The Worst Team Ever Projected?

HOUSTON: PItchers J.A. Happ, left, and Bud Norris of the Houston Astros looks on from the dugout during a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Things are looking better for the Houston Astros in the long run. But not in the short run. Oh man, oh man, really not in the short run.

Understand that what follows was written without the slightest hint of glee. I guess I haven't written it yet. I assume it will be written without the slightest hint of glee. I've rooted for horrible teams before. It's horrible. Especially what it does to your vocabulary. All this is is an observation, and by it I mean nothing else.

The other day, we were treated to the latest batch of projected 2012 standings, based on the CAIRO projection system. This is the time of year when everybody wants to know how to set his and her expectations, and projected standings help. Going over the standings, the first thing I looked for was the best team. It's the Yankees. The next thing I looked for was the 19th-best team. It's a fitting tie, between the A's and the Padres.

Various other things jumped out at me as I continued to scan. Then I noticed one thing that I couldn't un-notice. There, at the very very bottom of the standings, are the Houston Astros. Okay, that's not a big surprise. The Astros were baseball's worst team in 2011. They didn't then undergo a complete roster makeover. But their projected record - which is the average of several projected records - is 60-102. That's 60 wins, and 102 losses.

The thing about projected standings is that they tend to miss the extremes. Standings are projected by running a hundred or a thousand individual projections and then averaging them out. By doing this, the records are kind of regressed to the mean. So when you see an extreme record, that's pretty telling. And I think it's fair to say that 60-102 is an extremely bad record.

It's so bad, in fact, that it might be the worst projected record ever. I don't know where to find every single legitimate projection ever made. But here are a lot of them, courtesy of Replacement Level Yankees Weblog:

2012, CAIRO
Worst team: Astros, 60-102

2011, CAIRO
Worst team: Astros, 65-97

2011, Bill James
Worst team: Astros, 64-98

2011, Marcel
Worst team: Royals, 68-94

2011, Oliver
Worst team: Astros, 64-98

2011, PECOTA
Worst team: Astros, 67-95

2010, CAIRO
Worst team: Blue Jays, 64-98

2010, Marcel
Worst team: Blue Jays, 67-95

2010, Oliver
Worst team: Blue Jays, 62-100

2010, PECOTA
Worst team: Blue Jays, 67-95

2010, CHONE
Worst team: Blue Jays, 66-96

2009, CAIRO
Worst team: Royals, 70-92

2009, Marcel
Worst team: Pirates, 71-91

2009, Hardball Times
Worst team: Nationals, 69-93

2009, PECOTA
Worst team: Pirates, 67-95

2009, CHONE
Worst team: Nationals, 71-91

2009, ZiPS
Worst team: Pirates, 60-102

2008, CAIRO
Worst team: Orioles, 67-95

2008, Hardball Times
Worst team: Marlins, 63-99

2008, PECOTA
Worst team: Orioles, 66-96

2008, CHONE
Worst team: Orioles, 64-98

2008, ZiPS
Worst team: Marlins, 63-99

2008, Diamond Mind
Worst team: Pirates, 68-94

2007, CHONE
Worst team: Royals, 64-98

2007, Diamond Mind
Worst team: Royals, 65-97

2007, PECOTA
Worst team: Royals, 66-96

2007, ZiPS
Worst team: Royals, 65-97

2006, Diamond Mind
Worst team:
Royals, 64-98

2006, PECOTA
Worst team: Royals, 68-94

2006, ZiPS
Worst team: Royals, 63-99

2005, Diamond Mind
Worst team: Royals, 68-94

2005, ZiPS
Worst team: Royals, 68-94

And so on. I don't think I need to continue. Please don't make me continue. I'm certain that I'm missing some projections. I'm missing some projections from the last few years. There were presumably some projections from before 2005. But I think you get the point. Out of all the projected records above, the worst is 60-102, belonging to the 2012 Houston Astros (CAIRO) and the 2009 Pittsburgh Pirates (ZiPS). And between those two teams, the 2009 Pittsburgh Pirates were projected to have the better Pythagorean record, based on runs scored and runs allowed.

These 2012 Houston Astros might be historically significant, in whatever way that projected baseball standings might be significant. And while it's very possible, if not probable, that the Astros aren't actually the worst team ever projected, that doesn't change the fact that CAIRO just thinks they're really gross. And CAIRO's fair. CAIRO doesn't hold grudges.

If you glance at the Astros' depth chart, that they're projected to be terrible makes a whole lot of sense. Squint and you can like a chunk of the rotation. The pitching staff as a unit isn't a complete disaster. But I'd really prefer to just not talk about the position players. I like Jed Lowrie, but when you can make an argument that Jed Lowrie is the best position player on a team, you should be worried about that team.

I'm going to end this piece by trying to get Astros fans to cheer up. For one thing, these are just projections. These aren't reality. These aren't facts. Projections can end up way off base. I've personally experienced the downside of that, having followed the 2010 Seattle Mariners. And look at how bad the Blue Jays were supposed to be in 2010. They finished 85-77. Granted, they got a big boost from Jose Bautista turning into Jose Bautista, which probably won't happen for the 2012 Astros, but then, you would've said the same thing about the 2010 Blue Jays. Jose Bautistas and Ryan Vogelsongs force projection systems to hand over their lunch money.

And even for the more realistic Astros fans who understand that 2012's probably going to be ugly, an ugly 2012 means a high pick in 2013. High picks are how an organization turns itself around. There's plenty of reason to believe that the Astros are on the right path. They ditched Ed Wade. They got a new owner. They have Jeff Luhnow, now. They have Sig Mejdal, now. They have Mike Fast, now. The Astros are in the hands of smart people, and in time, smart people usually build competitive teams.

It's just ... it's probably going to be a while. Keith Law just ranked the Astros' farm system No. 27 in baseball. And CAIRO just ranked the Astros' major league product as one of the very worst that a projection system's ever seen. Steps forward have been made. There are a lot more steps.

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