By Al Yellon – Editor @ Baseball Nation
The Minnesota Twins lost Thursday night, dropping their record to 8-23. That’s a .258 winning percentage; over a full season that would translate to a 42-120 record, just slightly better than the 1962 Mets, who hold the bad-record standard in the expansion era at 40-120.
There’s still 80 percent of the 2012 season remaining, but descriptions like this from Thursday’s game don’t bode well for the Twins:
A pop-up no more than 10 feet in front of home plate in the fourth inning finding turf instead of leather. A run scoring from second. Players stunned. A fan base sickened.
It was the worst play among many candidates in a 6-2 loss to Toronto, one that gave the Twins their 14th defeat in 17 games.
“Things happened out there,” manager Ron Gardenhire said, “that really don’t happen in high school.”
14 losses in 17 games — that’s pretty bad. How does that stack up against other truly bad teams over the last 50 years? Seven clubs have lost 110 or more games in that span. First, a few notes on this year’s Twins, then some information about each of the Sad Seven.
Best player: Right now you’d have to say Josh Willingham, who’s hitting .313/.421/.646 with seven HR and 18 RBI; that’s more than one-third of the Twins‘ home runs. The next highest OPS belongs to Justin Morneau at .773, and he’s on the disabled list.
Best pitcher: Scott Diamond threw seven shutout innings against the Angels on Tuesday, which is by far the best outing by any Twins pitcher this season. The Twins have allowed fewer than four runs in a game just three other times this year (and lost one of those).
Freakishly bad statistic: The Twins‘ run differential is -67. After 31 games. If they keep up that pace, they’d be outscored by 350 runs this year, which would set an expansion-era record.
2004 Diamondbacks (51-111)
Best player: Randy Johnson, who at 40 was still a very good pitcher, posting a 2.60 ERA and 0.90 WHIP. His 16 wins were almost a third of the team total.
Player you had no idea was on this team: Jeff Fassero, who was signed on September 29, just four days before the season ended. He made one appearance, throwing one scoreless inning against the Brewers that day; he left as a free agent at season’s end.
When all else fails, fire the manager: Bob Brenly, who had managed Arizona to a World Series title just three years earlier, was fired with the team at 29-51. Most of that World Series team was gone; Brenly’s replacement, Al Pedrique, was worse at 22-59; he was fired when the season ended.
2003 Tigers (43-119)
Best player: Dmitri Young, who hit .297/.372/.537 with 29 HR and 85 RBI.
Best pitcher: Reliever Jamie Walker posted a 3.32 ERA in 78 appearances. He had three saves.
Worst performance by a player who used to be good: Dean Palmer, trying to come back from various injuries, hit .140/.235/.163 in 20 games before missing the rest of the year with more maladies.
Straight to the bottom: The ’03 Tigers were 0-9, 1-17, 3-24, 18-61, 31-97 and 38-118. They had seven losing streaks of at least eight games. They had a shot at breaking the Mets‘ mark, but won five of their last six. The good news for them: three years later they were in the World Series.
1969 Padres (52-110)
Best player: Nate Colbert, who posted a 128 OPS+. He drove in 66 runs. That was most on the team; the Pads scored just 468 runs, which was last in the NL… by 114.
Best pitcher: The Padres‘ rotation wasn’t awful; four starters posted OPS+ numbers of 90 or better. The best of ’em was Joe Niekro, whose 96 OPS+ included a 3.70 ERA … which he compiled despite only 55 strikeouts in 202 innings.
Freakish streaks: The ’69 Padres won their first three games and were only six games under .500 (24-30) as late as June 4. From June 5 to July 11 they went 5-31; a three-game winning streak was followed by another 5-31 run, cementing their awfulness (that’s a two-and-a-half-month streak of 13-62).
1969 Expos (52-110)
Best player: Rusty Staub, who became the legendary Le Grand Orange in Montreal for his play and engagement with the fans. He hit .302/.426/.526, finished fourth in the NL in on-base percentage and OPS, and received a 10th-place MVP vote.
Pitching follies: The Expos led the NL in runs allowed and walks; Bill Stoneman issued 123 walks, leading the league.
Freak-show event: On June 30 at Jarry Park, the Expos and Cubs began a night game delayed by rain in still-bad weather conditions and poor visibility. Ernie Banks hit a ball that appeared to be a home run, but Staub kicked some dirt around the outfield wall — nothing more than a chain-link fence, really — and claimed the ball had gone under the fence. The Cubs lost the game 5-2 and lodged a protest, which was disallowed.
1965 Mets (50-110)
Best player: Johnny Lewis had an OPS+ of 106 and led the team with 64 runs scored. That’s as good as it got.
Best pitcher: Jack Fisher had an ERA+ of 89 and posted 24 losses; no pitcher since has lost as many games. That’s back when starting pitcher W/L records actually meant something, too.
Freak-show game: After being fired as Yankees manager after the 1964 season, Yogi Berra came out of retirement briefly to play four games for the ’65 Mets. On May 4, 1965, he caught a full game and went 2-for-3 in a 2-1 Mets win over the Phillies.
1963 Mets (51-111)
Best player: Former Brooklyn Dodger star Duke Snider made the most of his return to New York by posting a 115 OPS+.
Best pitcher: Carl Willey threw four shutouts. His 3.10 ERA sounds decent by today’s standards, but in 1963, the first year of the expanded strike zone that defined that pitchers’ era, it ranked just 20th in the National League.
Record-setters: The ’63 Mets went 17-64 on the road, the worst road record in the expansion era. It’s since been tied, by the 2010 Pirates.
1962 Mets (40-120)
Best player: “The Other Frank Thomas” hit .266/.329/.496 with 34 home runs and 94 RBI and an OPS+ of 117. The Triple Crown stats sound good, but in an expansion year, Thomas’ RBI total ranked just 13th in the NL.
Best pitcher: No one. The team allowed 948 runs, which was 121 more than any other team and the most by any NL team in the expansion era until the Rockies allowed 1,028 in 1999; their -333 run differential was exceeded only by the 2003 Tigers at -337.
Streaking: The ’62 Mets‘ longest losing streak was 17, but they also had losing streaks of nine, 11 and 13, and from July 7 to August 21 went 7-38.
Quote: After a particularly bad loss, manager Casey Stengel said, “You look up and down the bench and you have to say to yourself, ‘Can’t anybody here play this game?'” (Some sources say this quote was “Can’t anybody play this here game?”)
Which is what Ron Gardenhire must be asking himself after the first 31 games of the Twins‘ 2012 season. The Twins are already near or at the bottom of the AL in slugging, home runs hit, OPS, ERA, pitcher strikeouts and home runs allowed, all categories that suggest their bad start is no illusion. They might be on the way to joining the 110+ loss club.
For his own sake, let’s hope Gardenhire — who played on three really bad Mets teams from 1981 through ’83 — retains his sense of humor.