Plumbing the Depths: Orioles Have a Shot at the Record for Futility

The real question for the Baltimore Orioles in 2019 is not if they will be terrible – they certainly will be – but if they will lose more games than any Major League Baseball team in the modern era.

The 1962 New York Mets set the record for the most losses in a season with 120.

The Orioles lost 115 games in 2018. That was with third baseman/shortstop Manny Machado, second baseman Jonathan Schoop, closer Zach Britton for part of the year and center fielder Adam Jones for the whole year.

Machado, Schoop, and Britton were dealt at mid-season. Jones is a free agent, unsigned but unlikely to end up back in Baltimore because the Orioles are in full rebuild mode, a mindset they came to a few months too late.

Misplaced optimism

The Orioles entered last season with hopes of somehow contending in the American League East after going 75-87 in 2017.

They chose what proved to be an unfortunate middle ground last off season. The Orioles held onto assets, particularly Machado. But the team didn’t add much besides starting pitchers Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb, even though the rival New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox made significant upgrades to their rosters.

Good news for @Orioles fans: the 2019 team has a chance to set a new MLB record! Bad news: they have a realistic shot of breaking the 1962 Mets' record for most single-season losses.Click To Tweet

It became obvious quickly the Orioles should have been selling in the winter. They stumbled to an 8-20 start in March and April, falling 12.5 games behind the division leader, Boston.

The highest-paid Oriole, first baseman Chris Davis, making $21.1 million, was benched in June after his batting average fell to .150. He finished the season with a .168 average, a .243 on-base percentage, slugging .296 with 16 homers in 522 plate appearances.

The Orioles finished with the worst team ERA in baseball (5.18), ranked 27th in runs scored (622), 29th in on-base percentage (.298), 21st in fielding percentage and 27th in defensive runs saved.

It all added up to a franchise record for the most losses. That is saying something because before the club moved to Baltimore it was the St. Louis Browns, aka the hapless St. Louis Browns. In 53 seasons, the Browns won one American League pennant, no World Series, lost 100 games eight times and are best remembered for using a dwarf as a pinch hitter. In the days of the Browns, teams played slightly fewer games. The worst season in terms of winning percentage in franchise history was the 1939 Browns (.279). Last year’s Orioles had the second worst (.290).

Here are the worst Orioles/Browns teams:

2018Baltimore Orioles471150.290
1939St. Louis Browns431112,279
1937St. Louis Browns461080.299
1988Baltimore Orioles541070.335
1911St. Louis Browns451070.296
1910St. Louis Browns471074.305
1951St. Louis Browns521020.338
1949St. Louis Browns521011.344
1912St. Louis Browns531013.344
1954Baltimore Orioles541000.351
1953St. Louis Browns541000.351

Long climb

The immediate outlook for the franchise is gloomy.

Start with Davis, who has four more seasons left on this contract. He is 33 and is declining rapidly. His OPS-plus dropped from 147 in 2015 to 110 in 2016 to 96 in 2017 to 50 in 2018. So basically he has gone from being 50 percent better than the average major-league hitter to 50 percent worse.

Designated hitter Mark Trumbo was productive when he played in 2018, batting .261 with a .313 on-base percentage and slugging .452. But he was often injured and only appeared in 90 games.

Second baseman Jonathan Villar, who was traded for Schoop after disappointing the Brewers the past two seasons, was decent with the Orioles (.258/.336/.392).

Renato Núñez, picked up on waivers from the Texas Rangers in May, played 60 games, mostly at third and had a slash line of .275/.336/.445.

Cedric Mullins is the most promising newcomer, He is a speedy outfielder who will probably start in center field, even if Jones returns. Mullins played 45 games with the parent club (.235/.312/.359) after playing in Class AA and Class AAA (combined .289/.346/.472). He had 31 stolen bases and 12 homers in the minors.

Dylan Bundy was expected to be the Orioles’ ace last season – and he’s expected to be the ace again this season despite a rough 2018. Last year he gave up a major-league-worst 41 home runs on the way to going 8-16 with a 5.45 ERA.

Cashner (4-15, 5.29) and Cobb (5-15, 4.90) were busts. Baltimore’s most effective starter Kevin Gausman wasn’t all that effective (5-8, 4.43).

Dan Duquette, the architect of last season’s mess, is out as executive vice president and general manager. The team hired Mike Elias as his replacement. Brandon Hyde, bench manager of the Chicago Cubs, replaced Buck Showalter as manager.

On the farm

Orioles restocked the farm system somewhat with the deadline deals last summer, but the most promising prospects are a bit away from the majors.

Outfielder Yusniel Diaz, a defector from Cuba who came over to the Orioles from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Machado trade,  tops most lists of Orioles prospects I have seen. He played in Class AA last season (.285/.392/.449). Expect a late-season call up to The Show in 2019. Third baseman Ryan Mountcastle (.297/.341/.464 at Class AA Bowie) is likely at least a season away.

The top pitching prospect is DL Hall. He went 2-7 last season with a 2.10 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 94.1 innings for  the Delmarva Shorebirds of South Atlantic League. He turned 20 in September. Orioles’ fans shouldn’t count on seeing him at Camden Yards for three more seasons.

The next Manny Machado or Mike Mussina? The Orioles will have to wait until the June draft to find that guy.

How low can you go?

Using the Pythagorean winning percentage formula based on their runs scored and allowed, the Orioles should have lost only 107 games last season. A lot of things went wrong for the Orioles to lose 115 games. And that would be the case for them to lose 120 games in 2019. But it is somewhat plausible.

The Orioles’ offense has a good chance to be even worse this season than last season. Machado was far-and-away their best hitter last season. You would think that Davis couldn’t be that bad again. The Orioles won’t play him if he’s that bad. But a not-so-bad Davis will not replace a half season of Machado.

The starting pitching will probably be better. Either Bundy or Cashner or Cobb likely will have a bounce-back season.

Caesars Palace put the Orioles over/under win total at 59, which is 103 losses. I think the Orioles are probably looking at 105 to 110 losses.

But you never know. The previous worst Baltimore Orioles season was in 1988 when they went 54-107. The next season they had a winning record, going 87-75.

In 2003 the Detroit Tigers almost equaled the 1962 Mets, losing 119. The Tigers won the final two games to avoid  equaling or surpassing the Mets. The Tigers were 72-90 the next season. Two years after that they were in the World Series.

On the other hand, the Mets, who were in their first season of existence, followed up their 1962 campaign with a 111-loss season.

They only lost 109 in 1964, but the good times didn’t last. They lost 112 in 1965. The Mets finally lost fewer than 100 games in 1966, going 66-95.

Here are the worst teams of the modern era by winning percentage:

1916Philadelphia Athletics36117.235
1935Boston Braves38115.248
1962New York Mets40120.250
1904Washington Senators38113.252
1919Philadelphia Athletics36104.257
2003Detroit Tigers43119.265
1952Pittsburgh Pirates42112,273
1909Washington Senators42110,276
1942Philadelphia Phillies42109,278
1941Philadelphia Phillies43111.279
1932Boston Braves43111.279
1939St. Louis Browns43111.279
1928Philadelphia Phillies43109,283
1915Philadelphia Athletics43109.283
2018Baltimore Orioles47115.290

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