Sports are simple. If you score more runs than your opponent, you win. So if a team scores more runs than they let up, often times that means that they win more games than they lose. This statement holds true in the opposite direction. So when the Orioles broke the record for most home runs allowed in a single season (with more than a month of baseball left) it’s easy to picture them as the worst team in baseball. Right now they have a .331 winning percentage, and they are giving up more than six runs per game. However, someone else is doing worse than them. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the 2019 Detroit Tigers, who are on pace to have a winning percentage of .300.
Only special teams win fewer than 30% of their games, it is something of a rare feat in baseball. For example, you have to go all the way back to the 2018 Baltimore Orioles to see that again, oh wait. Well those Orioles were really bad too, the next team to suck as bad as them would the 2003 Tigers… again. As for teams to do that when the MLB had 30 franchises, that’s the list. The Mets did it in 1962, which for teams to do it when they played 162 game seasons, that’s the list. Prior to the 1962 season teams only played 154 games, so comparing them to today’s sucky teams just aren’t really the same.
If it is such a rarity to see a team as bad as this year’s Tigers, what makes them so bad? What do you have to do wrong to lose way more than twice as much as you win? Well, like a said earlier, giving up more runs than you score is a start. I looked at all the last place teams in the MLB since 2000 and lined them up based on their runs/game and their runs allowed/game. This is what it looks like.
In orange are the three teams this century to have a winning percentage of or less than .300 (the 2019 Tigers being on pace to do so). While they are not high and away three outliers, they are clumped in the top left, meaning they didn’t score a lot and they let up a lot. For example the 2003 Tigers were 29th in runs scored and 29th in runs allowed, combine those two together and you get the worst team in baseball that year. Compared to the other worst teams in baseball, they especially didn’t get that many runs across the plate, and especially gave up a lot of runs. Thus, a historic season full of suckage.
What about those other dots real close to the three teams below .300? The 2004 Diamondback, 2002 Tigers (they weren’t that great in the early 21st century), 2010 Pirates, and 2013 Astros were all still really close to being below .300, just not quite. In a 162 game schedule, below .300 means losing at least 114 games. Those teams lost 111, 106, 105, and 111 games respectively. To be a historically bad team, you really have to be above that trend line (more runs allowed) and you can’t score more than four runs per game, otherwise you’re just a bad team for that season, and not all-time.
If I were to plot this years Orioles team, I’d need to expand the chart because, again, they are letting up more the six runs per game, which in this context makes it clear how absurd that is. They are scoring 4.35 runs per game, which wouldn’t quite put them in that upper left hand corner, and it does save them from my arbitrary four runs/game threshold. Still, how is a team that allows six runs/game not the worst team in baseball? To that, I turn to record against teams below .500.
This season the Tigers are 23-41 against teams <.500, which, like every other category you look at for this team, is bad. Comparatively, the Orioles are doing better. Against teams that are <.500 the Orioles are 22-27, meaning they actually hold their own against other bad teams. Which probably means that they are just getting absolutely smacked around by good teams, such as the Yankees who went 17-2 against them and scored 7.95 runs per game against them. Brutal. The Tigers meanwhile just suck against everybody. That’s why they are on pace to lose 114 games, which would make them just the third team this century to have a winning percentage of or below .300.