Building on Youth

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Bad Seasons Following Young Team

1965 California Angels: The young Angels were 75-87 in their “Year 0” as they finished seventh in the 10-team AL. Though their record would climb to 84-78 in 1967, it would plummet in ’68 as they won only 67 games with a still-young team. They reached fifth place in that second year, but the nosedive took them back to eighth, firmly placing them on the bad list.

1970/71 Cleveland Indians: While neither of these teams, especially the 1971 variety, were good, they also failed to improve in any obvious ways. They didn’t have a winning record within three years of either team and only reached as high as 77 wins, good enough for fourth out of six in the AL East.

1983 Minnesota Twins: This team was sort of an enigma. They did manage to win 70 games in 1983 and reached .500 in 1984, good for second place in a weak AL West, but their record would dive back down to 71-91 by 1986. While they scored many more runs in that ’86 season than the three prior, they managed to give up 839 runs, saddling them with a -98 run differential.

Mediocre Seasons Following Young Team

1965 Kansas City Athletics: As a last place team in the AL, this team was bad. And they got better the following year, winning 16 more games, but dropped back to dead last in 1967. Fear not, as they passed .500 in 1968. Still, that’s not exactly the sort of consistent results you hope to see.

1967/69 Boston Red Sox: This team was good to start with (they went to the World Series in ’67) and just stayed mediocre following those youthful seasons. While the team was in first place in 1967, they would drop to fourth in ’68 before sticking at third for a few seasons. No real improvements, but their winning percentage also never dropped below 0.525.

1973 Cleveland Indians: Though they gained 10 wins on their record (71-91) in the three years following, this team just never shot too high. As they were a last place team in ’73, their three straight fourth place finishes after that were an improvement. Still, it’s nothing to get excited about.

1976 Chicago White Sox: With 67 wins in ’76, the Sox were the losers of the AL West. But hey, they climbed to 90 wins the following season! As that was only good for third place, they missed the playoffs and followed it up with two seasons below .500. Not much overall success.

1979 Oakland Athletics: These weren’t Billy Beane’s A’s. They lost 54 games in ’79, but managed to climb to the postseason two years later in a strike-shortened season, only to drop back to 68 wins over a full season in 1982. I sure want to see more than that from the Royals’ young roster.

1980 Detroit Tigers: Since they were over .500 to start with, I can’t show too much favor for them. Still, they did add eight wins to their record to climb to second place in the AL East within three years. As a bonus point, in 1984, the Tigers won the World Series and had a record of 104-58. So, that’s a twenty-win improvement over four years, which is pretty good anyway.

1991 Cleveland Indians: As a 57-105 team in ’91, the Indians were ugly. But they did manage to improve some, passing 70 wins in the following two seasons before building an over-.500 record in the 1994 strike season. And if you remember correctly, some good things happened for them in the late ’90s.

Good Seasons Following Young Team

1966 Boston Red Sox: With a run differential of -76, this team wasn’t close to anywhere. Or, it seemed that way. However, the very next year the Sox improved that differential to +108, good for a twenty-win improvement to a 92-70 record and a trip to the World Series. With Carl Yastrzemski at the core of that team and a pre-beaning Tony Conigliaro, they had a reasonably good and lasting offense. Still, their offense was never consistent and only scored more than 700 runs twice, but that was as much a sign of the strong pitching at the time as anything else (the mound would be lowered in ’69). Still, considering that the Sox didn’t have a winning record in the previous eight years, this is a good accomplishment.

1972 Texas Rangers: This isn’t as much of a success story as it is a story of relative improvement. The Rangers, owners of a 54-100 record in ’72, would improve to a .525 win percentage two years later before dipping back to a .488 in ’75. So, maybe it’s not a great story, but the fact that they added thirty wins to their record in that span is still success. They never had any huge names (Jim Sundberg is an obvious exception), but managed to become competitive while adding a few pieces here and there. And when you climb from last in your division to second or third, that’s a respectable improvement.

1978 Oakland Athletics: As a continuance of the 1979 A’s story mentioned above, this team managed to reach the postseason three years later. There was, however, a key addition in ’79 that made a slight difference. You might know the guy. His name was Rickey Henderson. Rickey basically formed the offense of the team, which can be seen by his .420 OBP in ’80 (he walked 117 times to 54 strikeouts). There was quite a bit of turnover in the team (only two starting pitchers and one starting batter were the same in ’81 as ’78), but they did manage to raise their win percentage by 0.161 over that span. Seems like a reasonably good result.

1980 Chicago White Sox: This team started with a 70-90 record, putting them fifth in the seven-team AL West. One year later, they passed .500. The following year, they won 87 games in a full season. And in the third year after, they won 99 games and went to the playoffs. Their run differential would make almost a full 300-run improvement over that span. Harold Baines was the key young player and an aging Carlton Fisk was added in ’81. The pitching staff wasn’t made of Hall of Famers. In fact, some of them were out of the game by 1986 despite being 30 or younger at that point. They never held runs off the bases too well, which showed in the ’83 playoffs as they won game one 2-1 over the Orioles only to be outscored 18-1 in the following three games. But their improvement in that time range is definitely apparent.

1980 Toronto Blue Jays: While not the golden boys that some of these others are, these Blue Jays managed to add 22 wins to their record by 1983. They also took their run differential from -138 in ’80 to +69 in ’83, so the improvement is there. While the names on the rosters aren’t huge today, that was the start of a strong period for the Jays. That change in culture took the team from perennially being in last place to winning records from ’83 to ’93, including five playoff appearances and back-to-back World Series titles. So, while the improvements at the time were incremental (and didn’t even start until 1982), they arguably had a lasting effect on the direction of the franchise.

1984 Minnesota Twins: That ’84 team had a few young names you might recognize: Kent Hrbek, Kirby Puckett, Gary Gaetti, and Frank Viola. By ’87, they had added an aging Bert Blyleven and won the World Series. This might be an odd choice overall, however, as the team was never a “great” one. They had a .500 record in ’84 and dropped below even the next two years before winning 85 in 1987 to beat out the Royals in the AL West by two games. Somehow, they managed to survive the Tigers and beat the Cardinals in seven to win a championship. Sometimes, like with the ’85 Royals, it’s less about being the greatest team ever and more about being able to just beat the teams you face. The Twins did that and it all started with a young core in the early ’80s.

1992 Cleveland Indians: This is probably my favorite team to look at as a possibility for the Royals. In ’92 and ’93, the Indians won a modest 76 games. Just one year earlier they won only 57, and they hadn’t had a winning record since 1986. So, when they passed .500 in ’94 and then bolted to 100 wins in ’95, it would be pretty exciting. And with a core of young talent with the names of Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton, Sandy Alomar, and a youthful third baseman by the name of Jim Thome, this team had the pieces to be a force for quite a while. When they added an older horse to their young stable in 1994, it all came together offensively. That horse’s name? Eddie Murray. And though their pitching staff didn’t look like much, old man Dennis Martinez anchored the rotation starting in ’94 to give them some stronger force for the future. As the Indians went to the playoffs each year from ’95 to ’99, including two World Series appearances, they definitely achieved something over the teams of the early ’90s.

1999 Chicago White Sox: The recent nature of this team makes it especially interesting. In the late 90’s, these White Sox were bringing up young talent by the names of Paul Konerko, Carlos Lee, Magglio Ordonez, and Keith Foulke. In 2000, they promoted a young lefty by the name of Mark Buerhle. In ’01, it was Jon Garland. It seemed like the good times might never end. A 75-87 team in ’99, the Sox weren’t necessarily really bad. They had hovered around .500 for the few years prior, so they were never that terrible. But the promotions and progressions of the players mentioned above gave the Sox an offense, and in 2000 they scored 978 runs. While they would drop back to .500 by 2002, they wouldn’t have another losing record until ’07. In that span, they won a World Series and consistently placed second, though they were third with 90 wins in ’06. It’s another instance where lasting success starts with a strong young core and builds as a team puts the right parts around those players. Given the right moves, that team can stay relevant for years, as the Sox have (for the most part).