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December 28, 2007

Prospectus Matchups

The Worst Seasons On Record

by Jim Baker

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A year ago, I looked at the best seasons ever for position players according to WARP3. The time has come to swing the pendulum the other way and find the worst seasons ever. Actually, we're not going to include "ever" in this discussion. I'm going to focus mostly on the years since 1961. Also, I'm going to make a plate appearance minimum of 400 requirement so that we only discuss players who were present enough to do some real damage to their own teams.

We're sticking to position players today, but if you ever want to see some serious negative WARP3 numbers, take a look at 19th century pitchers like Jersey Bakely, John Murphy, and Jack Neagle. It must be noted that nearly a third of the worst 100 WARP3s of all time came in the year 1884, which stands to reason when you consider that there were three leagues and the talent was decidedly diluted--diluted to the point that the Union Association is not considered a major league by anybody, and strong arguments have been made against the American Association on that score as well.

We can't move forward to modern times without making a proper mention of Jim Levey, the St. Louis Browns shortstop in the early 1930s. He is responsible for the single-worst WARP3 by a position player since 1901. In 1933, his third full year with the Browns, he played in all but 13 of their games and managed a WARP3 of -3.4. The problem for Levey was that his stat line was pure 1968 while playing in a league where teams were averaging five runs per game. His hitting .195/.237/.240 was good for an EqA of .148. What really set Levey apart, though, was his defense. His Fielding Runs Above Average, for the second season in a row, was -22. Levey's colleague at third base was a minor league lifer named Art Scharein, who managed an EqA of .171. The next year, even the Browns realized this wasn't good enough for them and replaced the pair; Levey with a cheap fill-in named Alan Strange, and Scharein with the very talented Harlond Clift. No position player in the last 100-plus years can touch Levey when it comes to diving below replacement level on both sides of the ball.

Here, then, are the lowest scores among modern players:

-1.0: Dan Meyer, 1978 Seattle Mariners

First baseman Meyer, along with Ruppert Jones and LeRoy Stanton, was one of the heroes of the expansion Mariners in 1977. Injuries the following year greatly curtailed his effectiveness. His defense--such as it was--suffered along with his bat. He went from a 15/2 FRAR/FRAA in '77 to a -5/-14 in '78, while his EqA dropped from .270 to .222. He rebounded in 1979, although the Mariners' inaugural year would remain his high-water mark. Mariner Optimist talks about his downturn in 1978 and puts it in human terms.

-1.0: Coco Laboy, 1970 Montreal Expos

Rusty Staub might have been the star of the early Expos, but third baseman Coco Laboy had the name. Although from Puerto Rico, the Francophonic suggestion of his name made it appear that he was destined--after a decade in the minors--to make his splash in Quebec. That's just what he did in 1969, playing well enough to finish second in the Rookie of the Year voting to Ted Sizemore of the Dodgers while being named the NL Rookie Player of the Year by The Sporting News. The problem was that Laboy was 30 entering his sophomore year, and that his rookie season really wasn't all that spectacular to begin with. He was essentially a league-average player in '69, and that represented his peak. The tumble was fast and steep. Laboy got off to a terrible start in 1970; on May 11, he was at .097/.200/.113. He struggled back to finish at .199/.254/.299, but only started 24 games after August 1. That kind of line--even in run-starved 1970--was cause for alarm, especially when coupled with an FRAA of -10, and he was done as a regular in the bigs.

-0.7: Peter Bergeron, 2001 Montreal Expos

At the age of 22, Bergeron became the Expos' center fielder in 2000. There were some worry signs right off the bat. Perhaps one could ignore the 11 for 24 in stolen base attempts. Perhaps the -4 FRAA would be improved upon, and likewise the .226 EqA. Thirty-two doubles plus triples wasn't too bad, and neither was the 58 walks against 510 at-bats. Unfortunately, the negatives rather than the positives turned out to be the building blocks for 2001. The Isolated Power and OBP shrank, and the fielding got even worse; the only sign of improvement was in his running game. A .196 EqA and a -8 FRAA describe the beginning of the end for Bergeron. He spent considerable time in the minors in 2001, and remains there to this day, playing much as he did at the start of the decade (.240/.289/.298 in limited Eastern League duty in 2007).

-0.7: Denny Doyle, 1970 Philadelphia Phillies

Back in the late '60s, it seemed like every team had one of these guys: a very small middle infielder who had no power and wasn't especially a terror on the bases. Doyle was a 26-year-old rookie in 1970 and posted a .198 EqA to go along with some pretty dodgy fielding numbers at second base. Doyle got better and had a very good year with California in 1974, and then got some spotlight time with the American League Champion Red Sox the next year.

-0.7: Derek Bell, 1999 Houston Astros

"Here's the good news: you're getting Mike Hampton. Here's the bad news: you had to take Derek Bell, too." This was the double-edged sword that Mets fans confronted in the wake of Bell's disastrous '99 campaign when he and Hampton went to New York in exchange for Roger Cedeņo, Octavio Dotel, and Kyle Kessel. Always a lethargic right fielder at best, Bell's EqA dropped to .230 in 1999; he was a Killer B no more. In 2000, Bell tore it up during his first month in New York and was about average the rest of the way--good enough to take in Cam Bonifay of the Pirates, who threw a two-year, $10 million contract at Bell. In today's money, that would be, what, $30 million?

-0.6: Cristian Guzman, 1999 Minnesota Twins

Guzman has never fulfilled the fielding portion of his duties with competence, so when his offensive game goes completely to ruin--as it did in this, his rookie year (.187 EqA) and again in 2005 (.204 EqA)--we are left with seasons like this.

-0.5: Jerry Morales, 1979 Detroit Tigers

The worst fielding stats (-12 FRAA) in a career's worth of bad fielding stats, combined with the lowest EqA (.223) of his full-time career were Morales' undoing in 1979. Naturally, the Mets immediately traded for him, although any deal that sent Richie Hebner out of New York had to be considered a positive one at the time. It marked the end of Morales' time as a regular player.

-0.4: Ted Simmons, 1984 Milwaukee Brewers

A designated hitter who doesn't hit is going to run into some problems with his WARP3. Simmons played just enough in the field in 1984 to keep himself out of the bottom five all-time. He was just about worthless at County Stadium that year, going .204/.246/.249 at home. Simmons is the closest thing to a Hall of Famer you'll find on this list; he bounced back pretty well in 1985, but he was 35 by then, and the end was in sight.

-0.4: Kurt Stillwell, 1992 San Diego Padres

Guys usually don't wait until after they've left the Royals to have their worst season, but that's what happened with Stillwell. The Pads gave the shortstop a two-year, $3.5 million deal (which meant something in terms of money at the time) and made him their second baseman. Not known for his glove, the switch to the easier defensive position didn't help Stillwell much, as he posted an FRAA of -18. Normally a league-average hitter, his EqA dropped to .219.

-0.4: Jesus Alou, 1969 Houston Astros

A slap hitter and bad outfielder having a down year? Definitely a bad combination.

-0.4: Manny Castillo, 1982 Seattle Mariners

Seattle's starting third baseman in '82, Castillo managed negative WARP3s in all three of his big league seasons, although this was the only one in which he qualified for the batting title.

-0.4: Ken Singleton, 1984 Baltimore Orioles

Get a .221 EqA out of a full-time DH, and this is what happens, although it should be remembered that this was the swan song of a very, very competent hitter. Singleton's career WARP3 of 87.0 is better than that of current Hall of Fame contender Jim Rice.

-0.4: George Bell, 1993 Chicago White Sox

Another full-time DH who didn't hit. How about a -24 BRAA?

-0.4: Mike Champion, 1977 San Diego Padres

Champion was a rookie second baseman for the Pads, and gave no indication he deserved the job. His OPS of 557 was not just an illusion created by the unfriendly confines of Jack Murphy Stadium. His FRAA of -18 didn't help the cause, either.

-0.4: Kevin Young, 2000 Pittsburgh Pirates

Don't you miss having Cam Bonifay around to sign the undeserving to great lavishments?

---

Just for fun, let's eliminate the 400 PA minimum and throw the competition open to all comers:

-2.0: Ned Yost, 1984 Texas Rangers
-1.9: Andy Sheets, 1999 Anaheim Angels
-1.8: George Scott, 1968 Boston Red Sox
-1.8: Doug Flynn, 1977 Cincinnati Reds/New York Mets
-1.7: Dick Billings, 1973 Texas Rangers
-1.7: Bob Uecker, 1967 Philadelphia Phillies/Atlanta Braves
-1.6: Scot Thompson, 1981 Chicago Cubs
-1.6: Matt Walbeck, 2003 Detroit Tigers
-1.5: Jay Hankins; 1961 Kansas City Athletics
-1.5: Michael Barrett, 2000 Montreal Expos
-1.5: Luis Pujols, 1978 Houston Astros

I had always thought that Uecker was a little too self-deprecating, but maybe not. It's good to have a member of the infamous '03 Tigers on here, too. Yost was in a class by himself and may well be the greatest embodiment of the "do as I say, not as I did" school of managing.

Thanks to William Burke for his research.

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