Cream of the crap (Part 2)by Chris Jaffe
July 09, 2007
Last week I took the 28 teams I thought were the worst in baseball history and threw 'em together for the ultimate contest to see just who really was the worst of the worst. Like every good battle, this needs an arena, and this was the 1000 DMB computer sims run by SG at the Replacement Level Yankee Weblog. Having explained my choices for the bottom 28 in part one, now it's the fun part, checking the results and seeing how these half-baked monstrosities cooked. Let's find out just who were the bleakest of the blighted, the most doomed of the damned, and the squads that really put the "Ugh" into ugly. It's bad enough to lose 100 games in real life. Imagine how bad a club has to be to lose 100 here. Ugh, indeed.
At the risk of being anti-climatic, the reason is question isn't who was the worst, but who was the second worst. No team can be as bad as the 1899 Cleveland Spiders. Their winning percentage was over 100 points lower than the mark of any other club in history. The real question is how much distance there would be between them and the next-to-worst team. Over 1000 sims, how many times will they escape the cellar? How often will they end up with a winning record? Will they ever even—dare I think it—come in first? Sure they sucked, but look at their opponents.
All teams played the others six games each. I divide them into four divisions based on when they played to make it easier to compare teams to their chronological peers. That's key because the further back you go, the more extreme win-loss records get. In the chart I'll give you their wins and losses of courses (rounded to the tenths spot to distinguish between ties), runs scored & allowed, the most wins a club had, the fewest, the number of times they came in first (among all 28 squads, not just their division), number of times in last, as well as their real life win-loss record.
First, the Cleveland Spiders Division. Let's see how many times they crawled out of last:
Team W L RS RA Best Worst First Last Real W-L 1926 Red Sox 84.2 77.8 604 565 104 63 25 0 46-107 1909 Braves 78.8 83.2 696 718 98 58 3.2 0 45-108 1910 Browns 78.1 83.9 650 674 100 57 5.1 0 47-107 1908 Cards 76.2 85.8 673 713 96 56 1.5 0.5 49-105 1904 Senators 76 86 668 704 96 56 2 1 38-113 1916 A's 75.9 86.1 883 941 96 55 1.5 0 36-117 1899 Spiders 45.8 116.2 587 947 64 31 0 998.5 20-134
OK, now I knew the Spiders were bad, OK? I knew they were going to finish this thing in last, but . . . MY GOD. . . How bad were they? Well . . .
- While no real life team (aside from the Spiders themselves of course) ever lost more than 120 games, the Spiders lost 121 or more in 212 different sims.
- In their best performance, a majestic 64-98 season, they still came in last.
- Not only did they peak with 64 wins, but they lost 100 or more games in the other 999.
- Against the worst offenses of all-time, their pitchers allowed at least 1,000 runs over 100 times. (Yes, SG really did give me RS & RA for each sim.)
- If they pulled a million-to-one shot and had their best pitching and hitting performances in the same sim, they still would've been outscored by over 100 runs.
The mind reels. And the stomach churns. I thought the Spiders would give a sense of scale to this enterprise, and I suppose they do. Compared to their thermonuclear weapon of self-destruction, the other clubs are mere popguns.
And if the Spiders were that bad, what does that tell us about the 1916 A's pitching staff? They allowed almost as many runs. Actually, they might be a little worse—after all, the Spiders pitchers never had the benefit of facing off against their own hitters.
Sure the 1904 Senators came in last once and the 1908 Cards tied the Spiders for last another time, but I wouldn't make too much of that. They happened to have a bad performance on those rare occasions the Spiders weren't so ludicrously bad.
Only one squad in this bunch with a winning record. The Red Sox did as well as they did on the strength of their pitching, averaging the fewest runs allowed per game of any of the 28 teams. Their staff was really bad, but they had several starters—including Red Ruffing—who were approaching average that year. Most teams would kill for average here.
Well, let's see how they did from the second quarter of the 20th century.
Team W L RS RA Best WorstFirstLast Real W-L 1952 Pirates 82.3 79.7 691 676 100 60 12.7 0 42-112 1928 Phillie 82 80 782 772 101 63 7.5 0 43-109 1935 Braves 80.7 81.3 696 695 103 61 5.5 0 38-115 1942 Phillie 80.6 81.4 663 665 99 63 6.3 0 42-109 1932 Red Sox 80.2 81.8 684 690 102 56 7 0 43-111 1939 Browns 76.5 85.5 725 773 100 52 2 0 43-111 1954 A's 72.8 89.2 667 743 93 52 0 0 52-102
Only two teams avoided winning the pennant in these simulations, the 1899 Spiders (of course) and the 1954 A's. I bet you never even heard these guys mentioned as a historically bad team, but they were. Going by ERA+, they had the worst pitching staff since America entered World War I. While the AL had an ERA of 3.72, they had over 800 innings from hurlers with ERAs over 5.00. They matched it with an historically dreadful offense that hit .236 as a whole. Here, they come out worse than any other twentieth century squad. Neat trick.
In real life, they exceeded their pythag projection, and in this case I don't think that was luck. It was their last year in Philly, and their overachievement occurred entirely at home. I assume people had to know this was it for the squad—the Browns left St. Louis the year before, and the Braves departed Milwaukee the year before that. Philly was next to give up the two-team attempt, and that probably helped their play in closer games.
What happens when you hit the expansion era?
Team W L RS RA Best Worst First Last Real W-L 1973 Ranger 87.9 74.1 770 701 110 70 94.2 0 57-105 1961 Philli 87.7 74.3 721 661 109 70 85.6 0 47-107 1976 Expos 87.6 74.4 699 642 107 65 69.9 0 55-107 1964 A's 87.5 74.5 796 736 107 65 77.5 0 57-105 1974 Padres 82.1 79.8 700 683 100 60 14.5 0 60-102 1962 Mets 81.5 80.5 716 711 104 60 13.5 0 40-120 1969 Padres 81.1 80.9 656 663 101 60 12.8 0 52-110
Every single last stinkin' one has a winning record. Isn't that nice? Really drills home how bad the '54 A's were, don't it?
Four of these squads do really well—the best of any teams so far—while the '62 Mets and those two Pads barely break even. I'll let you in on a little secret here. This is actually the second time I had SG run these sims. The first time I decided to only stick in one early Pads squad, and since the '69 club was an expansion year, I left them out. In that group of sims, the 1962 Mets actually slightly outperformed the 1974 Padres. Suddenly I knew I had to put both Padres clubs in. (I kicked out the 1980 Mariners).
The 1969 Padres actually had the worst offensive performance of any team in the most recent three divisions. No wonder—in real life they scored over 100 fewer runs than any other team in the league, including fellow 110-game losing expansion squad, the Expos.
The 1974 Padres avoided their place in infamy by going 31-16 in one-run games. Sometimes a great record in one-run games can mean the club had a great bullpen. The Padres relief corps were horrible. Or it could mean they were brilliantly managed. John McNamara? I don't think so. They just got lucky to only lose 102 games that year.
Let's see how the moderns do:
Team W L RS RA Best Worst First Last Real W-L 1988 Orioles 91.5 70.5 766 666 109 73 201.8 0 54-107 2004 D-backs 89.6 72.4 696 626 109 64 147.5 0 51-111 1996 Tigers 87.9 74.1 761 699 108 67 85.7 0 53-109 1998 Marlins 86.4 75.6 756 699 107 67 62.7 0 54-108 2002 D-Rays 85.6 76.4 767 718 104 65 46.5 0 55-106 2003 Tigers 82.2 79.8 748 737 100 65 8.5 0 43-119 1979 A's 79.4 82.6 705 711 98 58 6.5 0 54-108
I don't know for sure if there's an era adjustment in DMB, but looking at the results, there has to be. That's the only way to explain the performances of the 2003 Detroit Tigers of 1962 Mets. Thirteen of the 14 most recent squads had a winning record. And then there was the 1979 A's. Charles Finley had lost his dynasty in free agency, didn't have the resources to compete, had trouble drawing fans, and quit giving a ####.
My favorite story about that team concerns a man they hired to join their front office. A new man in charge of fan relations came into the front office, only to see there was no secretary, just a sign by the desk with crudely strewn words telling people where to get coffee. He asked for a list of season ticket holders, figuring it would be nice to send a courtesy letter to those who had hung through the bleak times. The entire list fit on a scrap of paper. That same dedication to service shone threw in their on-field talent. You want an argument that Billy Martin belongs in Cooperstown? Next year he showed up and took them to second place. Hercules couldn't clean that stable any better.
The two best teams of the entire sim are here. The D-backs may have lost 111 games in real life, but they had Randy Johnson. The Big Unit is easily the best player in this exercise. Baltimore had the best record despite being the only team from the 1980s here. Really affirms that decade as baseball's parity pinnacle.
OK, so the whole point is to figure out who was the worst team ever—so who was it? Easy, the original Mistake by the Lake: the 1899 Cleveland Spiders. The only way to avoid that conclusion is to declare that they don't count because they were more farce than franchise. Their owners bought the Cards prior to the season, put all the best players there and shipped the dross to Ohio.
Take them out and the main rivals are various A's teams. The 1917 and 1954 A's were the two next worst scores, and the 1979 group had the worst performance of any bunch from the last half-century. Teams I expected to do terribly—the '62 Mets and '03 Tigers—were bad, but they didn't stand out. Both came sixth in their groupings, and the Mets were about a half-game out of fifth.
The 1917 and 1979 A's both have mitigating factors for them. Similar to the Spiders, though not nearly as severely, the owners of those clubs weren't even trying. Instead of shipping all his players to St. Louis, he sent them everywhere but Philly. Sixty years later Finley seemed to be trying to alienate everyone in his anger over losing his dynasty.
Going purely by this, the 1954 A's are the worst 20th century squad. Defying the general trend of more recent = better, they had the worst record of the 20th century, and had no strong mitigating factors. In SG's sims, the 1954 F's had the sixth-worst offense and fifth-worst defense. The only other clubs in the bottom 10 for each were the Spiders (of course) and 1908 Cards (barely in the bottom 10 on both accounts). As mentioned earlier, I think this underrates the A's. I'd choose the 1917 A's as the worst team of the century, but I'd have to admit that the 1954 team belongs in the conversation.
History instructor by day, statnerd by night, Chris Jaffe leads one of the most exciting double lives imaginable; with the exception of every other double life possible to imagine. Despite his lack of comic-book-hero-worthiness, Chris enjoys farting around with this stuff. His new book, Evaluating Baseball's Managers is available for order. Chris welcomes responses to his articles via e-mail. Oh, and now he's on twitter.