There is something perversely fascinating about discovering an athletic performance that is, without hyperbole, the worst we’ve ever seen. The many ways someone can be bad at their sport are just about as numerous as the different ways a player might be called good. There are bad attitudes that negatively affect a team, an egregious mistake in a big game, a classic “slump”, or just a plain old, consistently below-average career.
What we’ll focus on here are the worst single seasons by a Starting Pitcher. We’ll use a minimum of 160 IP to qualify, and we will only look at the last 20 seasons. While these pitchers won’t necessarily be the worst ever, they will be among the worst we’ve seen in decades.
Not to fear, there are plenty of qualified seasons to filter through. Since 1996, there have been 1772 individual seasons of at least 160 IP. So if a player qualifies as one of the top ten worst, that means that 99.4% of the 1772 starting pitchers since 1996 were better than they were. That’s a pretty powerful conviction.
We will use fWAR, ERA- and xFIP- as the starting point of the decision making, and then we will look at other factors to sort the almost-worst from the worst.
In order to establish perspective, keep in mind that a negative fWAR score is pretty rare. It might seem like a +0.8 fWAR is “not so bad”, but relatively speaking, it’s definitely not good. Of our 1772 individual seasons, only 20 of them have resulted in a negative fWAR score. That’s less than 2% of the time. Therefore, if a pitcher in our discussion has a (-) fWAR, it’s particularly awful.
ERA- and xFIP- are adjusted for league and ballpark. Below 100 is good, and the further above 100, the worse the performance.
Since that is cleared up, let’s get down to it!
Dave Mlicki (2001)
Poor Dave had a truly embarrassing season in 2001. Not only was he terrible for the Detroit Tigers for the first 81 innings of the season, he was traded mid-season and was nearly as terrible in his 86.2 innings for the Houston Astros. Put together his bad fWAR for the Tigers (-0.9) and for the Astros (-0.4) and you end up with (-1.3), the lowest fWAR score of any SP since 1996.
His astonishing season in a nutshell:
|2001 Season||MLB Rank (0f 85 qualified SP)|
|K-BB% (3.0)||5th from last|
Just to be fair, we can look at his “luck” peripherals to see how much of this was not (quite) his fault. They don’t have HR/FB% for 2001, but when we look at BABIP and LOB%, we can see that Mlicki wasn’t all that unlucky:
25 pitchers had worse luck with BABIP, and 33 pitchers had worse luck with LOB%. Yet Mlicki was the worst in all of those categories above.
Some “highlights” for the season: he let off 7 earned runs in five different starts; he let off 3 HR five different times (only one of those was also one of the 7-run games) and he walked 8 batters in 5 innings in his second start of the season.
As a final touch, the salt in the wound, the kick while he’s down: at the plate, Mlicki went 3 for 27 with 3 singles and no walks. That’s a .111 BA, a (-54) wRC+ and another (-0.2) fWAR.