It's Spring Training! Primarily a time of frustrated waiting, but secondly a time of boundless optimism. No one is immune to it; even I, your cynical guide to the meaningless games of March, wrote mere weeks ago about what would need to go right for the San Diego Padres to make the playoffs. Yes, the Padres, projected by FanGraphs for 74 wins and fourth place in the NL West. It's just so, so easy to get carried away in Spring Training; with 162 games still to play, anything can happen!
That's why a healthy dose of depression is sometimes needed. To that end, I thought now would be the perfect time to unveil the 2015 Depression Index, an arbitrary-yet-undeniably-perfect measurement of which teams gave their fans the most reasons to feel crushing sadness last summer. This metric is the result of a gut-based system of identifying the outcomes that led to the most depression; nonetheless, it is impossible to disagree with it.
Ingredient one is the most obvious and simple: the outcome of the team's season, as measured by their playoff success. Teams were awarded the most points possible for missing the playoffs, and a decreasing number of points the further they made it into the postseason. I chose not to differentiate between different levels of not-playoffs, as I don't think there's a clear answer to which causes more pain to the soul, missing the playoffs by a single game (sorry, Angels fans) or by twenty-seven (hello, Phillies fans). As a reminder, any decisions I make in this article are objectively correct and true.
Next, I looked at how each team performed compared to expectations, as measured by their preseason projections and by their BaseRuns performance. For teams like the Mariners (originally projected by FanGraphs for 88 wins, finished with 76) or Athletics (projected for 83 wins, finished with 68), their non-playoff seasons carried with them the additional pain of crushed hopes. BaseRuns gets at a similar feeling — how a team "should have" performed — in a different way, estimating an expected record for a club based on its offensive and defensive performance without the impact of sequencing. For teams like the Astros (97 wins per BaseRuns, 86 actual) and the Athletics again (80 wins per BaseRuns, 68 actual), their seasons had a nice simmering layer of frustration and entitlement. Sorry, A's fans; this article is pretty rough for you throughout.
In addition to BaseRuns, I considered another measure of wins-that-should've-but-didn't-happen, though a more immediate one, in walk-off losses. This isn't just a measure of how successful or not a season is — we've got metrics for that already — but how much pain a team's fanbase underwent over the course of a season. It doesn't matter if your chosen team is 10 games up or back, there's nothing like seeing them snatch defeat from the jaws of victory to ruin your day. Along those same lines, teams got depression credit for their losing streaks of five games or more, with longer streaks yielding more credit. Five games seems like a reasonable spot to draw the line between a minor stumble, frustrating but easily chalked up to some bad luck, and a prolonged drought, leading one to doubt whether the team will ever win another game.
Finally, I accounted for the last way terrible teams can make their season palatable: by showcasing their future, in the form of young talent. I didn't take into account how good or bad each team's young players are (defined as 24 or younger), just totalling their PAs or IP. Some of the only joy available in a bad season comes from dreaming of young players featured in brighter futures and happier seasons, regardless of how they're performing this year. On the other hand, old teams force their fans to confront the coming collapse and provide no hope for the future if the present is bad. Sports are supposed to be a way to avoid the crushing certainty of our inevitable mortality, but that's harder to do with an old team.
Those are combined with some proprietary weighting (like the selection of inputs, objectively correct) and yield a final 2015 Depression Score. Behold, the five teams that caused their fans the most anguish in 2015, from bad to worst:
#5: Seattle Mariners, 168.7
Mariners fans cannot be surprised to see their team here, not because of any one factor but just a general feeling of malaise that's hung over them for the last few years. As described above, they were one of the largest underperformers of their projection, and they obviously missed the playoffs. But they gave decent amounts of playing time to their youth, with Mike Zunino leading the way on the position player side and Taijuan Walker and Carson Smith on the pitching side, which was a bright spot on an otherwise dark season.
As a result, it was their whopping 12 walk-offs that did most of the work in pushing them over the top. Eight different Mariners gave up game-losing hits, and that's not counting Tom Wilhelmsen, who threw a wild pitch to Kyle Kubitza on June 28th. It is counting Fernando Rodney, who walked Adrian Beltre with the bases loaded on August 17th, because he also gave up a walk-off single to Howie Kendrick on April 14th. Stay strong, Mariners fans.
#4: Milwaukee Brewers, 175.7
This is a team that had a monumentally unsuccessful year from the simple perspective of wins and losses, but the precise calculations of the Depression Index are no kinder. Unlike the Mariners, they managed to avoid walk-offs for the most part, but underwent five serious losing streaks totaling 35 games, or 22% of their season. They underperformed their projections by a large margin as well, going from "possibly .500" at the outset to a .420 winning percentage at the close of the season. It was only a smattering of PAs and IPs from young players like Hernan Perez, Domingo Santana, Corey Knebel, and Zach Davies that kept their score from climbing even higher. Based on this last offseason, 2016 seems likely to follow a similar blueprint, as the new front office has injected a lot of new young talent into the organization. That's good, since while the Depression Index doesn't account for skill, nobody wants to rely on Hernan Perez for their hope for the future any longer than necessary.
#3: Tampa Bay Rays, 176.0
The Rays took a somewhat unique road to the top three. While they didn't win many games, it wasn't that surprising from either a projections (six games under) or BaseRuns (one game under) standpoint. Instead, their biggest issues were the lack of youth, with a partial season of Nick Franklin and some bullpen work from Enny Romero virtually all they had to go on, and the walk-offs. Oh, the walk-offs.
They barely beat out the Mariners for the dubious honor of leading the league in walk-off losses, with a cringeworthy thirteen. Brad Boxberger owned six of them, each their own unique snowflake of sadness for Rays fans. There was the Paulo Orlando grand slam for the Royals on July 7th, after which the Rays had to return for the second half of a doubleheader; the bases-loaded walk to Avisail Garcia on August 5th; the throwing error (by Boxberger himself) on a Ramon Flores bunt on the Fourth of July. That's just Boxberger, too! Rays fans already lead a precarious existence, knowing their team might be taken from them at any moment. They go through so much already. We can only hope 2016 is kinder.
#2: Oakland Athletics, 189.4
As discussed above, 2015 was not a good year for A's fans. The luck of sequencing deserted Oakland completely, leaving the A's to underperform their BaseRuns record by 12 games, easily the largest spread in baseball. Even that, however, paled in comparison to their underperformance of FanGraphs' projections, falling from a projected 83 wins to an actual 68, also the largest gap in baseball. Between Marcus Semien and Kendall Graveman, Oakland fans at least had some players to pile their hopes and dreams onto, though in Graveman's case, the reminder of who the A's sent away in exchange must have been an unpleasant one. I tried to find a silver lining for you, A's fans.
#1: Cincinnati Reds, 190.7
Even if you don't believe in the infallibility of this metric (which you should, it's science), the Reds make perfect sense for the top spot, as they earned high marks in almost every category. Cincinnati ended the season twelve games under its preseason projection and nine games under its BaseRuns record, near the peak of both ranks. They had ten walk-off losses, one of which came in their third-to-last game, on October 2nd. They only had three losing streaks of more than five games, but two of those streaks were nine games long and the third was thirteen. A thirteen-game losing streak lasts more than two full weeks. Think about what you were doing two weeks ago. Imagine failing every day since that date.
The Reds did give almost 500 PAs to Billy Hamilton, and another 400 to Eugenio Suarez, both players that could be part of a winning team in the future. Michael Lorenzen's season didn't go particularly well, but at least he gave Reds fans something to pay attention to every five days. Still, that wasn't enough to overcome the sadness generated by this team in every other category. It's best not to think about the 2015 Reds too much longer than strictly necessary, as it's not good for one's well-being.
Fans of every one of these teams were once like you, full of optimism and hope at the outset of 2015 Spring Training. To be honest, they're probably still like you, full of optimism and hope again — because that's just how baseball works, and thank god for that. Cynicism is boring and terrible. There'll be plenty of time to be sad in the season, when teams start losing games and seeing their playoff chances dry up. It's spring! Anything can happen! Enjoy it while you still can.
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Henry Druschel is a Contributing Editor at Beyond the Box Score.You can follow him on Twitter at @henrydruschel.