Tuesday, March 2nd, 2021

The Top 10 All-time Worst* Seasons

August 8, 2010 by  
Filed under Statistics and Analysis

One of the websites I find myself going to time and time again is Baseball Reference.   I recently was curious about single-season strikeout records and came to this amazingly valuble page.   [Seriously, click on this link and bookmark it, you will be glad you did!].  I started to look into the highest strikeouts with an eye toward players (e.g. Ryan Howard, Adam Dunn) who are highly productive even though they strikeout often.

However, if there is good publicity forthcoming to those high risk, high reward free swingers like Adam Dunn and Mark Reynolds, then the harsh spotlight of illumination has to be shone on those high risk, low reward terribly unproductive players.

I realize we are in a “Chicks dig the long ball”, Walk-off Home Run, SportCenter era of valuing (and paying handsomely) for the home run.  Fact: 9 of the 10 highest single season strikeout totals have occurred in the past decade.  On the other hand, none of the three top home run hitters of all time–Barry Bonds, Henry Aaron, or Babe Ruth–ever appeared on the top 500 single-season strikeout list.  For that matter, neither did Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Ernie Banks, or Willie McCovey, all of whom hit 500+ HRs during their careers.

That got me to thinking about the stats for the opposite type of season..that is, those players with very high strikeouts with very little production–candidates for The Top 10 Worst* Seasons Ever.

Before we dive into the winners..er losers..er worst seasons ever, a few factoids about the strikeout.

  • Of the top 500 highest single-season strikeout totals since 1900, only two occurred befor 1960–Vince DiMaggio in 1936 and Jim Lemon in 1956.
  • The top 500 highest strikeout season totals by decade
    • 1930s – 1
    • 1950s – 1
    • 1960s – 38
    • 1970s – 49
    • 1980s – 76
    • 1990s – 121
    • 2000s – 214
  • Two players– Mark Reynolds (211)  and Adam Dunn (199)– made a much-deserved return trip to this ignominious list in 2010!

On the other hand,Joe Sewell holds the career record for lowest strikeout rate at 1.6% with 114 strikeouts in 7,132 at bats, which comes out to one K per 62 ABs.  Sewell also walked 8 times for every time he struck out, had a .312 lifetime batting average and a .804 OPS.  Sewell was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1977.


Ok, let’s get back to evaluating players forThe Top 10 All-time Worst* Seasons. One thing that we need to make clear is that for an individual to appear on this list, he had to have amassed one of the 500 highest strikeout totals for a season.  So, by definition, they have to have played in almost all of their teams games which means that, in some strange “parallel universe” type of way, they had some value.  That is the reason for the “*” after Worst.

Also, it is conceivable that someone may have had a worse season, even though they didn’t strike out alot. However, if there is good publicity forthcoming to those high risk, high reward free swingers like Adam Dunn and Mark Reynolds, then the harsh spotlight of illumination has to be shone on those high risk, low reward terribly unproductive players.

Here is how I went about evaluating the players’s seasons.  I started with the Top 100 individual player, single-season strikeout totals.  Then I looked at a statistic that would show whether a player’s strikeouts could be overlooked by some offsetting offensive statistic.  I arrived at two of them–Home Runs and OPS (OBP+Slug %).  The reason I chose home run, which, by definition, is already included in OPS, is to give extra weight for the long ball.

For both of these metrics I ranked ordered the top 100 strikeout seasons and then combined the two rankings, in reverse order, to arrive at The Top 10 All-time Worst* Seasons!

So, with no further ado, here are The Top 10 Worst* Seasons Ever…

  • #10 – Juan Samuel 1984 – 168 strikeouts, 15 HRs, .749 OPS
  • #9 – Rob Deer 1991— 175 strikeouts, 25 HRs, .700
  • # 8 – Jack Cust 2009— 185 strikeouts, 25 HRs,  .773 OPS
  • # 7 – Jose Hernandez 2001— 185 strikeouts, 25 HRs, .742 OPS
  • # 6 – Mark Reynolds 2008— 204 strikeouts, 28 HRs, .779 OPS
  • #5 – Dave “Swish” Nicholson 1963— 175 strikeouts, 22 HRs, .738 OPS
  • #4 – Ron Gant 1997— 162 strikeouts, 17 HRs, .698 OPS
  • #3 – Andres Galarraga 1990— 169 strikeouts, 20 HRs, .715 OPS
  • #2 – Rob Deer 1993— 169 strikeouts, 21 HRs, .689 OPS  (a two-time nominee)

and the winner is Jose Hernandez for his disastrous 2003 campaign.   For the 2003, campaign, Jose struck out 177 times, while “clubbing” only 13 round trippers and garnering a staggering low .634 OPS.  Jose batted .225 for the season.   To be fair, Jose could play almost any position and had some other productive years, but his 2003 season takes the cake.

The Backstory:  Jose signed with Colorado in January 2003 as a free agent.  In June of 2003, Jose was traded by Colorado to the Chicago Cubs for Mark Bellhorn (another strikeout machine), and, in July 2003, traded again by the Cubs to the Pirates for Kenny Lofton, Aramis Ramirez and cash.  It is obvious that the GMs for Colorado and Chicago could see the holes in Jose’s swing even if Pittsburgh’s GM could not.  Pittsburgh released Jose after the 2003 campaign and the Dodgers picked him up.  He had a bounce back year with them in 2004.

In looking back through the blogosphere, I came across this very clever and satirical look at Jose’s 2003 season from a person trying to compile the worst possible fantasy team.

Jose Hernandez Bio from Wikipedia

José Antonio Hernández Figueroa(born July 14, 1969 in Vega Alta, Puerto Rico) is a former Major League Baseball infielder.

In a 15-season career, Hernández had a .254 batting average with 159 home runs and 563 RBI in 1408 games. He was an 2002 All-Star Game reserve, and a member of the 1999 National League Champion Atlanta Braves. He is the cousin of Luis Figueroa.

Primarily a shortstop, Hernández played every position except pitcher. His most productive season came in 2001 with Milwaukee, when he posted career highs in home runs (24), RBI (77), hits (151), doubles (26) and games (152). Despite his .249 average, he posted a .356 on base percentage.

In 2002, Hernandez struck out 188 times, one shy of the MLB record. Then-Brewers manager Jerry Royster kept him out of the lineup in four of the last five games of the season so he would not break the dubious record. He led the majors in highest strikeout percentage (35.8%).[1]

In 2002, Hernández hit 24 home runs with 73 RBI and a career-high .288 average. He spent the entire 2004 season with the Los Angeles Dodgers in a utility role, hitting .289 (61-211) with 12 doubles, one triple, 13 home runs and 29 RBI in 95 games for the National League West champions. Hernández recorded 26 extra base hits and a .540 slugging percentage in just 211 at bats. Only Anaheim’s Troy Glaus (207 AB, 18 HR) hit more home runs in the majors in 2004 among players with 215 or fewer at bats.

Hernández signed on with the Cleveland Indians for the 2005 to begin his second tenure with the team. He played in 84 games and hit .231 with six home runs and 31 runs batted.

Before the 2006 season, Hernández signed a minor league contract with the Pirates that included an invitation to spring training, and an opportunity to compete for a spot on the team. After playing only 67 games for Pittsburgh, the Phillies purchased his contract from the Pirates on August 22, 2006. He became a free agent after the season.

Hernández returned to the Pirates organization on January 3, 2007. Unconditionally released on March 30, he signed with the Indianapolis Indians. In 99 games, he hit .242 with 13 home runs and 56 RBI.

Hernández set a Puerto Rican Winter League record with 20 home runs for Mayagüez during the 1997-1998 season.


4 Responses to “The Top 10 All-time Worst* Seasons”
  1. santa fe dave says:

    this is a great site ,,,, the more i read books on baseball the better i like it ”

  2. Mark says:

    SF Dave, I am glad you like the site…you will see that we talk about alot of baseball topics besides books..and try to have fun as well. See you soon,

    Mark (BoB)

  3. Bill Miller says:

    I just have to add Dave Kingman to this list.
    In 1977, Kingman played for 4 teams (!) hit 26 homers, drove in 78 runs, but struck out 143 time (a lot in the ’70’s,) and batted just .221 for the year with a combined OPS of .720. His on-base percentage was .276.
    Fast-forward to 1982: Kingman leads the N.L. in home runs with 37 and drives in 99 runs, BUT…has only 109 hits for the season for a .204 batting average, a .285 on-base average, and because he hit just NINE doubles and one triple all year, his slugging percentage was only .432. His OPS was a poor .717, and his OPS+ was just 99.
    To me, you can’t discuss futility without bringing up Dave Kingman.

  4. Mark Ahrens says:

    Bill, wow, I never knew that Kingman was ever so anemic…I agree, his record of futility needs to stand beside the others.

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