Ranking the 30 MLB teams on how much fun they are to watch
There is more baseball out there to watch than ever before. Thanks to MLB.tv, MLB Network, contracts with three national outlets and dozens of local ones, baseball fans are spoiled for choice.
With so many options available, fans can be excused if they’re unsure who to watch on a given night. That’s where I come in. I’ve assembled a 100 point system to measure how entertaining each Major League Baseball club is on a nightly basis.
I base my rankings on a number of factors:
Record – Pretty self-explanatory. How a team has played to this point in the season (I assembled the final rankings on the morning of June 11). Up to 20 points can be awarded for a team’s record and standing. The best team in each league receives the perfect 20.
Attractions – A team’s best players based on how much you, the fan, should be watching them. This is the most important category, awarding up to 40 points to teams that are loaded with watchable stars.
Narrative(s) – The storylines around a season. Teams that have had the wheels come off and are already out of it get a 0, but up to 20 points can be awarded for the most compelling clubs.
Villainy – How much fun is a team to root against? It’s one thing to watch a game as a neutral observer, but if this team’s your rival, do you care what they do? Good villains get as many as 10 points.
Atmosphere – Between the ballpark and the broadcast, does the presentation of this team’s home games stand out? Good crowds and/or announcers can get up to 5 points.
Unpredictability – This comes down to two different factors: Is a team in the playoff race, and will the team surprise you day to day? Teams out of the race entirely will get a 0. Unpredictable teams can get as many as 5 points.
The rankings: 30-21
30: Philadelphia Phillies – 12 points
Record: 1 | Attractions: 5 | Narrative(s): 0 | Villainy: 2 | Atmosphere: 4 | Unpredictability: 0
A year ago, it seemed as though the Phillies had something going on their long rebuilding effort. They weren’t contenders, but their young players were showing flashes of what could be, and they were getting plenty out of their pitching.
Not so in 2017. The rebuild has been derailed. The young talent isn’t producing, the journeyman free agents that line the rest of the team are also not producing, and despite playing in a division with only one good team, the Phillies have the worst record in all of baseball.
It is a brutal season in Philadelphia. This is not necessarily a premeditated tank job, either, the Phillies were looking for progress on their rebuild. They got an unpleasant answer.
There’s still some atmosphere in Citizens Bank Park, if only because Philadelphians do not sit idly by when their teams are not good. The broadcast team is pretty good, with John Kruk really settling into the day to day of a city where he was a fan favorite not too long ago.
Why watch: Perhaps you really like John Kruk. Maybe you hate Philadelphia sports. A lot.
Why not watch: Even so, you’d also have to hate yourself and anyone else who may happen upon your screen.
29: Chicago White Sox – 14 points
Record: 4 | Attractions: 8 | Narrative(s): 1 | Villainy: 1 | Atmosphere: 0 | Unpredictability: 0
After trading Adam Eaton and Chris Sale, the White Sox were not expected to be good. The record is no surprise to anyone and not a huge deal to people who follow the team as a result.
What is of concern is that Jose Quintana is not pitching as well as he’s been known to, Todd Frazier is not hitting very well, and both of those things could limit the amount of rebuilding the White Sox are able to do this July.
Being perfectly honest, the White Sox’ biggest attraction right now is that fans of contending teams might be interested in one of their available players. It hurts their entertainment rating that those players aren’t tearing it up at the moment.
The White Sox do earn a villainy point simply for having a crosstown rival. This column does not endorse schadenfreude but sometimes it cannot be fully ignored that somebody, somewhere in Chicago, is watching a White Sox game with a smile on their face.
Why watch: We all have at least one “Guaranteed Rate Field” joke we really want an excuse to tell.
Why not: Hasn’t the most famous White Sox fan anyone can think of been through enough this year already?
28: San Diego Padres – 17 points
Record: 3 | Attractions: 8 | Narrative(s): 1 | Villainy: 0 | Atmosphere: 3 | Unpredictability: 2
The Padres are exactly who they were expected to be: A team in the very early stages of a long rebuild. Most of their interesting players are in the minor leagues at the moment.
Of the three teams at the bottom of these rankings, the Padres are the one who are on the same page as their fans. That goes a long way, because while it won’t lead to interest now it won’t lead to fans giving up on the entire organization.
The Padres score high in atmosphere because, from an MLB.tv standpoint, they are in a great position to make the most of a bad team. Don Orsillo is very good at keeping interest in a game that hasn’t been interesting since first pitch, and few people have ever been as good at selling a joke. That wheezing laugh can make a bad team tolerable for an hour or so at a time.
There are two things that make the Padres slightly unpredictable. First, their bullpen is struggling, so even when they get a lead they’re not likely to hold it. Also, a team in San Diego’s position is likely to change drastically throughout the year.
Why watch: Maybe something will crack Don up.
Why not: Let me rephrase the above: One of the best things that can happen at a Padres game is that their announcer starts laughing.
t-25: San Francisco Giants – 23 points
Record: 4 | Attractions: 12 | Narrative(s): 0 | Villainy: 3 | Atmosphere: 4 | Unpredictability: 0
The Giants, expected in the spring to be a contender this year, have been atrocious instead.
The only things they planned for that have worked reasonably well for them have been closer Mark Melancon and a career year from Buster Posey. Everything else, most notably that pitching rotation, has gone wrong.
Johnny Cueto has an ERA around 4. Jeff Samardzija’s is higher than that, though Shark has the interesting feature of being incapable of walking batters. Madison Bumgarner will not return until sometime around August. The lineup around Posey is also looking a bit dire.
Their beautiful ballpark, and a quality broadcast team led by Jon Miller, keep the Giants from fully bottoming out, but they certainly aren’t the nightly show they used to be. With the season all but lost, they may look to deal around midseason, and they might still be able to gear up for a strong year in 2018, but in the short term that won’t make them any more watchable.
Why watch: Even bad baseball looks pretty good in the right venue.
Why not: There are other nice ballparks with teams that make for better television.
t-25: Oakland Athletics – 23 points
Record: 5 | Attractions: 17 | Narrative(s): 1 | Villainy: 0 | Atmosphere: 0 | Unpredictability: 0
It’s been dark days for Oakland lately. The Athletics are left with a pitching staff full of guys who never quite broke through, and a lineup that doesn’t have enough production to spot the team. What’s more, they play in a formerly renowned baseball field made into an eyesore by a football team about to leave for a second time.
The good news: They have home runs, and they have them in a place where the ball really has to travel to get out. These are not the workmanlike, Moneyball style A’s anymore, but instead a team full of all-or-nothing hitters waiting for Billy Beane’s next crop of minor leaguers, which appears a while off.
The lone narrative point comes from their dilemma: What to do now that Beane’s famous tactics have become commonplace?
Until they figure that out, at least they’ve got long balls from Yonder Alonso and Khris Davis.
Why watch: Long home runs in a pitcher’s ballpark are flat out fun to watch, and at least Oakland has that.
Why not: Figuring out what Billy Beane is up to is not as simple as watching the Athletics.
t-25: Pittsburgh Pirates – 23 points
Record: 5 | Attractions: 11 | Narrative(s): 1 | Villainy: 0 | Atmosphere: 4 | Unpredictability: 2
While this season is in many ways a disaster for the Pirates, there is some good news in that Josh Bell is coming around into the power hitter they dreamed he’d be.
The Pirates had a team that could have won the World Series a couple of years ago. There’s no move they left on the table in specific that would have put them over the top, and who knows if anything would have, but the fact remains they chose not to go for it when they had the opportunity.
At the moment, it looks like a wasted opportunity.
However, do not count out the Pirates’ long term plans. They didn’t make any deals of significance in those years of contention because the organization believed in Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow, and Josh Bell. Taillon has been through a lot this season, but he seems to be ready to pitch again. Glasnow has had ups and downs, but he remains a part of the future.
Why watch: To remind yourself why we shouldn’t project teams to be contenders for more than a couple of years at a time.
Why not: Next year’s edition will be better.
24: Kansas City Royals – 24 points
Record: 5 | Attractions: 15 | Narrative(s): 1 | Villainy: 1 | Atmosphere: 5 | Unpredictability: 0
Flags fly forever, so the saying goes.
The Royals made two straight World Series and won in 2015. The run couldn’t last forever, and now they’re paying for banking their future on that title. Not that anyone could blame them.
The Royals have a home stadium that will always be interesting to the channel-flipper, as it’s the one with waterfalls. Those will always get bonus atmosphere points to go along with a well-presented broadcast.
Kansas City also still has a lights-out bullpen, and guys like Lorenzo Cain are always at least a little fun to watch.
Why watch: There will always be waterfalls.
Why not: If the Pirates are an example of what happens when you don’t go for it, the Royals are an example of what happens after you do.
23: New York Mets – 26 points
Record: 5 | Attractions: 10 | Narrative(s): 0 | Villainy: 5 | Atmosphere: 4 | Unpredictability: 2
From an entertainment standpoint, the Mets’ unquestioned high point was when Mr. Met cheerfully flipped off a fan, thereby truly earning the name Mr. Met more than ever before. A scandal involving Mr. Met would have made for a great narrative and would have surely added to their total, but they come away with a low combined total.
The once-mighty pitching rotation is having a disappointing season, with Syndergaard out for the long-term, Jacob deGrom struggling, and Matt Harvey at odds with the Mets. The offense is nearly non-existent. The bullpen isn’t particularly helping matters.
The Mets get a surprisingly high number in villainy for a team that has been destroyed already. Because of how the Syndergaard injury was handled, and in part just due to long-term restlessness as well as the Mets simply being the New York Mets, Met fans are struggling to accept their new reality and looking at the organization as partly responsible. This also gets them a good score for atmosphere. Nobody questions their own team like Mets fans. Besides, they have one of the best home broadcasts in the league.
Why watch: Maybe Jerry Seinfeld will show up. Or Jon Stewart.
Why not watch: The Mets have turned into the rental car from Planes, Trains and Automobiles.
22: St. Louis Cardinals – 30 points
Record: 5 | Attractions: 13 | Narrative(s): 2 | Villainy: 7 | Atmosphere: 2 | Unpredictability: 0
For most of April, it looked as though the Cardinals remained invincible. We had all been expecting the fall of the Cardinals for years, but they kept pushing it off. At points even in May, the Cardinals were right there with the Cubs, and right in it.
The wheels came off quickly for St. Louis, and now outside of Carlos Martinez they’re not offering a lot in the way of attractions. The rest of the season is likely about finding out what can be kept, what needs to go, and where they go from here. That makes St. Louis an interesting team around the trade deadline, but not much beyond that.
It is almost shocking to describe the Cardinals as “pretty much out of it” in what is still earlyish June. Yet, here we are.
Why watch: One good week and they can convince people they’re not out of a tight NL Central.
Why not watch: As convincing as they might sound, do not believe them.
21: Atlanta Braves – 32 points
Record: 8 | Attractions: 18 | Narrative(s): 2 | Villainy: 2 | Atmosphere: 1 | Unpredictability: 1
For starters, the Braves moved from the city of Atlanta, which is inherently interesting, to suburbia, which is by definition not. The atmosphere in suburbia can be best described as “pleasant,” and I’m sure SunTrust Park is “pleasant.” It looks very much so on television. It also brings to mind subdivisions, neighborhood associations, and vague politeness to those neighbors whose names you can’t quite remember.
From an entertainment standpoint, suburbia is only entertaining when it’s hiding something. The Braves have nothing up their sleeves.
Oh they’re not without their weapons. Matt Kemp is coming back around to looking like Matt Kemp. Dansby Swanson isn’t really hitting yet, but he’s with the big club, and that is bound to bring some excitement. They’re by no means in any kind of race for anything, but the Braves’ record could be considerably worse, and improvement is improvement. Atlanta seems to be on their way.
On the other hand, the pitching rotation is questionable. Bartolo Colon went from one of last year’s most fun starters to, well, let’s leave it at “he’s not fun to watch.” Julio Teheran, either the future of the Braves’ rotation or the trade piece that will complete their rebuild effort, is having the kind of season that puts both of those things in serious doubt. Yes, the Braves are on their way, but they’re not close. They do get one point for unpredictability, given that they’re in one of the best positions of any not-great team to have a good night from time to time and mess with a good team’s plans.
Why watch: To see what kind of ballpark Ward Cleaver would have designed.
Why not: A Braves game in 2017 is a three hour trailer for a Braves game in 2019. Not even Star Wars fans enjoy trailers that much.
Join Tim Williams with Ira Kaufman, Joe Henderson and Jim Williams as The Sunshine Boys talk Major League Baseball at the one third point of the season. Plus a special look at the history of the Tampa Bay area and sending players to the Major Leagues.