BY Steve Rudman 07:29AM 03/30/2011

Nobody Asks But Us: Turnaround teams

Has any team gone from 95+ losses to a winning season in one year?

The Mariners will need a big year out of Justin Smoak if they are to make a substantial turnaround / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

The Mariners, who open their 2011 season Friday night against the Athletics in Oakland, lost 101 games in two of the past three seasons (2008, 2010). Has any team with 95 or more losses posted a winning record the following season? And has any 95+-game loser ever reached the postseason the following season?

Since the start of divisional play in 1969, 131 Major League teams have suffered 95 or more defeats in a season. Of those, just 21 went on to post a winning record the following year, led by Arizona’s 35-game improvement from 1998 to 1999.

Of the 21, just four reached the postseason, most recently the Tampa Bay Rays, who went from 66 wins in 2007 to 97 and the AL East title in 1998. The Rays lost that year’s World Series, 4 games to 1.

To achieve its remarkable turnaround, when Arizona went from 65-97 (1998) to 100-62 (1999), the second-yeart Diamondbacks made several key off-season moves, including signing free agent pitcher (and former Mariner) Randy Johnson, who won 17 games, had a 2.48 ERA, and captured the Cy Young Award.

The Diamondbacks also brought aboard Steve Finley, who belted 34 home runs (he hit only 14 the previous year for San Diego), and traded for Tony Womack, who scored a career-high 111 runs.

Only one other team (besides Tampa Bay) went from 95 or more defeats one year to a World Series appearance the following season. The Atlanta Braves lost 97 times in 1990 and won 94 games in 1991, a plus of 29 (like the Rays, the Braves also lost the World Series). The Braves accomplished their feat by signing free agents Terry Pendleton (hit .319 with 22 home runs) and Otis Nixon (hit .297, swiped 72 bases) and receiving a 20-victory season from Tom Glavine (20-11, 2.55).

The greatest season-to-season improvement in Mariners annals occurred from 2008 to 2009, when they went from 61-101 to 85-77, a plus of 24. The key changes: The Mariners hired GM Jack Zduriencik, who ousted manager John McLaren and hired Don Wakamatsu. Russell Branyan smacked 31 home runs and Felix Hernandez won 19 games.

The Mariners also had an 18-game improvement from 1992 to 1993, when the key change was the hiring of Lou Piniella.

Over the past decade, the AL West champion has averaged 95 victories. To reach that total (and nobody expects it) this season, the Mariners would have to improve by +33, matching the feat of the 1988-89 Baltimore Orioles, who went from 54-107 to 87-75.

The only way the Mariners can make this happen is if Felix Hernandez pitches to his Cy Young standard, Erik Bedard stays healthy, Chone Figgins has the big year the Mariners were expecting in 2010 (and didn’t get), Justin Smoak continues to develop, and newcomers such as Jack Cust make a substantial difference with their bats.

Since the start of divisional play, the following clubs lost 95 or more games one season, and made at least an 18-game improvement the next:

Team From To Playoffs Turnaround
Diamondbacks 65-97 / 1998 100-62 / 1999 L NLDS +35
Orioles 54-107 / 1988 87-75 / 1989 None +33
Rays 66-96 / 2007 97-65 / 2008 L WS +31
Athletics 54-108 / 1979 83-79 / 1980 None +29
Braves 65-97 / 1990 94-68 / 1991 L WS +29
Rangers 57-105 / 1973 84-76 / 1974 None +27
White Sox 64-97 / 1976 90-72 / 1977 None +26
Brewers 67-95 / 1977 93-69 / 1978 None +26
Rangers 62-99 / 1985 87-75 / 1986 None +25
Indians 60-102 / 1985 84-78 / 1986 None +24
Mariners 61-101 / 2008 85-77 / 2009 None +24
Cubs 65-97 / 2000 88-74 / 2001 None +23
Padres 64-98 / 2003 87-75 / 2004 None +23
Orioles 67-95 / 1991 89-73 / 1992 None +21
Giants 62-100 / 1985 83-79 / 1986 None +21
Phillies 65-97 / 2000 86-76 / 2001 None +21
Cubs 67-95 / 2002 88-74 / 2003 L NLCS +21
Royals 62-100 / 2002 83-79 / 2003 None +21
Royals 65-97 / 1970 85-76 / 1971 None +20
Cubs 66-96 / 2006 85-77 / 2007 L NLDS +19
Padres 65-97 / 1987 83-78 / 1988 None +18
Mariners 64-98 / 1992 82-80 / 1993 None +18

“Nobody Asks But Us” is published every Wednesday as part of Sportspress Northwest’s package of home-page features collectively titled, “The Rotation.” Site visitors are encouraged to ask questions, and we will endeavor to answer them.

The Rotation’s weekly schedule:

Monday: That Was The Week That Was (TW3) — A snarky, day-by-day review of the week just ended.
Tuesday: Wayback Machine — Sports historian David Eskenazi’s deep dive into local sports history, replete with photo eye candy.
Wednesday: Nobody Asks But Us — We ask, and answer, fun and quirky questions nobody else is asking.
Thursday: Water Cooler Cool — Art Thiel takes on the weekend for the benefit of the more casual fan.
Friday: Top 5 List — The alpha and omega of Northwest sports, at least as far as we’re concerned.


YourThoughts

  • Steve Wells

    Having just read “Scorecasting” and being encouraged by the Mariners’ record in Spring Training, I wonder, with trepidation, if any rigorous statistical analysis has been done to measure the correlation between Spring Training performance and regular season performance? Am I fooling myself in hoping that it is a myth that there is no correlation? I found an assessment of the relationship between finishing with the best Spring Training record and subsequent performance, but the analysis I seek considers all teams and their subsequent performance.

    …. or has anyone done a psychoanalytical assessment of Hope Springs Eternal? We’re Number 1!!!!