Playing on the road can be tough. A team has to deal with travel, unfamiliar facilities, and raucous fans. However, some teams just can’t deal being away from home as well as others. Brandon Magee looks at two teams who have started off the 2016 season on pace to join some of the worst road performances of all time.
While the Atlanta Braves have been the talk of baseball with their horrible home record, garnering only five wins in their first 26 games, a pair of major-league clubs have been matching the Braves’ inefficiency on the road. The Minnesota Twins and the Cincinnati Reds have both used their early season road games to present their opposition the gift of victories. Could either team join the pantheon of the worst road teams in history?
The 1899 Cleveland Spiders
It is probably unfair to include the Spiders in a list like this. The specific circumstances that caused the Spiders to lose an unassailable 101 games on the road could never be reproduced in the modern game. However, the road record of 11-101 (a .098 win percentage) is, by far, the most deficient in major-league history.
The Spiders were a very good team between 1892 and 1898, landing in the upper half of the 12-team National League. Led by manager Patsy Tebeau and pitcher Cy Young, the team finished above .500 in each season and second place in the league in three different seasons. However, ownership in multiple teams was not prohibited, and when the owners of the Spiders bought the St. Louis Browns (who would become the Perfectos in 1899 before evolving into the modern day Cardinals), a series of trades moved the good players to St. Louis – including Young and Tebeau – and the dross to Cleveland. The gambit did not work for either side, the Perfectos failed to win the league and the Spiders fell to 20-134 and ceased to exist after the season ended.
How bad were the Spiders? They had five different pitchers lose double-digit games, including Jim Hughey who went 4-30 and Charlie Knepper who had a record of 4-22. Their offense was just as paltry, with only Ossee Schrecongost (who played 43 games) and Chief Zimmer (who played just 20) posting an OPS+ above 100.
The Cleveland fans were having none of this nonsense. A mere 6,088 turned out to see the Spiders’ 42 home games (just under 145 per game) before the club became a traveling concern, finishing the year on the road. Although circumstances have put teams on the road to finish their seasons in the recent past, MLB will no longer allow teams to go on the road simply because of poor home attendance.
1904 and 1909 Washington Senators
The first decade of the Senators existence in the newly formed American League were spent at or near the bottom of the standings. Their poorest season was in 1904 when they finished 55 1/2 games out of first place with 113 losses. While the Sens were poor at home, compiling a 23-52 mark, they were even worse on the road, amassing 61 losses in 76 games (a .197 winning percentage).
As with most poor teams, there were many lowlights. Hunter Hill was the worst of the offensive players, with a line of .197/228/.224 in 77 games, but player-managers Malachi Kittridge (who relinquished the reins after 17 games) and Patsy Donovan also struggled at the plate, each having an OPS under .540. Starting pitchers Casey Patten, Happy Townsend, and Beany Jacobson each were charged with at least 23 losses during the season.
The 110-loss 1909 Senators went one better than the 1904 squad, going 15-62 on the road. The offense was the main culprit, with only George Browne, Jack Lelivelt, and Bob Unglaub generating reasonable offensive numbers, each finishing with an OPS above .650. Despite 27 complete games and a 2.22 ERA, 21-year-old Walter Johnson went 13-25 and his fellow starter Bob Groom finished with a record of 7-26.
Johnson would soon lead the Senators to respectability, with the team finishing second in the league in 1912 and 1913, but the Senators would not see a pennant until winning two consecutively in 1924 and 1925.
1916 Philadelphia Athletics
Between 1910 and 1914, the Athletics were the best team in baseball. In those five seasons, the A’s finished with 90-plus wins every season, went to four World Series, and took home the title three times. However, winning becomes expensive, and the A’s had a fire sale after their 1914 season, selling Eddie Collins to the Chicago White Sox and losing Home Run Baker to the semi-pro Delaware County League in a contract dispute.
The 1915 team began a decade-long struggle for the Athletics, who lost 56 more games than the season before. The 1915 team, however, was poorer at home (19-53) than on the road (24-56). On the other hand, the 117-loss 1916 A’s saved their worst for the road, going 13-64 away from Shibe Park. Despite some decent looking seasons from Amos Strunk and Wally Schang, the A’s offense scored only 447 runs during the season. The pitching suffered for the offensive deficiency, with Elmer Myers, Bullet Joe Bush, and Jack Nabors each suffering 20-loss campaigns.
The decade long malaise also had the team going 17-44 on the road in 1918 (with a winning record at home) and 15-55 in 1919, when the team once again dipped back into 100-loss territory.
1932 Boston Red Sox
The Boston Red Sox of the 1920s and early 1930s were a punching bag for the rest of the American League. Between 1922 and 1932, the Red Sox finished in the basement nine times and only in 1924 did they finish with fewer than 90 losses. But, it was the 1932 season when the Sox were at their most wretched.
Boston finished the season with a franchise worst record of 43-111, losing 50 games at home and a staggering 61 away from Friendly Fenway. Despite the offensive exploits of Dale Alexander (.978 OPS), Smead Jolley (.825 OPS), and Roy Johnson (.862 OPS), the offense only scored 566 runs. That was nowhere near enough with the pitching giving up 915. Bob Kline was the worst of the offenders on the pitching staff, allowing 117 runs in 172 innings pitched. Bob Weiland wasn’t so hot himself, allowing 125 runs in his 195 2/3 innings of work.
The club was sold in the offseason to Tom Yawkey and under the direction of general manager Eddie Collins, the team started the process of turning its fortunes around, winning 15 more games on the road and 10 more at home in 1933. Since the 1932 season, the Red Sox have only hit the depths of 100 losses once, in 1965.
1952 Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pittsburgh Pirates, mired in mediocrity since their last world championship appearance in 1927, attempted a radical youth infusion under the direction of Branch Rickey in 1952. The offensive team saw 20-year-old first baseman Tony Bartirome put up a line of .220/.273/.265 in 124 games, 19-year-old Bobby Del Greco hit .217/.301/.279 in 99 games and 21-year-old Dick Groat put up an OPS of .632 at shortstop.
The pitching staff saw 21-year-old Bob Friend go 7-17 with a 4.18 ERA over 185 innings, 20-year-old Ron Kline pick up seven losses and no victories in 27 appearances, and 20-year-old Ron Necciai and 18-year-old Jim Waugh each go 1-6.
Unsurprisingly, the youth infusion sent the team down the losing path, picking up 22 more losses than in 1951, going 42-112. The youthful Buccos were bad at home (23-54) but even worse on the road (19-58). The team made incremental improvements in 1953 and 1954 before breaking through the 100-loss barrier in 1955. They would win the World Series in 1960.
1988 Baltimore Orioles
The 1988 Baltimore Orioles hold the unofficial distinction of being the only team eliminated from playoff contention before winning their first game of the season. The Os started the ‘88 season with a losing streak to start the season that may never be matched, going down to defeat in each of their first 21 games.
The team “rebounded” from the horrific start to finish the season with a record of 54-107, but with 20 wins and 61 losses on the road. The offensive contribution of Billy Ripken – who batted a mere .207/.260/.258 while playing 150 games at second base – highlighted a dysfunctional offense that included poor performances from Pete Stanicek, Jim Traber, Ken Gerhart, Terry Kennedy, Rene Gonzales, and Brady Anderson.
The pitching staff wasn’t much better, with starters Jose Bautista, Jay Tibbs, Jeff Ballard, and Mike Boddicker – prior to his trade to the Boston Red Sox – each garnering a dozen or more losses. Mark Williamson and Mark Thurmond made certain there was no relief from the bullpen.
The 1988 Orioles rebounded the next season, finishing with 33 more victories and just two games out of the top spot in the AL East.
2010 Pittsburgh Pirates
When Barry Bonds left the Pittsburgh Pirates after the 1992 season, the Pirates fell into a losing spiral that lasted until 2013. The nadir of the streak was in 2010, when the Pirates fell to 105 losses.
But unlike most bad teams, these Pirates were average at home, going 40-41. Which means they were abysmal on the road, compiling a 17-64 record, the worst 81-game road record in MLB history.
The young offense that would lead the Pirates to success in 2013 was coming on board in 2010, with Andrew McCutchen (121 OPS+), Pedro Alvarez (112 OPS+), Jose Tabata (103 OPS+), and Neil Walker (119 OPS+) leading the way.
2016 Cincinnati Reds
The Reds, recent losers of 11 straight and currently 17 of 21, stand at 17-34 at the quarter mark of the season. Like the Pirates of 2010, the team has been relatively decent at home (12-15) but atrocious on the road, winning only five of 24 thus far this season.
The team may only get worse as the season continues, with offensive stalwarts Jay Bruce, Zack Cozart, and Adam Duvall being on the early trade radar. Their replacements may make for an ugly rest of the season, however, as only Tyler Holt has eclipsed an OPS+ higher than 65 this season off the bench.
The pitching has been pathetic, putting up an ERA of 5.54, last in the National League. The relief staff of Caleb Cotham, Ross Ohlendorf, J.C. Ramirez, J.J. Hoover, and Jumbo Diaz have been particularly liable, each with ERAs over 4.50 on the season. Of course, it doesn’t help when an entire rotation is on the disabled list. Homer Bailey, Michael Lorenzen, and Anthony DeSclafani are all on the 60-day DL with Raisel Iglesias, Tim Adleman, and Jon Moscot all serving time on the 15-day DL.
2016 Minnesota Twins
The Twins, losers of nine straight to begin the season and winners of only four games in 24 between April 27 and May 24 may just be a bad team. With only 15 wins in their first 50 games, only the Braves have a record equal to them.
The Twins won just four of their first 23 games on the road before an improbable sweep at the Seattle Mariners this weekend followed by a loss yesterday to the Oakland Athletics. The current road trip has improved them to 7-20 on the season; one of only three teams yet to break into double digit wins away from home. [The Milwaukee Brewers have nine road victories.] However, Minnesota is the only team in MLB to not yet reach double digit wins at home or away.
The offense is a sight no one in the Twin Cities want to see, with Kurt Suzuki, Brian Dozier, Eduardo Escobar, Eddie Rosario, and Danny Santana all sporting OPS+ of 73 or less. Meanwhile, 22-year-old prospect Byron Buxton has failed to catch on, batting .156/.208/.289 with 24 strikeouts in 17 games with the Twins. John Ryan Murphy, 25, was even worse in an 11-game trial, putting up a -38 OPS+.
Meanwhile, Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes each sport ERAs above 5.00 through their first ten starts on the season. The bullpen trio of Kevin Jepsen, Ryan Pressly, and Trevor May have only brought more gasoline to the fire, also sporting ERAs above 4.70 in 22 or more appearances.
What lies ahead for the Twins and Reds? It is certainly possible that both teams could turn around their poor beginnings with trades or promotions from the minors. However, at the quarter pole of the major-league season, both teams are well on their way to adding their names to the dubious history of the worst road teams in MLB history.
[The 1935 Boston Braves, the 1939 St. Louis Browns, the 1962 New York Mets, and the 2003 Detroit Tigers were horrible at home and on the road and were discussed in a previous article on poor home teams.]
Brandon Magee is our minor league expert; he has written about minor league travel, ranking prospects, a first round draft pick, and the MLB First-Year Player Draft.
Follow Brandon on Twitter @cuzittt.