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Wednesday, August 17, 2022

When does a rebuild fail? Inside the Detroit Tigers’ disaster—and what it means for your team

Let’s put some numbers to all of this. We looked at the period from 1998 to 2022, though of course we don’t know how this season is going to shake out quite yet.

For each team during that period, we created a “rebuild index.” We looked at things like year-over-year winning percentage and run differential, along with changes in team age and payroll. Because changes in on-field success don’t always dovetail exactly with the offloading of payroll and the process of getting younger, we calculated the indexes based on three-year rolling averages. An average index is 100; anything above that is considered a rebuild; anything below it means a team is either building up or trying to maintain a desirable status quo.

A rebuilding index between 100 and 105 can be looked at as a soft rebuild. Every once in a while, even perennial winners like the Dodgers, Yankees and Cardinals are going to show up here during the rare seasons in which they get a little younger and the payroll drops. It’s the most common kind of a rebuild.

The more severe rebuilds are those scored at 106 and above. They aren’t as common, but they tend to be more memorable (and not necessarily for pleasant reasons). Here we’re talking about the Cubs and Astros from a decade ago, but also the 2017 Tigers and Royals, and this year’s Athletics….

The number of teams that have fallen into a soft rebuild is more than double the teams that have lapsed into a major reset. Those teams—the softer rebuilders—also get back to the postseason, on average, 1.4 years sooner than the hard rebuilders.

But then things get interesting. During the period of eight years after the onset of a rebuild, the hard rebuilders make the playoffs an average of 1.88 times. It’s a little higher than the soft rebuilders, but it’s close.

However, the hard rebuilders win an average of .222 titles during those eight-year spans, compared to .139 for the soft rebuilders.

Again, that’s on average, but over this 25-year period, the added patience required to navigate a major rebuild has tended to pay off in greater reward.

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: August 17, 2022 at 12:40 PM | 3 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: tigers

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   1. JRVJ Posted: August 17, 2022 at 03:32 PM (#6092046)
Injuries, especially to young pitchers, are a russian roulette that all teams have to face on some level. Rebuilding with lots of pitching is an especially risk path, because of the risk to said young pitchers.

What really surprises me about the Tigers is how their hitters, especially Torkelson, have not panned out. That would seem to indicate some sort of franchise development deficiency.

One final comment: I have no idea how to do a rebuild index, but I do know that "timing" a rebuild sort of assumes that there are solid prospect classes awaiting the years when the team is in a down cycle. However, that's not always the case (case in point, the Phillies and the 2016 draft).

Luck, in the sense that you luck into some good draft classes, should not be understimated.
   2. Walt Davis Posted: August 17, 2022 at 05:01 PM (#6092062)
They certainly considered at least some of the key factors and I don't have any better ideas but I wonder if their index is picking up what they want.

Their first concrete example is that the 2014 Braves were the start of a rebuild. So I went a lookin'. The 2012 Braves won 94 games. This team had 40-yo Chipper and 36-yo Hudson and a very old bench so clearly some new pieces would be needed. But this team also had Freeman 22, Heyward 22, Andrelton 22 and a rotation featuring Mike Minor 24, Tommy Hanson 25, Randall Delgado 22, Brandon Beachy 25, a finally healthy Kris Medlen 26, super-closer Kimbrel 24 and a bunch of potentially interesting relievers like Avilan, Venters, O'Flaherty. There were under-30 guys like McCann, Prado and even still Michael Bourn.

That's a team that's already rebuilt (on the fly) but had the bad luck that basically all of those pitchers flopped or got hurt.

Still the 2013 Braves won 96 games with McCann 29, Freeman 23, Uggla 33, Simmons 23, Chris Johnson 28, J Upton 25, M Upton 28, Heyward 23, Gattis 26. The rotation had Minor, Medlen, Teheran 22, Alex Wood 22, Hudson 37, Maholm 31, still Kimbrel, Avilan and another bunch of under-30 interesting relievers. No doubt this team had a pretty cheap payroll because I think they only had 3 players with more than 6 years service time and none of them were making all that much either.

So here's where I think the methodology isn't working right. The 2012 Braves are already rebuilt and the 2013 team just adds to that. In another year or two, this team "should be" winning 90+ games -- look at all that young talent.

The 2014 Braves started a "rebuild" by not resigning McCann and replacing him with Gattis. They also replaced Uggla with (mainly) Tommy LaStella 25 although that didn't go well. Freeman, Simmons, the Uptons and Heyward still there. Medlen's hurt again but Minor, Wood, Teheran and Kimbrel are there. The payroll may be down but that's because McCann and Hudson (94 ERA+ in 2013) walked. This team won only 79 games, mainly because BJ Upton fell apart, Minor fell apart and got hurt, the bench was atrocious and the two vet SPs brought in (Harang and Santana) were only average. Still look at that young talent -- surely they'll win 90 in 2015.

Now at this point the Braves did do something very interesting. Maybe we do want to call it a rebuild but it might be better described as pulling the plug on the first rebuild and creating a team that looks like a team in the first year of the rebuild ... it's a pretty strange set of moves as the Braves got older fast. The young Gattis replaced by AJP 38; Chris Johnson understandably booted but replaced by Adonis Garcia 30; J Upton replaced by Jonny Gomes 34; Heyward replaced by Markakis 31; Kelly Johnson 33, Juan Uribe 36, Bourn 32, Swisher 34 are added to the bench. Kimbrel's traded away. The rotation though looks like a sparkling year 1 of the renaissance rotation -- Teheran, Wood, Shelby Miller 24, Williams Perez 24, Matt Wisler 22, Folty 23. Folty was return for Gattis; Miller for Heyward; the main piece for J Upton was Fried who's been excellent but didn't debut until 2017; they later made the odd Kimbrel and BJ Upton trade with the main return of Wisler which involved eating the contract of Carlos Quentin. After the year ends, they would ship Simmons off for (mainly) Sean Newcomb.

So I don't know what to call that. It's clearly an attempt to rebuild the rotation but done so by trading young stars, albeit ones coming up towards free agency. They mostly targeted ML-ready young starters ... but Miller, Wisler and Newcomb all pretty much flopped/hurt and Fried is still two years away.

Now we've got a rebuilding team but one achieved by pulling the plug on a team that was rebuilt on the fly and normally about to either blossom or fail. The Braves obviously decided it was going to fail and moved early which is interesting. They made some good decisions -- Heyward, Gattis, BJ -- but J Upton, Kimbrel, Simmons still had some good years left and they got very little out of all that movement.

So they had a young lineup and a young staff. The pitchers mostly got hurt/flopped so they traded much of the young lineup for a new young staff that mostly got hurt/flopped while replacing the young lineup with a mostly very creaky one. That's the story of the 67, 68 and 72 win teams. That 2017 team has Freeman 27 (extended but >6 years service time), Inciarte 26 and Swanson 23 but the rest of the offense is old/bad. The rotation brings in RA Dickey 42 and Colon 44 to paper over some cracks; Fried debuts as does 23-yo Lucas Sims (who flops then lands with the Reds as a decent reliever).

In 2018 they win 90. Not exactly your typical rebuild -- as the article notes, lots of changes to draft, slotting, international limits, etc. during the period covered in this study. Anyway, the 2018 return is largely due to international signings Albies and Acuna that, as far as I know, had little/nothing to do with the poor performance of the 2015-17 Braves. The rotation clicks with Folty having his one outstanding season and vet Anibal Sanchez getting great results and Newcomb (and Teheran) being above-average. Any "team of the future" vibe is Acuna (wow), Albies, Swanson and Folty. Which is an excellent start but no more impressive and arguably less so than the young Gattis, Freeman, Heyward, Simmons, J Upton, Minor, Medlen, Teheran, Woods and Kimbrel that they had in 2013.

In 2019, they win 97. They add Flowers 33, Donaldson 33 and hang onto Markakis 35. Austin Riley and Mike Soroka are the big debuts -- Soroka is awesome then gets hurt in 2020 and has made it back for 4 innings this year. Riley was the 41st pick in 2015 -- any team could have had him and the 2014 Braves won 79 games so that pick wasn't really the product of a deep rebuild.

So if anything, it was two rebuilds, one done on the fly that flopped (or was broken up before it had the chance to mature) and a second one begun in 2015 that came to fruition in 2018 largely due to signing Acuna and Albies. They made a lot of smart moves -- held onto the right young guy from 2013, Miller for Swanson and Inciarte was pretty brilliant -- and no major blunders. But their return to the top was still mostly due to Albies, Acuna and Riley and it's not clear any of them were the product of the deep rebuild. If we got to rerun history and the Braves don't pull the plug on that first rebuild then they might well still be where they are today and have been better (but probably more expensive) from 2015-17 too.

Anyway, it's just really weird to see a team go from a lineup and rotation where pretty much everybody is under 30 and about half are 25 or younger to a lineup packed with 30+ mediocrities in the space of one year. It's suppose to be the other way around.
   3. Starring Bradley Scotchman as RMc Posted: August 17, 2022 at 07:28 PM (#6092079)
Inside the Detroit Tigers’ disaster—and what it means for your team

It means, "Don't let the Tigers be your team, bubuleh.

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