when the Mariners were created.
Most of the time, you’ll find two teams as bad as the bottom four AL squads have played this second half. Once in a while, there will be three.
But looking back over the 35 years of the Mariners’ existence, I found only two seasons in which you had four teams play the second half at a sub-.400 winning rate.
Those came in 2002 and 1977.
Photo Credit: AP

Here are the 2002 culprits:
Royals (.377)
Rays (.355)
Orioles (.325)
Tigers (.316)
And the 1977 squads:
Brewers (.361)
Athletics (.338)
Mariners (.343)
Blue Jays (.290)
Here are the combined second-half winning percentages of those four bottom feeders:
1977 — (.333)
2002 — (.343)
2012 — (.343)
As you can see, the teams from 1977 — featuring expansion clubs Seattle and Toronto — were slightly worse than this year’s crew and those from 2002.
So, yeah, what we’re seeing this year — if it continues until season’s end — has only happened once in the last 34 years.
But does that tell the full story of what we’ve seen? Maybe not. There were some moves made at the July 31 trade deadline. And some of this year’s bottom feeders have been much, much worse since Aug. 1. How much worse? Let’s see.
Indians (.219)
Red Sox (.281)
Blue Jays (.290)
Twins (.344)
The Twins have been a bad team all year. But the Indians, Red Sox and Blue Jays were all winning teams back in May. They have completely fallen apart since Aug. 1, for a variety of reasons. A .300 winning percentage over a full season gets you 113 losses and you’ve had three AL teams playing worse than that pace going on five weeks, while the Twins are only at a 106-loss clip since Aug. 1.
Let’s take a look at how this compares with our other two seasons in which the bottom dropped out on the AL. Here are the combined post-Aug. 1 winning percentages of the bottom four teams in the seasons we’re looking at.
2012 — (.283)
2002 — (.318)
1977 — (.339)
As you can see, it’s not even close. This year’s bottom four teams are on a pace to have the worst final two months of a season since prior to the Mariners being created during the 1977 expansion era. I didn’t go back any further than that in my research because I have a game to cover later today and this is just the morning blog post. But I think a 35-year sample is large enough to make the point.
What we’re seeing here is not usual at all. And yes, a difference of one or two teams in the number of sub-.400 and sub-.300 squads is huge in a league of only 14 teams overall.
Unlike the Royals, who were able to address the main culprit of their terrible July — poor pitching — the odds of the current four bottom feeders making any significant changes to pull out of their nosedives seem remote.
As I mentioned above, a variety of factors are at play here. The Twins have been awful all year. But the other three all started off much better and then collapsed, due to a combination of injuries, trades, bad chemistry, etc.
We won’t know whether this is a one-year anomoly or a lasting trend until we see the results of future seasons. For me, the decision by the Red Sox to “blow it all up” is a worrisome development because if their team — with its lucrative revenue base — can do it, then just about any team can. Not just the usual small market culprits.
And when that happens on too big a scale, it has the potential to impact playoff races. Especially with an unbalanced schedule.
This is why the winning percentages of teams after Aug. 1 is important. Players who have experienced playoff races before will tell you it’s much tougher to win games when the pressure is on down the stretch than it is in May or June.
But if one team has a schedule backloaded against a bunch of sub-.400 or sub-.300 squads, it can be easier to get on a winning roll at key times in September merely by showing up and scoring once in a while.
Think the Rays aren’t licking their chops at the prospect of facing the Red Sox and Blue Jays nine times in a row later this month? If the Rays can hold their ground for now, that nine-game stint could be a difference-maker in the AL wild-card race.
Because again, there’s a difference between facing a usual sub-.500 team compared with a sub-.300 team. The first one, maybe you win 6 of 10, or even split if your team is slightly off. With the sub-.300 squads? Just show up and you can win 7 or 8 of 10 because the opponents are so awful they let you get away with all types of mistakes.
As for the A’s, they won’t get any of the fearsome foursome this final month. How will that impact their playoff chances?
We get these types of scheduling imbalances every year and questions about “integrity of the game” during the final week all the time. But when more teams are putting out the equivalent of spring training lineups for longer periods of time each year, the potential is there for the unfairness to spread.
Anyhow, until it happens, it’s all just speculative. But make no mistake: seeing this many teams floundering to this degree hasn’t happened in the AL in a long, long time. Like I said yesterday, there isn’t much MLB can do abut it.
But it does have the ability to impact the game at its most crucial juncture of the season, on a level we haven’t seen since the Mariners have been around.



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