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The 100-Loss Team's Road Back To The Playoffs

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It seems to me that the belief is it will take the Astros seven years to rebuild. That's a long time and a number I'm not entirely satisfied with. So with a semester of Statistics 210 behind me I decided to look up every 100-loss team to find out what history says about how long it takes a team to get back to the post season after a 100-loss season.

I began by collecting data from 1961 to the present. I decided not to count the 100-loss season or the season in which the team made the playoffs. I wanted to focus on what would be considered the rebuilding years; Making the playoffs meant that team wasn't rebuilding anymore and expectations for that season were likely high.

Post 1961 100 Loss Teams

There are four teams I left out of the data because they've had 100-loss seasons and still need to make the playoffs to be included in the data. Those four teams are the Seattle Mariners (3 years), Washington Nationals (3 years), Kansas City Royals (9 years) and Pittsburg Pirates (10 years). Even adding those teams to the 1961+ data wouldn't significantly alter the data.

The range for 1961 to 2011 had a minimum of 1 year and a maximum of 34 years. The median is 6 years, the 25th percentile is 4 years and the 75th percentile is 12 years. The one season turn around was accomplished by three teams. The San Francisco Giants, Oakland Athletics and Boston Red Sox. Both the Giants ('86) and Athletics ('80) posted an 83-79 record in between 100-loss season's and making the playoffs. The Red Sox in 1966 posted a 72-90 record and made the playoffs the next year with a 92-70 record.

On the other end of the spectrum are the Washington Senators. Established in 1961 they started their inception with a 100 loss season and didn't make the playoffs until 1996 when they were known as the Texas Rangers.

I wondered If I should give each expansion team a 5 year buffer, for establishing themselves in the league. That meant the Senators/Rangers didn't have a 100 loss season until 1972. With that adjustment, the maximum years now becomes 23 which also now includes the Cleveland Indians. The 25th percentile lowers to 2 years, the median becomes 7 and the 75th percentile 11. The data though suffers from a sample size issue.

Getting A Bigger Sample Size

With only 27 100 loss seasons I felt like a bigger sample size was needed to get a better picture. Initially I stuck to 100-loss teams after 1961 because in 1962 they began utilizing a 162 game schedule. I didn't want to dive to deep into baseball history due to differing variables such as the amount of teams and games played. But I needed a bigger sample size.

So, I decided to take the plunge and include every 100 loss team as far back as Baseball Reference would take me. My sample size jumped from 27 to 48 and for simplicity I decided not to provide any sort of grace period for the data.

34 years is still the max, however there are two teams instead of one with that max. The Philadelphia Athletics joined the Senators/Rangers as a 34 year rebuilding project. That rebuilding project began in 1936 and included two city changes first to Kansas City ('55) then to Oakland ('68). That's essentially World War II to disco.

With the increased sample size the median rose from 6 to 8 years, the 25th percentile went from 4 to 5 years and the 75th percentile went from 12 to 16 years. There does appear to be some notion to the idea that it'll take 7 or more years before the Astros make the playoffs again. The distribution of the data would indicate that it will likely take between 8 to 15 years for the rebuilding project to complete; Anything over 16 years is rare.

100 Loss Teams In The Modern Era

Since 1995 there have been 9 teams with 100 loss seasons. As mentioned above 4 of those teams are still trying break the dry streak. The only team to reach double digits in rebuilding are the Pirates who are on the upswing. The Royals have a chance to reach double digit seasons without making the playoffs next season. The median for post 1995 100-loss teams is 5. So turn around has been quicker in the last 16 years.

Conclusion

I'm not going to pretend this is a very serious study because it's not. This is a very basic look at what history can tell us about a rebuilding team, more specifically teams that suffered through a 100-loss season with some amateur statistical work thrown in. I'm not entirely happy with having to cross baseball era's to grab the sufficient sample size needed. Adjustments could be made in regards to league size and schedule. There's also the question whether expansion teams or switching cities should be accounted for.

Overall though I am now satisfied with the statement that it typically takes 7 or more years of rebuilding for a team to become relevant again. For Astro fans that likely means several more years of rebuilding.

Other Observations:

  • 52 teams have had 100 loss seasons before making or never making it back to the postseason
  • 23 teams have made it to the playoffs after only one 100 loss season
  • 29 teams have had multiple 100 loss seasons before making it back to the post season
  • Each of the four teams who have yet to reach it back to the playoffs have had multiple 100-loss seasons.
  • The team with the most 100-loss seasons before getting back to the postseason, Philadelphia Phillies. From 1921 to 1950 they had 12 100-loss seasons.
  • The Philadelphia Athletics were next with 11 100-loss seasons that include two city changes, Kansas City and Oakland.
  • The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Colorado Rockies are the only two franchises without a 100 loss season.
The data I used can be found here.