Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The Seven Worst Starting Pitchers Ever

Several teams including the Red Sox and Tigers have really struggled out of the gate with their starting pitching. And since it's way too early to make anything of that fact, it did get this writer thinking about starting pitching and how bad it can get. This led to a Play Index search on www.baseball-reference.com and the following criteria was used:

  • More than 200 career starts
  • An ERA+ of 90 or less
  • An ERA above 4.90

Once that list was obtained, the search came up with seven starting pitchers. The Fan then separated those seven by WAR to get a ranking of those seven. Now to be sure, the Fan isn't sure if this is the proper criteria for making this list. For one, all seven of the pitchers found pitched from 1993 on. Does that mean that our current era has produced some of the worst starting pitchers of all time? Hmm... The Fan doesn't know. If the criteria is only 200 or more career starts and an ERA over 5.00, then we still get all modern pitchers (six of them). If we just search for 200 or more career starts and an ERA+ of less than or equal to 85, then we only get four pitchers and we finally get a guy from before our present times. We'll talk about him later.

Why 200 starts? Well, anyone can be bad enough for a short enough period of time to qualify for such a list. But 200 starts means that a guy was really bad, but managed to be really bad for a long period of time. You figure 200 starts is about seven full seasons of pitching, right? But feel free to do your own search and come up with your own list. We can compare numbers and come to a conclusion together. That would be kind of fun, wouldn't it?

Anyway, here are the Flagrant Fan's seven worst pitchers ever.

7. Sidney Ponson.  Ponson started 278 games in 298 total appearances over his twelve year career that ended in 2009. He pitched for the Orioles, Yankees, Royals, Twins, Giants, Cardinals and Rangers. His final record was 91-113 with a career 5.03 ERA and a career ERA+ of 90. He had two good years in 2002 and 2003 which skew his statistics some and gave him the highest career WAR on our list (9.3). But after 2003, he was brutal. After 2003, he never had a WHIP lower than 1.60. he gave up 10.1 hits per nine innings for his career, 3.1 walks, 1.1 homers per nine innings and had a career 1.69 strikeout to walk ratio. During his entire career, all you ever heard was that Ponson had a great arm. Despite some early success, that great arm never led to good starting pitching.

6. Jason Johnson. Johnson pitched eleven years starting in 1997 and he was done by 2008. He pitched for the Orioles, Devil Rays, Tigers, Pirates, Red Sox, Dodgers, Reds and Indians. Yeah, these guys moved around a lot. Johnson made 221 career starts out of his 255 career appearances. He had a career record of 56-100 with an ERA of 4.99 and an ERA+ of 89. Those numbers are despite two slightly above league average seasons for the Orioles. His career WHIP was 1.488, he gave up 1.2 homers per nine innings and over ten hits per nine. He had a 1.63 strikeout to walk ratio. Despite several seasons with more than 30 starts, he never won more than ten games in a season.  He did somehow manage to build a career WAR of 4.9 mostly because of those two decent seasons.

5. Jose Lima. You knew this was coming, didn't you? Lima had a 21 win season and a 16 win season, but he was so bad in just about every other season that his career numbers were off the charts. Lima made 238 starts out of a career 348 appearances covering parts of 13 seasons. He pitched for the Astros, Tigers, Royals, Mets and Dodgers. His career home runs per nine innings was a whopping 1.5 and he gave up over ten hits per nine innings. His career ERA was 5.26 and his career ERA+ was 85. When Lima-time was good, it was a lot of fun. When it was bad, it was really, really bad.

4. Glendon Rusch. Rusch finished with the same career WAR of 3.2 as Lima, so you can probably call that a tie. Rusch pitched for the Royals, Cubs, Mets, Rockies, Brewers and Padres. He had two pretty good seasons, one with the Mets and another with the Cubs. But the rest were pretty bad. He started 220 games in his 342 appearances and finished with a career record of 67-99 with a 5.04 ERA and an ERA+ of 88. Like Lima, Rusch gave up a lot of homers and a lot of hits with his career WHIP of 1.484. He had pretty good control and not a bad strikeout rate, but they never added up to success. Six of his twelve season resulted in a negative WAR for the season.

3. Adam Eaton. You probably figured he was coming too. Eaton was a first round draft pick for the Phillies at one time and he pitched during ten seasons for the Padres, Rangers, Phillies, Orioles and Rockies. 201 of his 209 lifetime appearances were starts and he finished with a 4.94 ERA and an 84 ERA+.  The ERA was no doubt helped by years in San Diego in a pitchers' park. Eaton walked a lot of guys, gave up a lot of hits and homers. He did manage to somehow finish with a winning record of 71-68. But his career WAR tells the story with a lump sum of 1.5 spread over ten years. And for that, he made over $26 million in his career. Nice.

2. Jimmy Haynes. Jimmy Wayne Haynes pitched ten year in the big leagues for the Athletics, the Reds, the Orioles and the Brewers from 1995 to 2004. Yes, the Orioles appear a lot on this list. Haynes had a run of 30+ starts for five straight seasons though he was never any good in any of them. He went 63-89 in 203 starts and 227 appearances. His career ERA was a whopping 5.37 and his career ERA+ was 83. Haynes' career WHIP pretty much says it all: 1.632. Wow. And that factors in that he had two years at league average and once won 15 games for the Reds. He finished with a 1.1 accumulated WAR to show for his ten seasons. Five of his seasons were in the red when it came to WAR.

1. Jason Bere.  Bere comes in first place in our list of worst starting pitchers ever. Bere actually started with a bang for the White Sox in 1993 and 1994. In 1993, he went 12-5 in 24 starts and came in third in Rookie of the Year voting. The following year, he made 24 more starts and went 12-2!  Both years, he finished with an ERA+ of over 120. So how then do you get from there to a career ERA+ of 86? It wasn't easy. Right after his 12-2 season, he went 8-15 with an ERA of 7.19. He missed most of the year after that with health problems and never really recovered. His true problem was control  He walked over five batters per nine innings for his career. It turned into a very strange career. He had a winning record of 71-65 and yet his career ERA was 5.14. His career WHIP was over 1.5. And after an eleven year career, Bere had the grand total of 0.3 accumulated WAR. That's not much to show for 201 career starts and 207 total appearances.

Honorable mention: Our one old-timer on the list: Herm Wehmeier. He pitched from 1945 to 1958 and started 240 games out of his 361 appearances. He finished his career with an 84 ERA+ and a record of 92-108. He walked more batters in his career than he struck out and led the league in walks three out of four seasons. Wehmeier didn't match all the criteria on our list, but he was one heck of a not-very-good pitcher.


Unknown said...

I almost couldn't get through this post. The content was good, the writing was awful. A blogger referring to himself in third person, "The Fan couldn't...", displays an escalated sense of self.

William J. Tasker said...

Ouch. Well, okay then. Thanks for the comment.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure why Lima is on here. Okay, his ERA is absurd, but you have to take into consideration after moving from the Astrodome to the then called Enron field, his career was basically over. I know his career was erratic, but he had four seasons of over .500His WHIP is much better than the other guys on that list, and his career record isn't as bad as many would think. Plus he bounced back in 03 and 04 going a combined 21-8. And his postseason record was 1-1 with an ERA of 2.16 and a WHIP of 1.08 while being an all-star and top 5 cy young candidate. And all those hitters were on roids!

William J. Tasker said...

Anon: All good points. Lima did have some shining moments. But his overall numbers put him here.

Jonathan Bentz said...

You have to believe that part of the reason a lot of these guys hung around is because they had their moments in their careers. At least Ponson, Lima, and Bere all had successful productive seasons at some point in their careers. It would be interesting to see what this list would look like if you figured out the average career span of an MLB pitcher, adjusted the parameters, and recreated this list.

Unknown said...

First of all thanks for an interesting look at how bad pitchers can be and still keep a job. What amazes me is that GMs and coaches insist that these numbers can be fixed even after the pitcher has for years proven he's permanently broken.
Next for alcyonekris: You poor poor person, I hope whoever held the gun to your head and made you read this get a time out. Look simpleton, it's a writing style, if you don't like it don't read it. Unless there was a guy with a gun - if that happened you are keeping the wrong company - you could just have moved on. Didn't your mother teach you any manners? I'm betting you don't create just critique. You are of course entitled not to like the writing style, you are obviously entitled to say so even if it's just plain rude and you're also entitled to find another blog to read that won't offend your grammatical sensibilities. Or of course you could write your own and show your superior grasp of the English language and its nuances. I doubt that will happen however, it's easier to whine and moan than create.

William J. Tasker said...

@ Jonathan: Interesting. That's a lot of spreadsheet work. Maybe a thought for the off season. Thanks.

@ Merlin: Thanks for the defense and the comment. As for alcyonekris, he's entitled to his opinion. I think he's a published author with a book on Amazon. His comment stung a bit, but that's the way it goes in this business. Cheers.

jake s. said...

Interesting, I agree, when lima was on top he was a bull, but when he was bad he was bull#$%&. Anyways thanks for the blg william. Not sure what simpleton was getting at, I'm sure he was just trying to validate himself. Keep them coming william.

Anonymous said...

All I will say is. How many people reading this wish they had the chance to put up even the worst numbers?

William J. Tasker said...

@ Jake: Thank you, sir.

@ Anon: We often forget that even the worst MLB players are the tops in their skill level in their field. Good point.

Unknown said...

Okay maybe he can write but it was still an unnecessary cheap shot. I decided to take a smaller period and see what I found. I looked at pitchers from 2000 to 2010, with 175 or more games started, an ERA+ less of 95 or less, an ERA of 4.5 or more, who started at least 75% of their games and have at least 100 Decisions. I sorted them on ERA+. It's a short list, 8 to be exact.

David Bush ERA+ 93
Kyle Loshe ERA+ 93
Russ Ortiz ERA+ 92
Rodrigo Lopez ERA+ 91
Oliver Perez ERA+ 91
Jeremy Bonderman ERA+ 90
Josh Fogg ERA+ 89
Nate Robertson ERA+ 89

I find that interesting....

Anonymous said...

and good ol' dave duncan stills believes in lohse. A panzie and a non-competitor

Anonymous said...

How is Kyle Davies not #1 on your list? He personifies what it means to suck. Maybe your list incorporates the Disciples of Suck, and Kyle Davies is their Deity.

Eric Kaufman said...

The problem I have with your criteria is that all these pitchers GOT 200 starts because they were good enough to remain starting pitchers in MLB for a fairly long time. If you want to find the worst starters ever, I would suggest you set both a maximum AND a minimum number of starts (enough starts to throw out the quick call-ups, but not enough to indicate they had enough talent to merit extended playing time. Maybe set a maximum of q few seasons? Anyways, as was pointed out, there is no shortage of lousy pitchers- only a relative handful of people have been good enough at the amateur level to even play pro ball, let alone make to the majors.