From First To Worst To…

Oh no, it’s a baseball post!  Let me ask you this; how fast can you go from being the very best at something to the worst?

In the case of the Blue Jays, apparently, two years.

In 2015 the Toronto Blue Jays were one of the best hitting teams in the history of baseball.  No, really, they were.  I have a chart and everything!


This year they’re the worst hitting team in their league, at least as of September 15; there’s a few weeks left to go but if they crawl up to second worst I don’t think that means a lot.  Two years from historically great to pretty bad.  I find that kind of amazing.  Has it ever happened before?  It seemed impossible to me, so I looked it up.

To figure this out, first I had to find out teams that were also super awesome.  My standard for calling the 2015 Jays historically thunderous is that they scored 25.5% more runs than the average American League team (the average includes the Jays themselves.)  Now, maybe my way of doing this is simplistic or there’s some methodological error here, but this is my blog, Einstein, go write your own.  25.5% higher than the league average is… really, really unusual.  It’s the third highest any team has done since I was born.  And I’m older than the Blue Jays.

I went back and figured out all the really awesome hitting teams.  My standard was the team had to score at least 20% more runs than the average team did in that season, including themselves, and I disqualified a few Colorado Rockies teams because they were only that high because they play in Denver.  (In very high altitudes, it’s easy to score oodles of runs; that doesn’t mean you’re a great hitting team, because your opponents get the same advantage.  It’s an illusion.)   Anyway, it’s not a very long list (I stopped at 1969, because this took a long time.)

If you like lists, this is a cool one, really.  For one thing, every one of these teams except the 1969 Reds made the playoffs.   So you CAN hit your way to a championship.   For another, man, the 1975-1976 Reds were some team.  It’s been said the 1976 Reds might have had the best starting lineup ever, and I totally believe it.

The Big Red Machine.  Pete Rose was ugly even then.

Now, before anyone sends me mean e-mails, I realize this is a really rudimentary measure.  I do notice that except for disqualifying the Rockies, I’m not accounting for park differences.  But it’s just for fun.

So how many of these teams had terrible offenses two years later?

The answer is precisely two; the 1993 Phillies and 1982 Brewers.  A couple (the 2013 Cardinals and 2000 Indians) were a hair below average but not bad.  But the 1993 Phillies and 1982 Brewers, now, they were awful two years later; the Brewers were the worst hitting team in the league in 1984, the Phillies were second worst.

Based on this list, should the Jays be concerned?

Well, I compared them to the two big failures.  The 1993 Phillies were a weird team, probably one of the flukiest teams to ever make it to the World Series.  Ten guys had the best years of their careers and never did it again.  Between 1987 and 2000 that was the only year they didn’t have a losing record.  I have no idea what to make of them.

A more ominous case are the 1982 Brewers, who – well, they look a lot like the 2015 Blue Jays.  Like the Jays, they had a lot of players in the middle or latter parts of their careers who were well-established sluggers and had terrific years; Cecil Cooper, Ben Ogilvie, Don Money, Ted Simmons, Gorman Thomas.  Like the Jays, who had Josh Donaldson, they had the MVP, Robin Yount, who kept on having great years.  But within two years almost everyone except Yount had succumbed to age and was either bad or gone entirely, except Paul Molitor, who was hurt for almost all of 1984.  The 1982 Brewers got very little contribution from anyone YOUNG except Yount and Molitor.

That is much the same of the 2015 Blue Jays, I regret to say.  The only regular player on the team under the age of 27 was Kevin Pillar, and he was 26 that year and hardly the reason they scored a lot of runs.  Otherwise it’s a creepily similar case, a bunch of guys in the 30s falling apart due to age while the MVP keeps on playing great; they even have a perpetually injured young second baseman.

The 1984 Brewers were an even worse team than the 2015 Blue Jays; they had very little pitching.  (The 1982 Brewers had maybe the worst pitching staff to ever win a pennant.)  People seem to think the Blue Jays have shitty pitching, too, but they really don’t; they’re about average, which is kind of miraculous given the injuries they’ve had.   So anyway, how long did it take the Brewers to recover?  Were they able to retool and contend the year after they bottomed out?

Nope.  The Brewers remained a bad team in 1985, and 1986.  In 1987 they got better but the entire team save Yount and Molitor was overhauled.  They didn’t make the playoffs again until more than two DECADES later.

I think it is fair to say the Jays need to rebuild.  If the Brewers had tried to hold on until 1985 they would have been not just bad, but indescribably horrible.  The Jays will end up the same.  They need to clear the deck.

Yeah, I think they should trade Josh Donaldson, dammit.  As much as I’d hate it.

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