A mere four months ago, the Pirates and Reds were battling it out for the NL's wild-card berths. Now they're duking it out again, for a slightly less prestigious honor -- the NL's dreaded Most Unimproved award. The Pirates' one notable offseason addition was a pitcher ( Edinson Volquez) with the highest ERA (5.09) and WHIP (1.53) in the whole sport over the last three seasons. The Reds' big additions, in a winter where they lost both Shin-Soo Choo and Bronson Arroyo, were two useful players who, unfortunately, aren't projected to play much -- a backup catcher ( Brayan Pena) and one of the best utility energizers in the game ( Skip Schumaker). We get that both teams are really well-run, deep, talented and clearly positioning themselves to get big contributions from young players (Hamilton and Tony Cingrani in Cincinnati, Gregory Polanco and Jameson Taillon in Pittsburgh). But just because it's conceivable they could both make the playoffs again doesn't mean they're disqualified from the Most Unimproved competition. Sorry. We can't stop people from voting for them if that's how they see it.
Fun poll fact: You can tell, by that five-team, third-place tie, that there was feverish competition in this category. The Phillies had actually led that field before their A.J. Burnett signing. But when the polls finally closed, incredibly, 10 of the 15 NL teams had gotten multiple votes for Most Unimproved, which again tells us how unaggressive many NL teams were this winter. The exception was the Diamondbacks. They were plenty active. But our voters were stunningly divided on how it all worked out. They got five Most Improved votes, but three Most Unimproved votes. And that's almost unheard of in our humble polling experience.
This is almost impossible, but see those three incognito teams above? They're the same three that were picked in last year's survey. And in the same order! So if we have this straight, they've gone from unrecognizable to less recognizable? Hard to do. But the Astros continue to set standards for unrecognizability that are almost impossible to match. Do names like L.J. Hoes, Robbie Grossman and Jesus Guzman ring a bell? Bagwell, Biggio and Berkman they're not. But they are actual members of the Astros' projected starting lineup this season. "Wow," said one NL GM. "I don't even know if I could name them." Hey, join the masses.
Fun poll facts: and now for something completely different -- the Yankees got four votes in this category. The Yankees. Seriously. See what happens when your closer heads back to the Canal Zone and your favorite headline-grabbing third baseman is ostracized by the proper authorities? Hey, we don't want to deny anyone in this poll their right to vote as they choose, but our take on this is: The Yankees couldn't win this category if their entire roster retired.