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December 21, 2012

Pebble Hunting

Searching for the Worst Game of 2012

by Sam Miller

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About a year ago, I wrote about the search for the worst baseball game of the 2011 season, and then about a little less than a year ago I watched that game and wrote about that. It was a terrible game, but it was also, as it turned out, a wonderful game, in no small part due to my favorite screengrab ever:


It has occurred to me more than once that I lucked out and landed on a game that was terrible and also wonderful. If I perform this exercise again, I’m terrified that I’m going to get a game that is just terrible, and not wonderful. Still I press on. Here begins the search for the worst game of the 2012 season, which will lead to self-examination and a pursuit of the most important questions about baseball and spectatorship.

As with last year, there are two primary methods we are using. The first is filtering for the lowest Average Leverage Indexes, as kept by Baseball-Reference. ALI tells us, essentially, how significant to the outcome of the game each plate appearance was. It helps us distinguish between all the many blowouts by identifying the blowouts where scarcely a single moment of tension existed. The second method is looking at the contenders to see which are disqualified for being not terrible enough. So, counting down, here are the worst games by leverage; within, we will find the worst game by merits. (Quick note: "Last interesting play" refers to the last play in which the losing team has a better-than-two-percent chance of winning. It marks, then, the moment the game quit being in the slightest doubt.)

20. April 22: Astros 12, Dodgers 0, aLI .2615
Last interesting play: Top of the fourth, nobody out.
Redeeming qualities: Jordan Schafer hit a grand slam in the second inning, and this is how close it was to not happening:


Actually hits off Ethier’s glove, but goes over the wall, all but ends the drama of this game, and causes Android Ethier to immediately power down and lie still against the wall for the rest of the game, for  energy conservation. In a different universe, Ethier catches it, and this man’s belly button is never actually seen!


19. Sept. 21: Rays 12, Blue Jays 1, aLI .2615
Last interesting play: Top of the fourth, one out.
Redeeming qualities: James Shields pitched seven shutout innings, striking out nine and walking one. Last year’s search introduced the Great Pitcher Great Pitching exemption for all terrible games, which states that if you go to a game that your team’s ace is pitching and he pitches like an ace, it is not a terrible game. It is actually the best game, regardless of how lopsided the score. Also,



them Rays can turn anybody into an effective reliever, nahmean?

18. Aug. 11: Braves 9, Mets 3, aLI .261
Last interesting play: Bottom of the second, one out.
Redeeming qualities: Kris Medlen didn’t allow a run over the final five innings. Wouldn’t have seemed like much of a thing, but Medlen didn’t allow an earned run in any of his next 35 innings, either, so this was the start of something. Kris Medlen had 84 strikeouts and 10 walks as a starter, by the way. I know you know about Medlen, but that seems like something you should definitely be sure to know.

17. Aug. 6: Twins 14, Indians 3, aLI .258
Last interesting play: Top of the second, two outs.
Redeeming qualities: I wrote extensively about this game already, so I’m not doing it again. That’s it.

16. April 23: Diamondbacks 9, Phillies 5, aLI .254
Last interesting play: Nobody out, top of the ninth.
Redeeming qualities: Between the eighth and ninth innings, the Phillies, trailing by nine, managed to get eight base hits in a row. There was a man thrown out at home to end the eighth, but the Phillies put up five runs and got another runner on before the first out was made in the ninth. I’d seen a team come back from eight, but never nine. Still haven’t! But for a few minutes there was the giddy feeling it might be happening, and the Diamondbacks were probably one batter away from using closer J.J. Putz, who was warming up.

15. May 1: Tigers 9, Royals 3, aLI .254
Last interesting play: Bottom of the third, one out.
Redeeming qualities: Game was two hours, 27 minutes. From last year’s rules: “Takes more time than that to marinate the suck.”

14. July 25: A’s 16, Blue Jays 0, aLI .246
Last interesting play: Top of the second, one out.
Redeeming qualities: This catch, the quality of which remains very controversial in my household:


Note, with regards to the relief pitcher who is caught unawares as he presses up against the chain-link fence: A left-handed person pumping his left fist looks odd. Like Jimmy Stewart.

13. May 20: Brewers 16, Twins 4, aLI .242
Last interesting play: Top of the fourth, one out.
Redeeming qualities: Drew Butera pitched. From The Rules: “Position player pitching is always too interesting to be the worst game of the year. Position player pitching is like a surprise stinger-gag at the end of the movie credits.” A few notes about Drew Butera’s inning on the mound:

  • Got a strikeout swinging;
  • Broke a bat;
  • No ball left the infield;
  • 4.09 xFIP;
  • Charged with a wild pitch. This was the wild pitch:

 

That's a pretty ungenerous wild pitch. He also walked with the bases load in the next half-inning, which means Kameron Loe walked the pitcher with the bases loaded and a 13-run lead, which I would just like to note for the record.

12. Oct. 1: Yankees 10, Red Sox 2, aLI .238
Last interesting play: Bottom of the second, two outs.
Redeeming qualities: This was the third-to-last game of the year, and it was being played at the same time as the Orioles’ game; the combination of results put the Yankees all alone in first place, a very big deal. Furthermore, it was against Boston, ruling it out under the Rivalry exemption for terrible games.

11. May 2: Cardinals 12, Pirates 3, aLI .2225
Last interesting play: Bottom of the third, nobody out.
Redeeming qualities: Not a whole lot. Carlos Beltran had two homers, three hits, and seven RBIs through three innings, putting the threat of a record night in play for a few innings. Rod Barajas got ejected but it was an extremely dull and colorless ejection. Perhaps played in reverse?


Not really. This is a contender, though the few innings that one could imagine Beltran hitting five homers or driving in 15 might have made the whole thing worth it. (He singled and grounded out and that was it.)

10. June 4: A’s 12, Rangers 1, aLI .2185
Last interesting play: Top of the third, nobody out.
Redeeming qualities: Craig Gentry pitched, Jarrod Parker threw a one-hitter.

9. July 17: Angels 13, Tigers 0, aLI .2165
Last interesting play: Bottom of the fifth, one out.
Redeeming qualities: Under the Extremely Hot Superstar Doing Extremely Hot Things exemption, Mike Trout eliminates this from contention by going 4-for-6, homering and lifting his league-leading average to .355.

8. Sept. 17: Orioles 10, Mariners 4, aLI .213
Last interesting moment: Top of the fourth, one out.
Redeeming qualities: Manny Machado played, which is always worthwhile, but this was a brutal game. Even the closeness of the score is a lie and tinged with disappointment, as it was really just the Orioles ruining their pythagorean record by letting a few runs in late (while never giving up 100 percent win probability). There was a little bit of a narrative in Chris Tillman pitching against his old team, and pitching very well. Pretty solidly bad game, though.

7. August 17: Giants 10, Padres 1, aLI .212
Last interesting moment: Top of the third, one out.
Redeeming qualities: Matt Cain pitching like an ace.

6. May 25: Rangers 14, Blue Jays 3, aLI .207
Last interesting moment: Bottom of the third, nobody out.
Redeeming qualities: Jeff Mathis pitching. Mathis pitched a scoreless inning, but he also thought he allowed a home run, which was interesting to somebody who likes to watch pitchers’ reactions to home runs. This is what a position player does when he thinks he has given up a home run:



Step 1: Freeze, like as if he has bumped into a dinosaur and dinosaurs can only see motion
Step 2: Little gassy.

5. April 21: Rangers 10, Tigers 4, aLI .201
Last interesting moment: Bottom of the fifth, nobody out
Redeeming qualities: Historical importance, as Miguel Cabrera homered. Perhaps because it was the first game of a doubleheader, it was very fast (2:34), with only one walk between the two teams and just three pitching changes total.

4. Sept. 20: Philies 16, Mets 1, aLI .1895
Last interesting moment: Bottom of the second, one out.
Redeeming qualities: This was a brutal one, too. It being September, the Mets used 10 different pitchers, perhaps one of which an average fan has heard of and perhaps four of whom the superfan has. (Somehow the game still took just 3:07.) By the end, the Mets lineup was: Fred Lewis, Ronny Cedeno, Andres Torres, Ramon Ramirez, Lucas Duda, Justin Turner, Mike Baxter, Kelly Shoppach, Jordany Valdespin. The Phillies scored seven runs in the ninth inning, at which point I can’t imagine which team cared about those seven runs less; a run was walked in, and another was HBP’d in. Jason Bay pinch-hit. This is just a spectacular contender.

3. June 13: Giants 10, Astros 0, aLI .1895
Last interesting moment: Bottom of the third, one out.
Redeeming moments: Talk about a snoozefest. Not only could the Astros not score off of Matt Cain, they couldn’t get even a single hit. For that matter, not a single baserunner reached against Cain. Just 27 up, 27 down. Feel bad for the poor fools who bought tickets to that game.

2. July 3: White Sox 19, Rangers 2, aLI .169
Last interesting moment: Top of the fifth, nobody out.
Redeeming moments: It was Kevin Youkilis’ first home game with the White Sox, and he hit his first home run for the White Sox. Surely an important memory for those White Sox fans who will never forget that Kevin Youkilis played there for three months once. Chris Sale pitched well.

1. May 30: Mariners 21, Rangers 8, aLI .1545
Last interesting moment: Top of the third, nobody out.
Redeeming moments: It was 16-0 by the middle of the third. That’s not a redeeming moment, just a fact. This was a brutal, brutal game, and I want to pick this as the worst game because I ordinarily enjoy watching the Mariners and the Rangers, but there’s something about Seattle scoring 21 runs that is too fun and is-this-real-life-okay-now-I-have-two-fingers to be totally pointless. For instance,

They've now scored 228 runs on the season with 13.6 percent of those coming in the last two games.

Much as I’d rather write about this game, I must concede it is more interesting than the Phillies’ 16-1 September victory over the Mets.

So that's settled: The worst game of the year was on Sept. 20, when the Phillies beat the Mets by a score of 16-1 and Jason Bay pinch-hit. I'm going to watch this game, and I'm going to write about it. I'm not sure when, and last year I put this off for more than two weeks before I could bring myself to do it, but I'm going to do it. I'm going to do it hard.

Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sam's other articles. You can contact Sam by clicking here

Related Content:  Leverage Index,  Worst Game

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