Next year's Rockies
Six teams poised to go from sub-.500 to postseason
Posted: Tuesday November 27, 2007 12:29PM; Updated: Wednesday November 28, 2007 12:54PM
It's been many years since the phrase "five-year plan" has been heard around baseball. Fans won't buy such talk any more because they so often see losing teams become playoff teams from one year to the next. It happened four times alone last season, with half the playoff field -- the Cubs, Rockies, Diamondbacks and Indians -- coming off losing records the previous year.
Indeed, such immediate turnarounds have become rather common in the wild-card era. Of the 104 playoff teams since 1995, 27 of them, or roughly one out of every four, had losing records the previous season. Only once in 13 wild-card playoff years has the postseason field not included a losing team from the previous year (2005).
All of this is good news for the 14 losing teams from last season. Odds are there is another 2007 Rockies among them. But how can we try to identify the next breakout team? Maybe we can learn something from the previous 27 losers-turned-postseason-teams. Here are some possible distinguishing characteristics among those 27 turnaround teams:
Hire a veteran manager. Fully one-third of those turnaround teams changed managers before or during the season. In all nine cases the turnaround manager was a veteran one: Lou Piniella, Jim Leyland (twice), Grady Little, Jack McKeon, Dusty Baker, Tony La Russa, Kevin Kennedy and Davey Johnson. All but McKeon and Kennedy, whose 1994 Rangers were in first place when the strike hit, previously had guided teams to the playoffs.
Be realistic. Sorry, Rays fans, but few teams that are really bad turn around so quickly. Only three of the 27 turnaround teams were outscored by more than 100 runs in their losing season.
On the flip side, once in a while you might find a hidden gem that actually outscored its opponents in a losing season. That's how the 2007 Indians, 2007 Rockies and 1996 Orioles emerged.
Spend gobs of money. The two greatest turnarounds from a run differential standpoint were the 1999 Diamondbacks (-147 the previous year) and the 2007 Cubs (-118). The D-Backs added Randy Johnson, Todd Stottlemyre, Steve Finley and Luis Gonzalez. The Cubs added Alfonso Soriano, Jason Marquis, Ted Lilly and Cliff Floyd.
Is there a 2008 team that best fits the most common turnaround profile? No losing team appears yet to be spending like the Cubs did last year, so you can start by eliminating the teams that have to make up a run differential of more than 100 runs. Goodbye, Marlins (-101), Cardinals (-104), Nationals (-110), Orioles (-112), Pirates (-122), White Sox (-146) and Rays (-162). And the Astros (-90) qualify as a borderline longshot.
Now we're left with six losing teams that have a shot at the postseason next year. So which one could be the next Rockies? I'll rank them in order of best chance for a turnaround:
1. Cincinnati Reds. The Reds weren't quite as bad as their 72-90 record indicated and they hired a veteran manager who fits the turnaround profile: Baker. Cincinnati was outscored by 70 runs last year, but the eighth inning alone accounted for 53 of those runs. (The Reds allowed more runs in the eighth, 123, than any other inning.) The signing of closer Francisco Cordero, while an extravagant one (the most expensive free agent in franchise history at four years, $46 million), at least on paper, improves Cincinnati's eighth-inning chances, with David Weathers and Jared Burton setting up Cordero.
The 2007 Reds had the worst bullpen in the NL (5.13 ERA). If they can improve the bullpen the way the 2007 Indians did, the 2008 Reds -- especially if young hitters Jay Bruce and Joey Votto contribute -- could be a playoff team.