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The Road to Futility: How the Marlins and Astros Could Be Historically Bad

Baseball has always been hailed as the ultimate sport when it comes to unpredictability. Seasons are filled with randomness that would make a power-ball machine proud, and so every day is filled with unexpected things, for good and bad. With that, it is completely natural that even the worse team will win their fair share of games and the good ones will win only a few more. But what happens when a team is so hopeless that even those wins are not as automatic as they used to be? Well, you can ask the Marlins and Astros.

Even with seasons that feature 2,430 games in a league that has been around for over 100 years, baseball still features some rare occurrences come around once every few years. For example, in the history of MLB there have only been:

    • 23 perfect games
    • 15 unassisted triple plays
    • 16 games where a player hit 4 homeruns
    • 22 full seasons where a team had a winning percentage under .300

That last tidbit is the focus of this article, as 2013 could be witness to a feat so rare that it has only happened twice over the last 50 years. In fact, when you take a look at the short list of teams that have won less than 30% of their games, it is easy to notice that most of these seasons took place in the early stages of Major League Baseball. In fact, half of them occurred from 1890 to 1920, and an additional 8 of them happened from 1921 to 1945.

While the reasons for such futile seasons are pretty easy to determine (shorter seasons, a segregated talent pool, players going to the Army, etc.), the fact that only three other seasons like this have happened since is quite telling, and a testament to baseball´s historical parity. The other three teams that fell under .300 were famous in their own right: the 1952 Pirates, the 1962 Mets and the 2003 Tigers.

Looking at the current standings, both the Marlins and Astros have identical records of 13-32, good for a .289 winning percentage that would give them the 17th worst mark of all time. While it may seem early to draw conclusions after only 45 games played, it is clear that both franchises have the potential to keep this pace or even become worse. But will any of them actually join this infamous club?

Miami Marlins

Everybody is aware of the damage Jeffrey Loria has inflicted upon Marlins fans, but at least he has been honest in the way he approached 2013. By dealing away almost all of his veterans and creating a roster full of no-names, prospects and washed-up big leaguers, he is practically daring people to come to the stadium with the hideous sculpture and see his terrible team.

Of course, Miami is dead last in attendance and has been unlucky enough to have their best player, Giancarlo Stanton, injured for a while now. Their expected win-loss record says that the Marlins numbers should be 14-31, so it is not as if they have been unlucky. The main problem with the team is its hideous offense, which ranks in the bottom of the NL in all relevant offensive categories: runs, average, OBP and slugging. Having the likes of Greg Dobbs and Placido Polanco batting fourth is practically a crime against baseball.

On the other hand, Miami´s rotation has at least looked decent so far. The Marlins´s team ERA of 4.01 ranks 10th in the Senior Circuit and 3 of their 5 starters are hovering around league average. José Fernandez is one of the highest regarded prospects in the Majors, and the steady contributions of innings-eaters like Ricky Nolasco and Kevin Slowey could be the only bright spots on the team.

When it is all said and done, I think the Marlins will not become a part of the under-.300 club, mainly because they play in the weaker NL and will have Stanton back eventually. They will surely remain a painful sight to see, but winning a couple of games a week should be enough to avoid ignominy.

Houston Astros

We have already covered the Astros before, but they have become even worse since then. While their Pythagorean record suggests that they should be a couple of wins better, actually seeing the team play baseball suggests that we are witnessing one of the worst teams in history. The trend started a couple of years ago, when Houston had the first losing season in team history, and things like this have become commonplace.

Contrary to Miami, Houston´s offense has been surprisingly competent, highlighted by the diminutive Jose Altuve, and serviceable bats from Carlos Peña, Chris Carter and Jason Castro. We say surprisingly competent because it has been better than expected, not because it has been really good. Houston ranks from 10th to 12th in most offensive categories in the AL (though they are first in strikeouts and in caught stealing!).

The pitching…well…it has been an utter disaster. Astros hurlers have compiled an ERA of 5.50 so far, with all 7 players that have started a game for them featuring an ERA above 4.30. The worse culprit was Phil Humber, he of the 0-8 record and 9.59ERA (!!!), who ended up being released. If not even the Astros want you on their team, you know you really have failed as a major-leaguer. Also, their only 2 competent and young starters, Lucas Harrell and Bud Norris, are said to be on the trade block in order to garner more prospects, so it could eventually get worse for Houston.

The Astros have embraced futility in order to see brighter days in the future, and following Detroit´s story after 2003, maybe they think they can do the same. I say the Astros will keep on losing at a rapid pace, and a sub-.300 winning percentage will be their fate when 2013 closes. 


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