This article makes me glad I started following the Yankees in 1969 !
By BENJAMIN HOFFMAN
New York Times , July 19, 2014
Because of baseball’s long history, there is usually comfort in knowing that as bad as it gets for your team, there is almost always some other club that was worse. But the 2014 San Diego Padres might not have that consolation. At this point, their awful offense is about as bad as any in history, and there are still more than 60 games to be played.
Starting the second half of the season at home against the Mets on Friday, the Padres have a record of 41-54. Look a little closer and you’ll find a solid pitching staff and a group of hitters who have managed to redefine futility.
Somehow, they have put together a .214 team average that is a full 23 points lower than the team with the second-worst mark. They have also scored 81 fewer runs than anyone else in baseball. And as the trading deadline approaches, with the possibility that some veterans could be headed elsewhere, it is distinctly possible that things will merely get worse.
Indeed, if the Padres’ .214 average were to remain the same through the end of the season, it would tie the 1968 Yankees for the lowest mark in the last 100 years. To beat that, you would have to go back to baseball’s dead-ball era, when the 1910 Chicago White Sox hit .210.
In the case of the Padres, their basic inability to hit a baseball has resulted in 14 games this season in which they were shut out and 35 others in which they failed to score more than two runs. And then there was the no-hitter that Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants threw against them on June 25.
Actually, the Lincecum game might not have been the low point for the Padres. Instead that came on July 10, when, in the early innings of a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers star Clayton Kershaw, fans and reporters on Twitter began openly anticipating another no-hitter, even though most of the game had yet to be played. In the end, there was not a no-hitter, and the Padres ended Kershaw’s long run of consecutive scoreless innings. Still, Kershaw came away with a complete-game 2-1 win in which he struck out 11 and allowed only three hits. In other words, a typical Thursday for San Diego.
Jodi Paranal, who writes about the Padres on the blog Gaslamp Ball, summed up the Kershaw game on Twitter, irreverently proclaiming: “The streak is over. We ruin everything!!!!”
In the Gaslamp Ball community, “we ruin everything” is a battle cry dating to at least 2009, when the Padres swept a series with the Dodgers, delaying their rival from clinching the division title.
It is the kind of gallows-humor phrase fans sometimes need, especially when they are loyally watching a club — as in the Padres — whose offense generates so little in the way of anything that it is not easy to stay awake.
“There is a sense that we are all on this terrible ride together,” said Geoffrey Hancock, a blogger who writes on the Padres Public site under the name Left Coast Bias. “This leads to snarkiness and sarcasm, sure, but you’ll see the same people live-tweeting the next game and the game after.”
Paranal agreed, saying, “For those of us who do still continue to watch the Padres every night, it’s definitely easier to do so when we can all talk about it in real time and share in all the ups and downs together.”
Why the Padres have been so feeble with a bat in their hands is not all that clear. Last season, with many of the same players, the team had a .245 batting average. And while the Padres do play their home games at Petco Park, widely known as a pitchers’ stadium, they are actually hitting worse on the road this season (.210) than they are at home (.217).
So far this season, Seth Smith, an outfielder acquired in a trade with Oakland last December, has been the team’s only competent hitter. But his .283 average is overwhelmed by a lineup featuring five regulars batting lower than .230.
The worst of the worst has been Jedd Gyorko, a second baseman who was following up a promising rookie season with one of the more bleak performances in baseball history until he was sidelined with plantar fasciitis in his left foot. Hitting .162 with a .213 on-base percentage and a .270 slugging percentage, Gyorko also has a .482 on-base plus slugging percentage, which is the lowest of any major leaguer with at least 200 at-bats this season. Numerous pitchers have put together better numbers at the plate.
“It’s tough for everyone here when the team is struggling to hit,” said shortstop Everth Cabrera, an All-Star last year who was batting .218 before a strained hamstring sent him to the disabled list this month. “It’s not just one or two guys struggling, it’s six or seven.”
The situation has Hancock hoping — praying? — for regression to the mean.
“When you look at the individual players on this team, they are almost across the board playing below their career average or projection,” Hancock said. “So it stands to reason that this offense is not as bad as they’ve been. Yet, here we are in the middle of July and that regression has failed to materialize.”
And if Smith or Chase Headley (ostensibly the team’s best player but currently hitting only .226) is traded, the offense could get worse.
But even if it did, would it be the worst of all time? Comparing teams of different eras can be tricky, with statistics like home runs, stolen bases and runs scored fluctuating wildly depending on how baseball was played at a particular point in history.
In an attempt to smooth out cross-era comparisons, Baseball-Reference.com developed a statistic called Split O.P.S. Many fans of traditional statistics will roll their eyes at yet another metric, but Split O.P.S. uses two tried-and-true numbers — on-base and slugging percentages — and compares the team’s combination of those two figures with the rest of the major league clubs that season.
Each team is then assigned a number indicating how far the team is above or below the major league average. The baseline is 100, with anything above it indicating the team performed above average, and vice versa.
In the case of the 2014 Padres, comparing the team’s .607 O.P.S. to the major league average of .707 results in a Split O.P.S. of 72, or the second lowest a team has registered in the last 100 years. The worst full-season Split O.P.S. on record, a 71, came from the 1924 Boston Braves, a team that included Casey Stengel, who was an outlier on that club with a respectable .280 average.
Tied with the Padres at 72 are the 1963 Houston Colt .45s, an expansion team then in its second season with a roster that featured seven teenagers, including a couple of 19-year-olds named Rusty Staub and Joe Morgan.
Staub, who went on to reach base more than 4,000 times in his career, was allowed to struggle through his first season, batting .224 in 150 games. His total stands as the second-most games in a season by any player under 20 years of age.
On Sept. 27 of that season, the Colt .45s, with nothing to lose except another game, took things to an extreme, fielding an entire starting lineup of rookies. Morgan provided the team’s only extra-base hit as the Colt .45s fell to the lowly Mets, 10-3.
The Padres, however, don’t have any teenagers on their roster, so that excuse is out. Nor are they a relatively new expansion team. Nor, at this point, are they even a team with a general manager, since no one has yet been appointed to replace Josh Byrnes, who was dismissed on June 22.
And since there is no general manager, Paranal and Hancock were given an opportunity to wing it. What would they do, they were asked, to fix a team that’s so feeble? Both responded that they would trade Headley and bail on the rest of the 2014 season. “Maybe even 2015,” Hancock added.
But for now the Padres will stumble along, with a pitching staff good enough to win a few games, and an offense so bad that opposing pitchers circle the calendar, waiting for their shot.