A new season, a new format


Welcome to my new (and still evolving) format for Baseball’s Best (and Worst).

This is the 452nd installment of my newsletter, which dates back to September 2020. I have generally followed a twice-weekly schedule — Tuesday and Friday — though I did deviate into an every-weekday plan during 2023’s regular season (April through September).

Another season is upon us, so I’m once again trying something new. I’ll be releasing a new edition once a week, covering several topics in a single post.

So let’s get to it.

It’s very, very easy to root for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Their star-studded lineup is a key factor, of course. Almost anybody would find it emotionally rewarding to cheer for a batting order that includes Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, and Shohei Ohtani, three of baseball’s greatest players.

And then there’s the seemingly perpetual record of success. The Dodgers have qualified for the playoffs 11 years in a row, a streak unmatched in the major leagues.

I suspected that the Dodgers would be the most attractive franchise to casual fans, and I devised a simple scoring system to test my theory.

I sifted through the standings for the past 10 seasons (2014-2023) and awarded points for each performance: one point for a non-playoff club that finished with a winning percentage of .550 or better, two for each playoff qualification, three for each league championship, and four for each World Series title.

I also subtracted points for poor seasons, taking one point away for a winning percentage of .450 or less, two off for a record of .400 or below.

Points were not cumulative. A club that won a world title received only four points for that year, not additional credit for its league championship and playoff slot. And a team with a .390 percentage lost only two points, not three for falling below both negative milestones.

The Dodgers, as I suspected, came out on top. Their total of 24 points stamped them as baseball’s easiest team to root for. Here are the top 10:

  • 1. Dodgers, 24 points

  • 2. Astros, 21 points

  • 3. Yankees, 14 points

  • 4. Guardians, 12 points

  • 5. Braves, 11 points

  • 5. Cardinals, 11 points

  • 5. Cubs, 11 points

  • 5. Rays, 11 points

  • 9. Blue Jays, 10 points

  • 10. Brewers, 9 points

The Detroit Tigers last made the playoffs in 2014, and they last posted a winning record in 2016. Their fans have known little but misery ever since.

That’s why the Tigers sit atop the flip side of my ease-of-support rankings with a score of minus-seven points. Here are the 10 teams (actually 11 with ties) whose fans require the strongest stomachs:

There’s a myth about fan support in Oakland — specifically that there is fan support in Oakland.

Annual attendance for the Athletics has topped 2 million only 12 times since the franchise relocated from Kansas City in 1968, and it has reached that exalted level just once since 2005.

Consider this: Sixty percent of all big-league clubs — 18 of 30 — drew more than 2 million fans last year. The A’s were dead last at 832,352.

It’s true, of course, that the prospective relocation of the franchise to Las Vegas has complicated the situation. Fan groups urged a boycott of Opening Day this year, suppressing Oakland’s attendance to an announced figure of 13,522.

But Opening Day crowds were slipping even before Vegas entered the picture. Here’s a look at the attendance for the Athletics’ first home game in every season since 2014, excepting the Covid-affected years of 2020 and 2021:

A new installment will arrive in your email each Tuesday morning

Today’s quiz is focused on pitchers who started on North America’s Opening Day, which was March 28 for 26 clubs and March 29 for Atlanta, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and the New York Mets. (The Seoul Series between the Dodgers and Padres doesn’t count for this exercise.)

A little trick: Every pitcher listed below is on a big-league roster, but not all of them worked an opener. Look to the bottom of this newsletter for the answers.

1. Which two starters threw the most pitches on Opening Day?

2. Which former teammates both fashioned six-inning one-hitters on Opening Day?

3. Which starting pitcher was shelled for the most Opening Day runs?

4. Which Opening Day starter issued the most walks?

5. Only one starter allowed two opposing runners to steal on Opening Day. Who was he?

Anthony Rizzo crowds the plate. I mean, he really crowds the plate, almost standing on top of it.

That’s why the longtime first baseman for the Yankees (and before that, the Cubs) is the leader among active players in getting hit by pitches.

Rizzo had been plunked 213 times prior to this season, putting him eighth in the all-time standings. (And he wasted no time in 2024, getting hit by Framber Valdez in his third plate appearance on Opening Day.)

Here are the rankings, courtesy of Baseball Reference:

Rizzo, who turns 35 in August, has led the majors in hit-by-pitches three times, peaking at 30 with the Cubs in 2015. He was plunked 35 times in 969 plate appearances the past two seasons with the Yankees, the equivalent of 14.4 per 400 PA. If he averages 400 appearances this year and the next two seasons — and maintains his recent HBP rate — he’ll pass Jason Kendall to enter the top five by the end of the 2026 season.

I’m going to spend the next six months following a couple of distinctive teams from the past. The first is the 1984 Tigers, which I have judged to be the greatest team in baseball’s Modern Era (1961 to the present).

I’m going to update the Tigers’ record as of the equivalent date of each newsletter, though I’m making a small exception on this first week.

The 1984 season began on April 3, and today is April 2. But let’s glance quickly ahead, just this once.

Future Hall of Famer Jack Morris worked seven innings against Minnesota on April 3, 1984, giving up just one run on five hits. He struck out eight. The Tigers and Twins were locked in a tight game until the top of the sixth, when catcher Lance Parrish singled home a pair of runs to widen Detroit’s lead to 4-1. The final score was 8-1, putting the Tigers atop the American League East with a pristine 1-0 record.

The New York Mets lost 120 games in 1962, their inaugural season. No other club in the Modern Era has suffered so many defeats.

We’ll have to wait a bit to start tracking the Mets’ descent into ineptitude. The baseball season started at a more civilized time in the 1960s. The Mets were still in spring training on April 2, 1962, more than a week away from Opening Day in St. Louis.

I can tell you that their scheduled starter would be Roger Craig. More on him later.

1-C and D. (Ragans threw 97 pitches against the Twins, Webb 97 against the Padres.)

2-B. (Burnes and Peralta were teammates in Milwaukee.)

3-B. (The Diamondbacks scored 10 runs — all earned — in just two and a third innings against Freeland.)

4-D. (Valdez gave up six walks in just four and two-thirds innings vs. the Yankees.)

5-C. (Strider gave up a pair of stolen bases to the Phillies.)

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