How are teams trending since the league began?

Yesterday, I traded away Ian Desmond, one of my favorite players from his many years as a National and my third-round pick in our inaugural draft. His two plus years on my roster were weird.

He was the second best shortstop in 2014, but only the 52nd hitter overall. He had a very good year by shortstop standards, but he also gained a lot of value simply by playing every day. He finished with 1.17 points per plate appearance, which is good but not great. He was pretty unanimously viewed a top-3 dynasty shortstop.

Then last year, he put together what felt like only two or three good weeks and was only the 11th best shortstop, capping off the season at 0.938 points per plate appearance. That’s quite bad. “Quite bad” is probably even an understatement.

In the off-season, no one wanted him. No one in Major League Baseball wanted him and no one here in Dy-Nasty wanted him. He plopped down in Texas with the Rangers, has eschewed shortstop for the outfield, and is suddenly better than he’s ever been. He still qualifies at short, where he’s second to only Manny Machado, and he’s 14th in scoring among all hitters. He’s got the best wOBA and OBP of his career, he’s cut his strikeouts by almost 5%, and his batting average today is a staggering .089 points higher than where it ended last year. He ranks fourth in all of baseball in wins above replacement behind only Mike Trout, Josh Donaldson, and Kris Bryant.

Ian Desmond isn’t really the point, but as a player, he’s an example of a way that a team can do absolutely nothing at all and see their fortunes change dramatically. If your team was good in 2014 with three or four Desmonds on it, it probably wasn’t as good in 2015, but is probably better than it’s ever been in 2016. Adding free agents, making trades, and calling up prospects aren’t the only way teams get better or worse. Guys get hurt, then get healthy again. Historically good players suck for a year, then bounce back.

Which brings us to the point of this post: I was curious which teams had gotten better or worse since we started in 2014, and by how much. So I pulled the numbers. And here they are (click to enhance):

Y2Y Change

The three columns to the right are really the key. It should be obvious, but the “2014-15 Diff” column is the change in points scored per week from 2014 to 2015. The next column covers 2015 to 2016, and the last column is the difference between our inaugural 2014 season and this year.

Since we’ve started, the teams that have improved the most appear to be Unicorns and Glitter, Cheating Brew Crew, Fighting Banana Slugs, and the Tender Bitches. The teams trending in the opposite direction are the Sexual Harrassment Pandas, Gardner Variety, and interestingly, two-time defending champion Clown Question Bros. The Pottstown Ironmen warrant mentioning here too as one of only three teams that have trended negatively both from 2014 to 2015 and from 2015 to 2016.

The Clown Question Bros trending poorly isn’t necessarily a red flag. With 503.52 points per week on average in our first year, Jordan’s team was the third-best team in our first season. It’s possible that “getting worse” isn’t an indictment because you started so high to begin with. FBS has gotten worse from 2015 to 2016 too, but that team was so good in 2015 that, meh, it’s not alarming. Still, worse is worse, and the Bros are averaging just 473 points per week this season with six weeks to go.

One big thing that jumped out at me: look what happened to the Fighting Banana Slugs and Unicorns and Glitter between our first and second seasons. We already knew they improved, but they jumped 132.82 and 181.29 points per week respectively, which is just insane. I don’t really feel like digging deep enough to try to identify what happened, but I would speculate they didn’t benefit from just getting healthy or winning a trade. Big improvements like that suggest hitting in a number of areas: winning trades and getting players back, sure, but they likely both had prospects come up and help and were able to find free agents that became useful. Off the top of my head, I do know the Unicorns added Carlos Correa via trade, got Machado healthy, and picked up Logan Forsythe. Mookie Betts spent 2014 in the Slugs’ minors before becoming a star the following season and Matt Harvey spent the year on the disabled list.

Of things to be concerned about, Gardner Variety’s situation stands out. His team is now trending downward for the second consecutive year after finishing a respectable eighth in points in our first season. Gardner lost 12.93 points per week from 2014 into 2015, then another 33.93 points per week from last year to 2016. Just to illustrate that gap: Josh Donaldson, defending MVP and 2016’s leading hitter, is averaging 53.59 points per week and Freddy Galvis, a free agent, is averaging 20.35, a difference of 33.24 points per week. I’m sure there are a bunch of factors at play, but here are some names that were on the roster in 2014 that no longer are: Max Scherzer, Miguel Cabrera, Jon Lester, Adam Wainwright, Alex Gordon, Matt Holliday, Howie Kendrick. Rajai Davis. That’s quite a talent pool.

I’m not sure what, if anything, about this is actionable.

I mean, if your team is trending downward, obviously you should try to get things moving the other direction. In some cases, like the Sexual Harrassment Pandas, that probably just means waiting for your prospects to get promoted. You probably didn’t need this chart to tell you that though. If your team is consistently making improvements, keep on doing what you’re doing, I guess. These numbers aren’t deep enough, I don’t think, to draw any sweeping conclusions, but they were at least interesting to glance over.

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