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June 5, 2010

You Can Blog It Up

The 2010 Orioles: One of the Worst Teams of All Time?

by Steven Goldman

With their ninth straight loss on Friday, the Orioles’ team winning percentage to .273. This puts them on a pace for a record of 44-118. It is a very, very special place to be in historically. This is probably my favorite list in all of baseball:

 

YEAR

PCT

W

L

1. A's

1916

.235

36

117

2. Braves

1935

.248

38

115

3. Mets

1962

.250

40

120

4. Senators

1904

.252

38

113

5. A's

1919

.257

36

104

6. Tigers

2003

.265

43

119

7. Pirates

1952

.273

42

112

8. Senators

1909

.276

42

110

9. Phillies

1942

.278

42

109

10. Red Sox

1932

.279

43

111

10. Browns

1939

.279

43

111

10. Phillies

1941

.279

43

111

These are the 12 worst single-season teams in modern baseball history, the team’s that were as wonderfully bad as the greatest teams in history were good. Near perfection, in any direction, is something to be cherished. The Orioles now sit with the ’52 Pirates. Consider how each of the teams ahead of the Orioles got there:

1916 A’s: Between being swept out of the 1914 World Series and the upward pressure on salaries from the Federal League, Connie Mack decided he was sick of a roster that had won four pennants. He dealt away most of his stars and restocked the team with kids he found in local orphanages. That last is an exaggeration, but only a slight one; it seems the most likely explanation for why 20-year-old Whitey Witt got through the whole season as the starting shortstop despite making 78 errors—Connie couldn’t get rid of Witt because he’d adopted him.

1935 Braves: The odd thing about the ’35 Braves is that they weren’t really that bad. Most of the same cast went 78-73 in 1934 and 71-83 in 1936. In ’35 they underplayed their Pythagorean record by 12 games, taking what should have been a bad but not historic 103-loss season and turning it into something memorable. The collapse of the Braves remains a difficult thing to explain. I’m sure it had something to do with the demoralization that came with the futile state of team finances, the threat of being moved out of Braves Field in favor of a dog racing track, and having a 40-year-old, fat and cranky Babe Ruth forced on the manager, but we’ll never know for sure.

1962 Mets: A first-season expansion team picking out of an unfairly limited pool. ‘Nuff said.

1904 Senators: An unstable club in the backwash of the American League’s jump up to major league status, the Senators suffered from constant changes of ownership and management, as well as some bad deals and their biggest star, Ed Delahanty, walking off a bridge in 1903.

1919 A’s: Three years later, Connie Mack was still trying to put his team back together. It would be awhile.

2003 Tigers: The perfect marriage of not hitting (the Tigers wouldn’t take a walk if you offered them 0% financing) and not pitching, combined with the effects of living with one of the deadest farm systems in history for about 10 years.

1952 Pirates: This team was sort of planned by Branch Rickey. He had been hired to rebuild the Pirates in 1950, 23 years after the club’s last pennant and 12 years after they had last seriously contended.  In ’52, Rickey proclaimed a youth movement and stuffed the lineup with kids like 20-year-old first baseman Tony Bartirome, 21-year-old shortstop Dick Groat, 19-year-old center fielder Bobby Del Greco, and pitchers Bob Friend (21), Ron Kline (20), Ron Necciai (20) and Jim Waugh (18). All of the aforementioned except Friend were rookies. The only veteran of note was Ralph Kiner, and as good as he was he wasn’t enough—the team wasn’t ready to hit, pitch, or field, and some of the kids never would be (Groat, Friend, and Kline were the keepers).

How did the 2010 Orioles get into the conversation with these teams? They’re most similar to the 2003 Tigers in that they’ve finally reached the end of their ability to survive their farm system. The curious thing is that (a) it probably should have happened earlier and (b) it wasn’t supposed to happen now, as the farm, while still leaving Nick Markakis as the Lone Ranger among the position players, the pitchers had begun to arrive. Offense has been a huge problem. You would expect that if the hitting coach was anyone other than the greatly respected Terry Crowley he would have been canned by now, especially with young hitters like Matt Wieters, Adam Jones, and Nolan Reimold trending backwards.

The O’s have also been badly punished by the injury to Brian Roberts, which has led them to give Ty Wigginton more playing time—good for the offense, very bad for the defense. At 36, Miguel Tejada has neither the reactions nor the hands for third base, and Reimold’s injuries had rendered him a sub-Luzinski fielder before he was sent down. If the Braves of Tom Glavine’s early years showed anything, it’s that no matter how talented your young pitchers are, you can’t get them established in the big leagues if you put a poor defense behind them.

Unlike the teams above, whose seasons have long been in the clubhouse, the Orioles have a chance to turn things around and avoid permanent placement on this list. Jones and Wieters could find themselves. Andy MacPhail could locate a first baseman who could give the team more than the aggregate .217/.288/.273 (holy moly!) they’ve received at the position. Chris Tillman, who probably should have been in the bigs all along, could settle down and give them a third starter with decent numbers. That by itself would probably be enough to boost them off of this list and into the realm of the forgettable mediocre.

It could happen, but at this point I hope it doesn’t. I was excited to see an improved Orioles club this year, but that expectation having died hard, I have embraced the idea that they could be so, so much more than anyone had predicted, a team for the ages. All they have to do is keep doing what they’re doing.

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

Related Content:  Rookies Of The Year

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