Sinking to the bottom

Jackie Bradley Jr., Victor Robles, and Patrick Corbin would like to forget 2021

The players who succeeded in 2021 have already gotten plenty of ink and screen time.

You know all about the leaders in the most important statistical categories — Trea Turner with a .328 batting average, Salvador Perez and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. with 48 home runs apiece, Corbin Burnes with a 2.43 earned run average, and Julio Urias with 20 wins.

But what about the other side of the coin?

Below you’ll find 2021’s tailenders in six major categories — the batters with the lowest averages, smallest numbers of home runs, and fewest runs batted in, and the pitchers with the highest ERAs, most losses, and highest totals of 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 502 appearances or 162 innings.

But those standards don’t work at the opposite end of the standings. Anybody with a horrible batting average or astronomical ERA is likely to spend a good bit of time on the bench, so I’ve dropped the benchmarks by roughly one-third to 324 appearances or 100 innings.

(It should be noted, of course, that the thresholds were temporarily reduced even further last year because of the truncated schedule. The tailenders in 2020 had to make 120 plate appearances or work 40 innings.)

The new standards (324 PA or 100 IP) apply to all three of the batting categories below. Ties are broken by the number of plate appearances. A batter with just two homers in 665 appearances — the actual record of David Fletcher — has obviously demonstrated less power than somebody (in this case, Nicky Lopez) who hit the same number of homers in 100 fewer PA.

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


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Batting average

The Brewers beefed up their outfield by signing free agent Jackie Bradley Jr. to a two-year, $24 million contract over the winter. Bradley’s .239 career batting average may have been unexceptional, yet it seemed decent enough. He had launched as many as 26 home runs in a single season for the Red Sox, after all, and he had also won a Gold Glove.

But Milwaukee had cause for second thoughts by the end of the year. Bradley hit only .163 in 428 plate appearances for the Brewers in 2021, the worst BA for anybody who went to the plate at least 324 times. He edged out the National League’s 2019 Most Valuable Player, Cody Bellinger, who batted a weak .165 for the Dodgers this year.

Here are the bottom five in batting average for 2021:

And these were the worst batting averages in the previous five seasons:

Home runs

Nobody would ever mistake David Fletcher for a slugger. The Angels’ five-foot-nine second baseman has hit just 12 home runs over his four-year career, peaking with six homers in 154 games in 2019.

Fletcher fell from those dizzying heights this season, finishing with two home runs in 665 plate appearances, the weakest power performance by anybody who made a minimum of 324 PA. Four other batters also hit a pair of homers in 2021, though all of them went to the plate less frequently than Fletcher.

These were the batters who hit the fewest home runs in at least 324 appearances this season:

And these were the power-free leaders in previous years, confined to batters who averaged at least two appearances for every game their teams played:

Runs batted in

Victor Robles finished sixth in the balloting for National League Rookie of the Year in 2019, largely because of his strong performance at the plate. The center fielder hit 17 homers and drove in 65 runs for the Nationals, helping to propel them to the world championship.

But that success is long forgotten. Robles stumbled badly in the two subsequent seasons and eventually was demoted to the minors. He drove in only 19 runs for Washington in 2021 before getting his return ticket punched for AAA ball. His total was easily the fewest RBIs for any batter who crossed the threshold of 324 PA this year.

Here are this year’s bottom six in RBIs, with ties broken by the number of appearances:

And these were the worst RBI producers over the previous five seasons, out of each year’s pool of batters with at least 324 PA (or 120 PA in 2020):

Earned run average

Chi Chi Gonzalez made 18 starts for the Rockies this season, and many of them went badly. He surrendered at least seven runs in three separate games and coughed up four to six runs in another five appearances.

The impact of all this damage was evident in his earned run average of 6.46, which was the highest for any pitcher who worked at least 100 innings in 2021. (Gonzalez, to his misfortune, barely crossed the qualification threshold in this category. He pitched a total of 101.2 innings.) Four other pitchers, including former Mets phenom Matt Harvey, also topped 6.00.

These are the five highest earned run averages among pitchers who worked at least 100 innings in 2021:

And here are the ERA tailenders among pitchers with at least 100 IP in previous years (or 40 IP in 2020):

Losses

Patrick Corbin had grown accustomed to winning. He went 14-13 and 11-7 in his final two seasons (2017 and 2018) with the Diamondbacks, then signed a lucrative free-agent contract with the Nationals. Corbin paid immediate dividends with a 14-7 mark in his new club’s championship season of 2019.

Things have gone south in Washington since then, as Victor Robles could attest. Corbin shared in the misery this year with a 9-16 record. His 16 losses tied him with the Reds’ Luis Castillo for the most in the majors, though Corbin is listed first because he worked fewer innings.

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

  • Patrick Corbin, Nationals, 16 (in 171.2 IP)

  • Luis Castillo, Reds, 16 (in 187.2 IP)

  • Cole Irvin, Athletics, 15 (in 178.1 IP)

  • Sandy Alcantara, Marlins, 15 (in 205.2 IP)

  • Jake Arrieta, Cubs-Padres, 14 (in 98.2 IP)

  • Jorge Lopez, Orioles, 14 (in 121.2 IP)

  • Matt Harvey, Orioles, 14 (in 127.2 IP)

And these were the loss leaders in previous seasons:

Walks

Lance McCullers Jr. was admittedly wild when he broke in with the Astros. He issued five walks per nine innings in 2016, a rate that was astronomically high and potentially dangerous to his career.

McCullers seemed to get himself under control after that, cutting his rate to 3.3 walks per nine innings during the four-year span from 2017 to 2020. But his problem resurfaced in 2021, with his rate shooting back up to 4.2 per nine. McCullers surrendered a total of 76 walks, the most in the majors this year, barely edging past Zach Davies and Luis Castillo at 75 apiece.

Here are the five highest walk totals for 2021:

  • Lance McCullers Jr., Astros, 76

  • Zach Davies, Cubs, 75 (in 148.0 IP)

  • Luis Castillo, Reds, 75 (in 187.2 IP)

  • John Gant, Cardinals-Twins, 71

  • Blake Snell, Padres, 69

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