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Nationals: From bad to how much better?

In his column for this morning's birdcage liner about Mike Rizzo's offseason overhaul, Boz sizes up the chances of the Nationals making large enough strides to finish .500. He writes, "Even under best-case scenarios, the Nats probably aren't a .500 team in '10. Improving by 22 wins in a year is very rare."

How rare? Since 1970, a year chosen somewhat arbitrarily, a team has increased its win total by 22 or more victories 28 times, less than once per season. (That doesn't include strike-shortened outcomes.) In the '00s, it happened eight times, including once last year when the Mariners improved 24 games to finish 85-77.

Some of those teams went from good to great -- the 2000 Mariners won 90 games before the 2001 Mariners won 116. Others made the same leap the Nationals hope to this season, from wretchedness to respectability -- the '04 Tigers improved 29 games and still finished under .500.

Interestingly, some of the teams had the fingerprints of current Nationals brass on them. Pudge Rodriguez signed to play with those 2004 Tigers. Davey Johnson, now a Nationals senior adviser, managed the 1984 Mets (22 games). Mike Rizzo was part of the front office for the 1999 Diamondbacks (35 games, the largest single-year improvement since 1970). Stan Kasten was the president of 1991 Braves (29 games). Jim Riggleman managed the 1998 Cubs (22 games).

The only thing that will prevent the Nationals from a significant improvement is future misfortune or current miscalculation. According to Baseball Prospectus's PECOTA formula, a purely objective and widely respected measure, the Nationals are predicted to finish 76-86, a 17-win improvement from last season.

That, of course, wouldn't get the Nationals to .500. In the end, as long they can develop players, win a bunch more games than last year, and not get anybody seriously hurt, would there be a significant difference between finishing .500 or a few games shy? Yeah, there probably would be. There is some beautiful writing deep within this blog post about the Royals failings concerning what happens when a team stops caring about the cosmetic meaning of its record. Getting to .500 would matter, and to do that, the Nationals would have to become the 29th team since 1970 to improve at 22 games.

After the jump is the full list, in order of most games to fewest.

1999 Arizona Diamondbacks - 35
Final record: 100-62
Prior: 65-98

1989 Baltimore Orioles - 33
Final record: 87-75
Prior: 54-107

1993 San Francisco Giants - 31
Final record: 103-59
Prior: 72-90

2008 Tampa Bay Rays - 31
Final record: 97-65
Prior: 66-96

1980 Oakland A's - 29
Final record: 83-79
Prior: 54-108

1991 Atlanta Braves - 29
Final record: 94-68
Prior: 65-97

2004 Detroit Tigers - 29
Final record: 72-90
Prior: 43-119

1974 Texas Rangers - 27
Final record: 84-76
Prior: 57-105

1993 Philadelphia Phillies - 27
Final record: 97-65
Prior: 70-92

1977 Chicago White Sox - 26
Final record: 90-72
Prior: 64-107

1978 Milwaukee Brewers - 26
Final record: 93-67
Prior: 67-95

1997 Detroit Tigers - 26
Final record: 79-83
Prior: 53-109

1984 Chicago Cubs - 25
Final record: 96-65
Prior: 71-91

1986 Texas Rangers - 25
Final record: 87-75
Prior: 62-99

1990 Chicago White Sox - 25
Final record: 94-68
Prior: 69-92

2001 Seattle Mariners - 25
Final record: 116-46
Prior: 91-71

1986 Cleveland Indians - 24
Final record: 84-68
Prior: 60-102

2002 Anaheim Angels - 24
Final record: 99-63
Prior: 75-87

2006 Detroit Tigers - 24
Final record: 95-67
Prior: 71-91

2009 Seattle Mariners - 24
Final record: 85-77
Prior: 61-101

1971 Chicago White Sox - 23
Final record: 79-83
Prior: 56-106

1988 Oakland A's - 23
Final record: 104-58
Prior: 81-81

2001 Chicago Cubs - 23
Final record: 88-74
Prior: 65-97

2004 San Diego Padres - 23
Final record: 87-75
Prior: 64-98

1984 New York Mets - 22
Final record: 90-72
Prior: 68-97

1997 San Francisco Giants - 22
Final record: 90-72
Prior: 68-94

1998 Chicago Cubs - 22
Final record: 90-73
Prior: 68-94

1998 San Diego Padres - 22
Final record: 98-64
Prior: 76-86

By Adam Kilgore  |  February 25, 2010; 5:32 PM ET
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Next: Nats sign reliever Rafael Martin from Mexico


So, 28 out of (very) roughly 960 possibilities.

So somewhere between a 2.8% and 3% probability.

Posted by: Section506 | February 25, 2010 6:15 PM | Report abuse


Good stuff, but one would have to discount the chances for teams winning 100 games the year before, since nobody ever wins 120 games. Seattle had 116, but has any team this side of 1927 manage that?


Posted by: kevincostello | February 25, 2010 6:27 PM | Report abuse

You really fed the beast on your first day Adam. Thanks!

Posted by: Section222 | February 25, 2010 6:50 PM | Report abuse

Apparently, Boz falls on the side of "the Lerners are still too cheap" .

Posted by: periculum | February 25, 2010 6:55 PM | Report abuse


Welcome to Washington!

May your writing excellence coincide with an up and coming team with so many good stories and good games ahead that you help Washington become a great baseball city!

Posted by: sonshinefcc | February 25, 2010 6:58 PM | Report abuse

oh my god. Three great posts in one day. I may have to quit my job.
Keep up the good work, Adam.

Posted by: jimbo2541 | February 25, 2010 7:02 PM | Report abuse

Is February really the month to be listing the records for best single season improvement? It would be great if this is relevant in September but for now we're just trying to win 63.

Posted by: PowerBoater69 | February 25, 2010 7:18 PM | Report abuse

Spring is the *perfect* time to dream big, to measure how big your dreams are, and pretend maybe four starting pitchers could all actually recover from surgery and *be* Tommy John.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | February 25, 2010 8:59 PM | Report abuse

Generally, a team would have to bring in some serious new talent to make a jump like that. I'm not sure that at this point in their careers, Kennedy, Rodriguez, Capps, Marquis, Hernandez and Wang would qualify. However, Wang and Marquis have real potential. With the right pieces around them, who knows. The biggest changes for the Nationals really must come from within: having a healthy Morgan and Guzman for the season, a consistent year from Dukes, a decent and healthy year out of Olsen, and eventually the return of Flores. Of course, the biggest improvement would be the call-up of Strasburg (and I wouldn't rule out Martis, who is only 16 months older than "Nolan"). It's not a world-beating roster, but they could win 81 games.

Posted by: fischy | February 25, 2010 9:40 PM | Report abuse

What this article confirms is that there is a definate chance the NATS can finish at .500 or greater!! Forget statistics. No matter what statistics imply, if they are good enough to win, they win. Hey, win enough of games and win at the right time....we have a world series team!

Posted by: Pete433 | February 26, 2010 4:28 AM | Report abuse

Exactly. It's the season of hope and new beginnings.


Spring is the *perfect* time to dream big, to measure how big your dreams are, and pretend maybe four starting pitchers could all actually recover from surgery and *be* Tommy John.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | February 25, 2010 8:59 PM

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | February 26, 2010 8:14 AM | Report abuse

The Nationals are certainly making roster changes at a dizzying rate this offseason.

I have rarely seen a team make this many moves.

The question then becomes how quickly does this team gel together?

And how many of these players that are signed as non-roster invitees and street free agents are really up to the challenge of contributing to a major league team.

One could make the argument that Guardado, Batista, Villone, Hernandez, Rodriguez, and several others are close to done in the majors and may provide no relief to this team.

You don't see the Phillies, Braves, Mets or the Marlins in the NL East signing all of these 40 year old guys to fill positions in the bullpen and the infield.

Posted by: leopard09 | February 26, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

Boz is also the same writer that wrote a column which seemed to strongly argue against selecting a pitcher (i.e. Mr. Strasburg) with the number one overall selection. The man has no credibility from where I sit.

Posted by: mgilham | February 26, 2010 12:28 PM | Report abuse

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