Teams are Getting Good at Being Bad

Baseball has been around for about a million years, yet there are MLB teams participating in the 2018 season that are doing things that have rarely been seen.

If the 90s and early 2000s will be known for the race to be the home run king with steroid-laced behemoths massacring baseballs seemingly every at-bat, the 2010s will be known for business-savvy GMs crumpling up the word “compete” and throwing it in the trash.

Being good at losing sounds like what a little league coach would tell their 0-12 in-house team full of kids who belong in right field. Replace the little league coach with a Major League GM and the kids who belong in right field with career minor league players and you have almost half of the American League teams in 2018.

You’ve got three teams – the Orioles, Royals and White Sox – plummeting toward minus-200 run differentials (or worse). And you’ve got at least three others – the Rangers, Blue Jays and Tigers – getting set to trade away a bunch of veteran players, which could set them on a course to lose 95 to 100 games.

“I can’t ever remember a situation in any league like this,” said one AL exec. “Can you?”

Of course not – because it’s never happened. Not in any sport LeBron James doesn’t play, anyway.

That an excerpt from Jason Stark’s article in The Athletic compares my sport to the NBA really hurts my feelings. More from Stark…

The Orioles just went over five weeks without winning a single game against a team from their own league. That’s 0-17 – including an incomprehensible 0-15 month of June – if your hard drive just exploded trying to calculate it. And not surprisingly, no team in the interleague era had ever done anything like that.

The Royals, meanwhile, just lost 18 games in a row when they didn’t throw a shutout. No team had done something like that in 111 years.

Want to guess the last time two different teams had winning percentages below .300 on Independence Day? That would be 1912 – when Hippo Vaughn’s pre-Ruthian Yankees started 19-46 (.292) and Curly Brown’s always-entertaining St. Louis Browns roared out of the gates at 19-47 (.288).

So teams are bad, but not just bad, historically bad. But it’s all part of the plan. Ignore the fact that fans have to sit through years of trying to lose, an idea that is directly contradictory to the literal definition of “sport” (an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team COMPETES against another or others for entertainment). Ignore also that we can’t measure how historically dominant the Yankees or Astros actually are because half of their games are played against teams with only a handful of actual Major League players.

But how can we blame these GMs. The Royals, Astros and Cubs have proven that this model works. Now that everyone has accepted that tanking is a cheap way to get good, teams can’t just implement the model. They have to be good at it. They have to be good at losing.

Welcome to 2018 :).

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