Fan happiness (part two)

Everywhere you look, there are power rankings, lists, indices, and other ways to put teams, players, mascots and logos in some sort of order. What I’m trying to accomplish here is a little different. It’s a nebulous concept that can’t be wrapped up in a neat bow. I tried Fans’ Organizational Power Rankings, which was close (and could be packaged as FOPR!). But that doesn’t quite get us there. Alternatively, I thought about a Hope Index or Misery Rankings. But neither of those are quite right, either. There are teams sort of high on this list that can’t realistically hope to compete very soon, and there are consistent winners relatively low.

What I’m going for is this: Heading into 2010, how happy is a fan with an organization? Everything counts. Wins and losses are big, but so is the ballpark experience. The past matters only to the extent that it affects the future. A GM who has shown a pesky tendency for awful moves counts (sorry, Royals fans). Curses and a mostly irrelevant history of losing doesn’t (looking at you, Cubs fans). I suppose another way to look at this is that the higher your team on the list, the less justified you are in complaining about the state of the franchise, at least to a fan of a lower-ranked club.

Last week, we looked at the top 10, which was led by the Phillies, Yankees and Mariners. Today, we’ll hit organizations 11-20. Check back next Tuesday for the final tier of the rankings. Or list. Or index. Whichever you prefer.

11. Atlanta Braves

This one feels too low already, but there’s just so much uncertainty on the horizon. I truly believe Chipper Jones has no interest in playing through a steep decline. And, for whatever managers are worth, it will sure be strange to see someone else on the bench in 2011. But gosh, how can you not love the pieces Atlanta’s assembled? Jason Heyward is Jason Heyward, and I just love Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson. Jurrjens, in particular, intrigues me. He cut his GB/FB ratio nearly in half from 2008 to 2009 (1.94 to 1.10), but his FIP changed by just 0.09. What an odd trajectory for a guy whose K/BB didn’t move much. As a Braves fan, I’d be generally optimistic about the direction of the franchise, but at least a little sad to see the Chipper/Cox era come to a close.

Grumbling about: Not getting a whole lot back for Javier Vazquez. The bad, bad Derek Lowe contract.

12. Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers really should be a whole lot higher. Clayton Kershaw is a stud, Chad Billingsley is much better than even his own employer believes, Manny Ramirez can still rake, and Andre Ethier hits enough to make up for his dismal glove. And, oh yeah, they have a superstar in 25-year-old center fielder Matt Kemp.

Add in the glorious setting of Dodger Stadium and we should be looking at a top-shelf organization every bit the Phillies’ and Cardinals’ equal in the National League. However, the long-term future of the club is in significant jeopardy—due only in part to the McCourts’ pending divorce. For the last few years, the club has been cutting every possible corner, and it’s bound to come back to bite at some point. This should be an enjoyable season for Dodger fans. Everything beyond is up in the air.

Grumbling about: Razor-thin depth. Rapidly escalating salaries of young cornerstones. An offseason of maddening inertia.

13. Texas Rangers

Rangers fans have every right to be excited. There’s a ton of young talent already in the majors, like Neftali Feliz, Julio Borbon and Elvis Andrus. There’s more on the way, and in bucketfuls. But, to me, there’s something just a bit unsettling that would worry me, as a Rangers fan. So much has to go right for the pitching to be in place. While Texas’ failure to get a whole lot out of the DVD trio (John Danks, Edinson Volquez and Thomas Diamond) isn’t necessarily predictive of the fate of the current young pitchers, it’s an example of the fickle nature of pitching prospects.

I’m not a fan of bringing in veterans for the sake of their veteran-ness, but there’s something to be said for protecting a club from downside. As sparkling as the Texas kids are, I’m concerned about the volatility of the pitching.

Grumbling about: That Nelson Cruz hasn’t been moved to a team with a Shiny Objects GM. That nothing has come of the once-outstanding catching pipeline (sound familiar?). The albatross that is Michael Young.

14. New York Mets

I’m guessing that many wouldn’t have the Mets this high. After all, Omar Minaya’s something of a mess, there’s not a ton of help on the way, and the club’s outclassed in its division by the Phillies, who seem poised to win for a long time. But all hope shouldn’t be lost for Mets fans. Ownership seems to spend as required, and last year, while ugly, looks like an aberration. Maybe I’m being too optimistic, but I believe in the core of the lineup: Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and David Wright form a powerful troika. Potentially. If Wright’s 2009 was for real and Beltran and Reyes can’t stay on the field, the Mets’ placement on this list is going to look ridiculous. I still believe.

Grumbling about: The Oliver Perez contract. Every Jeff Francoeur plate appearance. And the pitching staff, non-Johan Santana division.

15. Chicago Cubs

Noticing a trend? The NL’s non-premium teams are just a cut below their AL equivalents. The Cubs, I think, are in pretty good shape. Yeah, Alfonso Soriano fell off a cliff and, at the very least, seems a lock to fail to live up to that contract. And you might end up justified in saying the same about Carlos Zambrano. But Aramis Ramirez continues to put up one of the quieter very, very good careers of his generation. And did you see what Derrek Lee did last season? I wasn’t the only one who completely missed his .412 wOBA 2009 campaign. It wasn’t so many years ago, either, that he’d steal you a few bases to boot, although his success rates weren’t great. It’s strange to me that he and his Ramirez don’t get a ton of love, as they’ve both been very good for years.

Grumbling about: Those contracts. Kosuke Fukudome, though he’s been a bit better than he gets credit for. And the fruit of the Milton Bradley experiment, Carlos Silva.

16. Colorado Rockies

Lots of interesting pieces in Colorado. It’s impossible not to love Troy Tulowitzki, and I’m very interested in how Carlos Gonzalez develops. I just look at that pitching staff and see too many questions to move the Rockies up higher on my list. Ubaldo Jimenez is mostly excellent, of course, but I’m not a believer in much else in that rotation. Even if he gets back to 100 percent, I don’t look at Jeff Francis as a front-line guy. Christian Friedrich should excite Rockies fans, and I’m a big Tyler Matzek fan, but those guys still have a long, long way to go. It’s not that I don’t like the outlook for the Rockies in 2010 and beyond. I just think they’re behind a whole lot of talent in that division.

Grumbling about: Todd Helton‘s declining power. UZR and Dewan Plus/Minus’ agreement that Brad Hawpe really, really stinks in right.

17. Detroit Tigers

The first time I compiled this list, I had the Tigers very, very low. But then I took a closer look, and saw a lot to like. Justin Verlander is exceptional, of course, and “promising” doesn’t quite do Rick Porcello justice. I love the upside of Max Scherzer, and I think Daniel Schlereth can be an effective bullpen arm.

Things aren’t quite as rosy on the offensive side of the depth chart, but Miguel Cabrera remains a beast and doesn’t figure to slow down too soon—he’s still just 27! While the Tigers aren’t in as strong shape as, say, the Rangers (from an organizational perspective), they have much less in front of them. The Twins should be the class of the AL Central, assuming a Joe Mauer extension, but Tigers fans can reasonably hope to contend just about every year.

Grumbling about: Miggy’s antics. The ugly decline of Magglio Ordonez. Losing the fun, charismatic and righty-killing Curtis Granderson.

18. Arizona Diamondbacks

Another NL team with lots for fans to be excited over. Justin Upton, of course, is fabulous, and there’s a lot to like about the rest of the roster. Diamondbacks fans, though, see their team as stuck in the middle of an NL West with young stars all over the place. And while I firmly believe that Josh Byrnes at least had a plan in the Granderson-Scherzer-Edwin Jackson trade, I’m not sure it makes sense for this Diamondbacks team. It was a downside-mitigation move by a team that really needs to find some upside in its pitching.

Brandon Webb seems likely to be in his last spring as a Diamondback, and things get awfully thin after him and Dan Haren. While the club might have thought Scherzer couldn’t be counted on for 30 starts per season, it’s a safe bet his best innings are still ahead of him. The same might not be said for Edwin Jackson.

Grumbling about: The Mark Reynolds-powered air conditioning. Chris Young‘s backwards development. Eric Byrnes, generally.

19. Chicago White Sox

The White Sox have a problem that is sort of the opposite faced by the Texas Rangers. They know exactly what they’ve got, and it’s probably not good enough to contend. The middle infield (Gordon Beckham and Alexei Ramirez) is very nice, but the corners (Mark Teahen and Paul Konerko) fail to inspire much confidence. And, gosh, is that outfield ugly.

From a fan’s perspective, the lack of punch is likely to be very disappointing, as the pitching shows a ton of promise. White Sox followers, though, might want to temper expectations for Jake Peavy. I would be surprised if he beat his CHONE projection of a 3.51 FIP. The move from the NL to the AL will, on its own, hurt his performance. Add in the injury problems and subtract Petco Park, and I see him as a bad bet to perform to his $15 million salary. It’s not that things are dismal, just that the near future upside is limited.

Grumbling about: Alex Rios, Juan Pierre and Andruw Jones. Oof.

20. Kansas City Royals

This is borderline insane, I know. Everywhere you look, there’s an absolutely atrocious player. They’re going to give Yuniesky Betancourt and Jason Kendall 1,000 plate appearances in 2010, and both are under contract for 2011 as well. The Royals have virtually no hope of competing for a postseason berth under Dayton Moore. So how can an organization this putrid make the top-20?

Well, for one, there’s some pitching help on the way. That matters. There are Billy Butler and Joakim Soria, and they matter. The recently renovated Kauffman Stadium is a gem, and that matters. But you know exactly where I’m going with this: Royals fans get Mozart every fifth day. Zack Greinke matters. As a fan, if you know you won’t contend, you might as well get to watch brilliance every fifth day.

Grumbling about: Let’s just go with the entire concept of “replacement level.”

Next Tuesday: the bottom 10. Train wrecks abound.

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Comments

  1. brian said...

    not to be a homer, but I am quite shocked that the Brewers haven’t made the list yet… the mood in Milwaukee is pretty upbeat, and the stadium has drawn 3 million fans two years running.  Surely they should be in the 11-15 range, and most definitely above the Royals, no?

  2. The A Team said...

    As a Phillies fan through the dark days of 1994-2001, I can agree with your assessment of the Royals.  Having that one absolutely dominating guy (Curt Schilling) does a lot to keep a fan from just giving up on the team.

  3. Brian H said...

    I have no problem with the Royals this high on the list.  I am a fan and once you get past the whole, “You play to win the game” stuff, I am a happy Royals fan.  Great stadium renovation, HUGE jumbo-tron, not a bad place to view a game in the place, Greinke, Buck Nights, Billy Butler and the annual hope that we are an Alex Gordon breakout season away from being decent, life isn’t that bad.  Heck, the Royals arguably aren’t even the worst franchise in town anymore.

  4. Laura said...

    I’d agree that the Brewers should have already been listed.

    I wonder if Toronto and Baltimore are last, because we have the best complaint.

  5. Chris M said...

    Mets are WAY too high, and I say this as a fairly optimistic Mets fan. The mood in the fanbase is bordering on insurrection right now. If you look at the Mets in a vacuum you might say that the fans really shouldn’t be too upset: a 97-win season in which the Mets were a hit away from the World Series followed by two seasons where they *just* miss the playoffs followed by one fluky bad injury plagued year really doesn’t sound too bad, considering some of what Mets fans have lived through in the past (and compared to what Royals/Pirates/Reds/Orioles fans are living through in the present).

    That said, the ‘06 postseason loss was beyond heartbreaking (the best team in the NL losing to an 82 win team in a game where they had one of the great defensive plays in postseason history – that’s not supposed to happen). The collapse in ‘07 was of such epic proportions that most Mets fans won’t recover until they see a blue and orange parade down the Canyon of Heroes, and to follow it up with a smaller but equally brutal collapse followed by Phillies WS win in ‘08 made it that much worse. To cap it off with a season where every single good player goes down to injury and the team struggles to 70 wins, and then, ignominy of ignominies, to be subjected to a Phillies-Yankees World Series? That’s just too much.

    No, Mets fans are far, far from the 14th happiest fanbase in MLB. I think the Mets will be competitive next year, and yet I’d almost rather be a Pirates fan, b/c the entire season I’m going to be bracing myself for the moment it all goes wrong. Until the day that the Mets are basking in ticker tape, Met fans are gonna be like beaten dogs, flinching whenever someone comes near us.

  6. Tigerfan said...

    I think the mood of actual Tiger fans is good right now… It is the bandwagonfans in the city, that if judged off thier mood should have the Tigers at dead last…

    People are canceling season tickets as I type…  They can’t understand the concept of letting Granderson go to rebuild…

    But as to health of the franchise, I think the Tigers are right at the top…

    NO MATTER WHAT THE NATIONAL MEDIA AND BLOGOSPHERE THINK our owner is not going to cut payroll below $100 mil…  We will be staying in the top 10-12 teams payroll wise untill we win the world series…  Our owner is one of the top 5 richest owners in baseball, and wants nothing more in life to win the W.S.(He is over 80)

    Our owner used to outspend every team in the NHL by about $30mil, but now cant because of the salary cap… The year that the NHL instituted the cap he raised the Tigers payroll accordingly…

    With all the payroll the Tigers have coming off the books next year, and the young players getting an audition this season, the Tigers are in a better spot than any team in baseball…  They can see what young players (A. Jackson, Sizemore, Scherzer, C. Wells, W. Ramirez, Perry, Schlereth) stick, and then use the OH $60 MILLION they will have available next season to address the spots that someone doesnt stick…

  7. Larry Smith Jr. said...

    The Wings didn’t outspend every NHL team by $30m…..many years they only outspent the Rangers by 1 or 2.  They were consistently #1 in NHL payroll, but the whole Yankees perception was always overplayed.  The Yankees outspend the Red Sox by $80m.  Even at the height of their spending, back when we had Hull/Robitaille/Hasek/et al., the Wings were only outspending the #2 team (usually the Rangers) by 5-10m.

    I also think its a bit of hyperbole to say that the Tigers are “in a better spot than any team in baseball”, but I agree with the general point you’re making there.  Their combination of young players (you missed Casey Crosby on your list…..and to a lesser extent Jacob Turner, although he’s yet to throw a pro inning yet so I’ll save my excitement on him until he starts playing) along with the slew of expiring contracts after this season puts them in a not-so-bad spot.  Particularly with Cabrera under contract for six more years, Porcello under team control for five more years, and Verlander under team control for two more years.  If Sizemore hits anywhere near like he did in the minors, he’ll be a big piece to this team, and he’s under team control for six more years.  Scherzer for five more years.  That’s alot of good or potentially good players for alot of years, with more salary relief on the way.

    In spite of all that I’ve just written, I mostly agree with your post.  There is all kind of chaos in Tigerland because of the trade of Granderson, I’ve never seen anything like it.  It almost sickens me.  I loved Granderson too as a player, but Tigerfan is absolutely correct, people are cancelling season ticket plans and completely renouncing the team over it.  It’s really bad here.  They’re getting hammered on sports talk as well, by fans and hosts alike.

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