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April 29, 2004

Breaking Balls

Marooned in Montreal

by Derek Zumsteg

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Montreal doesn't get enough press. They've gotten off to a 5-16 start, and it's amazing they've even managed that much. You see, in their first 21 games the Expos scored only 36 runs [Ed. Note: The Expos have scored 40 runs in 22 games through Wednesday, and are now 5-17]. That's not just league-worst, that's in the running for all-time worst. Thirty-six runs is a run-and-a-half a game in a season where normal teams are averaging five runs a game. They're hitting for a team line of .201/.283/.254. There are maybe--maybe--10 players qualifying for the batting title who are hitting worse than the Expos as a team. That's tough.

They would have to almost double their run-scoring to move up one spot in the standings (Tampa Bay, at 67, is second-worst). Of their five wins, one was 2-0 and the other four were one-run wins. They've been shut out six times. Over a quarter of the time, they score no runs at all.

And that's just run-scoring. They're dead last in walks. Dead last in home runs. They're in the middle of the pack in strikeouts, which I'm sure is small consolation to Frank Robinson. Their best regular, Jose Vidro, is down on the hitting leaderboard below the century mark, right alongside notable sluggers like Bobby Higginson and Omar Vizquel.

We projected the Expos to have a great offense this year. Yeah... about that projection. If you could just forget about that, that would be great. Thanks...

How do the Expos rank among the worst teams ever? If they keep up this pace (and it's hard to believe that will happen), they would score 277 runs all year. The 1916 A's, regarded by some as the worst team ever (they went 36-117), scored 447 runs over 153 games, for an average of 2.9 runs a day. That's 1.2 runs/game more than the Expos. The 2003 Detroit Tigers, at 43-119, scored 591 runs while playing half their games in Comerica Park, for 3.6 runs a game. The 1962 Mets won only 40 games and scored 617 runs, which comes out to 3.7 runs a game (oh, but boy was their pitching and defense bad).

Of course, it's not just players performing below their projections. This offense has been hit hard by injuries. Carl Everett, for instance, is out with a torn labrum that might take his season. Peter Bergeron, who wasn't likely to contribute to the offense, but maybe could have possibly scored some runs, strained a rib. Nick Johnson jammed his finger, then--when examining it more closely--poked himself in the right eye, detaching a retina. Unable to see, he tripped on a curb, spraining his ankle, then broke his wrist when he put his arm out against his fall. Then the ambulance that was going to pick him up blew out its brakes and ran him over.

But mostly it's just terrible hitting. Top five Expos, by plate appearances:


                                       Approximate
                   AVG    OBP    SLG   PECOTA percentile
Orlando Cabrera   .271   .287   .376   10
Jose Vidro        .254   .337   .394   10
Tony Batista      .229   .250   .300   10
Brad Wilkerson    .197   .321   .318   10
Brian Schneider   .241   .293   .463   50-60

Four total, abysmal seasons. PECOTA figured there was only a 10% chance they'd post a performance at or below a certain level, and some of these guys are busting even those super-low ball estimates.

If the Expos were healthy and performed as you might reasonably expect, they could still salvage a managable performance out of this season. But if they can't get Everett and Johnson back and playing regularly, this early collapse could make the Expos one of the worst offensive teams ever. As if the poor baseball fans of Montreal haven't suffered enough.

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