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April 9, 2004

Prospectus Today

Tiger Tracks

by Joe Sheehan

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Thanks to nine runs in two innings--a week's output for last April's squad--the Detroit Tigers moved to 4-0 with a 10-6 win over the Minnesota Twins. While the Tigers have gotten fairly good pitching, with all four starters notching wins and a team ERA of 3.00, the key to the start has been an offense gone haywire. The Bengals have 30 runs in four games, with at least six tallies in each contest. It's the first time since last May that the Tigers have scored six or more runs in at least four straight games (a streak that stretched to five at the time).

I had a sense that what the Tigers had done this week was historic, so I decided to put on my researcher cap--two sizes too big, signed by Clay Davenport, and rarely worn--and check. I fired up my two favorite tools, the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia and Retrosheet (God Bless Retrosheet!) and tried to ascertain how unique this was.

Damned if I'll go down that particular rabbit hole again. Thinking this would be a quick process, I soon discovered that the Tigers have gone where no team of their ilk had gone before. Of the worst 50 teams by winning percentage in baseball history, none had ever started the following season 4-0 until Steve Colyer closed out the game yesterday. Just one, the 1928-29 Braves, had opened 3-0.

Until yesterday, the worst team to open the next season 4-0 had been the 1905-06 Boston...well, the Boston entry in the National League, which was the Beaneaters in '06 and had about eleventeen names in the first half of the 20th century (the Doves?). Their .331 winning percentage in 1905 is tied for the 51st worst in modern baseball history. Note to Alan Trammell: not a role model. That squad started 4-0 and closed 45-102.

Here's the data dump, through those 1906 Braves:


Rk   Team                     Year     Pct.   Rec*
1    A's                      1916     .235   1-3
2    Braves                   1935     .248   1-3
3    Mets                     1962     .250   0-4
4    Senators                 1904     .252   1-3
5    A's                      1919     .257   1-3
6    Tigers                   2003     .265   4-0
7    Pirates                  1952     .273   1-3
8    Senators                 1909     .276   2-2
9    Phillies                 1942     .278   1-3
T10  Browns                   1939     .279   2-2
T10  Red Sox                  1932     .279   1-3
T10  Phillies                 1941     .279   0-4
T13  A's                      1915     .283   0-4
T13  Phillies                 1928     .283   2-2
15   Braves                   1911     .291   3-1
16   Braves                   1909     .294   2-2
17   Browns                   1911     .296   2-2
18   Phillies                 1939     .298   1-3
T19  Phillies                 1945     .299   0-4
T19  Browns                   1937     .299   1-3
21   Phillies                 1938     .300   1-2-1
22   Red Sox                  1926     .301   0-4
T23  Terrapins                1915     .305   NA
T23  Phillies                 1961     .305   3-1
T23  Browns                   1910     .305   2-2
26   Mets                     1965     .309   2-2
27   Red Sox                  1925     .309   2-2
28   A's                      1920     .312   1-3
T29  Senators                 1903     .314   0-3-1
T29  Cardinals                1903     .314   2-2
31   Mets                     1963     .315   0-4
32   Dodgers                  1905     .316   0-4
T33  Cardinals                1908     .318   2-2
T33  A's                      1943     .318   3-1
T33  A's                      1946     .318   1-3
T33  Red Sox                  1906     .318   2-2
T37  Expos                    1969     .321   0-4
T37  Padres                   1969     .321   2-2
T39  Braves                   1906     .325   3-1
T39  White Sox                1932     .325   2-2
T41  Phillies                 1923     .325   1-2-1
T41  Pirates                  1953     .325   1-3
T41  Senators                 1949     .325   2-2
T41  Tigers                   1952     .325   1-3
T45  Phillies                 1940     .327   1-3
T45  Braves                   1928     .327   3-1 (3-0)
T47  Blue Jays                1979     .327   1-3
T47  Tigers                   1996     .327   1-3
T47  Mets                     1964     .327   1-3
50   Yankees                  1912     .329   1-3
T51  Yankees                  1908     .331   3-1
T51  A's                      1954     .331   1-3
T51  Pirates                  1917     .331   2-2
T51  Phillies                 1927     .331   2-2
T51  Braves                   1905     .331   4-0

*Rec: Rec to start next season

The 1915 Baltimore Terrapins of the Federal League ceased to exist, along with the rest of the league, after the season.

In doing something like this, you really get a sense of how much better competitive balance is now than it was for most of the century. Bad teams used to be worse, and stayed worse for much longer stretches. This list consists almost entirely of teams that played prior to the free-agent era. In fact, the two Tigers entries are the only ones from the expansion era that don't belong to expansion teams or a close relative.

I'm not even going to get into whether they can keep it up. It's four games, and all we really know is what we knew a week ago--this is a better offense, and the pitching is supported by better infield defense. You can't come close to drawing conclusions based on four games.

I will say that it was fun to see a huge crowd cheering wildly in Comerica Park. That's something rarely seen since the park opened in 2000. Detroit can be a good baseball town that will turn out for a competitive team, and if the Tigers stay in the Central race deep into the summer, as I expect them to, they'll see a big bump in attendance and revenue.

I'm off to the middle of the Pacific, folks. Have a great weekend, and I'll check in on Tuesday.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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