June 15, 2016
Leading From Behind
Friday night, BP writer Aaron Gleeman posted this at 9:04 PM Central time, proving that he doesn’t waste his Fridays clubbing:
Sure enough, even @baseball-ref’s Principal Developer had other things to do:
Fortunately, I was able to prove that I have no social life:
This exchange got me thinking about team leaders whose leadership is wholly unimpressive. Individual season record holders, such as Barry Bonds and Hack Wilson, led their teams in home runs and RBIs, for example. Who, like the Phillies’ quartet of Aaron Harang, Cole Hamels, Ken Giles, and Aaron Nola, led their teams with the least?
To answer, I selected teams from the Integration Era (1947-2015) for hitting records and the Expansion Era (1961-2015) for pitching records. The reason for the shorter span for pitchers is that pitching usage has changed considerably since Jerome Holtzman formally defined the save in 1959. I’ve excluded all strike-shortened seasons (1972, 1981, 1994, and 1995).
Here are the leaders with the least:
Home Runs: 7, 1948 Senators (Gil Coan and Bud Stewart) and 1949 White Sox (Steve Souchock). This is the other reason I chose to go back to 1947 for batting records: It allowed me to list Gil Coan (39 career home runs in 918 games), Bud Stewart (32 home runs in 773 games), and Steve Souchock (50 home runs in 473; his BP Player Card lists his position as “PH”). These were the top home run hitters for 56-97 Senators and 63-91 White Sox. If limited to the Expansion Era, the 1979 Astros, led by Jose Cruz’s nine homers, take the lead, but you’ve heard of Jose Cruz, he played in a famously homer-suppressing ballpark, and Houston was a decent club that year, finishing 89-73, just a game and a half behind the Reds in the NL West. Three guys you haven’t heard of playing for bad teams, leading their clubs with fewer home runs than Justin Bour hit last September—that’s far more entertaining.
Doubles: 18, 1976 Angels, Ron Jackson. The Angels weren’t terrible in 1976, going 76-86, but they scored only 3.4 runs per game, the 39th fewest in the Expansion Era. Only six teams since 1976 have scored fewer (1978 A’s, 1982 Reds, 1992 Dodgers, 2010 Mariners, 2013 Marlins, 2014 Padres). As for Ron Jackson, he was sixth in the American League in doubles with the Twins, with 40, three years later.
Triples: 2, by several teams: the 1989 Dodgers, 1992 Mets, 1998 A’s, 2002 Yankees, 2004 Mets, 2006 Red Sox and Reds, 2007 Cardinals, 2008 White Sox, 2013 Astros, and 2015 Nationals. In modern baseball, leading a team with two triples is neither uncommon nor a detriment.
Stolen Bases: 3, 1957 Senators, Julio Becquer. This one’s good for several reasons. First, three stolen bases! Second, Becquer wasn’t much of a baserunner: 8-for-19 as a basestealer in his career, -1.1 total BRR. Third, he was a first baseman, a backup one at that. Fourth, he led the majors with 69 pinch hitting appearances in 1957 despite a .226/.269/.312 line. The Expansion Era record for fewest stolen bases to lead a team is four, by Johnny Lewis and Joe Christopher of the 1965 Mets, both of whom were regulars. Becquer had only 199 plate appearances in 1957, which somehow makes it even better that he was able to lead his team.
Runs Scored: 52, 1963 Astros, Al Spangler. The four worst-scoring teams of all time are the 1942 Phillies (2.6 runs per game), the 1918 Dodgers (2.857), the 1968 White Sox (2.858), and the 1963 Astros (2.864).
Runs Batted In: 46, 1954 Orioles, Vern Stephens. The Orioles’ first year in Baltimore saw them finish with the same 54-100 record they had in their last year in St. Louis in 1953. Stephens, who played in 101 games for the O’s, led the American League in RBI in 1944, 1949, and 1950. The Expansion Era record is 50, by Pete Ward and Tommy Davis of the aforementioned 1968 White Sox.
Wins: 6, 2015 Phillies. Already covered.
Losses: 7, 2001 and 2009 Mariners. The 2001 Mariners, of course, won 116 games, so there weren’t a lot of losses to go around. John Halama had a 4.73 ERA, 5.18 FIP, and 5.90 DRA but still went 10-7 as Seattle scored 6.6 runs per game in his starts. The 2009 team was only 85-77 but the two pitchers charged with the most losses were primarily relievers, as Mark Lowe went 2-7 and Chris Jakubauskas, a 30-year-old rookie, was 6-7 (2-5 in eight starts, 4-2 in 27 relief appearances).
Saves: 3, 1965 Mets, 1974 Angels. The Mets, who got three saves from Dennis Ribant (in just 11 games finished) have a good excuse: The save wasn’t an official statistic until 1969. But the 1974 Angels got a team-leading three saves from 40-year-old Orlando Pena, who appeared in only four games with the team, all in September. Since 1969, only the 1979 Blue Jays, with eleven saves, had fewer than Los Angeles’ twelve in 1974 (a total also achieved by the 1971 Yankees and 1974 Rangers).
Complete Games: Getting none has become common. Nine teams have zero in the past ten years: 2007 Marlins, Nationals, and Rangers; 2011 Padres; 2012 Brewers and Rockies; 2015 Marlins, Orioles, and Pirates.
Walks: 42, 2008 Twins, Scott Baker. The Twins are known for not striking anybody out. For a while, they didn’t walk anybody either. The 2003-2010 Twins account for five of the 45 best BB/9 seasons in the Expansion Era.
Strikeouts: 61, 1983 Royals, Paul Splittorff. And this wasn’t a particularly bad team, finishing 79-83, which was second (albeit 20 games behind the White Sox) in the AL West that year. This record, in the context of contemporary baseball, is completely out of reach. It’s DiMaggio’s hit streak, or Chief Wilson’s 36 triples in 1912, or, hey, Twitter eminence @OldHossRadbourn’s 59 wins in 1884. How the game’s changed in 30 years: Going into play Monday, there were 62 pitchers with more than 61 strikeouts already this year.