The cream of the crap (Part 1)by Chris Jaffe
July 02, 2007
A year and a half ago, some Yankees fans at the Baseball Think Factory had a great idea: Take a poll to determine the 28 greatest teams in baseball history, and run 1000 simulations to figure out who really were the best of the best. This notion was actually feasible because one poster, SG of the Replacement Level Yankee Weblog had already set up a program that would automatically run 1000 DMB sims for a given league over a few days.
You'd expect a bunch of Yankees fans to want to run a simulation of the greatest teams ever. After all, most of the teams under consideration are their squads. Me? I'm a Cubs fan. By definition I have no interest in quality baseball. I think it would be really cool to run 1000 sims of the game's worst teams and see what happens. I've already found out from a previous study of mine that SG is willing to run 1000 sims for others. So... if I could just choose the 28 worst, ask SG to run them, man, wouldn't that be a hoot?
Choosing the 28
I need to set some guidelines to choose the 28:
- I want representation of all eras. If you just went by record or Pythagoras mark, older teams would almost universally dominate. Ideally, I'd have two or three teams per decade.
- Strike a balance between the worst one-year clubs and the historic doormats. I don't know if the Kansas City A's ever had one of the 28 worst single seasons of all-time, but when you're as bad as often as they were, there should be a place for them. Or the 21st century Devil Rays, or the 1970s Rangers, or the Cubs from 1909 till now.
- Look at both actual won-loss and Pythagorean records. Actual matters, because, hey, that was there real mark. It's also going into a computer sim, so let's look at run differential as well.
- Unless they did incredibly badly, avoid expansion teams for their first three to four years.
- Don't get carried away with any of the above. This is supposed to be a fun little thing, not some scientific research effort. The goal's to find the 28 teams I'd most like to see in this.
- One key rule: avoid redundant teams. The 1962 and 1963 Mets arguably both deserve a mention, but that would just be stupid.
Franchises of the damned
For the sims, I'll divide them into four divisions divvied up chronologically. Mind you, all teams play all comers. SG set it up so each squad played the other 27 teams six games apiece.
Here are the teams, their won-loss marks, and Pythagorean marks using the Pythagenpat variable exponent formula (note: B-ref doesn't use the variable exponent, so their Pythagorean records may be different):
Division one: The oldest seven
1899 Cleveland Spiders, 20-134 Actual; 23-131 Pythagenpat: Doing this study and not including them is like going to the Sistine Chapel and not looking up.
1904 Washington Senators, 38-113 Actual; 42-109 Pythagenpat: Yeah, they were pretty bad. The year before they won 43 games. How many teams win 43 and then get worse? Last in both runs scored and allowed.
1908 St. Louis Cardinals, 49-105 Actual; 45-109 Pythagenpat: Rotten team with an even worse Pythagenport record. One of the few teams to have a Pythagenpat percentage under .300. Fewest runs scored, and most runs allowed per game of any team in the league.
1909 Boston Braves, 45-108 Actual; 48-105 Pythagenpat: From 1903-1912, the Braves went 518-980. Yeessh. The '09 squad had the worst record of the bunch.
1910 St. Louis Browns, 47-107 Actual; 45-109 Pythagenpat: They also lost 107 the next year. And 101 in 1912. This club, though, had an even worse Pythagenpat mark than it's actual record. Not may 107 loss teams can say that. Last in the league in both runs scored and runs allowed. Despite playing in the best pitchers' park in the league they allowed more than a run per game over league average.
1916 Philadelphia A's, 36-117 Actual; 41-112 Pythagenpat: Worst real life winning percentage of any 20th century team. In mid-summer they lost 63 of 69. Yes, you read that right.
1926 Boston Red Sox, 46-107 Actual; 49-104 Pythagenpat: Worst AL team from 1916 to 1932.
1928 Philadelphia Phillies, 43-109 Actual; 49-103 Pythagenpat: The Phillies had one winning season from 1918-48. In the other years, they were never above .500 from July 1 onward.
1932 Boston Red Sox, 43-111 Actual; 44-110 Pythagenpat: If you're wondering, there's almost no overlap with the '26 club. Three players were on both: Jack Rothrock, who had 17 AB in 1926; Danny MacFayden, who pitched 13 innings in '26, and Jack Russell wh
o tossed 39.7 innings in 1932. After turning over the roster of the worst AL club of the 1920s, Boston ended up with the worst AL team next decade. One of the worst Pythagenpat clubs of all-time. Last in runs allowed and scored.
1935 Boston Braves, 38-115 Actual; 49-106 Pythagenpat: A no-brainer. Random fact: Prior to 2003, they had the oldest pitching staff in baseball history.
1939 St. Louis Browns, 43-111 Actual, 51-103 Pythagenpat: Maybe the worst Browns team of them all. Going by DER, they had one of the worst defenses ever.
1942 Philadelphia Phillies, 42-109 Actual; 40-111 Pythagenpat: From 1938-42, the Phillies were dead last in both runs scored and runs allowed four times in five years. They were the inverse to the McCarthy Yanks. This was their worst squad. I almost didn't include them because it was World War II, and their ace (nicknamed "Losing Pitcher," of course) had been drafted. However, the club had the worst Pythagenpat winning percentage of the 20th century. You have to, uh, "respect" that. Their owner in these years was a corrupt fool whom the league banned for the game. He proved he was corrupt by betting on the Phillies, in clear violation of league rules. He showed he was a fool by betting on them to win.
1952 Pittsburgh Pirates, 42-112 Actual; 48-106 Pythagenpat: The losingest team from 1936-61.
1954 Philadelphia A's, 51-103 Actual; 45-109 Pythagenpat: How'd you like to win a bunch of bar bets in the nerdiest watering hole in the world? (If you go into the nerdhole stop and say "hi." I'm the schmuck in the corner drinking water.) You can stump the band with this question: What team has the worst Pythagenpat winning percentage since World War II ended? It's this bunch, in their last year in Philly. They lost two-thirds of their games while wildly exceeding their expected record.
1961 Philadelphia Phillies, 47-107 Actual; 55-99 Pythagenpat: They needed the Mets to show up a year earlier.
1962 New York Mets, 40-120 Actual; 49-111 Pythagenpat: Let's not get carried away with avoiding expansion teams.
1964 Kansas City A's, 57-105 Actual; 59-103 Pythagenpat: 13 years in KC, and the A's had six last place finishes, four times next-to-last, and zero winning records.
1969 Padres, 52-110 Actual; 48-114 Pythagenpat: Yup, that's right, by Pythagenpat they were worse than the '62 Mets. That deserves an entry.
1973 Texas Rangers, 57-105 Actual; 58-104 Pythagenpat: They had back-to-back years with winning percentages lower than .352. Aside from brand-spanking new clubs, the only other franchise to do that in the last half-century was the Tigers, in 2002 and 2003. Last in runs scored and allowed. That's tough to do in a 12-team league.
1974 San Diego Padres, 60-102 Actual, 51-111 Pythagenpat: I know it's controversial to include to early Padres clubs but: 1) all main starting pitchers and eight position players had changed since '69; 2) they may only have lost 102, but they have one of the very worst Pythagenpat records of the last 60 years. Like the 1926 and 1932 Red Sox, they churned sucktitude in impressive fashion. Last in both runs scored and allowed.
1976 Montreal Expos, 55-107 Actual, 58-104 Pythagenpat: Most losses by a non-brand new NL team from 1961-1997. Last in the league in runs scored and allowed.
1979 Oakland A's, 54-108 Actual, 52-110 Pythagenpat: In a 14-team league, they were last in runs scored, and allowed only two fewer runs than the worst pitching team. Given that a rival lost 109 games that year, that's incredibly bad
1988 Baltimore Orioles, 54-107 Actual; 55-106 Pythagenpat: The only truly terrible season of the decade.
1996 Detroit Tigers, 53-109 Actual; 54-108 Pythagenpat: With 1,103 runs allowed, their team ERA was a full run worse than any other team in the league.
1998 Florida Marlins, 54-108 Actual; 57-105 Pythagenpat: After the fire sale.
2002 Tampa Bay Devil Rays, 55-106 Actual; 57-104 Pythagenpat: I'm willing to use expansion as an excuse for about four years. This was their fifth year, clearly their worst, and in nine years they've still yet to lose under 90 games.
2003 Detroit Tigers, 43-119 Actual; 48-114 Pythagenpat: Random trivia time: Of the original 16 teams, the Tigers were the final ones to come in last place; didn't happen until 1952. They sure made up for lost time in the Bobby Higginson-era.
2004 Arizona Diamondbacks, 51-111 Actual; 53-109 Pythagenpat: Normally 111-loss teams do far worse than their Pythagenpat projections. Last in runs scored while playing in a hitter's park. Adjust for park, and they nearly had the worst hitting and pitching in a 16-team league. That's almost impossible.
Well, that's the 28 going into the hopper. I'll give you the results in part two.
Almost bad enough
Trying to pick the worst 28, no matter how you do it, is more art than science. If I did it a second time a few weeks later, I'd have 22-25 of the same teams, but not all 28. If I did it a third time, I'd have an ever-so-slightly different batch. There's no clear break between the 28th and 29th worst teams. However, there are about 15-20 that would always make it, and those are the important ones. Before leaving, I should give some honorable mentions:
1905 Brooklyn Superbas, 48-104 Actual; 45-107 Pythagenpat: Lowest Pythagenpat winning percentage, .2973, of any non-redundant, non-World War II 20th century team not involved. But I already had five teams from 1899-1910.
1908 New York Highlanders, 51-103 Actual; 48-106 Pythagenpat: Maybe the worst Yankees club ever (far worse Pythagenpat mark than their 1912 squad), which is reason for inclusion right there. But there are already too many terrible teams from back then. Besides, they'd be one of the best teams out there, and who wants to see the Yankees win? (Fun fact: they were in first place as late as July).
1915 Baltimore Terrapins, 47-107 Actual; 55-99 Pythagenpat: Worst Federal League team, but their Pythagenpat mark is nothing special.
1921 Philadelphia Phillies, 51-103 Actual; 49-105 Pythagenpat: Actually a worse Pythagenpat mark than the 109-loss 1928 team, but the difference in actual records is more pronounced.
1924 Boston Braves, 53-100 Actual; 48-105 Pythagenpat: Depending on how much emphasize you place on Pythagenpat vs. sctual record, either they or the '28 Phillies were the worst NL team of the 1920s.
1936 Philadelphia A's, 53-100 Actual; 49-104 Pythagenpat: One of the worst teams of the decade, but not special enough to make the cut.
1945 Phillies, 46-108 Actual; 46-108 Pythagenpat: Almost no overlap with the '42 club, making it by Pythagenport the worst non-redundant team not in the Grate 28. It hardly seems fair to toss in a 1945 WWII team, though. That aversion to teams deep into World War II is why there's only one 1940s team in the project.
1949 Washington Senators, 50-104 Actual; 49-105 Pythagenpat: Very nearly made the cut. Maybe they should've, but it's a tough crowd.
1951 St. Louis Browns, 52-102 Actual; 52-102 Pythagenpat: One of the worst teams of the 1950s, but that was a pretty good decade for parity. Besides, there are already two Browns in it.
1962 Chicago Cubs, 59-103 Actual; 61-101 Pythagenpat: Sure lots of teams have lost 103 in a year. But how many have lost 103 while playing a 120-loss team 18 times? Plus they're possibly the worst Cubs team ever. Improbably, the Cubs never had a team bad enough to qualify here.
1963 Washington Senators, 56-106 Actual; 56-106 Pythagenpat: Their third consecutive 100-loss season, and they were last in both runs scored and runs allowed. But, I cut them some slack as an expansion, and it was a tough period to really stand out in. As is, I included three other teams from 1961-4.
1969 Montreal Expos, 52-110 Actual; 59-103: I think they're the losingest non-redundant team I left out. Expansion squads that arguably deserved a slot in at least one of their first three years of existence: Senators, Mets, Padres, Expos, and Blue Jays. That's half the first 10. That's why I hesitate to include them.
1979 Toronto Blue Jays, 53-109 Actual; 56-106 Pythagenpat: This was a tough one as they had three straight hideous seasons, but a lot of expansion squads are horrific.
1980 Seattle Mariners, 59-103 Actual, 60-102 Pythagenpat: Nearly made it because they were so bad all decade long, but they were never quite bad enough.
1982 Minnesota Twins, 60-102 Actual; 64-98 Pythagenpat: I so badly wanted to put this team in. 1982 was when I first started watching baseball, and they've always been my benchmark for a terrible team. They lost 52 of their first 67. Even the '03 Tigers didn't begin that poorly.
1988 Atlanta Braves, 54-106 Actual; 59-103 Pythagenpat: Their record was bad enough, but Pythagenport doesn't think they're too terrible. The 1980s were a golden age for parity, and they got squeezed out.
2005 Kansas City Royals, 56-106 Actual; 59-103 Pythagenpat: It really hurt leaving them out. They're the first non-debut franchise to have three straight losing seasons in a half-century. Two of those years were 104 and 106 losses. Between the '02 Rays, '03 Tigers, '04 D-backs, and '05 Royals I had to leave someone out. Two of those teams lost 110+ games, and the Rays had worse real and Pythagenport marks.
If you want to find out how these bums shake out, well, that's what part two is for.
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.
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