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When can the Diamondbacks hope to compete again?

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Since 1970, teams have lost 100 or more games in a season on 46 occasions,.as the Diamondbacks are on pace to do in 2010. 38 of those teams have since reached the play-offs - the Royals currently have four 100-loss years since their last play-off appearance, the Nationals two, and the Pirates + Mariners one apiece. How long does it take teams to bounce-back to contention after a "nightmare year"?

After the jump, we'll take a look at the numbers,

Over the 38 occasions where a team has lost 100 games and subsequently returned to the playoffs, the average wait was 8.63 seasons. [Note: where a team had multiple 100-loss years before a post-season run, we treated those as separate streaks. For instance, the Rays reached the playoffs in 2008, after losing a hundred in 2006, 2002 and 2001, so that counted as streaks of two, six and seven years]. The range was from two seasons, by a trio of clubs, to 24 years - that was the Cleveland Indians, who also had three additional 100-loss seasons before they got back to the playoffs in 1995, after they first had 100 defeats in 1971. Let's hope that isn't us.

However, the turnaround time seems to have become significantly less in recent times, which makes sense as the playoff field has expanded. In 1970, only four of 24 teams reached the post-season - 17% - now, the number is eight of 30, which works out as sixty percent more in any given year. If you look at 100-loss teams since the current set-up was established in 1998, none of the eight successful "resurrection franchises" have had to wait as long as eight years, with the average being only 4.5. However, we do still have the Pirates (this will be their ninth season) and Royals (eighth), who have lengthy ongoing streaks which started under the present system.

Here are the seven teams who have risen from the dead in three seasons or less, over the past forty years, along with their W-L records in the nightmare year, and how far they got in the playoffs when they made it back there. Note that three did so since 2003, including of course the Diamondbacks.

Two years
2006 Rays, 61-101 - 2008, reached WS
1985 Giants, 62-100 - 1987, reached NLCS
1979 A's, 54-108 - 1981, reached ALCS
Three years
2004 Diamondbacks, 51-111 - 2007, reached NLCS
2003 Tigers, 43-119 - 2006, reached WS
1993 Padres, 61-101 - 1996, reached NLDS
1988 Braves, 56-106 - 1991, reached WS

One thing is that the number of losses does not seem to matter - in fact, there is a negative correlation between losses and time to return (-0.29). In other words, the more games you lose, there's a tendency - albeit a weak one - to bounce back quicker. Better draft picks maybe? It's interesting to note that in the majority of these cases, the teams concerned didn't turn in "just happy to be here" performances in the post-season, but actually prevailed in one or more series.

The overwhelming evidence is that, it's not just 2010 that is toast for the Diamondbacks, but 2011 too: no 100-game loser in modern times has ever seen October baseball the next season. The closest is probably the 1998 Arizona team, who lost 97, then went 35 games better the following year to reach 100 wins, still a franchise record, and take the NL West. The 2008 Rays improved by 31 games, and the 1989 Orioles by 33; they're the only teams to get 30+ wins better in one season since 1962, though the last-named still didn't make the post-season. At the current D-backs pace of 59 victories, thirty more in 2011 might well still fall short of the playoffs.

Even if it turns out to be 2012 or 2013, what portion of the team can be salvaged? Or, as the classic grindhouse tagline has it, "Who will survive, and what will be left of them?" Let's take the 2004 Diamondbacks and compare the roster - the 13 position players with the most PAs, five pitchers who started the most games and the seven relievers with the most bullpen innings - to the 2007 version. I've highlighted the common names in bold. It didn't take long.

2004 Position 2007 Position 2004 Pitchers 2007 Pitchers
Alex Cintron Eric Byrnes Randy Johnson Brandon Webb
Shea Hillenbrand Chris Young Brandon Webb Livan Hernandez
Danny Bautista Stephen Drew Casey Fossum Doug Davis
Chad Tracy Orlando Hudson Steve Sparks Micah Owings
Steve Finley Conor Jackson Casey Daigle Edgar Gonzalez
Luis Gonzalez Mark Reynolds Greg Aquino Jose Valverde
Scott Hairston Chris Snyder Mike Koplove Tony Peña
Luis Terrero Carlos Quentin Elmer Dessens Brandon Lyon
Robby Hammock Chad Tracy Stephen Randolph Juan Cruz
Juan Brito Tony Clark Randy Choate Doug Slaten
Matt Kata Miguel Montero Lance Cormier Dustin Nippert
Quinton McCracken Scott Hairston Andrew Good Brandon Medders
Roberto Alomar Alberto Callaspo


[Edgar Gonzalez tied with Casey Daigle for 2004 starts, but EdGon pitched fewer innings] That's a total of three players on both rosters. And the two position players, Tracy and Hairston, combined for one plate-appearance with Arizona after August 12 in the 2007 campaign, having been injured and traded to San Diego respectively. That is an 88% churn rate. I did the same for the 2006/08 Rays (80% churn, with Carl Crawford, Jonny Gomes, Dioner Navarro, Scott Kazmir and James Shields on both) and 2003/06 Tigers (76%: Craig Monroe, Brandon Inge, Omar Infante, Jeremy Bonderman, Jamie Walker, Wilfredo Ledezma).

That gives you some idea concerning the scale of makeover that will probably be necessary to the team, if they are to compete in 2013. It's clear that any kind of quick turnaround is not due to existing players improving - though that can help, as in Shields' Tampa Bay ERA+ going from 96 to 124. Any sea-change is mostly the result of bad players being replaced with good ones. Easy, really. But where do the resurrection franchises get these good players from? There's three main sources: the draft, trades and free-agency. So I broke down the new players for each of the three successful teams, to see how they arrived there.

2008 Rays (20): four drafted, six free agents, nine traded, one purchased (Akinori Iwamura).
2007 Diamondbacks (22): eight drafted, four amateur free agents, three free agent, seven traded.
2006 Tigers (19): three drafted, one amateur free agent, seven free agents, one rule 5 draftee, seven traded.

There's not really any obvious pattern here. The Rays mostly used trades, the D-backs seemed to get some good drafts, and the Tigers had a higher percentage of free agents than the other two. Which brings me to one final point: payroll. Detroit paid out a lot more cash in 2006 than three years previously - 68% more, to be exact. Tampa, too, had to open up their wallets, though not as much, with a 24% increase. The exception is Arizona, who spent 25% less in 2007, when they reached the NLCS, than they did to lose 111 games.

It is possible for the Diamondbacks to compete again, sooner rather than later. But the evidence is that it will take the team an absolute minimum of two years - and that will require smart moves, no small amount of good luck and the blossoming of prospects who currently are in the farm system. It's the last point - and the fact that most of our top prospects are still in the deeper reaches of the minor-league ranks - which is perhaps the most important for Arizona's likely development. In the absence of something unexpected, such as ownership suddenly giving us a $150m payroll, it makes me think we are probably a minimum of three years from competition.