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January 30, 2012

Pebble Hunting

Searching for the Worst Game of 2011

by Sam Miller

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There were 2,429 games in the major leagues in 2011. Each one of them was a miracle. Each one of them was a precious gift to us. Each one lit up our lives. But in a sample that large, at least one of those miracles is going to grow up to be Fred Phelps. This is an attempt to find the worst game of the 2011 baseball season.

STEP ONE: Average Leverage Index.

A 17-2 game is not a close game, and therefore not a very good game. But it might have been 2-1 into the seventh inning, so for two hours it was a good game. To really measure lopsidedness, to find a game detached from competitive urgency, we have to use Baseball-Reference's average leverage index. It measures the average leverage of each of a team's plate appearances in a game. For an entire game's aLI, we'll just mash the two teams' average leverage indexes together to get a simple average. Our lowest 20 games, by aLI:

  • Sept. 18: Dodgers 15, Pirates 1
  • June 21: Twins 9, Giants 2
  • April 13: Cardinals 15, Diamondbacks 5
  • September 18: Brewers 8, Reds 1
  • August 23: Dodgers 13, Cardinals 2
  • July 2: Giants 15, Tigers 3
  • May 25: Red Sox 14, Indians 2
  • May 19: Yankees 13, Orioles 2
  • September 6: Red Sox 14, Blue Jays 0
  • July 20: Padres 14, Marlins 3
  • April 18: Giants 8, Rockies 1
  • June 1: Indians 13, Blue Jays 9
  • July 25: Rangers 20, Twins 6
  • April 11: Rays 16, Red Sox 5
  • September 6: Tigers 10, Indians 1
  • July 30: Yankees 17, Orioles 3
  • May 29: Mets 9, Phillies 5
  • Sept 22: Rays 15, Yankees 8
  • July 29: Phillies 10, Pirates 3
  • July 8: Red Sox 10, Orioles 3

Twenty not-tense games. Not being tense doesn't mean the game is not worth watching, though. One of the most lopsided games I've seen in person was this one, a 16-4 Giants victory in 1997. All of the runs came in the first four innings, followed by two hours of nothing. It was Candlestick Park in July, so by the end of the game literally dozens of people literally died of literal hypothermia and had to literally be carried out in body bags, figuratively speaking. But also, my favorite player at the time, Bill Mueller, hit a massive home run into Candlestick's upper deck. And the most exciting player in the sport, Barry Bonds, homered. And the Giants' ace, Shawn Estes, got the win, and as he was chasing 20 wins that season this was exciting to me. And, even though they won by 12, the Giants did overcome two deficits on the way. This is one of the half-dozen most memorable Giants games I ever went to. Which is to say, a lack of leverage doesn't guarantee a worthless game. So…

STEP TWO: Game Redemption Checklist.

1. First time amazing thing happened
Eliminated: Rays/Yankees 09/22/2011.

Matt Moore pitched this game. It was his first major-league start. It was against the Yankees. He struck out 11, didn't allow a run. If Matt Moore turns out how we want Matt Moore to turn out, this is the game you tell your grandkids about, assuming your grandkids aren't little punk bastards. This was not only not the worst game of the year, it was one of the very best.

2. Closer than it looked.
Eliminated: Indians/Blue Jays, 06/01/2011.

The Indians jumped ahead 12-0 through two innings against Kyle Drabek and Shawn Camp. By win probability, the Indians were 100 percent likely to win by the end of the third inning. But the Blue Jays did put some life into the game, with three runs in the fifth, three in the sixth, and one in the seventh. The first three batters reached in the ninth, so the Blue Jays were within two bloops and a bomb of tying the game up. Not enough to make this a good game; it was a garbage game. But too exciting to be the worst game of the year.

3. Great starting pitcher pitches great start.
Eliminated: Phillies/Pirates, 07/29/2011.

Roy Halladay threw seven innings, walked nobody, allowed one hit. That's only the fifth time in his career he has allowed one hit or fewer in a start. This is basically the best-case scenario when you buy a ticket to this game, other than the better-case scenarios.

Also too good to be the worst game of the year: Jon Lester's seven shutout innings/11 strikeouts on 09/06/2011, Lester's six shutout innings on 05/25/2011, Zack Greinke's 10 Ks on 09/18/2011, CC Sabathia's eight shutout innings on 05/19/2011, and Clayton Kershaw's six shutout innings on 08/23/2011.

4. Crisp.
Eliminated: Giants/Rockies 04/18/2011

This game could be eliminated from this list for all sorts of reasons. Tim Lincecum struck out 10 and pitched brilliantly into the eighth inning. Ryan Vogelsong made his first appearance in the big leagues since 2006, a couple mop-up innings that we now know were the first innings of an amazing story. It was closer than it looked by virtue of being played in Coors Field. But it was also the quickest game on this list, 2 hours and 21 minutes. Can't be the worst game of the year in 2 hours and 21 minutes. Takes more time than that to marinate the suck. 

Also too fast to be the worst game of the year: Giants/Twins, 06/21/2011

5. Pennant-race rivalry.
Eliminated: Rays/Red Sox, 04/11/2011

Even in April, a Rays/Red Sox game carries too much significance to ignore. This game—in Tampa—was also Carl Crawford's first game against the Rays. Did you know that this game determined the entire American League Wild Card race? It's true, it technically did! Cooperstown should ask for Cesar Ramos' glove or something.

6. Michael Cuddyer pitches.
Eliminated: Rangers/Twins, 07/25/2011.

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.  Michael Cuddyer will retire with a 0.00 ERA. Michael Cuddyer will retire with a 9.76 xFIP.

Also: Marlins/Padres 07/20/2011 (Bryan Peterson, scoreless inning.)

7. Brawl.
Eliminated: Orioles/Red Sox, 07/08/2011.

Even a bad brawl excuses a game from this list. Especially a bad brawl, maybe. Baseball players are so bad at fighting that watching them fight badly is sort of the point. Imagine you were at a hockey game and, midway through, they all stopped playing hockey and started riding show horses around the ice. They would all fall down! It would be so funny! Baseball players fight like they're riding animals with which they're unfamiliar on a surface that is unconventional. This analogy is A-plus-plus.

These punches do not hit faces:

8. Extremely hot superstar doing hot superstar things.
Eliminated: Mets/Phillies, 05/29/2011.

Jose Reyes entered the game with five consecutive multi-hit games. He had four hits in this game.

9. “MVP!” chant.
Eliminated: Dodgers/Pirates, 09/18/2011.

Matt Kemp homered in the first. The crowd got to chant MVP. Matt Kemp drove in a run with a single in the second. The crowd got to chant MVP. Matt Kemp doubled and scored in the third. The crowd got to chant MVP. Matt Kemp went out to his position in the top of the sixth and Don Mattingly stopped the game so he could pull Kemp from the field, and the crowd got to stand and chant MVP.

Epilogue: Matt Kemp didn't win the MVP award.

10.  Metaphor!
Eliminated: Tigers/Indians, September 6, 2011.

From the MLB.com game story of this game:

“A magenta sky illuminated Progressive Field in the second inning on Tuesday. The visual captured the attention of the onlookers in the stands and offered them a reminder of the Indians' rosy start to the season.

“Minutes later, a pitch-black nighttime backdrop crept, reflecting the reality of how the brightness of the 2011 campaign has dimmed for the Indians.”

Admittedly, this isn't much of an endorsement for this game. (“How was the game, honey?” “Great. I saw a metaphor.”) But we're down to some really awful games.

Three games remaining. Yankees 17, Orioles 3; Giants 15, Tigers 3; Cardinals 15, Diamondbacks 5. The Yankees were the only home team of the three to win, so let's remove this game because at least there was a lot of cheering. Two awful, awful, awful games left. The Cardinals, though. Well. The Cardinals entered this game 4-7, in fifth place. They won this game, and the next three, and 12 of 16, and soon they were in first place. The Cardinals won the World Series. Lance Berkman had started slowly, but he hit four home runs in this series against the Diamondbacks, including a grand slam in this game. If you were writing the book about the 2011 Cardinals' season, you might use this game as a significant plot point. It's a big ol' stretch, but it's something.

So the worst game of the year is one that featured:

  • Barry Zito, winning pitcher;
  • Barry Zito striking out one batter in six innings;
  • An exciting young pitcher getting humiliated at home;
  • A 15-0 lead;
  • One of those three-inning saves where the reliever pitches like crud;
  • Emmanuel Burriss;
  • Virtually nothing that would have helped your fantasy team;
  • Not a single defensive highlight good enough to make MLB.com's wrap-up;
  • Victor Martinez getting injured;
  • And, oh yeah, a freaking two-hour, 46-minute rain delay.

That's all stuff that can be determined with just a quick glance at this game. To truly appreciate it as the worst game of the year probably requires a live blogging of it. So that's what I'll do next week. 


Sam Miller also writes for the Orange County Register.

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:  2011

23 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Degerman

Will someone please fix the smart quotes on this page?

Jan 30, 2012 00:34 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Joe Hamrahi
BP staff

Fixed...Sorry for the error.

Jan 30, 2012 05:06 AM
 
BurrRutledge

I'm looking forward to reading the transcript of the 'liveblog' for the worst game of the year. If there were no useful fantasy implications, then I suspect several of my team's starters must have played in it...

Jan 30, 2012 05:13 AM
rating: 2
 
cdmyers

Wow, I had forgotten that you could get a save by pitching three innings at the end of a game, regardless of the score. Just when you thought it was impossible for a statistic to be more useless, you're reminded of something like that.

Will you actually subject yourself to all 5+ hours of suck, or will you fast forward through the rain delay?

Jan 30, 2012 05:38 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Bill Parker
BP staff

"Wow, I had forgotten that you could get a save by pitching three innings at the end of a game, regardless of the score."

Never forget! http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/BAL/BAL200708221.shtml

Jan 30, 2012 09:31 AM
 
prapol

I don't know, there were three HR during this game (Sandoval, Tejada, and... Brandon Crawford?). I've been to games where there's no homers, and it certainly can feel like a disappointment. I might argue that any home runs at all should be a disqualifying factor.

Jan 30, 2012 05:55 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Sam Miller
BP staff

This is a valid point! I considered eliminating this game for that very reason, but ultimately I decided that home runs are no more exciting than the alternatives: long rallies, which are exciting because the values of a hit or an out go way up; or outs, which are exciting because they keep the game closer. But just because I decided that doesn't mean I'm not totally wrong.

Jan 30, 2012 06:36 AM
 
adrock

I was at the Orioles-Red Sox brawl game, which was truly horrible, up until the brawl, which was awesome in its incompetence.

Additional context: the game was over with 2 outs in the first inning (7-0, I believe); the Orioles made 3 errors in the first inning (only one of which was actually counted as an error by the scorekeeper--he was either interested in pumping up Sox' stats or protecting J.J. Hardy's fielding percentage, not sure which); and, it rained lightly throughout the entire game.

Also, and this may be evidence for its awesomeness, after the brawl the Orioles came off the field, then came back on, and a new reliever came in to warm up, as Gregg had been ejected. After warming up, the reliever left the field without throwing any pitches, and the Orioles cam out to hit in the top of the 9th.

There was no explanation, and thus mass confusion for 15 minutes. Mass, unconcerned confusion, as the game was totally uncompetitive. Apparently the runner from 3rd was called out for leaving the basepaths to participate in the brawl (awesome!)



Jan 30, 2012 06:48 AM
rating: 14
 
bubba3m

Bonus for the winning game: it's one of those interleague match-ups that nobody cares about!

Jan 30, 2012 07:05 AM
rating: 12
 
WaldoInSC

Is that less exciting than an intra-league match-up that nobody cares about?

Jan 30, 2012 19:39 PM
rating: -2
 
R.A.Wagman

The Blue Jays were the "victims" of some truly horrible baseball games against the Red Sox this year. I was at one - not the one mentioned in this piece, but the one in which Mike McCoy pitched an inning in relief. I believe it was the only 3-up, 3-down inning the Blue Jays got from their pitching staff.
I was also at the June 1 game against Cleveland. A truly horrible home game which had some late inning redeeming factors. Yes, the Indians led 12-0 by the middle of the 3rd.
Kyle Drabek could not find the strike zone with a GPS. The box score only lists two errors, but it does not mention how laughable the errors were, both misplays of routine popups.
Corey Patterson batting 2nd added to the humility.
The true saving grace of the game was an incredible sequence in the bottom of the 5th, when, with one out, Eric Thames, Rajai Davis and Jayson Nix amazingly hit back-to-back-to-back triples. I had never seen that before.
While this will not save Sam from live-blogging the decrepit Giants-Tigers game, I did blog this stink-fist - http://section203.wordpress.com/2011/06/03/you-can-learn-a-lot-by-watching-%E2%80%93-june-1-2011-%E2%80%93-cleveland-toronto-forfeit/

Jan 30, 2012 08:13 AM
rating: 0
 
jhardman

Who is to say Michael Cuddyer will retire with that pitching line? He may pitch again!

Jan 30, 2012 08:36 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Sam Miller
BP staff

I don't quite know why that comment made me think of this:

https://twitter.com/#!/gourmetspud/status/139368440149450754

Jan 30, 2012 09:14 AM
 
klipzlskim

There are some intangibles though that can't be measured by the score. I've been to quite a few A's-Mariners games that made me want to jam a fork in my eye. Oakland's "$2 Wednesday" games always seem to be against Seattle, on a cold-ish night in the Coliseum. Hardly anyone in the stands, both teams throwing out 4th or 5th starters who shut down the opposing lineups through no fault of their own, and the winning run usually coming on errors and/or walks plus a sac fly. And they run out of Dollar Dogs by the 5th inning. Give me 15-3 any day.

Jan 30, 2012 10:37 AM
rating: 6
 
jgbauer

I agree with klipzlskim. My immediate thought before I read the article was "It has to be a late season Mariners/A's game." They are usually low scoring games and they may be close, but by September of 2011 the outcome and score were meaningless because the games were meaningless before they even started. And it doesn't matter whether the game is in Seattle or Oakland, it's bound to be cold, miserable and boring. Here in Seattle, the only games even close to as bad are when we face our "natural rivals" the Padres, but at least those occur earlier in the season.......

Jan 30, 2012 11:44 AM
rating: 0
 
yadenr

Don't forget the role venue can play in this. Growing up a Mariners fan in the late 80's and early 90's combined a special kind of mediocrity with a soul crushing dome. There must have been dozens of games that would qualify for this honor. Also: why are so many Mariners fans chiming in here?

Jan 30, 2012 21:52 PM
rating: 0
 
cfinberg

I second your thesis. In my youth my parents once took me and my brother to "dogs get in free" night at Olympic Stadium. Souls would have been crushed for sure if there had actually been any present. I remember the PA being unbelievably shrill, the seats uncomfortable, and worst of all the so-called franks were kind of like summer sausage, except that they were really long and skinny and sort of red. They also came bathed in cheez wiz (which quite possibly improved them). I have no idea how I overcame this outing and ended up falling in love with baseball.

Jan 30, 2012 23:08 PM
rating: 0
 
yadenr

Did they dress you up like dogs as well to take advantage of the promotion? I guess that would have made it more fun, if less noble.

Jan 31, 2012 09:05 AM
rating: 0
 
eighteen

That comparison of baseball brawling to hockey players riding show horses is truly a gem.

Jan 30, 2012 12:08 PM
rating: 1
 
beefshower

Yes! I was at the worst game of the year. I bought my Dad really great seats for this game as a Father's Day gift and we went together and sat in the worst thunderstorm I've ever seen. Just a non stop torrential downpour for hours and they refused to cancel the game. So my Dad and I went to get Thai food from a restaurant close to the stadium and he got really sick. So not only did I give him tickets to the worst game of the year, I also gave him food poisoning. Pretty sure I am going to get disinherited.

Jan 30, 2012 14:27 PM
rating: 12
 
bbrowder18

Pebble Hunting is becoming my favorite column on this site.

Jan 30, 2012 15:26 PM
rating: 6
 
Llarry

I think weather does need to be considered. Bad weather itself is not enough to make a bad game (visiting in SF once, I went to a Giants-Rockies game in the rain, but I saw Randy Johnson get 290

Jan 30, 2012 16:07 PM
rating: 0
 
JoshuaL

The 'literally' sentence was so funny it caused me to emit an unintended audible laugh, almost waking up my wife late at night. Literally.

More of these articles, please! I'll be eagerly looking forward to the liveblog.

Jan 30, 2012 21:39 PM
rating: 1
 
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