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Rebuilding from 90 Losses to Playoff Team

Posted by jay , 13 August 2014 · 1,236 views

free pizza
2011. The Year of the Injury. Nishioka. Bilateral leg weakness. 90+ losses.
2012. The Rebound That Wasn't. Brutal starting pitching. Marginal bullpen and offense.
2013. Stop the Pain. The farm is looking better, but the major league team isn't so major.
2014. TBD. On pace for 90 losses, the consensus seems to be that this year's team is easier to watch. The team has made moves to transition to the next generation of players.

This brings us to the question I've pondered and will try to answer:
How long does it take a team to rebuild and make the playoffs after a 90 loss season?

800px Wood framed house

90 losses is bottoming out. It's bad. Since 1996 through 2010, we can find 36 instances of a team that lost 90 games and has either gone on to make the playoffs in a future year or is still trying -- looking at you, Royals. Some teams have done it more than once like the four-time Cubs while only two teams have avoided a 90 loss season -- the Yankees and Cardinals. Some teams lose 90 games and relive that pain multiple times. Other teams have rebounded quickly.

Number of seasons it takes to reach the playoffs after first losing 90 games:

Six of those teams are still adding to their streak of no playoffs since their first 90 loss season after the '95 strike: Royals (1985 in real life, represented as 1997 here), Blue Jays (2004), Mariners (2004), Marlins (2007), Padres (2008), Mets (2009).

We can come to a couple of interesting conclusions by looking at that chart:

1) If you don't rebound immediately after your 90 loss season, you probably need to rebuild.
This is pretty evident with the 2012 Twins. After a long playoff streak, it was reasonable for us all to think that 2011 might have been a blip. Turns out, no.

2) In this data set, the average rebuild to reach the playoffs takes 5.8 years. If we exclude the teams that rebounded after one bad year, that number goes up to 7 years.
The Twins are about to wrap year 3 since 2011's 90+ losses. We're certainly hopeful that the Twins reach the playoffs before 2017 or 2018, but it's feasible to think that could be the case as prospects continue to develop and grow into producers at the MLB level. The Twins appear pretty close to on track for "average" or just ahead.

Many of us would have liked the Twins to be more aggressive in acknolwedging the first conculsion. We'd all probably agree that the farm system has come a long way and the future holds hope. Hopefully, this data provides some insight on how long a rebuild takes across MLB and, therefore, provides something to compare our current rebuild against.

Obligatory Joe Mauer reference for free pizza.

  • Sconnie likes this

Very interesting article. I hope we are at 5 as well.

Paul Pleiss
Aug 13 2014 02:08 PM

I don't think this team makes the playoffs next season, 2016 seems a likely time to pick, but I agree 2017/2018 maybe a safer pick.


Interesting data set to ponder. Hopefully we're done with 90+ loss seasons.

John Bonnes
Aug 13 2014 04:39 PM
Since you have the data, let me as a slightly different question. Of teams that lost 90 games in a season, what percentage made it to the playoffs after 1 year, 2 years, 3 years, etc.?

So, for instance, say we look at the teams that lost 90 game in 2010, 2011 and 2012:

24 Teams had 90 losses in those 3 seasons. Of them, 4 made it back to the postseson the next year. That's 25%.

18 of those teams have had up to two years to bounce back, and of those, 5 have (that includes those that bounced back in 1 year). That's 28%.

12 of those teams have had up to three years to bounce back, and five of them have (again, including those that bounced back in years 1 or 2). That's 42%.

BTW, among those teams that haven't yet, there are Washington, the Royals and Seattle, all of whom could do it this year.

Good question, John.Looking at the data that way removes the skew in the average from teams that have taken the long route in their rebuild.We can add 2011 and 2012 to get a few more data points.




41 teams lost 90 games and faced a rebuild.8 of them made the playoffs the next year (19.5%).

36 of them have had at least 5 years since that first 90 loss season.20 of them had made the playoffs by that point (55.6%).

After 11 years, 90.6% of the teams had made it back to the playoffs.


The Royals are the team that break the chart.Every other team with at least 15 years since losing 90 games has made the playoffs.


Looking at the data this way gives us an average rebuild of more like 4-5 years.If the Twins don't make the playoffs by 2016, they'll be beyond the average rebuild time.

    • Paul Pleiss likes this

P.S. Joe Mauer.

    • Paul Pleiss likes this
Brock Beauchamp
Aug 14 2014 11:42 AM

Interesting numbers. Thanks for the breakdown. I think we can take away from this that rebuilds take time. Few teams can flip their fortunes from awful to good in a single season.

John Bonnes
Aug 15 2014 06:30 AM
First, thank you very much for that breakdown. That is much more clear.

The question is whether we should be focusing on the first year of those 90 loss seasons or the last year. Unfortunately, for this data, it's the last, which puts the "reubild" out to the end of the decade.

I don't feel like that's accurate in this case - there are signs of a steadily improving organization and talent level just below the surface of the majors. But it shows that it ain't easy to bounce back from 90 loss seasons.
Hey John, the data is in fact from the first 90 loss season and not the most recent. Additional 90 loss seasons are ignored after the first one until the team makes the playoffs. So, for the Twins that is 2011 and they are included in the teams that have had 1 and 2 seasons to rebuild. The Cubs, for example, show up multiple times as they went from 90 losses to playoffs and back to 90 losses with 2011 being most recent.