The Worst Teams in Baseball History

After the World Series ended and the Nationals emerged victorious, I wrote about how the Astros had put together one of the greatest regular seasons of all time and joined the (perhaps ignominious) list of great teams without a title. In doing so, I created the below graph, which shows team winning percentage and WAR, highlighting some of the greatest teams of all time:

At the time, I didn’t mention the teams at the very bottom-left of the graph. If the teams at the top-right are the greatest, then the teams in the bottom-left are the worst. In trying to find a single number to determine just how good or bad a team was, I created an IQ-like score for both winning percentage and team WAR, where 100 is average and every standard deviation away from the mean was worth 15 points. Then I took the average of the two scores for one final number. For reference, this year’s Astros team ended up at 136.5; more than 90% of all teams from 1903 through this season were between 75 and 125.

Because one big list going back to 1903 might end up with too many teams that some readers might have little interest in, or at least no memory of, let’s start with the worst teams of the last decade:

Worst Teams of the Decade
Season Team W% W% IQ Total WAR WAR IQ W%/WAR IQ AVG
2013 Astros .315 66.1 4.1 61.6 63.9
2018 Orioles .290 61.6 8.1 67.0 64.3
2019 Tigers .292 61.9 8.6 67.7 64.8
2010 Pirates .352 72.9 7.8 66.6 69.8
2019 Marlins .352 72.9 8.6 67.7 70.3
2019 Orioles .333 69.5 11.9 72.2 70.9
2012 Astros .340 70.6 15.1 76.5 73.6
2011 Twins .389 79.7 12.0 72.3 76.0
2018 Marlins .391 80.1 12.6 73.2 76.6
2011 Astros .346 71.8 18.9 81.7 76.7
2019 Royals .364 75.2 17.0 79.1 77.1
2018 Royals .358 74.0 18.2 80.8 77.4
2012 Cubs .377 77.4 15.7 77.4 77.4
2010 Mariners .377 77.4 17.9 80.4 78.9
2018 Tigers .395 80.8 16.3 78.2 79.5
2013 Marlins .383 78.5 17.9 80.4 79.5
2016 Reds .420 85.3 13.1 73.8 79.6
2018 White Sox .383 78.5 18.7 81.4 80.0

The Astros have the honor of putting together both the best and worst regular-season team of the last decade. As we might expect, there’s a decent dose of Orioles, Tigers, and Marlins as well. If we go back a little bit further — to the strike — the list looks like this:

Worst Teams Since the 1994 Strike
Season Team W% W% IQ Total WAR WAR IQ W%/WAR IQ AVG
2003 Tigers .265 57.1 1.7 58.3 57.7
2013 Astros .315 66.1 4.1 61.6 63.9
2018 Orioles .290 61.6 8.1 67.0 64.3
1996 Tigers .327 68.4 3.1 60.2 64.3
2019 Tigers .292 61.9 8.6 67.7 64.8
2004 Diamondbacks .315 66.1 10.2 69.9 68.0
2010 Pirates .352 72.9 7.8 66.6 69.8
2005 Royals .346 71.8 8.8 68.0 69.9
2019 Marlins .352 72.9 8.6 67.7 70.3
2002 Tigers .342 71.0 10.2 69.9 70.5
1998 Marlins .333 69.5 11.5 71.7 70.6
2019 Orioles .333 69.5 11.9 72.2 70.9
2004 Royals .358 74.0 10.0 69.6 71.8
2002 Devil Rays .342 71.0 14.3 75.5 73.2
2012 Astros .340 70.6 15.1 76.5 73.6
2002 Brewers .346 71.8 14.7 76.0 73.9
2011 Twins .389 79.7 12.0 72.3 76.0
2001 Devil Rays .383 78.5 12.9 73.6 76.1
2018 Marlins .391 80.1 12.6 73.2 76.6
2011 Astros .346 71.8 18.9 81.7 76.7
2008 Nationals .366 75.6 16.4 78.3 76.9
2019 Royals .364 75.2 17.0 79.1 77.1
2002 Royals .383 78.5 14.7 76.0 77.3
2018 Royals .358 74.0 18.2 80.8 77.4
2012 Cubs .377 77.4 15.7 77.4 77.4
1999 Twins .394 80.6 13.5 74.4 77.5
1995 Tigers .417 84.8 11.0 71.0 77.9
2001 Pirates .383 78.5 15.7 77.4 78.0

Looking at this list, you’d never know Detroit appeared in a couple World Series and were generally competitive for close to a decade. They’ve put together three of the five worst teams over the last 25 seasons. That 2003 Tigers team is particularly awful: 14 players on that squad had more than 100 plate appearances and only Carlos Pena and Dmitri Young were better than average offensively, though defensive limitations meant that Young only put up a 1.9 WAR while Pena came in at 0.6 on the year. Young was the only position player to exceed 1 WAR that year while Matt Walbeck and Ramon Santiago put up less than -1 WAR. On the pitching side, Nate Cornejo and Jeremy Bonderman were the only pitchers with at least 1.0 WAR on the season and neither broke two wins. There wasn’t a single above-average player on the entire roster, and they went 43-119 as a result.

As to whether the 2003 Tigers were the worst team of all time, let’s go back to 1947 and see if anybody can take the top (bottom?) spot:

Worst Teams Since 1947
Season Team W% W% IQ Total WAR WAR IQ W%/WAR IQ AVG
2003 Tigers .265 57.1 1.7 58.3 57.7
1962 Mets .250 54.3 5.3 63.2 58.7
1963 Mets .315 66.1 -1.5 54.0 60.1
1952 Pirates .273 58.4 5.7 63.8 61.1
1979 Athletics .333 69.5 -1.7 53.7 61.6
1954 Athletics .331 69.1 1.4 57.9 63.5
1965 Mets .309 65.0 4.7 62.4 63.7
2013 Astros .315 66.1 4.1 61.6 63.9
2018 Orioles .290 61.6 8.1 67.0 64.3
1996 Tigers .327 68.4 3.1 60.2 64.3
2019 Tigers .292 61.9 8.6 67.7 64.8
1951 Browns .338 70.3 4.4 62.0 66.2
1969 Padres .321 67.3 7.1 65.7 66.5
2004 Diamondbacks .315 66.1 10.2 69.9 68.0
1956 Athletics .338 70.3 7.9 66.8 68.5
1977 Braves .377 77.4 2.9 60 68.7
1979 Blue Jays .327 68.4 9.9 69.5 68.9
1953 Pirates .325 67.9 10.3 70.0 69.0
1963 Senators .346 71.8 7.8 66.6 69.2
1974 Padres .370 76.3 4.7 62.4 69.3
2010 Pirates .352 72.9 7.8 66.6 69.8
2005 Royals .346 71.8 8.8 68.0 69.9
Strike-shortened years excluded

The Mets didn’t get off to a great start when baseball expanded and wanted to replace the two departing New York franchises as the Dodgers and Giants moved out west. In their first four seasons, they averaged a 49-113 record and 49 games out of first place. In the three seasons following the initial four, the team finished in last or second-to-last place every year. Then in 1969, they won the World Series as the “Miracle Mets,” a very appropriate nickname for the group. That inaugural season in 1962 was the worst of the bunch, with the team finishing 40-120, but a strong season from pitcher Al Jackson and decent seasons from Frank Thomas and Richie Ashburn meant the team was a little more talented than that 2003 Detroit Tigers club. What if we go all the way back to 1903, the year of the first World Series?

Worst Teams Since 1903
Season Team W% W% IQ Total WAR WAR IQ W%/WAR IQ AVG
2003 Tigers .265 57.1 1.7 58.3 57.7
1962 Mets .250 54.3 5.3 63.2 58.7
1919 Athletics .257 55.6 4.8 62.5 59.1
1916 Athletics .235 51.6 8.1 67.0 59.3
1963 Mets .315 66.1 -1.5 54.0 60.1
1952 Pirates .273 58.4 5.7 63.8 61.1
1979 Athletics .333 69.5 -1.7 53.7 61.6
1915 Athletics .283 60.3 5.2 63.1 61.7
1904 Senators .252 54.6 9.6 69.1 61.8
1939 Browns .279 59.6 6.2 64.5 62.0
1935 Braves .248 54.0 10.5 70.3 62.1
1932 Red Sox .279 59.6 6.3 64.6 62.1
1942 Phillies .278 59.4 8.0 66.9 63.2
1928 Phillies .283 60.3 7.7 66.5 63.4
1954 Athletics .331 69.1 1.4 57.9 63.5
1920 Athletics .312 65.6 4.0 61.5 63.5
1965 Mets .309 65.0 4.7 62.4 63.7
1945 Phillies .299 63.2 6.2 64.5 63.8
2013 Astros .315 66.1 4.1 61.6 63.9
1909 Doves .294 62.3 7.4 66.1 64.2
1939 Phillies .298 63.1 6.9 65.4 64.2
1910 Browns .305 64.4 6.1 64.3 64.3
2018 Orioles .290 61.6 8.1 67.0 64.3
1996 Tigers .327 68.4 3.1 60.2 64.3
1911 Browns .296 62.7 7.8 66.6 64.7
2019 Tigers .292 61.9 8.6 67.7 64.8
1941 Phillies .279 59.6 10.4 70.2 64.9
1938 Phillies .300 63.4 7.8 66.6 65.0
1911 Rustlers .291 61.8 10.6 70.4 66.1
1951 Browns .338 70.3 4.4 62.0 66.2
1969 Padres .321 67.3 7.1 65.7 66.5
1909 Senators .276 59.1 13.6 74.5 66.8
Strike-shortened years excluded

I don’t take any great joy in telling you that the 2003 Tigers are the worst team of all time. I did think it might be interesting though, so there it is. Because the work was basically already done, here are the worst teams in each franchise’s history using the current iteration of the franchise with the exception of the Devil Rays, which count as the Rays, the Florida and Miami Marlins being the same, and all the Angels team being included together:

Worst Teams For Every Franchise
Season Team W% W% IQ Total WAR WAR IQ W%/WAR IQ AVG
1968 Angels .414 84.2 18.4 81.0 82.6
2013 Astros .315 66.1 4.1 61.6 63.9
1979 Athletics .333 69.5 -1.7 53.7 61.6
1979 Blue Jays .327 68.4 9.9 69.5 68.9
1977 Braves .377 77.4 2.9 60.0 68.7
2002 Brewers .346 71.8 14.7 76.0 73.9
1903 Cardinals .314 66.0 10.1 69.8 67.9
1962 Cubs .364 75.2 17.2 79.4 77.3
2004 Diamondbacks .315 66.1 10.2 69.9 68.0
1992 Dodgers .389 79.7 21.9 85.8 82.7
1985 Giants .383 78.5 22.1 86.1 82.3
1971 Indians .370 76.3 9.3 68.7 72.5
1978 Mariners .350 72.6 13.9 74.9 73.7
2019 Marlins .352 72.9 8.6 67.7 70.3
1962 Mets .250 54.3 5.3 63.2 58.7
2008 Nationals .366 75.6 16.4 78.3 76.9
2018 Orioles .290 61.6 8.1 67.0 64.3
1969 Padres .321 67.3 7.1 65.7 66.5
1942 Phillies .278 59.4 8.0 66.9 63.2
1952 Pirates .273 58.4 5.7 63.8 61.1
1972 Rangers .351 72.7 8.6 67.7 70.2
2002 Rays .342 71.0 14.3 75.5 73.2
1932 Red Sox .279 59.6 6.3 64.6 62.1
1934 Reds .344 71.5 15.9 77.6 74.6
1999 Rockies .444 89.8 9.7 69.2 79.5
2005 Royals .346 71.8 8.8 68 69.9
2003 Tigers .265 57.1 1.7 58.3 57.7
2011 Twins .389 79.7 12.0 72.3 76.0
1932 White Sox .325 67.9 11.7 71.9 69.9
1913 Yankees .377 77.6 15.2 76.7 77.1
Strike-shortened years excluded

The Dodgers, Giants, and Angels have some of the best worst teams. I’d also note that the Cardinals haven’t gone below a score of 90 in a non-strike season since 1978 when they had an 86.7 score. Indeed, they’ve only been below 90 three times in the last 100 seasons. Perhaps even more impressive, the Yankees have only gone below 100 four times in the last 50 seasons, with all four coming in succession from 1989-1992. In the last 100 years, they’ve only been below 100 a total of 10 times, with a run from 1965-1969 accounting for half of those seasons (1925 was the only other year not previously mentioned). I was going to end on a positive note and say that using the same method, the best two regular-season teams of the last decade based on average yearly score have been the Dodgers and Yankees, but I can’t help but also note that neither team has won the World Series in that time.

We hoped you liked reading The Worst Teams in Baseball History by Craig Edwards!

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Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

newest oldest most voted
JeonghunKim
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JeonghunKim

As soon as I saw the title, I was expecting the answer is the Astros… very disappointed

Doug Lampert
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Member
Doug Lampert

1899 Cleveland Spiders was my expectation, he started in 1903 to avoid them though.

Paul G.
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Member
Paul G.

Or the 1883 Philadelphia Quakers (17-81, .173) or the 1890 Pittsburgh squad in the National League (23-113, .169), or the 1889 Louisville Colonels of the American Association (27-111, .196).