Four months into the 2021 season, there’s not much of a secret or much of a surprise about who the worst teams are. The standings speak for themselves. Sudden improvement is not very likely, especially among the teams that made themselves worse prior to the July 30 trade deadline.
In my last look at the worst teams in the league, the five worst records belonged to these teams: Diamondbacks, Orioles, Rangers, Pirates, Rockies. Four of those five teams are still among the five worst teams, with only the Rockies having ascended, a little bit.
For one of these really bad teams, the #1 pick in next year’s draft will be the prize. Right now, that still looks like Arizona. For the others, almost certainly including the Orioles, the consolation prize for not being bad enough to get #1 is going to be a top five pick. The question to be settled over the last couple of months is how high the pick will end up being.
- Record so far: 34-74
- On pace for: 51-111
- Fangraphs projected record: 58-104
- Players traded away: Eduardo Escobar (2.0 fWAR), Stephen Vogt (0.3), Joakim Soria (0.3)
As hard as it is to believe after the way they’ve played for months on end now, the Diamondbacks played above .500 in April. Then they went 5-24 in May and 3-24 in June to help get them where they are now. The month of July was not quite as bad, at 11-12, but the damage has been done. They don’t have an insurmountable lead for the #1 pick, but it’s a substantial one with now less than two months of baseball to be played. They have six more losses than the Orioles.
A whopping ten Arizona players are currently on the injured list. Five of these are COVID-related IL stays that cropped up on July 30. The last thing a 34-74 team needs is that sort of chaos. How much it impacts them probably depends on how long the players are out of commission. Josh Rojas (114 OPS+ to date) and Pavin Smith (102 OPS+).
One common theme among these bad teams is that they are set up well with prospects at the moment, just not on the cusp of MLB prospects yet. Arizona rates six top 100 prospects in the post-draft Fangraphs top 100 prospects list, including their #6 overall pick Jordan Lawlar, who we’re all hoping the Orioles don’t regret not taking. However, only one of their top 10 prospects has hit Triple-A, and that’s a guy with a down arrow next to his name.
- Record so far: 38-68
- On pace for: 58-104
- Fangraphs projected record: 62-100
- Players traded away: Freddy Galvis (1.5 fWAR)
The Orioles are unique among these sad-sack teams in that by only dealing Galvis, who had been on the injured list for a month, they did not actually subtract from their July roster by making a deadline deal. They will not be any lesser in August than they were in July because of this. The challenge for the O’s is that only 20 of their last 56 games will come against teams currently under .500. That’s also an opportunity to spoil somebody’s season.
It’s not like the Orioles were amazing in July. They finished with a 10-12 record for the month, continuing the streak of months with a below .500 record that has stretched on since August 2017. No, really. It’s been four years since the O’s had a winning month. That is a long time to go without any sustained stretch of decent baseball. The early days of August 2021 are not making it look like this month will break the streak. That Monday win was fun, though.
One part of a long-term rebuilding effort is improving talent on the farm. This improvement has still not particularly reached Norfolk. The performance in MLB this year of guys on the Keegan Akin/Dean Kremer level, and the injuries/poor performance from Kremer’s fellow Manny Machado trade companions Yusniel Diaz and Rylan Bannon, have been a real bummer. It does not feel like the prospects will be coming to save the day in the back half of the 2021 season. At this point, at risk of sounding like a broken record, we’d probably settle for Jahmai Jones coming up to replace Pat Valaika.
- Record so far: 39-68
- On pace for: 59-103
- Fangraphs projected record: 61-101
- Players traded away: Joey Gallo (3.5 fWAR), Kyle Gibson (1.8), Ian Kennedy (0.4), Joely Rodriguez (0.2)
Using Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement, the now-Yankee Gallo is the most productive player so far in 2021 to be traded by any of this group of tankers. Texas also dealt one Gibson, their best starting pitcher and the only one with an ERA under 4 to date, as well as their closer. This team went 6-18 in July to dip down below the Orioles in the standings for a day or two. Their trades suggest another run for the bottom of the standings again next year.
Of the five teams being highlighted in this article, four of them picked in the top six picks of last month’s draft. There is a lot of carry-over from being bad in the 60-game season last year into being bad again this year. (Sadly, that didn’t happen with the Red Sox.) The Rangers reward was getting to draft Vanderbilt’s Jack Leiter. They’re on track for another good reward here by virtue of a horrible road record (13-40). The Orioles had some road woes too, but they’re “only” 21-37 on the road.
The back-to-back World Series appearances of 2010 and 2011 surely feel like a long time ago now, because they are. The Rangers have been below .500 in every season since 2017. They weren’t that bad in either 2017 or 2019, winning 78-84 each year. O’s fans certainly know a little of what that’s like. It’s going to be a while for these guys, probably. They have only two of Fangraphs top 100 prospects even after drafting Leiter, and only two of their top 20 prospects have even reached the Triple-A level.
- Record so far: 41-66
- On pace for: 62-100
- Fangraphs projected record: 64-98
- Players traded away: Adam Frazier (2.8 fWAR), Tyler Anderson (1.3), Richard Rodriguez (1.3), Clay Holmes (0.2), Austin Davis (0.0)
The Pirates dealt away three of their best six players: A position player, a starting pitcher (best being relative, with a 4.35 ERA) and their 0.835 WHIP closer Rodriguez. Only Anderson, the starter, was set to be a free agent at the end of the season, though that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re surrendering on next year too.
Pittsburgh’s post-trade deadline problem, which is really a problem for teams trying to get a higher draft pick than them, is that their offense was already bad and now it’s without one of the two best hitters this year. The Bucs have the most strikeouts of any NL team, and to go along with this, they’re last in their league in runs scored and in home runs.
Like the Orioles, it doesn’t look like help is on the way in 2021. Only one of their MLB Pipeline top 10 prospects is active at Triple-A currently. Also like the Orioles, there is at least some hope for the future. The O’s and Pirates are 2-3 in the Fangraphs farm system rankings. Pittsburgh has a deep system and some solid prospects coming eventually. What the major league team will look like by the time those prospects arrive is another story.
- Record so far: 45-62
- On pace for: 68-94
- Fangraphs projected record: 72-90
- Players traded away: Jose Berrios (2.0 fWAR), Nelson Cruz (1.8), J.A. Happ (0.0), Hansel Robles (-0.3)
It wasn’t supposed to be this way for the Twins. The PECOTA projection system predicted that they would win the AL Central with a 91-61 record, giving them 61% odds of taking the division crown. Reality remains uninterested in what was projected to happen. The fallout of the failure may take them down next year as well. Extension talks with Byron Buxton that didn’t reach a contract may lead to the post-2022 free agent being dealt over the offseason.
Although the Twins didn’t trade Buxton here, they do seem to have done better than the 2017 Orioles at the trade deadline of recognizing that the party is over. “The party” in Minnesota’s case is three playoff appearances since 2017 in which they won zero games. The franchise has infamously gone 0-15 dating back to 2006. It might not make them feel better to know that an Orioles fan feels bad for them, but I do.
Whether it’s a short or a long stay for this team near the bottom may depend on the fate of the two players they got back for trading Berrios to the Blue Jays: Austin Martin and Simeon Woods Richardson. That’s two names off of pretty much every top 100 list, except Richardson just joined the dreaded twice-traded prospects club and Martin’s had a down arrow next to his name in 2021. A year later, it looks like the O’s looking elsewhere with the #2 pick was the correct choice - not that taking Heston Kjerstad has worked out yet either, obviously.
At the end of June, 64% of Camden Chat voters predicted that the Orioles would end up with the worst record at the end of the season. In mid-May, 46% of voters guessed that the Rockies would finish with the worst record. Let’s take another stab at it.
Which of these early August bad MLB teams will finish with the worst record?
This poll is closed