Bottom of the list

There were the very worst performances on the field in 2020 (and the decade before)

This blog is known as Baseball’s Best (and Worst), though it has shied away from the parenthetical so far.

We’ve talked about the best players at generating runs, the best comebacks in September, the clubs that enjoy the best fan support, and the all-time best players for two franchises, the Angels and the Astros.

As for the worst of things, not so much.

So let’s rectify that today. The best players of 2020 are already receiving their plaudits: D.J. LeMahieu and Juan Soto as the respective batting champions of the American and National Leagues, Luke Voit and Marcell Ozuna as the home run titlists, Shane Bieber and Trevor Bauer as the pacesetters in earned run average, and so on. (It’s my contention that there were really three leagues this year, not two, but we’ll let that pass for the moment.)

But what about the players who do badly, the ones who finish at the bottom of the list? They are hardly ever recognized.

Until now.

Below you’ll find the major-league tailenders for 2020 in six major categories — the batters with the lowest averages, fewest homers, and least runs batted in, and the pitchers with the highest ERAs, most losses, and most walks.

Players must average 3.1 plate appearances or one inning pitched per game to qualify for first place in a given statistical category — the equivalent of 186 appearances or 60 innings in this truncated season, or 502 appearances or 162 innings in a regular year.

It’s a bit trickier isolating the worst performances. Anybody with a horrible batting average or astronomical ERA is likely to spend a good bit of time on the bench, preventing him from reaching the traditional qualification standards. So I’ve dropped the benchmarks by roughly one-third to 120 appearances or 40 innings for 2020 and 324 appearances or 100 innings for the previous seasons.

These new standards apply to all three of the batting categories below. Ties are broken by the number of plate appearances. A batter with zero HR in 183 PA — that’s you, Shogo Akiyama — has obviously done worse than somebody (a/k/a Andrelton Simmons) with no homers in 127 PA.

The pitching standards apply only to ERA. The other two categories — losses and walks — are open to all comers.

Batting average

Remember when Gary Sanchez seemed ready to become the next great catcher for the Yankees?

He batted a solid .299 with 20 home runs in 2016 — finishing second in the balloting for Rookie of the Year — and followed up with 33 homers in his sophomore season.

Well, Sanchez has tailed off since then, and he really struck bottom this year with just 23 hits in 156 at-bats, yielding a .147 average, the worst in the majors.

Here are the bottom five for 2020:

  • Gary Sanchez, Yankees, .147

  • Gregory Polanco, Pirates, .153

  • Hunter Renfroe, Rays, .156

  • Edwin Encarnacion, White Sox, .157

  • Scott Kingery, Phillies, .159

And these were the worst batting averages by players with at least 324 appearances in a given season during the past decade:

  • 2019: Austin Hedges, Padres, .176

  • 2018: Chris Davis, Orioles, .168

  • 2017: Adam Engel, White Sox, .166

  • 2016: Derek Norris, Padres, .186

  • 2015: Mike Zunino, Mariners, .174

  • 2014: Jon Singleton, Astros, .168

  • 2013: Dan Uggla, Braves, .179

  • 2012: John Buck, Marlins, .192

  • 2011: Adam Dunn, White Sox, .159

  • 2010: Carlos Pena, Rays, .196

Home runs

Shogo Akiyama arrived in Cincinnati this season with a decent reputation as a power hitter. He had blasted at least 20 homers in each of the past three years in Japan, while consistently keeping his batting average above .300.

The major leagues proved to be harder. Akiyama batted only .245 for the Reds in 2020, and he didn’t swat a single home run.

All five tailenders in this category were shut out, but Akiyama wins the honors because he made the most plate appearances:

  • Shogo Akiyama, Reds, 0 (in 183 PA)

  • Andrelton Simmons, Angels, 0 (in 127 PA)

  • Nico Hoerner, Cubs, 0 (in 126 PA)

  • Carter Kieboom, Nationals, 0 (in 122 PA)

  • Luis Arraez, Twins, 0 (in 121 PA)

And these were the power-free leaders in previous years, the men with the fewest homers among batters who made at least 324 appearances:

  • 2019: Billy Hamilton, Royals-Braves, 0

  • 2018: Mallex Smith, Rays, 2

  • 2017: Gorkys Hernandez, Giants, 0

  • 2016: Billy Burns, Athletics-Royals, 0

  • 2015: Michael Bourn, Indians-Braves, 0

  • 2014: James Jones, Mariners, 0

  • 2013: Ben Revere, Phillies, 0

  • 2012: Ben Revere, Twins, 0

  • 2011: Jamey Carroll, Dodgers, 0

  • 2010: Elvis Andrus, Rangers, 0

Runs batted in

Leody Taveras, a rookie center fielder with the Rangers, came to the plate 33 times with runners on base in 2020. He didn’t do a very good job of driving them home.

Taveras batted in just six runs all season, tying Phillies second baseman Scott Kingery for the worst production by any batter who made at least 120 appearances. But Taveras gets the unhappy edge in this category, since he went to bat 10 times more than Kingery.

Here are the bottom five in RBIs for 2020:

  • Leody Taveras, Rangers, 6 (in 134 PA)

  • Scott Kingery, Phillies, 6 (in 124 PA)

  • Joe Panik, Blue Jays, 7 (in 141 PA)

  • Jo Adell, Angels, 7 (in 132 PA)

  • Delino DeShields, Indians, 7 (in 120 PA)

And these were the tailenders over the previous decade, out of each year’s pool of batters with at least 324 PA:

  • 2019: Billy Hamilton, Royals-Braves, 15

  • 2018: Travis Jankowski, Padres, 17

  • 2017: Rajai Davis, Athletics-Red Sox, 20

  • 2016: Travis Jankowski, Padres, 12

  • 2015: Brayan Pena, Reds, 18

  • 2014: James Jones, Mariners, 9

  • 2013: Juan Pierre, Marlins, 8

  • 2012: Jarrod Dyson, Royals, 9

  • 2011: Jordan Schafer, Braves-Astros, 13

  • 2010: Tony Gwynn Jr., Padres, 20

Earned run average

Jordan Lyles pitched very well for the Brewers in 2019 after arriving in a midseason trade with the Pirates. The prospective free agent went 7-1 for Milwaukee with a 2.45 ERA, a performance that drew the attention of several clubs.

Texas won the bidding with a two-year, $16 million contract. The Rangers expected big things from the tall righthander.

But it didn’t work out. Not the first year, at least. Lyles stumbled to a 1-6 record in 2020 with a bloated ERA of 7.02, the very worst among any pitcher who worked at least 40 innings.

These are the five highest earned run averages in the truncated season:

  • Jordan Lyles, Rangers, 7.02

  • Derek Holland, Pirates, 6.86

  • Tanner Roark, Blue Jays, 6.80

  • Matthew Boyd, Tigers, 6.71

  • Anibal Sanchez, Nationals, 6.62

And here are the ERA tailenders among pitchers with at least 100 IP in previous years:

  • 2019: Jordan Zimmermann, Tigers, 6.91

  • 2018: Matt Moore, Rangers, 6.79

  • 2017: Ubaldo Jimenez, Orioles, 6.81

  • 2016: Tyler Duffey, Twins, 6.43

  • 2015: Kyle Kendrick, Rockies, 6.32

  • 2014: Edwin Jackson, Cubs, 6.33

  • 2013: Joe Blanton, Angels, 6.04

  • 2012: Philip Humber, White Sox, 6.44

  • 2011: John Lackey, Red Sox, 6.41

  • 2010: Ryan Rowland-Smith, Mariners, 6.75

Losses

Luke Weaver seemed to have made substantial progress in 2019. The righthander went 4-3 in 12 starts for the Diamondbacks, posting a nifty 2.94 ERA. There was reason to anticipate a breakout season in 2020.

And Weaver did distinguish himself this year, though not in a way that he or Arizona had hoped for. He lost nine of his 12 starts, including six of his final seven appearances. It was the largest number of defeats suffered by any pitcher this year — the equivalent of 24 in a 162-game season.

These are the five biggest losers of the year, with ties broken by innings pitched:

  • Luke Weaver, Diamondbacks, 9

  • Trevor Williams, Pirates, 8

  • Rick Porcello, Mets, 7 (in 59.0 IP)

  • Matthew Boyd, Tigers, 7 (in 60.1 IP)

  • Patrick Corbin, Nationals, 7 (in 65.2 IP)

And these were the loss leaders in previous seasons:

  • 2019: Spencer Turnbull, Tigers, 17

  • 2018: Dylan Bundy, Orioles, 16

  • 2017: Rick Porcello, Red Sox, 17

  • 2016: James Shields, Padres-White Sox, 19

  • 2015: Shelby Miller, Braves, 17

  • 2014: A.J. Burnett, Phillies, 18

  • 2013: Edwin Jackson, Cubs, 18

  • 2012: Ubaldo Jimenez, Indians, 17

  • 2011: Derek Lowe, Braves, 17

  • 2010: Joe Saunders, Angels-Diamondbacks, 17

Walks

Robbie Ray made the All-Star team in 2017, en route to 15 wins for the Diamondbacks, a shiny 2.89 ERA, and 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings. The latter was the best mark for any pitcher in the National League.

But Ray had always been cursed with a touch of wildness. He ranked among the eight NL pitchers with the most walks in 2017 and 2018, then vaulted to second place with 84 walks in 2019.

He attained the unhappy distinction of being the wildest of all pitchers in 2020, walking 45 batters in a season that he split between Arizona and Toronto.

Here are the five highest walk totals this year:

  • Robbie Ray, Diamondbacks-Blue Jays, 45

  • Dylan Cease, White Sox, 34

  • Justin Dunn, Mariners, 31

  • Kyle Gibson, Rangers, 30

  • Spencer Turnbull, Tigers, 29

And these were the season-by-season walk leaders in the previous decade:

  • 2019: Dakota Hudson, Cardinals, 86

  • 2018: Tyler Chatwood, Cubs, 95

  • 2017: Wade Miley, Orioles, 93

  • 2016: Jimmy Nelson, Brewers, 86

  • 2015: Tyson Ross, Padres, 84

  • 2014: A.J. Burnett, Phillies, 96

  • 2013: Lucas Harrell, Astros, 88

  • 2012: Ricky Romero, Blue Jays, 105

  • 2011: Gio Gonzalez, Athletics, 91

  • 2010: Jonathan Sanchez, Giants, 96