If baseball worked like a TV network, these teams would get another season
The 2017 MLB Entertainment Rankings continue. Part I was yesterday, where I explained my methodology and listed the ten most skippable teams in the league.
Part III will run Wednesday morning, with the league’s ten most watchable teams.
The teams today are worth checking out, if not necessarily the most entertaining teams out there. To get here, a team needs to have at least something worth the viewer’s time.
Only one team mentioned here in Part II is out of the race already, which is another reason to throw one of their games on from time to time. Only a couple of teams have truly separated themselves, leaving most of the league still looking at a reasonable case for going after a playoff spot.
20: Toronto Blue Jays – 39 points
Record: 9 | Attractions: 20 | Narrative(s): 3 | Villainy: 3 | Atmosphere: 1 | Unpredictability: 3
Despite all the proclamations of Murphy’s Law up north, the Toronto Blue Jays are still right in the thick of things. The American League, after all, is filled with teams hovering around .500, and despite being a last place team pretty much all season the Jays are one of those teams.
Their entertainment rating is damaged more by their loss of power than the disappointing first two months. Jose Bautista isn’t Jose Bautista anymore, Edwin Encarnacion is gone, and Troy Tulowitzki has scuffled.
That said, Marcus Stroman has really emerged as the best pitcher on that Blue Jays staff, showing Toronto at their best every fifth day. A bullpen that was expected to be a point of concern has thus far been a strength for Toronto. Peripheral numbers suggest Marco Estrada should be getting better results soon as well.
Why watch: Josh Donaldson is back and remains Josh Donaldson.
Why not: At this point, is there anyone over 20 who doesn’t just get mad at the phrase “Rogers Centre”?
19: Miami Marlins – 40 points
Record: 5 | Attractions: 30 | Narrative(s): 1 | Villainy: 4 | Atmosphere: 0 | Unpredictability: 0
Miami is the last team we’ll look at in these ratings that is truly out of contention for 2017. There is really no way the Marlins catch anyone in a potential Wild Card spot, let alone the NL East.
There is no unpredictability in a season that has already been written off. There is no atmosphere in Marlins Park, and all four villainy points come courtesy of the owner’s box. The Marlins used to be a decorated young franchise seeking a long-term identity. Now their long-term identity is Baseball’s Knicks; a team whose main headline involves how badly their owner needs to step away from the organization forever and not come back.
Just a year ago the Marlins were one of baseball’s most pleasant surprises. Now they’re back to the drawing board in the most cruel way possible. Of course they’re reeling after what happened last year. Any franchise whose future changes that quickly would be. No one moment has altered any American sports franchise more in recent memory. Not The Decision, not Donald Sterling’s last straw, not Durant signing with Golden State. Not even close. From an entertainment standpoint, that cloud over the franchise cannot be ignored. The Marlins are likely to make fans sad from time to time for reasons well and truly beyond losing.
The good news is that Giancarlo Stanton and Justin Bour are legitimately fun players to watch, and if one watches a Miami Marlins game they will watch baseballs leave baseball stadiums. As 1998 will always remind people, few things baseball has to offer will thrill the masses more than good old fashioned big flies.
Why watch: The Simpsons put it best: “Dingers! Dingers!”
Why not: The most noticeable thing about Marlins Park right now is who isn’t in it.
18: Detroit Tigers – 41 points
Record: 12 | Attractions: 18 | Narrative(s): 2 | Villainy: 4 | Atmosphere: 2 | Unpredictability: 3
At just two games under .500, you wouldn’t think the Tigers’ record is a positive thing. However, with Miguel Cabrera no longer the toughest out in baseball and a bullpen that still can’t figure it out, one would expect Detroit would be a lot worse off than they are. They’re still in it.
This despite Justin Verlander looking average most of the time, and Jordan Zimmermann looking considerably worse than that. Michael Fulmer has been really good, and his advanced numbers imply he might be better than results indicate. J.D. Martinez has continued his steady improvement, turning into Detroit’s best hitter thus far.
Justin Upton adds to the entertainment rating in that he is the most unpredictable position player in the sport. Jose Iglesias is a good eye away from being every Little League coach’s example of what a baseball player ought to be. He runs out every shred of contact, is about as solid with the glove as any shortstop out there, doesn’t strike out too much, and gets everything possible out of a bat all scouts expected to be unproductive in the majors.
Unfortunately for Detroit, Iglesias is also one of the younger members of a team that is still recovering from a farm system that has been neglected for years in the interest of chasing championships. Mike Ilitch spent the last years of his life trying to run down a title in the most admirable way possible: No spin, no talking out of both sides of his mouth. He was old, he wanted to see a title and wanted Detroit to get a parade, and he did everything in his power to try and make it happen. Without “Mr. I” the Tigers are looking toward a future they had been ignoring for some time now.
Why watch: If you owned a sports team, you’d do what Mr. I did too. Send the guy out with a standing O.
Why not: That’s what the new home of the Red Wings and Pistons will do.
17: Texas Rangers – 46 points
Record: 5 | Attractions: 32 | Narrative(s): 3 | Villainy: 1 | Atmosphere: 2 | Unpredictability: 3
Coming off two straight October appearances, expectations were high early for the Texas Rangers. Unfortunately, a slow start combined with Houston’s re-emergence has all but taken the AL West out of play already. They’re not out of matters entirely though, as a top-heavy American League sees them only 1.5 games out of a playoff spot at this early stage.
The season is not a total disaster for Texas just yet. Cole Hamels could return from injury and make the pitching rotation a lot more stable as a result. Adrian Beltre returning to the lineup changes the Rangers’ outlook considerably as well.
Beltre brings the Rangers’ entertainment rating up quite a bit. Between his pure hitting, his Gold Glove collection, his swing that sometimes sees his knee making contact with the ground, and his distaste for people touching his head, Beltre is a treat to watch. Yu Darvish is having a great season as well. With Hamels coming back soon, the Rangers might be below .500, but they’re going to be a treat to watch down the stretch.
Why watch: To see Adrian Beltre as both a ballplayer and a teammate.
Why not: Day games in Arlington even look unbearably hot.
16: Seattle Mariners – 48 points
Record: 8 | Attractions: 27 | Narrative(s): 8 | Villainy: 0 | Atmosphere: 3 | Unpredictability: 1
We’ve reached our first team with a real entertaining narrative to follow throughout the rest of the season in the Seattle Mariners, who have been on the periphery of the playoff race for the last few years without having made a serious run at it, and who feature one of the most accomplished players to never make the playoffs.
When Felix Hernandez returns from bursitis sometime around the All Star Break, he will be a 31 year old player who has been in the league for thirteen seasons without pitching one time in the MLB postseason. He’s won a Cy Young Award, finished second in the voting twice, and made six All Star teams. Moreover, King Felix has been the face of the Mariners for a decade.
Soon, if it hasn’t happened already, that last mantle will be passed to the likes of Kyle Seager, but the Mariners are still a small hot streak away from being right in the thick of the playoff race for the first time in a while.
Why watch: Minnesota and Tampa Bay notwithstanding, Seattle might be the AL’s underdog with a shot.
Why not: You know that TV show you tried to watch two years ago, didn’t like, but now your friends say it got good and they want you to try it again? That’s essentially Seattle right now.
15: Cincinnati Reds – 55 points
Record: 12 | Attractions: 33 | Narrative(s): 5 | Villainy: 0 | Atmosphere: 2 | Unpredictability: 3
The Reds have a narrative problem: They’re having a much better season than people imagined they would, but by no means are they really in contention.
This has been the team’s headline for about a month, which is unfair to Cincinnati. From a MLB.tv perspective, the Reds are the team you wish there were more of; the rebuilding team that knows exactly where they’re going and plans to have a lot of fun on their way.
You know what makes for fun baseball? Absolute and utter recklessness. Enter Billy Hamilton. Billy Hamilton plays baseball the way a kid would play it. If he’s on base, he’s running. He’s a bit of an adventure in the outfield, which might not add to his value on a ballclub but certainly makes him more interesting to watch. He’s also a non-power hitter who strikes out a ton and doesn’t walk. Jose Peraza also steals a lot of bases and has no idea what the phrase “taking a pitch” could possibly mean.
The Reds’ fundamentals are really reserved entirely for Joey Votto. You probably know Joey Votto as a fantasy baseball player, a statline that either wins you a league or destroys your team’s week. He has an OPS over 1.000 right now though, so this might be a good time to check in on the slugging first baseman.
They hit home runs. Oh do they ever hit home runs. Votto has 18. So does Scott Schebler, another person you might think exists only in fantasy leagues. Scooter Gennett, notable mostly for being named Scooter Gennett, hit four home runs in a game. (Aside: If you look up the list of people who have done that, you’d be surprised, turns out Scooter pretty much fits right in.)
Why watch: Because you wish every losing team played this style of baseball.
Why not: You think this is fun? Just wait, Cincinnati.
14: Los Angeles Angels – 62 points
Record: 12 | Attractions: 36 | Narrative(s): 5 | Villainy: 3 | Atmosphere: 3 | Unpredictability: 3
This is the best team Mike Trout has ever played for, and the fact that Trout won’t be there until the end of July also makes them by far the most watchable team Mike Trout has played for in his short but already storied career.
The Angels face a gargantuan task of staying in the hunt without their best player, but if you look around, the American League isn’t exactly ratcheting up the difficulty in that department. Eight teams in the AL are within two games of .500. If the season ended today, one of them would qualify for the postseason.
If the Angels can stay within a good week of a playoff spot until Trout gets back, they have a shot of getting the kid to October. So if they have the best player in the AL, and it’s their best team since they got him, and oh by the way Albert Pujols just hit his 600th home run, yes six hundred, why is their narrative category not helping their entertainment value?
All talk about “the best team Mike Trout played for” tends to funnel to a specific end I don’t feel comfortable mentioning in this column. This discussion is not fair to the Angels, their fans, or the ability of their ownership to write impressively large checks.
Until Trout gets back, there’s always Andrelton Simmons and the best glovework you haven’t seen. There are advanced statistics that measure defense, and some of them imply that Simmons is downright special with the glove. (dWAR in particular has an apparent love for Andrelton Simmons. That’s right, a Wins Above Replacement-based stat favors a member of the Angels. I know, you need a moment.)
Why watch: Let me repeat: Albert Pujols is a member of the 600 home run club, and that needs to stop being treated like a footnote right now.
Why not: The moment Mike Trout’s future enters the conversation the Angels stop being even remotely fun.
13: Chicago Cubs – 74 points
Record: 11 | Attractions: 30 | Narrative(s): 15 | Villainy: 10 | Atmosphere: 4 | Unpredictability: 5
That’s right: There are twelve teams more fun to watch right now than what might be the best group of Cubs ever assembled.
The Cubs’ problem, both in the standings and in these rankings, is that their pitching staff isn’t a lot of fun right now. Jon Lester isn’t quite himself these days, Jake Arrieta has taken a step back, and the Cubs are below .500. This would be much more of a problem if anyone in the NL Central had separated themselves, but it is still alarming.
John Lackey has turned into 2011 edition John Lackey, which might turn into a bigger problem down the road. (His Fielding Independent Pitching number is higher now than it was in 2011, statistically his worst year and one in which he led the American League in earned runs.)
Making matters worse, Addison Russell is struggling on the field and potentially in a lot of trouble off it. Kyle Schwarber’s batting average boggles the mind, Rizzo and Bryant are still productive, but not quite what they were last season.
Of course, these are an entirely new Chicago Cubs, a team you have to see because you’ve never seen it before. Until this year we did not know what Wrigley Field looked like with a champion in it. You have to watch, if only to see how America’s Eternal Block Party has changed with success.
Even road games have that air of a Different Chicago Cubs, with fans all over the country showing up to cheer on the Cubbies. Of course, this has led to the predictable backlash of people who pretended to cheer the Cubs on all these years suddenly realizing they actually never wanted the Cubs to win after all.
Teams don’t easily accept villain roles, and fanbases even less so. LeBron James took a while to get used to not being liked with the Heat, and eventually went back to Cleveland to be the hero again. The Carolina Panthers seemed utterly blindsided that not everybody loved Cam Newton from the get-go. Now we have the Cubs, and Joe Maddon, and Bryant, and Theo Epstein and his buddy Eddie Vedder slowly realizing that they’re not the feel-good story now. Overnight, they went from being Rocky to being Apollo Creed.
Why watch: Because Apollo Creed is worth watching, he’s a big part of what made Rocky what it was.
Why not: Villain or not, the way they’re playing right now they still look like the Same Old Chicago Cubs, amazingly enough.
12: Cleveland Indians – 75 points
Record: 12 | Attractions: 33 | Narrative(s): 19 | Villainy: 3 | Atmosphere: 3 | Unpredictability: 5
From night to night, only one thing can be relatively certain about the Cleveland Indians: Their bullpen will be tough to beat. Nothing else with them is ever guaranteed.
Francisco Lindor isn’t having his best season so far. Edwin Encarnacion remains Three True Outcomes-loving Edwin Encarnacion. Carlos Santana is getting runners home, but needs to get on base more.
Carlos Carrasco is pitching well, but the rest of Cleveland’s staff is struggling. Corey Kluber’s advanced numbers suggest he’ll be an ace again pretty soon, but his ERA over 4 suggests otherwise. The Indians’ staff is striking out more than a batter per inning as a staff though, which brings their entertainment factor up.
The record is hovering around .500, but with a weak AL Central they’re in a position to change matters in a hurry. The Indians are just one game out of first place as of Tuesday morning.
Cleveland gets a lot of narrative points for inheriting the Cubs’ title as the team with the longest stretch without a championship. This also adds to an exciting atmosphere given how close they are to getting back in the title discussion. They lose two atmosphere points for the empty seats at Progressive Field.
Why watch: The Indians get along as a team without costumes or grand gestures, which always makes for a more fun team to watch.
Why not: Because you live in the Cleveland area and are too busy filling those empty seats at The Jake instead.
11: Tampa Bay Rays – 78 points
Record: 15 | Attractions: 37 | Narrative(s): 18 | Villainy: 0 | Atmosphere: 3 | Unpredictability: 3
There is a running list of players we baseball people try and get people to watch that we believe aren’t being watched enough. Mike Trout always heads the list, but you’ll hear Nolan Arenado’s name in there, and Paul Goldschmidt, and now Mike Lamb.
I think it’s time we added Corey Dickerson and Kevin Kiermaier to this list. Kiermaier’s currently out with a strained groin, but he produces highlight reel catches on a near-nightly basis when he’s playing.
Logan Morrison has hit 17 home runs. Supposed Draft Bust Tim Beckham has hit ten and is batting .282. Evan Longoria went from the star of the franchise to a veteran leader seamlessly. Chris Archer’s back. To round it out, it’s high time more baseball fans learned about Alex Colome.
The Rays are in it and fighting for everything. They’re an organization with an unclear future, a TV deal that will be renegotiated eventually but who knows when, in a ballpark they don’t want and wasn’t built for them in the first place. It doesn’t earn them a point for villainy because there’s nobody to root against, but if there is any villain in Rays baseball it’s the people trying to keep the organization stuck in Tropicana Field when their future in fact lies far beyond Thunderdome.
Want some narrative? How about this: Name another baseball team that gets heckled on the road with how they should move to Montreal. Unfairly, of course, but apparently nobody outside of Florida can be asked to look at a map and pay close attention to the differences between Tampa and St. Petersburg. If you ask me everyone who says the Rays should move to Montreal ought to have to sit on the Sunshine Skyway going west for the better part of an evening. See if they still call them “Tampa” after that.
Why watch: Because the Rays’ true home and true source of money will always be television, and that is dependent on ratings. Give them ratings. From there they will get the park they deserve, and only from there.
Why not: If you’re a fan of the Yankees or Red Sox, you might not want to know what’s hanging out behind you.
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.