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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Monday, May 05, 2003
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
Who’s the baddest of them all?
Look out now: the Detroit Tigers have managed to get into double figures in hits the past two days in a row (and even managed to win their fourth game of the year, thanks to the schedule pitting them-at last-against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays).
But let’s live in the past. The Tigers are 1-4 this month (as of May 5), which projects out to six or seven wins; that’d be double what they managed in April, a month in which their hitters were historically anemic.
The question is-did they, in fact, post the worst hitting month of all time?
Unfortunately, our information resources aren’t quite robust enough to give us the definitive answer to that question, though they can come close. We simply don’t have easy access to monthly totals for all of baseball history (though some enterprising database whiz could probably use the game log data at Retrosheet to figure who scored the fewest runs in a month).
We can do something similar, thanks to Sean Forman’s game log query application at baseball-reference.com. We can query for teams who scored the least number of runs in 25 games (the Tigers played 24 this March-April, so we’re close: they scored 57 runs in their first 25 games in 2003).
Now, I don’t have time to query all of the years for this quick deadline edition of Swinging From the Heels, but I can make an educated guess as to where the lowest 25-game run scoring totals will be. For example, the year 1908 was one of the lowest run scoring seasons in baseball history, and many teams had 25-game stretches in which they got under the 2003 Tigers’ total.
The lowest of the low in 1908, though, turns out to be the St. Louis Cardinals, who scored only 39 runs in 25 games from July 9 through August 8. They managed a 4-21 record during that span.
In 2002, which was an above-average year for run scoring in the context of baseball history, our friends the Tigers had the worst 25-game stretch of run scoring. They managed to score 64 runs in that span (from September 2 through September 29), presaging their even more pronounced anemia in the initial month of 2003.
This leads us to consider if the Tigers are about to become the worst-ever hitting team relative to their league. That’s impossible to say at this point, but we can take a look at some numbers that might help. (Why is this relevant to our main topic of “worst hitting month”? Because there’s a strong likelihood that one of the teams with the worst league-relative seasons, especially in a year with low run scoring, is also going to be the team with the worst overall performance in a month.)
Here’s a list of the teams I could find whose run scoring was more than 20% below the league average:
Year Team OPS+ R LR RR 1942 PHI 84 394 599 66 1969 SDP 81 468 658 71 1909 WAS 84 380 533 71 1908 STL 87 372 517 72 1908 BRO 82 375 517 73 1963 HOU 80 461 618 75 1979 OAK 79 573 752 76 1988 BAL 88 550 704 78 1935 BSN 93 575 726 79
(LR is League Runs, and RR is Relative Runs where LR=100. OPS+ I’m pretty sure that most of you know.)
Some impressively bad teams among these nine, with seven of them losing well over 100 games.
So, are any of the teams on this list also to be found amongst the teams with the worst offensive performances in a month? Of course, those 1908 Cardinals we already know about. The 1942 Philadelphia Phillies, one of baseball’s least-heralded bad teams, actually had two completely separate 25-game streaks in which they scored fewer runs than the 2003 Tigers.
Those ‘88 Orioles are well-known, of course, because of their 21-game losing streak to start the season, but also because their feat was “achieved” in the relatively recent past. Let’s shift away from the 25-game model and look at some teams in the latter part of the twentieth century for whom Retrosheet has compiled monthly split data. First, here’s the 1988 Baltimore Orioles’ offensive performance for April 1988, a month in which they went 1-22:
Team/Yr Month AB R H D T HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG R/G BAL 1988 April 747 54 152 25 3 12 50 65 127 .203 .272 .293 2.35
During that memorable month, the O’s produced runs at a rate that was only 54% of league average. For the rest of the year, they produced runs at a rate that was 83% of league average.
What teams produced fewer runs per game in a month than the Orioles? Here’s one-and it’s a team even further up our seasonal list:
Team/Yr Month AB R H D T HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG R/G SD 1969 June 970 68 198 26 9 20 65 74 230 .204 .264 .311 2.34
The first-year San Diego Padres produced 68 runs, but they did it over 29 games in June (with a won-loss record of 7-22 for the month). During the first in a string of dismal Junes, the Padres produced runs at a rate that was 57% of league average. For the rest of the year, San Diego produced runs at a rate that was just under 75% of league average.
Next we come to our current “heroes,” the 2003 Tigers:
Team/Yr Month AB R H D T HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG R/G DET 2003 Mar-Apr 771 55 140 21 2 11 50 69 163 .182 .249 .257 2.29
Ouch. That 2.29 runs/game average works out to only 47% of the current league average (4.86, though this is subject to some change between now and the end of the year).
However, let’s say that the runs/game average stays right at the April figure, and that the Tigers get their offense up to a figure halfway between what the Orioles and Padres managed in the balance of their “year of the fallen month”-say, 79% of league average.
When we do the calculations, we get an estimate that the 2003 Tigers will score 585 runs for the year, which will be about 74% of the league average (pegged at 787 runs, or 4.86 times 162 games).
That would place them sixth on the season list for runs relative to league.
Before we leave, however, let’s ask one final question. Was there anyone that we have data for with a worse runs/game average over a month?
Yes, indeed. Check out this set of data:
Team/Yr Month AB R H D T HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG R/G TEX 1972 September 814 53 149 22 5 5 48 65 158 .183 .243 .241 2.04
In their first year in Dallas, the 1972 Texas Rangers tossed off a 3-23 final month in which they barely squeaked out two runs a game.
Relative to the league run scoring levels that year, however, the Rangers don’t grade out as having the most anemic month. Their percentage of league in this month is actually 59%, higher than all of our other teams (and a lot higher than the Tigers). Remember that 1972 was one of the lowest run-scoring environments of all time; in the AL that year, the average runs/game was only .06 higher than in 1968, the “year of the pitcher.”
And, of course, 1972 was the last year in which the AL did not have the DH, something that the ‘88 Orioles and our current heroes had at their disposal when they made their mark in the halls of offensive anemia.
As noted, there are probably some monthly subtotals out there in the ether beyond Retrosheet that have even worse raw numbers. But it’s quite likely that none of those months will prove to have a lower league-relative run scoring level than what Alan Trammell’s boys have “achieved” here in the first month of 2003.
The bad news: “way to go, guys.”
The good news: there’s nowhere to go from here but up.
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